Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Renee Bowser in her home on 2nd Street in our very own Petworth. As many remember from an earlier post this was our second attempt to meet and this attempt, I am happy to report, resulted in no injuries.
Ms. Bowser is originally from Philadelphia, PA. She left Philly in 1979 to attend Bryn Mawr College after which she attended law school in North Carolina and following that received an LLM from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Ms. Bowser arrived in Washington, DC in 1983 and has lived in Petworth since 1989. Ms. Bowser's career in DC began as a labor lawyer for the federal government. Currently and for the past 21 years Ms. Bowser has been an attorney for the United Food and Commercial workers International Union (UFCW). Ms. Bowser was proud to note that she is the only labor candidate in the race and is a member of the DC Statehood Green Party.
In her 20s Ms. Bowser volunteered for the first black elected official in Pennsylvania, Hardy Williams. In her capacity as a volunteer she mostly worked on housing issues for him. In her past Ms. Bowser has also been active in anti-apartheid causes and was an early supporter of the African National Congress. Closer to home in Washington, Ms. Bowser has twice served on the DC Commission on Human Rights. Additionally, this is her third term as an ANC 4D02 commisioner of which she was the chair in 2006. Ms. Bowser ran unsuccessfully for City Council against Adrian Fenty in 2000. Although she was proud to have taken 11% of the vote in that November election.
"We don't need to get rid of the school board to improve the schools." said Ms. Bowser. "We have to make sure that the money is going to the right places." explained Ms. Bowser. At this point Ms. Bowser rattled off a series of numbers and statistics which seemed pretty impressive to me but then again I am a simple person. Ms. Bowser was adamant that the current "per pupil formula" needed to change and currently acts as a drain on the public schools. "Children are not widgets" said Ms. Bowser. I don't really understand what the means but it seemed like a great quote. However Ms. Bowser did recount a story she had heard on one of her many walks in the neighborhood. She recounted the story of a parent of a student at Shepherd Elementary School, who said that each parent has to pay $500 a year and pay for the school's librarian and books. Ed note: as I am not working for the Washington Post, I haven't confirmed that fact. Nevertheless, Bowser explained that it was ridiculous for parents to be paying for these things while the city continues to add more schools. Ms. Bowser would work with the current school board to try and correct these problems. She prefers working with the current school board to Mayor Fenty's plan of taking over the schools. Ms. Bowser explained that the system set up in NYC which Fenty hopes to mirror has not even worked all that well. She noted that test scores had actually gone down in NYC. Ms. Bowser believes it is essential to prioritize the improvements needed to the DC public school system to put the money where it is most needed.
"You are not going to police your way out of these problems." said Ms. Bowser. She explained the role that DCRA plays in not addressing the litter issue. She believes the DCRA needs to be completely overhauled. She believes that the city puts its allegiance to the developers rather than to the individual residents. While Ms. Bowser does support community policing she believes the overall problems need to be tackled "Ward wide". She explained how many of the issues are interconnected. She suggests tackling transportation issues, alley issues, and others together. She believes with better organization it will put more pressure for positive change. She then went off on a bit of a tangent explaining that a lack of organization resulted in the loss of DC general and is "why we have a baseball stadium." She also explained the problems of the formula racetrack in North East near the RFK stadium which took place a few years ago.
"The comprehensive plan is so vague to me that we don't know where they are in the process." said Ms. Bowser. She believes that this development must improve the city. She believes that we "don't have to give anything away" because the developers want to be in the city. She feels that the community was prosper as well and that there is no reason to give away this valuable property. She believes we have to be in on the ground floor with regards to the Old Soldier's home development. Again she stressed the importance of unity here. She argues that there will be more power and influence if those who are interested in affordable housing, green space and safety all stick together and use one voice. This will result in more muscle to influence the development.
Potential Homeless Shelter move to Georgia Avenue
Ms. Bowser is not against the move to Georgia Avenue but does feel that it needs to be strictly monitored and policed to make sure that there isn't public loitering.
She would however like to see a moratorium on group homes in Ward 4. They need to be monitored as well to make sure that they adhere to regulations.
Ms. Bowser does believe that gentrification is a problem due to its affect on affordable housing. She feels that we need to make sure that the housing crisis doesn't become more severe as a result of gentrification. But she concluded that "people want people who are good neighbors.
Ms. Bowser is reading the Great American Job Scam by Greg Leroy and recently read a book about Ella Baker.
She listens to a lot of world music, African music and blues.
The last great film she saw was Hotel Rwanda although she enjoyed the Constant Gardner as well.
Ms. Bowser is clearly a passionate person who is willing to fight for residents of Ward 4, particularly those who are less advantaged. Meeting her was like running into a tornado. She speaks very quickly on a diverse area of topics. She was running up and down the stairs and answering telephone calls throughout our meeting. I was a little disturbed to see how much time she focused on issues that were not directly related to Ward 4 ie the baseball stadium and DC general hospital. But back to the brass tax, Ms. Bowser is smart, experienced and full of ideas.
If you are interested in learning more you can visit her website at www.RENEEbowser.org.