Here’s the good news for David Catania: the independent running to be mayor of the District of Columbia is making a surprisingly strong run, putting him within striking distance of becoming the city’s first gay mayor.
Here’s the bad news: he’s still a bit of a jerk.
Catania has served for 17 years on the DC city council, having first won election as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. To his credit, Catania objected strenuously when George W. Bush used opposition to gay marriage to drive the Christian right vote in 2004, leaving the Republican party after the party made it clear he wasn’t welcome.
Catania threw his hat in the ring for the DC mayoralty in March, he’s run a credible campaign against uphill odds. In the final stretch, he’s still lagging in polls against Democrat Muriel Bowser, but the district’s changing demographics don’t make a win look out of the question.
As it turns out, being an independent in a partisan city may not be as bit an issue for Catania as being a mini-Chris Christie. Catania has a well-earned reputation for anger.
“I will be the first to confess on more than one occasion my passion has gotten the better of me,” Catania told the Washington Post last year. “As I’ve aged in this position — I was 29 when I was first elected — I think I’ve become more measured. But every once in a while, I relapse.”
More than every once in a while, judging by reporting from the campaign trail. While talking to a voter about his record on education, he stopped to chastise two people behind him having their own conversation. “Would you mind?” Catania complained. “I’m hearing voices in the back of my head.”
“He seems unacquainted with Isaac Newton’s quote, ‘Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy,’” Washington Post columnist Colbert King wrote in an otherwise glowing column. “Catania always assumes he’s the smartest person in the room. Thus he often comes across as a bad listener who respects only his point of view — a toxic attitude when building relationships is required.”
Catania also doesn’t win any points with the other openly gay member of the District Council, Democrat Jim Graham.
“What separates David from anyone else I’ve known on the council is the ad hominem attacks,” said Graham. “He’s gotten big things done. He’s a brilliant strategist. But his mode of operation is to make people afraid of him.” Graham recalled Catania telling other council members that he’d make sure they were defeated. “He said, ‘I’m going to get you,’” Graham recounted. “Is this an emotionally balanced professional?”
Graham has endorsed Bowser, but he’s not exactly enthusiastic about either candidate: “One gets things done with a few broken bones, and the other doesn’t get things done.”
For his part, Catania says he’s mellowed in light of the advance of marriage equality and his own relationship with event planner Bill Enright, whom Catania hopes to marry one day.
“I went from being told I would never be equal to being the architect of that change,” said Catania, who introduced the measure that led to marriage equality in DC. “To be able to look at Bill now and say this is someone I could marry, that’s huge, huge, huge. Huge.”
Tuesday will make it clear whether DC voters are willing to overlook Catania’s temper in favor of his reputation for getting things done. Even if he loses, though, it probably won’t be Catania’s last run for mayor. In the future, the demographics may be running his favor.
Photo credit: Adam Fagen