Candidates for D.C. mayor crisscrossed the city Sunday trying to connect with as many voters as possible two days ahead of the election, bringing to a close a campaign season that has seen much discussion but little concrete indication of how each plans to deal with the District’s most vexing problems.
In the coming weeks and months, the District is likely to face a confrontation with Congress over marijuana legalization, which voters are expected to approve overwhelmingly Tuesday. A federal judge’s ruling overturning a ban on carrying guns has forced city leaders to figure out how to comply with the courts while keeping the public safe. A plan to provide $150 million in public financing to build a new pro soccer stadium in Southwest Washington looks increasingly unlikely to get done before year’s end.
And the night after the first hypothermia alert, the District’s homeless families are approaching winter without a single additional bed having been created despite a record level of need last year.
In an unprecedented seven-month general election season, the race hasn’t focused heavily on any one of those issues. Instead, on Sunday, candidates appealed to their bases of support.
For mayoral candidates, the Sunday before Election Day has traditionally been spent inside the sanctuaries of the city’s largest churches. David A. Catania and Carol Schwartz, the two independents challenging Democratic front-runner Muriel E. Bowser, chose not to follow that script.
Catania, who grew up in a Baptist home in Kansas but does not attend church now, had planned an appearance at Shiloh Baptist Church, one of the city’s oldest African American congregations. But on Sunday morning, his campaign announced the stop was canceled because of a death in the family of an assistant pastor.
Instead, Catania (At Large) campaigned in a circle of farmers markets and grocery stores from Bloomingdale to Union Market, Columbia Heights and Logan Circle — neighborhoods heavy on the young, affluent and relatively newly arrived voters he is counting on for support.
Schwartz, flanked by her son, her daughter and a handful of supporters, fanned out across the Dupont Circle farmers market, then caravanned to the parking lot of the Giant grocery on Brentwood Road NE and then to the Costco farther toward the Maryland line.
Early in the afternoon, Schwartz greeted a steady stream of elderly African Americans still in church attire as they entered the Giant. Many lit up at the sight of the former four-term at-large D.C. Council member.
“I remember you” was a common refrain, and Schwartz had one of her own: “Send me back; I’ve got more good work to do.”
Bowser (Ward 4) took a more orthodox approach to her campaigning, starting her morning among members of one of the city’s largest and most politically active immigrant groups, at Debre Mihret Kidus Michael, an Ethiopian Orthodox congregation in Northeast Washington also known as St. Michael’s.
There, Bowser doffed her shoes and donned a netela, a traditional white cotton shawl worn by Ethiopian Christian women while they worship. She greeted leaders of the 21-year-old, 500-family congregation before joining the liturgy.
“Our hope is that this will not be your last visit to the church,” said Yordanos Baharu, a member of the congregation’s board of directors.
“It won’t be,” Bowser said, explaining how she has worked with Ethiopian residents and business owners in her ward on various issues.
Inside the sanctuary, the Amharic service took a brief diversion into English as Bowser greeted the crowd.
“You work hard, you’re smart and start businesses, and you want to get things done in partnership with the government, and that’s exactly what our city needs,” she said. “I promise you this: You’ll have a seat at the table, a hard worker and somebody who’s going to respect your views and make sure you have a voice in the District of Columbia.”
Ritual chants at St. Michael’s later gave way to brass bands at United House of Prayer for All People, also known as “God’s White House” — a storied African American congregation in the rapidly changing Shaw neighborhood.
While Bowser was the first candidate St. Michael’s had welcomed this year, politicking is nothing new at Sixth and M streets NW. United House of Prayer for All People’s former bishop, Walter “Sweet Daddy” McCollough, was once courted as a kingmaker by D.C. politicians in the first decades of the city’s home rule. These days, its political muscle tends to get flexed around issues of parking and affordable housing — it owns hundreds of units in Shaw.
“Some would say she is mayor-elect,” said Apostle A.D. Cunningham, the church’s pastor, introducing Bowser to hearty applause.
Her comments there centered on her efforts to keep the city’s identity tethered amid a time of rapid economic and social change — and to encourage voters to come out Tuesday.
“Washington, D.C., is certainly a different place than the Washington, D.C., I was raised in,” Bowser said to murmurs of agreement. She pledged to bridge gaps between “people who have been here for five generations, like my family, and for just five minutes” before exhorting several hundred worshipers to vote.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame if we sat at home?” she said. “Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t make our voices heard? Wouldn’t it be a shame if each and every person here didn’t reach out to 10 people to remind them that Nov. 4 is a high-stakes election in the District of Columbia?”
After ducking out mid-service, Bowser joined worshipers of her own faith at the less exuberant confines of St. Augustine Catholic Church, the “mother church of African American Catholics” in Washington. There, she listened to the Rev. Paul Dressler give a homily on the power of forgiveness and the necessity of relying on God’s help in life.
Later in the day, outside the bustling Whole Foods Market on P Street NW, Catania endured the wrath of Gabe Soll, who had his 5-year-old son, Frank, perched atop his shoulders. Soll said he most wanted the race to be over because he was sick and tired of campaigns, robo-calls and pollsters interrupting his son’s bedtime.
“I’m sorry,” Catania said, offering his campaign’s fundraising disadvantage with Bowser as evidence that he wasn’t to blame. “All I can say is that wasn’t us: We don’t have the money to call anybody.”
After campaigning outside in near-freezing weather Saturday, Catania was hoarse as he clutched a paper Starbucks cup, a tea bag’s string dangling out of the lid.
Soll, a federal procurement lawyer and registered Green Party member, declined to say whom he intended to support.
Catania then spent several minutes trying to convince writer and art critic Roger Atwood that he supported the streetcar system. Atwood shifted a bag of vegetables in a recyclable grocery bag into his left hand, shook Catania’s hand with his right and turned away still conflicted about who would get his vote — Bowser or Catania.
“They are both very good,” said Atwood. “This is the best lineup, definitely, since I’ve been in the city, since ’97.”
He said he was concerned that Catania had seemed to make education a priority only in recent years, and he liked Bowser’s focus on details such as potholes. But he was struggling with deciding who would make the better leader.
“The city is doing great, but it really needs a great mayor. That’s one thing we’ve lacked,” Atwood said, noting that he is originally from Boston. “Tom Menino was awesome. New York had [Michael] Bloomberg. We haven’t yet had a kick-ass mayor in D.C.”