D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks to residents attending her administration's Budget Engagement Forum in Northeast on Feb. 23, where they had a chance to voice their priorities to the mayor before the fiscal 2020 budget is finalized. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Education and housing have emerged as the main concerns for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to address in her upcoming budget, according to residents who voiced their concerns at a meeting held in Ward 7.

On Feb. 23, 250 residents across the District came to the Deanwood Recreation Center in Northeast to tell Bowser what they want her to fund in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

The mayor told the residents what they are doing has real ramifications for the city.

“This is serious business,” Bowser said. “We want to know how you want us to invest in the city’s budget that is over $14 billion. I want to make sure that we make those decisions based on city values. What we do with the budget is no different from what you do in your homes. You decide where to cut in your home budget and how to bring in more revenue.”

In addition to the Deanwood meeting, the mayor has held budget engagement sessions at the Arthur Capper Community Center in Ward 6 and Roosevelt High School in Ward 4, as well as a telephone town hall for senior citizens.

The gym of the Deanwood Recreation Center had 24 tables with eight chairs each around them. Each table had a facilitator that took notes of what participants said and who later transferred that information to the mayor’s office for input into the budget process.

In a preliminary exercise, residents electronically recorded their priorities and education came up first, followed by housing, jobs and economic opportunity, health and human services, public safety and government operations.

Upon realizing that government operations came in last, City Administrator Rashad Young sighed.

“It is government operations that make sure that the snow is cleaned up and the roads are clear,” he said.

Jenny Reed, director of the Office of Budget and Performance Management, explained the budget process to the gathering.

“The budget cycle occurs all year long but it starts in earnest in November, when we consult with the city agencies about what their needs are for the next budget year,” Reed said. “In the winter, we engage the residents and then we present the budget to the D.C. Council.”

Reed said Bowser will send the fiscal year 2020 budget to the D.C. Council on March 20 and she and her administration officials will testify about it on March 22.

The deputy mayors or their representatives had the chance to present their case to the gathering on why more District funds should go to their department.

Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for public safety, passionately pleaded his case.

“We need to make sure that our city’s streets are safe and that we can hire more police officers,” Donahue said to applause.

After the deputy mayors spoke, residents spoke with their table mates for 20 minutes about what they felt the 2020 budget should prioritize. Bowser circulated to some tables, speaking with residents.

In a second electronic vote on priorities, education remained first, government operations moved up to number five and public safety fell to last.

John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff, presided over the final minutes of the meeting. He had four tables express to what they thought important for the mayor to put in the budget.

The tables had the same concerns, such as funding education and more affordable housing, but some topics such as aiding immigrants and supporting mental health initiatives also got attention.

Leonard Watson, president of the Ward 8 Democrats, and other members of the group came to the Deanwood session to make their concerns known and did so verbally and in their “Ward 8 Democrats FY 20 Budget Talking Points.”

Watson said he spoke with Bowser when she came to his table about the lack of healthy eating options in the East End of the District.

“We need access to healthy foods in Ward 8 because much of our ward is a food desert,” Watson said. “We need hyperlocal access to bring healthy eating options to the ward.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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