David Catania turns in ballot petitions, renews attacks on Muriel Bowser

Mayoral hopeful David A. Catania declared Tuesday that he had qualified for the Nov. 4 ballot, using the occasion to renew calls for his Democratic opponent, fellow D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser, to engage in a “vigorous debate” on the District’s direction.

“It’s past time for the candidates of this race to engage in a public discussion about the future of our city,” Catania (I-At Large) said outside the offices of the D.C. Board of Elections, where he said he had filed more than twice the necessary 3,000 voter signatures.

Bowser (D-Ward 4) has mostly avoided direct confrontations with her opponents since winning the Democratic primary April 1. None has been more aggressive than Catania, who has repeatedly questioned her records on education, housing and other issues as well as her willingness to engage with her rivals.

“I think it’s clear that Ms. Bowser’s strategy is to avoid any public discussion of the issues until the last possible moment,” Catania said Tuesday.

Another prominent independent, former D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, is also seeking a spot on the ballot, and nominees from the Statehood Green and Libertarian parties — Faith and Bruce Majors, respectively — have already qualified.

Joaquin McPeek, a spokesman for the Bowser campaign, said his candidate is happy to campaign quietly on her own terms. “Every day, council member Bowser is knocking on doors, making phone calls and visiting living rooms across all eight wards to have a public discussion directly with voters,” McPeek said. “And now she will debate every politician that qualifies for the ballot.”

The timing of those debates has given Catania much fodder as he has sought to depict Bowser as reluctant to engage in a head-to-head discussion of city issues. Although groups have inquired about scheduling earlier events, Bowser has insisted that her independent rivals qualify for the ballot before she participates. McPeek said Tuesday that policy remains in effect.

The Board of Elections has made no determination on the eligibility of Catania or any other independent candidates seeking to run in November. The deadline to submit nomination petitions is 5 p.m. Wednesday, and petitions will remain subject to challenge through Aug. 18. The board is scheduled to complete its evaluation of any possible challenges by Sept. 8.

The first debate Bowser has committed to is set for Sept. 18 and will be broadcast on WAMU (88.5 FM).

Although Bowser and Catania have not engaged in formal debates since the primary, they have had testy exchanges on the council dais and otherwise exchanged attacks from a distance. Bowser, for instance, referred to the status of Catania and Schwartz as former Republicans in an overwhelmingly Democratic city at a fundraiser last week.

“We know that we’re the Democrats of President Barack Obama,” she told a crowd of supporters to wild cheers. “We didn’t support George W. Bush.”

She also mentioned Catania’s reputation for intemperate outbursts: “You need a mayor who can . . . take the ideas of the community and not shout ’em down or cuss ’em out.”

Catania dismissed the suggestion Wednesday that he is too volatile to be mayor, calling his temper “a bit of an urban myth at this point.”

“I joined the council when I was 29, and there have been times when I was very irritated on behalf of what the government has or has not done for its citizens,” he said. “Much of the frustration that people have seen from me has been geared toward that, not towards the average citizen.”

McPeek rolled out other lines of attack Tuesday, saying that Catania did not show “good judgment” by opposing city spending on Nationals Park and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, as well as voting against a 2008 bill requiring paid sick leave for city workers.

Catania, meanwhile, took aim at Bowser’s campaign pitch of delivering a “fresh start” to a city government racked by corruption scandals. Instead, he called Bowser “a fresh face on business as usual.”

“If people want someone who will sit on the sidelines and do nothing and smile, I’m not their candidate,” he said. “If the people want someone who will roll up their sleeves and work hard to solve the big problems, the challenges our city confronts, I believe I’m their candidate.”

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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