Carol Schwartz, former D.C. councilmember, boasts strong education record in mayoral run

Republican candidate for D.C. mayor Carol Schwartz

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former D.C. Councilmember Carol Schwartz said Wednesday that she has a stronger record on education than either of her opponents in the race for mayor, especially a fellow independent who has made improving the District of Columbia's public schools the centerpiece of his campaign.

Schwartz, 70, launched her mayoral campaign in June. It's the fifth time she has sought the office. The closest she came to winning was in 1994, when she received 42 percent of the vote against Marion Barry, who was coming off a prison sentence after he was videotaped smoking crack cocaine.

Her chief opponents are Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser, who defeated incumbent Vincent Gray in the April primary, and independent David Catania. Both are current councilmembers. Catania chairs the council's education committee and has pushed legislation aimed at reducing inequities and closing the achievement gap.

Schwartz, however, said in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors that she has a much longer track record of improving education. She pointed to her work as a special education teacher, member of the District's first elected school board and national education consultant.

"He's chaired the committee for a year and a half, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he asked for that committee, so he could ride it to the mayor's office. I have had a lifetime in education," Schwartz said. "I called for stronger evaluations of teachers and a longer school day and school year in the 1970s. I don't just talk about things for a year and a half."

More recently, Schwartz was one of just two councilmembers who voted against yielding control of the school system to the mayor in 2007. She said he doesn't regret that decision, and she believes there has been too much teacher turnover since. Hundreds of teachers have been fired under an evaluation system based partly on how their students fare on standardized tests.

Nevertheless, she has pledged to retain schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson if elected.

"I'm sure we can find an answer between all of us that will make for better retention but also test scores continuing to climb," she said.

Schwartz, a longtime Republican, has not held elective office since 2008, when she lost her D.C. Council seat in a primary after Catania, also a former Republican, backed her opponent. She insists she's not out for revenge. Catania's campaign has accused Schwartz of being a stalking horse for Bowser, a suggestion that Schwartz dismissed as offensive.

Schwartz changed her registration to independent late last year, saying she was no longer comfortable as a Republican because she believes the party has become too conservative. Seventy-six percent of District voters are Democrats, 17 percent are independents and just 6 percent are Republicans.

She's running her campaign out of her apartment and has no paid staff. She hasn't done much fundraising and relies instead on name recognition and the goodwill built up through decades of public service.

"All of those people all these years crossed over and voted for me as a Republican, which is repugnant to many of them. Now that I'm an independent, I think that makes me far more palatable to Democrats," she said.

No polls have been released publicly since Schwartz entered the race, but Ron Lester, a longtime Democratic pollster who worked for Gray in the primary, predicted that she'd get no more than 10 percent of the vote in November. He said the support she does receive would be siphoned away from Catania.

Just 27 percent of registered voters turned out for the Democratic primary, and Schwartz sees an opportunity there. She believes Bowser won largely because voters wanted to get rid of Gray, who was weakened by a scandal involving his 2010 campaign.

"They got out there with a wounded incumbent. I don't see that as so courageous," Schwartz said of her opponents. "There's certainly room for others to go to the polls on Nov. 4 and to choose one of the others of us who are running. I don't think the election is over."