March 21, 2013

THE APRIL 23 special election to pick a citywide representative to the D.C. Council features an eclectic field with seven candidates vying to fill the term vacated when at-large member Phil Mendelson (D) was elected council chairman. Turnout is expected to be low, with as few as 50,000 voters predicted and a small number of votes likely to determine the winner and the direction that will be set for the council and the District.

Patrick Mara , in our judgment, is the best choice, offering a record of energetic service to the community marked by a thoughtful approach to the issues and a willingness to speak his own mind. Currently a member of the state board of education from Ward 1, Mr. Mara has a keen appreciation for the importance of education and the need for continued reforms that will enable both charter and traditional public schools to help their students achieve. Long before ethics became a flash point for a council battered by the missteps of its members, Mr. Mara was committed to integrity and strengthened ethics in government.

Indicative of Mr. Mara’s strength is the fact that the only thing his opponents seem able to attack is his affiliation as a Republican. “The consequences could be disastrous for the residents of the District,” reads a recent campaign e-mail from Anita Bonds (D), the incumbent by virtue of her interim appointment, about Mr. Mara’s possible victory. The socially progressive Mr. Mara — he’s broken with his party on issues such as gay marriage and D.C. statehood — would bring some welcome independence to a council dominated by think-alike Democrats. Mr. Mara has a proven willingness to engage GOP legislators on Capitol Hill to advance D.C. interests — and to stand up to them when necessary. It’s worth recalling that the District has had pretty good results when it’s elected similarly independent-minded Republicans in the past, notably former member Carol Schwartz and current at-large member David Catania, who has since switched to being an independent.

Of Mr. Mara’s opponents, attorney Paul Zukerberg (D) is an authentic new voice with a smart grasp of the issues, a commitment to pragmatism and a powerful message about marijuana laws making criminals out of too many of the District’s young people. No matter the outcome of Mr. Zukerberg’s candidacy, the conversation he has started about decriminalization must continue, and we hope he stays on the political scene. Democrats Matthew Frumin , an attorney and Ward 3 activist, and Elissa Silverman , a former Post reporter now on leave from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, are both committed to improved ethics and have advanced well-meaning approaches. But Mr. Frumin’s support for limiting charters would impede education choice and Ms. Silverman’s past advocacy for the millionaire’s tax and expansion of the sales tax would, we fear, translate into new burdens on residents. Ms. Bonds, along with former D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (reminted as a Democrat after losing as an independent last year), would take the council in a backward direction.