The harsh spotlight on Black women leading big cities

Bottoms did not rule out running for office in the future. When pressed about her decision, she wouldn’t say exactly why she exited the race. But, she said, she wanted to “pass the baton” to another leader in the city.

Her allies and fellow Black mayors sympathized with her decision, their understanding informed by their own experiences leading cities while navigating the past year as Black Americans.

“I can totally understand how she might just say after one term, ‘I’m done,’” Jones said, adding that she texted Bottoms, who is also her sorority sister, to say, “I support you in whatever you decide to do.”

She and Bottoms are both members of the African American Mayors Association. But they also make frequent use of the informal network of current and former Black municipal leaders, which has grown to be hundreds strong via group chats and offline phone calls. And among Black women, the mayoral circle is even closer knit.

“I know how they’re feeling. I know those challenges,” Weaver, the former Flint mayor, said. “I know how tired they are physically, mentally, emotionally. And yet they keep going. You keep going.”

“The agenda is clear”

Like Bottoms, Bowser oversees a city with a rising crime rate and systemic inequities rooted in race. And like Bottoms — and most mayors for that matter — Bowser inherited most of those problems. But as the pandemic exacerbated the inequities, Bowser, who is up for reelection next year, was tasked with fixing them at their worst.

In the rapidly gentrifying District of Columbia, for example, the longevity gap between white and Black residents has grown even as the national gap has shrunk. As of 2016, Black men could expect to live 17 years less, and Black women, 12 years less, than their white counterparts.