- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2014

The District’s mayoral contenders squared off in a long-awaited debate Thursday that saw the campaign’s two independent candidates attempt to make up ground against the Democratic front runner.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, sometimes subtly and sometimes bluntly questioned the experience of Democrat Muriel Bowser as both candidates attempted to reinforce their campaign narratives during the debate at American University.

The answers from Mr. Catania and Ms. Bowser drew out few distinctions between them on issues such as gun control, public transportation and adult education, with each seeming more intent to demonstrate their command of issues facing the city.

They infrequently engaged each other, and when given the opportunity to ask direct questions of an opponent, Ms. Bowser and Mr. Catania directed their inquiries to the third candidate in the race, independent Carol Schwartz.

But Mr. Catania challenged Ms. Bowser directly on several issues, including accusing Ms. Bowser of leaving $100 million in federal housing resources unspent in the midst of a crisis of homeless crisis while she was chairman of the council’s committee on housing issues.

“Securing our future is more than labels and platitudes,” he said.

Mr. Catania also took a swipe at her signature achievement, characterizing an ethics reform bill shepherded through the council by Ms. Bowser as mostly a collection of proposals written by others and assembled by her. And he noted that she ran for office on a platform of improving education yet introduced no substantive bills on the subject.

“Ms. Bowser, you voted for every one of my measures,” he said. “Every single one.”

But Ms. Bowser, who had been criticized by the Catania campaign for taking the position that she would only commit to debates once the ballot was set, appeared comfortable and prepared throughout the 90-minute forum.

Ms. Bowser also had her moments taking shots at Mr. Catania, noting at one point that her opponent reportedly had not yet been to Nationals Park because he was still “sore” from his political fight against public funding for the stadium. She linked it to a popular criticism of Mr. Catania as headstrong and irascible.

“And that just kind of speaks to his temperament and how he will represent our city,” she said.

During a later rebuttal to Mr. Catania’s remarks about his record as chairman of the council’s Committee on Health, she again went after her council colleague.

“Mr. Catania has a very strange way of taking credit for everything. The next thing we know he’s going to take credit for the blue sky and the rolling seas,” she said, adding that the achievements of government were not simply one person’s doing.

Ms. Schwartz, in outlining her opposition to a D.C. Olympic bid and criticizing a proposed land swap as part of a deal to build a new stadium for the DC United soccer team, separated herself from the others and drew applause in a room heavily packed with vocal Catania and Bowser supporters.

At one point, she opined on the differences in the way city government functioned when she first took office in the 1980s.

“There was comaraderie. You could disagree on the issues, but you were never disagreeable,” she said to a smattering of cheers.

An independent Marist poll released Wednesday by The Washington Post and WRC-TV showed Ms. Bowser has the support of 43 percent of likely voters. Mr. Catania won 26 percent and Ms. Schwartz held 16 percent. The poll showed that 14 percent of likely voters are still undecided ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

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