On the Trail With Carol Schwartz
Monday, Oct. 5, 1998
Last in a series chronicling a day with the major party candidates for D.C. mayor.
Oct. 1, 8:25 a.m.: Rush-Hour Rush
There is no escaping Carol Schwartz.
She's the woman in the olive-colored linen dress at the entrance to the Eastern Market Metro station, bouncing from commuter to commuter, trying to forget that she slept barely five hours and needs coffee, trying to make them forget she's a Republican in a Democratic town.
"Looking for a good mayor?" she asks one man, her voice as strong as the morning sun is bright. "Well, here she is."
Another brushes past without a glance at Schwartz's open hand. She floats the words down the escalator after him. "Vote Carol Schwartz for mayor! You know it's my turn!"
For Schwartz, a 54-year-old D.C. Council member, campaigning is a little like performing on stage. After two terms on the D.C. Board of Education, two council races and two bids for mayor, she knows when the curtain rises and the lights are on.
The curtain rose today around 8:15 a.m. and won't fall for nearly 13 hours, after visits to two supermarkets, three housing projects, an embassy, a convention center, a council hearing, a candidates' forum, and a news conference.
The election is 32 days away and, again, the pundits and pontificators are counting her out. They did it in 1986, when Marion Barry beat her handily, and in 1994, when she mustered 42 percent but still lost to the reborn Barry.
This time, the front-runner is Democrat Anthony A. Williams, the former D.C. chief financial officer. Schwartz has lived here 30 years longer, raised and schooled her three children here, won and lost elections here. But he's a Democrat in a city of 268,000 Democrats and just 24,000 Republicans.
"Hi, are you a D.C. voter?" Schwartz asks one woman outside the Metro station.
"Yes and I'm a Republican," the woman responds, smiling and nodding, the way compatriots might after bumping into each other behind enemy lines.
"Well, meet the other one," Schwartz shoots back. They laugh.
This could be Schwartz's final campaign. She won't run again for mayor. And, if she loses, she'll probably step aside from the council after her term expires in 2000, she said.
She knows the odds and likes to point out what she calls her other political handicaps white, Jewish, female but Schwartz insists she senses an unusually good vibe from voters this time. People know her, wave, honk, run to greet her. For almost every disinterested snort at the Metro entrance, she draws a "Good luck," or "I always wanted to meet you," or "I'm voting for you," even from some self-proclaimed Democrats.
Donna Jones Bey, a Ward 6 mother and Library of Congress researcher, grabs Schwartz's pamphlet as she climbs onto the escalator. She reads it on the trip down, and is intrigued enough to come back up. She asks the candidate about improving the schools and keeping streets clean.
"If you can do these things, I'm going to vote for you," Jones Bey promises.
Still, some walls are too thick. Schwartz hits one minutes later while shopping for votes at a Safeway along 14th Street SE at Kentucky Avenue.
"I'm a Democrat," says a woman who pushes aside the candidate's pamphlet and heads toward the store entrance.
"It doesn't matter," Schwartz protests.
The woman keeps walking. "It does to me," she says.
Schwartz won't give up: "You know, this one-party system hasn't done any good for us."
Too late. The door has closed.
10:43 a.m.: Meeting the Messengers
Their embrace is slightly stiff, but cordial.
"I see you're campaigning hard," the mayor tells her, glancing toward her waiting car.
Always, she replies.
If nothing else during her years of public service, Schwartz has established a persona. Along with the dark bushy hair, the twangy voice and boisterous laugh, the GOP "lone wolf" label and the lemon-yellow campaign posters, it includes The Car.
Fire-engine red and papered with a dozen posters, her Chrysler LeBaron has 11 years but only 55,000 miles to its credit. Top down, it's a dream campaign car: an eye-catcher that encourages hellos and horn-honking and, when traffic is snarled, gives street stumping a new meaning.
The license plate "26" is one of several Schwartz gets as a council member, but it has sentimental value. It used to be on her late husband's car.
Campaign aide Ron Morgan is behind the wheel, with Schwartz sitting shotgun and longtime friend Johnnie Rice in the back as they dash off for an 11 a.m. news conference in Anacostia. They arrive to find just four reporters, one photographer and one television cameraman. Not enough. So they wait for more.
"Now where are those damn cameras?" a campaign aide says, as the candidate talks to supporters and waves to passing drivers at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road.
By 11:15, a second cameraman arrives and Schwartz moves to the lectern. Behind her stand 21 supporters, some in yellow "Schwartz for Mayor" T-shirts. The backdrop is a hamburger joint long ago closed and boarded, a symbol of the renewal Anacostia is still waiting to begin.
Schwartz tells the reporters she's here to unveil her economic development proposal, a 24-point plan to lower income taxes, create new jobs, even return professional baseball to the District.
Her statement runs five pages long and takes 22 minutes to read, the length of most evening newscasts. The reporters follow with 14 questions, then a few more after the cameras stop rolling and Schwartz steps away the microphones.
She estimates she and her staff spent a combined 50 hours preparing for the event. She was editing the statement at 1 a.m. With luck, she'll get 30 seconds of airtime and a few column inches in the newspaper. Maybe a picture.
With three reporters and two photographers in tow, the candidate pops in and out of businesses along Good Hope Road, passing her literature and pleading for votes. At a gift and bridal shop, she finds another Democrat willing to cross party lines for her on Election Day.
"Well, we're up to 10!" Schwartz quips as she leaves the store. "Only 80,000 left."
Continues on next page.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company