Suzanne Pollak | Special to WJW
Three men are vying for the title of D.C. attorney general in this month’s primary election. It is a job with less power than a state attorney general, because the federal government is responsible for handling most adult crimes.
Still, the AG enforces D.C. laws, prosecutes juvenile cases, represents the public interest and advises city agencies.
Attorneys Ryan Jones, Brian Schwalb and Bruce Spiva share views and goals. Each desires to bring racial equity to the District, reduce juvenile violence and imprisonments and push for statehood. They all support laws protecting a woman’s right to an abortion, noting that a Republican Congress would have the power to strip that away.
They also agree that the next attorney general must have a better working relationship with the mayor, whether Muriel Bowser is reelected or a new person wins that job.
During a 90-minute debate sponsored by the DC Bar, the three candidates called for an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than jail for juveniles that would include mental-health and substance-abuse counseling.
“We are talking about kids. We are talking mostly about adolescents whose brains are developing, who are individuating from their parents,” said Schwalb, who is endorsed by current AG Karl Racine and predecessor Irv Nathan.
Jones said his “lived experience as a native Washingtonian” who grew up with some who have gone through the prison system will help him advocate
Spiva noted that being the father of two young Black men and his background tutoring young people give him the experience to take on this role. Schwalb said he would be proactive, reaching out to truants and helping with food and housing insecurity in an effort to reduce juvenile crime.
In a city whose population is 45.4 percent Black, according to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau, Jones and Spiva hope their race will help them gain voter support. Schwalb is white and a long-time member of Adas Israel Congregation in the District. He is a board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
Schwalb has 30 years of experience trying cases and is a partner-in-charge at Venable’s Washington, D.C., office. He was previously a trial attorney in the Department of Justice tax division.
He called his Judaism “a firm motivator to do what we can in the days we have to repair world.”
Schwalb said, “There is a lot of brokenness in the city,” adding, “We’ve become a city that doesn’t share its resources and equities across the city. We have a widening divide between who benefits and who is left behind.”
If successful, Schwalb said he aims to change that.
Jones is a practicing attorney in D.C. and thinks his relative youth — he is 37 — is an asset that will enable him to bring “a new vision” to the office. He noted that the other two candidates graduated Harvard Law School together some 30 years ago.
“The District is in need of a course correction” and should enable the government to meet people where they are,” Jones said. “We need new vision. We need new people. We need new ideas,” he said, adding, “I am telling you I have passion and a moral compass to do it right.”
If elected, Jones vows to “work tirelessly” with the police to repair relationships and reduce car jackings. He supports expanding public advocacy and is a strong supporter of the Office of Attorney General’s Cure the Streets pilot public-safety program that is designed to reduce gun violence.
Spiva has clerked for a judge and has three decades of experience as an attorney advocating for the people of the District. He has worked for large law firms and his own firm.
“I am the only candidate arrested for fighting for D.C. statehood,” he noted.
Spiva said he would strive to rehabilitate young people until they are ready to return to the community. He would emphasize improving the child support function of the AG office, noting, “Dead broke is not the same as deadbeat.”
Also, he would aim to better coordinate programs with the mayor’s office.
If elected, he vowed to constantly think of ways “to make everyday Washingtonians’ lives better.”
If elected, Schwalb said he would strive to bring in and retain talented lawyers and spend time listening to residents. “Part of the role of any leader is to listen,” especially to those working on the ground, he explained.
The primary election is June 21. Early voting runs from June 10 to 19 from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.