April 4, 2013

FORMER D.C. COUNCIL member Michael A. Brown’s withdrawal from this month’s special election for an at-large seat spared the city of even the remote possibility that this discredited lawmaker would be returned to office. It also gave rise to punditry about which candidate in the newly narrowed field would be most helped by Mr. Brown’s departure. The far more important question is which of the remaining candidates would offer the most help to the District. Our answer is state school board member Patrick Mara (R-Ward 1).

Mr. Brown’s abrupt announcement to abandon the race, citing “personal and family matters,” was seen as helping Anita Bonds (D), the incumbent by virtue of her interim appointment to the seat vacated when Phil Mendelson (D) was elected chairman. If Ms. Bonds and Mr. Mara are emerging as the leading candidates among the six in the April 23 election, the choice for voters couldn’t be more clear.

Ms. Bonds, a longtime fixture in the District’s Democratic Party associated with Ward 8 council member and former mayor Marion Barry, former mayor Sharon Pratt and former council chairman Kwame R. Brown, represents the past. Elected chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee in 2006, her tenure has not been without troubles, including findings of violations by the District’s Office of Campaign Finance. Perhaps her most notable achievement was engineering her appointment to the council. There is no doubting Ms. Bonds’s desire to improve the lives of city residents, especially seniors, but she lacks the grounding to provide real solutions.

Mr. Mara’s volunteer work mentoring youth cemented a commitment to education reform and led him to his 2008 GOP primary upset of council member Carol Schwartz. He offers an independent voice with fresh ideas. Elected to the D.C. State Board of Education in 2010 with 53 percent of the Ward 1 vote, Mr. Mara has visited more than 70 schools, winning rave reviews from parents — Democrats as well as Republicans — for making school reform relevant to their lives.

His work in the schools has given him insights into the disturbing disparities that still exist in the city, and he speaks passionately about ways to correct them. For example, he believes that improved athletic offerings at disadvantaged schools could help keep students in school, offering them a better chance of learning and graduating. Likewise, his civic work in Ward 1 has instilled in him an appreciation for the hardships faced by small businesses and the need for the District to reassess how it taxes and regulates these firms. His background on environmental issues, including work for the late senator John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) on the environment and public works committee, won him the endorsement of the D.C. Sierra Club.

Mr. Mara is the best choice on April 23; he will help move the city forward.