May 28

Only a few weeks ago, Democratic mayoral nominee, and D.C. Council member, Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) seemed to believe she could defeat her chief opponent in the general election, council member David Catania (I-At Large), by pretending he didn’t exist. She refused invitations from reputable groups to debate him now, for example, arguing the technicality that he hadn’t yet qualified for the ballot.

Instead of sitting quietly in a corner, Catania took the fight to her home base: He began knocking on doors in Ward 4, which Bowser has represented for seven years. He also went to areas of the city, such as Wards 7 and 8, where results from the April 1 primary showed her vulnerable. Don’t forget that 57 percent of Democrats voting in that election chose someone other than Bowser.

Catania’s retail politicking apparently has begun to have an effect. He has peeled off a few notable Democrats, and his yard signs have popped up in unlikely places, suggesting citywide appeal.

Could that be why Bowser and her supporters have resorted to name-calling? Last week, she and others labeled Catania “sexist.” They cited as proof campaign literature that featured a female image attached to puppet strings and highlighting excerpts from two Post articles that indicated Bowser was being advised by some of the same people who worked for former mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Catania’s campaign asked, “Who is Pulling Muriel Bowser’s Strings.” The flip side of the flier asserted there is “no record that Muriel Bowser cares about you” while providing details of Catania’s achievements on the council.

Unsurprisingly, neither Bowser nor her supporters liked that piece of election material. But if she wants to run with the big dogs, she can’t yelp every time something happens that she doesn’t like.

More specifically, if asking about a candidate’s associations and advisers constitutes sexism, stick that red “S” on me, too. I have done it; I expect to do it again during this election cycle. Much can be learned from the company we keep. It’s also fair, I think, to challenge the origin and authenticity of a candidate’s ideas. It’s logical to inquire about independence and management acumen of someone trying to become the chief executive of an $11 billion municipal corporation.

Further, anyone who knows Catania’s background knows he was reared by a single mother — a woman he praises often for instilling in him strong values and principles. In his more than 17 years on the council, he has been a leader on issues that matter to women: education, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment and children’s mental and physical health care, for example.

Sexist? Please. Next they’ll label him a racist.

Could Bowser’s name-calling be part of a broader, gender-based political strategy? Probably. She’s out to secure the votes of women and money from groups such as Emily’s List.

She launched the “sexist” attack during an appearance in Ward 3, where her support among women is strong. But she doesn’t have the same magnetism with African American women. That dynamic was apparent in the run-up to the primary. Will Catania be their choice?

In the primary, Bowser took a similar tack of taking the focus off herself. She cast herself as the anti-Vincent C. Gray. In lieu of a specific vision for the city, she strung together slogans around the need for an ethical and honest government. That was then.

This is now, and winning the general election will require more. While it may not be the “nastiest” election the city has had, as Bowser has predicted, it won’t be a cakewalk. It shouldn’t be.

Residents want and deserve substance. That’s why some already are requesting debates, or at least extended discussions with both candidates present. Bowser has agreed to one in September at American University. It makes no sense to wait until Catania qualifies for the ballot. After all, he has qualified for five citywide races, for the council. Who believes he won’t do it again?

Bowser and Catania need to get busy. It’s time for them to start explaining themselves to voters; discussing their legislative records; presenting their visions for the District; and defining the skill sets that they believe critical to being an effective chief executive and helping to realize that vision.

A victimization or bogeyman offensive may be entertaining. But it’s not likely to persuade the majority of voters of a candidate’s preparedness for the most powerful elected office in the city.

jonettarose@yahoo.com