WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Republican filed paperwork Wednesday to run for District of Columbia mayor as an independent, setting the stage for a competitive race in the midst of a scandal involving current Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign.
Council member David Catania could pose a challenge to the Democratic nominee in this year's general election, even though the district is heavily Democratic. Catania, who is gay, has a progressive record and left the Republican Party in 2004. He first won a citywide at-large council seat in 1997 and has been re-elected four times.
Catania said he is not depending on Gray to be the Democratic nominee to have his own path to victory.
"I've won more citywide races than everyone else in the race combined," Catania said, adding that he shares the city's values. "I think my record more embodies Democratic values than the field of candidates running as Democrats."
He noted his work in advancing marriage equality, legalizing medical marijuana, cutting the rate of uninsured people and pushing for more education funding for at-risk youth.
Catania said the city needs to move on from the drama surrounding the current mayor to tackle problems in education, the fire department and elsewhere.
The district's Democratic primary is April 1, and early voting begins next Monday.
One of the mayor's previous campaign donors, Jeffrey Thompson, pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges on Monday. Prosecutors alleged in court documents that Gray knew about an illegal off-the-books "shadow campaign" to aid his election effort, but the mayor has not been charged with any crime.
Asked Wednesday about Catania joining the race, Gray mostly declined to comment.
"That's down the road," he said.
Catania opened his campaign by registering his candidacy with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. Shortly after, he said his chances of winning are good, despite party labels.
"I think this is an election that's about change," he said. "It shouldn't be a Politburo system by acclimation. It should be a clash of ideas."
Despite the city's prosperity, he said it's still falling short for many residents. Education will be his top priority and is why he's running. Most recently Catania has served as chairman of the council's education committee, but he said the mayor has failed to address the achievement gap, investigate testing integrity or tackle truancy.
Catania was raised by a single mother who had to drop out of high school. Improving the city's school system is the biggest way to reduce economic inequality, he said.
Education is "the single biggest avenue for social mobility and equality in our country," Catania said, "and we have simply made it OK for our poor and low-income and marginalized in this city to not be educated."
After being elected initially as a Republican in 1997, Catania said he left the party in 2004 after President George W. Bush championed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He has since registered as an independent and led an effort to legalize gay marriage in the nation's capital.