DMV Daily: Mara, Weaver Enter D.C. Council Race

Two major contenders jump into special election

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There were two major announcements in the special election for At-Large D.C. Council Wednesday morning.

First, Republican Pat Mara, who is less than three weeks into his term on the State Board of Education, announced his entry. A few hours later, progressive Democrat Bryan Weaver decided to heed the call of an online draft movement, and said he will run as well. (Draft effort leader Dave Stroup says he had no advance tip about Weaver’s decision.)

“I don't really see any of the 18 candidates there right now speaking to the progressive side of the ledger,” Weaver told TBD’s Bruce DePuyt. “A lot of them seem to be throwbacks.”

Meanwhile, Republican hopes are high for Mara, who ousted GOP incumbent Carol Schwartz in a 2008 primary but lost the general election. It is nearly impossible for a Republican to win a citywide election, but in a low-turnout contest with as many as 20 candidates -- where only a simple plurality is needed -- the GOP has a shot. David Catania, then a Republican, was elected in a similar special election in 1997.

Washington City Paper’s Alan Suderman says Mara has “definitely got a fighting chance of winning the election. He’s proven himself as a hardworking campaigner,” and he “will also have the backing of the well-run D.C. GOP, and might be an attractive candidate to Republicans nationwide, who probably get a kick out of seeing one of their own elected in such a deep blue city.” And he “can claim ownership of the city’s 30,000 registered Republicans, who don’t often get to cast votes that may actually count for something.”

The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis says Mara, “with a good relationship with the city’s business community, brings instant cash and credibility to his run.”

Of course, as an instant top-tier candidate, Mara immediately came under fire. Weaver booster Stroup said, “For me, Mara’s announcement changes nothing. We still need strong progressive leadership on the Council.” Veteran activist Bob Summersgill called Mara “smart and a good guy” but called his party affiliation “toxic” in the District. We Love D.C.’s Tom Bridge wondered if Mara became “the Sarah Palin of D.C. by quitting the school board post he was just elected to, in order to run for At-Large.” And Jacque Patterson, a Democrat also seeking the seat, called it “shameful” to use the Board of Education “as a stepping stone” without first engaging in real education reform -- and pointed out that even Palin served much longer than 17 days.

D.C. shadow representative Mike Panetta didn’t have anything bad to say about Mara himself, but critiqued his YouTube announcement: “Good luck. Tip: Next time put the cue cards at eye level in your videos.”

Elsewhere in the DMV:

* In her Washington Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras defends Save D.C. Now, the group that campaigned for write-in votes for Adrian Fenty last fall, and its leader Joshua Lopez, now a candidate in the At-Large D.C. Council special election. Barras writes, “It’s difficult to be surprised by anything the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance does. After all, it exonerated Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry when he used public funds for a sole-source contract to a paramour. Still, OCF’s ruling and fine of $18,500 against Save D.C. Now was stunning and could have a chilling effect on citizen participation in future elections.” The group is being fined for reusing Fenty primary campaign materials in its own general election push.

* The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to the District’s same-sex marriage law, meaning that opponents of gay marriage will likely ask Congress to intervene. For now, though, as City Paper’s Alex Baca writes, “to those interested in same-sex marriage: Carry on!”

* Mayor Vincent Gray “says that the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, regarded as former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s signature reform, has ‘a long way to go’ before it is fair because it disadvantages instructors in schools with large numbers of students challenged by the effects of poverty and other social conditions,” the Post reports.

* The Georgetown Dish writes that D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown is urging Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson “‘to move forward immediately’ to make changes” at troubled Hardy Middle School.

* Maryland state Sen. Allan Kittleman is resigning as minority leader, saying he is too blue for the GOP. In a letter to Minority Whip David Brinkley, Kittleman wrote, “It was apparent that the majority of the caucus members do not want a fiscally conservative who is also a social moderate as the leader of the caucus. Therefore, while it has been a privilege to lead the Republican Senate Caucus for the past two years, I feel it would not be in the best interest of the caucus for me to continue as their leader.” Among other things, Kittleman differed with many in his party in recently announcing his support for a civil unions bill.

But Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney, a conservative, urged Kittleman to reconsider. “While Republicans in elected office and Republican voters at the grassroots level will not agree on every issue,” Mooney said, “Sen. Kittleman’s strong record on issues such as the right to keep and bear arms, tax relief, parental rights in education and less government spending fit well within the values of the Republican Party.”

* Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said on MSNBC Tuesday that he has “no reason to believe” Sen. Jim Webb will not seek re-election. “I just believe for a variety of reasons…that he’s going to run,” Kaine said.

* The Post reports that “the top priority of Virginia tea party groups was summarily killed Tuesday morning by a subcommittee of the state Senate. On a 4 to 3 party-line vote, Democrats on a subcommittee of the Senate’s Privileges and Election committee agreed to pass by indefinitely a bill that would have put Virginia on record supporting a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution and add a provision to allow federal laws and regulations to be invalidated by the agreement of two-thirds of state legislatures.”

State Sen. Ryan McDougle, the sponsor of the amendment, is hoping the full committee might still take up the bill, and the Examiner says “‘repeal’ legislation is still alive in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.”

* The Post reports a group of Virginia Republican legislators plans “to put forward a package of at least 16 bills aimed at illegal immigrants, including bills that would revoke the driving licenses of deportees, block illegal immigrants from attending public colleges and universities, and require the state to begin tracking the number of undocumented children in public schools.”

* The Post reports three Virginia Democrats are sponsoring bills “to curb the power of Virginia’s attorney general to issue civil subpoenas under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.” The measures would curb AG Ken Cuccinelli’s ability to begin inquiries like the one he has pursued against the University of Virginia over a climate scientist once employed there.

* Gov. Bob McDonnell has named Virginia Department of Transportation chief of communications Jeff Caldwell as his new press secretary. Caldwell replaces Stacey Johnson, who has taken a job on Capitol Hill.

* The Examiner reports the Metro board “has picked the transit agency’s new general manager,” according to search committee member Jeff McKay. “Now, all that remains is to finalize the contract negotiations and make a formal vote at the Jan. 27 full board meeting.”

Meanwhile, Unsuck D.C. Metro reports Metro Police Department officers delivered “an overwhelming no confidence vote” in Chief Michael Taborn at a meeting last week. When asked if the vote “would lead to any real change, one source said, ‘Probably not. Taborn does a really good job of making those above him believe everything is hunky dory on the Metro.’”

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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