Closing in on its 40th year under Home Rule, the nation's capital is starting to attract some terrific, qualified and entertaining candidates for seats on the city council.

The race to fill the vacant at-large seat promises to be one of the most interesting elections since I started covering the city beat in the 1980s. Get ready for a fun ride -- and a serious battle over money, power and issues.

Eight names could be on the ballot for the April 23 special election, judging from the candidates who filed petitions by last week's deadline. They include veteran pols Anita Bonds, Michael Brown and Patrick Mara. But four fresh faces will come before voters: education activist Matthew Frumin; Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd; Elissa Silverman, a former journalist and budget analyst for the Fiscal Policy Institute; and John Settles, a native Washingtonian, businessman and newcomer to the political scene.

Cards on the table: I count Silverman as a friend, though I'm not so sure she would "friend" me. Frumin's son was a schoolmate of my daughter's at Wilson High, and we ran in similar circles. Both will bring sense and serious debate to the campaign. Either could win and become an excellent member of the city council.

Paul Zukerberg, also a newcomer to elective politics, is running on the pot ticket. A defense attorney specializing in marijuana cases, Zukerberg advocates decriminalizing possession to put D.C. laws in line with cities such as New York and Denver and states like California and Washington. Adults carrying small amounts would be fined rather than prosecuted, for example.

Zukerberg might not win, but he certainly will add zest to the forums.

So who has the best chance to win the seat vacated when Phil Mendelson became council chairman last year? What follows is in no way an endorsement. Consider it cold, hard facts with a splash of speculation.

Anita Bonds will split her vote with Michael Brown.

Bonds goes back to the early days of the Marion Barry machine. She was Barry's adviser and fixer on the streets and his community organizer. She's chaired the Democratic State Committee for years and won the interim council seat by committee vote.

Michael Brown just lost his at-large seat to David Grosso, in part because voters were grossed out by his alleged cronyism, his lackluster campaign, his personal financial problems and his role in passing Internet gambling.

Brown and Bonds will draw from the same voters and neutralize one another.

Which leaves an opening for Patrick Mara. Mara might be a Republican from out of town, but he has proved his commitment to D.C., especially its schools. He's a member of the State Board of Education. This will mark his third run for a council seat. His name is out there. He came close to winning in 2011. He's both qualified and tested.

Odds are Mara wins. Either way, the candidates will be competent and the race will be competitive, which bodes well for democracy in D.C.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at