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“We are literally living in the 10th anniversary of the month in which I knew I would be leaving the GOP,” D.C. Councilmember David Catania said on a February afternoon in his office on the fourth floor of the John A. Wilson Building.
The city’s first openly gay elected official remembers the evening, in 2004, that he heard President George W. Bush endorse a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Catania turned to his partner in the couple’s family room and said that was it when it came to his party affiliation.
“At that moment, I knew I would leave, but I was going to try to stay in to make as much of a difference as I could,” the 46-year-old recalled. “I knew I would be out before the year, but I wanted to keep the label because that label was a pain in their side. I was an elected Republican who happened to be gay and that visibility — that in and of itself — was a real problem for the Republicans.” Catania endorsed Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for president in 2004, and officially left the GOP in late September to become an independent.
Now, after four full terms on the council, he’s angling to become the first mayor of Washington, D.C., not affiliated with the Democratic Party. Catania will officially enter the race later this week, according to campaign aide Ben Young, arriving on the scene about three weeks before the April 1 primary that will set the ballot for November.
The combative, intense chairman of the council’s Committee on Education could face incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, whose reputation took another hit Monday, after federal prosecutors alleged he had personally solicited funds for a shadow campaign that undermined his 2010 primary opponent, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. But Catania could also find himself facing off with one of the four Democratic councilmembers jostling to take Gray’s place. He has been mulling a run for months, but word leaked out Monday from his campaign that he would make it official, hours after prosecutors detailed their case against one of Gray’s major backers, “Uncle Earl” Jeffrey E. Thompson, who pleaded guilty to providing generously to Gray’s shadow campaign.
Catania would have just more than six months to make his case for uprooting a 40-year tradition of Democratic rule. To some, he appears well-armed for the uphill fight.
A source with decades of experience on the D.C. political scene compared Catania’s smarts, sharp intellect and “suffer no fools attitude” to that of former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is also openly gay.