Regional Leaders Spotlight Their Forged-By-Fire Partnership

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan discuss regional issues — and their relationship with one another — at a Greater Washington Board of Trade breakfast forum in the District on Thursday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

They’ve been together only a couple times in the last 18 months, but Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D) said they are tighter than ever.

Asked to reflect on how their relationship has evolved since the beginning of the pandemic, the trio agreed that their common challenges drew them into frequent — and productive — contact.

“We really like each other,” Hogan said, “and we’ve spent a lot more time talking to one another.”

Before the pandemic, “we would see each other occasionally,” he added. “But we did a lot more Zooming and talking on the telephone — the three of us together as a region — [asking] ‘how are you dealing with this?’ and ‘what are we going to do about that?’ and ‘what steps are you taking?,’ because we were all in this together with COVID.”

“We’ve got a great relationship,” observed Northam. “Whether it’s been working on the Chesapeake Bay or transportation issues, or this past year on COVID-19. I can’t ask for better partnerships.”

The three leaders shared a stage for the first time in over a year on Thursday, when they discussed a range of issues at a Greater Washington Board of Trade breakfast event. The group’s annual Capital Region Business Forum drew a crowd of about 200 to a hotel ballroom in Southwest D.C., after being held online in 2020.

Masks on between breakfast bites at the Capital Region Business Forum, Thursday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Attendees were required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks when not eating.

The three executives said their relationship has produced tangible results.

Hogan claimed their decision to commit extra funds to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates subway and bus service in the D.C. region, “saved” the agency when its financial future was uncertain. Their funding commitments were tied to new safety and reliability standards.

Bowser recalled that the three jurisdictions “were partners in supporting the United States Capitol and protecting the capital region” on Jan. 6, when the Capitol Police were overwhelmed by a violent mob.

Northam said the three worked during the pandemic “to try to be consistent and have our messaging as close as we can.”

“We really are reliant, in a lot of ways, on each other,” the mayor added.

There are limits to their alliance.

Maryland, Virginia and D.C. competed fiercely for Amazon’s second headquarters, dubbed “HQ2,” a lucrative prize that went to Virginia.

And the two states are battling to be the future home of the FBI, whose downtown headquarters is crumbling and a security risk.

Bowser told business leaders that the region would be able to compete more successfully for federal funds if it had “six senators” instead of four, a reference to the city’s ongoing quest for statehood.

She didn’t intend the remark to be a laugh line, but she got a mix of laughter and applause nonetheless. “I’m very serious,” she insisted.

Neither Hogan nor Northam acknowledged her call for the residents of the nation’s capital to be treated equally.

The impact of a lost school year

Hogan said the capital region is “doing better than most of the other places in the country” in battling the pandemic, getting people vaccinated, and keeping schools and businesses open.

But he warned that students who lost a year of in-person instruction have fallen dangerously behind. “I think we’re going to be suffering the consequences of this for decades to come,” he said.

A business owner before re-entering politics, Hogan said small firms continue to encounter staffing shortages because of child care issues and the availability of federal unemployment benefits.

“Our biggest problem right now is the labor force and getting people back to work,” he said.

Despite the region’s collective efforts to fight COVID-19, Hogan said it is “still very scary with this delta variant that’s been mutating.”

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