Tenacious, undaunted and one who shoots from the hip have commonly been used by those who know best former Council member Carol Schwartz, now almost 74, to describe the sometimes sassy, Texas-born “fireball” who has made D.C. her home for over 50 years.
And as one with a “front-row seat” in the District’s political arena for the past five decades, including stints on the Board of Education, an ANC seat and multiple failed runs for mayor, Schwartz has seen it all – sometimes failing but never giving up or backing down from that which means the most to her.
Now, in her autobiography, “Quite a Life! From Defeat to Defeat . . . and Back,” the Jewish girl with unarguable “hutzpah” tells her story, recounts her victories and reexamines her defeats in a fascinating narrative. And when asked why she chose to share her memoirs now, she replied, “If not now, when?”
“I moved to D.C. from Texas 52 years ago and actually picked this city because of its sheer beauty and its racial and economic diversity. I never wanted to live in Bethesda like some of my friends. I wanted to be in the city and be a part of all that it had to offer,” said Schwartz who has overcome her share of adversity including a painful childhood, the sudden death of her husband and several difficult political campaigns in which she came out on the losing end.
But she hasn’t let disappointment or failure diminish her spirit. In fact, she says she wrote the book which chronicles her life in order to encourage others who, like her, have had to endure unforeseen and even unfair obstacles along the way.
“We all have dreams of a happy life but there are times when life is far from happy,” she said. “This is a book about falling down, failing, falling down again but always getting back up, wiping myself off and starting all over again. I wanted to help others find hope and encourage them to believe that even in the midst of hardship, we should never give up and never stop hoping for better days.”
“Some use the cards they’ve been dealt as an excuse for negative behavior, negative habits or becoming self-absorbed. From the days in my youth, I got involved in volunteer work. I worked to help others feel better about themselves. I refused to engage in pity parties. And what I learned, even when I was just a teenager, was that there were others who faced even greater challenges than me. I learned how to count and to be thankful for my blessings,” said Schwartz, a Republican, recently-turned Independent, who would become an intimate friend with Marion Barry – the same man to whom she lost in her 1994 bid for mayor – an election that remains one of the closest mayoral general elections in the District’s history in which she garnered 42 percent of the vote despite D.C.’s 11-to-1 Democrat to Republican odds.
“I grew up with so little self-confidence and so many fears but when I had a task that I wanted to achieve and in which I believed, something that was for the common good, I’d just forge ahead,” she said. “Like my drive to secure sick leave for District workers which was how my political career in D.C. came to an end. But I’m proud of that and would do it all over again.”
Schwartz says she always looked for ways to “move the needle” while serving in public office and never went “the easy route.”
During a recent book signing event, she met a young man who she helped 30 years ago when his brother died and who then sought her assistance.
“I was able to help him overcome governmental red tape and help him do what he needed. He recently sent me an email that shared how after reading my book, he had not been so enthralled in a family history since January 1977, when ‘Roots’ was released,” she said. “He even had both the letter I had sent him years ago and a copy of the check that I had sent to him from my own personal account to help him. That’s what I believe we’re supposed to do when we are elected to serve the public – to really serve them and to help them overcome find a way to go on. To show them someone really cares,” she said.
Schwartz says she still has a few things she hopes to accomplish before it’s all over, most notably securing a vote in Congress for the residents of the District.
“We pay federal taxes and we send men and women to the armed forces,” she said. “It’s not fair – no, it’s wrong, that we still do not have an equal voting voice in Congress. I can’t rest until we’ve been given our well-deserved right.”
As for the “Mayor for Life,” Schwartz remembers his final days and the emotional conversation the two of them shared while he was in resting in his hospital room.
“I’m told that I was the last person he spoke to before his life-threatening surgery,” she said. “He told me that I had been on his mind and that he had to call me. We loved each other and shared a deep friendship. I’m glad he had passed on before his son’s unexpected death. That would have been too much for him.”
“As for my book, I believe he’d be proud of me. But then he’d remind me that he wrote his autobiography first. And as I suppose I was always envious of his being mayor, I think now he’d be a bit envious of me too.”