The candidates in the April 23 election — an off-year race to fill a seat vacated when Phil Mendelson (D) became council chairman — are entering the final scramble for votes in what could be a close and potentially polarizing contest.
In December, the D.C. Democratic State Committee selected Anita Bonds — the committee’s chairwoman — to temporarily fill the seat pending the special election.
But she has struggled to gain traction on the campaign trail, and some Democrats fear the seat could fall to Republican Patrick Mara, a Ward 1 school board member making his third attempt at a council seat.
The race also includes Democrats Elissa Silverman, Matthew Frumin and Paul Zukerberg — all of whom see paths to victory in a race that could draw fewer than 50,000 votes. Perry Redd, a member of the Statehood Green Party, also is running.
Bonds and Mara appear to have the broadest support, based on past city voting patterns and the crowded field.
Mara is banking on strong turnout among the city’s 31,000 registered Republicans, many of whom have been mailed instructions from the D.C. GOP about voting by absentee ballot. With Brown out of the race, Bonds, the only black Democrat in the race, is expected to do well both in her home base of Northeast and majority African American neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
George T. Johnson, head of Local 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which endorsed Bonds hours after Brown withdrew from the race, said there is a strong desire within the black community to ensure the seat is held by an African American.
There are seven white and six black council members, including Bonds.
“People have perceptions about what this city is becoming . . . and they want this council to remain black, and if they don’t get out there and put black folks in there, there will be a white city council,” Johnson said. “That is a rough thing to say, but that is the truth.”
Bonds, an aide to several former mayors in the 1980s and 1990s, has the support of Democratic council members Jack Evans (Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Vincent B. Orange (At Large) and Marion Barry (Ward 8). A mailing sent Friday shows Bonds with President Obama and says that she will “fight for anyone who has been pushed aside.”
Mara, who, if elected, would be the first Republican to win a council seat since 2008, is pushing to unite the “reform vote” behind his candidacy.
“I can be that fiscal and ethical watchdog,” Mara said.
At a forum Thursday night in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, Mara urged about 100 people in the audience to vote as a bloc. “Please don’t split the vote,” said Mara, who promises to improve schools while also controlling spending and taxes.