The mayoral candidates met at the NBC4 studios this afternoon for the penultimate debate of the mayoral election, accusing one another of temper and ethical issues along the way.

One of the most contentious moments of the debate came early, when Post columnist Colby King asked Muriel Bowser whether she would reject the votes of people, like one woman quoted in the Post, who wouldn’t cast ballots for David Catania because he’s gay.

“I reject that notion that people should be judged on their sexual orientation,” Bowser said, saying she’d show the woman why she shouldn’t base her vote on whether a candidate is gay. After the debate, Catania campaign manager Ben Young said Bowser hadn’t explicitly rejected the anti-gay vote. (Bowser campaign manager Bo Shuff, whose wedding to his husband Bowser officiated, disagrees).

Bowser criticized Catania for his former job with M.C. Dean, a firm that has some District contracts. Bowser declared M.C. Dean—-inaccurately—-to be the “biggest city contractor contributor.” For her part, Carol Schwartz handed Catania a card to “thank” him for working for the contractor.

“What the residents of the District of Columbia are left thinking is, ‘Is that pay to play?'” Bowser said.

Catania repeated his usual defense that District contracts make up a small amount of M.C. Dean’s business, and sought to pin Bowser on her own weakness—-the ongoing scandal involving Bowser supporters at the Park Southern housing complex. Bowser wouldn’t return $20,000 given to her by Phinis Jones, the supporter at the center of the case, saying that a recent District government audit of missing Park Southern funds wasn’t conclusive enough to make up her mind.

Bowser and Catania sought to play up their endorsements while putting down their opponents’. Bowser declared District residents “so excited” that Barack Obama endorsed her, while Catania said it amounted to “perfunctory” party loyalty. Meanwhile, Catania said his endorsement from Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin amounts to the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”

Catania defended himself from charges made by former staffers who described him as a terrible boss in a Post article.

“It looked more like the New York Post than the Washington Post, to be perfectly honest,” Catania said.

Bowser alluded to the same story, saying that, unlike her opponent, she wouldn’t “go into a corner with your marbles” when she loses a political battle.

Bowser disputed Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham‘s claim that, while Catania bruises while getting things done, Bowser doesn’t get things done at all.

“I think Mr. Graham has had a long tenure but a short memory,” Bowser said.

Toward the end of the debate, a supporter of third-place candidate Schwartz yelled that she deserved more time, earning her a swift bouncing from the studio. Earlier, moderator King questioned why Schwartz had launched what, according to polls, is a hopeless campaign.

“Why are you doing this?” King said. “Is it vanity, is it vengeance, is it wishful thinking?”

Schwartz said she had no intention to drop out of the race, despite consistently polling in third place. “I’m certainly not planning on it,” Schwartz said. “I’m in, I’m in.”

The candidates will meet again tomorrow afternoon at Ward 8’s Anacostia High School for a debate and straw poll sponsored by ward civic groups.

File photo by Darrow Montgomery