Mar 18, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Mayor Bowser says "don't be so down on D.C." after crime spike

Bowswer on stage

Mayor Muriel Bowser on stage with Axios D.C.'s Cuneyt Dil. Photo: Ronald Flores/Axios

"Don't be so down on D.C.," Mayor Muriel Bowser told Axios Monday night while facing questions about crime and downtown's property slump at the Axios What's Next Summit.

Why it matters: Bowser is in her third term at a pivotal moment for the nation's capital, where crime is top of mind for residents and the downtown economy is on edge.

What she's saying: "We had a tough year last year" on crime, Bowser conceded.

  • Homicides jumped 36% and carjackings nearly doubled at a time when many other major cities saw declines in violent crime.
  • Bowser contended that the numbers were starting to "trend in the right direction." Total violent crime is down 17% so far this year, and all crime is down 12%, according to police stats. An emergency crime bill just passed, enacting drug-free zones and reversing some progressive reforms.
  • She also argued that the reason officers continue to stop and arrest far fewer people than before the pandemic is because officers are overworked, shuttling from call to call.
  • Asked what it would take to get more officers walking the beat, Bowser said, "The police chief is getting them out of their cars," but more officers are needed.

Between the lines: Bowser tried to shift the conversation away from crime, saying a visitor to D.C. told her over the weekend that he couldn't believe people in the District were so "down on themselves" given its great amenities and opportunities.

  • She returned to that theme — "Don't be so down on D.C." — later in the conversation as well.
  • Bowser seemed to be lamenting that coverage of the city she has led for nine years is so focused on crime and issues like the emptying out of commercial real estate downtown.

Bowser gave a nod of approval to a recent "action plan" to invest $401 million in downtown over the next five years, calling it "a great start" — though she wouldn't commit to funding the entire $401 million ask, as the city weighs budget cuts and a potential tax increase.

  • "We are looking for all kinds of ways to invest in the revitalization of downtown," Bowser said, noting that downtown is currently "overly commercial."
  • "One of the biggest things that we know is needed is to have more people live downtown," she added.
  • Asked about the big spending on downtown during a budget crunch, she said, "Downtown produces a lot of money."

The big question is whether one of downtown's main attractions — Capital One Arena, home to the Wizards and Capitals — will stay there.

  • Monumental Sports, which owns both teams, announced a plan to relocate across the river to Alexandria, Virginia, but it fell apart in the state legislature.
  • Bowser said she's confident D.C. has "put the best deal in front of Monumental Sports," which owns both teams, including $500 million to renovate the arena. That deal is still on the table, Bowser confirmed.
  • If the teams do leave the District, there'll be "five acres in the heart of downtown" left behind, "and we're gonna make it something amazing."

What to watch: Bowser said a new football stadium could open at the old RFK site in 2028 at the earliest, should the Commanders decide to move back to the District.

As for her own future, Bowser initially said it was too early in her term to start talking about a potential fourth term.

  • But would she consider running? "Sure."

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