Patrick Mara. Photo from the candidate’s campaign site.

I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life. Of course, growing up in Massachusetts, then living in Northern California, New York City, and Washington DC, there aren’t so many Republicans to choose from. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat and see no way, for any federal office, that I could in good conscience support any Republican, no matter how good, since they will inevitably support the most extreme right-wing leaders.

But on Tuesday, I’m going to vote for a Republican for the first time: Patrick Mara, for City Council At-Large.

Mara could have (and perhaps should have) run as an independent. After all, he’s not much like today’s national Republican leaders at all. Mara supports gay marriage and abortion rights, for example. He’s a moderate Republican in the old sense, a disciple of Rhode Island Senator John Chafee. Mara grew up in the Ocean State and came to DC to work for Chafee on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Mara pursued his interest in the environment at DOE and later as a consultant on renewable and clean energy.

Mara doesn’t own a car, and hasn’t since high school, in fact. He commuted by bicycle from his Columbia Heights home to his energy consulting gig before he started running full-time. Mara believes DC’s future rests on raising the population back to the 800,000 we had around 1950 (today, DC has only about 588,000 residents). Quite simply, there’s no way we can fit 212,000 more cars (or even half that) in the city. There’s not enough room to park them and no more road capacity to move them about. Instead, most of the new residents will have to get around by Metro, bus, walk, or bike.

Mara would like to see more bus service, streetcars, and an expanded Metro within the District. He believes in building more trails, and keeping Klingle Road shut. He supports measures to improve bicycle safety, like the three foot rule in Graham’s recent bill. Like all the Council candidates, Mara is not yet sold on performance parking, saying, “We don’t want to scare people from coming into the District if they do have cars.” Most performance parking advocates don’t want to scare people either; performance parking could make it less scary by removing the need to circle for hours. I believe he’s more open to this and similar ideas than many of the candidates. In keeping with his fiscal conservatism, Mara does lean toward letting the market decide how much parking to build; his first-hand experience with many of the overbuilt, underused garages in Columbia Heights drive that home.

Education is Mara’s top priority. He says he decided to run for Council after mentoring three young children, one east of the Anacostia River where dropout rates reach 50%, and seeing the way our education system is “letting kids down in a big way.” Families who don’t “win the lottery to go to a charter school” have to either pay huge sums for private school, move to Virginia or Maryland, or suffer under a bad system. He’s a strong supporter of Fenty’s education reform efforts (as are all the candidates I spoke to).

If we’d heard of a candidate running as an independent or even a Democrat with Mara’s “socially liberal, fiscally prudent” values, nobody would have bat an eyelash. As it turns out, that might have given Mara a higher chance of success in the general election. Mara’s original game plan was to win the Republican primary (check), then get most of the city’s Republicans and enough others to win. Carol Schwartz’ quixotic write-in campaign complicates the equation, but it’s still anybody’s race, though Michael A. Brown is probably the favorite for the second seat (incumbent Democrat Kwame Brown is sure to win reelection).

But Mara really does believe that one day the Republican Party will stop being so ruled by intolerance and hate, and I respect his loyalty. His Republican beliefs center on fiscal issues, like cutting waste in the DC government. Mara opposed last year’s paid sick leave bill, which he made the centerpiece of his primary victory. His stance won him many Republican votes, key endorsements, and a lot of money (though he says he’s not necessarily against any paid sick leave, just against that bill which passed before enough analysis was done on the effects).

To me, having one candidate with whom I disagree on some bread-and-butter Democratic issues matters little. The Council has eleven Democrats, the maximum number permitted by law. Even if Mara is on the opposite side from me on, say, health care or workplace safety (not that I know how Mara would vote on any particular such measure), if seven of those eleven can’t agree on a bill, I’m not sure how good it really is. Besides, we’ve had a Republican in the past, and a much worse one for transportation, gay rights, and many other issues.

Coming up: My interviews with some of Mara’s opponents, Michael A. Brown and Mark Long.