On Sunday I had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Muriel Bowser at Petworth's very own Domku restaurant. I met with Ms. Bowser promptly at 10 a.m. and I was pleased to see that she had already arrived and was waiting for me. Ms. Bowser insisted that I call her Muriel so I will do so throughout this post to avoid any confusion with the other candidate Bowser. Muriel had a bit of raspy voice presumably from constant campaigning. Muriel had a tea and I had a coffee (and later some borsht). So we proceeded with our interview with the sweet tunes that Domku always spins humming in the background.
Muriel is a native Washingtonian and currently lives in Riggs Park. Muriel graduated high school from Elizabeth Seton and grew up in the neighborhood of North Michigan Park with her parents and five siblings. She noted that her father was one of the first ANC's ever elected. She attended Chatham College in Pittsburg, PA where she received a degree in history. She came back to Washington, DC where she worked for a couple of years in the private sector before receiving a Master's degree in public policy from American University in 2000. Muriel currently works for Montgomery County as the assistant director for the Silver Spring regional center. This center essentially focuses like a mini town hall representing 150,000 residents. Muriel believes that this experience will serve her well should she be elected to Washington's city council. Muriel made it clear that should she be elected she would completely devote her work to the city council. Muriel became an ANC member for Riggs Park in 2004. Muriel is perhaps best known as the Ward 4 Precinct Coordinator for the Fenty 2006 Mayoral Campaign. Muriel has received Mayor Fenty's endorsement.
Muriel had worked with then Councilman Fenty in her position as an ANC member of Riggs Park. She noted that they worked closely on a range of issues including a gas spill, development issues and bringing a new recreation center to the area. As Ward 4 coordinator for Fenty, Muriel was exposed to the entire Ward and all the issues it faces. She believes they work well together because they share similar leadership styles.
Muriel believes that this issue is important to all residents. "Where our schools go our city will go,” she explained. The fact that the city is not graduating half of our kids is a huge problem according to Muriel. She said that this is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed. She believes that we now have a strong executive to work on this problem and she supports Fenty's plan for the schools. She believes it is extremely important that our kids graduate with the appropriate skills so that they can participate in the economy. She said that we need programs that are worthwhile to the kids. She believes that these programs should equip our kids with the requisite skills so that they can go right into the workforce. She also believes that there are greater socio economic factors at play. She firmly believes that we need to make sure that our schools attract a diverse student body. Ultimately the schools should attract students that could go to private schools but choose to go to our public schools.
Muriel believes that we need to face the known criminal activity currently in our communities. She continued, "We need focused efforts at removing the problems that we know exist." She believes there is a vicious circle at play whereby the criminals are arrested and go through the system quickly and then return to the community without any viable alternatives to distract them from returning to their crimes. By making opportunities available we can break the vicious cycle, she said. At the same time she believes that the police have a job to do. She is adamant that we cannot have drug dealers taking over our communities. Rather, she argues that the police need to become involved with the communities. She said "obviously, we need to see the police on the street and we need them to come to community meetings but the police need to be involved before the problems arise." If the police get involved in the community before the problems arise and participate in regular community gatherings then there will be a solid trust built, she explained. It is essential that the police get to know the residents so that the residents feel comfortable and trust the police should a problem arise, she explained. Muriel supports the use of police cameras but only as a tool that can help them do their job better. She was concerned that the cameras may simply push the criminal activity a few blocks away from the cameras.
Pride and ownership of the community is essential to battling this problem according to Muriel. She believes that we should take advantage of tools that exist like anti-littering campaigns but it is also up to local residents and community associations. She said, "If we see trash we should pick it up". However, we have to make sure that the city services are also doing their part. In particular she mentioned that the city needs to make sure that trashcans are emptied when overflowing and to make sure that other basic services are fulfilled. She explained how the issue of litter is actually quite important and cited the broken windows theory. She explained that if there is trash on the streets, then that may lead to people placing graffiti on walls, which could lead to greater crimes. She explained that if the issue of litter remains unchecked then the neighborhoods would continue to slide. "We have to draw the line", she said "and why not draw the line at litter." She believes there should be a zero tolerance policy toward litter. When pushed to explain how a zero tolerance policy would be implemented she advocated a marketing campaign. However, she reiterated that the city has to do its part so that residents know they are not alone in this battle.
Development on Georgia Avenue and the Old Soldiers and Sailors Home
Muriel would like to make sure that the residents have their say in what types of development occur. She believes that the office of planning has done a great job starting the process with their great streets program. Specific issues that need to be addressed are parking, public safety and litter. She encourages a strong monitoring process to ensure that these issues are addressed. When asked what she herself would like to see occur, Muriel mentioned that she would like to spend her dollars in DC. Therefore, she would like to see a sit down restaurant, a coffee shop, a grocery store, a hair salon, a dry cleaners but she explained that we need to make sure that we have entertainment for our seniors. She would like to see any development mixed to ensure that we can "eat, dine, shop, work and play." She believes that this type of development will continue to attract people to our neighborhoods. She did mention that this development should be sustainable to ensure that there are not adverse environmental effects.
When asked about the availability of green spaces to residents in the Old Soldiers home, Muriel explained that green space is important throughout the Ward. She said that we need to be creative to make sure each community not only has green space but also to ensure affordable housing. She said that affordable housing and green space are hard to quantify but they are invaluable. Regarding green space, Muriel explained that it was essential to have public spaces where our kids can play, where our pets can walk and where we can maintain our fitness. Furthermore, she said, these public spaces are vital to community development so that people can go outside and congregate. One way to achieve this goal is work closely with the adjacent affected communities like Ward 5.
Proposed Homeless Shelter move to Georgia Ave.
Muriel mentioned that she often hears that Ward 4 cares very much about those less fortunate but that Ward 4 is already shouldering its fair share. She believes these types of programs should be spread out throughout all the Wards. Therefore, she does not support the move.
Muriel explained that she heard of only two people that received her yard sign in error. In one case she explained that local neighborhood kids moved one of the signs. However, she was adamant that anyone who receives a yard sign in error could have it immediately removed. Furthermore, she will personally apologize to whomever this happens. But since she has only heard of two instances, she does not believe this is a big issue. She believes it is resolved.
Muriel is currently reading Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope.
Musically, Muriel is an intense Prince fan (ed note: Prince the musician not the Prince who is writing these words.) but she enjoys a wide range of music and is currently listening to Nina Simone.
Muriel doesn't get to see too many movies but is a big James Bond fan and is looking forward to seeing Dreamgirls and the Pursuit of Happyness.
Muriel Bowser is clearly one of the front-runners for this election with the support of Mayor Fenty. Like Fenty she is quite young and certainly brings a lot of passion to Ward 4 politics. She didn't seem to be pandering to issues of particular interest to Petworth residents. However, one of my concerns is that she didn't seem to have too many innovative or new ideas to address the standard problems facing our community. I do believe she has the passion and the intelligence to be a strong advocate for Ward 4. I only hope that her youth and relative inexperience will not affect her ability to work with the current council members.
If you would like to learn more you can visit her website at www.muriel4ward4.com