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In one of the earliest spats in Wednesday’s mayoral debate, Muriel Bowser and David Catania spoke frankly about the night ahead.

“Ms. Bowser, if we’re going to interrupt each other, it’s going to be a long debate,” Catania said.

“Perhaps, perhaps,” Bowser said. And then they went back at it.

Bowser and Catania clashed at the American University-hosted debate, the first of the general election cycle. They sniped at one another on everything from each other’s records to the behavior of their supporters, while likely third-place candidate Carol Schwartz lobbed some bombs of her own.

Catania, behind Bowser by a whopping 17 percent in a new Washington Post poll, came ready to take shots at his Democratic rival. In the fight that precipitated his warning that it would be a long night, Catania claimed that what Bowser describes as her signature legislative accomplishment—-her ethics bill—-was primarily the work of other councilmembers.

Bowser returned the favor later, talking down Catania’s chairmanship of the D.C. Council’s education committee with a reference to his former job with a company that has city contracts.

“[Parents] want educators running the schools,” Bowser said. “They don’t want M.C. Dean’s lawyer running the schools.”

Catania shot back that Bowser apparently wasn’t so concerned about his chairmanship when she voted for all of his education bills.

Prepping for the debate, Bowser released a lengthy platform, perhaps to deflect Catania’s comparisons to his own platform. Catania’s campaign, meanwhile, debuted an innovation of its own: the Bowser’s “Plat-O-Meter,” a graphic of a machine that purports to count Bowser’s platitudes.

When it came time for the candidates to ask each other questions, Catania asked Schwartz about an obscure campaign debt to strategist Tom Lindenfeld—-a curious move that still managed to bring up Bowser’s own ties to her scandal-connected former campaign advisor. Schwartz asked Catania again about his former job at M.C. Dean, while Bowser asked Schwartz why she had stuck with the Republican Party for so long.

While the debate crowd was peaceful by District election standards—-no police were called, for example—-it wasn’t without some rowdiness. After a heckler in the crowd yelled “Park Southern” at Bowser, a reference to top Bowser supporters’ involvement in a housing complex scandal, Bowser identified the man as a Catania supporter and asked her own supporters to behave better than him. Soon enough, though, Bowser’s Green Team was getting rowdy as well.

“Ms. Bowser, your supporters are engaging in the very thing you admonished mine not to,” Catania said.

Even books provided an opportunity for the candidates to better their positions. Asked what book she would choose for every D.C. Public Schools student to read, Bowser chose Barack Obama‘s The Audacity of Hope. Schwartz chose A Tale of Two Cities, a move reminiscent of other recnet mayoral campaigns, failed and not.

As for Catania? He wouldn’t choose a book. But he does have a library initiative he’d like to tell you about…

Photo by Darrow Montgomery