Schwartz Wears GOP Mantle Loosely
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 5, 1998; Page B1
Carol Schwartz sashayed around the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE, comfortably thrusting her hand into the palms of passersby, asking for their support for her bid to become the city's first Republican mayor.
And when she took to the podium to talk about why voters in this struggling, historic African American neighborhood should give her serious consideration, she paused at one point to note that Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and local resident, "was also a Republican."
Schwartz is one of the few white Republicans in this town who could make such an observation without being accused of political chicanery.
As she makes her third attempt at the D.C. mayor's office, Schwartz again faces an uphill battle, this time against Democratic nominee Anthony A. Williams. Although her party affiliation poses a practical hardship for the D.C. Council member Democratic voters make up 78 percent of the city's electorate it does not present a personal liability.
"Despite what the Barry-Williams campaign would have you believe, I have not taken nor have I ever taken any money or help from the national party," Schwartz said as she kicked off her campaign. She was responding to comments by outgoing Mayor Marion Barry, who linked her with the Republican congressional leaders he blames for usurping home rule.
"I don't mind being criticized, but please let it be about something real, not some absurd conspiracy theory," Schwartz said.
The congressional Republicans who oversee District affairs stopped well short of embracing their party's nominee.
Trey Hardin, spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who chairs the House Government Oversight subcommittee on the District, said that the congressman "definitely feels that whoever wins is going to be a very refreshing event for the District of Columbia."
Schwartz knows that the affection of the Republicans blamed for suspending home rule in the District would be more curse than blessing. Instead, she is relying on help from the D.C. Republican Committee, led by Julie Finley, who also is an official in the national committee, and a band of rebel Democrats who have refused to get behind the Democratic nominee.
Her council voting record and ideological leanings are not vastly different from those of her Democratic colleagues. She has high name recognition throughout the city, the result of two previous mayoral campaigns against Barry, and Schwartz's audacious but affable style has earned her respect in poor and working-class neighborhoods. In a recent Washington Post poll of Democratic voters, Schwartz received a 55 percent favorable rating the same as Williams.
Although there is little evidence of widespread defections by Democratic voters, as happened four years ago when Barry was the party's nominee, Schwartz has attracted some support from grass-roots activists who see Williams as an outsider and hard-liner.
"We don't know anything about him," complained Wright A. Jolly Jr., who was wearing a Democrats for Schwartz button and carrying an armful of campaign posters to tack up along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. "Carol has been here for the people."
She needs to attract significant Democratic support and win the vote of independents, who outnumber registered Republicans by almost 2 to 1. Only 7 percent of registered voters are Republicans.
Williams isn't willing to let Schwartz distance herself from the Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"All I know is Carol is a Republican and the Republican Party stands for certain principles," Williams said in an interview last week. "Either you are or you aren't. I don't understand this qualification thing."
"I am proud to be a Democrat," Williams said, noting that before joining the District government, he worked in the Clinton administration as chief financial officer in the Department of Agriculture. "I don't distance myself from the Democratic Party. I think the Democratic Party stands for principles that really have served cities well."
Schwartz said the traditional conservative-liberal tilt of the respective parties is turned on its head by this contest.
"I may be a Republican, but this guy is more conservative than I am," she declared, criticizing Williams for "slashing programs for education and our seniors" and saying he "blindly fired hundreds of people without due process."
The latter is a frequent criticism aimed at Williams for firing people during his reorganization of the Department of Finance and Revenue.
"I have shown a lifelong, progressive commitment to our people most in need," Schwartz said in a speech last month.
Schwartz, 54, a native of Texas who moved to the District 30 years ago, always has been a Republican.
"I came from a state which in those days was an all-Democratic state. I'm just kind of a rebel. I don't want to be like everybody else," she said.
At the time, she was drawn to the party by moderate leaders such as Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller and Sen. Jacob K. Javits. Her modern-day heroes include New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.). She admits that the recent image of the party troubles her.
"It's been harder to stay with the party as years have gone on, as the right-wing element has taken over more and more," she said. "But ingrained in my desire to stay is that I don't want to see the grand party of Lincoln and Douglass taken over by one philosophy. I do believe there is room in both national parties for individual thought."
Schwartz said her voting record on the council would show her to be a "fiscal conservative, a moderate to liberal on social issues. . . . I take it issue by issue, instinct by instinct. I don't think you can categorize me at all."
She has sounded like a Republican in spearheading a successful drive to cut inheritance and personal income taxes and in championing the death penalty for people convicted of killing law enforcement officers.
She has sounded like a Democrat in supporting cost-of-living increases for welfare recipients and backing abortion rights, including allowing poor women to use Medicaid funds to terminate their pregnancies. She also disagreed with Republican congressional efforts to create a school voucher program for the District, arguing that it would siphon off dollars for public education. Schwartz proudly notes that her three children attended D.C. public schools.
Last year, she argued against the federal revitalization act, which she said required the city to give up too much authority over its criminal justice system and to forfeit its annual federal payment.
If she wins this election, she said, she will lobby Congress to restore the annual federal payment to the District, which was eliminated last year when the federal government agreed to assume the cost of some city services, including prisons, and to pay a larger share of the city's Medicaid costs. Schwartz said she will make the case that the District be allowed to tax suburban residents who work in the city. Last week, she reiterated her opposition to a gross receipts tax on businesses, which Williams supports, and proposed a reduction in the city's sales tax from 5.75 percent to 4.5 percent.
Williams challenges Schwartz's description of herself as a fiscal conservative. He questioned her fiscal wisdom in calling for "tax cuts without any way of paying for them," and he added, "I don't see why a candidate gets any points for calling for more federal money." He describes himself as "fiscally responsible and socially progressive."
Ron Lester, a Democratic pollster who has worked in local campaigns in the District and across the country, said Schwartz and Williams are typical of urban politicians in both parties.
"Anthony Williams and Carol Schwartz are two candidates that are closer in terms of their overall ideology and their pragmatic approach to politics," Lester said. "They are not polar opposites: He is not a liberal Democrat, she is not a conservative Republican. What you have is two moderates."
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