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The second mayoral debate of the general election started with an awkward moment. With the candidates already seated, a radio news break from debate sponsor WAMU that was piped into the NPR auditorium announced a poll that shows David Catania gaining on Muriel Bowser.

If that poll is accurate, though, it might be worth tossing out after tonight. Plagued by faulty microphones, Catania struggled to gain ground on Bowser, while the frontrunning Democratic nominee managed to avoid making any serious mistakes a month before Election Day.

In one representative moment, Bowser cut into one of Catania’s answers after he called her “uninformed.” Bowser claimed that, if Catania continued to describe Bowser and her supporters as puppets, he would pay the price in November.

“It is disrespectful, and the voters will let you know how disrespectful it is,” Bowser said. 

Catania shot back that if he calls Bowser uninformed, he’s just telling the truth. And that was with 45 minutes still to go.

Bowser’s record made a tempting target for Catania, who accused her of botching affordable housing as the chair of her D.C. Council committee and failing to enact meaningful education bills. Catania also brought up the Park Southern housing complex scandal and its ties to prominent Bowser supporters, saying that Bowser’s willingness to work on housing issues extends only to her own donors.

“She is good at bringing the people to the table,” Catania said. “She’s good at bringing the contributors to the table.”

Catania became mired in some of his own history, although not the kind he’d probably like to put on the radio. Third-place candidate Carol Schwartz accused Catania of helping to oust her in the 2008 Republican primary by backing Schwartz rival Pat Mara.

Schwartz said after her defeat, Catania gloated about his role in her forced exit from office. When Catania denied engineering Schwartz’s loss, Bowser helped shove her opponent back into his feud.

“Everybody knows that that’s not true,” Bowser said.

Bowser showed some edge of her own when asked how she squares support for D.C. Public Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson with opposition to the school boundary proposed Henderson helped created. The contradiction, Bowser explains, isn’t a contradiction at all: The chancellor works for the mayor, whoever that is.

Bowser’s assertion of mayoral power over the popular chancellor inspired moderator Kojo Nnamdi to quip that Bowser would have Henderson watch an episode of the Tony Danza sitcom Who’s the Boss?

At odds over everything from marijuana legalization to Catania’s former job with District contractor M.C. Dean, the candidates could only agree on their favorite childhood Halloween costume. After a very human performance, all three candidates chose a superhero: Wonder Woman.

File photo by Darrow Montgomery