D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's administration intensified its criticism of Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser on Tuesday as it dismissed her adjustments to Gray's $10.1 billion budget proposal as ignorant and politically tainted, allegations that Bowser, a mayoral candidate, said were baseless.
"Bowser's actions show a complete and utter lack of understanding about how economic development works," mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said in an unsolicited email that also accused Bowser of being "more interested in politics than in jobs and economic opportunity."
Bowser, who became chairwoman of the D.C. Council's influential economic development panel in January and announced her campaign for mayor in March, bristled at the criticism.
"I have a very clear understanding of economic development, and I think what their comments reflect is a total disrespect for the whole city," Bowser said.
And she disputed the charge that her nascent mayoral bid affected her thinking as she tweaked Gray's budget, moving millions of dollars in funding to projects in her home ward.
"I don't operate that way," Bowser said. "My focus is to bring economic development all across the city."
Bowser's committee agreed last week to remove from the budget $8 million in funding for a new DC Water facility and put it toward initiatives elsewhere in the District, including the redevelopment of Walter Reed.
Bowser contends that she steered her committee toward that action because the city government isn't prepared for the water project.
The panel also scrapped $3.5 million that was earmarked for Poplar Point and opted to spend that money at Walter Reed, saying the project merited greater attention from the John A. Wilson Building.
The dustup came as lawmakers, some of whom aggressively questioned Bowser about her proposal, met for about five hours Tuesday to discuss the budget ahead of their first vote on it, scheduled for next week.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who used the session to gather feedback before he crafts the council's version of the budget, said he did not think the looming mayoral contest had permeated deliberations.
"There were a lot of questions concerning the economic development committee report, and I think the questions were legitimate," Mendelson said. "We all have a citywide responsibility."
At-large Councilman David Grosso, who was among those who voiced concerns about Bowser's proposal, said he thought Bowser had embraced the role of a ward-level legislator.
"I think she's doing the best job she can," Grosso said. "When a ward member is focused on budget issues, sometimes that's where their ideas go."
The mayoral election is set for April 2014. Gray has not announced whether he will seek a second term.