Catania files official paperwork, enters D.C. mayor race

WASHINGTON (AP) - District of Columbia Councilmember David Catania filed the official paperwork Wednesday to run for mayor as an independent in the midst of a fundraising scandal involving current Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign.

Catania could pose a challenge to the Democratic nominee in this year's general election, even though the district is heavily Democratic.

Catania is a former Republican with a progressive record. He first won a citywide at-large council seat in 1997 and has since been re-elected four times.

"This is an election about change," Catania said, adding that the city needs to move beyond the drama surrounding the current mayor.

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.

Catania said he thinks his chances of winning are good, despite party labels, and that he has won more citywide races than the other candidates combined. His record since 1997 embodies Democratic values more than other Democrats in the race, he said.

Catania opened his campaign by registering his candidacy with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

In a news conference shortly after, Catania said education will be his top priority, and is why he's running. Most recently he has served as chairman of the council's education committee.

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.

After being elected initially as a Republican, Catania said he left the party in 2004 after President George W. Bush championed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Catania has since registered as an independent. He later led an effort to legalize gay marriage in the nation's capital.

Party labels shouldn't matter in this election, he said. Instead, it should be "a battle of ideas about how to improve the city."