Jun 1, 2022 - Politics

D.C. mayoral candidates clash over crime at primetime debate

The candidates on stage at podiums with audience in foreground

Photo: Nathan Posner/Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service

At a televised debate Wednesday night, council members Robert White and Trayon White attacked Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to increase police funding, arguing the city needs more violence intervention and opportunities for young people.

Why it matters: Violence in the nation's capital has taken center stage less than three weeks before primary Election Day. The District witnessed an 18-year high in murders last year, and homicides are up 7% this year.

The scene: Organized by Georgetown University and Fox 5, the debate was held inside the ornate Gaston Hall, with supporters in the audience frequently interrupting the live broadcast and cheering zingers.

State of play: Bowser has outlined a plan to hire more police to reach a force of 4,000 officers — which is opposed by both challengers — and she hit back at her two opponents for supporting "defunding our police force."

  • Robert White, an at-large lawmaker, rejected that characterization and joined Trayon White, the Ward 8 council member, in arguing that the mayor was slow to fund violence interruption programs.

The big picture: Bowser said she deserved a third term to lead the District's pandemic comeback and touted her affordable housing investments.

  • Robert White persistently criticized Bowser’s term in office, saying she was slow to embrace ideas such as converting offices to residential buildings downtown. “We’re not seeing any new ideas coming,” he said.
  • Trayon White said Bowser's affordable housing projects have "become a slush fund for developers" and that Black and brown residents "have not seen a return on that investment."

Additionally, Robert White criticized the mayor's leadership on education and said he would oversee a "massive expansion of trade and vocational education" and pilot a boarding school model for students who need around-the-clock support.

The other side: Bowser defended mayoral control of schools — referring to the 2007 mayoral takeover of public education from an elected school board that launched a wave of reforms — and said her challengers are "going to back away from that and turn the clock back 15 years."

  • But Trayon White said more space is needed in overflowing classrooms, and Robert White said mayoral control of schools has not ensured that funding for at-risk students reaches those in need.

💭 Cuneyt's thought bubble: Even with Bowser's advantage as an incumbent, the lack of any reputable public polling in recent months has left many insiders bracing for the possibility of an unpredictable finish on June 21.

Still have questions about the June 21 primary elections? Check out Axios' Q&A with the candidates and our voting guide.

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