City on a Hill: Election 2014, Social issues lose

November 6, 2014

The result of Tuesday’s mayoral election, with Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) emerging victorious against David Catania (I-At Large) with 53.9 percent of the votes, were predictable. After the release of a Washington Post poll demonstrating Bowser’s 12-point lead above Catania just two weeks before the election, it became fairly clear who would  become mayor elect on Nov. 4.

As we reflect on Bowser’s electoral win, however, glaring truths surrounding the nature of the District’s electorate come up. Coupled with a deeper look into the candidates’ track record, these truths demonstrate two realities. First, Bowser was destined to become the new mayor of the district. Second, there was a lack of substantive discussion, with regard to both candidates, on important social issues for this generation of millennials, such as same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization, jobs, and education. 

About three-quarters of D.C. voters are registered Democrats. Catania’s campaign acknowledged before the election that if Bowser were to secure just 64 percent of those voters, mathematically, she would be impossible to beat. Not to mention, according to the 2013 U.S. Government Census Bureau, about 49.5 percent of the district’s population is black, the majority of whom have historically voted for a Democratic African American candidate since 1973, when home rule was granted to the city.

For Catania—a white, gay, Republican-turned-independent—the odds weren’t in his favor, despite having 17 years of experience on the council. D.C. voters failed to recognize that Bowser hasn’t done much in terms of realizing social change, presenting substantial legislation, or even fulfilling her first campaign promise—reforming the city’s public school system.

In order to have won, Catania would have needed to persuade a majority of Democrats to vote for him. The truth of the matter, though, is that if voters had really been tuned in, he shouldn’t have needed to do much persuading.

After Catania broke with the Republican party back in 2004 over the issue of same-sex marriage, his legislative goals have been largely liberal in nature. Catania was instrumental in presenting legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. He supported the legalization of medical marijuana, and helped prevent the closure of the only hospital east of the Anacostia River. In terms of jobs and economic development, Catania was responsible for authoring the New E-conomy Transformation Act of 2000, which brought over 100 technology companies to the district.

Of course, Bowser’s small accomplishments on the council shouldn’t be discredited. She introduced ethics reform initiatives in 2011 while a number of political scandals plagued the city, had a 5-cent tax on plastic bags approved, supported marijuana legalization and paid sick leave for workers in 2008.

In all her years on council, however, Bowser was overly cautious and didn’t develop any bold legislative initiatives. For instance, all she has accomplished in educational reform is passing a Kids Ride Free Act, allowing children to ride the bus free to and from school—which, though an important act, does not address chronic issues with D.C.’s failing public school system. She has supported low-impact legislation, such as putting regulations on pawn shops, and has not seen note-worthy success in areas like affordable housing, even though she was chairman of the D.C. Council committee with oversight of housing issues.

Meanwhile, Catania, since becoming head of the Committee on Education for the city, has been putting together “Reform 2.0” plan for D.C. Public Schools, so that low income students could be granted more money to attend school. Not only that, the Georgetown alumnus also introduced the D.C. Promise, an initiative to help low-income and middle class students better afford college.

It’s easy to get lost in the myriad successes and failures of both former candidates. What the aforementioned facts demonstrate, however, is that the real problem at hand is with young D.C. voters., because they do not recognize that key issues have not been sufficiently addressed by Bowser .

While Catania may have had a past in the Republican Party and has been described by some to be hot-headed, his platform is grounded in social change. Had voters been more attuned to his history and legislative record, perhaps they would have seen that he was more aligned with the Democratic party than voters gave him credit for.

The lack of greater discussion on Catania’s potential could be a result of the District’s recent voting history, as a Democratic candidate has  won the mayoral seat for the past four decades. It could be a matter of demographics. One reality, however, is apparent—and that’s the fact that voters need to start paying more attention, because a candidate that could have delivered true social change may have just slipped right by under their noses.


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