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After Jeff Thompson admitted to running multiple illegal election schemes Monday, District also-rans must have wondered what could have been had the shadow campaign impresario not been on their opponents’ sides. And no one has been foiled by Thompson more often than frequent D.C. Council candidate Pat Mara, who twice  came in second to opponents who received shadow-campaign help.

In two races for the D.C. Council at-large seat reserved for minority political parties, Thompson spent a combined $348,146 backing three of Mara’s opponents with off-the-books-efforts. Mara, the Ward 1 member of the State Board of Education, has a theory about why Thompson was so intent on keeping him off the Council.

“You may have heard,” Mara says. “I’m a Republican.”

In 2008, Thompson and his companies spent approximately $100,000 each on Mara rivals Michael A. Brown and Mark Long. Brown won the seat with nearly 20 percent of the vote to Mara, in second place for the set-aside with 10 percent.

Mara unknowingly faced a Thompson shadow campaign again in a 2011 special at-large election. He began to worry that there was something sinister behind Vincent Orange‘s campaign after signs with his rival’s name appeared suddenly around town. (Orange has said he didn’t know about Thompson’s help.)

Especially vocal Orange supporters at a Washington City Paper debate on 14th Street NW’s Black Cat also made Mara suspicious that they were being paid off-the-books. “He had a whole cheering section of people at the Black Cat,” Mara says. “And it was like, you know, ‘Where did this come from?'”

Orange won the race with 29 percent of the vote. Mara came in second again with 25 percent, but he says the sense that he was cheated out of his election has since faded.

Like many other District politicians, Mara received his own campaign contributions from Thompson’s straw donor network. Admitted Thompson straw donor Lee Calhoun, for example, gave $2,000 to Mara’s 2008 bid.

In a twist, the Washington Post reported last year that Mara benefited from his own Thompson shadow campaign in 2008. But Mara, who says he doesn’t know about any shadow campaign to help him, isn’t on the list of shadow campaign candidates identified only by single letters in Thompson’s statement of offense.

“Please let me know what my initial is, if I do have an initial,” Mara says.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery