Ever since Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser won the primary, her presumed opponent, Council member David Catania, has been attacking her credibility. One of Catania’s most consistent attacks is that Bowser is afraid to debate him. However, upon further examination, there is simply no credence to this statement. Bowser’s decision not to prematurely debate Catania is astute because he is not officially a candidate in the race.
To that end, neither is former Council member Carol Schwartz, but she has not made any premature requests to debate Bowser. However, Schwartz’s announced candidacy does show what a slippery slope it would be to have mayoral debates before all of the candidates qualify for the ballot. In addition to Catania and Schwartz, there are four additional candidates who picked up petitions to run for mayor as independents. They are: James Caviness, Nestor Djonkam, Michael Green and Frank Sewell. Should these candidates also be given the opportunity to prematurely debate Bowser, who has already earned her spot on the ballot by winning the Democratic primary? What about Libertarian Party nominee Bruce Majors and Statehood Green Party nominee Faith, who have already earned their way onto the ballot by winning their party primary? Why should Catania be given priority over these primary victors?
Waiting until Catania is officially a mayoral candidate may seem like a technicality, but it is much more than that. Catania, and the other five announced independent candidates, may decide not to run for mayor. I will concede that if Catania continues with his mayoral run that I do not foresee him having a problem obtaining the requisite amount of petition signatures to get on the ballot.
However, when Catania first started demanding that Bowser debate him shortly after she won the April 1 Democratic primary, there was still plenty of time for him to use the debate as a barometer for his chances of prevailing against Bowser in the general election. In an ideal scenario for Catania, an early debate would give him the opportunity to gauge what impact, if any, a potentially strong performance would have on his poll numbers. If he then decides that he is unlikely to prevail in the mayoral race, he would still have the opportunity to run for re-election for his at-large Council seat. It is not Bowser’s job to help Catania make that decision by giving him additional insight into the race.
The D.C. Board of Elections made mayoral petitions available on June 13 and the required signatures are due on Aug. 6. According to the DCBOE website, “Beginning on the third (3rd) day after filing, for a period of ten (10) days, the Board makes available for public inspection photo copies of the candidates’ petitions. During this challenge period, any registered voter may review the petition copies. If he or she believes that a candidate did not meet the minimum requirements, the registered voter may file a ‘CHALLENGE’ detailing the petition’s defects.” Thus, the challenge period will begin on Aug. 9 and will end on Aug. 19. The DCBOE will then rule on the validity of the challenges. So, we will not know which candidates qualify for the ballot until late August.
If the reason for holding debates is truly about ensuring that the electorate is well-informed on where the candidates stand on issues impacting the District, then holding the debates in September and October, after most residents have returned from their summer vacations, makes more sense.
Thus, Bowser’s decision not to prematurely debate Catania has nothing to do with fear, as alleged. Rather, it is a logical decision not to participate in an activity that will only benefit her potential opponents and will have no impact in helping the public make an informed decision in November.
While Catania’s campaign is trying to falsely portray Bowser as inexperienced and delude the public into thinking that this will be a close race, there is no evidence to suggest that it will. Voters should take time during this pre-debate period to research and get to know the mayoral candidates who prevailed in their party primaries, as well as their announced independent challengers. Once the field is set, there will be plenty of time to attend debates and make a final decision.
Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a former president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @lateefahwms.