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At-Large D.C. Council member Robert White’s plan to challenge Bowser’s re-election bid

Courtesy of Robert White Campaign
The primary election will take place June 21.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is facing competition in her bid for reelection as D.C. mayor as a progressive D.C. Council member vies to oust the incumbent following Bowser’s eighth year in office.

At-Large Council member Robert White – a 40-year-old, fifth-generation Washingtonian who tossed his hat into the mayoral race in October – is canvassing and phone-banking to stockpile voters in the buildup to June’s Democratic primary while campaign events are on hiatus because of D.C.’s gathering restrictions during the spread of the Omicron variant. White said in an interview that he hopes to transform the District with improved education, housing and operations administration, which he hopes will change the “status quo” in the city.

White, who has two daughters, said worsening issues like rising crime, weakened transportation infrastructure and decreased affordable housing – which he said Bowser hasn’t appropriately addressed – are guiding his efforts to become mayor.

“We need a mayor who is going to be serious about helping people, which means that we need a mayor who’s going to be serious about solving some of our most endemic problems,” White said.

Ward 8 Council member Trayon White also announced his campaign for mayor in October. He gained national attention in 2018 for antisemitic remarks during a snowstorm implying a Jewish family controls the weather.

Trayon White did not return a request for an interview.

Trayon White has not released a public platform for his campaign. As Council member, he co-introduced legislation that banned the suspension of driver’s licenses because of unpaid traffic tickets and was the sole Council member to vote against legislation that mandated COVID-19 vaccination for the Council’s members and staff.

Bowser announced her campaign for re-election through a video posted to Twitter in November and emphasized her mayoral experience as a reason to trust her leadership through the end of the pandemic.

“You trusted me to lead D.C. through these unprecedented times,” Bowser said in her campaign announcement video. “I’m asking once again for your trust and your vote in the Democratic primary on June 21.”

Bowser did not return multiple requests for an interview.

Homicides and traffic fatalities spiked during the pandemic under Bowser’s leadership because of increased traffic speeds and spikes of violence. White said some of her initiatives – like the Vision Zero Initiative to end traffic deaths, which the D.C. auditor is currently investigating – are too vague in their policies and fail to fulfill their goals.

City officials unveiled a pilot program in September that would shut down three of the city’s major homeless encampments and connect residents to housing. Local advocates have criticized the plan for its lack of details, like the apartments’ quality and location, raising concerns that evictions could “criminalize” unhoused residents who decide to remain at their more familiar encampments.

White, a former congressional staffer for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who describes himself as a “policy guy,” said the government needs to expand citywide programs to address the root problems of issues like crime and traffic deaths, like poor infrastructure that can cause crashes.

“We’re going to have to make infrastructure changes like a network of protected bike lanes across the city, raised crosswalks and other infrastructure changes that make it safer for people who are not in automobiles,” he said.

White said he hopes to audit D.C.’s public education system, which he says is in a “crisis.” White said 75 percent of Black students are performing below grade-level, which is hurting the city’s ability to prepare students for college or career and technical education programs that ready them for high-quality jobs.

White was the first D.C. mayoral candidate to register in the city’s Fair Elections program, which passed in 2018 to reward donations from small donors with five-to-one matches and banning large donations from political action committees and corporations.

White hopes his participation in the program will show grassroots support for his campaign. Bowser is also participating in the program, according to the District’s website.

Bowser has raised about $517,000 between October and December, more than four times than White’s $117,000, according to reports from DCist.

“Traditionally, fundraising and trying to get people to vote for you can be separate things,” White said. “Now, it’s the same thing because of the same people I’m calling to say ‘Hey, will you help me fund this important campaign?’”

Trupti Patel, a Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood commissioner, said she supports White’s campaign over Bowser’s. She said students should support White because of his focus on issues like housing costs, which can help students to afford to live on or near campus.

“Students provide an economic vibrancy and viability to the city’s bottom line,” Patel said. “The idea that the students don’t contribute to this city is a false notion, and when Robert White is mayor, students will have a seat at the table.”

Patel said White’s early participation in the fair elections program shows his accountability to his voters. She said Bowser has “never given a damn” about D.C.’s residents, but White is responsive and liable to his constituents and supporters.

“What it means to me, and what it should mean to the people, is that Robert White is not for sale,” she said. “Robert White is going to be accountable to the people he elected in office.”

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About the Contributor
Zach Blackburn, Editor in Chief
Zach, a senior majoring in political communication, is the 2023-24 editor in chief of The Hatchet. He previously served as senior news editor and assistant news editor of the Metro beat. He hails from West Columbia, South Carolina.
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