November 1, 2014 at 11:47 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Unions backing Bowser target Catania with attack ads
mayor, District of Columbia, debate, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser, David Catania and Carol Schwartz participated in a debate at American University. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the closing days of D.C.’s hotly contested mayoral campaign a flurry of glossy fliers have continued to arrive in the mailboxes of voters’ homes portraying D.C. Council member David Catania (I) At-Large as a hot-tempered, name-calling politician “unfit to be mayor.”

The fliers, which include fuzzy black-and-white photos of Catania with an angry expression, have been produced and paid for by two unions backing his main rival in the mayoral race, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4). The fliers state in fine print that their messages have “not been authored or approved by any candidate.”

“This is the political machine at work,” said Ben Young, Catania’s campaign manager. “They do Muriel Bowser’s dirty work … This is the way the political machine protects the political machine.”

Joaquin McPeek, a spokesperson for the Bowser campaign, said Bowser has not put out one single negative ad of any kind, saying all of her ads, including mailers, have stressed her “positive record and accomplishments.”

He noted that while the Bowser campaign has no control over the ads put out by the unions, Catania’s campaign itself has issued “numerous” negative mailers attacking Bowser.

At least one of three mailers sent by the Catania campaign accuses Bowser of being associated with people under investigation for corruption. The mailer, which includes a photo of her frowning,  links her to a “scandal” involving three of her former campaign organizers who are being investigated by federal prosecutors — one for an alleged illegal loan to an unrelated political campaign in Philadelphia and the other two to alleged unaccounted for rent money for a low-income apartment building in Ward 8.

“Not just a TV show,” the flier says. “It’s what four years of Muriel Bowser would look like.”

One of the mailers attacking Catania, organized by the Baltimore-Washington Construction and Public Employees Laborers’ District Council, says Catania “loses his temper with his staff and curses at colleagues so often that some question if he’s ‘an emotionally balanced professional.’”

Among other things, it cites a former Catania staffer who told the Washington Post that Catania would get so angry at people that, “He’d pull phones out of the wall.”

The flier says it obtained its information about Catania’s temper from a Washington Post story that quoted people who worked on Catania’s City Council staff. Catania has said the people interviewed were disgruntled employees who he fired.

Another mailer attacking Catania, organized by Unite Here, which represents hotel workers, accuses him of calling workers “bullies” in 2008 while supporting legislation before the City Council that the union says was against the interests of workers.

“He’s not for us,” the flier states next to a photo of Catania.

Lane Hudson, a gay Democratic activist who’s backing Catania, said LGBT voters should “look past” the negative ads attacking Catania, saying they suggest that Bowser has “no accomplishment or vision” that her supporters can use to make the case for her becoming mayor.

“It isn’t surprising that Muriel Bowser’s supporters resort to portraying David Catania’s passion for good governance into something negative,” he said.

Young told the Blade on Thursday that the flier claiming Catania called union workers bullies “completely misrepresented” Catania’s position on unions and workers. He said the union mailer did not state that the legislation at issue was a proposed noise ordinance initially aimed at sidewalk preachers who created neighborhood disturbances by shouting through bull horns or loud speakers in residential neighborhoods.

The Washington Post reported at the time that unions stepped in to oppose the bill because it could curtail union protests that involved making noise to target employers accused of unfair labor practices.

Young said Catania had expressed concern that unions were paying homeless people as “bucket bangers” to create noise at such a high decibel level those offices and schools weren’t able to function in certain parts of the city.

He noted that the legislation did not prevent unions or others from staging protests, only that the noise they make be below a certain decibel level so that neighboring businesses and residents aren’t unduly disturbed.

Washington Post columnist Jonetta Rose Barras, who said in a Sept. 25 column that the unions were taking Catania’s “bullying” remark out of context, reported that he made this remark back in 2008: “When the labor community has used bullying as its business model, you’ve adopted tactics you once fought.”

According to Young, the union flap is unfair because Catania has a strong record on labor issues.

“Look, he’ll put his record on workers issues up against Muriel Bowsers’ any day of the week,” Young said. “David has funded the first living wage increase. He’s funded job training programs in conjunction with [Local] 1199 SEIU [Service Employees International Union].” According to Young, Catania saved “thousands” of union jobs in his successful effort to prevent United Medical Center, the city’s only public hospital, from closing.

McPeek told the Blade on Friday that the Catania campaign has gone negative in the closing weeks of the campaign with more attack fliers than those issued by the unions.

One of Catania’s mailers includes a photo of Bowser standing next to former mayor and D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and quotes Barry as saying, “Muriel Bowser knows my character.” The flier reportedly was sent to voters in Wards 1 and 2, where Barry is not popular.

Another mailer sent to voters on Catania’s behalf by the D.C. police union, which has endorsed Catania, states, “Crime is up in D.C. this year, and Muriel Bowser is making it worse.” The Bowser campaign has called the ad misleading, saying violent crime in the city has gone down in the past year and Bowser supports policies that would further decrease the overall crime rate.

“At the end of the day voters won’t be fooled,” he said. “They’re continuing to respond to Muriel’s positive vision for the city and the Democratic values that she represents.”

A spokesperson for the unions couldn’t immediately be reached for comment late Friday,

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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