Political watchers say Patrick Mara, Michael Brown leading the at-large D.C. Council race

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,D.C. Council

With a seven-person at-large D.C. Council race slated for next month, most political observers believe Republican Patrick Mara and establishment Democrat Michael Brown have emerged as the race's leading candidates.

Brown, a former councilman tainted by questions surrounding his former campaign, likely leads the candidates in name recognition, experts say. Patrick Mara, who lost a race to Councilman Vincent Orange, has the unique advantage of having an uncontested core constituency: Republicans.

"[Mara] has the only base in the race that is exclusively his," said Chuck Thies, a political analyst who voted for Mara last time around.

In the April 23 special election, the candidate who receives the most votes will win the at-large council seat, meaning that whichever candidate can successfully get supporters to the polls will win the race, even if they don't receive a majority of the votes.

Thies said he expects Brown and sitting Councilwoman Anita Bonds to compete for "middle-class African-American voters," while former Washington Post reporter Elissa Silverman and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Matthew Frumin would both attract "white progressive voters and new residents."

Robert Brannum, chairman of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee who supports Bonds, the race's incumbent, labeled Bonds, Brown, Silverman and Mara top-tier candidates.

"The only two that clearly have name recognition would be Patrick Mara and Michael Brown," Brannum said.

A.J. Cooper, who dropped out early in the race and endorsed Silverman, says Silverman, Brown and Mara lead the pack.

"Splitting of the vote gives Pat a chance. If it was one Democrat against Pat, he wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell," Cooper said. He cautioned that Mara has been overhyped.

The race could change dramatically as candidates attract endorsements and voters begin to pay attention to a contest that has received limited public interest so far, experts said.

For example, Bonds' campaign manager said she would draw "multiple" endorsements from sitting council members.

Frumin, who substantially outraised his opponents in January, could overcome his poor name recognition if the dollars continue to roll in, observers said.

Silverman, a former reporter and policy wonk, could translate her insider connections and reputation as thoughtful into a die-hard voter base.

Although Paul Zukerberg, who recently survived a challenge to his candidacy at the D.C. Board of Elections, is widely known as a pro-marijuana attorney, his debate performances have helped him establish a credible candidacy.

Perry Redd, representing the traditionally overlooked Statehood Green Party, could win a contest that may draw only the most dedicated voters. Redd said he is upbeat about his campaign's efforts to attract voters.

Eugene Kinlow, host of "DC Politics Hour" on WPFW-FM, said of Redd, "This is a real chance for him to win -- if there ever was a chance for a Statehood candidate to win."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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