We Know Carol Schwartz. She Just Wants to Be Mayor
The scene looked and sounded familiar.
Walking into Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café on Connecticut Avenue last week for a lunchtime interview, mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz was greeted by a couple of diners with a “We’re voting for you, Carol.” After the interview, riding on the 42 bus, a woman recognized her and introduced her as a candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, urging passengers to vote for her.
This is nothing new for Carol Schwartz. Those shout-outs are echoes of all of her previous campaigns in the city, running for school board, and the city council, where she occupied the lone non-Democratic Party seat for a period of 16 years as well as four mayoral runs.
People know Carol Schwartz.
She is not alone either—this campaign, long-running since the April primary and slow to gain traction and has seen all three candidates fanning out into forays into the city’s neighborhoods for one-on-one contacts, to street corners and Metro Stops, going door to door, or to meet and greets. Schwartz, Muriel Bowser, the Democratic Primary winner back in April, and David Catania, the long-time, at-large District councilmember, have made it a point to get personal face time with prospective voters throughout the city. Catania and Schwartz, both former Republicans, are running as Independents.
For Schwartz, it’s a little more simple.
People really do know Carol Schwartz, and not just from her travels throughout the city in this campaign. And it’s fair to say that the people who know her, like her. This good will and warmth may or may not translate into votes. Schwartz is hoping it does. This is likely the most engaging, appealing and effective part of her campaign.
“I’m telling you, I feel like I have the energy of a teenager,” Schwartz said over lunch. “It’s just there. I get by on four hours of sleep a night. You get up, and you’re raring to go.”
She says she did not decide to run on a whim, or out of some lingering anger over her last campaigns, six years ago, in which she lost the Republican Primary, and then lost a write-in campaign. Some media observers have called her decision to run an exercise in nostalgia, which she dismisses.
“I want to be mayor of this city,” she said. “I know with all my heart that I would be a great mayor, and I have the experience to prove it. “
Her experience is deep and real and runs across a broad range of issues. On the District Council, where she served a total of four terms, she chaired committees on public works and the environment, on local, regional and federal affairs. While being a Republican, she often and consistently seemed more progressive than her Democratic colleagues.
She served as chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Board of Directors as well as president. In 2004, she chaired COG’s National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Council. The former special education teacher calls herself the real education candidate.
All the major candidates who are running claim across-the-board support among whites, African Americans, women, minorities and gays, but Schwartz can claim that she’s gotten that support in previous city-wide campaigns. Although she was defeated in all of her mayoral campaigns—three against Mayor Marion Barry and one against Anthony Williams—she rang up impressive numbers across the city as a Republican candidate.
Schwartz came to Washington as an energetic young Jewish woman from Texas. She was smitten right away. “I have had a life-long love affair with this city,” she said, more than once. She began political life as a Republican. (“I was and am a fiscal conservative,” she said.) She is certainly one of the most progressive and often liberal Republican you ever saw, when it came to social issues, help for the homeless, the unemployed, the underserved of this city and the working class.
“When I lost the primary, and then the write-in, well, okay, that was that,” she said, referring to her 2008 council campaign. “I wasn’t all that eager to get back into politics.” But she continued her life-long volunteer activities—Whitman Walker board member, Washington Animal Rescue League, Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club—because, she said, “if there are opportunities to take care of a problem, then I want to be there.”
Yet, here she is, a live wire and optimistic and full of fire, even though all the polls that have surfaced put her solidly in third place. She is not backing away. She’s not discouraged, even as time runs out on the campaign. “I know about the polls, but when you’re out there, there’s something different going on," she said. "There’s . . . I don’t know . . . something going on underneath. I think I can still win. I really do.”
She’s been talking a lot about Washington as a tale of two cities—in particular the income gap, the great disparity between the have and have-nots. To that end, she’s promised to create a mayor’s office for disparity solutions.
She’s running against the wind—she’s her own campaign manager, with her daughter Hilary, who is a professional standup comedian, as co-manager. Another daughter, Stephanie, is an attorney, and her son Doug is a singer, songwriter and author.
We asked her about the possibility if she would consider running for the District Council in the future, should she not win Tuesday, Schwartz replied, “I’m not thinking about the future right now. I’m running for mayor right now.”