jonetta rose barras: Muriel Bowser on the national stage
“What was that about?” some of you have asked me in conversations on the street, in the supermarket, on the telephone. Why did Mayor Muriel Bowser feel compelled to bring cameras from NBC’s Today Show into her home to introduce her adopted daughter, Miranda Elizabeth, to a national television audience — much of which knows nothing about the District of Columbia, its people or, for that matter, its mayor?
Consider that Hoda Kotb, the anchor who conducted the interview, made a point during the segment of declaring Bowser, 46, “the first single mother to run the nation’s capital.” Doesn’t that distinction actually belong to Sharon Pratt (Dixon)? When she was elected in 1990, she was the single mother of two daughters who called the District home, although they were both in their 20s.
Putting aside the historical rewrite, why did Bowser execute that national move? Is she looking to step up her game during her second term? There have been signals that offer a resounding yes.
Bowser went to El Salvador, declaring San Salvador a sister city and visiting Intipuca; about 5,000 Salvadorans who live or work in the DC area are from that town, according to the mayor’s office. Bowser had already reasserted the District’s “sanctuary city” status in opposition to President Donald J. Trump’s oppressive and misguided immigration policies. Her Central America trip anchored her in the middle of that national and international debate — although local critics say she hasn’t gone far enough..
Earlier this month, Bower declared her desire for an NFL team, as she broke ground for development near RFK Stadium. The city lost its franchise team when Pratt was mayor and Jack Kent Cooke was the owner looking for taxpayers to fund construction of a new facility. The last mayor to make a move to recruit a sports team was Anthony A. Williams, who fought for months with the DC Council and Major League Baseball officials before ultimately paving the way for the Nationals to come to town.
Is Bowser following Williams’ second-term template with international travel, sports seduction and election to coveted posts atop political associations like the National League of Cities. Williams was elected its president in 2004 — one year after he began his second mayoral term.
Will Bowser get elected to the board or become an officer? We’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, Bowser has some ‘splaining to do. Some local residents have griped that she let a national audience lay eyes on her daughter before the people who call her, with pride, their mayor and pay her salary. It was a long time before residents even knew her daughter’s name. There had been no sightings at meetings or political events where Bowser was in attendance. There had been no social media photographs.
Then, wham, there’s that cute little Miranda all dressed up with her headband on the Today Show. And, who gets to pinch her cheeks and hold her?
During the NBC interview, Bowser said she was motivated to begin the adoption journey when she learned Kotb had adopted a daughter. Kotb, then 52, reportedly was motivated by the actor Sandra Bullock. (Is that the rich girl or near-rich girl adoption club?)
Was Bowser attempting to placate the disgruntled by holding a public reception that followed Miranda’s Catholic baptism over the weekend? Invitees were asked to bring diapers and other baby stuff, which were to be donated to the nonprofit Greater DC Diaper Bank, according to mayoral spokesperson LaToya Foster.
On Wednesday, Bowser will hold the city’s first Maternal and Infant Health Summit, where a half-dozen other mayors are expected to attend; nonprofit organizations and elected officials are slated to participate in panel discussions. The aim is to educate the public and improve health care services and outcomes for children and families. The District has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country; many of the mothers who die during birth are African-American.
Bowser has said that adopting her daughter has made her more “sensitive” to children and families. This is no Dan Quayle moment. In the 1990s, the vice president raised objections to Candice Bergen’s television character Murphy Brown getting pregnant although she was unmarried.
The message of single-parenting is fraught with controversy, especially in a city with a high rate of teen pregnancy and where the majority of households in the African-American community are headed by females. If it’s OK for the mayor to be a single mother, why isn’t it OK for them?
“Families are made in all kinds of ways,” Bowser told Kotb. She is right, of course. But regardless of the construction, the reality is this: Children have needs, and before they are brought into the world or even adopted those needs must be considered.
If the presence of the mayor’s new daughter can spark over the next four years a greater urgency around issues concerning families and children, particularly low-income children, in the nation’s capital, that’s a good thing. Whether we see the first daughter tomorrow or years from now, we may want to whisper to Miranda a quiet thank-you.
jonetta rose barras is a DC-based author and freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.