Those of you champing at the bit to watch Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser go toe-to-toe with presumptive independent candidate David A. Catania will have to wait at least a few months.
A charter-school advocacy group — Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, or FOCUS — in recent days explored hosting an education-oriented mayoral candidate forum sometime in June. But the Bowser campaign declined Monday, making clear the Democrat has no plans to publicly engage with Catania until he qualifies for the Nov. 4 general-election ballot.
“Once the field is set, we’ll look at the invitations that come in,” said Bo Shuff, Bowser’s campaign manager. That policy would preclude any debates or joint forums before a ballot petition deadline passes on Aug. 6, and it could mean no such events until early September, when the petition challenge period expires.
Shuff said his candidate assumed a similar posture ahead of the primary election, though that is not entirely true: Bowser participated in at least one forum several weeks before the petition deadline.
And while Catania, an at-large D.C. Council member who has qualified for citywide ballots five times previously, would seem to have proven the capacity to collect the necessary 3,000 voter signatures, Shuff said that is of no moment: “It’s not about questioning David Catania’s ability to get on the ballot. Like we did in the primary. we’re going to wait until the field is set.”
Ben Young, Catania’s campaign manager, said the explanation amounted to “an excuse to avoid a debate, plain and simple” and that voters “deserve better.”
“Our next mayor can’t be afraid to engage in a respectful exchange of ideas about how to secure the city’s future,” he said. “We just witnessed a primary nearly 100 percent focused on scandal, and voters responded by tuning out and staying home. Now is our chance to re-engage them with a substantive debate about the issues they care about.”
During a Friday appearance on WAMU-FM, Bowser was questioned on her intentions regarding potential future debates and forums.
“I don’t run away from people asking questions,” she said, before questioning just how competitive her contest with Catania actually is, referencing recent polls showing her leading by 20 points or more in a head-to-head race. “We’re going to participate in forums. … Our goal, of course, is to make sure as many people as possible get to hear my views.”
Michael Musante, FOCUS’s director of government relations, says the group is still hoping to host a forum, though questions of date and format remain unresolved. “We’re just in the early stage of talking to these campaigns and will also be inviting other official candidates to participate,” he said in an e-mail.