For D.C. Attorney General Contender With GDS Ties, Priority Is Curbing Crime

Signs promoting different candidates in the attorney general race. Photo by Reid Alexander.

Brian Schwalb, a parent of two GDS alumni, is running for D.C. attorney general. Schwalb’s daughters graduated from GDS in 2015 and 2020, respectively. Kenyan McDuffie, a member of the Board of Trustees and fellow GDS parent, also ran before he was disqualified by the D.C. Board of Elections.

Schwalb has been endorsed by current attorney general Karl Racine, who has announced he will not run for re-election. The two worked at Venable LLP, a large law firm headquartered in D.C. Racine served two terms as the District’s first elected attorney general. Previously, the attorney general was appointed by the mayor.

Schwalb told the Bit that when he heard Racine was no longer seeking re-election, he realized running for attorney general and “serving a city I love was an opportunity I needed to lean into.”

Schwalb said his priority as attorney general would be “addressing the fact that too many people in the city don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods.” He cited in particular an uptick in gun violence. According to statistics published by the Metropolitan Police Department, the number of homicides in 2021 was the highest it has been in 17 years.

One D.C. resident, April, spoke to the Bit about her concerns about the increase in violent crime. April, a lawyer, requested that the Bit not use her last name to avoid current and future clients associating her practice with opinions on the race. While April opposes the “over-prosecution” of minor offenses, she thinks the next attorney general’s priorities should lie in addressing crime. April said an ideal candidate would handle criminal justice “both fairly and while taking crime seriously.”

Once the District addresses the uptick in violent crime, Schwalb added that he wants to focus on “trying to narrow the gaps between those who share in the abundant resources” that D.C. has to offer and those “who are systematically kept out,” referring to low-income residents.

Schwalb thinks the attorney general’s prosecutorial power can be used to “make lives more equal,” and he emphasized the importance of a data-driven approach to crime that would use statistics to gauge the efficacy of violence interruption programs, restorative justice and future initiatives.

Running alongside Schwalb are Ryan Jones and Bruce Spiva. McDuffie’s disqualification came after a challenge by Spiva that claimed McDuffie did not adhere to D.C.’s requirements, which state the attorney general must be “actively engaged” in law as a lawyer, judge or professor.

April said she is less inclined to vote for Spiva because of his challenge, which she thinks “was based on an unfair reading of the qualifications.” Ward 3 resident Jacob Karabell, however, said he thinks it was “fair” for Spiva to raise the challenge.

In addition to working at Venable, Schwalb serves on the advisory board of Conscious Capitalism, a nonprofit organization that advises businesses on creating social missions that better serve their employees and communities. Schwalb previously worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, and he said his experience allows him a “fresh set of eyes.” He added that “the voters deserve to know that the next AG is independent and beholden to no one.”

Karabell said he wants an attorney general “who has substantial experience as a lawyer” and is capable of managing a large staff. While Karabell thinks Jones “seems like a really smart, interesting guy,” Jones is younger than Schwalb and Spiva, and Karabell wants someone with more managerial and legal experience. He thinks Schwalb and Spiva would “both do a very good job.”

D.C. resident Abigail Carter said she would vote for whichever candidate has “a good reputation as a smart and capable lawyer,” management skills and “a clear agenda.” However, Carter does not currently think any of the candidates running has articulated a specific agenda, and, at the time of the interview, she had not yet decided who to vote for.

Karabell and April agreed that the candidates’ proposed policies seem similar, and they are unsure exactly what the candidates would do when elected. Karabell and Carter said that the unspecificity of candidates’ agendas might be due to the nature of the race, as it is harder to evaluate lawyers from private firms than politicians, and the attorney general’s office focuses less on policy than prosecution.

The primary election will take place on June 21, and Schwalb urged GDS juniors and seniors who can vote in the attorney general election to take their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and get involved, as it is “never too early.”

“We think a lot about national politics in D.C.,” Schwalb said. “But there’s a lot of really important work that gets done at the local level.”