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  •   Schwartz's Life a Tale of Drive and Prejudice

    By Tom Sherwood
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, October 20, 1986; Page A01

    The album of Carol Schwartz's career is thick with high-contrast images: portraits of privilege beside those of prejudice; pictures of a woman on the fringe driven relentlessly to succeed, to satisfy others and to satisfy herself.

    She was the oddity from the wrong side of the tracks in Midland, Tex., a Jewish girl in a Baptist town dodging the taunts of playmates.

    She was the runner-up in her high school beauty contest for Cattle, Oil and Cotton Queen and the student left standing outside the doors along sorority row at the University of Texas.

    "I didn't win," Schwartz said recently in recalling those days. "I was always nominated, I mean I was always right there on the fringe group of being a big wheel on campus, but I never just quite made it."

    Now, after a decade as a successful politician and educator, wife of a prominent attorney and mother of three, the 42-year-old D.C. Council member still craves public acceptance as she carries the Republican banner in the Nov. 4 election for mayor.

    "I'm a fighter, always have been," Schwartz said, her gusty, gravelly voice punctuating an intensely personal life-against-the-odds story.

    What makes Carol Schwartz tick has intrigued many in D.C. politics, particularly since the former two-term school board member from Cleveland Park challenged Mayor Marion Barry. Even some of Schwartz's closest allies say they know little about her.

    Few politicians seriously believe that Schwartz -- even with her brashness and knack for performing minor miracles in running for office -- stands a chance against an entrenched Democratic black mayor in a majority black and Democratic city. Barry, seeking a third term, is leading 2 to 1 in the polls and 10 to 1 in fund-raising.

    Yet Schwartz reminds the doubters that she won her first race for the school board in 1974 and her at-large council seat in 1984 against heavy odds. In unseating a veteran Republican council member, the Rev. Jerry A. Moore Jr., Schwartz overcame an extraordinary effort by the city's Democratic establishment to keep Moore in office.

    In separate interviews, Schwartz and her husband, David H. Schwartz, pointed to an unusually personal commencement speech she delivered in June at daughter Stephanie's graduation from Wilson High School in Northwest Washington as the quintessential credo of Schwartz.

    "I was not as lucky in the high school I attended," Schwartz began before the large, ethnically diverse audience of students and their parents. Schwartz, a brunet, said, "Most of the girls were blue-eyed blonds who looked like Cheryl Tiegs.

    "It wasn't funny to have the boy I had a crush on in the fourth grade call me a 'dirty Jew' in front of the whole class," she said. "It wasn't funny to have girl friends tell me I could not sleep over because their parents did not want a Jew in the house."

    Schwartz said later it was important that the students understand that she did not have everything in life handed to her: "Here I am, obviously got it all together, fairly attractive for a 42-year-old woman, and white, drive up in my cute little Dodge convertible, you know, look like I've got it made. How are they going to relate to me?"

    She told the group that she was looking forward to attending her Midland High School 25th class reunion in July. "And I'm sure that those people who tried to stand in my way . . . will have to say, 'Well, that Jew who lived on the wrong side of the tracks did okay.' "

    "Carol has suffered some of the same discrimination that black people have," said school board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), who frequently differed with Schwartz. "I found we disagreed on ideology on certain issues . . . {but} she is a person of substance in regard to education -- someone you could disagree with and still be friendly."

    An important juncture in her life came 20 years ago when, on the strength of a vacation trip to Washington, Schwartz decided to break off an engagement with her fiance back home and start life anew in the nation's capital.

    Schwartz has never been easily stereotyped in Washington, partly because she kept much of her personal life private. Even Barry's campaign barb that Schwartz is a "conservative Republican" misses the mark. Schwartz comes out of her party's moderate wing, and she supported incumbent Gerald R. Ford over Ronald Reagan in the 1976 presidential primaries and was a George Bush delegate at the 1980 Republican National Convention.

    While Schwartz is most closely identified with affluent white Republicans in her home base of Ward 3 in Northwest Washington, during the early 1970s she counseled drug addicts at the Blackman's Development Center, a controversial project in Northeast Washington that was operated by Hassan Jeru-Ahmed, who had been accused by some of anti-Semitism.

    Years later, when Schwartz was being severely criticized on the school board for seeking the ouster of then-School Superintendent Barbara Sizemore, Hassan offered to guard her house.

    Also, Schwartz spent two years working on a citywide D.C. Department of Recreation program for parents of preschool children before she plunged into school board politics in 1974.

    That year, she was elected to the first of two terms as the Ward 3 member of the school board, defeating Democrat Robert McClure, a top-ranking official of the National Education Association who had been endorsed by all the PTA presidents in the area and by council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3). Schwartz won with 58 percent of the vote.

    Schwartz said she had the help of a group of friends but does not know why she won. "I don't know. I gave you all the reasons why I shouldn't have won."

    She served on the board between 1974 and 1982 -- a turbulent era of fractious battles over curriculum standards, administrative policies and teacher discontent.

    In 1980, Schwartz lost to Lockridge in a bid to become president of the 11-member school board. Schwartz wrote a stinging article in The Washington Star decrying racism that she said had kept her from getting the job. " . . . My pluses were overshadowed by my minus -- race."

    A Republican by choice, Schwartz said she did it "because it was the unorthodox thing to do . . . . Being a Republican in Midland, Tex., is a lot like being a Republican in Washington, D.C."

    Midland was the third stop for Schwartz as a young girl growing up in the South and Southwest. Her family had bounced from Oak Ridge, Tenn., to failed businesses in Oklahoma City to Midland, where her family still operates a small clothing store. Schwartz worked in the store from the age of 8 until she went to college at age 18.

    "The friends I started out with in South Elementary had dropped out {by high school} . . . and the ones that hadn't certainly didn't try to be in the in crowd."

    Schwartz said that her mentally handicapped brother 18 months her senior, a difficult home life and the strain of poverty in the early years added to emotional pain.

    Her parents, still living in Midland, are Jewish but did not practice their religion while Carol was growing up. "I had all of the pains that come from being Jewish, you know, the anti-Semitism . . . but I had none of the pride," she said. "My parents, if you ask them, they will tell you they are Jewish, but there was no religious discussion, identification, no nothing. I went to the Calvary Baptist Church back in Midland with my next-door neighbors."

    During her first year at the University of Texas in 1961, Schwartz said, "You could put what I learned in a thimble . . . . I was like a bird out of a cage."

    Those experiences and friends -- she even dated a Moslem from Iran, she said -- provided a diversity in life that was new to her.

    Still, she was so little known on campus that none of the three sororities with mostly Jewish members invited her to their pledge parties. "I was a little bit of a strange commodity in that nobody knew me . . . . "

    She took the initiative and pressed to get in Alpha Epsilon Phi, a Jewish sorority, and wound up running as the sorority's candidate for freshman council secretary. "You got to realize there were 10,000 freshmen . . . and my sorority picked me, out of all of our pledges." She came in second, and then she finished second again in a runoff.

    Schwartz had a brush with history while attending the University of Texas. On Nov. 22, 1963, Schwartz was a Kinsolving Dorm monitor on a wing with student Lynda Bird Johnson, daughter of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

    "I heard sobbing in the hallway," she said. It was the housekeepers. Schwartz rushed to Lynda Bird's room just as the radio was saying it was uncertain whether Johnson had been hit during the assassination of President Kennedy.

    "She fell to her knees . . . . I hugged her . . . . Within a few moments the Secret Service men came and took her away," Schwartz recalled. Lynda Bird is now married to former Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb, and she and Schwartz have seen each other at major social gatherings, but there is no claim to friendship.

    "Different party," Schwartz said.

    In 1965, college was over and Schwartz took a job in Austin as a special education teacher. But a chance visit to New York and Washington changed her life. She said she fell in love with Washington, "its beauty, the vitality of it, the ethnic diversity."

    She returned to Austin and announced her resignation. She broke off with her fiance, even though her photograph and engagement announcement had appeared in the local newspaper and a June wedding date had been set.

    "I just had to be in Washington," Schwartz said, and a few months later she was.

    She met her future husband in the summer of 1966. David Schwartz said he agreed to talk to her only at the insistence of one of his friends who played bridge with her.

    A whirlwind romance between the two -- the quiet, soft-spoken lawyer and the self-described "Texas gal" -- led to an August wedding. Three children and 20 years later, the couple remain close.

    David Schwartz, who worked as legal counsel and secretary to the appointed D.C. Council from 1970 to 1972, is now a prosperous commercial and real estate attorney with Wilkie, Farr & Gallagher, advising such clients as Western Development Corp. and officials of NS&T in a merger with United Virginia Bankshares.

    Schwartz became a mother, preschool advocate and public service volunteer before turning to politics in 1974, and then only after her husband decided not to.

    "I was no more political {then} than a fly in the moon," Schwartz said, scrambling one of many metaphors. "Strike while the lightning is hot," she said at one point, then wondered aloud why she uses such phrases. "I always get them wrong." She laughed loudly at herself.

    "I was not the confident woman I am today . . . . We knew nobody. We were about as socially and politically connected as nothing."

    Throughout her life, Schwartz appears to have kept a meticulous accounting of her improving life style, for example, recalling the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in her various houses, taking pride in herself as a woman who had little and now has a lot.

    She balances success with talk of charity and helping people who "have gotten a rotten deal in life." Most of her $47,000-a-year salary as a council member goes to charities, she said.

    In her race against Barry, Schwartz has tried to make a virtue out of her stands against the mayor's proposed budgets and votes on other issues during her first two years on the council. She said her upset race against veteran council member Moore in 1984 established her credentials as a citywide politician.

    "I had a glow about me, I was a real winner" after that victory, she said.

    "That glow is still there. People looked at me as a little special."

    And, now, against Barry?

    Schwartz looked straight ahead. "If I lose, I become a loser." There was chilling finality in her voice.

    During the recent interview in her campaign office on K Street NW, Schwartz returned to her thoughts about her recent class reunion in Midland.

    "It was just wonderful going back being successful," she said.

    Many of her classmates still live in Texas, and, as Schwartz described it, they treated her with a new respect at the gathering at a Holiday Inn.

    "I think most of them in the intervening years . . . became nicer people."


    © Copyright 1986 The Washington Post Company

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