The results of the April 26 special election may reflect a changing city that is increasingly open to a more diverse D.C. Council. Patrick Mara, the lone Republican in the at-large race, came in a close second, with 26 percent of votes, after presumptive at-large council member, Vincent Orange (D), who garnered 28 percent.
The race was thought to be a showdown between Orange, who was endorsed by the local AFL-CIO and incumbent At-large Councilmember Sekou Biddle (D), who was endorsed by political bigwigs Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and Council Chair Kwame Brown (D). But, catapulted by voters, Mara, a member of the D.C. State Board of Education who was endorsed by The Washington Post and the DC Police Union, shot past Biddle in the polls.
“It’s an odd situation that we beat the incumbent and still lost,” said Paul Craney, the executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee.
Still, Mara’s strong showing may reflect the electorate’s growing disillusionment with the city’s Democratic leadership.
Detractors point to the fact that, for more than a year, the D.C. Board of Elections has not had a Republican member, violating a legal requirement for minority representation on the three-person board. The issue arose in March, when Biddle contested the validity of the signatures on Mara’s petition. After review, the Board determined that Mara had enough valid signatures above the threshold.
“This process has also been a reminder that while Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown found the time to endorse my opponent, Sekou Biddle, they have not found the time to appoint and confirm a third, independent member to the Board of Elections and Ethics,” Mara said at the time.
That infraction compounds the other public scandals rocking D.C.’s most prized Democrats, including the investigation of Kwame Brown’s 2008 re-election campaign finances, and the quagmire of questionable hiring, bloated salaries and pay-for-play allegations that has enveloped Mayor Gray’s administration.
Given those scandals, Mara said voters wanted someone who is “ethical.”
“My focus on bringing ethical and fiscal sanity to the D.C. Council is what set me apart,” Mara said. “Ethics and independence was a big factor in this election…that’s what I heard the most from voters.”
Craney agreed, saying Mara stood out because the at-large field lacked diversity. “ works very hard. He was the only Republican in the race. You had a bunch of Democrats who were part of the status quo…they were all kind of the same thing.”
Observers also see Mara’s popularity with D.C. voters as another sign of the GOP’s resurgence across the nation. Locally, Craney said, the 2008 Council race between Mara and Carol Schwartz motivated Republican voters to be active. “What we saw in 2008 kind of woke up Republicans,” Craney said. “Those two people got endorsements over their incumbents.”
Lorenzo Morris, a political science professor at Howard University, said demographic changes—including gentrification— also has had a major impact on the political ideals of D.C. residents.
“With newer White residents comes the inescapable redistribution of city politics toward the national norm, including greater Republican political power,” Morris said. “Although the evidence of increased Republican power has been perceptible for some time, the recent second place showing of the Republican at-large council candidate is likely a harbinger of political times to come in the very near future.”
The 2010 Census revealed that D.C. has lost its Black majority, while Hispanic and White populations continue to grow. Since 2000, the Black population decreased by 11.5 percent, and the Hispanic population increased to a total of 9,796, while there are 50,286 more Whites.
Orange still managed to gain the majority of votes in Wards 5, 7, and 8—populated mostly by Blacks—with Mara picking up 563 votes combined in all three wards.
Whether potential political corruption or the growing population of minorities affected the outcome of the at-large election, Democrats in D.C. may have paved the way for the minority, Mara contended.
“At the end of the day, I still will receive more Democrat and Independent votes than Republican votes,” he predicted.
Absentee ballots are still being tallied for an accurate count. Initial results after the April 26 election are unofficial.