On Sept. 24, Carol Schwartz held a perfectly forgettable hearing to discuss the city’s compliance with a language access law. Bor-ring! Yet therein was contained the essence of what LL’s had to struggle with regarding his endorsement for this election’s most contested local race: the non-Democratic at-large seat.
The hearing had the looks of a disaster. It concerned non-English speakers’ access to government services, and while interpreters were present, Schwartz and staff did not think ahead of time to provide simultaneous translation via headsets—United Nations–style equipment the council has access to. So the room sat by as witnesses read a line or two before taking turns with interpreters who had to tediously translate the proceedings. Aware of the irony at hand, Schwartz pointed out to the audience that the council is “not one of the listed agencies” that has to comply with the law.
After an hour-and-a-half, the simultaneous translation apparatus was finally set up. Witnesses testified to the District’s continued incompetence in complying with a simple law. And when Gustavo Velasquez, the director of the city’s Office of Human Rights, sat for his testimony, Schwartz let him have it. Hard.
It was classic Carol, doing what she does best, hammering Velasquez for the city’s multiple failures on language access.
The initial clusterfuck of that hearing reflects the clusterfuck that’s been Schwartz’s re-election campaign. No re-election campaign existed, even as the business community made it clear they’d be out for blood and challengers Dee Hunter, Adam Clampitt, Michael A. Brown, and Patrick D. Mara massed at the gates. And since a campaign has materialized, it’s been uniformly hapless. Schwartz’s efforts to date include recycled signs from four years prior and a campaign slogan, “An Oldie and a Goodie,” destined for city electoral infamy.
Schwartz now has some more contemporary signs, which play up the defining trait of this fall’s campaign: That she is a write-in candidate. (She lost in the Republican primary to Mara.) With white text on a yellow background, though, it’s worth wondering who’ll get the message.
Less than a month ago, LL was prepared to write off Schwartz for how astoundingly she botched her re-election. After all, he thought, why shouldn’t this office go to someone who actually wants it?
And then she convinced LL she’s in it to win it. Schwartz, who always boasted about running her own campaigns, finally swallowed her pride and hired a pro—Tom Lindenfeld, the guy who won Adrian Fenty every precinct in the city in 2006. Then she showed up at a community forum held by the Logan Circle Community Association on Oct. 15 and gave a stunningly good speech—angry, funny, and to the point. Only a few dozen voters might have heard it, but it was enough to make a believer out of LL.
For more than a year now, folks have been saying that Carol’s time is up. That the issues have passed her by. That her votes against the mayoral school takeover, against the smoking ban, and for the baseball stadium made her politically untenable in this city. Indeed, on all three of those votes, Schwartz went against LL’s personal preferences.
But it’s not Schwartz’s vices that are being punished in this race, it’s her virtues.
Now LL is no anti-business zealot, and he has no philosophical problem with commercial interests flexing their political muscle. Yet the idea that these folks would take out Carol Schwartz—Carol Schwartz!—for a sick-leave bill that ended up severely diluted is an unforgivable act of cynicism. This is a politician who long carried the water for the business community on issue after issue, and continues to do so today.
Granted, the 64-year-old Schwartz is no triathlete-cum-change agent. In a world of door-knocking, BlackBerrying, always-on-call public officials, Schwartz’s boasts of hard work ring hollower than when her colleagues were the likes of Harold Brazil and Charlene Drew Jarvis. In most every other way, though, Schwartz is what we think our public officials should be: fierce, competent, serious, and independent. (And without all that business money in her campaign coffers, she’s only going to get more independent.)
Stronger competition might have lured LL away from Schwartz, but no one on the ballot is preferable to the candidate not on the ballot. Schwartz wins LL’s endorsement. Write her in.
But don’t make it a bullet vote. Voters next Tuesday can vote for two at-large candidates, and Democrat Kwame R. Brown, much more politically astute and a much harder worker than Schwartz, has also earned another term (with the caveats—mind the cronies!—described in LL’s primary endorsement column).
The next-best option is Mara, the young, well-scrubbed Republican who outhustled Schwartz in the primary.
Schwartz may despise Mara, but LL likes the guy a lot. He’s smart, personable, and accessible. He was also the only candidate to call LL and ask for his endorsement.
In his primary pick of Schwartz, LL cited Mara’s weak grasp of D.C. issues, based on an early interview he’d done with WTOP’s Mark Plotkin and Mark Segraves in which he couldn’t name the city’s fire chief, among other things. That criticism no longer holds: Mara’s done his homework of late, and in the half-dozen candidate forums LL’s attended in the past month, he hasn’t stumbled once.
Any reservations this time around are rooted in other concerns. He’s enjoyed the benefits of the business world’s anti-Carol vendetta, for one. And there’s his ideological bent. Now LL doesn’t mind that Mara is a Republican, loath as the candidate might be to admit it in public.
But there’s one unforgivable piece of right-wing orthodoxy that Mara’s indulged in. He’s signed the Americans for Tax Reform no-new-taxes pledge. Making that promise, pushed by bathtub-government-strangler Grover Norquist, is pretty damn irresponsible when the District is already looking at a $130 million revenue shortfall (and that was based on projections made before the historic market crash). And it’s that pledge, taken by legions of congressmen and state legislators in the past 20 years, that’s more than a little responsible for record federal budget deficits and astounding spending gaps in states across the country.
Still, Mara has proven himself a skilled and tireless campaigner. Tongues have been flapping in recent months that the other non-Democratic at-large councilmember, independent David A. Catania, will be giving up his seat in 2010. Catania says he’s yet to make a decision, but Mara would make a fine heir to Catania’s no-bullshit political legacy. If he stays engaged in local issues and backs off the inane tax pledge, he can expect an open mind from LL in two years.
LL also thinks highly of David Schwartzman, the not-so-well-scrubbed Statehood Greenie who has made himself a fixture at Wilson Building hearings.
His focus on eliminating child poverty as a solution to numerous social ills is admirable, but on tax policy he swings in the opposite direction of Mara, advocating untenable tax hikes on high-income Washingtonians. He’s got the best sense of humor of any candidate in the race and would make great copy for LL, but his policies are too high-concept for the tasks of a councilmember.
The rest of the ballot leaves LL cold. Mark Long is a smart fellow who’s run a not-very-smart campaign, having failed to distinguish himself from any other candidate. His thin record in local civic affairs (admittedly no thinner than Mara’s) doesn’t help.
Dee Hunter is engaging and his life story is compelling, having left home as a teenager to work himself through college and law school. But his past is otherwise badly clouded. Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Lee Satterfield (now chief judge) rebuked Hunter for “bad judgment” with regard to a January domestic-violence complaint, of which he was eventually cleared. More recently, the D.C. Bar Counsel has charged Hunter with illegally and unethically misappropriating three of his clients’ funds. Hunter denies the charges and says he expects to be cleared, but he also makes the unsavory excuse that dealing with such complaints are essentially a cost of doing business for a personal injury lawyer. LL demands higher than the ambulance-chaser standard from his public officials.
That leaves Michael A. Brown, who has essentially run the first three-plus-year political campaign in District history. He’s raised more than $700,000, adding up the funds he raised for his mayoral, Ward 4, and at-large runs, and he’s finally in a position to win.
Thanks to the cronified bankroll, Brown’s largely skipped the Fenty-and-Kwame–type door-knocking extravaganza in favor of reams of handbills and incessant robocalls. His recent pattern of showing up late or not at all to community forums due to conflicting fundraisers should be taken as some indication of his priorities.
Add to that his spotty history of business and political dealings. As LL detailed last week, Brown recently found himself on the wrong side of a jury ruling regarding a business deal at the Washington Convention Center. That comes in addition to unfavorable judgments regarding to money he owes to the Verizon Center and federal campaign-finance violations.
He also did not distinguish himself during his last stint in public service, as vice chair of the D.C. Boxing Commission. Brown was behind efforts to offer Mike Tyson a boxing license in the District after being convicted of rape, biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear, fomenting a press-conference melee with Lennox Lewis, and drawing two sets of additional rape accusations. The Brown-led effort came after authorities in Nevada, Texas, and Colorado had denied Tyson a boxing license. (California, Michigan, Georgia, England, Denmark, and the Netherlands would all eventually pass on a Tyson fight.)
In this campaign, Brown’s made himself out as an expert on municipal finance, saying that the District needs to restructure its debt, particularly on ballpark bonds. That’s the sort of financial mumbo-jumbo that sounds good in candidate forums, but means little elsewhere. Matters of bond financing are under the purview of the independent Chief Financial Officer—not the council—and the CFO’s office has repeatedly refinanced bond deals in recent years. LL’s not sure what magic Brown is planning to work there.
As for matters of general competence, LL last month gave Brown the same pop quiz that Plotkin and Segraves gave Mara:
Fire chief? “Rubin.” Got a first name? “Uh, no, just Chief Rubin. Every time I see him, I just call him ‘Chief.’” It’s Dennis Rubin. Half credit.
Sales tax? Says Brown, “Uh, 9.6, 9.7?” Answer: 5.75 percent for most goods.
Minimum wage? “$7.32 or something like that?” Answer: $7.55. Close, but no cigar.
How are D.C. Superior Court judges picked? “People recommend a particular judge and they go through the panel for an interview process and then recommendations are made to the chief judge [who] makes decisions....Then it passes through Congress and [Eleanor Holmes Norton] helps shepherd folks through.” Nope: The Judicial Nominating Commission indeed comes up with three names, but it’s the president who makes the ultimate selection, not the chief judge. There is Senate confirmation, but hearings are rarely held.
Again, that’s C-A-R-O-L S-C-H-W-A-R-T-Z. Bring your pencils on Tuesday.
In Other Races
• For shadow senator, LL picks Republican Nelson Rimensnyder. With 12-year-incumbent Democrat Paul Strauss tarred by a scathing D.C. Auditor report regarding his performance as chair of the city property-tax appeals board, longtime civic activist Rimensnyder is a worthy and honorable choice.
• In Ward 2, Jack Evans deserves your vote over Christina Culver, one of the D.C. GOP’s “new faces.” Culver is more than a pretty face, but not enough more to deserve Evans' seat.
• In Ward 8, take independent Yavocka Young over Marion Barry. LL was looking for a more spirited campaign out of Young; instead, the spirit’s come from fiery young challenger Darrell Gaston. Still, Young has the better grasp of how to bring the ward up to snuff.
• For the State Board of Education, each of the unopposed incumbents—at-large member Ted Trabue, Ward 2’s Mary Lord, Ward 3’s Laura McGiffert Slover, Ward 4’s Sekou Biddle, and Ward 6’s Lisa Raymond—strongly deserve to be returned to their offices of newly limited import. In Ward 8, incumbent William Lockridge also deserves re-election against undistinguished competition. His institutional knowledge trumps his demagoguery.
Elsewhere, where there are no incumbents, LL bases his decisions solely on how well the candidates understand what it is the board does. In Ward 1, Dotti Love Wade is the best of a strong field. In Ward 5, Mark Jones is the best of a weak field. And in Ward 7, LL is most impressed by Ralph Chittums Sr.
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