D.C. Council

Primary Pits Schwartz In a GOP Showdown

"I have a history, a good history," says D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). (Carol Schwartz)
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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Democrats dominate politics in the District, but the race to watch in next Tuesday's primary is on the GOP side of the ballot. Veteran Carol Schwartz, the only Republican on the D.C. Council, faces an aggressive, well-funded challenge from a young former congressional staffer who says Schwartz has strayed too far from Republican principles.

Patrick Mara, a former staff member for the late Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), arguably is Schwartz's biggest primary challenger since her defeat of incumbent Jerry Moore in 1984.

"I realized this person on the council was not representative of core urban Republican values," said Mara, 32, describing his decision to run.

Schwartz, 64, is taking the race to retain her at-large seat seriously. She has lent money to her campaign and for the first time has hired professionals to help prepare campaign materials rather than relying on homemade products. Mainly, though, she is counting on support built through more than three decades in District politics.

"I have a history, a good history," she said.

That support was evident one recent day when Schwartz could hardly make it down U Street for all the well-wishers. "Carol!" a man yelled, flashing a thumbs-up. People blasted their car horns, and others waved as they recognized her.

Schwartz waved back and soaked it all in. She has made a career out of being the council's contrarian, a fiscal watchdog and nemesis of former mayor Marion Barry -- and now of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. She has prided herself, too, on being a voice for all kinds of people, regardless of race or politics.

At her campaign headquarters, which overlooks U, the famous corridor in the historic Shaw neighborhood, Schwartz greeted her half-dozen volunteers. They were busy trying to salvage what they could from old campaign posters by cutting the dates off the bottoms. Strips of bright yellow poster board were on a table. "Nov. 7," they read.

"I never waste anything," Schwartz said. Also, with the election weeks away, they were still waiting for new posters. The posters being cut were from 2000, when Schwartz defeated five other candidates, capturing 29 percent of the vote in the general election. It was enough then to retain her at-large seat in a Democratic-dominated city where the GOP accounts for 7 percent of the electorate.

Schwartz did even better in 1994, getting 42 percent of the vote in her unsuccessful mayoral bid against Barry.

But not everyone is impressed by Schwartz's longtime might as a Republican in a Democratic town. Mara is trying to turn that popularity against Schwartz. He notes Schwartz's endorsement of Democrats in past elections, her Democratic staff (seven out of eight are Democrats) and her support of legislation that he calls "anti-business."

Schwartz, he said, has gotten a pass all these years from Republican voters. "They know she has an 'R' by her name and she ran against Marion Barry for mayor," he said.

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