Have you stocked up JNCO jeans and v-chips? If not, LL says get on it, because the ’90s are back in a big way in District politics.
How else to take the mayoral announcement from ex-Councilmember Carol Schwartz? Schwartz unveiled her bid in an email to reporters Monday, breaking news that was so surprising that LL had to call her to make sure it wasn’t a hoax.
“This will make it a little more interesting for you, right?” says Schwartz, proving that the 2008 ouster from the D.C. Council that cost Schwartz her place in public life didn’t harm her talent for self-promotion.
There are lots of reasons for Schwartz to stay out of the race: She’s an ex-Republican giving up a comfy retirement to run a late-starting campaign in a city filled with new residents who have never heard of her. But then, there’s one big reason to run: She has the chance to screw over mayoral rival, fellow ex-Republican, and Schwartz bête noire David Catania.
Of course, that’s not the story Schwartz is telling. In a dense press release that suggests Schwartz has had a lot of time on her hands lately, she lays out how seeing a “void” in the city’s leadership made her decide to run against Catania and the Democratic nominee, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser.
Soon enough, Schwartz thought, she had figured out the perfect mayoral candidate: herself.
“People would call, say, ‘Carol we need you,’” Schwartz says. “‘Come back. Run for mayor.’”
Indeed, Schwartz, like her more electorally successful erstwhile rival Marion Barry, is one of those Home Rule–era politicians who’s found a way to stick around after all these years. After winning a seat on the now-defunct school board, then-Republican Schwartz vaulted onto the Council in 1984, into one of the at-large seats reserved for non-Democrats.
On the Council, Schwartz positioned herself as a common-sense Republican, pushing tax holidays and gay rights while opposing government waste and congressional Republicans’ attempts to interfere with the District’s gun laws. Schwartz’s position outside the critical Democratic primary process gave her the apparently irresistible option to launch general election campaigns aimed at collecting voters opposed to Barry and then-Mayor Anthony Williams.
All those mayoral bids—this will be her fifth—gave Schwartz the name recognition that a councilmember out of office for six years wouldn’t usually have. In her 1994 race against Barry, Schwartz’s profile was so good that her campaign went the Cher route and put just “CAROL” on her signs.
Indeed, Schwartz has run for mayor so often that her press release/manifesto includes paragraphs of emotional grappling with being called a “perennial candidate.”
“My desire to be mayor, that’s not new news,” Schwartz says.
Also not a secret: Schwartz’s long-running feud with Catania. Despite being that rarest of creatures in the Wilson Building—Republicans—Schwartz and Catania didn’t find friendship in their solitude. As early as 1999, Schwartz complained to this very paper that she wanted her trash-talking counterpart to “chill out a little” on the dais.
“Her and Catania didn’t see eye-to-eye on much,” says Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. “They were not friends.”
Schwartz sees it differently.
“Just put it this way,” Schwartz says. “I didn’t like his earmarks, and he didn’t like my sick leave [legislation]. And that’s when our friendship ended.”
Schwartz likely could still be donating Council paychecks to charity—her usual practice while in office—if she hadn’t pushed in 2007 and 2008 to require District employers to offer paid sick leave to workers. The business owners who had helped keep her in office turned on her, instead supporting upstart Pat Mara in a primary bid to beat Schwartz. (Unhappy Republicans aside, Schwartz would ultimately turn out to be on the winning side of that issue—Mayor Vince Gray signed a bill expanding it even further last January.)
While Catania had left the GOP in 2004 over the party’s opposition to gay marriage, that didn’t mean he was entirely done with Republican in-fighting. Catania staffers planted signs for Mara and partied at his primary victory party over Schwartz. During the race, Schwartz implied to reporters that Catania had an even bigger hand in Mara’s challenge.
Undeterred, Catania openly raised money for Mara after Schwartz launched an unsuccessful general election write-in campaign. (In the end, neither of them won; now-ex-Councilmember Michael Brown, who ditched his Democratic party registration to run, did.)
Running for mayor now gives Schwartz a chance to do Catania like he once did her. An unlikely confluence of events has put Catania closer to the mayor’s office than a cranky, openly gay, ex-Republican in D.C. has any right to expect to be. There’s the federal investigation into Gray, the U.S. Attorney’s kneecapping of other councilmembers with mayoral aspirations over the last few years, and Catania’s current perch atop the voter-friendly Council education committee. By offering another choice for independents, Republicans, and Democratic voters who didn’t back Bowser in the primary, Schwartz can throw all those stars out of alignment.
The bad blood isn’t lost on Catania campaign manager Ben Young, who’s playing the Alex Jones role in this election conspiracy theory. Young accuses Bowser, who endorsed Schwartz in her failed re-election six years ago, of getting Schwartz to help split Catania’s base.
“Is that a serious question?” Bowser says when LL runs that one by her.
But Young says there’s a historical precedent for mayoral stalking horses in Sulaimon Brown, the longshot 2010 candidate who praised Gray in debates, then took illicit kickbacks from his campaign on the side.“They’re trying to reduce the mayoral election to a joke by bringing out Sulaimon Schwartz,” Young says.
For now, Schwartz isn’t talking about either of her rivals.
“There’ll be plenty of time where we’ll speak to each other,” Schwartz says.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery