Carol Schwartz kicked off her 2002 mayoral campaign last Thursday with quite a bit of nostalgia, as she’s wont to do. Memory lane, for starters, supplied the posters for the event—yellow-and-black “Carol” placards unearthed from Schwartz’s basement that morning. “Democrats for Carol” stickers covered up the date at the bottom of those 1998 posters, relics of one of three unsuccessful Schwartz mayoral campaigns.
Dressed in a yellow-and-black polka-dotted blouse and a yellow jacket complemented by her signature color-coordinated jewelry, Schwartz addressed her supporters. “Last time, when I lost to someone people barely knew, I became reconciled, albeit sadly, to the fact that this job of mayor that I wanted so badly and had worked toward for 30 years was not meant to be mine,” said Schwartz. “And when people asked me to run a year ago, six months ago, or even six weeks ago, I never wavered. No was the answer—the constant, consistent answer.”
Schwartz admitted that she had even composed two speeches: one to accept the Republican party nomination, one to decline. In the end, Schwartz said yes, an answer that baffles many in D.C. politics.
Schwartz’s own version of Getting to Yes drew on the following players:
* Mayor Anthony A. Williams: The carpetbagging CFO swooshed in and courted many of Schwartz’s anti-Barry voters in 1998. Williams beat her 66 percent to 30 percent. He proceeded to make bad cabinet appointments, commit ethical no-nos, and keep D.C. residents waiting for hours in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He still was considered a shoo-in for re-election.
Then Williams got himself kicked off the Democratic primary ballot after massive forgeries were found in his nominating petitions and had to run a write-in campaign against the Rev. Willie F. Wilson.
* The D.C. Republican Committee: Convincing Schwartz to run was a tall order for the committee. After all, Democrat Williams received more write-in votes from Republicans than Schwartz herself in the GOP primary—1,707 to 999—forcing the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to declare no winner. Through nonstop cajoling in person, on the phone at her office, and even on her home answering machine, the Republican faithful managed to make Schwartz believe in herself once again.
The white Jewish Republican is a beloved fixture in this predominantly African-American Democratic city, and she campaigns with vigor. “Carol has a way of connecting
with people that I don’t know any [other] politician has in this city,” says party Chair Betsy Werronen.
* God: LL finds this a compelling force, as well. At the close of her acceptance speech, Schwartz quoted a passage she had read the week before during the Jewish High Holy Days:
From defeat to defeat to defeat—
Until, looking backward or ahead
We see that victory lies
Not in some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey stage by stage
A sacred pilgrimage.
* Dale Leibach: This more earthly influence is the husband of Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson. Schwartz told LL that Leibach recently delivered a “Run Carol Run!” cake to her council office. Wearing a bright yellow-and-white-striped shirt accented with a yellow tie, Leibach peddled his “Democrats for Carol” propaganda Thursday morning on the sidewalk of Good Hope Road SE.
His enthusiasm for a local Republican might surprise some of his former bosses: Leibach has worked as an assistant press secretary for President Jimmy Carter as well as a flack for paleoliberals including senator and later Vice President Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Now, as managing director of the PR firm Cassidy & Associates, Leibach has worked with clients who include embattled U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), who announced this week that he would not seek re-election.
On Monday, Leibach spent the morning stumping with Schwartz at the Van Ness Metro.
So what gives? Leibach hit the mean streets of upper Northwest this summer for his wife, who battled with former Williams administration staffer Erik Gaull in the Democratic primary. “I campaigned door to door in Ward 3. I think there’s a lot of disappointment in the mayor,” says Leibach, who attributes Williams’ decisive write-in victory to the “ghost of Marion Barry.” “The ghost is gone, and I think a lot of people will re-evaluate what they did in the primary.”
Over the past four years, reform-minded Patterson has clashed with reform-minded Williams, and some close to Patterson saw Gaull’s entry into the race as a political vendetta. Some see Leibach’s involvement in Schwartz’s race as payback.
Despite his national bona fides, Leibach seems to keep up with the Metro section. “After the primary [Williams] left for Greece while other elected officials struggled with a $325 million budget deficit!” reads a “Democrats for Carol” flier. “Maybe he wasn’t aware of the pain of budget cuts because he was island hopping? Going to Greece while
the Congress was demanding a fast solution
on the budget was one more example of a lack of judgment.”
“We can only hope that he enjoyed the souvlaki!” the handbill quipped.
Leibach says that he discussed his support for Schwartz with his wife. “She does not think that I’m at a Starbucks this morning,” he told LL at the kickoff.
Patterson later reaffirmed her support for Williams: “I’m a Democratic elected official, and he’s a Democratic elected official. I support the Democratic nominee.”
Schwartz’s decision to launch a five-week campaign against Williams bewilders her council colleagues, if not their spouses. “I just can’t imagine why Carol would expend the energy—and dollars, if you will—in a race that she surely must know she can’t win,” says Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose.
Schwartz has always been something of a maverick. She has been on the D.C. politics scene for more than three decades, after arriving in Washington in 1965 for what was supposed to be a short visit. With her affinity for big costume jewelry, prolific use of the word “honey,” and working-class roots, Schwartz seems more Hairspray than All the President’s Men. “Carol has been running races since I was in elementary school,” adds David A. Catania, her at-large Republican colleague on the council. “Her name recognition is off the charts.”
Until now, Schwartz has been the Republican party’s standard-bearer: She ran for mayor in 1986 and 1994 against Barry and in 1998 against Williams. In the 1994 race, Barry’s storied comeback year, Schwartz received 42 percent of the vote, pulling down more than 90 percent of ballots cast in Ward 3. Those voters are mostly Democratic and have since turned out for Williams. Schwartz will have to remake her constituency on the fly.
Schwartz might see this race as her last hurrah as mayoral mettle. Four years from now, the party might look to Catania, who has been an aggressive legislator and has been steadily building a citywide base by borrowing from Schwartz’s political playbook: conservative on fiscal issues, liberal on social issues. Though Catania harps on lower taxes and smaller government, for example, he also supported D.C. General Hospital.
Catania appears so concerned about his own political future that he can’t bring himself to endorse Schwartz. In an interview with LL, Catania pointedly stopped short of giving the thumbs-up to his fellow GOPer. “I told Carol she needed to do what she needed to do,” said Catania. “I would not want her to do anything that was personally hurtful to her. I remember how hurtful the ’98 loss was to her.”
In her early days in D.C., first on the school board and then on the council, Schwartz seemed like a foremother of the compassionate conservative: She preached fiscal prudence, yet opposed cuts to education and health care. She warned her colleagues about excessive spending and ballooning deficits.
She’s been less outspoken on her second council tour of duty: As chair of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, Schwartz has mostly stuck to parochial issues involving her own committee, such as residential parking permits. Schwartz oversees the DMV, as well.
As she worked the rain-slicked sidewalk Thursday, drivers passing by on Good Hope Road yelled, “Carol!” and honked their horns. The supporters included quite a few Department of Public Works workers.
“Hi, honey!” she belted out more than once.
* Capitol Hill neighbors threw a house party Saturday night for Catania, who is seeking re-election this fall. Among the hosts were many prominent Ward 6 Democrats, including Ambrose, Ambrose Chief of Staff Marge Francese, former At-Large Councilmember Betty Ann Kane, and activists Will Hill, Ellen Opper-Weiner, and Dick Wolf.
This bipartisanship can flourish only in
the District, where the home-rule charter reserves at least one at-large seat each election cycle for a member of a nonmajority party.
The Ward 6 Democratic establishment will likely cast one at-large vote for incumbent Democrat Phil Mendelson. And in feting Catania on Saturday night, it signaled that it would rather vote for a Republican than Democrat-turned-independent Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, who until recently was a member of the Democratic State Committee.
Instead of challenging Mendelson in the Democratic primary, Kinlow decided to throw his hat in the general election. Racial politics contributed to Kinlow’s decision: Instead of splitting the black vote with four other Democratic candidates in September, Kinlow calculated, he had a better chance taking on Mendelson and Catania, who are both white and live in Northwest, in November.
“A lot of these folks are good people,” Kinlow told LL, perusing the list of Catania’s Ward 6 “Welcoming Committee.” “I think there’s a large number of these folk that I can count on their vote.” Kinlow is convinced he can poach from supporters of Catania as well as Mendelson.
LL knows of two votes on the list Kinlow can’t count on: Jessica White, who recently took over as Mendelson’s chief of staff—and Ambrose. “If he is a Democrat, he ought to say he’s a Democrat,” she says.
* Former Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith has maintained a fairly high profile since his primary election defeat to Jim Graham in 1998. Smith still attends community events, and LL has spotted the former councilmember more than once working the happy-hour crowd at the Coach and IV Restaurant in the Reeves Center.
These days, though, Smith’s interaction with D.C. bureaucrats goes beyond mere hobnobbing: He now works as special assistant for museums, monuments, and community works to Department of Housing and Community Development Director Stan Jackson.
Smith’s had some experience in that area: For the past decade, the former councilmember has spearheaded a $2.6 million boondoggle known as the African-American Civil War Memorial, located at 10th and U Streets
NW. Though dedicated with much fanfare in 1998, the project has yet to be completed. The National Park Service won’t accept the memorial because of poor maintenance and shoddy workmanship.
“I’m still trying to get that one straightened out,” Smith told LL Monday. “I’m still trying to get a museum there.” CP
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