Why Patrick Mara Is the DC Republican Party’s Last, Best Hope

He could win a seat on the city council in the special election—but only with a strong GOP voter turnout.

By: Harry Jaffe

Patrick Mara has one clear path to victory in the special election one week from today for the city council at-large seat: a heavy Republican turnout.

If more than 5,000 registered Republicans show up at the polls next Tuesday and punch his ticket, Mara will win. If GOP voters fail to show up—because of work or hangnails or cocktails—Mara will lose. This is the Republicans’ seat to lose. Simple as that.

This is NOT an endorsement of a candidate; Elissa Silverman, Paul Zukerberg, and Matt Frumin would make fine council members. This is a strong endorsement of the two-party system. Call it political arithmetic in blue and red. Political consultants expect a low turnout for this election to fill the seat vacated when Phil Mendelson moved up to council chair. They figure fewer than 50,000 voters will cast ballots, and 15,000 votes could bring victory.

To get to 15,000, Mara needs at least 5,000 Republicans. If you call them, will they come? Mara is the “establishment” candidate. The Washington Post has endorsed him twice. He’s the favorite of the Northwest Current. The DC Chamber of Commerce backs Mara. Business groups are paying for last-minute mailings on his behalf.

Polls and observers predict the race will come down to a contest between Mara and Anita Bonds, the veteran Democratic activist with ties to Marion Barry. I see it as a two-party race: Democrats vs. Republicans.

This could be the last, best chance for Republicans to win a seat on DC’s 13-member city council. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than ten to one in the nation’s capital. There are about 30,000 Republicans to more than 350,000 registered Democrats, according to the Board of Elections.

GOP candidates don’t stand a chance in general elections. But next week’s contest is a special election—a free-for-all, a popularity contest—where the largest vote-getter wins.

Given that calculus, Mara could have a chance, even though he faces scrutiny over late-breaking news that he signed a consulting contract to help raise funds for a private firm from his donor list. He’s a seasoned, proven, and committed politician. He’s run for council twice before. He won a seat on the school board, where he now serves as the Ward 1 representative. He’s either very ambitious or a masochist—or both.

In the 2008 primary for council, Mara knocked off Carol Schwartz, the longest-serving and last Republican on the council. No one can match Schwartz’s outsize personality, but can Mara at least fill her role of moderate Republican?

Ron Phillips, new head of the DC GOP, says, “There’s a Republican Party in DC now. We’re running on all cylinders.”

In past decades, the local Republican organization was all white in a majority black city, roped off in Georgetown, seen as elitist and out of touch. Phillips has endeavored to broaden both its appeal and its base. He’s brought African-Americans and log cabin Republicans to leadership positions. He says he’s brought in $25,000 from the RNC.

Here’s why Phillips is optimistic:

But if Mara and Phillips get no response, the local Republican party will return to its roots: irrelevancy.