There is a flaw that can attach to a politician. Former D.C. Council member and four-time mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz suffers it in abundance.
Possessing an outsized personality distinguished by four decades of service to the city, the effervescent Schwartz has allowed this political ailment to cloud her judgment in launching a surprising fifth campaign for mayor. Explaining what motivated her decision, she has mistaken the superficial support of sycophants for the considered counsel of advisers.
Reactions to her announcement this week have not been kind, or supportive.
If there has been a consistent criticism of her colorful political persona, it is that everything is too often “all about her” due a center-of-gravity ego. Schwartz, 70, reignited that observation in response to a lengthy news release announcing her intention to run, this time as an independent candidate.
Schwartz switched her registration from Republican to “No Party” in December, and a local party official revealed she declined a standard-bearer invitation earlier this year. She has contemplated running since at least April, when a campaign website was registered, but asserted she made a final decision only two weeks ago. She told almost no one in advance.
Not content enjoying retirement after failing in 2008 to win re-election to an At-Large Council seat she first won in 1985 resulting from a primary loss and a failed general election write-in campaign, Schwartz begrudgingly acknowledged she would likely be referred to as a “perennial mayoral candidate.”
She’s also a delightful person, in the glad-handing way common to many elected officials. You get the sense she genuinely enjoys the game, perhaps now suddenly “jonesing” for its opiate effects. She has always been the kind of person who could, and would, light up a room in raucous laughter with a finely honed innocent bawdiness.
Popular in the gay community for her straight-talking, full-throated brashness and frequently oversized accessories, she was beloved partly for being the closest thing to a drag queen on the dais – in the most positive possible portrayal of both. Until her confounding reluctance to break from a controversial go-slow stance on same-sex marriage through most of her final term diminished support, the woman known city-wide as “Carol” had long garnered the lion’s share of the gay vote.
Given the lackadaisical nature of past campaigns and tepid public enthusiasm for this one, collecting the 3,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot is not assured. The disorganized nature of her lackluster launch appeared as if hastily concocted over a bottomless brunch during Pride festivities last weekend.
If successful, Schwartz will compete against Democratic nominee and Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser and former Republican now independent At-Large Council member David Catania, and three minor party candidates.
Because Schwartz’s prospects hover well south of nil, speculation regarding motive and potential effect quickly ensued. In the first misstep of an otherwise disciplined effort, the Catania campaign attributed the development to Bowser “panic” over his success in generating broad-based support and charged that “Bowser has convinced her confidante Carol Schwartz to enter the race in a transparent attempt to help her campaign” by diluting support for the underdog challenger. A “political trick” characterization was an unfounded overreaction.
What is more likely is that Schwartz herself hopes to prevent Catania from winning. An infamously bitter mutual-dislike-cum-feud was bred over legislation and in payback for Catania’s endorsement of the primary challenger ending her Council career.
A gadfly Schwartz campaign, however, might impact Bowser as well. Not only could her entry spark a mud-wrestling dynamic in a campaign not yet of much voter interest, the deer-in-headlights uncertain cautiousness of Bowser may not contrast well alongside seasoned debaters.
Schwartz, admirably more steadfast to commonsense approaches, fiscal restraint, tax reform, and engendering a more positive business environment, might loosen Catania from his middling strategic path-to-victory pose.
Although Schwartz’s startling decision is ill advised for preserving her legacy, voters might just benefit from it.