WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser has drawn a battle line right up to the White House.
Bowser, one of seven black female mayors of America’s 100 largest cities, on Friday declared a small but symbolic patch of the U.S. capital - a section of 16th Street bounded by a church on one side and Lafayette Square opposite the White House on the other - “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
The Democratic mayor then had the District Of Columbia’s departments of transportation and public works paint giant yellow letters spelling “Black Lives Matter” followed by the city’s flag on the street spanning two city blocks leading to plaza. To finish, Bowser posted on Twitter a video taken from a nearby roof showing the White House overlooking the results.
“There are people who are craving to be heard and to be seen,” Bowser told a news conference, “and to have their humanity recognized, and we had the opportunity to send that message loud and clear on a very important street in our city.”
Glynda Carr, president and chief executive of Higher Heights for America PAC, a political action committee dedicated to helping more liberal black women win elective office, said Bowser “showed the world that she leads, unbought and unbossed.” Carr’s organization has never raised money for Bowser.
For his part, the Republican president denounced Bowser as “incompetent.”
Washington’s status as the seat of the federal government has not always been a comfortable fit for its residents or elected leaders. The city’s population of about 700,000 people - 46.4% black and 45.6% white, according to the Census Bureau - is politically liberal and heavily Democratic.
The ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis last month, have heightened that tension and thrust Bowser - mayor since 2015 - into the national spotlight.
Bowser has supported peaceful demonstrators while denouncing violence and looting. Trump has advocated a militarized response to civil unrest and even summoned a contingent of active-duty troops to Washington, though they were never deployed on the streets. Bowser said she did not want any out-of-state military forces in Washington.
When Trump threatened protesters who come near the White House with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons,” Bowser shot back with a comment that summed up their relationship.
“There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone. ... I call upon our city and our nation to exercise great restraint even while this President continues to try to divide us,” Bowser wrote on Twitter.
After baton-swinging federal police fired smoke canisters, flashbang grenades and rubber bullets to drive away peaceful protesters near the White House so Trump on Monday could pose holding a Bible in front of a church near what is now “Black Lives Matter Plaza,” Bowser called the scene “shameful.”
A single mother to a toddler, Bowser is only the second woman to serve as Washington’s mayor and the first to win a second term in office.
Like other elected officials in Washington over the years, Bowser has advocated statehood for the District of Columbia, which has no voting members of Congress even as states with smaller populations have two senators and one member of the House of Representatives. Washington’s mayor was a federal appointee until the 1970s when the city was granted “home rule” and began electing its mayors.
Bowser also clashed with Trump during the federal government shutdown in 2019, over relief funds offered to the city during the coronavirus pandemic and over his plans to hold a grand military parade in the capital.
Trump castigated her on Twitter on Friday.
“The incompetent Mayor of Washington, D.C., @MayorBowser, who’s budget is totally out of control and is constantly coming back to us for ‘handouts,’ is now fighting with the National Guard,” Trump wrote.
Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Will Dunham
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