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Last night, an up-and-comer upended the decades-long political career of Republican At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz. Thirty-three-year-old Patrick Mara used a whole boatload of cash from the biz community, plus a nice endorsement from the Washington Post, to drub Schwartz in yesterday’s Republican primary, by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.
Now, winning a primary in the District of Columbia is usually a huge deal. It generally means you’ve won your office for all intents and purposes, with the general election a mere formality.
If you’re a Democrat, that is.
If you’re a Republican, the landscape is far different, especially in the wide-open at-large race. The problem is that Mara’s party represents about 7 percent of D.C. voters, many of whom are dyed-in-the-wool Carol supporters who are put off by the bitter attacks that Mara launched against the career incumbent.
To snare an at-large seat, Mara will have to be ride that fractured mandate to a strong showing in the November balloting. There are two seats up for grabs, to be claimed by the top two vote-getters. One of those top two is a foregone conclusion: Unopposed Democratic At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown will trounce the rest of the field.
That leaves a scramble for the No. 2 spot, which is worth a sweet part-time job that pays $120,000 per year. There’s a mad scramble for the runner-up position, too.
The party guys in this tilt are Brown, Mara, and Statehood-Green candidate David Schwartzman.
The indies, though, add a great element of drama. Failed mayoral and council candidate Michael A. Brown and longtime D.C. activist Dee Hunter are vying for the seats as independents.
Even though they’re not. Both Brown and Hunter are Dems, an affiliation that they surely will not hide over the next two months. They’re essentially trying to do what D.C. election law should allow them to do, which is to embrace open competition for the at-large seats.
Of these two “independent democrats,” Brown appears to have the edge. He has some name recognition from his mayoral run in 2006 and his subsequent attempt to snare the Ward 4 council seat vacated by now-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Brown withdrew from the mayoral race in its late stages and was trounced in his Ward 4 race.
Now comes his third shot in as many years. Brown will no doubt be simplifying things for the electorate, instructing people to vote “Brown and Brown” and will doubtless steal from Schwartz’s playbook a bit, hammering Mara as a puppet of special interests. If Schwartz had sneaked through her primary, she would have soaked up all the love from the Dems and independents who’ve put her in that coveted No. 2 spot on previous at-large ballots.
With her on the sidelines, that spot is essentially Brown’s to lose.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery, Washington City Paper stalwart