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Bowser promises ‘pathways to the middle class’ in State of the District

Photo: Bryan Park/The Eagle

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser touted D.C. as one of the strongest economies in the country during her first State of the District address, but also cautioned that the city faces historic economic inequality.

The address on March 31 — Bowser’s first city-wide speech as mayor — was titled “pathways to the middle class,” a phrase she used throughout the night when highlighting initiatives to improve schools, decrease crime and combat homelessness and rising home prices.

“We believe that the government has a duty to ensure a fair and equal pathway to the middle class,” Bowser said before a packed Lincoln Theatre.

Bowser said D.C. public schools are not yet good enough and pledged an additional $32 million to city schools. She will submit her budget proposal this week to the D.C. Council. She also promised to expand Kids Ride Free, a popular program which allows public school students to ride Metro buses for free, to include Metro rail.

She pledged to end all homelessness in the District by 2025. And following on a campaign promise, she restated $100 million will be spent to create affordable housing.

“You elected me to do what needs to be done to create opportunity for you and your family, to blaze a path to the middle class, to improve schools, make our streets safer, and our population healthier,” she said.

Moments before Bowser took the stage, a video montage of her first three months in office played, with newspaper headlines that included mention of her stubbornness before Congress over marijuana legalization. She began her speech listing rankings the city is a part of: top 5 U.S. cities for new construction, top 10 most walkable city in the U.S., the second fittest city, among others.

Bowser praised policing efforts that she said have lowered overall violent crime in the city by 18 percent since 2008. In order to further cut crime, she promised to increase the number of police officers on the street. She also announced the use of body cameras will expand to all Metropolitan Police Department patrol officers in the next 18 months, an initiative currently in the form of a pilot program.

Bowser also revealed the city will continue with plans for a streetcar system from H Street to Georgetown. The future of the streetcar system was up in the air after Bowser did not commit to expanding it earlier in March. Currently, testing continues on streetcar tracks on H Street, but it is unclear when service for regular riders will begin.

“We all know that the streetcar has been long on promises but short on results,” she said. “That changes now.”

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