On April 23, Washington, D.C., voters will decide between contestants in the special election to fill the council seat that was left vacant when at-large member Phil Mendelson (D) was elected chairman. Leading the pack of six contenders are At-large Councilwoman Anita Bonds, who was elected to temporarily fill the seat by the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which she has headed since 2006.
Nipping at her heels is Patrick Mara, a Republican and third-time aspirant to the D.C. Council. His chances may be undermined by late-breaking news that he signed a consulting contract to help raise funds for conservative think tank D.C. Progress from his donor list, which, according to experts, could be a campaign ethics violation.
At AFRO press time, Bonds held a slight lead in the polls, with particularly strong support among African-American voters. And, though she has yet to post her latest finance report online, an April 16 press release from the campaign claims she raised more than $71,000 in this quarter.
Mara, who holds an advantage over Bonds among independents and third-party voters, raised a sum of $139,666 in campaign donations.
Bonds is a longtime mover and shaker in Washington politics. The University of California, Berkley grad and Ward 7 native began her career as a community organizer, working to improve the living and working conditions of local communities in D.C. That experience has informed her more recent work at Georgetown University, where she created and managed a youth mentoring program, and as chair of the Perry School Community Services Center, a non-profit that helps disadvantaged communities eradicate poverty.
In 1971, Bonds transferred her organizing skills into politics, helping to run Marion Barry's first campaign for the District of Columbia Board of Education in 1971, and his later bids for mayor along with other campaigns, including Edward Kennedy’s and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential runs.
Bonds also served as an advisor and senior government official in the administrations of Mayors Marion Barry, Sharon Pratt Kelly, Anthony Williams and to former Council Chairman Kwame Brown. She also served as a four-term chair of ANC 5C.
Bonds has the support of many of her colleagues on the Council, former lawmakers, the AFSCME union and other supporters, and she leads among public polls.
But Patrick Mara has his share of powerful supporters, including the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the District chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police and The Washington Post which praised his stance on education reform and his call for ethics and integrity within the Council.
A Rhode Island transplant, Mara earned degrees in political and environmental science from Marist College, and an MBA in entrepreneurship from Babson College.
The owner of the Dolan Group, a consulting firm, Mara has energetically engaged in service to his chosen community, with a special focus on education.
He is treasurer of the board of One World Education, a former board member of Hope for Kids, and a mentor at the Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund. He is a tutor and mentor of special education student through Project Northstar. Mara is also a board member of College & Career Connections and the Columbia Heights Day Initiative.
The candidate was also a board member at D.C. Vote from 2011 to 2013.
Currently representing Ward 1 on the Board of Education, an elected position, Mara entered politics in 2008 when he defeated incumbent Carol Schwartz in the Republican primary for At-Large D.C. Council.
In 2011, Mara ran an unsuccessful campaign in a special election for At-Large D.C. Council, coming in second behind Vincent Orange.
Unfortunately, despite several appeals to members of the Mara campaign via e-mail and phone, the Republican candidate did not respond to a short AFRO questionnaire. Bonds’ responses are below:
1. What are your plans for the city's $417 million surplus?
I think the money should go directly back to the community with a particular emphasis on seniors. In this campaign I constantly speak about how we best help our seniors, this surplus go to policies and tax incentives that benefit seniors to stay in their homes and live comfortably. Secondly our city’s schools will need more money. More children our going in to public schools and we will need to pay for more teachers and fund more programs to make sure our children get a proper education. We also have to fund the efforts to make sure housing in the city is affordable. We are still looking at the plans to make this happen but the Trust Fund for Affordable housing should be funded. Lastly, we have to address poverty and homelessness. We have help out the working poor who are on the brink of homelessness and only need a small amount money to afford housing. We can rent spaces in buildings and lease them out to families in dire need of Affordable housing.
2. As the city's demographic has shifted, many African Americans feel squeezed out of the city. How will you ensure that Blacks will continue to have a stake in the future of the city and an equal share in its development? The District is growing. I am proud of it. Growth is always a good and diversity is strength. But the questions should be, “Does everyone benefit?” With great success comes great responsibility and we have to drill this into the minds of our governments and the residents of D.C. So what is our responsibility? Our responsibility is to ensure fairness. We are a government of the people and for the people. It is an issue of basic fairness. All residents of city should benefit from the city’s economic success and so should all the business that remained here through the hard times. We can’t just say the city is growing and certain folks and certain small businesses will be left behind. People who have owned homes for generations, played fair and worked hard their entire lives deserve to stay where they are and be a part of community’s development and growth.
3. How will you address poverty in D.C.?
Thanks for your question, and this is a matter of great importance, especially in one of the wealthiest cities in America. The bible says, the poor will always be among us, but the bible also says, that what you have done to the least of them you have done unto me. Our city will judge by how we treat the least of them, those who through no fault of their own find themselves in situations where they need help. We can’t sit back and watch people suffer without offering a helping hand or providing opportunities for a better a life. And no matter what the cynics say, there are things we can do. We can address the problem of homeless families and families on verge of homelessness. We can offer tax relief to families and seniors for their housing needs. We can do everything to make housing in the District affordable by fully funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. We can push for decent living wage and raise the minimum wage for our residents. We can provide “wrap around” services to those who need an all-encompassing approach to break cycles of poverty. I have co-sponsored the bill that will force large retailer stores in the city to pay a decent and fair living wage to their employees. Large retailers profits have been growing exponentially, even during the recession. They can afford to pay their employees more and that will boost economic activity and increase tax revenue. These policies are smart and fair.
4. As the city continues to grow, there will be a need for more schools. What is your plan to make sure that students in developing neighborhoods, especially those east of the river, have access to a quality education in their own neighborhoods? What are your other thoughts on improving education in D.C.?
The time is now to have this debate and the most important factor is our children. We need to make sure all schools are doing their most important job, which is the education of our children. Charter school and public schools have to educate our children and we have to see that success by seeing our children go to college and seeing them gets jobs. And they must be held accountable. Charter schools are not the magic bullet to solving our educations problems. Some do well and some not as well and some are mediocre, but they must be held accountable along with the public schools. That is why I want to public and charter schools under one umbrella of the Deputy Mayor for Education, so that we have that accountability. We also have to stop closing schools. Yes some schools will have to close, especially those that are failing, but we can’t close all school but we need to look into why certain schools are failing figure out if the problem can fix and then have a hard conversation about whether to close certain schools. However improving schools should be the first goal.
5. What is your plan to decrease Black unemployment? Do you support a requirement that businesses hire D.C. residents disproportionately over workers from the suburbs to ensure that Blacks who live in the city have a chance at jobs?
We have to better enforce laws that require companies to hire D.C. Residents. I support legislation and smart enforcements that give D.C. Residents the leg up in employment opportunities in D.C., especially companies that do significant contract work with D.C. Government.