Mayor Muriel Bowser discusses local government and leadership with College Democrats
‘Don’t take your foot off the gas — we have a lot to do as Democrats to promote our values and fight for them every day’
D.C. Mayor and American University alumna Muriel Bowser discussed local policy and leadership at an event hosted by the American University College Democrats on Sept. 26.
Alexandra Drakeford, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and the president of AU College Democrats moderated the discussion, which took place in the School of International Service Founders’ Room.
The event was co-sponsored by the AU chapters of Black Girls Vote, NAACP and Sister Sister, as well as the D.C. College Democrats and the George Washington University chapters of College Democrats and NAACP.
Bowser has served as mayor since 2015 and is expected to win re-election to her third term in November after winning the Democratic primary in June. Previously, Bowser represented Ward 4 as a D.C.council member, and also served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.
She earned a master’s degree in Public Policy from AU’s School of Public Affairs, graduating in 2000. Bowser said she was motivated to pursue this degree after working in the insurance field.
“One day I was at work, and I said to myself, ‘I cannot do this another day,’” she said, “I knew I wanted to come home and I knew I wanted to be in government.”
During her graduate studies, Bowser interned in local government. Her father was also an ANC commissioner, so she said the local government environment felt familiar.
“I knew I wanted to be in government at the local level because I could make an immediate impact on people’s lives,” she said.
Bowser also spoke about the unique challenges D.C. mayors face. Although D.C. is not a state, its mayor essentially acts as a governor and as the head of a county, operating school districts and the local carceral system. The district also lacks representation in Congress. According to Bowser, the lack of two senators is the most significant issue which must be tackled in relation to D.C. statehood and representation.
However, Bowser said, with D.C.’s unusual challenges, there are also benefits, such as only having to rely on 13 council members and the mayor to make decisions. Bowser also pointed out that the D.C. government has the ability to come up with, fund and implement policy in only one budget season, providing the example of the Office of Migrant Services. Bowser proposed this office in the beginning of September, and its establishment was approved by the D.C. council on Sept. 20.
“When you run for mayor, you think you can do it. When you’ve been mayor, you know you can do it,” she said of her reelection campaign.
She described the work ahead as different from her previous terms, and said she was focused on the city’s comeback from the coronavirus pandemic and addressing structural barriers residents face.
“People fundamentally want the same things,” she said. “They want to be safe, they want to be able to live their lives, they want their kids to have more than they had and they want to be happy, but they don’t start off at the same place.”
On the topic of leadership and professional growth, Bowser emphasized the importance of strong mentor relationships and building a network. She said students should work on campaigns to get to know the kinds of people who may be able to help them.
“Women think that they have to check all the boxes and go in line,” Bowser said, suggesting that women often have a longer path to success. “Nobody says you have to check all the boxes. You don't have to, but you do have to be prepared.”
Bowser referenced her own approach to leadership, which she said prioritizes forward progress.
“Some people call me practical,” she said. “This is what I know: you have to start somewhere and take a step.”