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
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