THERE ARE several worrisome things about a campaign flier from D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) that seeks to depict his mayoral rival, council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), as a puppet. There’s the sexism — the implication that a woman can’t think for herself. There’s the cynicism reflected in its distribution in only one part of the city. Most troubling, though, is what it portends about the tone of the debate in the upcoming contest for mayor.

We would hope, as we’d guess many voters also hope, that the election revolves around issues, ideas and the question of which candidate offers District residents the most promising leadership.

The objectionable literature by Mr. Catania depicts a woman, seen from behind, with ­marionette-like strings attached to her arms and legs. “WHO IS PULLING MURIEL BOWSER’S STRINGS?” is the headline, with excerpts from a Post news article about supporters of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) now involved in Ms. Bowser’s campaign. The flier was tailored to and distributed only east of the Anacostia River, where Mr. Fenty is seen as unpopular, though Mr. Catania’s campaign manager told us it’s possible the piece would be adapted for other areas of the city.

Ms. Bowser makes no secret of her links to Mr. Fenty; he supported her as his successor on the council after he was elected mayor, and they share a common political base in Ward 4. But she has ably represented that ward for seven years, and she defeated an incumbent mayor and three council members in the April 1 Democratic primary. That suggests she is able to stand on her own.

Most curious about the attack, as The Post’s Mike DeBonis noted, is that Mr. Catania also was a staunch ally of Mr. Fenty during his mayoral term.

The campaign for the general election in November is in its early stages. There’s time for a course correction toward a campaign waged on the merits and not on derogatory attacks.