Mayoral debate will go on, Bowser or no Bowser, organizers say


Mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser talks with voters as Fort Stevens celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle fought there on July 12. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

For more than a month, representatives of Ward 4′s advisory neighborhood commissions have been seeking to organize a mayoral debate. Initially, the group sought to schedule the event for mid-July. But when Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser made clear that she would stick to her policy of not debating until the ballot is set, a process set to wrap up in early September, they pushed things back to accommodate the D.C. Council member who happens to represent Ward 4.

This past Friday, one of the organizers, Martha Mitchell, sent an e-mail to several reporters she had approached about serving as panelists — including myself — saying that “Mayoral Candidates Bowser, [independent David A. Catania] & [independent Carol Schwartz] have confirmed their attendance” for a Sept. 17 event.

Not so much: After I tweeted that news, Bowser campaign manager Bo Shuff called to say there had been no such confirmation. On Wednesday, a flier surfaced on Twitter again listing Bowser as confirmed; campaign spokesman Joaquin McPeek said Thursday that, no, there had been no confirmation and that the first debate Bowser has committed to will be an American University-sponsored event the following night.

The scheduling of debates has been a particularly fraught process for the Nov. 4 general election, with Bowser’s no-early-debates stance fueling attacks, mainly from Catania, that she is refusing to engage in a public discussion of important campaign issues. Mitchell is a Catania supporter who has made public comments critical of Bowser’s decision to put off her debate appearances.

That has put the journalists who often participate in these debates as panelists or moderators in awkward positions. In this instance, that awkwardness has been heightened by the fact that my name was listed on the flyer as a panelist when I had not confirmed, and another listed panelist, WRC-TV reporter Tom Sherwood, said Thursday he’d agreed to participate only if the major candidates had all confirmed.

The upshot is this: The Ward 4 ANCs will host a mayoral debate Sept. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ in Petworth; it’s just unclear who will show up. “We have made a decision to go forward whether or not Muriel Bowser participates,” Douglass Sloan, another ANC member and debate organizer (and a Bowser supporter), said Thursday.

As for myself, I told the organizers Thursday I would be happy to cover the debate — but not participate in it.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · August 14