The Washington Post

Did the Bowser campaign make up an excuse to skip a debate?

A top campaign aide to Muriel Bowser put off at least one debate request by claiming a later event is supposed to be the first. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser has made her position on debates clear: She won’t be debating independent David A. Catania or anyone else until “the field is set” — meaning until independent and minor-party candidates qualify for the ballot in late summer.

It appears the first debate may not take place until late September, given the reasoning offered by the Bowser campaign for skipping a proposed Sept. 10 debate.

A group of real-estate-focused organizations floated such a debate in late May. Shaun Pharr of the Apartment and Office Building Association, who helped to organize the event, said the Catania campaign agreed to the Sept. 10 date but the Bowser campaign passed. Pharr said that Bo Shuff, Bowser’s campaign manager, told him, “We’ve made a commitment to American University that their forum on Sept 18t will be the first,” and asked about alternate dates.

In an interview Monday, Shuff also said the campaign passed on the real-estate event because of the AU debate’s exclusivity. “We said that sounded good, to be the first one,” he said. “We’ve tried to honor that.”

American University is, indeed, holding a Sept. 18 debate to which both Bowser and Catania have committed. But two organizers of the AU debate, community relations director Andrew Huff and moderator Tom Sherwood, both said there was no agreement on, or even any talk of, making their debate the first one.

“There was never any discussion about how this fit into a greater scheme of debates,” Huff said Tuesday.

Shuff did not return an e-mail Tuesday or calls Wednesday about the discrepancy.

The Catania campaign was happy to comment, of course, calling the contradiction further proof that Bowser is avoiding a public airing of the issues.

“The public deserves an honest debate on substance and issues about the future of the city. It’s too bad she’s manufacturing excuses to avoid the public,” said campaign manager Ben Young.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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