News & Politics

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.

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

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

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

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:

  • He’s mailed absentee ballot request forms to 17,000 Republican voters; 1,700 have
    asked for ballots.
  • The local GOP has set up phone banks to encourage its 30,000 members to vote.
  • Phillips says about 15,000 Republicans came out in the general election to vote
    for Mitt Romney. It was a purely symbolic act, since DC would go for Obama nine to
    one. “If they would show up for what was essentially a protest vote,” he says, “why
    not when their votes count? These are the people I’m talking to. We’re mailing. We’re

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