“It’s wide open, and I think they are all viable,” said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who was first elected in 1991. “You have five people who could win this race.”
As in past citywide elections, education and affordable housing are major issues in the competition to fill the seat vacated when Phil Mendelson became council chairman. But population growth is also attracting attention as candidates debate how the city should absorb new residents.
The special election — the sixth citywide contest in three years — is expected to generate low turnout, and it presents an opportunity for Patrick Mara to become the first Republican to win a council seat since 2004.
The April 23 election also could lead to the D.C. Council’s having a record eight white members, underscoring demographic shifts in the District. And another woman could be elected to the council as Democrats Anita Bonds
and Elissa Silverman compete after several years in which men have dominated citywide elections.
The race has Michael A. Brown attempting a comeback after his ouster from the council last year, and it features a debate over marijuana decriminalization because lawyer Paul Zukerberg has made that issue a campaign centerpiece.
At the near-nightly forums throughout the District, much of the debate has centered on the candidates’ positions on growth and transportation, including bike lanes, parking tickets and speed cameras. At a recent Ward 3 forum, candidates were asked whether the District is engaging in a “war on cars” by boosting traffic fines and designating bike lanes to encourage cycling.
“I agree, there is a war on cars, and I don’t understand why a city with a progressive nature wouldn’t come with a more balanced approach,” said Perry Redd, 48, the Statehood Green Party candidate.
“I think it’s important we not have a war,” said Zukerberg, 55, a Democrat. “I’m worried about the ‘war rhetoric’ because . . . we should all share the road.”
With about 50,000 voters expected at the polls, several candidates said they expect to win with as few as 10,000 votes. That’s one reason city GOP leaders hope to get many of the city’s 31,000 registered Republicans to the polls.
Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, also emphasized efforts to get out the vote. “I don’t think a lot of people out there are waiting to make up their minds about the candidates,” Williams said. “It’s a matter of these candidates having connections, and it just comes down to a good, solid ground game.”