Editor’s note: The following interview with Patrick Mara has been in the works since he won the Ward 1 seat on the DC State Board of Education last November 2. We were interested in learning more about the first Republican elected to a major office in D.C. since Carol Schwartz served on the City Council and current Councilmember David Catania switched his party affiliation to Independent.
Mara is now running for an At-Large Council seat in the April 26 special election. The seat opened up when Kwame Brown was elected Council Chairman; Sekou Biddle was temporarily appointed to the seat and is running for a full term. Since a number of Borderstan readers reside in Ward 1, we also have an interview with Bryan Weaver scheduled; Mara and Weaver are the only two candidates in the race who live in Ward 1.
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Borderstan: When and why did you first move to D.C.? Where did you live before moving into the Borderstan area — what brought you to the hood?
Mara: I permanently moved to D.C. in the spring of 1997 to work for the late Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island, on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. I previously lived in Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill. I bought in Columbia Heights in the spring of 2004 on 11th Street between Kenyon and Lamont. This was following the closure of Knob Hill and just prior to the opening of Wonderland — a weekday neighborhood favorite.
I love Columbia Heights because of the rich diversity of the neighborhood as well as the convenient placement of metro and bus. Although there was a much smaller Giant at the time, there was a new supermarket coming in (“New Giant”). I continue to not own a car, so public transportation and supermarket options are very important to me.
Borderstan: Favorite thing about living in the neighborhood? Least favorite?
Mara: You could pretty much spend your entire life within a five block radius of Columbia Heights without ever having to leave. There are restaurants, the historic Gala Theatre, a big supermarket, schools and retail. It’s a livable, walkable community. What I’m most concerned with is that D.C. strongly discourages small business development in the city. We definitely need to do a better job of incentivizing small independent businesses.
Borderstan: Tell us about yourself. What do you do, how’d you end up doing that and why do you love what you do?
Mara: As I mentioned, I started out on the Hill working for a fiscally responsible, socially progressive senator [John Chaffee of Rhode Island]. I then went on to work at the Department of Energy at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Following that, I did advocacy work for clean energy, tech and education clients for seven years. More recently, following a run for DC Council in 2008, I set up an LLC [limited liability company] to focus on non-profit and political fundraising, and political and business consulting. I’m also an elected member on the DC Board of Education representing Ward 1.
Borderstan: You’re a Republican in a predominately Democratic area. What’s been the biggest challenge, the biggest reward and your greatest hope for the future political scene here?
Mara: People who do not know me make “across the board” assumptions about me based on my party affiliation. However, while I may be fiscally responsible, I am the only candidate in this election who took the time to testify in favor of marriage equality. I think it’s kind of cool and it says quite a bit about our city and politics in our city when the Republican was the only one out of 10 candidates who testified in favor of a very important piece of legislation.
Do I want to see money efficiently and effectively spent? Yes. If elected, will I be looking under rocks and around every corner to find money that is wasted? Yes. I am also the only candidate in the At-Large race who has the ability — or interest — in engaging Republicans on Capitol Hill. I’ve already spoken to over a dozen Republicans focusing on the theme of “leave us alone.” Nobody else is doing this. I have disproportionate influence because I am a Republican.
Borderstan: In the spirit of bipartisanship, imagine you have been granted a lunch with Mayor Gray. Where do you take him for lunch and what’s your top agenda item? What about President Obama?
Mara: Mayor Gray — then Chairman Gray — was nice enough to take me to lunch following my Primary win in 2008. While I do believe he has made some dumb decisions regarding staffing and vehicle choice, he is not a dumb man. There are three items on my agenda: (1) Making interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson the full-time Chancellor. (2) Spending and transparency. The better we are able to see how money is spent, the less likely we are to waste it. (3) Relations with Congress.
Here, I would argue that Mayor Gray and I can work as a team on Capitol Hill. I’ve already been making the case up on the Hill with over a dozen Republicans to this point that they should leave us alone. If elected, I commit to meet with an average of one Republican Member of Congress or Senator each week. That’s 86 GOP Members of Congress. That is unprecendented. We need to engage.
With President Obama, I would focus on voting rights and voting rights alone. We must do a better job of moving the ball forward. While I support statehood, this is as likely as retrocession [to Maryland] at this point. That is, neither will happen. I would at least hope to come out of a meeting with President Obama with an agreement that he would actually help push autonomy for the District.
Borderstan: If you could sit down with one person of recent DC history (Mayor Fenty, Michelle Rhee, Helen Thomas, the Salahis…), who would it be and why?
Mara: I’m a huge Mayor Anthony Williams fan. He is a man who always did what was in the best interest of the city even if it meant going against the grain. It is very clear to me that we need people in DC Government who are not afraid to buck a tide. We have a serious problem with group think in District Government.
Borderstan: Enough serious stuff — show us your fun side! You just won the lottery and you are taking friends out to celebrate. Where are you headed?
Mara: Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights. I like the atmosphere and it’s a block and a half from my residence. DISCLAIMER: I own a very, very, very small percentage. I really appreciated the concept of being able to invest in the neighborhood in which I live.
Borderstan: You are absolutely required to be a contestant on a reality show, but you are allowed to choose which show. What are we watching you on?
Mara: I haven’t watched it since the first season, but probably Survivor. That’s what this race is shaping up to be.