WASHINGTON (NewsChannel 8) - In the D.C. Mayoral race, Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser is considered the front runner, but independent candidate David Catania is getting a big boost from one of the District's largest and most influential unions.
The Fraternal Order Of Police – which represents about 3600 officers, sergeants and detectives of the Metropolitan Police Department – announced its endorsement of Catania on Wednesday in a southwest D.C. neighborhood where six people were shot Aug. 10.
"As a candidate for Mayor, you cannot ask for a more important endorsement," Catania said after the union's board members said they unanimously voted to endorse him.
"And while we have made progress with crime generally throughout the city, there are pockets and communities within our city that still have unbelievably high and unacceptably high crime," Catania said.
The FOP has repeatedly – sometimes aggressively – butted heads with D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier over department policies.
And yet, on NewsChannel 8's NewsTalk on Wednesday, the chief told Bruce Depuyt that under the union's new leadership, relations between management and MPD's rank and file had improved.
Still, it's no secret many officers in the department want Lanier gone. But when asked by reporters about that topic, Catania called such talk "premature."
"Until there's an election, certainty about who the next mayor will be, I just think it's unfair to the chief and senior officials of the government to try to curry favor or to try to influence them or to have some degree of reciprocity in conversations," he said.
Another independent candidate – Carol Schwartz – said she doesn't believe Catania.
She claims, based on "conversations with several police officers," that any FOP endorsement would require taking a "pledge" to dismiss Lanier.
"And so I knew the minute I heard he got the endorsement, without even interviewing with me, that he had obviously said he would get rid of her," Schwartz said.
But the FOP contends Catania made no such promise.
"A commitment to get rid of Chief Lanier? [Schwartz] is flat out wrong. I have no idea where she got that information from," FOP Chairman Delroy Burton said.
A 2011 Clarus Research poll of D.C. voters showed Lanier had an out-of-this-world approval rating of 84%, just a few points below President Barack Obama at the time.
A few years later, she's still very popular with District residents.
"She's been doing a good job. Let's stick with somebody that we know has done a very good job," said resident Anne Vanderberry.
But D.C. is a transient town and many voters asked by NewsChannel 8 seemed indifferent about whether Lanier should stay or go.
"I kind of have an indifferent opinion. I don't think she's done a terrible job. I don't think she's done a great job either by any means. I guess I also have family who are in the police department, so I hear a lot of their complaints," D.C. voter Carlton Stewart said,
While this endorsement certainly helps Catania, Bowser has been endorsed by other local labor unions, including the Washington D.C. Fire Fighters Association.
In a statement, Bowser's campaign said she "is proud of the broad support she's received across all 8 wards and looks forward to continuing to work with Chief Lanier and the great men and women of the Metro Police Department to keep D.C. residents safe."
The FOP said it interviewed Bowser during the primary campaign, but at that time it endorsed Tommy Wells for Mayor.
Now approaching the general election, the union decided to endorse Catania, after recently interviewing him.
Union leaders said they don't solicit candidates – candidates much approach them. They said that's why Schwartz was not interviewed or endorsed.