DC Liberals Pose Threat To Democratic Mayor’s Future

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Mayor Muriel Bowser is losing allies in the D.C. Council amid talk that her former rival Vincent Gray could challenge her again for leadership of the District.

After a tumultuous start to her tenure as mayor, Bowser lost all but one ally in the Democratic primaries for the D.C. Council in June. Bowser failed to secure support to reform the city’s homeless shelter services, a key campaign plank, even shouting “You’re a fucking liar!” at Council Chairman Phil Mendelson for changing her proposal. The primary elections ousted three of her key allies and elevated her former political rival to a council seat, reports NBC Washington.

Gray, the District’s former mayor, took back his old council seat in Ward 7 from incumbent and Bowser ally Yvette Alexander. The win marks a political comeback for the 73-year-old Gray, whose one term as mayor was mired in a campaign finance corruption scandal, derailing his ambitions for a second term in 2014 and lifting Bowser to the position. Many suspect he will run against Bowser in the next election. (RELATED: Fissure Between DC Council And Bowser Threatens Mayor’s Legacy)

“Every day people plead with me to run for mayor against Bowser,” Gray told NBC4. “I won’t rule it out.”

Ward 7, which Gray represents, is being ravished by violence this year and the former mayor is highly critical of Bowser for not doing more to curb it. Homicides in Ward 7 have tripled this year after the murder rate in the District spiked 54 percent in 2015. The rate is only 12 percent lower in 2016, with 107 homicides so far this year.

The primary results served as a rebuke to Bowser’s early efforts and highlight a shift towards more progressive policy goals on the D.C. Council. Many Democrats in D.C. think Bowser is too moderate on many issues. The Council declined to consider a crime bill last year backed by Bowser and the police chief that would have cracked down on crime with harsher sentences. The Council countered with a bill to essentially pay criminals not to commit crimes, but it failed without Bowser’s support.

The leftward pivot on the Council makes it more likely the legislative body will roll out an even more progressive agenda in January when new members are sworn in. (RELATED: Former DC Mayor Who Dodged Corruption Charges Retakes Council Seat)

“In a way they are very different progressives,” Council member Jack Evans told NBC4. “Progressive issues in the 1990s were civil rights. Now it’s social justice programs.”

After a summer recess, the council returned to work, tackling issues that signal their shifting priorities. Earlier in October, the council advanced a “Right to Die” bill, which would allow terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to request a lethal injection of medication. The Death With Dignity Act of 2016, sponsored by Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh, bars anyone younger than 18 from requesting the injection.

A climate change bill, also pushed by Cheh, passed the council and is currently awaiting congressional review. The goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions in D.C. by 50 percent by 2032.

The current mayor has the full support of the council when it comes to the city’s push for statehood and autonomy from Congress, however, many of her key legislative goals have either been rewritten by the council or outright ignored. Officials in the Bowser administration claim the mayor has a good relationship with the council, but many feel her governing style is ineffective.

“Missing, at least thus far in her term, is any indication that Bowser has mastered the ability to motivate, influence, communicate and negotiate,” read a June editorial in The Washington Post. “Four tasks essential to forging cooperation with the D.C. Council and, equally important, getting voters behind her ideas.”

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