D.C. Council member David Catania walked out of the Cedar Tree Public Charter School in southeast Washington Wednesday and – almost – into the 2014 mayor’s race. He put a toe in.
Catania told reporters gathered on the street that he was forming an exploratory committee to gauge whether to run for mayor as an independent next November, regardless of who wins the April Democratic primary.
And he said speeding up education reform would be his focus.
“I just don't believe there's a sense of urgency on the subject,” he said. “I believe that there's been steady improvement, but not a sense of urgency.”
Catania would be bucking political history in the city.
The Democratic primary is tantamount to election in the November contests. But Catania believes it could be different this time, especially if incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray wins the primary against a divided field of a half-dozen serious opponents.
Democratic Council members Jack Evans (Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Tommy Wells (Ward 6) and Vincent Orange (At-Large) each have their own education proposals.
Catania was first elected to the council in 1996. For the past year, he’s chaired a revived council education committee. He’s offered a series of legislation proposals on truancy, school resources and other issues. That’s sometimes gotten him into clashes with Gray and school Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
After his street-side news conference, Catania went to the Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW to file his exploratory papers with the Office of Campaign Finance. Catania said he would begin fundraising soon.
The exploratory committee gives him something else valuable – time.
As education chairman, he can continue to visit city schools, meeting teachers, administrators and parents who also are potential voters. Catania has visited more than 100 schools in the past year.
And just a day after Mayor Gray showed a volatile temper toward reporters, Catania on Wednesday acknowledged that he's been criticized for a hot temper, too.
How is that going to play in the campaign?
“Look, I’m never going to apologize for the passion I bring to this job,” he responded. “You know, when I look around this city, we need to have passion to solve our problems.”
But then he added, “I’m my own worst critic. And I know when I need to be better. I know when I need to be more measured.”
Catania also said in response to a question that he felt certain that a white candidate can be elected in a majority black city. He touted his previous work as chairman of the council’s health committee that helped save a hospital in far southeast Washington. He said education is a crucial public issue, too.
“We have the largest achievement gap between African-American and white students in the country, and there needs to be a Manhattan Project on what we're going to do about this,” he said.