Opinion: Trouble At-Large in D.C.

I sometimes refer to Patrick Mara as “the District’s favorite Republican.”

He represents Ward One on the Board of Education, is socially liberal, fiscally moderate, and fights for voting rights and budget autonomy on Capitol Hill.

Mara has run for D.C. Council twice and had a shot at winning both times, but he is not on the ballot this year.

A door, perhaps, has opened for another bid.

At-Large Council member Michael A. Brown is seeking reelection as an independent. The seat he currently holds is reserved for a non-Democrat. Brown is as much a non-Democrat as Krispy Kreme is a non-fat breakfast option.

One of Brown's opponents, David Grosso (I), filed a challenge with the Board of Elections that questions the validity of Brown’s nominating petitions.

Good-government activist Dorothy Brizill has filed a separate challenge against Brown.

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Brizill is not the person you want reviewing your paperwork with a fine-toothed comb. Not only did she play a leading role in tossing then-mayor Tony Williams off the ballot in 2002, she also knows the nuances of D.C. election law as well as anyone.

Brizill is to be respected. And, if your I’s are not dotted and T’s not crossed, feared.

Ordinarily I would wait for the Board of Elections to rule on this matter before delving into the what-ifs. But Brizill’s record of success opens the door to speculation.

So let’s have some fun.

Here is a certainty: if Brown is not on the ballot, the race is wide open and likely to be wild.

Grosso has been working hard and may be responsible for undoing Brown, but he is by no means assured to win the contest if Brown is not on the ballot.

Grosso will get a bounce and a boost to his credibility, but there are several candidates running for the job: Mary Brooks Beatty (R), Ann Wilcox (G), former taxicab commissioner Leon Swain (I) and A.J. Cooper (I).

And Brown has the option of running a write-in campaign. So he is not entirely out of the picture even if his name is not on the ballot.

Which brings us back to Mara and a bit of history.

When Brown was elected in 2008, he had to beat Mara and Carol Schwartz (R), the incumbent.

Schwartz was forced to run a write-in campaign after Mara came out of nowhere and defeated her handily in the Republican primary.

Indeed, without Schwartz's desperate write-in effort, some observers (myself included) believe Mara would have bested Brown and been elected to the Council.

Brown’s current Republican opponent, Beatty, has run a lackluster campaign. She has not made news or demonstrated political savvy.

Mara, on the other hand, is a proven vote-getter.

In 2010, he took on Board of Education member Dottie Love Wade. In the ultra-liberal neighborhoods of Ward One, few thought Mara had a chance against Wade. She also had the backing of Council member Jim Graham. But, just like with his victory over Schwartz, Mara defied the odds. He outworked Wade and captured the education seat.

In the 2011 special election for at-large council member, Mara finished a close second. He lost to Vincent Orange, a career politician whose campaign we now know was fueled, in part, with tainted money that still swirls at the center of an unresolved scandal.

So “what if” Brown is bounced from the ballot? It would be shrewd for the D.C. Republican Party to ask Beatty to step aside, remove her name from contention and replace it with Mara’s.

Mara is a liberal Republican. He wisely avoids social conservatism like the third rail that it is. When he does take positions on social issues, he is in lockstep with the District’s progressive mindset. For example, Mara favors marriage equality and reproductive choice.

Mara also has the potential to be a positive, disruptive force on the Council. And we all know the D.C. Council needs disrupting.

For now, the jury is still out on Brown. The Board of Elections will make a determination on his ballot status in the coming days. If the Board nixes Brown, he will have the opportunity to appeal and perhaps remedy his woes.

Mara and the D.C. GOP should be keeping a close eye on these events as they unfold. There is little time to persuade Beatty off the ballot and place Mara in the running. Also, it is possible that Brown’s fate may still hang in the balance when the deadline for Beatty to withdraw expires.


That, and Mara will also have to agree to get into the ring.

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