This time, however, Democrat and Ward 4 councilmember Muriel Bowser faces independent at-large councilmember David Catania, as well as former councilmember Carol Schwartz running as
There are two main reasons I'm endorsing him: he's a smart, hard-working and honest guy, and Muriel Bowser has not impressed me in the council or in her campaign.
Even in articles and arguments that support Bowser, seemingly everyone agrees that Catania is hard working, extremely knowledgable about local laws and policies, and gets things done. Colbert I. King in the Post, for example, said "They don’t come any smarter, more dedicated or gutsier than Catania. And no one works harder."
I don't support Muriel Bowser. For the past two years, I've lived in northern Columbia Heights on the Ward 4 boundary, which is Bowser's ward. I have never seen her around, and whenever I attempted to get in touch with her about issues I needed help with or to let her know my feelings on things the Council was voting on, I never heard back. The alley behind my house continually had a lot of problems: there were prostitutes and johns doing their thing (including in our yard at one point), people were frequently fighting and yelling, drunk people were passing out, and we found human feces and lots of used condoms back there. My roommates and I called the police numerous times, and they would always respond quickly and patrol the area, but when I asked for help from Bowser about putting up additional street lights or if there was anything else she could do to improve the situation, I never received a reply. I also tried getting in touch with other people on her staff about it, again to no avail.
I also emailed her about 14th Street gridlock issues, the DC United stadium, and Uber, all things the Council was considering, also all without a response. That didn't stop her from signing me up for her campaign emails, however, just to add insult to injury. The only time I did hear back was a few years ago when I asked about what was going to happen to the vacant Washington Hebrew Home on Spring Road (recently in the news), she responded once saying she wasn't sure, and I didn't hear back after that.
That's a distinct contrast to Jim Graham, who when I lived in Ward 1 would always reply quickly to issues or questions I had about traffic light problems, crime, abandoned buildings, and the like, and connect me with the appropriate people to address them. If I wrote him about other topics (DC United's stadium or medical marijuana, for example) he would always reply. Bowser writes on her website about improvements in development and crime in Ward 4, but she never responded to me when I had problems or questions on those very issues. To me, that's one of the main jobs of a councilmember, to help their constituents and to listen to their concerns. On that, Muriel Bowser has completely failed.
In addition, also unlike Graham, I have never seen her around the area. I'm told she is a nice lady -- I wouldn't know. Graham appeared at many events, local meetings, and so on, and was happy to talk to his constituents. I never saw Bowser and have never spoken to her. Being present and available for your constituents is important to me. Bowser has failed at that as well.
I also think Bowser hasn't done much on the Council, and won't do much if she's elected. She made news earlier in the campaign by refusing to debate Catania or Schwartz until very recently, which to me continues a theme: do nothing. Bowser is the chair of the council's housing committee, which hasn't done a lot to address the housing crises in the city. They've only passed one bill written by her, which was a symbolic resolution asking Metro to consider affordable housing, and the DC Tenant's Advocacy Committee called her tenure a "finger in the eye" for affordable housing advocates.
When asked about her lack of progress on education legislation, she seemed to undermine her previous campaign promise:
Bowser said she has not written more education legislation because she doesn’t view her role as managing the schools, even though her 2012 campaign declared that she “staked her first campaign on the promise to reform DC Public Schools.”
So, which is it? Run on reforming schools, or not managing schools?
Even her supporters have a tough time saying nice things about her. Jack Evans, who ran against Bowser in the Democratic primary but later endorsed her, sent out a blank mailer during the campaign: the idea was that it listed all of her accomplishments. A supporter quoted in a Post article about her short record, who even donated to her campaign, said she "hasn't left a lot of footprints."
The Post has a choice column on this. It calls Bowser's council record "medicore" and "undistinguished." It added "Bowser seldom goes in depth to discuss particulars of what she would do as mayor. She relies on broad objectives and well-rehearsed talking points. She likes to say she would address key issues by bringing together people to study them." Then it illustrated an example from a recent debate at Anacostia Senior High School:
Bowser talked generally about the need to reduce inequalities in investment and concluded: “The biggest thing that I think that remains is making sure our middle schools are ready, that we’re telling parents that we’re going to have great buildings, great leadership, great curriculum.”
Catania first talked about two bills that he pushed through the council to curb social promotion and increase spending on at-risk students. He ended by listing three nearby schools that had recently lost their principals — Simon Elementary, Kramer Middle and Ballou High — and said he would make it “a focus” to improve stability among principalsTo me, it's clear that Catania knows the issues back and forth. He has a very long and detailed platform with specific, tangible actions that can be taken, while Bowser either doesn't know the issues or doesn't want to risk upsetting anybody by taking a stand on them -- and either way, that's a big problem.
Bowser might be a nice lady, but she's also part of the establishment of DC politics. I'm getting tired of a constant string of politicians getting in trouble: Kwame Brown's Lincoln Navigator and bank fraud, Vince Gray's shadow campaign, Jim Graham's chief of staff taking bribes, Harry Thomas Jr. diverting city money for kids to buy a car and fancy vacations, Michael Brown's unpaid taxes, and so on. I believe Catania will steer clear of any ethical issues, while Bowser has been mentioned recently in relation to a few.
Bowser, while not accused of issues as serious as those of other councilmembers, has made news about the Park Southern, a large apartment complex with many serious, unaddressed problems: mold, water leaks, living and dead rodents, broken utilities and more. The operators were also over $600,000 behind on payments to the city for a loan, an audit found that security deposit money disappeared and they didn't pay the city all of the rent money they collected. The complex's operators are supporters of Bowser, organizing voters for her and donating $20,000 to her campaign. Then during the fracas about the building, Bowser blocked requests by Mayor Gray to hold hearings on the issue, tried to let the organizers sell the building before the city seized it, and then questioned the city's ability to seize it. Bowser, for her part, denied blocking attempts to investigate the issue and refused to return the $20,000 donated by the operators. The Post put it this way in a fact check on the issue:
“I don’t see any reason to return contributions when the people who are have — these are accusations that have been made against them, and none of them have been founded,” Bowser said.There's also been concerns recently about an unregistered group made up of ex-offender activists and a former city official who were supporting Bowser and opposed to Catania. The group appeared with Bowser supporters like Marion Barry and made signs and shirts with anti-Catania messages, but did not put disclose who paid for them, which is required by law. It turns out that an investigation a few years ago requested by Catania found that the group's organizers had mismanaged city funds, including diverting money for an AIDS program to fund one organizer's strip club. He was fined $1 million. Catania supporters called it another shadow campaign.
Moments earlier, Bowser used a different logic when explaining why she did not hold a council oversight hearing but called for an independent investigation:
“I think there have been enough allegations of misusing funds, allegations that money wasn’t properly spent, so yes, I think the IG who has investigators and auditors, is the exact right place to go.
Despite being in the Council for many years, Catania is not part of the establishment: he's an independent and former Republican -- he left the GOP in 2004 over opposition to George W. Bush's policies, including indifference to cities and opposition to gay marriage, and Catania supported John Kerry that year. I like that. At this point, after so much scandal, I think DC needs someone who isn't part of the regular group of politicians who does the same old thing.
The only knock against Catania I've seen is that his personality can be abrasive. Councilmembers don't like him. Being able to work with the Council is important for the mayor, but then again, at one point half the council was under investigation. Outgoing councilmember Jim Graham, who supports Bowser, said this comparing Catania and Bowser: "One gets things done with a few broken bones, and the other doesn’t get things done."
I'd much rather have someone who may be abrasive but works hard, knows the issues and gets things done for this city than somebody who is nice but does nothing, or just continues the status quo. I don't even see how that's a contest. I endorse David Catania, and I hope you vote for him.
Photo from the Catania for Mayor Facebook page