Saying he wants to restore a “sense of urgency” to the city’s education reform efforts, D.C. Council member David A. Catania said Wednesday that he will explore a mayoral run — his first tilt at higher office after 16 years as a lawmaker.
The at-large independent, who is chairman of the council’s Education Committee, discussed his political plans after visiting an Anacostia charter school — one of more than 100 public schools he has visited since taking the panel’s helm in January.
“I am convinced that the only way we will ever be the city we want to be is by investing heavily in public education and by making it the top priority of the mayor of the District of Columbia,” said Catania, 45, a lawyer who lives in Dupont Circle.
His criticism of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was not explicit, but the timing of Catania's announcement — less than two days after Gray announced his own reelection plans — spoke for itself.
“One of the reasons I ran for office in 1997 is I looked at the collection of individuals stepping forward to fill that office and I was uninspired,” he said. “I am equally uninspired by the current mayor and by the field of candidates who seek to replace him.”
As an independent, Catania would run in the November general election against the winners of the party primaries and other unaffiliated candidates. He said the outcome of the April 1 primaries would have no bearing on his final decision, although he acknowledged that he is unlikely to decide until afterward.
Catania suggested that the city’s new election schedule, with the primaries in early April rather than mid-September, would give the general election new relevance.
“I welcome seven months of a campaign where we actually can go from neighborhood to neighborhood and say with specificity what we have done and what we will do,” he said. “So far in this campaign, I’ve heard a lot of platitudes but not a lot of policy. Problems don’t solve themselves through platitudes.”
Under Gray, public school test scores have largely continued on an upward trend that began nearly a decade ago under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Gray has mostly continued the controversial school reforms promoted by former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee — choosing her top aide, Kaya Henderson, as his own public schools chief and crediting steady leadership for the continuing progress.
Catania has been critical of the Gray administration’s reform pace and has introduced a flurry of bills aimed at improving various pieces of the city’s educational model, including grade-level promotions, school funding formulas and college scholarships.
“I believe there’s been steady improvement but not a sense of urgency,” he said Wednesday.
Chuck Thies, Gray’s campaign manager, declined to address Catania's critique. “After April 1, we might pay attention to his candidacy, if he has one,” Thies said.
Catania brushed off the suggestion that an independent — a former Republican, in fact — might not be able to topple the Democratic nominee in a city where three out of four registered voters are Democrats. The closest a non-Democrat has come to the mayoralty since home rule began in 1977 was in 1994, when Republican Carol Schwartz lost to Marion Barry by 14 percentage points.
“People said 16 years ago that I couldn’t beat a Democrat in 1997,” Catania said, in a reference to his surprise special-election victory over former council chairman Arrington Dixon. “Here I am 16 years later.”