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Mara’s Marathon

A conservative runs for the D.C. city council.

By 7.25.08

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Despite her parents' legal problems, 19-year-old Latasha was elated. From a broken home in D.C., she just got word that she would be employed, for the first time, at Reagan National Airport. Her job: to pick up trash.

"I just wish I had more training so I could do more than pick up trash," she tells Patrick Mara, about the time her parents were being cuffed for brutally attacking each other in the Trinidad neighborhoods of D.C.

Mara, who met Latasha doing a police ride-along in Trinidad, is running for an at-large GOP spot on the D.C. Council, the District's 13-person legislative body. D.C. Council elections are in November, but the primary election will be held on Tuesday September 9, 2008. Mara is taking on incumbent GOP candidate Carol Schwartz in the primaries.

Mara supports the controversial police checkpoints in the Trinidad neighborhoods, which were installed earlier in the summer to combat surge of violent crime in that area. "Difficult times call for harsher measures," he explains, "and the checkpoints have caused crime rates to go down." With the new checkpoints up, some security is coming to the life and neighborhood of this newly employed young woman.

Latasha's story brings to light the issues that Mara is focusing on in his campaign for D.C. Council: "We need vocational training, we need safer streets, and we need better schools." Vocational training is the one program Mara supports: otherwise, he plans to slash taxes, and streamline D.C.'s inefficient government. "The Council takes money, and takes money, and spends money and spends money. That's not the way things should be done," he says, staying true to his conservative principles.

Before Mara can begin reforming anything, he first must win his primary race, and Mara's supporters acknowledge that that will be an uphill battle. Of all the candidates, Mara, a government relations manager with ML Strategies, has the distinct disadvantage of being two-times the underdog. Not only is Mara running as a GOP candidate in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-to-1, but the D.C. Republican Committee is shunning him in favor of incumbent Carol Schwartz.

But it's strange that Schwartz is running on the GOP ticket, and that the D.C. Republican Committee is actually supporting her: she is a Democrat in all but name. Nine of her ten staff members are Democrats, her record has alienated the business community, and she does not endorse fellow Republicans in their respective Council races (but has endorsed a Democratic mayor). Not to mention: according to an analysis of her 2004 contributions, 50 percent of her donors were Democrats, while 20 percent represented interest groups.

SO WHY IS THE D.C. Republican Committee using its resources to support Schwartz?

When I contacted the D.C. Republican Committee, Paul Kraney, its Executive Director, said, "I suggest you contact Carol's staff because we're trying to stay out of it [the primary race]." The conversation then ended with Kraney declining to answer any other questions, and swiftly hanging up.

If the D.C. Republican Committee is trying to stay out of the race, it's bizarre that the committee's chairman, Robert Kabel, told Mara, "Your future in Republican politics here is over if you run against Carol," according to the Washington Examiner. Paul Kraney himself, told Mara, "You will be blackballed by the party if you run against Carol Schwartz." The committee has also attempted to smear Mara by implying he receives funding from "special interests," an accusation that is just "silly," Mara claims.

Mara has certainly received funds and donations from businesses in D.C., which prompted the committee's "special interest" cry, but he has also received donations from everyday D.C. constituents, ranging from $10-$100, whom he has contacted by the thousands. But the business community is understandably excited about Mara's candidacy: he is campaigning on a platform to finally bring fiscal responsibility back to D.C.

"D.C. is the fifty-first worst place in the nation to do business," Mara says, citing the District's high tax rates. "It's driving businesses and economic development away from the city." While Ms. Schwartz has voted, over the past five years, to increase the budget by 51 percent, Mara has taken the Americans for Tax Reform's pledge not to raise taxes.

Given that Schwartz is a candidate whose voting record sides with labor unions, teachers unions, and liberal interest groups, it's clear why Mara, firmly conservative, is so passionate in his criticisms of the incumbent. Schwartz spearheaded the March 2008 "Sick and Safe" legislation through the Council, a bill that labor unions were ecstatic about. The law requires small businesses to pay for employer sick leave. "Small businesses suffer in D.C.," Mara points out, "and this legislation, which is the most liberal legislation east of San Francisco, doesn't help." As of March 2008, Washington and San Francisco are the only jurisdictions that mandate paid sick-leave

"When I go door-to-door and educate voters on Ms. Schwartz's record, they agree with my message," Mara explains, "and when I give them the facts of Ms. Schwartz's record, about 5 percent of them won't believe me because it's so far fetched, while the rest acknowledge that they've been frustrated for years."

According to the Home Rule Act, the law that created the D.C. Council, at least two at-large members must not be from the Council's majority party (i.e., must not be Democrats). One of those seats will likely go to incumbent independent candidate -- but former Republican -- David Catania. With another independent bowing out, the Republican primary winner is likely to take the other slot. Schwartz is an entrenched incumbent, but don't count her reformist challenger out yet.

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About the Author

Emily Esfahani Smith, an editor at the new conservative blog Ricochet.com, is also managing editor of the Hoover Institution journal Defining Ideas.