To hear the business types tell it, their decades-long love affair with At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz didn’t make it much past the New Year. On Jan. 3, Schwartz gathered a group of city business leaders to discuss a bill she’d been pressing through her committee on workforce development and government operations—the Paid Sick and Safe Days Act of 2007. Sixty or so were expected to attend the gathering at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel downtown. About twice that number showed up.
They did not leave happy.
“We thought we were going to give them feedback on this bill,” says restaurant owner Bill Duggan. “We got there, and she said, ‘This is what we got, and we’re not going to get anything better.’”
The Chamber of Commerce crowd has helped lift Schwartz to at-large council victories four times, first in 1984. The gravelly voiced Republican loves to shout down the kind of nannyish, biz-unfriendly legislation that the council’s liberal faction cooks up now and again.
But pushing through the “Sick and Safe” bill in a contentious six-month slog? A measure that would force employers to hand out paid sick days for virtually all workers in the District? With an economic slowdown already underway? Well, it’s just so, so Phil Mendelson!
The biz backlash threatens to upset Schwartz’s formula for electoral victory, which goes something like this: First off, be a Republican. Thanks to the despicable partisan vagaries of the Home Rule charter, two of the council’s four at-large seats have to be filled by folks who aren’t Democrats—that’ll spare you a bruising primary battle. No. 2, assemble your coalition—the pro-business crowd, sure; plus libertarian types, the gay vote, and assorted good-government supporters. Then, rally the Ward 3 base and ride your name recognition and status as the most anomalous and second-most-enduring institution in District politics to four more years.
That there is a recipe skimpy on door-knocking and nonstop phone calls to campaign donors. For instance, in her 2000 and 2004 re-election campaigns, Schwartz didn’t start raising money in earnest until July. Thus far in this election cycle, she’s the only council incumbent yet to raise a dime. Schwartz blames her already loaded schedule: “Right now I’m a very busy person. I work very hard. When I announce, I will work very, very hard,” she says.
In other words, Schwartz is approaching this election year just like any other. Such a strategy was fine when she was running unopposed in Republican primaries and in thinly contested general elections. This is not one of those years.
A pair of motivated challengers—Adam Clampitt and Dee Hunter—have set their sights on Schwartz’s sinecure, and both are looking to sweep to victory much as Kwame Brown was able to vanquish longtime incumbent Harold Brazil four years ago: by declaring early and not letting up. Then, last week, lobbyist and former mayoral candidate Michael A. Brown told LL that he might jump in as an independent as soon as the end of the month.
Schwartz, to date, has all but ignored the legions massing against her, declining to comment about any potential challengers.
She’s got enough work cut out reconnecting with her natural allies. Lawyer Andrew J. Kline, counsel to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington and a go-to guy for nightlife entrepreneurs in town, says Schwartz was the last person the biz types expected to give them the my-way-or-the-highway treatment on Sick and Safe. “She’s always been a leader that’s recognized the contributions of the business community,” he says.
According to several people present at the Jan. 3 meeting, Schwartz and aides were ill-prepared, with a lot of we’ll-get-back-to-yous and I’ll-have-to-check-on-thats. One exec described the crowd as an “angry mob.”
Said another: “If Adam Clampitt and Dee Hunter had been standing outside, they would have found many supporters and many dollars.”
Asked about the meeting, Schwartz herself says it didn’t go very far toward brokering any compromise: “I thought I might have gotten hoisted on my own well-intentioned petard,” she says. The meeting “kind of brought them together to try and kill the bill.”
In the end, the Sick and Safe bill passed the council last week—an impressive display of legislative fortitude by Schwartz, albeit one marred by several last-minute pro-business changes that exempted health-care and restaurant workers and gave a one-year grace period before employees are eligible for mandatory leave. Those amendments were pushed through by Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans with the help of several colleagues.
That outcome was at odds with the scenario that Schwartz had used to scare the business lobby: During the Jan. 3 meeting, Duggan says, Schwartz’s “refrain was it could be a lot worse if Phil Mendelson got his way.”
Funny that Schwartz would mention the council’s liberal lion, because it now looks as if she’ll have to take a page out of the Mendo electoral playbook. That would be the page titled, “How to Win Big Citywide Without Biz Cash.”
Mendelson, after all, won a landslide victory in the 2006 Democratic at-large race over A. Scott Bolden, who had attracted big support and big bucks from the Chamber of Commerce and business supporters.
Schwartz protests any suggestion that she was unwilling to compromise on the bill; she points out that she’s personally made some 25 amendments to the bill since September. “I was laying awake thinking of the things that the business community hadn’t even thought of,” she says. In a conversation with LL, to cement her small-business bona fides, she touched on her youth as the daughter of a dry-goods-shop owner in Midland, Texas.
The problem, she says, is that her pro-biz changes were never good enough: “They kept upping the ante every time they got what they wanted.…Whatever concerns they raised other than ditching the bill, I incorporated them.”
LL’s certainly not counting out Schwartz at this early date. Let’s face it: Loading up on biz cash is no guarantee of electoral success lately—ask Bolden, Brazil, and Linda Cropp. Then again, it looks like the same-old, same-old might not carry Schwartz to victory this time. This is a candidate who hasn’t been in a sharply contested citywide race since her 1994 run against Marion Barry.
Duggan said what virtually every other business source LL spoke to whispered: “There are a lot of people who are very angry and want to find an alternative.…[Schwartz] has probably worn out her welcome.”
But who will go after Schwartz’s business dollars? Hunter has sent a mailing to local business owners asking for their support; Brown, in a conversation with LL last week, said he plans to make fiscal responsibility his main issue—i.e., he plans to run as the second coming of Jack Evans.
Schwartz says she’s proud of her work on the sick-leave bill—and all the times she’s gone to bat for business in the past. Opposing the smoking ban, for instance.
“There’s been a lot of issues I’ve been there for them on,” she says, “and if they decide they’re going to hold this one issue—this one human issue—against me, I don’t know what I can do about it.”
Yvette Goes on a Tear
At the March 4 legislative meeting, At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania introduced a measure that would allow the District’s registered independents to vote in partisan primaries. When he talked up the measure during the council breakfast meeting, he explained that the bill only allowed political parties the option of permitting independents to vote; it did not require it.
The city’s largest political party, however, doesn’t feel that there’s much to gain from letting those spineless uncommitted voters take part in their elections. Immediately, Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander let those feelings be known: “I can speak for the Democratic party. We’re not going to go for that.”
Two days later, at a D.C. Democratic State Committee meeting, Alexander ratcheted her rhetoric up a notch. According to sources present at the meeting, she rose and said, “Know what I think of this bill? This is what I think of this bill.”
She proceeded to hold up a copy of Catania’s bill and tear it in half.
Says Alexander of the dramatic moment, “It was nothing planned. It was in the heat of the moment. It’s just what I felt.”
LL confirmed with Alexander that the paper she tore up was an actual copy of Catania’s legislation. “Uh-oh, that’s not against the law, is it?” she asked.
When LL explained that the city Dems would still have a say in whether independents could vote in their primaries, Alexander stuck to her guns. “There are a lot of rules still up in the air with that,” she says. “We don’t need to make a decision about it when what we want is Democrats voting for Democrats.”
Catania says the Democrats’ decision to oppose the measure, thus shutting the door on other parties to decide for themselves, was “a bit mean-spirited.” As for Alexander’s stunt? “I guess it’s performance art come to politics,” he says. “It’s just bizarre, really.”
In the cordial confines of the John A. Wilson Building, it’s not too often a sitting councilmember sticks his neck out to support a colleague’s opponent.
So what’s with the Adam Clampitt sign outside the apartment building of Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells?
Wells and Clampitt have some history: Clampitt worked on Wells’ 2006 election campaign; Wells tried to return the favor by passing Clampitt’s name to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty for a spot on the little-known Armory Board before the nomination was quietly withdrawn (Loose Lips, “Military Justice,” 9/26/2007).
Asked about the sign, Wells could have easily pawned its presence off on another building occupant. But, he says, the sign was the doings of his wife, Barbara Wells—who’s old friends with the candidate’s mom, Susan Clampitt. And just because she put out the sign, he says, doesn’t necessarily mean she’s supporting him against Schwartz.
“I, of course, am neutral in the race,” Wells says. “Barbara, too, may be neutral, and she may have posted the sign as a courtesy.”
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