- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In his campaign kickoff speech on Saturday, Vincent C. Gray offered an apology for the “great pain” caused by his 2010 mayoral run, which remains under federal investigation because of “shadow campaign” activities.

Whether the apology was meant to appease his own conscious, to satisfy a legal stipulation or to establish a buffer zone for himself in the crowded Democratic primary field is essentially irrelevant.

The politician to watch this election season is not on the April 1 ballot, and the voters to watch won’t be casting ballots on April 1.

Who’s the politician?

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, who is considering a run for mayor, holds a policymaking hand of true-blue progressive cards.

Unlike them, however, Mr. Catania is an independent, which means he is a wild card, a playmaker who is beholden to neither the right nor the left.

He has played that card successfully since 1997, when he won his first citywide seat as a Republican, and again in 2004, when he shunted the party because of its stand on traditional marriage, and he’s won both re-elections since.

Mr. Catania, one of two openly gay D.C. lawmakers, is the darling of the gay community and the sweetheart of the city’s independents.

That will bode demonstrably well for him, as independents won’t get to have their say for mayor until fall.

Interestingly enough, some of the Democrats on the April ballot aren’t even trying to woo the indie bloc of voters, but they certainly should.

In August 2010, when Mr. Gray first sought the mayor’s seat, independents were 16.45 percent of registered voters and numbered 73,178.

What a difference three years have made.

The percentage of no-party registrants barely creeped upward by August 2013, according to the most recent stats on the city’s website dcboee.org, from 16.45 percent to 16.98. But 5,500 more registered voters labeled themselves as independent.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat seeking re-election, seemed nonplussed about the growing influence of the indie voting bloc.

In a recent interview on WPFW radio, where I co-host the weekly show “D.C. Politics,” Mr. Mendelson said his chief concern is the partisan primary.

And know what?

That is why Mr. Catania could easily position himself to run for mayor or, if he so chose, run for chairman, or become the city’s first elected attorney general, a post he’s pushed for since he first ran for elective office.

Personalities aside, there is barely a hair’s political difference among the lawmaking Democrats running for mayor and the incumbent.

One never knows where Mr. Catania will stand on any given issue until he drafts legislation or votes, even when he wears out his jaw bones on the council dais grilling Gray administrators.

In addition to apologizing, the mayor boasted that his campaign had collected more than 8,200 signatures to get his name on the April ballot, and while that figure is more that the necessary 2,000, it’s still a drop in the bucket of what he will need to prove himself worthy of re-election amid a pack of nine vote-splitting Democrats, including one of whom, restaurateur-activist Andy Shallal, has been endorsed by actor-activist Danny Glover.

Mr. Gray also said, “A good candidate must answer two basic questions: What do you plan to do and how do you plan to do it?”

A “good candidate” would have answered both questions, however briefly — or at least made an honest attempt to give voters a look-see at his road map for the future.

To Mr. Gray’s discredit, he answered neither.

How unfortunate.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.