Incumbent Attorney General Karl Racine (D) announced last fall that he will not seek reelection, leaving the field open for the three candidates who seek the Democratic nomination in the June 21 primary election. Former front-running candidate Kenyan McDuffie (Ward-5 D) suspended his campaign May 2, after the DC Board of Elections and Court of Appeals ruled that he did not meet the statutory requirements for the position.
The platforms of the three remaining Democratic candidates —Brian Schwalb, Bruce Spiva and Ryan Jones— share many of the same priorities for the District. But their backgrounds provide a unique perspective on many of the issues facing Washingtonians today including public safety, the criminal justice system, environmental issues and DC statehood.
Meet Brian Schwalb
Brian Schwalb (brian4dc.com) is a third-generation Washingtonian and trial lawyer. After graduating from Harvard Law School and completing a clerkship, Schwalb returned to the District to join the Justice Department under the Clinton administration. Schwalb has worked in private practice for 30 years and has also served as the vice chairman and Partner-in-Charge of the District office of law firm Venable LLP.
Schwalb said his vast experience in leadership and in representing a variety of legal cases sets him apart. He said while he did not have a long-standing dream of running for public office, he is excited about the opportunity to bring his expertise to address the inequities addressing his hometown.
“I think it is a city with big challenges, but also really big opportunities in the future,” Schwalb said of the opportunity to serve. “I looked at what I thought was the biggest challenge for everybody who loves Washington, a city that has abundant resources and amazing talent, and it’s that we don’t share the opportunities and the equity equally across our city. I feel the law is the most powerful tool we have to address inequity.”
Meet Bruce Spiva
Bruce Spiva (spivaforag.com) has lived in the District for over 30 years and founded and ran a public interest law firm.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Spiva dedicated his career to practice in the areas of civil rights, consumer protection and antitrust enforcement. Spiva has tried cases and argued appeals in courtrooms in the District and all across the country, including in the Supreme Court.
Spiva has also served as an advocate for Washingtonians outside of his legal work. He has been a long-time supporter of DC statehood, civil rights, housing and consumer rights. Spiva believes that his advocacy work, leadership and legal experience and love for the District make him uniquely qualified to serve as DC’s next attorney general.
“I came here for work and really loved the city,” Spiva said of Washington. “I really love the diversity of the city, and I want to continue to work to make it better, particularly for those who haven’t enjoyed the benefits of the prosperity of the city as a whole.”
Meet Ryan Jones
Ryan Jones (ryanjonesforag.com) is a lifelong Washingtonian who grew up in Ward 4. He is a practicing attorney who has appeared in civil, criminal, family, landlord-tenant and probate court in addition to the DC Court of Appeals and the District Court for the District of Columbia.
Jones attended Southern Illinois School of Law and The George Washington University Law School for his LL.M. He founded his law firm here in the District in 2014. That practice has helped both plaintiffs and defendants, in cases including seniors, fraudulent transactions, discrimination cases, employment matters and intellectual property cases.
After seeing how Washingtonians have been victimized and exploited, he said his goal is to protect DC residents with the law. Jones said he is running to give back to the city that has given him so much and wants to use the law to uplift people in the District.
“When 2020 hit, I wanted to use my tested skill set in order to help more people and so that’s what pushed me to run,” Jones said, referencing the onset of the pandemic. “I felt (and) I believe that we’re in crucial and critical times that need new innovative thoughts to overcome the hardships that we’re currently in to create or implement new solutions to cure age old problems.”
Promoting equity and opportunity in the District is a top priority for all three candidates.
Schwalb said that equity is at the forefront of his platform and that ensuring equity and the availability of resources to the District’s residents, regardless of the Ward they live in, is a top priority.
“I thought about a city I love, what I’m good at and taking the law to address what I think is the biggest long-term threat for anybody who loves Washington, which is how do we address a widening gap between people who are enjoying certain opportunities and prosperity and others who are being left out,” Schwalb said.
Jones emphasized that creating equity in the law can range from education reform to child support enforcement.
“There’s an inequitable allocation of resources and opportunity and I think we start attacking that with the law, how we write the law, what’s available for people, how we’re designing our city, how we focus our resources on our residents, that’s our greatest challenge,” Jones said. “When people start trying to isolate certain issues it overlooks the greater underlying cause, and that’s the change that I bring. I’m focusing on root causes.”
Spiva said a core component of his campaign is to help the people who have been left behind. If elected, he said he wants to bring his legal experience into helping set a level playing field for all.
“I want to use the experiences that I have had over the last 30 years to try to advance the public interest mission of the office and to help people in the city, particularly people who have been left out, left behind and lower income folks,” Spiva said.
Public Safety and Juvenile Justice
The District’s uptick in crime, specifically juvenile crime, has raised questions about best approaches for mitigating violence in the District. While all candidates agree that public safety is a top priority in the District, each candidate has a unique strategy and perspective on how to best address this issue.
Schwalb has a six-point plan to address violence in the city by addressing current crime and also community mitigation and programming. He emphasized the importance of creating safe communities and preventing violence before it happens through violence interruption and other mitigation strategies.
“If people don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods, we can’t get to the other really important hard work that government has to do in terms of bridging equity gaps, making sure that people have economic opportunities to build equity in their homes and in their businesses and get ahead in education and other things,” Schwalb said.
Juvenile justice, something the attorney general is responsible for overseeing, is a crucial component of the job. Schwalb said he will “never give up on kids” but plans to hold them accountable for their actions in addition to addressing the root causes of crime through community programs.
“We always have to remember that kids are kids,” Schwalb said. “Their brains are developing, and therefore even when we’re holding kids accountable for making mistakes, we also have to provide resources, and make sure that we’re thinking about how we help kids rehabilitate, get on paths of hopefulness, prosperity, feeling good about what they’re doing, because we all know that kids who are hopeful and who see a future for themselves are less dangerous to themselves.”
Spiva said that addressing all of the issues, including public safety and the prosecution of juvenile offenders, will require a comprehensive approach rather than a specific focus on one component of the problem.
“All of these challenges really require an approach that uses all of our resources and involves us coordinating and cooperating amongst ourselves because no one agency or no one part of the government has the ability under its roof to solve these problems. It’s going to take a team effort, because these are complicated challenges that we face.”
Spiva said that he sees “great promise” in violence interruption programs and that he plans to expand these programs. He said addressing the root causes of this violence is the “right thing to do for kids and the right thing to do for public safety.”
Jones also advocated for a comprehensive approach to crime, but specifically advocated for increased hiring of local police officers and visible presence to deter violence before it happens.
“I think we need to be hiring local residents to be police officers so that they can stay in the city and take their police cruisers home and provide deterrence to some of the criminal elements that are occurring in our city right now,” Jones said. “We need to talk about doing a gun buyback program so that we can get guns off of our streets, and if we can collaborate more seamlessly with the Mayor’s office and have Cure the Streets work with prosecutors and police, then we’ll really get better.”
Jones said he plans to use both specific and general deterrence practices to hold youth offenders accountable while also working to give kids a second chance to “get better on the other side” of a poor decision.
Sarah Payne is a general assignment reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.