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Council At-Large: this Democrat's voting for Mara

I've never voted for a Republican in my life. Of course, growing up in Massachusetts, then living in Northern California, New York City, and Washington DC, there aren't so many Republicans to choose from. I've been a lifelong Democrat and see no way, for any federal office, that I could in good conscience support any Republican, no matter how good, since they will inevitably support the most extreme right-wing leaders.

Patrick Mara. Photo from the candidate's campaign site.

But on Tuesday, I'm going to vote for a Republican for the first time: Patrick Mara, for City Council At-Large.

Mara could have (and perhaps should have) run as an independent. After all, he's not much like today's national Republican leaders at all. Mara supports gay marriage and abortion rights, for example. He's a moderate Republican in the old sense, a disciple of Rhode Island Senator John Chafee. Mara grew up in the Ocean State and came to DC to work for Chafee on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Mara pursued his interest in the environment at DOE and later as a consultant on renewable and clean energy.

Mara doesn't own a car, and hasn't since high school, in fact. He commuted by bicycle from his Columbia Heights home to his energy consulting gig before he started running full-time. Mara believes DC's future rests on raising the population back to the 800,000 we had around 1950 (today, DC has only about 588,000 residents). Quite simply, there's no way we can fit 212,000 more cars (or even half that) in the city. There's not enough room to park them and no more road capacity to move them about. Instead, most of the new residents will have to get around by Metro, bus, walk, or bike.

Mara would like to see more bus service, streetcars, and an expanded Metro within the District. He believes in building more trails, and keeping Klingle Road shut. He supports measures to improve bicycle safety, like the three foot rule in Graham's recent bill. Like all the Council candidates, Mara is not yet sold on performance parking, saying, "We don't want to scare people from coming into the District if they do have cars." Most performance parking advocates don't want to scare people either; performance parking could make it less scary by removing the need to circle for hours. I believe he's more open to this and similar ideas than many of the candidates. In keeping with his fiscal conservatism, Mara does lean toward letting the market decide how much parking to build; his first-hand experience with many of the overbuilt, underused garages in Columbia Heights drive that home.

Education is Mara's top priority. He says he decided to run for Council after mentoring three young children, one east of the Anacostia River where dropout rates reach 50%, and seeing the way our education system is "letting kids down in a big way." Families who don't "win the lottery to go to a charter school" have to either pay huge sums for private school, move to Virginia or Maryland, or suffer under a bad system. He's a strong supporter of Fenty's education reform efforts (as are all the candidates I spoke to).

If we'd heard of a candidate running as an independent or even a Democrat with Mara's "socially liberal, fiscally prudent" values, nobody would have bat an eyelash. As it turns out, that might have given Mara a higher chance of success in the general election. Mara's original game plan was to win the Republican primary (check), then get most of the city's Republicans and enough others to win. Carol Schwartz' quixotic write-in campaign complicates the equation, but it's still anybody's race, though Michael A. Brown is probably the favorite for the second seat (incumbent Democrat Kwame Brown is sure to win reelection).

But Mara really does believe that one day the Republican Party will stop being so ruled by intolerance and hate, and I respect his loyalty. His Republican beliefs center on fiscal issues, like cutting waste in the DC government. Mara opposed last year's paid sick leave bill, which he made the centerpiece of his primary victory. His stance won him many Republican votes, key endorsements, and a lot of money (though he says he's not necessarily against any paid sick leave, just against that bill which passed before enough analysis was done on the effects).

To me, having one candidate with whom I disagree on some bread-and-butter Democratic issues matters little. The Council has eleven Democrats, the maximum number permitted by law. Even if Mara is on the opposite side from me on, say, health care or workplace safety (not that I know how Mara would vote on any particular such measure), if seven of those eleven can't agree on a bill, I'm not sure how good it really is. Besides, we've had a Republican in the past, and a much worse one for transportation, gay rights, and many other issues.

Coming up: My interviews with some of Mara's opponents, Michael A. Brown and Mark Long.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Vote for James Goldmann as a write-in candidate for the at-large City Council seat:

by Ben on Oct 30, 2008 11:35 am • linkreport

Sold. I have been trying to figure out who to vote for the second spot (after Kwame) and now Mara's got my vote.

Oh, and Michael Brown is a scumbag.

by Nolan on Oct 30, 2008 11:48 am • linkreport

Not owning a car is cool, but I didn't see his views on Metro expansion and light rail. I enjoy walking to work as much as the next guy (and it's 3.5 miles for me) but there's no way I'm going to do that in August. I don't see how the district could a drastically larger population without expansion of the mass transit system. (Not to mention when the district had 800,000 residents, it had a world-class streetcar network.)

by Steve on Oct 30, 2008 11:52 am • linkreport

He's definitely for Metro expansion and light rail. I didn't have room to include everything we talked about (historic preservation, etc.) but he supports expanding transit in all forms.

by David Alpert on Oct 30, 2008 12:04 pm • linkreport

I added a brief sentence about transit to the article. Thanks for pointing out the omission.

by David Alpert on Oct 30, 2008 12:10 pm • linkreport

Any thoughts on Daniel Schwartzman? I don't need any more convincing that Michael Brown is a clown and Mark Long is uninspiring. I do need to know why I shouldn't cast my second at-large council vote for the Green candidate.

by tom veil on Oct 30, 2008 12:13 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the interesting post and recommendation. I have been struggling on whom to vote for the At-Large Council seat. I had my choices narrowed down to Mara and Schwartz since there was no way I can vote for Michael A. Brown or Dee Hunter. And although I like Schwartzman, I don't see how he would pay for all his plans.

So my question is, does Mara get good urbanism? He seems hip to the tip on transportation, but does he also understand land use and design matters? For instance, for DC to add residents, the city is going to need to add density to those areas that can support it. Will he support those projects? And does he recognize the need for affordable housing to be more scattered throughout the city than confined to certain geographic neighborhoods?

I have never gotten the sense that most of the DC Council understands good urbanism and the city's key advantages. And thus, I really want to support someone who finally does. Is Mara the best of the At-Large pack on these issues?

by Mark on Oct 30, 2008 12:27 pm • linkreport

How can a progressive vote for a Norquista? Sorry, but signing on to Grover's pledge is a disqualifier for me. Sure Mara sounds nice now, but why shouldn't we believe that he's still the guy who defeated Schwartz in the primary by running as a (for DC) rabid corporate Republican? Granted, the options are all pretty uninspiring.

by KCinDC on Oct 30, 2008 12:44 pm • linkreport

How can we ensure that Michael Brown loses? He is the WORST of the worst. Beyond that, I don't care much who wins. None will do the damage to the Council that this man will. Unfortunately, he will win in a landslide because the opposition is so fractured.

Mara is a good guy, by the way. Republican or not.

by sg on Oct 30, 2008 1:03 pm • linkreport

KC, Mara signed a Grover Norquist pledge?

by Bianchi on Oct 30, 2008 1:20 pm • linkreport

Bianchi: Loose Lips says yes. Still, I'd count taxes among the issues where, if 7 of the 11 Democrats can't agree to raise them, then maybe they shouldn't be raised.

The issues that don't break along party lines include transportation and smart growth, while the party line issues aren't in any danger of going all Republican with just one Republican and one ex-Republican.

by David Alpert on Oct 30, 2008 1:33 pm • linkreport

David: Do you know where the various candidates for the At Large seat stand on Southwest/Near Southeast Development, and city involvement of financing thereof? Aside from charter schools, this is the most important issue to me this year.

by sara on Oct 30, 2008 1:38 pm • linkreport

There may be one Republican and one ex-Republican, but there are also some Democrats on the council who are pretty Republican on economic issues. Schwartzman considers them Republicans in Democratic clothing, who are Democrats only because that's what you need to be to be elected here. Unfortunately I don't think Schwartzman can win.

SG, it would be easier to believe that Mara really is a good guy if he hadn't run as a Republican scumbag in the primary.

by KCinDC on Oct 30, 2008 1:45 pm • linkreport

Schwartz and Schwartzman for moi!

by Jazzy on Oct 30, 2008 2:34 pm • linkreport

What's frustrating about the at-large race, to me, is that while the ideological makeup of DC would suggest that the statehood/greens could be the viable opposition party to the democrats, they seem to be content with a sort of sanctimonious, "don't blame me, I didn't vote for them" type of hand-washing. I mean, the defeat of Schwartz by Mara in the republican primary gives them by far the best opening for a seat on the council in years. Why have they not stepped up to the challenge?

I'd think it take a certain activist streak to register as a statehood/green in the first place, because you voluntarily give up your vote in the most significant of the elections, the democratic primary. So, when it became clear that Schwartz faced a significant challenge in the primary, why weren't the statehood/greens out in force? Nobody's knocked on my door, nobody's handed out literature at Metro stations, nobody's given me a call.

It doesn't seem like they're even trying to win. Life on the council isn't particularly easy: to get things done takes compromise and leadership, there are endless civic groups asking for your time, there are hundreds of issues to learn about and there are budget realities and unintended consequences to deal with. Rather than face up to all that, the statehood/greens seem to prefer to sit on the sidelines and complain.

by thm on Oct 30, 2008 4:38 pm • linkreport

David, I think you might have explained this in an earlier posting ... but it might be worth revisiting. (It's so confusing, I'm not sure if I've gotten it right in years past) ... Because we have that rule that 2 councilmembers must be from 'non-majority' parties, when we get the ballot we'll have a list of names to choose from which include at least one Dem (majority party) and many 'non-Dems' to choose from ... and we need to pick 2 from that list? (I.e., We need to pick one Dem and one non-Dem?) Is that correct? Or do will we need to pick more than that? A refresher would be good ... because I know who I want to vote for (for Dem and non-Dem), but I remember from years past that the ballot isn't all that clear cut, and one could end up 'wasting' their second vote if not done right. Thanks.

by Lance on Oct 30, 2008 4:39 pm • linkreport

Lance: You can vote for up to two. The Democrats are only allowed to nominate one person, and so whoever wins their primary gets listed; nobody else appears as a Democrat. Likewise, only the winner of the Republican primary can be on the ballot as a Republican. Anyone registered as an independent can get on the ballot.

So, officially, the choices are (in this ballot order):

Michael A. Brown (I)

Mark H. Long (I)

Dee Hunter (I)

Patrick Mara (R)

Kwame R. Brown (D)

David Schwartzman (Statehood Green)

You can vote for (up to) any two, and/or up to two write-ins. The top two vote getters become elected. If more people write in Carol Schwartz than the second place finisher, then Carol is elected. If more people write in your name than the second place finisher, then you are elected.

Michael Brown, Long and Hunter are all in a sense Democrats, but not officially. They are not registered as Democrats and won't appear on the ballot as Democrats. You don't need to ensure that one of your votes is for a non-Dem — everyone except Kwame Brown is technically a non-Dem.

by David Alpert on Oct 30, 2008 4:53 pm • linkreport

As I read the Home Rule Act, since Schwartz is currently the only Republican on the council, it would technically be possible for both Schwartz and Mara to be elected. Of course in the real world Kwame Brown will get the most votes, so the question won't come up.

The relevant provisions are that a party can't nominate more than one candidate for the general election and that "Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, at no time shall there be more than three members (including the Chairman) serving at large on the Council who are affiliated with the same political party."

by KCinDC on Oct 30, 2008 5:14 pm • linkreport

Interesting. I wonder what would happen in this scenario: Michael Brown wins as an independent. Then, next year, Vincent Gray resigns as Chairman. Before his seat is filled, Brown changes his party registration to Democratic. Now there are three Democrats at large: Brown, Brown and Mendelson. Does that mean that no Democrat could be elected Chair?

by David Alpert on Oct 30, 2008 5:20 pm • linkreport

Good question. Brown, Brown, and Mendelson could still run for chair in that case at least. Also, one of them might leave office or change parties before the new chair is sworn in, so the restriction probably couldn't apply until after the election. Though with a special election there wouldn't be much delay between the election and the swearing in -- except for the inevitable court case in that situation.

by KCinDC on Oct 30, 2008 5:30 pm • linkreport

I suppose what would be more diabolically clever is if, instead of Brown changing his registration, if David Catania changed his. That way, he'd at least complicate efforts by any Democrats to be elected Chairman, possibly easing the road for a fellow independent Republican. Of course, it would almost surely be unwise politically, but it's interesting to ponder.

by David Alpert on Oct 30, 2008 5:34 pm • linkreport

I'd thought about bringing in Catania, especially since I saw him at a Jeanne Shaheen fundraiser and since he supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries. It seemed for a while he was tilting toward becoming a Democrat except for the political impossibility of it. But now with his support of Mara things seem different.

by KCinDC on Oct 30, 2008 5:43 pm • linkreport


I haven't heard from any of the at-large candidates.

However, I have received at least one blast email endorsing Schwartzman.

I sometimes feel frustrated too about the statehood greens, but you gotta hand it to them, they have made lots of progress.

Will they be a SERIOUS party, remains to be seen, but I like a lot of their stances, and I hope they continue to do well.

A real third party is needed. (Or rather, an alternative to the Democrats.)

Did not know that about Norquist and Mara.

Did anyone ever verify if that is true?

by Jazzy on Oct 30, 2008 7:09 pm • linkreport

Jazzy: "A real third party is needed. (Or rather, an alternative to the Democrats.)"

You think we could get one in place by next Tuesday? I feel like special interests have bought my party out from under me!

by Lance on Oct 30, 2008 11:22 pm • linkreport

Well, from your postings you sound like you are from the conservative wing of the DP, while I am from the more liberal one. I'm surprised you are not voting for Mara (maybe you are). CityPaper reported that Mara did sign that Norquist pledge. Norquist is just slime whose friends are in jail and any affiliation -- well, I was never gonna vote for Mara anyway, so I'll just leave it at that.

Again, I still like Schwartz who is alone oftentimes in looking out for the least among us (Mendelson occasionally does). And it is a good time to really consider the greens.

Vote Schwartzman! (But you don't sound like you would even consider it..)

by Jazzy on Oct 31, 2008 7:51 am • linkreport

Here's a review of the candidates from Ed Cowan based on a candidates' forum:

To: DC Voters

From: Edward Cowan

October 24, 2008

What The Candidates Said

The Scene: Forum for Candidates for At-Large Council Seats

Time: Thursday, October 23, 2008

Place: St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 42nd and Albermarle Streets NW

It wasn’t the first such forum (readers of these Reports will recall one took place in Cleveland Park on October 11) and it won’t be the last before election day, November 4.

Former council member Kathy Patterson (Ward 3) moderated with flair, moving the questioning along briskly. Questions came first from a panel of three citizens—Jerome Paige, George Clark, Dorothy Brizill—and then from the audience (submitted in writing on cards and read by Patterson).

Much of what the candidates said was their standard stump stuff, and won’t be repeated here. Instead, a selection of highs—and lows--follows:

*The acting Attorney General, Peter Nickles, whose nomination is pending before the DC council, “won” a confirmation vote among the seven candidates (two incumbents seeking re-election, five challengers), 4-1. Voting to confirm Nickles were Patrick Mara (Republican), Carol Schwartz (Independent—write-in), who seeks a fifth four-year term, Dee Hunter (Independent), Mark Long (Independent). Voting no: David Schwartzman (Statehood-Green). Undecided: Kwame Brown (Democrat), who seeks a second term, and Michael Brown (Independent).

Several candidates opined that the Attorney General should be elected, not appointed by the mayor.

*Equivocation: the prize goes to Michael Brown. The question was, if elected, will you give up outside income and devote fulltime to your council duties. Brown, a lawyer in private practice, said he would consult with council members Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Jack Evans (Ward 2) to see how they “balance” official duties and outside work. Cheh has continued to teach constitutional law at George Washington University since her election two years ago. Jack Evans has reported significant income from his affiliation with the Patton Boggs law firm. Leaving the door open to continuing to practice law, Michael Brown said that, if elected, the council would be “my number one priority.”

*Spurious apology: again, the prize goes to Michael Brown. He said “I apologize for the robo calls.” They will stop, he said twice, on November 4, election day.

*Patrick Mara scored tops in three categories:

--Best slogan: “fiscally responsible, socially progressive.”

--Facile remedy: to trim the budget, he would take away cars and drivers from department heads.

--Misguided remedy: to prevent further embezzlement like the fraudulent issuance of property-tax refunds (which candidates fell over themselves deploring), Mara would “require all financial transactions to be online,” so that they could be “monitored by the public and the media.” Like my income tax refund? Or yours? How about creating strong internal financial controls within the Office of Tax and Revenue? Or replacing a culture of corruption with a commitment to honesty?

*Most naïve solution: David Schwartzman, proposing higher taxes on high-income residents, declared that District government should “eliminate child poverty.” As if government alone can do that.

*Repudiation of one’s party: Carol Schwartz, who has been elected to council four times as a Republican (and ran for mayor four times as a Republican), appealed for write-in votes from the audience of Democrats by declaring, “I’ve never been a partisan person.” She said that “nine-tenths of my staff are Democrats” and that she “married a Democrat and raised three Democratic children.” Schwartz, 64 years old, was herselfl repudiated by Republican voters when she lost the September 9 primary—and the nomination—to Mara, 33.

*Easiest question: Brizill asked Mark Long, an avowed Fenty supporter, if he would look at the mayor’s proposals “with a critical eye.” Blasting that pitch into the bleachers, Long declared, “I’m not a Fenty loyalist. I will be very critical.”

*Least audible candidate: Kwame Brown, who repeatedly dropped his voice and his handheld microphone.

*Least modest answer: Carol Schwartz, citing her long service and her accomplishments, cited stronger parking enforcement, improved service at DMV and better trash pick-up. “I take a lot of credit—and deserve a lot of credit.”

*Least equivocal answer: “No,” said David Schwartzman when asked if he would accept corporate contributions. Nor would the Statehood-Green party, he added.

*Bleat of the night: “I didn’t get any baseball tickets.” Kwame Brown, trying to show that he has been independent of Mayor Fenty, who controlled distribution to council members of free tickets to Nats games. (Brown’s allotment was eventually reinstated after Chairman Gray went to the mat with the mayor.)

*Spotlight on an issue barely within the consciousness of residents west of the park: Dee Hunter’s observation that, as residents of Wards 7 and 8 have told him, the District does “a terrible job” helping ex-convicts rejoin the community.

*Best advertisement for self: Patrick Mara, noting—twice—that he had been endorsed that very morning by the Washington Post.

Note: Voters may vote for two candidates. One of the two At-Large seats to be filled is reserved for a nonmajority candidate, which will mean one of the six candidates other than Kwame Brown, one of 11 Democrats on the council now. []

by Lance on Oct 31, 2008 5:35 pm • linkreport

I am enthusiastically voting for Patrick Mara (and throwing my other vote away on Kwame Brown). I trust those who say Kwame Brown has proven himself up to the task. Mara has said all the right things about education and the long term future of the city (growing the population and the economy) and will fight for all public schools in DC, traditional and charter.

This kind of race (select two from the field) requires not only double endorsements but double um, what's the opposite of endorsement? If I could vote against two candidates they would be Schwartzman and Hunter. Schwartzman because his idiotic anti-growth policies -- if god forbid they were enacted by the full council -- would drive me and countless other middle class families to the suburbs in a heartbeat. Take taxes, for instance. I pay my 9.5% income tax with a great deal of civic pride in what we can do with the money to reform education and provide basic services. But start trying to squeeze more and I'll move a few miles up the red line to Silver Spring or Takoma Park, MD and kiss high state income taxes goodbye. I won't be the only one. Then the city will have even less money to combat poverty. Nice.

Hunter because he's a creep who couldn't even do a decent job representing the single member ANC district in 1B04. He's simultaneously running for ANC SMD as well as city council at-large. I'm surprised he didn't get on the Presidential ballot too while he was at it. His campaign office misleadingly shows a picture of himself with a cardboard Obama cutout as if they were running mates. His understanding of policy issues from every discussion I've had with him on the street and around the neighborhood can only be described as shallow and opportunistic. I hope he comes in last place and limps back to his ambulance chasing legal practice full time.

by U Street Denizen on Nov 1, 2008 1:58 am • linkreport

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