Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series profiling the leading candidates for D.C. mayor in next month’s election. Next week: David Catania.
D.C. mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz defies anyone to prove she doesn’t have the longest and strongest record of support for the LGBT community among the current candidates running for mayor.
Beginning in her high school days in Midland, Texas, when she befriended gay classmates, to her years on the D.C. school board in the 1970s through her 16 years on the City Council, Schwartz says she has worked as diligently to advance LGBT rights as she has in her role as a champion for all city residents.
“I don’t think anybody, regardless of their own sexual orientation, has a better record than I do in this community,” she told the Washington Blade in an interview last week.
Schwartz, 70, said in no uncertain terms that she was referring to D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate David Catania (I-At-Large), who’s gay, and Council member and mayoral contender Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) as among those whose records on LGBT issues hers surpasses.
“It was 40 years ago when I got elected to the board of education,” she said. “I immediately went about getting a rule change – a rule addition – to make discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers banned – any discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.”
Schwartz has strongly disputed claims by detractors that she entered the mayoral race this year in retaliation against Catania, who helped orchestrate her defeat in her 2008 re-election bid for the Council.
While saying she is better qualified to be mayor than Bowser, Schwartz leveled her strongest criticism against Catania in her interview with the Blade.
Among other things, she said Catania’s decision to leave the Republican Party in 2004 and denounce then President George W. Bush for his support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage came “five minutes” after Catania had raised large sums of money for Bush’s re-election campaign.
“I never raised money for George W. Bush,” she said in referring to her role as a longtime Republican. “And he came to me and asked for money” for the Bush campaign, Schwartz said in referring to Catania’s 2004 support for Bush before the blowup over the marriage issue.
“The only check I ever gave to a Republican president was when [Catania] was like browbeating me to do so,” she said.
Schwartz said she has raised Catania’s initial support for Bush in an effort to deflect criticism of her affiliation with the Republican Party prior to her decision to switch from Republican to independent earlier this year when she decided to run for mayor.
“If you’re going to mention it about me you need to mention it about him,” she said of her and Catania’s roots in the Republican Party.
Catania has said that although he switched from being a Republican to an independent after Bush announced his support for the anti-gay federal marriage amendment in 2004, he likely would have left the GOP anyway a short time later due to its continuing tilt to the right. Like Schwartz, Catania described himself as a progressive Republican.
“So I’m running to win the election,” Schwartz said. “I’m running to siphon off votes from both of them and also the other three who are in the race. I’m really in it to win.”
Washington Blade: Can you tell a little about your background, where you’re from and what brought you to D.C.?
Carol Schwartz: I grew up in Midland, Texas. It was an oil rich town because there was oil discovered in Midland. And Midland became very nouveau riche overnight – you know new rich people because of the oil business. Everybody said, ‘Oh, Midland, you must be in the oil business with huge resources.’
The answer is no. The closest we got to the oil business was that my mom and dad had a mom and pop work clothing store on the poor side of town across the tracks. And they sold steel toe boots and steel helmets and khakis and overalls to people that worked in the oil fields…
I came up here 48-and-a-half years ago – actually it was 49 years ago, right after I graduated from the University of Texas. I was engaged to be married. I had my ring on and I had a wedding planned for January. And I was going to go back in the beginning of September and was going to teach special education in a junior high school in Austin, Texas.
And I came here because a friend had a summer internship job . . . and she heard I had some free time so she said why don’t you come and visit. I spent three days – 72 hours exactly. My head never hit the pillow. I became enthralled with D.C. I just loved it. I loved the architecture and greenery. I thought it was so beautiful. And I loved the diversity. I thought it was really special. And it wasn’t just racial diversity. It was economic diversity and it was international. It was really, I thought, thrilling.
And all of a sudden I realized Texas wasn’t the place. And the guy I had been going with at that point – like four years – was not the one. I went back and told my job I would be leaving in midterm. I wanted to give them an opportunity to get someone in my place. And then I broke my engagement.
He—thank goodness, he called me today. He’s married to a wonderful woman. He’s one of my best friends. We have a beautiful relationship. It took a while to get there — a few years — but a beautiful relationship.
And I moved here with no job, no man, nothing. So I mean everybody used to say when you came to Washington – because in that era a woman coming alone – ‘Did you follow a man or a job?’ And I said actually neither – I left both back in Texas so none of the above. And so I really chose D.C. I didn’t follow my parents here. I didn’t follow a relationship here or a job here. I picked this town.
Blade: What year was that?
Schwartz: I actually got introduced here in ’65 and I moved here in January of ’66. So it’s 48-and-a-half years.
And your other question was tell me a little about your life…I started working in that store when I was 8 years old. And I had to be there. It wasn’t like, oh Carol, come when you can. It was like after school we expect you here and on Saturdays and even Sundays until the blue laws came in. So I’ve been a worker since I was 8.
And obviously I need to be a worker again. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m running. And it’s not just a worker. There are other jobs – the job I think I can do best for the city.
So a combination of there being very few Jewish families and a town that had very few minorities of any kind – and having experienced anti-Semitism, which I did.
I think a very defining part of my life was not just seeing the kind of intolerance that was out there, not only toward me. There was an African-American man who worked in our store and seeing as a very young girl what he had to take.
And that was the only other employee, actually — as well as my brother Johnny — my only sibling…I thought that Johnny, with his intellectual disabilities, that people should be nicer and kinder to him, not being mean and ridiculing. And that made me realize how cruel people can be and that I had to fight for the underdog. And so I learned how to do it as a very young girl. And I guess I’ve been doing it ever since.
You may have met Johnny or seen Johnny over the years. He died 10 years ago at 62. He had come to my swearing-ins and he took the mic. He was adorable. But he was an older brother. He was 18 months older. I really spent a good part of my childhood taking care of Johnny.
I also had two friends in school who were not openly gay. And you’ve got to realize that I graduated from high school in ’61. We were friends in school. But they never talked openly about their sexual orientation. It just wasn’t discussed . . . I danced with one and I was good friends with the other. But both of them sadly committed suicide after high school.
And I think knowing about them without really knowing about it and seeing them take their own lives made me especially also sensitive to people who did not feel they could be what they should and wanted to be. Anyway, what defined me were those kinds of experiences.
Blade: At this point in the mayoral race your two main opponents are saying they have a very strong record on LGBT rights. David Catania says that as a member of the LGBT community he’s sensitive to these issues and has been a champion on those issues. What would you say to LGBT voters who ask why should we vote for you?
Schwartz: I don’t think anybody, regardless of their own sexual orientation, has a better record than I do in the community. I mean starting when I got on the school board when I was 30 years old. This was 40 years ago when I got elected to the board of education. I immediately went about getting a rule change – a rule addition – to make discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers banned — any discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.
Blade: This was in the 1970s?
Schwartz: In the ‘70s. In the mid ‘70s on the board of education – it wasn’t even an issue that somebody brought to me. I at that point already had a lot of gay and lesbian friends and I just wanted to make sure that when I was looking through the rules that there was nothing about discrimination about anyone.
Blade: And then as a school board member did you run for the City Council?
Schwartz: No, I took a two-year break. I chose not to run after two terms and then I went off and I worked as a full-time consultant with the U.S. Department of Education…And then I went to be a press secretary to a member of Congress. So I got federal experience and Hill experience in those couple of years.
I did serve when I was on the board of education as vice chair of the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children, which I think was an amazing experience. I did that for five years. President Ford appointed me but President Carter kept me on. I was vice chair during all that period…
And then in ’84 I ran for the Council and so in ’85 I went on the Council – in January of ’85.
I want to finish your question about my record and about strong records. I said nobody has as comparable a record even the one who is so readily identified. I have done community service work for the community for years. I was on the board of the Whitman-Walker Clinic for 17 years. Jim Graham brought me on in 1989 and I went off in 2006. I don’t think I ever missed a meeting, and you know we met often. And I was elected. I think there was one year I was appointed. Every other year of those 17 years I was elected by the community to serve on the board. And I was also elected as vice president. I think at that point there had never been a straight person elected to a position of leadership…
So I was always at those meetings. I never left early. And there would be sometimes that I would be sitting there at midnight when I had to be at an 8 a.m. breakfast the next morning at the Council to have our legislative session. So it was the ultimate sacrifice. It paid nothing.
And I did fundraisers at my home for Whitman-Walker. All those years I personally gave a lot of money. I mean, you name the organization. I contribute today and I’m not even in public life. If it’s Lambda Legal, they get a check – at least one check, usually more every year. GLAA I usually give a little something to when they do their annual thing. There’s hardly any organization I haven’t – Brother Help Thyself – the one that Cornelius [Baker] used to head up – the national organization that had something to do with people living with AIDS.
Blade: The National Association of People with AIDS?
Schwartz: Yes – I always gave to them. And a year and a half ago I was the regional co-chair for PFLAG. They had their 30th anniversary celebration – and I did a big fundraiser in my house for PFLAG was well. So whether it is giving money or spending time as a volunteer for organizations that are valuable – I don’t know how much volunteer work either of those other two do – volunteer work that they do in the community with organizations that are near and dear and helping the community.
Even in Rehoboth – I live here. I have a house in Rehoboth – it’s been 20 years now. But I’m a member of CAMP Rehoboth [an LGBT organization and community center]. I’m a paying member of CAMP Rehoboth. I’m always an individual host of the Sundance and the Love benefit. They are the big functions for that organization and I send in my check and I’m a big supporter. I’m at their activities and I give them money.
So I will repeat – I don’t know if you will ask them [mayoral candidates David Catania and Muriel Bowser], but what have they done as a volunteer or financially for organizations that serve the community? If they have, I am not aware of them. And I will be glad to show you my tax returns with all of the checks I’ve written to the organizations of which we speak.
Blade: Are you referring to LGBT organizations?
Schwartz: Yes, yes. And I would challenge them to do the same. You know, he made pretty good money — $240,000 from MC Dean and a hundred and nearly thirty thousand from his Council work — so in my estimation that’s getting pretty close to $400,000 a year. I don’t make anything near that kind of money. My income is so far less than that, in fact, to a degree that my accountant says Carol you can’t keep giving like you used to give. You don’t have that kind of money. I said I’m going to give until I run out. But I would say with nearly $400,000 you should see lots of contributions.
Blade: He has said he doesn’t doubt that you are a committed supporter of the LGBT community. But he also said you are a Johnny-come-lately on marriage equality for gay people. He said you hesitated to support legalization of same-sex marriage in the District.
Schwartz: Listen — there was a lot of conflict within the community itself. You’ve got to go back a few years. We had the strongest domestic [partnership] law in the country. And I helped add to that. I always supported what was done and I helped that. And there was nervousness among lots of us who were supporters about putting that in jeopardy. But I did write in 2008 in this newspaper. I did write that I was there on the marriage question. Go back and look at it. And I am not opposed to it was the way it was written. And that was in 2008. It took Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton far more years than that. What was it 2013 that they both came around?
Blade: It was 2012 for the president.
Schwartz: OK – so please. I cannot be criticized on this. I cannot be criticized. And when the community as a whole was ready to say yes let’s go forward I was there. I had the same concerns that many others had. But when the community was there, I was ready to go forward. I did think the word marriage would prolong the issue. But thank God it didn’t. And I’m grateful that it didn’t.
Blade: You’re referring to the D.C. marriage equality law?
Schwartz: Yeah. Well I thought the word marriage might prolong it. I was at – long before all this happened. If I had been on the Council in 2009 I would have voted for it without a doubt. I would have voted for it in 2009…
I’ve always been trying to be protective in every way. I added more money to the Human Rights Commission…I don’t think there has been a high heel race whether I have been in office or not that I’m not there. You saw it in the article today. I was going to gay bars long before it was fashionable.
Blade: Are you referring to the Washington Post story on you?
Schwartz: Yeah. I mean I’ve always been out and about. And I didn’t like sneak around and do it. I would take the media with me. And remember in those years I was a Republican and they had some issues. And I didn’t care. I was out there. There was a big story in the Post in 1986 of me dancing with lesbians in gay bars. And people said to me do you want to do this before the campaign? And I said I go where I go and they can report what they report. My life is an open book.
Blade: That goes to the issue of the city’s electorate being so Democratic. You were a Republican –
Schwartz: And so was David – so was David. If you’re going to mention it about me you need to mention it about him.
Blade: But –
Schwartz: And then when he got in trouble after he raised a huge amount of money – tens of thousands of dollars – for the president. I never raised money for George W. Bush. I never did. And he came to me and asked for money – David Catania. The only check I ever gave to a Republican president was when he was like browbeating me to do so.
Blade: Would that have been the 2000 campaign?
Schwartz: No – I think it was in 2004….And after that [Bush] did the amendment, the marriage amendment between a man and a woman. And then David got mad and he started really criticizing the president. And he was going to be a delegate to the convention…
I think he wanted to be mayor for a lot of years. I think he realized that since I couldn’t get elected mayor as a Republican that it might be hard for him as well. And actually he even verbalized it to me before. And so the timing – he then, they withdrew his credentials because he was out bad-mouthing the president. And then I quit as a delegate in sympathy. Don’t you remember that? It was in the Washington Post. In sympathy for my colleague on the issue of marriage equality I quit as a delegate. I didn’t go to the convention. I had been an elected delegate and I in sympathy quit.
Blade: He said in his interview with the Blade that in addition to his disagreement with President Bush over the marriage issue he believed the Republican Party was drifting too far to the right and he would likely have left the party for those reasons.
Schwartz: All right. He told you that. I don’t know. But he’s also said he left over the marriage issue.
Blade: Yes, he said that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Schwartz: But I mean that was five minutes after he raised $5,000 at least – I think it was more. And then he said at the debate the other day that he got that money back. He said it at the debate. He was sitting right next to me. He said I just want you to know I got that money back from the president. Well that’s great, and I turned to him and I said what about my money, because that wasn’t all his money. That was money he raised for the president. And he announced that he got it back. Did he keep my money? What did he do with it? I didn’t get my money back.
Blade: Was that something both of you had in common – your concern over the direction the Republican Party was taking?
Schwartz: Yeah – and there was room for that. In the old Republican Party – in the former Republican Party there was room for being a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. And then there wasn’t any more. I kept it years longer because then there was only one Republican on the Council and I was able to do really good things, including for the community. Do you remember when [U.S. Rep.] Todd Tiahrt [R-Kan.] got the rider put on the [D.C.] budget that banned gay and lesbian adoptions [in D.C.]? Don’t you remember that? They couldn’t adopt children in the District of Columbia? That was a rider.
I went down with Carl Schmid and I got the appointment. We were able to get the appointment because I was a Republican and went down and I started talking about my friends, many of whom were adopting children and the loving families for these children that they wouldn’t have had. They were neglected children. And here they were now part of loving families. And how could we deny that opportunity both for the people who were adopting who wanted children as well as the children who needed tender loving care? And I started crying sitting there talking. Carl was sitting there. The congressman was sitting there and I was sitting here.
Blade: This was Congressman Tiahrt?
Schwartz: Yes. And the rider disappeared that afternoon. And I didn’t go out – see I don’t go out there and call a press conference and say, ‘Look what I did, look what I did.’ I just did it. I didn’t have to get all the credit for it. I just took care of what needed to be done. But my being a Republican all those years helped.
So I’ve been working and I could do those things that I did by being a Republican. It didn’t help me politically in an 11-to-one voter disparity [among D.C. registered voters]. But it sure helped the city in many ways, including this community.
And that’s where I think you have a little prejudice here. It’s going to be nice you think to have a member of the community as the mayor. But let me tell you – if you look at what he – when somebody was fired from Whitman-Walker Clinic – let go, not even fired, along with lots of people because – remember when they were having financial difficulties? It was after I left [the Whitman-Walker board]. I left in 2006. This was after that. And then when he called up and he threatened the head – the executive director, whatever they called it at that time – and said either you hire her back or I’m coming after the clinic. And don’t you remember that series of hearings where he just beat up on the clinic? Don’t you remember that? You should.
Blade: He said he was looking into issues that led to the clinic’s financial problems.
Schwartz: Oh, all of a sudden – all of a sudden, absolutely. Don’t kid yourself. I mean maybe kid yourself but you can’t kid me. And ask anybody from the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Ask anybody that was there at that time. Just ask them. Walk across the street and ask them. And you won’t do it. You will not do it. He went after a whole clinic. And thank God for that clinic. It was over one individual. Don’t you think the timing is a little weird?
Blade: We reported that at the time. We also reported that the changes made by the director who did the firing – Don Blanchard – resulted in major financial improvements that stabilized the clinic’s finances.
Schwartz: Yes, Donald [Blanchon] did that. And I was there when we were already talking about some of those. So it wasn’t him. He’s always – like Muriel said, trying to get credit for everything. Only he did this and only he did that. It’s not true. There were contributions made by him, valuable contributions.
Blade: One of the things David Catania’s supporters argue is that while some accuse him of being too abrasive, several city agencies were in such a mess back in the 1990s and early 2000s, including the AIDS office, that they were happy someone was going after these bureaucrats. Would you have done something similar in your role on the Council as a fiscal watchdog?
Schwartz: Look at what I did to the Department of Public Works all those years. They are in transportation. They all got better. But I wasn’t yelling. I wasn’t abrasive. You can be strong and tough and not demeaning. Unfortunately too many snarky people like meanness. And I don’t think meanness is necessary.
Blade: Are you saying your way would have been better?
Schwartz: Absolutely. We need to make friends. And there’s nobody that did a better job than I did of absolutely making a positive difference in agency after agency after agency. I got a letter from Dan Tangherlini [former director of the D.C. Department of Transportation]. He said they knew they could not come in to hearings not having tackled all the things I raised at the previous hearing, that his staff knew they had to whip themselves into shape and that how thankful he was. And then he said you were so tough but also fair.
Now I know there are some who love seeing people kicked on the ground and then when they’re on the ground you just keep kicking them. I don’t think that’s really appealing. And I don’t think any of us should find that appealing. You can actually get things done and make people make real change for the better without demeaning individuals along the way.
So I think I would be a far better mayor than anybody who’s running because I am strong, I am tough, I expect excellence. But I don’t kick anybody to the ground. I don’t push them to the ground and kick them while they’re on the ground.
Blade: His supporters will say you’re exaggerating, that he doesn’t kick people on the ground.
Schwartz: OK, fine. It’s not literal. It’s figurative.
Blade: A lot of people in the LGBT community remain concerned about anti-LGBT violence, including violence targeting transgender people. Have you said whether you plan to retain the chief of police, Cathy Lanier?
Schwartz: No I have not. I have not said I would or I wouldn’t. The only person I’ve spoken up on at all on any personnel matter has to do with [D.C. public schools chancellor] Kaya Henderson. I said I would retain her. She has asked for another year or so because of the things she’s started. And I don’t want to destabilize the school system that is starting to make some progress. And so that’s the only one I have weighed in on.
But hate crimes will be punished to the most severe degree possible. I find them abhorrent.
Blade: LGBT advocates have raised the issue of whether the city should fund their efforts to help conduct sensitivity training to police officers. So far these trainings are performed by volunteers who have to take off from work. They are asking now for some compensation for that.
Schwartz: I would certainly look into that. I want everyone to have the sensitivity training and I want people to provide it that know what they’re talking about. So if their problem is compensation I would certainly look seriously into it.
Look, my record is pretty stellar. And it wasn’t stellar because I was just being politically adept. It’s stellar because look what I did in my own time. Look what I did with my own resources. I think that distinguishes me. Now I happen to be straight. But you look at my friendships, my relationships, people who I travel with, people who I hang out with. My own daughter is married to a woman. So I don’t think you have a better friend. And I mean that literally – a better friend than me, nor do I think you will have a better mayor than I would be to the community.
Blade: There are some in the community who say the three leading mayoral candidates are all equally good on LGBT issues so people in the community should choose who to vote for based on other issues. What do you say to that?
Schwartz: Well gosh, who has the record? Who has the record that’s not just in a couple of areas but in every area – in every area? I mean the strongest whistleblower’s law in the country that the federal government replicated – that was me. And that was because I want our employees to be our eyes and ears. And they can’t cloak themselves in it if they’re about to be fired. I made provisions in it for us to make sure that if someone is being moved on that they can’t all of a sudden cloak themselves in the whistleblowers protection law. I created the Department of the Environment, the strongest tree bill in the nation to protect our tree canopy. I did away with the SUV’s, which became the vehicle of choice in the Williams administration. I banned those except in emergencies as gas guzzling things.
Blade: Do you mean for the city government?
Schwartz: Yeah, for city government. And then for those who have gas guzzlers they have to pay more to register their cars – fuel efficient they pay less. Curbside parking – how I moved it to the corner overnight so that people who live in densely populated areas can have more parking. Looking at domestic violence legislation I proposed in addition to all the things I’ve done for the community particularly – but all these things in every area of the government. I had a perpetual fund put in for pothole repairs – street, sidewalk and pothole repair. That money would be coming in. I did it with Dan Tangherlini. Money would be coming in and money would be going out and you wouldn’t have to wait around to get pothole money. It was always present. After I left the Council they did away with it. And look what’s happened. Look at the potholes that are out there. And I tried – I took care of that. And I left the Council and they did that.
I never did earmarks. I never took advantage. I’ve never done anything — you know on their campaign finance, they’re doing that loophole on the LLCs. Both of them are doing that, her more than him. But they passed a law saying with the public outcry about how a company, a corporation can divide itself into all these subsidiaries and then they each can give – it’s the same owner – can give $20,000 instead of the $2,000 maximum. And they passed a law saying it should be banned. But they made sure the law didn’t go into effect until January of 2015 when this election is over.
And so they could have said that was a good law we passed. I’m going to abide by that law even though it’s not required. I’m doing that. Leaders have to lead by example. And I’m doing that. And I’ve not had another job that could be really considered a conflict. MC Dean has street light contracts. They have all those streetcars. Look at the kind of money they are going to make in streetcars. David in his platform has called for the full expansion of the streetcars as originally proposed. He has said well I didn’t vote for those individual contracts of MC Dean. I would always recuse myself. But yet he voted for the budget. And the budget had that money for them in it.
And there’s nothing about me and my career that has ever – ever – done anything which is a conflict. So you need to be concerned about lots of issues. And you also have to have someone who gets along with people, who is able to work with everyone, who can actually disagree without being disagreeable or not speaking to people for huge periods of time. That’s not going to be helpful as we need to go out and make friends so we can get our full voting rights, have our full budget autonomy, have our full legislative autonomy. We need to make friends. And I have a long history of making lots of friends.
Blade: In terms of the campaign, you initially were accused of being a stalking horse for Muriel Bowser but then –
Schwartz: But that was ridiculous. That was him. He started that rumor the first day I got out. Go check it out. That’s what he said playing the victim.
Blade: But one poll recently shows you are –
Schwartz: Of course, I’m taking more votes from her than even him…So I’m running to win the election. I’m running to siphon off votes from both of them and also the other three who are in the race. I’m really in it to win it. And that means siphoning off votes from everybody who were in it before I came in it.