Sherwood's Notebook: Campaign and School Boundaries

Did you catch the joint appearance of Democratic mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser and independent David Catania, thrashing out the hot-button issue of changing school boundaries?

Well, no, you didn’t catch it.

That’s because there hasn’t been any joint appearance since Bowser handily won the April 1 primary, now more than eight weeks ago. In a common political move, Bowser essentially has been acting as if there were no race.

Meanwhile, underdog Catania has been nipping at Bowser, trying to draw her out on schools and other issues like development, affordable housing and homelessness.

It wasn’t until recently that Bowser — either irritated or feeling some heat — dropped her ignore-Catania stance.

Catania had released a piece of campaign literature across the Anacostia River accusing Bowser of being a puppet of old development cronies who had crowded around then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Bowser called the pamphlet “sexist rhetoric” that suggested she didn’t know what she’s doing.

The Washington Post editorial page, which endorsed Bowser in the primary and appears decided on the general election, also joined in. It criticized Catania’s brochure as “an implication that a woman can’t think for herself.” The Post said it feared Catania was out of bounds and signaling a nasty race ahead.

Ben Young, Catania’s campaign chair, dismissed Bowser’s sexism charge, saying it was “as empty as her record on issues affecting women.”

But the real fight is brewing over the looming shakeup in school boundaries. It has parents across the city nervous, wondering whether their children will be yanked from neighborhood schools in some type of lottery. Education standards, property values and family commitments to schools hang in the balance, many parents say.

“They are very worried in Ward 5, Tom,” D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie said of his constituents on the WAMU 88.5 “Politics Hour” last week. “We’ve got to figure out how we inspire more confidence in our parents to make sure that they’re sending their kids to a neighborhood school.”

Catania has taken the clearest position on the school boundary changes. He says simply that he wants to “push the pause button” until the school system can get a better handle on reforms across the city. He says that will ease a lot of fears.

Bowser last week firmed up her position on the boundary debate. She earlier had suggested some boundary change proposals were worthy of exploring, potentially weakening matter-of-right school designations. But then last week, she told a meeting of Ward 3 Democrats that she would not support any boundary changes suggested in initial filings from Mayor Vincent Gray and Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith. A final boundary proposal is due from Gray and Smith in September.

Washington Post reporter Aaron Davis wrote that Bowser’s change on the boundary issue “appeared to be a strategic attempt to stamp out criticism that she has lacked a clearly defined position.”

Again, Catania’s campaign skewered Bowser, with Young saying, “She’s making it up as she goes along.”

Bowser defeated Mayor Gray and other candidates in the April Democratic primary. Just days later, she told WAMU’s “Politics Hour” that she ultimately would engage other candidates at forums in the Nov. 4 general election, but not until Catania and any other contenders formally qualified for ballot. That won’t occur until early September.

Many parents may not want to wait that long to hear a thorough discussion of education policies the next mayor may want to pursue. And it seems Bowser herself is recalibrating the Catania annoyance.

Echoing comments she made earlier this month to the Ward 4 Democrats, she warned the Ward 3 Democrats gathering last week that the general election is not a sure thing. She urged the Democrats to “go out and tell everybody that this is not a walk-away election.”

Again, Washington Post reporter Aaron Davis: “Bowser’s comments were her most extensive public remarks in a political setting in weeks, and appeared to coincide with a return to more deliberate campaigning as Catania has begun to make inroads in appealing to Democrats.”

Bowser and her campaign also no longer are suggesting that Catania will pull out of the mayor’s race and run for re-election or retire from the council.

“May I put that to rest?” Catania told WAMU on May 16. “The people of our city deserve to know where their next mayor will take the city.”

Maybe we’ll have a real race, after all, but it is still far too early to tell.

■ Unity Fundraiser. The Bowser campaign is ramping up in other ways. It has scheduled a May 31 “Unity Fundraiser” downtown at the Capitale lounge on K Street NW. The invitation host committee includes about 310 names.

One little nitpick —

Marilyn Tyler-Brown’s name appears twice — but it appears to be just an alphabetizing glitch with her hyphenated name.

Leading the list are five council members: Marion Barry, Anita Bonds, Jack Evans, Kenyan McDuffie and Tommy Wells.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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