News & Politics

DC’s Mayor Won’t Attend the Trump Hotel’s Official Grand Opening

Muriel Bowser participated in the "groundbreaking" of the Trump International Hotel on July 23, 2014. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

The Trump International Hotel in the Old Post Office building will finally get its grand opening next week, but when members of the Trump family cut the ceremonial ribbon, don’t expect to see DC Mayor Muriel Bowser standing aside them. The mayor, who stood alongside Donald Trump and his three oldest children when the Trump organization began renovations in 2014, plans to skip the ribbon-cutting, a spokeswoman says.

The rationale for Bowser wanting to avoid the Trumps now is obvious: Trump, now the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, is a widely reviled figure in DC after his crude, revanchist, and borderline anti-democratic campaign for the White House, while Bowser is a lifelong Democrat who has stumped for Hillary Clinton in Northern Virginia.

But the optics are certainly awkward. Mayors are expected to be at grand openings, ribbon cuttings, and any other events that promote their cities, and Bowser has been no exception. In nearly two years since taking office, she’s presided over the openings of stores like Shinola and Lowe’s, real-estate developments like the Arris apartment building in Navy Yard, restaurants like Smoked and Stacked, and even other hotels, like the Homewood Suites in Shaw. When Michelin announced it was publishing one of its vaunted restaurant guides, Bowser was there, posing with the Michelin Man. The official welcome for a luxury hotel in a landmark building on Pennsylvania Avenue, therefore, would seem like a no-brainer.

Bowser has also been the recipient of campaign contributions from the Trumps. Eric and Ivanka Trump—who has been more of a public face for the hotel than her father or siblings—each gave Bowser’s 2014 mayoral campaign a maximum contribution of $2,000, while Donald himself cut a check to Bowser’s inauguration committee for $5,000, according to DC campaign-finance records. And even though Bowser’s been a Clinton loyalist since endorsing the former secretary of state last December, until recently, she stayed relatively silent about Trump. It wasn’t until October 10, when Trump included DC in his routine about crime-plagued “inner cities” at the second presidential debate, that Bowser fired back on Twitter.

Still, boosterism for new establishments is one of the primary functions of any mayor. Instead, Bowser will be off fulfilling some other mayoral duty when the Trumps fly in next week. The Trump Organization did not say if it had invited Bowser or any other city or federal officials, but not having any government types present at the launch of a hotel in a structure the company won in a Government Services Administration bidding war is going to be peculiar.

To be sure, the election gives Bowser an easy out. Why would a Democratic mayor look chummy with the children of the Republican presidential nominee two weeks before the election, let alone the nominee himself? But when the nominee is Donald Trump, however, Bowser’s absence could speak to a larger concern the Trump Organization may have with its newest prized property: that it’s no longer a brand with which people want to associate themselves.

Even before the hotel opened in mid-September, hotel-industry analysts were saying Trump-branded venues were sagging compared to the rest of their markets, while Washington-area event planners—who help hotels rake in significant portions of their revenue—were backing away from recommending the Old Post Office to their clients out of fear of tarnishing their own reputations. And since the Trump DC hotel opened, it’s been tagged with graffiti, been the site of near-daily protests against its namesake, and reportedly has had to slash its nightly room rates well below the advertised $805.

Bowser’s spokeswoman did not elaborate on why the mayor won’t be showing up to next Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting, but considering the hotel’s reputation just one month in, perhaps she doesn’t need an explanation.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.