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Farewell To Carol Schwartz--D.C.'s Last Republican?

With good cause, Patrick Mara is flying high today. The 32-year-old political novice last night ousted Carol Schwartz, the only elected official in the District who has been around as long as Marion Barry, a pioneer of home rule, a mainstay of city politics through four decades, and a true rarity--a Republican who regularly won elections in Washington.

Schwartz lost her at-large D.C. Council seat in a Republican primary marred by can't-anybody-here-shoot-straight muck-ups by the city's sadly deteriorating elections office (once one of the few shining corners of the city government.)

Schwartz told me last week that she would not run as a write-in independent candidate should she lose the primary, and true to her word, she is acting today like someone whose long political career is finally at an end.

She ran for mayor four times, and at Barry's lowest point, she won 42 percent of the vote--most of it surely a protest against Barry's insulting behavior and evident incapacity to hold the public trust, but a fair amount of her support was genuinely for Schwartz, as she proved in a long series of convincing victories in her council and school board races.

When she first challenged Barry for mayor, in 1986, she says she ran only after trying to recruit a black Democrat to take on Barry. "Nobody would do it," she says. "We all knew Marion was on a destructive path," but no one wanted to take on the risk of what seemed to be certain defeat at the hands of a charismatic folk hero.

Schwartz is proud to this day that when the late Washington Post editorial page editor, Meg Greenfield, was asked in a New Yorker magazine profile whether she had ever regretted any of her election endorsements, she named just one: The paper's choice of Barry over Schwartz in that 1986 contest.

Schwartz has refused to bash Mara. Even though the newcomer who beat her is younger than Schwartz's youngest child, she notes that "I was marvelous at 30 when I went on the school board."

The council member, a world champion shopper, is proudest of her accomplishments on behalf of D.C. consumers--she's the force behind the District's sales tax holidays that are held twice each year, and she won approval of free parking at D.C. meters on weekends and holidays, another effort to boost retail business in the city.

But Schwartz agrees that Mara is likely to face an uphill battle in November's general election, when the Republican will face two independents, including Democrat-in-all-but-name Michael Brown, the former boxing commissioner who has run before for mayor and council. Brown is the odds-on favorite to crush Mara in one of those truly bizarre Washington elections in which a Democrat is not permitted to win (Congress created this insulting election system as part of the price for granting the District limited home rule; the idea was to assure that minority parties--non-Democrats--be guaranteed two seats on the 13-member council. With the exception of Schwartz and former Republican David Catania, the seats tend to go to Democrats who are just pretending to be independents for the purpose of winning an election.)

Mara's main problem, aside from inexperience (though these days, that's a big asset), is that he ran to Schwartz's right, positioning himself as the "true Republican" in the race. That's not likely to go over real big with Washington voters.

Brown has shown little appeal to D.C. voters so far, but Mara has a rough road ahead if he seeks to persuade Washington Democrats to go for the loyal Republican over the son of the beloved former Commerce Secretary and Democratic Party chieftain, Ron Brown.

And then there's this: Michael Brown had the best campaign song of any D.C. politician in the last decade. Beat that, Patrick Mara.

Schwartz says she has no regrets about her campaign or her decisions in office: "If I had it to do over again, I'd do it exactly the same way." Despite the decision by big business interests in the District to oppose her reelection because of her successful advocacy for a law guaranteeing sick leave to D.C. workers, she still maintains that "I was the best friend business ever had in this city." And she's still proud that she was the only one on this council whose children went all the way through the D.C. public schools.

But now she's on her way out. She won't miss the salary--she gave every dollar of her $92,000 Council salary to charity every year. She won't miss the frills of office--she took fewer trips than almost any other council member. But she will miss dearly the sense of being a player, the chance to represent voters and scold wayward bureaucrats.

Off she goes in her yellow TransAm convertible. It's the one with the bumper sticker that says, "I Think I'm In College."

By Marc Fisher |  September 10, 2008; 5:00 PM ET
Previous: Ping-Pong Commissioner Update: A Challenger Is Born | Next: The New Politics Of Palin: Ignorance Is Strength?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Carol Schwartz was a true RINO. She even supported rent control! How can a Republican support rent control? I say: good riddance.

Although I am a Democrat, I believe we need some real Republicans to create some balance in our government.

Posted by: JMG_DC | September 10, 2008 7:20 PM

Wait, does this mean Jack Evans isn't a Republican? Who'd a thunk it.

Posted by: CanTed | September 10, 2008 7:33 PM

Nicely done Carol (and you to Fisher). There are no party or race lines when it comes to appreciating her good works on behalf of the city or just her good nature. I think Carol said hello to me more than any other person in DC .. and I don't even know her. She's one gregarious chick. And she never kept a dime? Didn't know that.

You gave a lot .. now go get some. Enjoy.

Not you Fish, back to work.

Posted by: tslats | September 10, 2008 8:26 PM

Thanks Carol

Posted by: susan | September 10, 2008 8:29 PM

I used to hang out with her daughter and I suppose I didn't need to hear that Mara is younger than her youngest child. I get it, I'm old.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 10, 2008 9:05 PM

Schwartz was a very loud voice, all talk, but caved when it came to voting.

She has not held Fenty Appointees accountable on the Government Operations committee which is why I did not vote for her. She shoe'ed in highly inexperienced and ineffective agency Directors and we are now paying for it.

I voted for legislative accountability. And, in this case, it happened.

The rest of the Council be forwarned.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 10, 2008 9:53 PM

The only thing constant in life is change. You did a good job Carol but its time to move on.

Its a shame that after November DC will have 12 Democrats and one Independent. Too bad. One party rule, even without a token voice in occasional opposition, serves no one.

Posted by: Bye Carol | September 10, 2008 10:53 PM

Carol is right: She WAS the best friend business ever had but that is history. The last couple of years, she has taken to doing things "her way", with little or no input from those affected by unfunded legislative mandates. The employer community's ire was less about the sick and safe legislation than it was about Carol's attitude that she knew what was best, shutting out those she claimed to protect, as she appeared to do less and less of the homework necessary to be an effective leader and legislator.
We love Carol, but sometimes love is not enough. One can only hope that Carol will put the bitterness behind her, get to know Patrick Mara, and help see him continue a minority Republican tradition in DC.

Posted by: DC Employer | September 10, 2008 10:59 PM

Farwell (perhaps) to Carol. But it's premature to say hello to Patrick. He still has Michael Brown to beat in the general. Any (R) DC Patrick boosters like those odds?

Posted by: Downtown Rez | September 10, 2008 11:58 PM

Carol Schwartz has been a tireless advocate for the people of Washington. It's now time for her to rest and decide what else she wants to do -- or if she wants to run for someting else.

In Washington, it seems that politicians never retire. They seem to quit only when defeated. I personally feel that D.C. could do well with new blood, new ideas. These political jobs were not meant for a career lifetime.

Posted by: Betty1522 | September 11, 2008 1:07 AM

Great job Mara,

He just knocked off the only decent and honorable City Council member. This is a very sad day for DC Republicans. Mara voters will regret their choice in November when Brown takes the seat. Great job Mara.

Posted by: DC Republican | September 11, 2008 2:51 AM

She was a world champion shopper but she gave away her entire salary! Where did she get the money to live on?

Posted by: bnichols | September 11, 2008 7:51 AM

Carol will be missed by all who loved her zest for life and especially her love for Washington DC. Despite the personal tragedies, Carol was always in the game to make sure the residents of Washington came first. In 1994, as a candidate for Mayor, I relished the Georgetown debates we sparred in. She was always respectful and charming. While the city and voters have changed, thank you Carol for always being Carol.

Posted by: Curtis Pree | September 11, 2008 9:22 AM

Philadelphia has the same minority-party-on-the-council system as DC, enacted by the voters in that fair city. Perhaps the voters in Philadelphia insulted themselves?

Posted by: K-Romulus | September 11, 2008 10:53 AM

We will Miss Carol Schwartz. She was the one Republican who could make you forget that she was aligned with that stink hole of a political party. She is a class act and was a credit to the D.C. Council.

Posted by: C-Dog | September 11, 2008 11:40 AM

Ding dong the witch is dead.

Posted by: Dorothy | September 11, 2008 12:18 PM

DC businesses, you deserve what you'll get without her. She was the closest thing to a Republican that the DC electorate would allow you to have. Now the council will move even farther to the left. ha!

Posted by: Joe Bloe | September 11, 2008 2:08 PM

Joe B-
I dunno if the businesses are so much (R) as they are (C), for capitalist. Michael Brown might suit them just fine. Check his campaign contributions for his last several failed elections and make your own judgement.

Posted by: Downtown Rez | September 11, 2008 6:31 PM

Joe B-
I dunno if the businesses are so much (R) as they are (C), for capitalist. Michael Brown might suit them just fine. Check his campaign contributions for his last several failed elections and make your own judgment.

Posted by: Downtown Rez | September 11, 2008 6:38 PM

As a democrat I would vote for a progressive Republican like Carol. I won't vote for a conservative Republican like Mara.

Posted by: JohnnyU2Berry | September 11, 2008 8:47 PM

WTF, DC Boxing Commissioner? WTF! The politics here are so godam stoopid, I won't waste my time commenting further.

Posted by: johng1 | September 11, 2008 11:06 PM

Mara was just a plant by the business sector to get back at Carol. They know that Mara has no chance of wining against Brown, Carol did. It was truly an exercise of cutting ones nose to spite ones face by the Republicans.

Posted by: Fred | September 12, 2008 11:58 PM

DC voters are more conservative than people realize. And a lot of voters are registered Democrat so that they can influence those primaries. The problem is that the D.C. Republican Party has failed to provide a real choice to voters. Well, Mara provides that real choice: free market policies, tough on crime, and a backer of the mayor's school plan.

That's right, Mara backs Fenty's school plan... and Brown endorsed Cropp during the 2006 primary with a big slap at Fenty.

Posted by: DC Republican 2 | September 15, 2008 12:13 AM

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