Bolstering Catania’s case for the District’s top political job is the name recognition that comes with being a citywide elected official with a long record of leadership on high-profile issues that are popular with progressive voters, including the legislation to make the city smoke-free, establish gay marriage and legalize medical marijuana.
Plus, it’s not his first time playing the underdog.
Catania stunned D.C.’s political establishment in 1997 when he defeated prominent Democrat Arrington Dixon in a special election for an at-large council seat. Dixon had “crushing name recognition,” compared to Catania, then a 29-year-old lawyer, who was in his first year as an advisory neighborhood commissioner.
“As far as contradictions, you could stack them up,” Catania said. “You’re young, you’re new, you’re unknown, you’re a Republican, you’re gay — forget it.”
Catania easily won re-election in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. Before taking the helm of the Education Committee, he helped expand access to pediatric care as chairman of the Health Committee.
It was in that capacity that he first met Cindy Rosenwald, a Democratic New Hampshire state House member. He convinced Rosenwald to take on the cause of voting representation in Congress for the District. Catania has traveled to New Hampshire to testify in support of Rosenwald’s resolutions three times — most recently in late February.
“I think he’s really smart and I’ve noticed that he really cares about the residents of the District a lot,” Rosenwald told CQ Roll Call. “He seems to have a comprehensive understanding of the diverse neighborhoods. ... He’s also very brave.”
The resolution has been recommended for passage and could come up for a vote on the New Hampshire House floor as early as Thursday, Rosenwald predicted.
Catania calls New Hampshire his “first stop” in an East Coast tour aimed at building support for expanding D.C.’s rights in Congress. Next up is Vermont, to lobby his good friend Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is the current chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. They worked together on pharmaceutical legislation when Catania was leading the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices.
“I know he’s a great friend of the District,” Catania said, explaining his plan to win New England’s endorsement of D.C. statehood. “You’ve got to break that seal, then the others come rapidly.”
If elected, the Midwestern native promises to take his fiercely independent mindset to Congress. He’s got a “beef” with the idea of “internalized subjugation” to Capitol Hill and other institutions.
Catania said he never learned that where he grew up. He spent much of his childhood in the small Kansas town of Osawatomie, along the plains where abolitionist John Brown led his uprising.
“There is an ongoing competition as to who will govern us,” said the soon-to-be mayoral candidate. “Will it be the opinion formers of newspapers, members of Congress or will it be the elected leadership of the city?”