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Same-sex marriage bill is milestone for D.C. Council member

On Tuesday, 12 years to the day after he was sworn in, D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) will oversee his greatest triumph when the council is expected to give final approval to his bill to legalize same-sex marriage. But his record also reflects a capacity for bullying committee hearing witnesses and demolishing those who cross him.

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When David A. Catania swept onto the D.C. Council a dozen years ago, even the shrewdest politicians were baffled by his rise to power.

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He was young -- 29 when he defeated Arrington Dixon, a former council chairman who had been in and out of city politics since the 1970s.

And he is white, which upended the expectation that a majority-black city would not elect him over Dixon, who is black. And Catania, who was virtually unknown, was a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.

"I just put my head down and started working," said Catania, 41, the first openly gay council member. "For a long time, we had officials who just posed all day, and I was determined to get things done."

On Tuesday, 12 years to the day after he was sworn in, Catania will oversee his greatest triumph when the council is expected to give final approval to his bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

Cementing a goal he set a decade ago, Catania has bullied his proposal through the political process, convincing not only his council colleagues and Democrats in Congress but also skeptics in the gay community that this was the year to act on same-sex marriage.

Catania's doggedness has made him one of the most influential, yet feared, men in city government.

"The combination of his personality and his intelligence make him intimidating," said Walter Smith, executive director of the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a think tank that focuses on city issues. "But it gets results."

Tuesday's vote will be a major milestone in Catania's life, coming less than two decades after he was forced to come to terms with his sexuality while beginning a career in Republican politics.

Final passage of the bill, which cleared an initial hurdle two weeks ago by a council vote of 11 to 2, will also mark the next step in Catania's professional journey, as he contemplates whether to seek a fourth term next year.

'I make no apologies'

As chairman of the health committee, Catania is at the front lines of the city's battle against HIV/AIDS, and he is on a major push to reform a health-care system that he says was at the brink of collapse a few years ago.

Now an independent after leaving the GOP five years ago because of its stance on same-sex marriage, Catania has emerged as a key mediator in battles between Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and other council members.


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