- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 16, 2022

Revitalizing a downtown emptied of office workers by the pandemic has emerged as a key issue in the contest between District Mayor Muriel Bowser and the three challengers looking to unseat the incumbent in Tuesday’s Democratic Party primary.

Ms. Bowser, who is running for a third term, said the pandemic inspired her administration to look at different ways to use city spaces and attract more people back to the city.

“That’s what this election is about. It’s about D.C.’s comeback and who do you trust to lead it,” Ms. Bowser said during a recent mayoral debate at Georgetown University.

Ms. Bowser is favored Tuesday against her opponents, Robert White and Trayon White Sr. (unrelated), both members of the D.C. Council, and James Butler, a community activist.

But Robert White, an at-large council member, cited polling this week indicating he has closed some of the gap on the incumbent. The candidate’s poll shows he is within striking distance of the mayor as the campaign winds down to its final days.

The Lake Research Partners poll had Ms. Bowser at 41%, Robert White had 37%, Trayon White at 6% and 15% of voters undecided.

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The poll contrasts sharply with a February Washington Post poll that had Ms. Bowser well ahead of the rest of the candidates with 47% of support. Robert White had 19% while Trayon White had 17%.

The survey polled 579 registered District Democrats and had an error margin of +/-5%. 

At the Georgetown forum earlier this month, Robert White said the focus should be on reimagining what the downtown should offer, adding that the pre-pandemic reality is “unlikely to return.”

Mr. White said he would convert office spaces into affordable housing units, increase bike and bus-only lanes, and provide indoor and outdoor workspaces to promote telework options.

The District, which moved aggressively to shut down schools and workplaces during the pandemic, in February hit a record level of office vacancy in its downtown with 9.7 million square feet going unoccupied, according to DowntownDC Business Improvement District.

Economic activity in the downtown area is also only at 52% of pre-pandemic levels, according to the report.

Ms. Bowser said her plans include working with the business community to attract more employers focused on tech, medical and health industries, while also inviting more housing developers to the downtown area.

The mayor also said she wants to transform older office buildings into new housing and public spaces into parks, “streateries,” and bike lanes. 

Both Robert White and Trayon White, Ward 8’s representative on the Council since 2017, were critical at the Georgetown forum of Ms. Bowser’s push to restore police funds to address the rise in violent crime in the city.

“It is a shame that in the District of Columbia, we cannot find a way to stand up and say to our communities that we can’t protect you with things more than police,” Robert White said.

The four Democrats will square off in the city’s primary election Tuesday, with the winner advancing to a November general election that is largely a formality, given the edge Democrats hold over Republicans in the District.

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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