District Mayor Muriel Bowser distanced herself from the Democratic Party’s far left wing in a Wednesday night debate, painting herself as the most realistic choice for results.
Ms. Bowser, 46, sparred against Councilmen Trayon White and Robert White over crime, school safety, and education at a forum at Georgetown University hosted by TV station WTTG, the Washington area’s Fox affiliate.
The mayor particularly zeroed in on her push to expand the city’s police force, attacking the “Defund the Police” movement as being a contributor to the District’s 17% uptick in violent crime since last year.
“I’m going to be the only one willing to tell you that I’m going to make the tough calls when it comes to violent crime, including making sure we have the police that we need. We have faced two years of defunding our police force,” Ms. Bowser said.
Ms. Bowser’s public safety plan was criticized by Trayon White and Robert White, who argued that police are not the be-all and end-all solution to the city’s crime rise.
Robert White, currently an at-large council member, has proposed funding for crime prevention programs and hiring more behavioral health specialists who can intervene in cases often handled by police.
Trayon White, who represents Ward 8 in the city’s Southeast, said hiring more police is a simple solution that doesn’t address what’s causing crime to increase.
“My plan is not to increase the police, but create wraparound services by creating better housing, mental health services, substance abuse [services],” Mr. White said. “We need the police, but police are not the end-all solution.”
Ms. Bowser has long touted her plan to hire over 300 more officers throughout the District, while also diversifying the force.
The mayor wants to see female officers constitute 30% of the force by 2030, which would be a 7-point increase from its current level.
Ms. Bowser also dismissed the need to expand government to achieve a healthier system for students and tackle the challenges of at-risk youth, saying that they must invest in resources that can aid people and help families shape kids into successful pathways.
“If anybody promises you that the government can do it all, they are woefully mistaken,” Ms. Bowser said.
The candidates also debated their plans to expand mental health services, add affordable housing, and improve education.
One topic on which the moderators double-downed was school safety and the council’s decision to get rid of school resource officers. That decision was made with the support of both Trayon White and Robert White, and over Ms. Bowser’s opposition.
The question was asked amid renewed debate over how to secure schools after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas last week.
Robert White put the decision to get rid of police in schools on students who came to the council with complaints about them.
“We the council voted to take school resources officers out of schools at the request of students who came [and said] their schools felt like prisons,” he said.
Trayon White reiterated his stance that he did not believe police were the solution to all public safety issues, including those that face students.
Ms. Bowser has advocated to restore funding for school resource officers.
The three candidates will appear on the June 21 Democratic primary ballot.
James Butler, a local attorney also in the race, will also be on the ballot, though he did not qualify for the debate.
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