GOP nominee fights doggedly to deny Barry victory

October 21, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- She's white and a Republican running for mayor in a city that is mostly black, overwhelmingly Democratic and seemingly poised to complete the resurrection of former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.

Despite the long odds, Carol Schwartz, 50, is taking the fight to the Democratic mayoral nominee. In a debate at the National Press Club yesterday, the former city councilwoman attacked Mr. Barry, 58, for his past drug addiction and what she described as a record of mismanagement compiled during his three terms as mayor.

"I have known Marion Barry for 25 years," Ms. Schwartz said. "If he has turned his life around, I am there to support and commend him. But it is his proven record of broken promises and gross mismanagement that we cannot afford again. Not again.

"My opponent up until now successfully smooth-talked many into a perverse loss of memory," Ms. Schwartz said. "We could forget about his drug problem if it were only a personal problem . . . but his addiction unfortunately compromised his ability to fight the drug dealing that was killing our youth."

Ms. Schwartz's free-swinging attack came after her candidacy received a strong endorsement this week from the Washington Post, which said in its editorial that it regretted its 1986 general election support of Mr. Barry. In that election, Mr. Barry trounced Ms. Schwartz by a margin of almost 2-to-1.

Ms. Schwartz hopes that the Post's endorsement, coupled with her willingness to do battle with Mr. Barry, will help her muster the political strength to prevent what many observers here believe is a foregone conclusion: that the once-scandalous Mr. Barry will be elected to his fourth term as mayor Nov. 8.

"Don't count me out," Ms. Schwartz said.

Given the dimensions of Mr. Barry's political comeback, there appears to be little reason to doubt the conventional wisdom. In 1992, following his release from prison after serving a six-month sentence for a misdemeanor drug conviction, he won a seat on the City Council.

He then scored a smashing victory in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. In that race, Mr. Barry easily outdistanced his opponents, Councilman John Ray and Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. His surprisingly strong showing prompted the popular Councilman Bill Lightfoot to abandon his independent mayoral candidacy, leaving Ms. Schwartz as Mr. Barry's only major opponent.

Mr. Barry also is beginning to receive support from a range of Democrats. Outgoing Mayor Kelly has endorsed him, as have California Reps. Ronald V. Dellums and Julian C. Dixon, chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the District of Columbia's finances.

In addition, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by more than 10-1.

"I think [Ms. Schwartz's] chances are like a snowball's in hell, if you'll excuse my language," said Howard Croft, chairman of the Urban Affairs Department at the University of the District of Columbia. "She is hoping to put together a coalition of Republicans, independents, and the Democrats who voted against Barry in the primary. Well, that's mathematically possible, but it is not likely to happen."

Certainly, Mr. Barry does not appear much concerned about Ms. Schwartz's campaign strategy. Since his primary victory, he has traveled to several cities, including Baltimore, Memphis, Oakland and Los Angeles, to raise money, collect endorsements and accept kudos for overcoming the humiliation surrounding his 1990 drug-possession conviction.

Even as Ms. Schwartz leveled her attack during the debate, he managed a sheepish smile and a more-than-occasional look of confidence. When his opportunity came to speak, he stuck to his message: that his long political experience makes him the best person to be mayor of this troubled city.

"Washington needs the leadership of Marion Barry," he said. "It does not need a novice; we found out what happened in 1990 when the citizens of Washington took a chance on someone who was very sincere, very committed but didn't know how to balance the budget, didn't know how to get things moving . . . I believe that Mrs. Schwartz comes with the same lack of experience, the same lack of expertise."

But Ms. Schwartz, a Mississippi native who attended college in Texas before moving here in 1965, says Mr. Barry's experience is exactly the problem. She pointed out that the city's murder rate rose, that middle-class flight increased and that 12 top government officials were indicted during Mr. Barry's years as mayor.

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