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Carol Schwartz has been gone from office for almost six years, but when talking to the former Republican councilmember, now running for mayor as an independent, it’s as if she never left. A very popular incumbent who served on the Council for 16 years, Schwartz, a frequent fixture at LGBT events, has always enjoyed great crossover support — not only from Democrats, but a substantial portion of the city’s LGBT community. Now in her fifth campaign for the city’s top executive post, Schwartz has frequently outperformed expectations, earning anywhere from 30 to 42 percent of the vote as a Republican between 1986 and 2002, even though Republicans comprise only 7 percent of the electorate.
A self-described “worker bee” who prides herself on the tremendous workload she undertook as a councilmember, and in a number of other political, civic and volunteer roles, Schwartz happily ticks off her many accomplishments, having served as chair of multiple committees and exercised oversight over issues ranging from education to on-street parking. Schwartz is well-known across the city’s eight wards for her larger-than-life personality (and her trademark yellow convertible!).
Well-versed in public policy and with a wealth of connections to regional politicians, policymakers, nonprofit heads and others with whom she’s worked or crossed paths over the years, Schwartz laughs, jokes, teases and playfully engages former colleagues and constituents alike, even as she attempts to tackle serious issues.
“We can do it, and we can also whistle while we work,” she says.
Campaign rival David Catania has labeled her “Sulaimon Schwartz,” a nod to Sulaimon Brown, a former mayoral candidate who received money from members inside Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign to bash then-Mayor Adrian Fenty during public appearances. But although she acknowledges that some believe she is a “spoiler” candidate, Schwartz insists she’s running with the best of intentions, concerned about longtime residents being pushed out by rising home prices, taxes and the cost of living in the District even as it benefits from an influx of new residents and an economic boom. And, more importantly, she says, she’s the one candidate who has proven she can accomplish big things.
“I’m going to bring them in,” she says when detailing her plans to attract businesses to the District. “You watch me.”
It’s that last statement that seems to resonate the most when seeing Schwartz’s campaign in action: You just watch her go. And don’t you dare try to tell this tenacious mother of three that she can’t or shouldn’t do something. Including run for mayor, again.
METRO WEEKLY: Your relationship with the LGBT community goes back years, even before you were on the Council. Tell me how you first became aware of the community, and who was the first person to come out to you?
CAROL SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, because I’ve got some age on me, back in high school, I had two dear friends, Bill Baker and Lionel Sizemore. And they just never dated anyone. That was when things were very underground.
Bill was not so obvious. Lionel a little more so. But I just never thought anything about it. I learned, at our five-year reunion, that they had died. In both cases, they committed suicide after high school. It was around that time, in college, that I became aware of so many people who were not being true to themselves due to society’s pressure. And it affected me.
Also, my only sibling was a brother, who was intellectually disabled. I would take Johnny out and about with me and I would see people ridicule and bully him, and I would have to come to his rescue. So I became very sensitized at a young age to people who were different in one way or another, and how unaccepting some people were. I became a fighter for the person who was different. And I think when I became aware of the sexual orientation difference, it made me also very sensitive, especially when I had two loving relationships with people who died very tragically because of society’s non-acceptance.
I got on the School Board in 1974. Within a year or two, I was aware of some discrimination that was going on, so I passed a rule, and I made sure that we had, on our rulebooks, that there would be no discrimination based on sexual orientation against anyone employed by the School Board. I did something decades later, on the Council, on harassment of students.
MW: You’ve also been involved with PFLAG.
SCHWARTZ: I joined PFLAG about 25 years ago. I was a paying, card-carrying member of PFLAG, when I thought I was just a friend. But now, I’m all three: a parent, family member and friend. My daughter had gone with men all of her high school years, and some of her college years. And then her father died. She was always very open with me, and she started a relationship [with a woman] — and I said, “Honey, whatever, be whatever you are.” But I think she wasn’t sure of what she was, and she went back and forth. And I think that’s true of many bisexuals. She married a wonderful woman two years ago, this month, so I am now a parent and family member, too.
MW: You’re running against two gay men in this race. In the NBC4 debate, when talking about voters who held anti-gay attitudes, you said, “If you’re going to be that intolerant, I don’t really want your vote.”
SCHWARTZ: And I’ve said that to people.
MW: Why do you think it was so important to stand up and say that?
SCHWARTZ: Because I am totally intolerant of intolerance. It’s the only thing I’m intolerant of. People will say something like, “Well, I’m going to vote for you, because I don’t like him because he’s gay.” And I’ve said, “You know what? I don’t really want your vote.” That’s discrimination, and I don’t discriminate. Leaders have to lead, and if leaders equivocate on intolerance, then what kind of example are they setting?
MW: You’ve made a point of refusing to accept corporate LLC donations in your campaign.
SCHWARTZ: Any company or any individual can give a maximum contribution of $2,000, but what companies do is divide their company into mini-companies, little subsidiaries. Still the same owners, still at the same address, it is obvious they’re all the same. But the law allows each of those subsidiaries to each give $2,000. So one person that owned one company, broken into all these subsidiaries, could give 20 or 30 thousand dollars, depending on how many subsidiaries there are.
And when there was this big outcry over the alleged shadow campaigns, my opponents said, “We’re going to do away with all of these loopholes, we’re going to pass legislation.” And yet, they didn’t put it into effect until January 2015, after this election.
MW: One of your opponents was on the committee tasked with passing that legislation. Do you think she intentionally set that date or pushed for it?
SCHWARTZ: I guess. Obviously. She’s raised $2 million or whatever, and if you look at them, most of them are LLC loophole contributions. And so I’m not doing that.
MW: A lot has been made of Mr. Catania’s temperament. But many previous mayors had similar temperaments. There seems to be a set of voters that likes the idea of keeping people accountable and holding their feet to the fire. For those voters, can you give an example of when you’ve had to call someone out on the carpet, which has then resulted in an improvement?
SCHWARTZ: There’s a difference. That’s why I emphasize “tough but fair.” I don’t kick people to the ground and then start stomping on them. A lot of that has gone on with him.
When one person got laid off at the Whitman-Walker Clinic — not because of performance, but because of financial reasons — David called up the director and basically said, “You either hire her back, or I’m coming after you.” And then he did a series of hearings on Whitman-Walker Clinic that were just brutal. You do not have to bury bodies to get things done.
He says he got same-sex marriage accomplished. Councilmembers wanted to vote for same-sex marriage. Getting people insured. That wasn’t him alone. It’s easy to get people to fall in line on those “motherhood and apple pie” issues. And same-sex marriage, in this town, is a motherhood and apple pie issue. Getting people insured is a motherhood and apple pie issue. There’s a brutality in that temperament that is very worrisome.
So I would certainly be a leader that would make government do what it should, with strength, leadership, toughness, and impatience. But never would I be brutal.
MW: What sort of things do you feel you can do to alter or improve the way government operates? What needs to be tweaked?
SCHWARTZ: A lot of things need to be more than tweaked. I want to make sure that our services are exemplary. When I was chair of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, I made sure there were no DMV lines, that trash was picked up on time, and recycling was restarted, because in the ’90s it had stopped.
I started a perpetual fund, with Dan Tangherlini at the Department of Transportation, to try and make sure that our potholes were fixed on a regular basis. When I left the Council in 2009, they did away with it. Probably to do more earmarks. So I’ve always been about efficient, good government. I created the Department of the Environment. That was my law. The strongest whistleblowers’ law in the country, which the federal government mimicked.
I was on the Board of Education for two terms, from ’74 to ’82, vice president for three years, when real change for the better took place. I mean, our test scores went up. I created Banneker Academic High School, which is still on the top 100 list of schools in the United States. I was chairing the Education Committee, and I came up with the idea. We lost the first year, and I brought it forward the next year, and it passed. So I’m tenacious. I do not take no for an answer.
MW: Can you ensure that, under your administration, the mayor’s office will be able to act as a mediator between the LGBT community and the police department, and the Office of GLBT Affairs can continue to have good relationships with other offices in the city?
SCHWARTZ: When it comes to treatment by the police, I think there’s disparity for the LGBT community. And even though the police department has, over the years, tried to sensitize its officers to the community, I think they still need to do a better job. So the Mayor’s Office of Disparity Solutions — which I’ve proposed — would certainly include the LGBT community, and would orchestrate coordination between offices. It would report directly to the mayor. And we would make sure that we immediately tackled these issues. All the major departments and agencies would have a disparity officer who could ask for counseling or sensitivity training for officers, and then they could go directly to the Health Department and get that. The firefighters need the same thing. So do other government employees.
MW: Why should people vote for you?
SCHWARTZ: Listen, I think a lot of people want to vote for me, but a lot of people are voting negatively, instead of positively. They don’t like [Muriel], and so they’re voting for [David] because they think he has the better chance of beating her. Or they don’t like him and they’re voting for her. It’s all negative. Why doesn’t everyone vote positively, and vote for the person who they most know and trust, and has made the city better under her watch?
If people vote for the person, and not the party, the person that has a record of great depth and breadth, as well as positive leadership ability, who can bring us together, then I will win.
For more information on Carol Schwartz’s campaign, including her policy positions, visit carolfordc.com.
Plus, meet the other candidates running for D.C. Council, Attorney General and State Board of Education
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