FILE PHOTO: NATASHA THOMSON/THE HOYA Muriel Bowser
FILE PHOTO: NATASHA THOMSON/THE HOYA
Muriel Bowser

D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), D.C. Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large) (SFS ’90, LAW ’94) and former councilmember Carol Schwartz, an independent, will face off today in D.C.’s mayoral election.

Bowser, the Democratic nominee, defeated incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray in the April primary. The recipient of endorsements from President Barack Obama and The Washington Post, she has maintained a constant lead over Catania and Schwartz in the polls, though Catania has recently seen a surge in support, trailing just four points behind Bowser in an Oct. 4 poll conducted by veteran D.C. pollster Ron Lester.

Both former Republicans, Catania and Schwartz turned independent after the party became increasingly conservative, with Catania changing his affiliation in 2004 and Schwartz, a five-time mayoral candidate, changing her status this year.
Public policy professor Mark Rom noted that the candidates fall along traditional party lines, identifying Bowser as the ardent Democrat, Catania as a moderate and Schwartz as the most conservative.

“[The candidates] differ in fairly predictable ways … and they each basically assume the goals that are consistent with their parties,” Rom said.

Hans Noel, an associate professor in the government department, agreed, highlighting the difference between Bowser and Catania, who largely resemble one another on issues of policy, as one primarily of style.

“That dimension between old school and the new way of doing things,” Noel said. “It’s really more of a question of here’s a person that’s a generic Democrat, versus here’s an outsider kind of person, who generally wants to accomplish the same kind of things.”

Lester’s Oct. 4 poll estimated Bowser’s support at 34 percent, Catania’s at 30 percent and Schwartz’s at 16 percent, with 19 percent undecided — a much closer race than the 17-point lead Bowser held in an NBC4/Washington Post poll conducted in September.

COURTESY BENJAMIN YOUNG David Catania
COURTESY BENJAMIN YOUNG
David Catania

Despite the narrowing margins, Rom hypothesized that the District’s demographic makeup and recent events such as the Post’s endorsement provide Bowser with an advantage in today’s election.

“Democrats make up three-fourths of the registered voters in D.C,” Rom said. “Part of the reason of that is that it’s been a largely African-American city, and African-Americans historically vote heavily Democratic, so that’s the basis they’re working from, and Catania’s really trying to break through that. One of the big questions then for the election is, will black voters in the District vote for a white mayor? And I think race is not necessarily the major thing people vote on but it’s a factor they consider: Do you want to have someone as the mayor that kind of looks like me?” If elected, Catania would be the District’s first white mayor, the first openly gay mayor and the first non-Democrat mayor ever.

Aside from Catania, the city’s history looms large as voters express exasperation with the political corruption that plagued the District in the 1980s and reared its head again earlier this year with revelations of illegal campaign fundraising by Gray in his 2010 mayoral campaign.

“[There is] a weariness among voters about the same old, same old, we get the same old politicians, we get the same old corruption problems,” Rom said. “I think that voters in a large part will make decisions based on who they think will be the least corrupt possible mayor.”

Education

A 2011 study based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that Washington, D.C. has the largest achievement gap between minority and white students in the country. All three candidates aim to reform the educational system, making the issue a focal point of the campaign.

Throughout the race, Catania, who served as chairman of the Council’s education committee, has criticized Bowser for being “uninformed” on educational issues, pointing to his detailed education policy for comparison. Catania has centered his campaign around the issue, forming the “Public School Parents for Catania” group to increase funding for at-risk schools and reform the special education system. He has also proposed new methods of measuring student and teacher performance and test scores, and increased autonomy for individual schools.
Bowser has emphasized reforming the District’s middle schools.

“We have to make sure there’s a more deliberate and focused way of providing high-quality middle school options to parents and children across the district,” Bowser campaign Communications Director Joaquin McPeek said. “In her first term she wants to create four new middle schools.”

McPeek also emphasized Bowser’s commitment to keep Education Chancellor Kaya Henderson in office.
Schwartz also stated in her platform that she will keep Henderson as chancellor and promised that she will remain dedicated to ensuring teacher quality by encouraging creative teaching. She has also advocated for more charter and vocational schools.

Gray’s redistricting plan of public school boundaries for the 2015-2016 school year, which would give at-risk students preference in lotteries for out-of-boundary spots, has arisen as a major point of contention during the election. Bowser and Catania have both opposed this plan, arguing that it would exacerbate inequality already present in the D.C Public Schools system. Catania plans to move forward with redistricting after a year. Schwartz stated in her Education Position Paper that she would “accept the need for new boundaries, but make modifications where necessary.”

Affordable Housing

The District has seen rents rise 50 percent and home prices double in the past decade, despite the presence of a constant level of family income, according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

According to her platform, Bowser will attempt to produce more affordable housing, increasing the available spaces by 10,000 units a year and encouraging home ownership to prevent displacement.

Catania proposed a low-income housing tax credit as well as supporting mixed-income developments, in addition to Bowser’s proposed steps , to address the problem. Schwartz has promised to immediately allocate more funding to the Local Rental Support Program to provide relief to renters but largely agreed with increased developments of affordable housing.

The affordable housing problem is compounded by Gray’s plan to close the D.C General Homeless Center within the next year and an estimated 16 percent rise in homelessness in D.C this winter. Bowser and Catania have supported closing the shelter, though Schwartz has argued for remodeling the facility instead.

Wages

Both Catania and Bowser have been criticized for failing to support the Large Retailer Accountability Act last year, which would have required large retailers, primarily WalMart, to pay employees a minimum wage of $12.50. However, both candidates supported raising the minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016, a change that is in progress. Schwartz stated that, if she were on the council, she would have supported the measure to raise the minimum wage as well.

Turnout Expectations

Despite historically low turnout in the April primary, The Washington Post reported Monday that a record 25,302 early ballots had been cast in the general election, nearly double the total early ballots of the 2010 election.

However, in contrast to this increased turnout, Georgetown University College Democrats Chair Chandini Jha (COL ’16) said that Georgetown students were generally uninterested in D.C. politics.

“If you’re a resident of D.C. who’s not a student, you’re more likely to go out and vote, whereas students don’t have those strong ties — we’re only here for four years — although D.C. elections really do affect us in terms of the way we live on and off campus,” Jha said. “At Georgetown very few students are registered to vote in the District because they want to have more electoral power in their home states and they vote absentee.”

D.C. allows same-day registration, allowing students to register and vote at the same time. Rom encouraged students who had not already voted in their home states to cast their ballots today.

“I would urge Georgetown voters to take a look at each of the three candidates and make an informed choice about who would be best for the city and who would be best for Georgetown,” he said.

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