- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2014

Independent David A. Catania came out swinging against Democratic front runner Muriel Bowser in the second debate of the D.C. mayoral race Thursday, but his attack was blunted by an extended and unusually personal exchange about his involvement in the 2008 council defeat of the third candidate in the race, Carol Schwartz.

Bolstered by new poll numbers showing a close contest, Mr. Catania in his first response of the two-hour debate accused Ms. Bowser of a lack of oversight as chairwoman of the council committee responsible for housing issues. He cited more than $110 million in federal housing funds unspent last year by the city and then quickly linked the issue to ongoing questions about whether she used her position to shield a political supporter from scrutiny over a troubled affordable housing complex.

 

“We have a chairperson of the committee on housing who in one year has left over $110 million on the table. Now when it does come to housing, I do give the chairperson credit, she will intercede on behalf of her friends and supporters as she did in Park Southern,” Mr. Catania said, setting the tone for what became a more contentious debate than the first forum last month.

The wide-ranging debate, hosted by WAMU-FM Radio, took on subjects as diverse as development, ethics and job creation, with the candidates showing more separation on issues than in the past.

Tensions escalated during a response that touched on Mr. Catania’s involvement in Ms. Schwartz’s 2008 election defeat. Ms. Schwartz and Ms. Bowser jointly accused Mr. Catania of engineering her loss, with Mr. Catania denying any involvement.

Ms. Bowser at one point said to applause that she would consider voting for Ms. Schwartz over Mr. Catania. That seemed to prompt Ms. Schwartz, a five-time mayoral candidate, to address conspiracy theories that she entered the race in a cooperative effort with Ms. Bowser to draw votes away from Mr. Catania.

“I ran the first time when you were a teenager. You really had nothing to do with my running for mayor,” she said to Mr. Catania. “You really had nothing to do with my running for mayor now, even though your ego might think it does.”

Ms. Bowser, for her part, repeatedly emphasized her biography as a D.C. native, her service as a council member and her victory in the city’s Democratic primary.

Mr. Catania, who readily cited statistics on government spending, housing stock and unemployment by sector, discussed his Midwest upbringing and how he was grateful as an openly gay man for the tolerance he observed in the District.

He returned to the offensive against Ms. Bowser on the issue of schools, characterizing the campaign as “the difference between rhetoric and records.” Mr. Catania again accused Ms. Bowser of having achieved little on education despite having campaigned for council on pledges to improve the system.

“There’s a difference between an uninformed platitude and actually doing the heavy lifting,” Mr. Catania said.

That prompted the sharpest retort yet from Ms. Bowser, who interrupted and directly confronted Mr. Catania.

“You know I’ve had about enough of Mr. Catania and his ‘uniformed,’ and ‘she doesn’t have the intellect,’ and ‘she’s not smart’ and ‘she’s a puppet,’ or ‘the Democrats in the city are puppets.’ People have had it,” she said.

The two had another testy exchange when Mr. Catania renewed his accusation that Ms. Bowser favored her political supporters who managed the Park Southern complex over the low-income residents, with her saying Mr. Catania wanted to politicize their misfortune.

In a lighter moment, the candidates were asked their favorite childhood Halloween costumes.

“Wonder Woman,” Ms. Bowser responded.

After which Mr. Catania answered, “Wonder Woman,” to laughter from the audience.

Ms. Schwartz provided the same answer.

The second debate comes on the heels of the release of a new poll that suggested the race is tighter than previously thought.

Ms. Bowser leads Mr. Catania by 8 points, 35 percent to 27 percent, among likely voters in the poll, produced for the pro-business group Economic Growth DC. Ms. Schwartz took 11 percent support, while 27 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

The results come after an independent Marist poll released earlier this month by The Washington Post and WRC-TV showed Ms. Bowser with 43 percent among likely voters compared with 26 percent for Mr. Catania and 16 percent for Ms. Schwartz ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

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