Washington’s Mayor Eyes a Second Term, With a New Supporter in Tow
Posted June 19, 2018 11:20 p.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2018 11:24 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — There appears to be little mystery left in Washington’s mayoral race.
As was widely expected, the office’s current occupant, Muriel E. Bowser, coasted to victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. In a city where three-quarters of registered voters are Democrats, that would all but guarantees Bowser a second term.
And so five months before the general election in November, the biggest surprise of her campaign season may have already happened.
Bowser adopted an infant girl last month, making her the first single mother to lead the nation’s capital and adding her to the thin ranks of public officials whose families reflect a living arrangement that exists in millions of households across the country.
More than half of children in Washington are growing up in single-parent households, according to census data, and almost a quarter of children in the United States are being raised by single mothers. But in Congress, for instance, only six representatives identify as single mothers, and no senators do.
In keeping with the guarded approach she takes with her private life, Bowser, who has no other children, shocked many in the city with her adoption announcement.
Gearing up for a November election in which a competitive challenger seems unlikely to emerge, Bowser, 45, told WUSA Channel 9 that she had decided to start looking into adoption late last year, knowing that “it was a great time in my life” to share with a child.
“When you sit in the seat that I’m in, you’re used to being able to make things happen, and babies have a way of letting you know that they’re in control,” she said.
Though the arrival of her daughter came sooner than Bowser had anticipated, she said in a statement that she was “thrilled” to begin parenthood. Miranda Elizabeth Bowser was born last month, according to Susana Castillo, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
With Bowser poised to become the city’s first mayor in 16 years to win a second term, the relatively sleepy election might be a welcome reprieve for the new mother. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., recalled the pressure of being a single mother on the campaign trail without a nanny or a baby sitter.
“I had my 8-year-old son going door-to-door with me when I first ran for the Assembly,” Moore said. “I’ve taken my kids to fundraisers, and they didn’t like the cocktail shrimps; they just wanted some Doritos.” Bowser will not be the city’s only elected official with a young child. Councilwoman Brianne K. Nadeau gave birth to a girl last year, and Robert C. White Jr., an at-large councilman, has a 21-month-old daughter — which he cited as a reason for declining to run against Bowser this year, despite being seen by some as a strong contender.
“Becoming the first council member to give birth while in office,” Nadeau said in a statement, “has really driven home the challenges that parents face in the District.”
It is a sentiment that Donna F. Edwards, a former Maryland congresswoman who is also a single mother, empathizes with. The first piece of legislation she helped get passed was an amendment in an appropriations package that provided dinners at school for low-income students in Maryland — a program that had never been proposed and approved by her state’s delegation.
“I don’t think it’s because they thought children should go hungry. I just think it was not something that ever occurred to them,” said Edwards, whose son was about to head to college when she was first elected. Edwards ran for the Senate in 2016 but lost in the primary. Had she won the seat, she would have been the second single mother to serve in that chamber.
Several politicians who are also mothers said that becoming a single parent may refocus some of Bowser’s policy efforts, whether that be improving Washington’s public schools or creating additional programs to engage youths after school.
“I don’t think we have such a drumbeat to cut SNAP or school lunches if we had more single mothers” in Congress, said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. and a single mother. “They could say, ‘No, no, no, we can’t cut this.'”
For single parents especially, paid family leave can be a particularly important issue, said Rebecca Ennen, the development and communications director at Jews United for Justice, the anchor organization in the Campaign for DC Paid Family Leave.
The campaign helped push the City Council in 2016 to pass the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act, which grants up to eight weeks of leave to new parents. Ennen said Bowser had been “lukewarm” to the law, allowing it to take effect without her signature.
“We’re really curious to see how becoming a parent might shift her position on the subject,” Ennen said.
Moore emphasized that even for female politicians not living paycheck to paycheck, access to adequate and affordable child care to help cover for late-night meetings or early-morning rallies can be difficult.
“The cost of child care itself, she’ll definitely feel it, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching,” Moore said, referring to the high cost in Washington, where a single adult with one child could pay as much as $12,250 a year.
Bowser, who declined to be interviewed for this article, took a little over a week off before jumping back into political life. It was a maternity leave that Ennen called a Catch-22 “tragedy,” noting that women with high-powered jobs can be criticized for taking too much or too little time off to care for a newborn.
It is a challenge that Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who in April became the first sitting senator to give birth, has zeroed in on. Duckworth, D-Ill., has been outspoken about the fact that she cannot take maternity leave without forfeiting her ability to sponsor legislation or vote, and she recently voted on the floor with her daughter in tow after a rule change.
Though she is still working from home, Duckworth was unavailable for comment. “She’s taking time to bond with her daughter these days,” a spokesman, Ben Gash Garmisa, said in an email.
Moore hopes that the mayor’s new role as a mother will inspire other single parents to run for office. In 2016, several single mothers ran in the hopes of joining Moore in Congress, but only Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., won her race.
Change is slow, Lee said, but there have been recent bright spots to break down barriers of entry: The Federal Election Commission ruled last month that candidates can use campaign funds to pay for child care costs related to time spent running for federal office.
“That’s a game changer,” Lee said.