News & Politics

David Catania Launches Campaign for DC Mayor

The independent DC Council member says Mayor Vince Gray has been an “administrator, not a leader.”

"I feel most of our citizens are outraged," Catania said about Mayor Vince Gray's administration. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

DC Council member David Catania doesn’t think being a white, non-Democrat will dissuade people from voting for him for mayor in this years general election, he said after filing his candidacy for an independent bid.

“This is a city that belives in the value of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness, and playing by the rules,” Catania said. “These are the values we all share.”

Eight Democratic candidates, including Mayor Vince Gray, are scrambling toward the April 1 Democratic primary, which in past years has served as the effective general election. But with another seven months until the real general election and more than 15 years as an at-large member of the Council, Catania’s entry into the race raises the possibility of giving DC its first competitive mayoral general election in 20 years.

“The others have talked a good game and good for them for having labels, but I’ve actually delivered,” Catania said about the Democratic field. Catania is a former Republican who left the party in 2004 over President George W. Bush’s support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

During his tenure on the DC Council, Catania has run the committees overseeing the District’s health services and, since last year, its public schools. A video released by his campaign Wednesday morning highlights his involvment in keeping United Hospital Center, the city’s only hospital east of the Anacostia River, open. He told reporters that his school oversight played a major role in pushing him into the race.

“It was an incredibly important factor,” he said. “It inspired seven or eight landmark pieces of legislation. If we’re electing leaders, rather than administrators, I think it’s time for people to look at the record.”

Catania repeatedly referred to Gray as an “administrator” instead of a leader, arguing that Gray inherited an improving city from former mayors Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty. That’s a charge Gray attempted to fend off last night in his State of the District address, but Catania, addressing reporters at the corner of 14th and U streets, NW, near several new high-end apartment buildings, said it fits.

“I think our city is growing in spite of the mayor, not because of the mayor,” he said. “The mayor has tended a garden that was planted by those before him. I don’t think any of these cranes are traced to the work of Vincent Gray.”

Catania, who created an exploratory committee in December, added that he made his decision to officially enter the race before Monday, when businessman Jeffrey Thompson pleaded guilty to financing a $668,800 “shadow campaign” on Gray’s behalf in 2010 and prosecutors alleged that Gray had direct involvement in the scheme.

“I’ve made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed two years ago,” Catania said. “I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.”

A January poll taken by the Washington Post showed that in a hypothetical matchup, Gray had a slim lead over Catania.

Catania acknowledged taking money from Thompson in some of his Council races, but the two had a falling out after 2006 over city payments to Chartered Health Plan, a Thompson-owned firm that formerly handled DC’s $300 million Medicaid contract. But Catania has his own history with the city’s contracting process. Until January 2013, he had a job with the technology consulting firm MC Dean, which is one of the District government’s biggest contractors. Catania said his role with the firm focused mostly on its contracts with the Defense Department, and that he always recused himself when a city contract with MC Dean came before the Council.

“If anyone can ever find an example of where I voted to advance MC Dean or had a communication with anyone in the District government that advanced MC Dean, I’ll drop out of this race tomorrow,” Catania said. “But you’re not going to find it because it never happened.”

Catania also addressed his sometimes prickly relationships with his fellow Council members. In 2012, for instance, he got in an argument with Marion Barry that heated to the point where Catania told the mayor-for-life, “Fuck you, Marion.”

“We’re not cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches,” Catania told reporters. “This is about running a $12 billion organization, where the lives of 645,000 people depend on someone being honest and being faithflu to those values and visions. I’m not going to apologize for the passion I take to this job. I feel most of our citizens are outraged.”

See also: Will 2014 Be the Year DC Elects a White Mayor?

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.