Confirming speculation, Republican Pat Mara threw his hat in the ring for April’s at-large DC Council special election, but he wasn’t quick to dive into the contest. Nominating petitions have been available since December 23, 2010 and the DC Democratic State Committee voted Sekou Biddle into the vacancy in a meeting the evening of January 6th. Mara seems to have bided his time to see how the race would shape up. By declaring, Mara must think he has now has a shot at winning a plurality and capturing the seat.
Mara has been the subject of speculation because he is deemed the DCGOP’s most viable candidate for any election, city-wide. Mara ousted longtime incumbent Carol Schwartz in the 2008 Republican primary. Although he came up short in the general election, Mara remained engaged and captured diverse Ward One’s seat on the non-partisan DC State Board of Education in November.
And heads turned to the most viable District Republican politician because the last time an at-large DC Council special election was held, an under-the-radar Republican knocked off the DC Democratic State Committee’s selection to fill the vacancy.
That winner is Council Member David Catania, who is still in that seat, although he has since renounced that Republican affiliation. WaPo’s Mike DeBonis contends that “Catania's now something of a political mentor to Mara.” Catania did endorse Mara in the general election for his 2008 at-large council bid and then for his successful run for school board in 2010, but Mara was quick to assure this blogger that he has “not reached out to any sitting council member and asked” for an endorsement.
Mara’s buzzword is “independence.”
Mara maybe think he needs to distance himself not only from his Republican partisan label in this overwhelming Democratic District, but Catania and the business community, too. He is positioning himself as loyal to no one party, politician or interest group thereby allowing him to promise to be the only truly “independent voice” for school reform and fiscal responsibility on the council, a role he claims he currently fills on the school board. (And, in invoking “independence,” Mara wants to subtly remind votes that Sekou Biddle owes his allegiance to an group of insiders, the DC Democratic State Committee, for becoming the incumbent in this race.)
Predictably, Mara is already coming under fire from opponents. Unlike Catania, he will fight “for every vote,” not just rouse his base as Catania managed to do by turning out an intriguing alliance of Republican and gay voters. He does see a lot of potential in DC’s big pot of registered independents, who may vote for
Democrats on nearly every spot on the ballot, but are turned off by patently partisan bodies like the DC Democratic State Committee. “Independent” is a moniker he hopes to exploit to capture their attention.
And how will he address the inevitable questioning of why he is set abandon his school board seat if he claims a seat on the DC Council dais? (It is worth noting that loyal Democrat Sekou Biddle is not facing much similar sniping for having made that very move himself.)
Well, the school board is a soapbox, and Mara’s independence allows him to speak out for education reform as other members of that body might not be able to do, or even have in interest in doing, the candidate contends. But the school board has been restructured multiple times since the days of the Anthony Williams administration, and much more oversight of the system is now in the hands of the DC Council. On the council, Mara looks forward to to being “able to do all that” he has been for the cause of reform “and more.”
Circumstances this year are arguably more daunting for a District Republican than in 1997, when Catania won, but Mara is arguably better positioned and more seasoned than Catania was that year. Win or lose, Mara’s entry makes this special election a real race to watch.