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‘Scandal’ mailer puts former Bowser adviser back into mayoral fray

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Independent candidate David A. Catania has gone to some lengths during his mayoral campaign to paint Democratic nominee Muriel E. Bowser as untrustworthy and in thrall to powerful supporters.

Most of that has surrounded the saga of the Park Southern Apartments, the deteriorating Ward 8 complex briefly managed by a prominent Bowser backer who explored purchasing the property in a questionable transaction that city officials have characterized as a sweetheart deal. Catania has slammed Bowser for not using her council committee to investigate and otherwise “greasing the wheels” for Jones.

Now Catania has opened another front, sending out a mail piece that notes the fact that a prominent ex-adviser of Bowser’s is embroiled in other corruption allegations. The mailer, which started landing in mailboxes over the weekend, has a “Scandal” theme — as in the Shonda Rhimes-produced, Kerry Washington-starring, Thursday-nights-on-ABC phenomenon.

The mailer pairs the Park Southern situation with the saga of strategist Tom Lindenfeld, who collected more than $100,000 in consulting fees before revelations of his role in Philadelphia corruption scheme led the Bowser campaign to cut ties.

Why has the Lindenfeld situation until now skated below the headlines in a closely fought mayoral race? A few reasons: Prior to the Philly revelations, Lindenfeld had been a well-known adviser to not only Bowser, but also mayors Anthony A. Williams and Adrian M. Fenty for years. None of the Philly allegations implicate him in any D.C. wrongdoing, and while Lindenfeld is described in court documents as engaging in questionable conduct — including signing his name to a secret loan agreement — he has not been charged with a crime.

The mailer isn’t the only way Lindenfeld has figured into the politicking.

Things took a turn for the bizarre starting when a Bowser volunteer, Mark Bjorge, tweeted a photo from a Sunday night campaign meeting. Catania’s campaign manager, Ben Young, saw the tweet and thought he recognized the balding middle-aged white man seen therein: “So there’s Tom Lindenfeld,” he tweeted.

In fact, it wasn’t Lindenfeld, but a 71-year-old Bowser volunteer named Mike Pete. And the case of mistaken identity prompted a host of Bowser workers and supporters to start tweeting their outrage using hashtags like #ApologizeToMike. #ibackmike and #Ward4Mike.

One of the tweets upbraided Young for “accusing volunteer of being a criminal.” Spokesman Joaquin McPeek said the campaign workers were “standing up for a hard-working volunteer who was wrongfully and falsely attacked.”

The hashtag campaign also had the perverse effect of highlighting Bowser’s only-recently-severed ties to Lindenfeld. And in any case, Pete shouldn’t be expecting an apology anytime soon.

“I’m supposed to apologize for thinking somebody looks like Tom Lindenfeld?” Young said Tuesday. “I’m sorry for Ward 4 Mike that he looks like Tom Lindenfeld. According to Bowser’s campaign, that must be a terrible cross to bear.”

Meanwhile, the “Scandal” mailer has gotten a good run not only in mailboxes but on social media, where it has stirred up considerable reaction — including from the Bowser campaign.

“The only reason a candidate stays this negative, this late is because they are desperate,” McPeek said. “District voters won’t be fooled by Catania’s Republican-style attacks and will stand with President Obama by electing Muriel Bowser D.C.’s next mayor.” (See what he did there?)

Said Young: “I think it obviously made its point. She has more money than we do. Our mail has to be better and catchier, and it has to make its point.”

Here’s some of the reaction:

D.C. mayoral candidates Muriel E. Bowser (D), David A. Catania (I) and Carol Schwartz (I) met for a third time Wednesday. Here are the highlights from their discussion. (Video: The Washington Post and NBC4)