Democratic candidate Muriel Bowser is losing some of her lead in the race for D.C. mayor, with independent David Catania (SFS ’90, LAW ’94) approaching Bowser as the Nov. 4 election nears, according to a poll released Oct. 1.
According to the poll by Economic Growth D.C., a pro-business advocacy group, Bowser still retains the lead with the support of 35 percent of likely voters, followed by Catania with 27 percent. Independent candidate Carol Schwartz received 11 percent, with 27 percent of likely voters remaining undecided.
The results of the poll draw a picture of a much closer race than depicted in a poll released by The Washington Post on Sept. 17 that revealed a 17-point difference between Bowser, at 43 percent, and Catania, at 26 percent.
If elected, Catania would become the District’s first white mayor, first independent mayor and first openly gay mayor.
Bowser, who has served as a D.C. councilmember for Ward 4 since 2007, defeated current Mayor Vincent Gray in the Democratic primary in April and recently received endorsement from President Barack Obama.
Catania, an at-large D.C. councilmember since 1997, was previously a Republican, but became an independent in 2004 after growing dissatisfied with the party’s direction.
Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at the McCourt School of Public Policy, hypothesized that this surge of support for Catania may be a response to the changing demographics of the city itself.
“If he were to win, it would certainly be an indication that the affluent non-black population is growing electorally stronger,” Holzer said. “The fact that Catania is doing well reflects the growth of the non-African-American population here, especially in the most Northwest parts of the city. In fact, blacks account for just half of the population now. Even among the black population, whites with certain kinds of strong backgrounds, like in business or education, can do well — as in the recent election of a white mayor in Detroit.”
Holzer noted that Catania also represents a changing trend in the United States toward an increased presence of LGBTQ politicians. The 113th Congress has six openly gay members in the House, and in 2012, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin became the first openly gay U.S. senator in history.
“Having an openly gay mayor of a major city like this would be a shot in the arm to the growing perception that America is getting much more comfortable with its gay population,” Holzer said, speculating on the boost to LGBTQ politicians from D.C.’s high profile.
Eroding Bowser’s support from D.C.’s heavily Democratic electorate and black community will be a significant challenge for Catania. As of 2013, blacks made up about 50 percent of the D.C. population.
“Catania would have to reach out to the African-American community, probably through the churches somehow,” government professor Clyde Wilcox wrote in an email. “In my experience these churches are very welcoming communities but they would start off with less support for LGBTQ issues than the wider D.C. community.”
Because of the recent economic growth in the District, Holzer deemed it unlikely that D.C. would shift drastically to support Catania.
“Here in D.C., I think Bowser retains a fairly strong lead, especially among blacks,” Holzer said. “The city has done well in recent years, and there is less desperation [than] in a place like Detroit. Educational improvements, starting under Fenty and continuing under Gray, have occurred. This undercuts Catania’s argument that he is uniquely qualified on this issue.”
Wilcox stated that while the gap is narrowing, Bowser still maintains a healthy lead, though he questioned whether the polling accurately measured the level of support for Catania.
“I see that there was a poll sponsored by a business group that showed an eight-point gap, which is actually still a pretty healthy lead [for Bowser]. It limited the study to frequent voters, which sometimes is a good thing, [because of] low-turnout elections, and sometimes not,” he wrote. “One thing that could do, possibly, is understate Catania’s support, since there may be some LGBTQ folks who are not frequent voters in D.C. politics who will vote this time.”
Georgetown University College Democrats Chair Chandini Jha (COL ’16) noted the significance of Catania’s candidacy and potential election.
“I think it would be very significant for D.C. to elect the first white and openly gay mayor, especially as marriage equality becomes more accepted,” Jha said. “It would be a major signal about the descriptive representation of LGBTQ individuals in urban cities.”