Rudy Giuliani rode his tough-talking Republican schtick to the New York mayor’s office. David Catania will ride his tough-talking Republican schtick to a long career on the D.C. Council.
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
On Jan. 27, Arthur H. Jackson Jr. posted a political call to arms on themail, an online newsletter on District issues. Although a member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee (DSC), Jackson was writing to plug the leadership of the city’s most vocal Republican, At-Large Councilmember David Catania.
“We believe David Catania makes sense for DC more now than ever. We need a leader not afraid to tell corrupt DC officials we will not tolerate misuse of the public trust. From East of the River to Capitol Hill to the proposed towers in Ward 3, [Mayor Anthony A.] Williams has violated the public trust and faces his own ethics questions,” Jackson wrote. “We urge all DC residents tired of this shameful administration to call David Catania’s office and tell him we need him as Mayor now.”
The sales pitch launched a draft-Catania movement that billed itself as a “bipartisan coalition of DC residents tired of ethics violations, corruption, and government incompetence and insensitivity to the needs of the people of this city.”
Much of the District’s Democratic establishment deplored Jackson’s appeal. Not only had he, an African-American, suggested a white candidate to challenge the current black mayor, but he had crossed party lines in his endorsement. The DSC forbids members to openly endorse candidates from rival parties. Under DSC rules, although Jackson could exercise his right to free speech, he couldn’t sit on the committee charged with advancing the careers of Democrats and the interests of the party and simultaneously scout a Republican to challenge a Democratic mayor—regardless of any dissatisfaction in selected pockets of the city about that executive’s tenure.
Like Ricky Ricardo telling Lucy she had some “‘splainin’ to do,” the DSC called Jackson on the carpet. “He said he did not say that. He said somebody else put his name to the piece that was in themail,” says Philip Pannell, chair of the Ward 8 Democrats and a member of the DSC.
Nonetheless, the committee’s spanking effectively rendered Jackson mute. He did not return repeated calls to his home to explain why he had instigated the draft movement. However, Robin Ijames, a co-organizer of the draft, apparently feels no constraints in touting Catania.
“We’d love to see [Catania] as mayor. He knows the city, and he’s honest. We don’t care about his party affiliation. We’re looking at who is going to get the job done,” says Ijames, an independent.
Activist Kenneth “Detroit” Baker also supports the draft. “[He’s] just a stand-up guy in my book,” says Baker, a Democrat who is the commander of the Fighting 54th—an informal civic group credited with registering large numbers of residents east of the Anacostia River, a move that proved to be a deciding factor in former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.’s return to office in 1994.
“We may need a white person; we may need a Republican in there to change this damn city,” adds Baker.
Caught at a mayoral press conference on the day the notice appeared, Catania was blushing and clearly pleased with the attention. When pressed on his political ambitions, the councilmember demurred, asking reporters to “help me stop this rumor.”
“I’ve no interest in the [mayor’s] race; I’ve tried to make that clear in the beginning,” he said later during a telephone interview. “I’m very flattered, but it’s just not anything I’m interested in.”
Catania claims not to have had any contact with the initiators of the draft. He says anyone offering a contradictory story “is not being honest with you.”
Baker and Ijames, however, both say they spoke with Catania on the topic of his chance of becoming mayor. “I talked with him after the Sept. 11 attack,” says Ijames. Says Baker: “I put the idea to him after the closing of D.C. General [Hospital]. I told him I thought we needed someone like him.”
The origins of the draft-Catania movement matter less than the public response to it. After several months, only a handful of mesmerized Catania acolytes have rallied to the cause. Against this backdrop, the Jackson-Ijames effort looks more like a trial balloon than an authentic draft movement. In recent D.C. history, the only politico who can claim to have been drafted is Mayor Williams, who was swept onto the ballot in 1998 by a genuine citywide groundswell.
The city’s indifferent reaction to the Catania-for-mayor rhetoric has several plausible explanations. First, Catania, 34, didn’t make his debut in citywide politics until 1997; some think he has more dues to pay before challenging for the top office. Second, he is a Republican in a city that’s nearly 80 percent Democratic. Third, his governing mien hovers between emotional and downright eruptive, alienating those who want a unifier in the mayor’s office. And fourth, he is gay in a city whose Southern cultural roots feed its homophobia—a notion that the councilmember himself cited in cutting short his comments for this story; Catania called it a “Stay in your place, faggot” piece.
But the transcendent reason that Catania won’t reach the mayoralty is race. Politicians are forever attempting to dismiss the big R as a factor in their machinations, but it determines how they cast their votes, fashion their speeches, and plan their campaign itineraries. These days, D.C.’s political corridors are echoing with speculation about how the city’s changing demographics—the District’s population is becoming less black every day—will affect the fortunes of key officeholders.
The answer is that they may torpedo the candidacy of old-line black warhorses like Barry, who relied on elderly black voters, but offer no succor to Catania—or any other white candidate, for that matter. The District will sooner become the site of the 2012 Olympics than it will elect a white person as its chief executive.
Guys like Catania and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans can perform the electric slide in every black neighborhood in town, but they won’t get a majority of the African-American vote. Perhaps more perplexing is that even liberal white Democratic residents—a rapidly expanding D.C. demographic—won’t vote for their own skin color as long as there’s a credible black candidate on the ballot.
“The folks in D.C. don’t think they’re ready for a white mayor,” says political scientist Ron Walters, who has spent decades studying local politics. “[Williams] is about as close as they will go.
“The underclass black wouldn’t vote for [Catania], because he’s white,” continues Walters. “A number of whites still feel that as long as there is a black majority, the city ought to have a black mayor.”
If D.C. politics were a meritocracy, Catania might be assured of a turn in the mayor’s office. While other legislators sit twiddling their thumbs or raise them to check the direction of the prevailing political winds, he steps into the breach, pushing the District government to transform into a fully functioning bureaucracy.
He won’t receive the Best Legislator Award—that distinction is reserved for Ward 3’s Kathy Patterson—but Catania is no distant runner-up. Executive-branch officials who have faced him during public hearings can attest to his lethality. Before any public hearing at which bureaucrats are scheduled to testify, he studies each aspect of an issue, mastering the budget figures and programmatic details better than those who generate them.
Once in possession of the facts, Catania circles defenseless government managers like an experienced prosecutor. But when he catches his interlocutor in a contradiction or factual slip-up, he hardly defers to the jury around him. Instead, he pounces on the trembling bureaucrat with interruptions and accusations.
The executive branch considers him a brash pain in the ass, and some of his colleagues on more than one occasion have wished he would shut up and go away. Word has it that D.C. Council Chair Linda Cropp informally counsels the young upstart in anger management and diplomacy. Last month, Cropp publicly chastised Catania for scolding executives from the Federal City Council who had come to the council to present a report on D.C. finances. In an interview with the Washington Post, Catania confirmed that his “tone was inappropriate and intentionally so.”
Because of his passionate, unrestrained discourse on the council dais, Catania gets crowned with laurels: “David has done a tremendous job reflecting the type of councilmember we wanted. He has been at the forefront of holding people accountable,” says Ward 7’s Gregg Rhett.
“David is a hardworking, smart, energetic, conscientious councilmember who is admired and respected for those things,” says the other Republican on the council, At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz.
“He’s a good legislator,” says Vickey Wilcher, former executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee. “But legislation is not irrevocable; it can be altered. David’s test, like any other legislator, is in time.
“[However], we have to give David credit for what he has done with apprenticeship, housing, and other issues like that,” Wilcher continues. “He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Actually, it could be said that Catania has done everything right. His list of legislative accomplishments could fill, well, a mayoral campaign brochure. He’s paid attention to issues that are seen as traditionally Republican—tax incentives, fewer business regulations, and tax cuts; along with Evans, he championed the Tax Parity Act of 1999. He has effectively courted new businesses, especially in the hi-tech sector, and he fought for a technology high school to help feed its personnel needs.
Catania lobbied Congress to permit the District to spend its local funds to implement the decades-old Domestic Partnership Act, a favorite of the gay and lesbian community that allows unmarried city government employees to include their partners on their health-insurance plans. He is credited with winning from Congress special funding that assisted the District in reconstituting its Office of Citizen Complaint Review. He has generally advocated for improved fiscal management and government reforms, and, to quote the Washington Post’s Colbert I. King, he has ridden the Metropolitan Police Department like a “hobby horse.”
“Democrats have done a good job of painting Republicans as evil people. David has disproved that image; he’s a different kind of Republican,” says Carl E. Schmid II, who ran Catania’s first council campaign and later served as his spokesperson.
To his reputation as a fierce council watchdog Catania has added a dimension that few at-large councilmembers bother to cultivate: attention to constituent services. For instance, when residents in far Northeast realized they would receive no help from the Williams administration in their struggle to keep Habitat for Humanity from building houses on an area that is allegedly part of a flood plain, Catania responded.
“He has been thinking about introducing legislation that would prevent the construction there,” says Sam Bost, president of the Far Northeast/Southeast Council, an organization that represents 19 groups located east of the Anacostia River.
“It’s things like that that put him up front. People think [Catania] is somebody they can rely on,” Bost adds.
“He’s a smart guy,” says Democratic pollster Ron Lester. “Where he is is where the voters are on most of the issues.”
“He’s been consistent in addressing the issues and good about letting us know what he does, which other councilmembers don’t do,” says Wilcher, who, although a Republican, works both sides of the political fence. “The onus is upon us to look at what those things really mean to us.”
Catania knows exactly what it all means for him. Just as he carefully sets up witnesses at council hearings, he has carefully orchestrated his political future. A man who leaves nothing to chance, the councilmember has always displayed an instinct for political survival—even in his first council run, a special election in 1997 to fill the at-large seat vacated by Cropp, who had recently ascended to the council chair.
In that race, pundits agreed that Arrington Dixon, a former council chair and a District native with impressive national political bona fides, would deliver a drubbing to his brash Republican opponent. Catania, however, knew otherwise.
For starters, he understood that the District’s comatose electorate didn’t stir for special elections—in the July 1997 race that elevated Cropp, for example, only 5.5 percent of the city’s 337,058 registered voters cast ballots.
So Catania targeted clusters of highly motivated white and gay voters. He picked up 43 percent of the votes—mainly from Wards 1, 2, and 3. Dixon managed only 38 percent, mostly from predominantly black wards. For example, Dixon won 2,300 votes in Ward 4, where Catania received only 637. However, only 7.5 percent of registered voters actually bothered to come to the polls that day. The size of the upstart’s winning coalition wouldn’t vault him to an illustrious political career, but it was enough to get him onto the dais.
The racial fault lines in Catania’s voting base became particularly pronounced in 1998, when, with a year on the council under his belt and a budding reputation as a junkyard dog, he ran for his first full council term. In each election cycle, D.C. voters elect two at-large councilmembers besides the council chair; the two highest vote-getters take seats on the council.
In the 1998 general election, Catania pulled in the second-highest number of votes—40,200. There were six other challengers, five of whom were black; the other winner was Phil Mendelson, the white Democratic nominee. Catania’s voters came mostly from Wards 1, 2, and 3; the other five wards delivered only about 11,500 votes to him, about 4,900 of which came from Ward 6, which has a significant white population but is principally Democratic.
By contrast, Republican Schwartz, on the ballot as a mayoral candidate, claimed 30 percent of the vote—42,280 votes—to Catania’s 21 percent. She fared far better than Catania in predominantly black wards of the city. In Ward 8, for example, Catania won fewer than 400 votes, while Schwartz received slightly more than 2,000. Still, her showing wasn’t good enough to beat out Williams, the Democratic nominee. For years, Schwartz enjoyed great support in the black community, but she failed four times—1986, 1990, 1994, and 1998—in her bid to become mayor. What beat Schwartz is surely what will prevent Catania’s bid: She was white in a town unready for a white mayor. Further, she was Republican.
That’s not to say that a white Democrat, looking to graduate from the council to center stage, would do any better. Only two months earlier, in the September Democratic primary, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans was stopped dead in his tracks. Evans had a lot going for him: He had a decent legislative record, did well on the campaign trail, and had stacked his operation with African-Americans, including Warren Graves, Barry’s former communications director. He had also hustled black voters and senior citizens in the Southwest section of his ward and raised more than $774,000 in campaign contributions. But in the end, Evans won only 10 percent of the vote.
Black voters had been dependable in Evans’ council races, but they understood, even if Evans didn’t, that mayoral politics were different. They were willing to elect a white man to the council, but there he would have to stay. It has always been that way. For instance, two black Ward 2 precincts failed to give Evans the numbers he needed. Precinct 1, in Southwest, gave Evans 156 votes but handed a total of 255 to candidates Kevin Chavous and Williams, who are black. Similarly, Evans managed 283 votes in mostly black Precinct 18, in Shaw, but Williams and Chavous took 510.
To complicate matters, Evans had to fight a two-front battle, getting drubbed in predominantly white areas, as well. “A number of white people felt a white person just could not possibly win,” he says. “Then, others thought a white person just should not be mayor.”
That message has been delivered not only to Evans and Schwartz but also to the late David Clarke. A bona fide civil rights activist, the white Clarke invariably received strong support from African-Americans in his home base of Ward 1 and beyond—first when he ran for a ward seat and again when he put his bid in for council chair. But in a 1990 mayoral bid, he was trounced, receiving only 11 percent of the vote. Every black candidate, except the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, beat him at least 2 to 1. Voters—black and white—chose the political novice Sharon Pratt Dixon. She became the likely choice for white Washington because she was black and not connected with the past Barry era, and because she promised to “clean house.”
From 1986 through 1998, when then-Chief Financial Officer Williams entered politics, District voters—black and white—made their wish clear: Where there was a credible African-American candidate, the choice for mayor was black and Democratic.
The history of failed white candidates peered through Catania’s own 1998 numbers. If he wanted to take his political career beyond the council chambers, he needed to overcome the city’s racial and partisan past. He would have to dance more intimately with African-Americans than any of the other white candidates. He would have to persuade whites that blacks loved him and that it was OK for them to vote for him rather than a black candidate of comparable experience. In fact, he would have to demonstrate that it was better to vote white than black. A hell of a feat.
He immediately cozied up to Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous and Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen. The new at-large councilmember concluded that if he were able to develop strong alliances with his colleagues who represented voters east of the Anacostia River, he could improve his long-term prospects in D.C. politics.
He wasted very little time implementing his racial strategy. Catania lobbied for a seat on the council’s Committee on Human Services—which oversees agencies that cater primarily to African-Americans—although few in his voter base relied on the services of those offices. He advocated for increased subsidies for child care. He sent his own staffers as undercover investigators to the city’s substance-abuse treatment center and later issued a scathing indictment of the program, nicely positioning himself as a hero of the downtrodden. He introduced a bill, later passed by the council, mandating that the government match money placed in savings accounts at certain banks by poor and working-class citizens.
Any time an issue of racial justice surfaced on the council radar screen, Catania had to be the first to call out the coordinates. In 1998, for example, Safeway officials revealed their intention to close their Ward 8 supermarket—the only grocery store in the entire ward. Catania roared as loudly as Allen.
“Every time we protested, he was there with Sandy and us. He’s been there on the issues that Sandy brought up; he’s been someone she could rely on….I was surprised to find him there; I just thought he was trying to improve his image,” remembers Calvin Lockridge, a Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner and former school board member.
The Allen-Catania alliance prompted some civic activists to ask who was using whom, and to what end. “Overall, Ward 8 has not improved even with him working with Sandy,” says Sandra Seegars, a member of the D.C. Taxicab Commission and an opponent of Allen’s in the 2000 Ward 8 Democratic primary. “We still don’t have a grocery story, and crime is high.”
Seegars insists that Catania does the leading and Allen the following. “It’s good for him; she votes his votes,” says Seegars. That theory gained credence during the fight over the Tax Parity Act of 1999, which gave generous tax breaks to corporations and wealthy residents. Instead of arguing against a plan that offered little to her constituents, Allen voted for the legislation Catania had co-authored.
“Sandy and I have a mutual-admiration society,” Catania told the Washington City Paper in 2000. “I think she is an absolutely extraordinary member. I never trust a person without passion, and she has passion. Sometimes we have cussed each other out. She tempers me, opens my mind and my eyes to things I have not thought about before. She has good insight into what will work.” Catania argued that if the two hadn’t teamed up, much of what either had attempted wouldn’t have happened. He said their relationship had nothing to do with his political future.
But every step Catania takes is deliberate and driven by a thirst for acceptance among D.C. African-Americans. This lust was on display in the citywide debate over the downsizing of D.C. General in 2001. The plan was approved by the financial control board with the consent of Williams, and over the objections of all the councilmembers. The closing of the inpatient clinics and termination of certain health-care services at the century-old hospital was a hot-button issue that primarily affected low-income and middle-class African-American residents of the city: Many used the facilities, worked there, or had contracts with the hospital’s parent company. D.C. General was an issue made to order. Catania milked it.
Although his sidekick Allen was content to simply vote against the plan, Catania wasn’t satisfied. He persuaded Chavous to join him in filing a lawsuit to stop the implementation of the plan. A K Street law firm provided pro bono services. Still, the two lawmakers were defeated in court.
Catania knew all along what others had failed to see: In a situation like that, there was no losing. His over-the-top efforts made him the official champion of the people, eclipsing Allen, Chavous, and perhaps even Barry—considered, albeit erroneously, the original heavyweight fighter for poor people’s rights. The D.C. General battle helped Catania morph into a politician with mayoral potential in the eyes of some blacks and liberal whites.
Despite his exquisite exploitation of council issues for his political ends, Catania is unlikely to fulfill his limitless ambition—certainly not during this election cycle. At first glance, the councilmember might be heartened by the demographic trends that have overtaken the District in recent years. But upon close inspection, D.C. newcomers don’t appear likely to boost his chances.
Between 1990 and 2000, the African-American population in the District dropped by slightly more than 14 percent, while the number of whites living in the city decreased by only 2 percent. Data from the 2000 Census also indicate a jump in population in predominantly white Wards 1, 2, and 3—Catania’s voter base—along with a dramatic drop in wards where Catania has polled poorly.
But the new voters, according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, aren’t that much different from the old ones. In fact, by Dec. 31, 2001, only 7.6 percent of the city’s registered voters were Republicans; 76.7 percent were Democrats. Three years earlier, the figures stood at 7.2 percent Republican and 77.7 percent Democrat. And Democratic pollster Ron Lester, who has surveyed the city’s electorate for more than 20 years, says not to expect a more dramatic change, adding that the data don’t enhance the prospects of a Republican, regardless of skin color. “Partisanship is more important than race,” Lester says, before going to the numbers: “There aren’t enough independents and Republicans.
“[Catania] would have to win every Republican vote, and every independent vote, and a sizable portion of the Democratic vote,” continues Lester. “That’s like going to the racetrack and hitting the super trifecta.”
Despite the city’s demographic shift, which he concedes is occurring, Lester says, “The partisan composition of the electorate has largely remained the same. This is too liberal of an electorate for a Republican to become mayor.”
No one is a better expert on the odds against Republican mayoral hopefuls than Schwartz. “Just based on voter registration alone, the odds are against any Republican,” says the councilmember.
The city’s demographic shifts have also proceeded in lock step with the gentrification of traditionally black neighborhoods. And in the popular imagination, resentment toward the wave of new-money city folks often merges with anti-gay sentiment—a dynamic that won’t help the councilmember.
“I don’t like the idea of a gay person being mayor,” says Ward 8’s Don Matthews, a registered Republican. “It’s not that I have anything against them personally, but the gays are staking out areas and trying to claim it as theirs and trying to push blacks out, in the same way they did in San Francisco.
“We have just as much rights as they do. We can’t have that here,” Matthews adds.
Jamin Raskin, professor of constitutional law at American University, admits that in some sections of the city, Catania’s sexual preference could “become an issue.”
“You’ve got to imagine the typical voter, of whatever race, being a middle-class family person concerned about schools,” notes Raskin, cautioning against his comments’ being taken as homophobic. “A single person is hard enough to convince people to vote for; a single, childless person is a tough sell….The classic voting constituency is made up of parents of school-age children. Those people want to be sure their elected officials are responsive to their needs. There is a sense that single people are not up to speed on issues of public education.”
The mind-set described by Raskin permeates middle-class and elderly blacks—the most stable and predictable African-American voting population in the District. Although Washington has a shiny cosmopolitan patina, it remains at its roots a very Southern city, complete with often-whispered misgivings about homosexuality.
Longtime Ward 8 politico Philip Pannell dismisses any talk of a deep-seated homophobia in the D.C. electorate. “I’m chair of the [Democratic] Party in Ward 8,” says Pannell, who is black and gay. “Ward 8 is no Dupont Circle.”
“Besides, the District is basically San Francisco East,” Pannell adds. But it should be noted that despite its large contingent of gay, bisexual, and transgendered voters, even San Francisco has yet to elect a mayor who belongs to that constituency—even in 1995, when Democratic lesbian Roberta Achtenberg was on the ballot. Willie Brown won that primary race with a significant assist from gays and lesbians.
Regarding the D.C. electorate’s position on sexuality, Catania says, “I believe that the vast majority of the voters in this city are willing to judge people by the content of their character.” Further, he says anyone who followed him around the city could see the positive response he receives from residents.
Sexuality aside, some of those who have confined their judgments to the content of Catania’s character have found it wanting. “He’s real aggressive, but he doesn’t have the wherewithal to be mayor,” says Ward 5 civic leader Rick Sowell.
The Rev. Lionel Edmonds, co-founder and co-chair of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), a coalition composed of 30 churches representing more than 25,000 District families, cites his recent interaction with the at-large councilmember on the development of new apprenticeship legislation. WIN has been involved in a years-long fight with Miller and Long Co. and George Washington University over compliance with the city’s apprenticeship law.
Catania, seeking to mediate—and place yet one more Boy Scout badge on his lapel—set out to amend the law. But when WIN realized that attorneys for Miller and Long had contributed language to the new law, Edmonds says he and his members were upset. “It demonstrated [Catania’s] need for political growth,” says Edmonds.
Ditto, says the Downtown Cluster of Congregations’ Terry Lynch, a white Ward 1 resident: “A lot of people appreciate David’s feisty scrutiny of city services, but I don’t think they’re comfortable at the moment with saying that’s what makes him mayoral material.”
The Republican leadership, for obvious reasons, dismisses all such misgivings about the councilmember’s qualifications for higher office. “People look at what he’s achieved,” says Schmid.
“I’m willing to give voters the benefit of the doubt,” says Julie Finley, national committeewoman for the D.C. Republican Committee. “Voters really think [more] about the kind of government they want.”
As to the city’s history of repeatedly rejecting a white Republican, Finley insists that the times Schwartz lost were “in the life of politics, rather extraordinary.”
“I don’t think they were normal political times; the city is on a more even keel [now],” Finley adds.
Political operative Wilcher thinks it’s only a matter of time before Catania sits in the catbird seat. “If the demographics continue to change, he could have a chance in 2006,” she says. “This [year] could be David’s mock [mayoral] election.”
Instead of moving closer to Dr. King’s dream, where character would matter more than color, District voters appear ever more obsessed with race when they enter the booth.
Race was there in 1990 when Sharon Pratt Dixon became the city’s third elected and, thus far, only female mayor. Race kept Marion Barry in the mayoral suite for four terms, the last one an extraordinary comeback following a six-month stay in federal prison on narcotics charges. Race, and a crowded field of candidates, helped current Democratic at-large incumbent Phil Mendelson secure his seat in 1998. And, although he probably won’t acknowledge it, race, along with sexuality, served Catania quite nicely in 1998.
So don’t expect race to go prancing off to play on the other side of the Potomac this year—especially not this year.
African-Americans have a bone to pick. They didn’t like it when whites took a 7-6 majority on the council in 1998. Reclaiming their council majority has been an unspoken priority of many D.C. blacks ever since. Although at-large Democratic Councilmember Harold Brazil, who is black, was considered vulnerable in the 2000 election, observers say there was a conscious decision by blacks not to challenge Brazil or weaken him vis-a-vis any possible white challengers. Biding their time, they have come this year to pounce on the white Mendelson, whose primary voter base is Ward 3.
The take-it-back movement received a boost when Barry, the city’s chief demagogue, announced last month that he would spearhead the effort to bounce Mendelson. The ex-mayor immediately went racial, inveighing against white gentrification of black neighborhoods. (Barry is now considering withdrawing from the race.)
The city’s racial dynamics could even swallow Catania in this year’s council elections—before he even gets a chance to make a move on the mayor’s office. The 1998 election foretells the possibilities of a 2002 upset. Although Catania was the second-highest vote-getter, the combined totals of two of his black opponents were larger than his total. Beverly Wilbourn, an independent, and Hilda Mason, a member of the Statehood Party, snared 51,561 votes, to Catania’s 40,000-odd votes.
Those numbers present an enticing opportunity to a strong black candidate who could appeal to Democratic voters. Ward 8 activist Eugene DeWitt Kinlow, who has established an exploratory committee and is threatening to run as an independent, is just such a candidate. Through his fight against a proposal to site a prison in Ward 8, Kinlow cultivated a large supportive following east of the river—the same base Catania has been trying to woo. Further, Kinlow has his admirers in predominantly white communities. Because city law permits voters to choose two candidates in the at-large race, Kinlow could be the beneficiary of a significant number of second votes, effectively pushing Catania out of his office at the Wilson Building.
Don’t think that Catania, the smart, sophisticated politician, hasn’t already scoped that possibility, which may be one reason he has set a goal of raising $200,000 by May 1. If there’s anything that trumps race in city politics, it’s money—lots of money. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.