Report to DC Voters
From: Edward Cowan
March 2, 2013
For DC Voters who want to end cronyism on the District council, the choice in the April 23 special election to fill a vacant At Large seat is obvious.
Patrick Mara is a candidate who can win and who can bring personal integrity and a breath of fresh air to our local legislature.
Mara is a Republican, or as he says, a “moderate Republican” who is “socially progressive and fiscally responsible.”
He would be the only Republican on the 13-seat council, giving it a bipartisan complexion for the first time since 2008. (Ten members are Democrats, two are Independents.)
Mara is newly married (his wife, Shannon O’Leary, is a specialist in child development) and owns a home on 11th Street NW in Columbia Heights. A native of Rhode Island, he graduated from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, earned an M.B.A. from Babson College in Massachusetts, where he specialized in entrepreneurship. He operates his own political consulting and fund-raising business, the Dolan Group.
In 2010, the voters of Ward 1 elected Mara to represent them on the Board of Education. He defeated an incumbent who sought re-election.
Only Three Might Win
Realistically, only three of the seven candidates for the At Large seat have a chance to win a city-wide election: they are Mara, 38, and two established, organization Democrats, Michael A. Brown and Anita Bonds.
Brown, who turns 48 on Monday, lost an At Large seat in the November 2012 election after one four-year term. He was hurt by his advocacy of online gambling from home and by disclosures that he had failed to pay taxes on time and that his driver’s license had been suspended repeatedly. As if those events didn’t suggest he is sloppy, perhaps most hurtful was his disclosure that his campaign was missing almost $114,000. In recent days, Brown has been telling voters that he has been cleared of any suspicion in that matter.
He is an opportunist. He switched his registration to Independent in 2008 to capture a seat for which a Democrat was ineligible, then switched back to Democrat for the April 23 contest. At a candidates’ forum on Thursday sponsored by Ward 3 Democrats, Brown suggested that cars with District tags be given reduced parking rates, which sounded like pandering.
Lobbyists to Help Brown
Brown’s campaign is expected to get a boost from a fund-raiser to be held for him on March 7 by lobbyists and developers, according to the Post. A lawyer in private practice, Brown lives in the Chevy Chase section of Ward 4 with his wife and children.
Bonds, 67, is a native of the District and chairs the DC Democratic State Committee. It elected her in December to hold, temporarily, the At Large seat at issue on April 23. The seat had been held by Phil Mendelson until he was elected council chairman in November. Whoever wins the election will serve through 2014.
Bonds has been a Democratic wheelhorse for decades and was a lieutenant to a much younger Marion Barry. She told me that she is “on leave” from a government-relations job at Fort Myer Construction, receiving no compensation–pay or benefits–while on the council. In three months as an interim council member, Bonds has had little impact.
In sum, the political reality is that District voters will choose between electing a regular Democrat, Brown or Bonds, to a council top heavy with regular Democrats—or choosing Mara.
Three of the other four candidates, Matthew Frumin (a Ward 3 ANC commissioner and an international trade lawyer), Paul Zukerberg (Ward 1, a lawyer who specializes in marijuana possession cases) and Elissa Silverman (Ward 6, a former Post reporter) are Democrats running city-wide for the first time. Silverman is the best informed about District business and the most analytical. She is an advocate of ever-more redistribution of income, as is her employer, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, where she is on leave.
The seventh candidate is Perry Redd of the Statehood-Green party. He won’t win, either. His campaign is oriented to affordable housing, legislating a higher minimum wage, and “justice for returning citizens.” His Web site recounts that he has served “two stints in prison.”
Mara Led in Three Wards
Mara is a proven vote-getter. In addition to capturing the school board seat, he came in second in the city-wide, 2011 special election for an At Large seat. Endorsed then by the Washington Post and by this writer, Mara polled 11,851 votes, just 1,700 fewer than the winner, Vincent Orange. He came in first in Wards 2 (49%), 3 (49%), and 6 (36%), and finished second in Ward 1.
Despite having polled below 3 percent in Wards 7 and 8, he told me that he would knock on doors in every ward. He and his volunteers have, so far, knocked on 5,000 doors and made 20,000 phone calls, according to the campaign.
Who is Patrick Mara?
Mara portrays himself as the “education reform” candidate who has visited 70 schools throughout the city. He suggests that in light of his experience on the Board of Education, he could serve as a counterweight to the strong-willed, volatile chairman of the council’s education committee, David Catania.
He has called himself an “urban Republican,” meaning that he supports gay rights and same-sex marriage and is not part of the GOP’s Sun Belt bloc of hard-right conservatives. He proposes that as the council’s only Republican, he could be an effective ambassador for District interests among Republicans on Capitol Hill, lobbying for example for budget autonomy.
Mara says that he would look for ways to reduce taxes (no other candidate has volunteered that) and to be cautious about spending. “Others say spend, spend, spend,” Mara told me. “I say conserve and look at reducing.”
Mara takes a cautious approach to the use of government regulation, observing that it imposes costs that small business cannot easily absorb.
He touts a modest personal lifestyle. He does not own a car. He rides a bicycle or takes Metro. He boasts that he buys modestly priced suits at Jos. A. Bank and has had his shoes re-soled three times.
Mara’s two years on the Board of Education have shown him to be hard-working, an elected representative who does field work and makes himself available to constituents. That is commendable, but hardly sufficient to make him the most promising candidate for the council seat. He vows that he would take no paid outside employment while on council.
What makes Patrick Mara the most appealing candidate is his independence of the majority Democrats, his unblemished record for personal integrity, and his willingness to be a one-man Opposition within a scandal-tainted council of only 13 in which comity and log-rolling have been the norm.
“I’ll be looking over everyone’s shoulder,” he said.
No other candidate has made that promise.