WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Muriel Bowser (D) makes her introduction speech at the first DC Mayoral debate in Washington, DC on September 18, 2014. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

D.C. RESIDENTS have reason to be disaffected with city government and politics. The incumbent mayor has operated under the shadow of the illegal campaign fundraising that helped to put him in office. Three members of the D.C. Council left their offices in disgrace. This sad state of affairs played a part in the unusually low turnout for the April primary, and it may help explain why many voters say they remain uninspired by the mayoral election just 2½ weeks away.

We hope they look again. This is a critical election, and it offers a clear choice. Despite the ethical cloud that has hung over Mayor Vincent C. Gray and contributed to his defeat in the Democratic primary, he will leave office in January with the city on generally sound footing. Its finances are healthy, its schools are attracting more families every year and many neighborhoods are reinvigorated. His successor must maintain that momentum while providing the leadership to confront new challenges.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4’s representative on the council and the Democratic nominee, is the candidate best prepared to provide that leadership. We endorsed her in the primary but acknowledged it was not an easy choice because of the capable opponents then running against her. We faced no such dilemma this time. Neither council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) nor former council member Carol Schwartz comes close to Ms. Bowser in temperament, work ethic, ideas, policy understanding and balanced approach.

We don’t discount Ms. Schwartz’s past accomplishments (notwithstanding her wrong-headed opposition to the mayor’s takeover of the schools) or her love of the city, but sentimentality cannot advance the District or the interests of its residents. She has failed to present a credible rationale for her independent candidacy.

Mr. Catania also can point to accomplishments in his 17 years on the D.C. Council, including his advocacy for same-sex marriage and his oversight of health care in the District. But he also has been on the wrong side of many important issues. If it were up to Mr. Catania, it is likely there would be no city-financed baseball stadium for the Nationals to play in and no convention center to attract visitor dollars, not to mention the hundreds of jobs created by both projects. The money-draining D.C. General Hospital might still be limping along. That Mr. Catania seems unable to concede he might have been wrong is all the more troubling.

Also worrisome has been Mr. Catania’s stewardship of the council’s education committee, which roughly coincided with his interest in becoming mayor. Instead of forging a meaningful collaboration with the city’s able schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, he set out to pass a series of bills that were sure to capture headlines but would do little to improve schools. D.C. schools are on the mend because Mr. Gray and his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D), put competent professionals in place and let them do the job. The well-documented concerns about Mr. Catania’s temperament raise questions about what kind of leader he would be — “bully” is a word that crops up with disturbing frequency — and have been amplified by the often mean-spirited campaign he has run.

Ms. Bowser, by contrast, has grown only stronger as her candidacy has progressed. A lifelong Washingtonian, she is well positioned to bring substance to the “One City” motto that Mr. Gray articulated but had trouble fulfilling. She is committed to better serving longtime residents, especially the poor who have benefited least from Washington’s rise, but also appreciates the urgency of attracting businesses and welcoming new residents. Her travel to other cities has given her insights into what works and what doesn’t and bespeaks a refreshing willingness to admit there are things she doesn’t know.

Those critical or jealous of Ms. Bowser have painted a caricature of a lightweight. That is not the tough politician we have come to know and admire in her seven years on the council. She strikes us as smart, capable and confident without being arrogant. On the council, she has learned the ins and outs of government, from zoning to ethics to tree canopies. As mayor she says she would set priorities, find the right people to pursue them — including a professional city administrator — and give them the support to get it right. She has said that chancellor Henderson and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier would be among those on her team, if they agree to stay.

We enthusiastically endorse Muriel Bowser. She is the clear, best choice for voters on Nov. 4.