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With eight people competing for the Democratic mayoral nomination, debate organizers hoping to focus on the frontrunners have been pointing to polls as a way to exclude the lagging four candidates. But what happens when polls suggest that there are five leaders, not four?

Organizers for tonight’s WUSA9 debate had originally planned to include only Vince GrayMuriel BowserTommy Wells, and Jack Evans. But Tuesday’s Washington Post poll had Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal tied with Evans at 6 percent of respondents for fourth, making it harder to justify excluding Shallal.

Polls from NBC4/Marist and Washington City Paper/The Kojo Nnamdi Show still place Shallal behind Evans, but that hasn’t stopped Shallal from demanding his seat at the televised debate, which starts at 7 p.m. In a statement, Shallal blamed his exclusion on an “insidious political caste system” bent on duping the electorate into voting for corporate-friendly options.

“This is unfair and it is an insult to D.C. voters who are being treated as though they need the hand of a corporate media operation to steer them to poll-approved candidates,” Shallal says in the release. “This might be good for WUSA’s ratings, but it does not serve the public interest.”

“Shame on WUSA,” Shallal adds at the end.

WUSA9 didn’t respond to LL’s request for comment about the selection process, but Shallal campaign spokesman Dwight Kirk claims that WUSA9 news director Fred D’Ambrosi told him that there wasn’t time after the Post poll to invite Shallal.

“How complicated could it be to add more chair at the debate table?” Kirk writes in an email.

Despite calling on supporters to phone the station and “demand democracy” on Shallal’s behalf, Shallal still hasn’t been invited to join the debate. “I’m pretty sure they won’t be calling,” Kirk writes LL.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery