WASHINGTON – Official corruption and a lack of enthusiasm for the candidates running for mayor contributed to the low voter turn out in this week’s Democratic primary, says the Independent councilman running for the city’s top job.
David Catania, At-large, will face fellow council member Muriel Bowser in November’s general election.
Bowser, who represents Ward 4, handily beat Mayor Vince Gray in Tuesday’s primary, garnering 44 percent of the vote in a field of eight candidates. Gray took 32 percent of votes, according to unofficial election results.
Only 23 percent of registered voters participated in the primary election, the first mayoral primary ever held in April. The District previously held primaries in September.
“Our public officials have really trespassed on the patience of our population over the last four years: the serial problems, serial indictments, serial convictions. I think the citizenry is somewhat turned off by the entire political class at the moment. And they’ve just decided it doesn’t matter who we elect because so often leaders are going to do as they want any way,” Catania tells WTOP.
Voters want someone who can tackle the District’s challenges and serve honestly – qualifications that matter more than the mayor’s race or political party, says the 17-year council veteran.
For a white, former Republican, Catania faces an uphill battle in a historically black city where Democrat voters heavily outweigh other parties’ supporters. But Catania says his experience running for a city-wide seat, and winning five times, along with his record – he has supported marriage equality and the city’s medical marijuana law – will help him overcome those hurdles.
“What this city desparately needs is to be knitted together in a real way,” he says.
The primary race centered on the on-going investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign. In early March, donor Jeffrey Thompson pleaded guilty to charges related to his bankrolling a $668,0000 shadow campaign that helped Gray defeat then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Several other Gray and Thompson associates have pleaded guilty to charges related to the probe. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen has said that Gray knew of the off-the-books campaign. Gray, who has not been charged, has denied any wrongdoing and has questioned the timing of the charges against Thompson.
Machen’s probe has dogged Gray throughout his term in office.
In a concession speech Tuesday night, Gray pledged to work hard for his remaining nine months in office.
Issues facing the next mayor include addressing systematic problems within the fire department, which has been plagued by slow ambulance response times and a scandal that erupted after firefighters did not help a man who needed medical assistance outside of their station. School closings and achievement gaps among the District’s students also await the next mayor.
Education has been a priority for Catania, who acknowledges there has been some progress during the past few years in both traditional public schools and charter schools. However gaps remain among genders and races.
“When less than half of African American males graduate on time, we have a problem. It’s not just a problem, its a crisis,” Catania says.