- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The District’s mayoral candidates showed rare distinctions on policies over education and homelessness Wednesday during their third debate, which featured several jabs but fewer sharp exchanges than their previous encounters.

During the 60-minute forum, Democrat Muriel Bowser reiterated her contention that the city’s long-struggling public schools are improving even as educational gains among minority students continue to lag.

The line of questioning gave independent candidate David A. Catania an opening to emphasize that the modest improvements the school system has shown in recent years are unacceptable. He rattled off a host of statistics about graduation rates and test scores at city schools to support his contention.

The candidates also differed on an approach to homelessness, with Mr. Catania linking the problem to a failure of the city’s housing policy and calling for a “Marshall Plan” to rally the city’s resources. He pointed to objections from Ms. Bowser, the chairman of the D.C. Council committee with oversight of housing issues, to renovating a city-owned facility capable of providing 80 units of housing.

Ms. Bowser, frequently criticized by Mr. Catania for being “uninformed” on education issues, shot back that the comments reflected “how little he understands about the problem” and proposed a series of smaller shelter facilities that could function as transitional housing.

The mayor’s race is shaping up to be the most closely contested general election for the office in the District’s 40 years of home rule. Recent polls show Ms. Bowser leading Mr. Catania by as little as 8 percentage points.

A third candidate, former D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, trails the pair in polling and has used the moderated debates as a chance to take swipes at both of her rivals.

At Wednesday’s debate, hosted by The Washington Post and WRC-TV, Ms. Schwartz called out Ms. Bowser, saying that her decision to participate in a limited number of forums led to 10 cancellations from community groups and stymied the democratic process.

“I thought it was very important that we have debates that could be broadcast,” Ms. Bowser said of the schedule of four debates in which she agreed to participate. “I don’t run from debates. I’m happy to answer the issues.”

Ms. Bowser returned to a popular theme that Mr. Catania, a longtime council member, has a prickly temperament and said it made him unsuitable to be mayor. She said he is known for belittling staff and members of the public who testify at hearings — qualities she equated to poor judgment rather than leadership skills.

“When you’re attempting to do big things, you’re not going to please everybody all the time,” Mr. Catania said in his defense.

Ms. Bowser, who continued to struggle to explain her involvement in an ongoing scandal over an affordable-housing complex managed by a political supporter, launched a broad, yet unspecific attack suggesting Mr. Catania might have been compromised by his former job with city contractor M.C. Dean during a question on money in politics.

Mr. Catania countered that he recused himself in instances when the council was scheduled to vote on matters involving his former employer. He then turned the premise of an outside job back on Ms. Bowser, saying that she lacks the same level of experience that he gleaned from his private-sector job.

The candidates are scheduled to hold a final debate Thursday, with early voting beginning Saturday ahead of Election Day on Nov. 4.

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