Best Friend of the District Taxpayer

Carol Schwartz

In March, the D.C. Council made a big to-do over a lease contract for the city’s police evidence warehouse in Anacostia. At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr., in particular, tried to raise alarms about the deal—particularly terms that put the District on the hook for another 18 months at a higher rate if they didn’t vacate the property by May 1, 2009, even though the city’s building a new warehouse scheduled to be open around that time. Neither Mendelson nor Barry, however, could get their colleagues to ax the contract.

At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz ended up voting to approve the contract, but she wasn’t happy about it. So she decided to renegotiate it herself. “I didn’t talk to OPM or anybody,” she says. “I just had my office call for an appointment.”

The result? After meeting with the building’s landlord, the lease went from an 18-month term to month-to-month—and without a rate hike—potentially saving hundreds of thousands.

It’s a modus operandi familiar to Schwartz, who has gone beyond her pay grade—and possibly the scope of her duties under the Home Rule charter—to broker better deals for the District government before. She did it with a bus-shelter contract in 2005. And she helped derail a bad real-estate deal for a new police headquarters last year.

Schwartz was also the first legislator to notice, back in 2002, an outrageous contract with developer Douglas Jemal to lease an impoundment lot in Prince George’s County. That deal eventually blossomed into a scandal, embarrassing Mayor Anthony A. Williams. But Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham got most of the credit for that, not Schwartz.

Schwartz is facing her toughest re-election bid in years, and while there’s plenty of debate to be had about her recent policy positions—she went against the D.C. populace on issues like the smoking ban and the mayoral school takeover—there’s little doubt that the council veteran still knows how to spot a bad deal. “This is just the way I choose to operate,” Schwartz says. “It’s just an urge of mine that I cannot contain.”

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