The D.C. Chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT political group, voted unanimously on Wednesday to endorse GOP candidate Patrick Mara in the city’s April 26 special election to fill an at-large seat on City Council.
Mara, a member of the city’s board of education from Ward 1, expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, in an unsuccessful race for a D.C. Council seat in 2008 and in his successful school board race last year.
“Patrick is an amazing candidate and a great friend not only to Log Cabin, but also to the entire LGBT community,” said Log Cabin D.C. President Robert Turner II.
Although Turner didn’t mention it in a Log Cabin press release announcing the Mara endorsement, Mara has surfaced as one of the lead rivals to Democrat Sekou Biddle, considered by most pundits as the frontrunner in the nine-candidate race for the at-large seat.
Biddle has the backing of most of the city’s establishment politicians, including Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large). He also received the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political groups, and is backed by many of the city’s prominent LGBT activists.
“He is the only candidate who actually testified in support of bringing marriage equality to the District,” Turner said of Mara in the Log Cabin press release. “Recent events have shown that the Council needs a watchdog looking out for taxpayers, and we believe Patrick Mara will provide that oversight.”
Robert Kabel, the openly gay chair of the D.C. Republican Committee, called Mara “the only candidate for the April 26 special election who has a proven record on gay and lesbian issues.” He noted that Mara “vigorously” lobbied Republican members of Congress last year against a Republican proposal to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law.
Gay Democrats backing Biddle note that Biddle expressed strong support for the city’s same-sex marriage law as it moved through the City Council for approval in 2009 and has been an outspoken backer of LGBT issues on the school board.
But they acknowledge that Biddle could be hurt by his endorsements from Gray and Brown following the sensational revelations over the past two months that media reports have labeled as scandals swirling over the heads of Gray and Brown.
Brown’s request for, and his decision later to return, two city funded and “fully loaded” Lincoln Navigator vehicles for his use as Council chair drew widespread criticism from voters in all parts of the city.
Gray, meanwhile, has come under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office over allegations that a top official in his election campaign allegedly paid another candidate to denounce Mayor Adrian Fenty, Gray’s main rival in the election, at candidate forums across the city.
Gray’s mayoral staff later hired the rival candidate, Sulaimon Brown, for an $110,000 city job before firing him from the job when news surfaced that Brown had a past record of more than one arrest, including an arrest for an assault charge that was later dismissed. Other allegations surfaced that high level officials in Gray’s new administration hired relatives to fill various city jobs in a possible violation rules prohibiting nepotism.
Mara’s campaign initially seized on the scandals surrounding Gray and Kwame Brown, with Mara calling on voters to elect an “independent voice” to the Council to monitor what his campaign called an out-of-control Democratic political machine.
But Mara faced ethics questions about his own campaign when the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics earlier this month disclosed it had discovered at least 160 forged signatures on Mara’s nominating petitions required for placement on the ballot. Board officials said the forged signatures were found on petitions turned in by petition circulators who were paid for their services by the D.C. Republican Committee.
Although the city’s election law gives the election board authority to disqualify all nominating petitions if some are “tainted by fraud,” the board ruled that Mara submitted more than 3,000 valid signatures needed to place him on the ballot, and that he should not be penalized for the actions of the paid circulators.
With Mara’s placement on the ballot confirmed, his supporters – both gay and straight – are hoping he can put together a winning coalition of moderate and progressive Republican and independent voters that will outnumber the voters Biddle must obtain in a field of six Democratic candidates.
Biddle’s supporters say his popularity among Democratic voters is much stronger than that of his Democratic rivals and he likely will receive enough Democratic votes to put him over the top.
Others note that voter turnout in special elections has always been very low, making the outcome unpredictable. If Mara can attract votes from gay Democrats and independents he might be able to pull off an upset victory in a close race, according to some political observers, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans among the city’s registered voters by a margin of nearly ten to one.