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Graham defends Wade against Mara's strong school board challenge

Some Ward 1 residents found an interesting flier in their mailboxes last week: "Dotti Love Wade urges you to re-elect Jim Graham."

Forgive many Ward 1 voters for not knowing that Wade is the ward's elected representative to the State Board of Education -- leaving them scratching their heads as to why she's endorsing Graham, the ward's council member, who's quite well known after three terms in office.

The flier, of course, is meant to help Wade more than it is to help Graham, who is facing Republican Marc Morgan and Nancy Shia of the Statehood Green party for an almost certain fourth term. Wade also ran with Graham's support two years ago, proving his clout in the ward by comfortably winning election to the standard-setting SBOE over three challengers.

But the flier also highlights that fact that Wade is facing an energetic challenge from Patrick Mara, the 35-year-old consultant who made a splash two years ago by knocking off longtime at-large council member Carol Schwartz in the Republican primary. Mara has made a big push in the nonpartisan school board race, spending months knocking on doors and pressing flesh at community events -- not to mention sending some mailers of his own. Meanwhile, Wade's campaign has been by most accounts listless -- according to the most recent finance reports, she has raised the least money of any board incumbent facing a challenger, and Mara has accused Wade, 68, of skipping campaign forums and other community events.

Wade said Monday that her campaign has been late developing because she's been focused on her work with the board, which includes the development of "common core" standards for science education, anti-bullying initiatives and nutrition standards for school food. The forums that she's missed, she said, she doesn't know about.

"Knocking on doors, that's all well and good," Wade said. "Our mayor knocked at doors. The real work is what I'm doing out there working in the schools. ... My challenger has no children of his own.

As for her fundraising, she said her 2008 election didn't have as many up-ballot candidates; this year, the mayoral and council races have siphoned off funding. "As a nonpartisan, the pickings are thin," Wade said. Through Oct. 10, she has raised $1,870 to Mara's $14,277.

Graham said Monday that Wade, who has been a lifelong Ward 1 resident and has attended public schools in the ward, will take advantage of her community roots to eke out a victory. "Those elements cannot be understated overstated," Graham said. "It's very different from just showing up a couple of years ago" -- a not-so-subtle knock at Mara, a Rhode Island native.

Graham added that he recently hosted a fundraiser for Wade; while she hasn't done a mailer -- often the most effective form of communication in a ward-level race -- "she's spending money to do other things." For one, this reporter spotted Wade and Graham cruising the Adams Morgan strip together on Saturday evening in a sedan featuring Wade signs.

In the past two elections, it's become common for incumbent council members to throw support behind their preferred SBOE candidates. In Ward 6, for instance, Tommy Wells is supporting Monica Warren-Jones over Melissa Rohan for the open seat vacated by Lisa Raymond. The races offer a good opportunity for ward politicos to throw their political weight around and build a network of support; on the other hand, there is peril for a politician that can't deliver his or her support to an endorsee.

Mara stands by his contention that Wade has been AWOL on the hustings, and said that he often finds himself having to explain Wade's positions to residents. "People call me to ask about her," he said.

Wade said that perhaps she is "not giving [Mara] as much attention as I should have," but admitted no regrets: "If my reputation doesn't carry me through this election, then that is God's will."

By Mike DeBonis  | November 1, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  DCision 2010, The District  
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