Patrick Mara to run for D.C. Council at-large seat
UPDATED 7:30 A.M.
Patrick Mara, newly elected member of the State Board of Education, will mount a run for the at-large D.C. Council seat vacated by new Chairman Kwame R. Brown.
Mara said Tuesday evening that he will pick up ballot petitions Wednesday afternoon. His run comes less than three months after beating incumbent Dotti Love Wade in the race for the Ward 1 seat on the city education panel.
The election is set for April 26; Mara and his supporters must collect at least 3,000 valid signatures from D.C. voters by Feb. 16 at 5 p.m.
Mara, a Republican, said his campaign message is "three things: fiscal responsibility, education and a ... real multiparty system." He has recorded a YouTube video, pitching himself as an "independent voice" who is "not a member of the club." He added in an interview that he's "someone to buck the tide," noting his support for same-sex marriage and willingness to take on the city Republican establishment.
That was a reference to his 2008 run for an at-large council seat, challenging and beating longtime incumbent Carol Schwartz in the Republican primary. But Mara couldn't finish the job in the general, after Schwartz mounted a write-in campaign and theretofore Democrat Michael A. Brown renounced his party membership to win a seat reserved for a non-Democrat. Brown won, but Mara picked up more than 37,000 citywide votes.
Mara's GOP affiliation may be less of a liability in the April 26 race, where candidates won't be identified by party on ballots. [See correction below.] But Mara is trying to leverage his non-Democrat affiliation, saying in his video that "no single political party has a monopoly on good ideas and solutions to our challenges" and that voters "will look beyond labels and listen to ideas."
Mara and his supporters are hoping for a repeat of the last at-large special election, in 1997, when then-Republican David Catania beat former Council chairman and Democratic stalwart Arrington Dixon and two minor candidates.
Catania's now something of a political mentor to Mara, but Mara said Tuesday he won't be able to follow Catania's strategy. "Everyone knows what happened in 1997, so I can't depend on what happened on 1997," he said. "I have to reach a wide variety of voters. I've shown that I'm able to do that."
There are similarities and differences in this year's race versus 1997's -- but mostly differences. Sekou Biddle -- the frontrunner by virtue of his interim-member status and support among elected officials, including Brown -- is unlikely to run as listless a campaign as Dixon did. But the field stands to be much more fragmented, with 15 other candidates currently circulating petitions, with a few other names rumored as possible entrants.
"I'm the underdog," Mara said, "so I have to work hard."
But Mara, with a good relationship with the city's business community, brings instant cash and credibility to his run. His immediate challenge is making himself into the best option with former mayor Adrian Fenty's motivated voters -- a demographic also being pursued by Biddle, Fenty campaign aide Josh Lopez, and possibly former city transportation director Gabe Klein.
And Mara, who worked his way to his Ward 1 win by walking every block in the ward, will have to adapt his strategy to a shortened campaign in the middle of winter.
"The cold doesn't bother all that much," said Mara, a Rhode Island native. "I'm better in the cold than I am in the summer."
UPDATED, 7:30 A.M.: The post has been corrected -- the April 26 ballots will in fact show each candidate's party affiliation. Thanks to Bob Summersgill (@summersgill) for pointing out the error.
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