Select this link to view the speech only version of the 2015 State of the District Address.
Select this link to view the entire 2015 State of the District Address program.
Thank you everybody, and good evening. Please.
Isn’t great to be in this beautiful theatre in the District of Columbia?
And good evening, fellow Washingtonians. I’m here tonight, humble and proud to be your Mayor.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to deliver the 2015 State of the District Address.
Today, I am pleased to report, that the District is strong and growing stronger.
We are one of the strongest economies in the country. We are the economic engine of the region, accounting for one quarter of the job market, and in the last year, over two-thirds of its private sector job growth – yes.
We are, too, the number one tech hot spot and among the top ten cities for venture capital investment. Forbes Magazine even says we’re the coolest.
Wall Street knows our city finances are strong, and this year, increased our bond rating.
We are a – that’s good news, too.
We are a Top 5 US City for New Construction; Top 10 Most Walkable City in the US; #2 Fittest City (we’ll catch you, Minneapolis, St-Paul!); We’re #1 in US for attracting entrepreneurial founders of companies; and the #2 Best paying US City for Women;
We are the home to the best new restaurant in America, and we are the Top 5 Best U.S. City to Come and Vacation;
So no wonder why we’re one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
Big cities – like the District of Columbia – have world-class schools, parks, and libraries. They are home to vibrant cultural institutions that highlight the arts and entertainment. We are making strides in these areas too.
But we all know that there is room to improve.
We face in our city historic economic inequality with tragic rates of homelessness;
Too many of our residents can’t afford to continue to live in their own neighborhoods;
Our schools are not yet good enough and our transit system isn’t reliable or safe enough;
And as good as our finances are, we’re heading into the next fiscal year starting this October, we face a $200 million budget gap.
We know that it’s tougher and tougher for many people to start down and stay on the pathway to the middle class.
When my parents bought our home – and they’re here tonight, Joan and Joe Bowser. Good to see you.
They bought a simple 3-bedroom home in 1960 in Ward 5’s North Michigan Park. They could afford to do so on two modest government salaries.
Growing up in that middle class household meant that we had food in the fridge, new clothes at the start of the school year, and money in our pocket to go to the movies or a vacation every now and then.
Growing up middle class meant that my siblings and myself, we didn’t always have everything we wanted but we always had everything we needed.
Back in 1960, when my parents bought their home, the average home in DC costs – get this – about $15,000. That was only three times the average family income.
Today, the median home value tops $500,000 and that’s six times the average family income.
If we are going to be a city where families can stay and grow, we must do more to create opportunity for them.
Creating opportunity means – that’s right – taking steps every day to improve the quality of life for residents of the District of Columbia.
Creating opportunity means economic development that makes life easier, more convenient, while preserving the rich heritage that makes DC so unique.
And it means promoting the arts and those cultural institutions that will continue to make it so.
It means being able to take a walk or wait for a bus without concern for your safety. It also means access to modes of transportation that you need to get to and from your daily life.
And, it means neighborhoods that welcome all District residents, whether they’ve been here for five minutes like some or five generations like the Bowser family.
Sometimes it means just getting out of the way, especially for small businesses so they can get to work.
But it always means creating pathways to the middle class.
Now, you may have heard me say the following two words, in fact I know you have: “Fresh Start.”
Some have called it a catchy slogan others have embraced it on social media. And no matter what you think of it, I can assure you it is a promise I will fulfill.
I believe – that’s good. I believe it is critical that we walk forward together proud of all the things that we have accomplished and where we stand; yet step away from the shadows that haunt our past.
We achieve this and uphold the public’s trust by doing what we say we will do, being responsive to what residents want and demand, and striving always to be open and transparent.
You have my commitment that my Administration understands that integrity is paramount, and we are forever grateful to those who came before us and we are always committed to the residents who rely on us not just today but every single day.
On the campaign trail last year, for the last two years. I told you that a Bowser administration would reflect your values and beliefs.
I told you that we—the 660,000 residents of District of Columbia—believe in education reforms that guarantee every child a quality seat—no matter her zip code or her parent’s tax bracket.
I believe and I know you do, in housing that is safe, clean, and affordable.
We believe in healthcare for all.
We believe in marriage equality, a sustainable DC, a level playing field for women, African-Americans, Latinos, and DC residents of every background and belief.
We believe that taxation without representation is fundamentally undemocratic. And we know that corruption at any level is unacceptable in our city.
And we believe that the government has a duty to ensure a fair and equal pathway to the middle class.
Last year I promised you that as mayor I would make, and I would wake up every day humbled, energized, and motivated to do the little things and the big things needed to pursue our shared beliefs and make the District the greatest city in the world.
To put it another way, I promised you, that ours would be a government that would create opportunity and do so decisively.
And for the last 89 days, this government has been working doggedly to deliver on that promise.
So, I’ve walked the halls of Congress and the White House.
I entered into an agreement with the Prince George’s and Montgomery County Executives to focus on regional housing affordability and an end to homelessness.
I’ve travelled to Austin, Texas to sell our tech community and to New York City to achieve a better bond rating.
I’ve hosted the Mayors of Mexico City and of Paris.
I’ve made big asks of billionaires and hosted foreign investors.
I’ve met with big labor, big utilities, and big business to make the pitch for DC jobs for DC residents.
And as the Sports Capital, we will continue to meet with the biggest sports guys and gals – right, Jack? So that they know that DC is Ready to host the 2018 MLB All Star game, and perhaps a Super Bowl one Sunday.
We will do all of this while keeping in mind that this is your city and your government. We work for you.
You do not just get a seat at the table in a Bowser administration – we know that you are the table.
But I think John Dewey said it best. He said this, “the cobbler may know how to fix the shoe, but only the wearer knows where it pinches.”
So when it came to cobbling together my first budget, I wanted to hear from you on the front end.
And that is why we’ve hosted hundreds of residents from all 8 wards at our budget engagement forums.
More than 2,300 of you, employees and residents, gave us fresh ideas about how to spend your tax dollars to create opportunity. The budget I will submit to my friends, our friends at the Council will reflect your input and priorities.
It will also reflect the looming $200 million budget gap that will require some tough decisions in order to pave the way to the middle class and allow those who need it the most, to prosper.
Dr. King challenged us to develop: “a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”
We will do that by giving a little more to create and preserve affordable housing, to care for our homeless neighbors and to invest in a safe and reliable transportation system to get residents to work and school and to keep the visitors coming to the District of Columbia.
We will do that by making “black lives matter” more than just a hashtag. We will take concrete steps like investing in, and creating opportunity for, those students who are falling behind.
Creating opportunity, in particular for our youngest residents, is a driving focus of our administration.
That starts with our infants and toddlers and is why we launched the Early Childhood Learning Quality Improvement Network to ensure that those who care for our babies meet national standards.
We have the fastest improving urban school district in the nation. We should congratulate our chancellor, our teachers, our staff and our officials who are standing strong for school reform. But, we know, we also need to increase the pace of reform.
Nowhere is that more necessary than in our middle schools.
That is why in next year’s DCPS budget, we will spend $15 million to support our middle school students with more extracurricular activities, summer programming, and international travel. We will create a state of the art middle-school in Petworth at the former McFarland.
And, next fall, the school building that I attended as a kindergartner will re-open in Ward 5 as the Brookland Middle School.
And whether you go to McFarland, or Murch or Maya Angelou, your child will ride free on the bus or rail because of our commitment to make it just a little easier on our families.
And that’s why beginning this school year, parents will have predictability and consistency, and a clear path from pre-K to graduation thanks to long-overdue boundary realignments.
We take these steps because we know that when children succeed, we all succeed.
For our older students, we have to turn the corner at UDC and align our Community College with the careers that will yield pathways good paying jobs and to the middle class.
Last week I announced the creation of the LEAP Academy. The Academy is born from a simple idea. We will train District residents to work in the District government.
The District employs hundreds of workers to maintain our buildings and keep our fleet of vehicles road-ready. The Academy will serve as a conduit for motivated District residents to enter the workplace in a good, steady job and begin down the pathway to the middle class all the while providing you with first-class services.
Exposing youth to work prepares them for jobs as adults. That’s why I announced an additional $5 million in funding to expand the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program. The program will now serve young people ages 22 to 24.
Creating employment opportunities means rethinking our workforce development investments. Did you know that our creative economy generates over $19 billion to the local economy annually? We should be more creative in how we think about investing in the arts so that we are retaining and developing a creative work force that not only provides revenue and jobs, but sustains the District as a cultural capital.
We all know that the Streetcar has been a long promised program. It’s been long on promises, and short on results. But tonight we pledge, that that changes now.
I promise you that we will get the Street Car along H Street and Benning Road up and running.
Then we will extend the line to downtown Ward 7 so that Councilmember Alexander’s constituents can get from Benning Road to H Street to Union Station and eventually all the way to Georgetown.
Earlier this month, we announced a new technology partnership with Howard University – some Howard grads here? – that will bolster efforts to support our growing technology and innovation sectors by addressing the needs of startups and entrepreneurs in the DC.
We’ve also brokered an agreement between labor and our soccer team so that UNITE HERE and DC United will come together to make sure that not only will we have a new soccer stadium with the support of our taxpayers, but we will also have good-paying jobs.
Because we all know that when we stand with our brothers and sisters in labor so that they can succeed, then we all will succeed.
You saw my friend John Boardman in the video, and he may not know this, but he introduced me to a woman named Juanita King and meeting Juanita King changed my life. I caught the bus with Juanita. I cleaned rooms at the Marriott Marquis. It cemented within me the notion that every economic development dollar this government spends must lead to good-paying jobs.
In the coming year, we are committed to this goal. We will look for new opportunities to get DC residents, including returning citizens, on the job. Whether it is by way of our largest infrastructure projects or by creating incentives to attract and retain businesses – large and small.
We will make first-time capital investments to reinvigorate upper Georgia Avenue at Walter Reed and to spur development at Hill East.
We will experiment with OUR RFP, a new endeavor to give the community the first opportunity to shape development. We will try it first right down the street at Parcel 42 in Shaw.
We will support vibrancy in historic Anacostia by reimagining and redeveloping the Gateway at MLK and Good Hope Road. Just this week, I announced our intention to redevelop a huge government owned parcel right at that very important intersection.
And, we will ensure that our small businesses are given a fair shot to compete for work on all of this development that’s moving in our city.
Your government is hard at work to give everyone a fair shot.
We are active participants in President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to narrow the achievement gap that is too pervasive in America today.
Late last year, I invited a group of 100 boys to take the Audacity of Hope Challenge.
The participants were challenged to read President Obama’s book and to examine how they can each improve themselves by improving their communities.
Each time I meet with the participants, I am struck by their tenderness and their desire to be engaged. They are not as tough as they think they are, they’re not even as tough as you think they are. What they are looking for is a pathway. What they are looking for are caring adults to show them the way. They are not looking for a hand out; but a hand up.
Earlier today I announced a partnership that will guarantee 100 students in the Audacity of Hope Challenge year-round internships in businesses throughout the city.
Now that’s a fresh start.
And tomorrow, I am excited to say that I will announce the first-ever Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity.
The Deputy Mayor will be charged with creating solutions to improve outcomes for residents who face challenges to enter the workforce and start their way on the path to the middle class.
Because we know that when they succeed, we all succeed.
Being Mayor, of my hometown is the greatest job in the world and the greatest honor. We are a city on the move and we have our share of challenges. But many of the decisions have been easy in the last 89 days.
Like standing up for marriage equality as we did by urging the Supreme Court to end marriage discrimination nationwide.
Like deciding not to send any District employees to Indiana.
Because we ALWAYS – Where’s Grasso? Grasso’s absolutely right – because we know that when we stand with the LGBT community, we won’t sit by, we stand in our city. We won’t stand by while other cities discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
We stand with DREAMers who deserve a chance to succeed.
We also join hands with our Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and our fighter on the hill to stand up to the bullies – like Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland’s 1st District – who seek to undermine the will of District voters.
And I think I can say this for the congresswoman, we won’t stop until we achieve statehood.
We will stand together for the District’s right to spend its dollars. As a Councilmember, I supported Phil Mendelson’s efforts for budget autonomy.
And as Mayor, I stand with him, the Council, and the 83% of DC voters who approved the referendum.
Because when we all stand together, we will succeed.
I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish together, and I am excited about what more we will do together to create opportunity for all 8 wards.
In one way or another, much of what we will do will be linked to my first budget, which I will deliver to the Council, balanced, this week.
I’ve already mentioned the budget deficit that we’re facing, and simply put, we came into office with a budget deficit of about a quarter of a billion dollars. That deficit means that we will have to make tough decisions about which programs to fund, which to cut back, and whether to raise taxes.
I challenged my budget team to look for savings, to trim only those programs that could withstand it, and I tasked them to do more with less.
This is what we have in store.
So this year, we’re adding an additional $32 million for DCPS and our public charter schools to keep pace with growing demand. Our public school system will enroll 2,000 more students this year, we’re growing.
We are making capital investments in our DCPS schools so students can be comfortable, engaged, and inspired.
These investments will do much to improve educational outcomes for our students.
Unfortunately, the prospects of success for many students are poor. For instance, by fourth grade, nearly 50 percent of Black and Latino males are reading below grade level.
We know we have to do a better job at engaging these students and accelerating the pace of academic achievement so they have an equal chance of being successful in college, career and in life. They aren’t failing themselves. We are failing them.
To address this failing, in my first month in office, I stood with Chancellor Henderson and we announced a $20 million initiative to empower young boys and men of color.
We will also launch an all-male public high school that will focus on the academic success of these boys.
Councilmembers David Grosso and Kenyan McDuffie were bold, courageous and right to recognize that eight years of education reform has moved our boys too slowly.
And Attorney General Karl Racine knows the importance of this effort and has those students’ backs just like we all do – regardless of whether the challenge comes from within or beyond. We thank him.
We need you involved as well. And that’s why we launched the 500 for 500 – an effort to recruit mentors to participate in the Empowering Males of Color Initiative.
We are very proud to say that we’re 2/3 of the way there. Which means we have 1/3 of the way to go.
Students have been matched with a mentor to improve their literacy skills and enhance their sense of self-worth.
And there is more we can and will do.
Last year, the Council approved—unanimously—the creation of the At-Risk student formula. Not an equal student funding formula, but a formula to give the schools with the most kids facing the most challenges the resources necessary so that they can succeed.
Now this year, Chancellor Henderson fully implemented the Council’s plan and the budgets reflects that. If we are going to move the needle, we cannot poke holes in this funding.
Last year I introduced legislation that allows students to ride free on Metro Bus which saves families with two kids $720 a year.
We know that those savings goes a long way to help families make the rent, pay for field trips, or even buy a family computer.
More families could benefit from Kids Ride Free if it were extended to Metro Rail and we know that we should change that.
Because when those families succeed, we all succeed.
We know, too, that creating opportunities to attain pathways to the middle class means that we have to invest more in affordable housing.
The Housing Production Trust Fund is the District’s primary tool for creating and preserving affordable housing at a variety of income levels. I made a commitment last year that if elected mayor, the Housing Production Trust Fund would be budgeted at $100 million each single year. And I am proud to say, that we will deliver on that promise.
I know we will, because the At Large Councilmember for Housing – that’s what I call her, Anita Bonds – is going to fight for it.
I know that NKOTB – you know, you know what that means, the New Kids on the Block, that’s what I call them – Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, and Charles Allen they’re going to stand up for that $100 million for affordable housing and fight for it. Isn’t that right, New Kids on the Block?
Part of that effort will entail a genuine commitment to new communities. I spent a great deal of time as a Councilmember shining a light on the failings of that program; now I pledge to redouble my efforts to get it right.
Today, the District’s Interagency Council on Homelessness finalized a plan to end homelessness by making it rare, brief, and non-recurring.
And, with the Council’s support of our homeless funding plan, we will deliver on another promise: ending family homelessness by 2018 and chronic homelessness by 2025 in the District of Columbia.
And you told me, “Bowser, DC general is no place to raise a child,” and we will, with your support, close DC General once and for all.
Now I’ve tasked Brenda, Laura, and Kristy with a heft task. I have. But they can’t do it alone. We can’t do it alone. We need your help. Closing DC General means this, producing small, safe, attractive transitional emergency housing throughout the District of Columbia’s all eight wards.
Long-time Boston Mayor Tom Menino used to say this, “the true privilege of being Mayor is that I have the opportunity to be everybody’s neighbor,” and tonight, I extend that privilege to each and every one of you, and I challenge you to be more inclusive of those who need a hand up, in every neighborhood of our city.
Because we know that when they succeed, we all succeed.
We succeed, too when we take steps to ensure a healthy population. The way the District has embraced President Obama’s health care law is a model for the nation. Today, more than 93% of District residents have insurance.
Thanks to the President.
And despite the fact that almost everybody has insurance, we are not as healthy as we should be. We succumb to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes at rates higher than the national average. And I know we can do better.
Preventative health should be a focus, too. So I am dedicating funds for the joyful markets; a partnership with nonprofits and schools that distributes free vegetables at pop-up markets in schools at the end of the month.
And when a resident needs a hospital – one should be close to their community. And that’s why I am committed to investing in the only East of the River hospital. To make sure we have a state of the art new hospital, east of the river. And that is what I’m looking forward to working with you to accomplish.
We want residents to led active lifestyles and I am committed to investing more in the Metropolitan Branch Trail – I’m looking at Leif as I say this. We’re looking to investing in recreation facilities, and in open spaces so that DC residents of all ages have opportunities to pursue a healthy lifestyle in ways that are convenient.
To create opportunity requires us to make our streets safer.
The safety and well-being of DC residents is my top priority and FEMS, our Fire and Emergency Medical Service is at the top of my list.
Our fire and emergency services can do better.
We are undertaking a top to bottom review of FEMS and we’ve found more than we thought we’d find quite frankly. We have many more calls coming in, many – too many going unanswered, more than half of our ambulances were out of service, and equipment was rolled out without much training for our first responders. With the right leadership, we will change all that.
So, we did a nation-wide and found a professional, collaborative leader from the other Washington, Seattle. He led a department with an international reputation for its fire-based EMS performance. And I am certain that Chief Gregory Dean will work with our brave men and women who are our first responders to move the department forward in ways that will give you more confidence, and comfort in your homes.
Chief Cathy Lanier and her team at MPD are working hard to do that too.
In the early 1990s, the number of homicides in the District regularly topped 400 a year. Street gangs and open air drug markets seemed to consume entire neighborhoods and the violence grew to epidemic proportions. This was the era when the District was known as the “Murder Capital of the World.”
From 2008 to 2012, we reduced homicides by more than half, to a level the District had not seen in nearly 50 years.
And for the past two years, the annual number has remained below 100, an almost unimaginable notion back in 1991.
Since 2008, we have reduced overall violent crime, and that includes homicide, assault with dangerous weapons, sex assault and robbery by more than 18 percent.
And when comparing the most recent four years to the first four years of the 90s, we have had 1,446 fewer homicides. Now that’s not just a number. That represents more than 1,400 lives saved and innumerable families and loved ones spared unnecessary tragedy and loss. But that’s not enough. On homicide in this city is too many.
This progress, however, did not occur overnight. It took many years and a concerted effort to implement an effective policing strategy for combating violent crime and rebuilding the relationship between the police and members of the community.
Our progress on this front must continue, even in the face of the looming “retirement bubble” that will see us lose more officers each year than we can reasonably hire and train.
We will increase the number of officers on the streets this year by making sure that more officers are retained and the maximum numbers of officers are out on the streets, not doing desk jobs.
So last October, the MPD launched a pilot program to test the use of body cameras. And today I’m here to say that the pilot is over and that we will expand the use of body cameras to all MPD patrol officers in the next 18 months.
It’s the right thing to do for our officers and our residents.
Accountability is embedded, and will be embedded in everything this administration does.
Accountability is why we are re-launching CapStat, a data driven government efficiency and, ultimately, service delivery tool. It’s a model that we once employed to great success; and it’s time get back to CapStat – it’s what I like to say.
We’ve already measured snow and trash removal efforts, and we know we need to make adjustments for next winter – that’s true.
Since becoming mayor, I still haven’t found a way to make the snow not hit the ground, but after 24 deployments and 58,000 tons of salt spread all over the city, we have the frontline workers to thank for clearing the roads and hauling all of the waste in our allies. I want to thank our workers.
So when it became apparent that the weather made us fall too far behind on collections, I called the leadership in management and labor into my office and charted a path forward. We declared an “All Hands on Deck” and with the help of our frontline workers – and a few private haulers – we hauled over 1,000 tons of trash in a matter of three days.
My commitment for the next season is that we will find efficiencies and borrow a few best practices and we will for sure communicate better with residents about what we as a government can and will do.
Our Office of the Chief Technology Officer will launch another new initiative, “OpenDC,” a web-based portal that will permit third-party developers access to government data.
By doing so we encourage not only transparency from our end, but also the development of innovative solutions to pressing District problems. So stay tuned for our first Hackathon in May.
We will, we will celebrate innovation – not just the type that rewards you with love by swiping to the right or delivers a ride with a few taps. We will seek out innovation that makes life a little easier for a working mother trying to find social services or to use public transit.
That’s the same reason why we are building out an office dedicated to public private partnerships that will lower the time and cost for procurements in the District expertise and oversight of these complex projects so that public resources are used wisely.
These programs represent a modern, results-oriented approach to good government.
I’m convinced that by leveraging technology and business management strategies we can improve service delivery, and save money.
We know that we can do more to advance positive outcomes to those that are economically disadvantaged, especially in our east of the river communities.
Because when all wards succeed, we succeed.
So before we close tonight, we must acknowledge that the job of keeping our streets safe is a shared responsibility.
When it comes to snow response, we gather 20 agencies on calls at all hours of the night to devise our plan of attack, communicate about how we will work to together and decide whether schools and government can operate.
For too long, when an act of violence occurs that we know could lead to further acts, we have looked solely to the brave women and men of Metropolitan Police Department to end the cycle of violence.
In my Administration, that approach will get a fresh start, and we call it the Community Stabilization Protocol.
The Protocol harnesses the energy and bandwidth of over a dozen agencies – from our MOCRS, do you know our MOCRS, they’re out in the communities every day, to the Department of Behavioral Health – to provide support to the families of victims – and sometimes of suspects – to engage the community in finding a solution.
In the hours after an incident, a multi-agency call is convened. Within 12 hours, a member of the Deputy City Administrator’s visits the family, and within 24 hours, a multi-agency team visits the family and neighbors. And when necessary, a community meeting is held with 48 hours.
This approach is too new to hold up as a success, but we are pleased with its progress thus far. Families of those affected by violence have been open to assistance, communities have been engaged in the solution, and law enforcement has been able to interrupt the cycle of violence.
I cannot stand before you tonight and claim to have all of the answers to eradicate our toughest problems like senseless violence, but I can commit to you that we as a government and as a city will experiment with new approaches to face them head on. And we will always seek solutions that engage and empower our residents.
Tonight I have spoken about the work we’ve done already to fulfill promises made. And I’ve detailed how we will continue to create opportunity in the coming months.
And I’ve spoken about how this administration strives every day to be responsive, inclusive, and decisive.
I’ve spoken about this government, that it belongs to you, and about how we’re opening its doors to allow you better access.
I want to come back to that point that I started with.
Given our presence here at the historic Lincoln Theatre, and on the 150th anniversary of his assassination, it struck me as appropriate to invite you to an event that we’re all proud of and we should all support, celebrating Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia. And let me thank Councilmember Vincent Orange for his leadership, for his energy, and for never letting us forget our history.
Let me also offer you some words from the nation’s sixteenth president. Abraham Lincoln said “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves.”
You elected me to do what needs to be done to create opportunity for you and your family, to blaze a path to the middle class, to improve schools, make our streets safer, and our population healthier.
You know that I cannot do it alone. We want your help and we need your help. We want you to be engaged and we want you to make demands of us and we want to be held accountable.
I began tonight’s speech by recalling some other promises I’ve made previously, and I’ll end by making yet another on.
Every day I wake up humbled and grateful that you have placed in me your trust. That you believe that I’ll wake up everyday day to do the best job I can for the residents of the District of Columbia. I promise to live up to your expectations, to make yours a government that is open, accessible, transparent, and responsive to your needs. We pledge to make you proud.
Because when we succeed together, we all succeed as a great city.
Thank you for being here tonight. And may God continue to bless the District of Columbia.