Why would a D.C. Councilmember cruising toward reelection draw attention to a vote she regrets?
Maybe because she is looking beyond the next election…
Earlier this week, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser posted the following to her Facebook page: "I deeply regret agreeing to the Mayor's furlough proposal."
Bowser was responding to a Washington Post story on the District’s "whopping $240 million surplus."
Despite the regret she now professes, in 2011 Bowser voted in favor of the FY 2012 budget that included four mandatory furlough days for thousands of District government employees.
Let's unpack this a bit.
Government workers are a key constituency for politicians with citywide aspirations. Not only are they reliable voters, many also get heavily involved in campaigns and serve as key opinion-makers at the neighborhood level. Support from public employee unions is also helpful window-dressing in this heavily Democratic town.
Many government workers are asking themselves, “Why did our wallets have to take a hit when the city is now sitting on an extra $240 million?” By signaling regret for the furloughs, Bowser is beginning the process of making amends for her vote. Better to seek forgiveness now than to be confronted with tough questions down the road.
Bowser's mea culpa is also clever in that it portrays the furloughs as a product of Mayor Vince Gray. The message is calculated to maximize political advantage. Bowser uses remorse to take a shot at Gray and also to distance herself from a mayor who has been struggling with low approval numbers.
Gray is not the only politician from whom Bowser is distancing herself. When Council Chairman Kwame Brown was recently chided on Twitter for failing to recognize a Ward 4 neighborhood in which he was attending an event, Bowser joined the chorus and dinged the Chairman, too.
Very subtle, but a clear message that Bowser is independent of Brown and not afraid to jab at her thin-skinned and very unpopular boss.
In public forums Bowser has been circumspect on the subject of citywide ambitions. During a September 2011 appearance on a WPFW program I co-host, "D.C. Politics,"Bowser did not deny aspiring to higher office. Instead, she parried the suggestion with a talking point about being solely focused on her reelection campaign in Ward 4.
While Bowser may be sticking to the script, several politicos with whom I have spoken are helping to sew the seeds of Bowser buzz. One well-known operative went so far as to say she is unbeatable in 2014 and that anyone who even thinks Bowser can be beat had better enter the race no later than this summer.
Supporters of former-Mayor Adrian Fenty are also keen on Bowser. Many of her reelection campaign events have been a Who’s Who of Fenty die-hards.
In 2007, Bowser was handpicked by Fenty to fill the Ward 4 seat he vacated to be mayor. At the time, Fenty was riding the crest of his popularity. Bowser’s victory was all but assured the day he endorsed her.
Fenty-ites are quick to point out that Bowser is everything you like about the former mayor, but without the baggage, aloofness and jerkish tendencies.
As well, Bowser could easily tap the Fenty money machine. She has benefited from it in previous campaigns.
All this portends a future citywide campaign. Operatives and supporters around Bowser say it is the obvious next step for a politician who is among the few untarnished by scandal.
Bowser does have critics. Some point to her coziness with uber-lobbyists and political insiders. Others are quick to point out that Bowser has never been tested on the campaign trail and that a citywide bid is far more grueling than the relative cakewalks she has enjoyed in Ward 4.
Also, it is just a matter of time before other mayoral hopefuls see Bowser as a possible threat. How she fares when the knives come out is anyone’s guess.
The next mayoral election is scheduled for 2014; an eternity in politics. Anything can happen. Stars can rise fast and crash down just as quickly. What is clear is that jockeying for position has already begun.