Race Begins to Fill Mendelson's Seat

James Wright | 12/19/2012, 2:53 p.m.

The race to fill the at-large D.C. Council member position vacated by current D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has started and has attracted a group of candidates who have varying degrees of experience in District politics.

Anita Bonds, the chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, was appointed by that organization to Mendelson's at-large seat temporarily on Monday, Dec. 10 at a special meeting. On April 23, 2013, there will be a special election that will determine who will fill that spot until 2015, and one of those candidates might be Sekou Biddle.

"I have not made that decision but I will let the public know soon," said Biddle, 41.

Biddle can relate to what Bonds may be going through because he was appointed to the D.C. Council in January 2011 by the D.C. Democratic State Committee to take Kwame Brown's at-large position. Brown, 42, was elected chairman of the D.C. Council in the November 2010 general election.

Biddle served on the D.C. Council until he lost a special election in April 2011 to Vincent Orange, a former Ward 5 D.C. Council member. Orange, 55, was re-elected at-large in November.

Bonds, 67, is an appointed D.C. Council member due to the resignation of Kwame Brown in June and Mendelson was elected by the D.C. Council as interim chairman. Mendelson, 60, won the position permanently in a special election that was held on Nov. 6.

Bonds, who took office Tuesday, Dec. 11, said that she will run to fill the position permanently in the April 23, 2013 special election.

Biddle is a former Ward 4 member of the D.C. State Board of Education and is the vice president for advocacy with the United Negro College Fund in Fairfax, Va. He said that his decision to run will be based on "my commitment to public service."

Patrick Mara, who represents Ward 1 on the D.C. State Board of Education and is a Republican, declared his candidacy on Wednesday, Dec. 12. Mara, 31, narrowly lost to Orange in the April 2011 special election and said this time, he will campaign differently.

"Two years ago, I ran in the special election focused on education and I will continue to do that during this campaign but I will talk about the ethics of the council also," Mara said.

The ethics of D.C. Council members is also on the mind of political newcomer A.J. Cooper. Cooper, 32, ran as an independent in the November general election and received 6.46 percent of the vote.

Cooper, who is now a registered Democrat, said that some members of the D.C. Council "do not have the best interests of the city at heart."

"The D.C. Council member position should be a full-time job," he said. "You have some members of the council who are more concerned about getting money for their law firms and companies than for residents."

Mara said that if elected, he would work to fix ethical issues that cloud the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest and get back to the business of creating jobs for District residents.

"We need good workforce development programs so that people can get the training they need for the jobs that are available," he said. "We need to work to make sure that returning citizens and teen mothers have access to good jobs."

The deadline for candidates to get their petitions to the D.C. Board of Elections to get on the ballot is January 23. Any District resident can run in the non-partisan April 23 special election.

Political observers are waiting to see if D.C. Council member Michael Brown (I-At Large), whose term expires in 2013, gets into the race. Brown, 47, comes from a politically well-connected family. However, some residents feel that those connections didn't help him in the November general election - since he lost his seat on the council to David Grosso.

Cooper, who is the nephew of District socialite and philanthropist Peggy Cooper Cafritz, said his family connections will be helpful, but he is the candidate.

"My aunt is going to help in terms of fundraising and guidance but it is my campaign to run," he said.