Attorney General Brian Schwalb’s Inaugural Address

Good morning and Happy New Year!

The new year is a time for reflection and recommitment. In the coming year, what are we going to commit to doing in order to lead our best lives?

Elections are also an opportunity for reflection and recommitment. In casting their votes, D.C. residents express what they expect their elected leaders to do to help them live their best lives.

I am humbled by the trust District residents have placed in me to represent them, to advocate for them, to use the law to make their lives better and safer.

I am a third-generation Washingtonian. My mother, Estelle, grew up here, as did her father — my grandfather — Sam. My wife Mickie Simon and I have been blessed to live, work, and raise three amazing daughters here.

In my unbiased view, there is no better place in the world to live than the Nation’s capital.

We enjoy an abundance of resources — environmental beauty, cultural treasure, financial stability. We grow, attract and retain extraordinary human talent. We are awash in critical resources that fuel growth, innovation and prosperity.

But we face persistent inequities.

Far too often, our abundant resources — and the opportunities that they create — are not shared equally. As a result, some but not all share fairly in D.C.’s prosperity. How do we close widening gaps in income, homeownership, business ownership and access to health care? How do we make sure that hard-working people who built our city — and who every day make it run — can afford to live here?

We also face violence and trauma.

Everyone deserves to feel safe in their neighborhoods — walking their dog, going to school, shopping for groceries. How do we protect our neighbors from gun violence and traffic violence, and ensure that parents see their children and their grandchildren grow up?

And, we face threats to our democratic values.

How do we preserve fundamental rights — rights to reproductive freedom; to love who we choose; to be free from racism, bigotry and hate; to vote and fully participate in our representative democracy?

As I reflect on how we find answers to these questions of equity, safety and democracy, I think about advice my father gave me.

Today — January 2nd — would have been my dad’s 87th birthday. When he left the Justice Department in 1965, many of the law firms in Washington wouldn’t consider hiring him because he was Jewish. I can only imagine how he’d feel seeing his son standing on this stage taking the oath of office as D.C.’s Attorney General.

Dad’s advice to me was simple: God gives us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you talk.

As your independently-elected Attorney General, I will listen to everyone. I will collaborate with anyone who is committed to what is best for the District. But I will be beholden to no one — no one other than the residents who have retained me to represent Washington’s best interests.

Strengthening the independence of the elected Attorney General is one way we fight for equity. It’s how we ensure our seniors, workers, tenants, consumers and the environment are protected from powerful forces that seek to profit by taking unfair advantage.

An independent Attorney General is also essential as we strive toward fuller representative democracy, expanded home rule, and statehood.

On this note, a message to Capitol Hill: regardless of party, I pledge to be a partner with you in good faith. We don’t have to agree on everything before we work together on anything.

But make no mistake: Washingtonians have put their trust in me to stand up for our rights, our autonomy and our values. I will not let them down.

District residents have repeatedly told me that, in addition to being an independent advocate for equity and democracy, they expect the Office of Attorney General to focus on accountability, especially in our collective obligation to improve public safety.

In D.C., the Office of Attorney General is responsible for prosecuting juvenile crime. Under my leadership, we will prosecute cases, fairly and with integrity, where we have the evidence to do so. But prosecution happens after the fact. To make our community safer, we must stop crime before it happens.

We know that access to stable housing, to healthy food, to mental health counseling, to structured and safe places during and out of school, are all critical in making sure young people grow up healthy and hopeful about their futures. Hopeful kids are safer kids — to themselves and those around them.

Locking up young people does not make us safer. We need to celebrate, elevate, and cultivate young people. Kids are biologically hard-wired to take risks and make mistakes. But too many young people in the District don’t have the privilege of learning from their mistakes without risking their liberty or their lives.

We do have to hold people who break the law accountable. And we will. But accountability is a two-way street. As government officials and community leaders, we also need to hold ourselves accountable. We are all accountable for investing wisely in the future of our kids. After all, our future is in their hands. My office will never give up on any child.

As the elected Attorney General, I am but a temporary steward of the office. I will strive, everyday, to leave the office better than I find it — and I find it in pretty darn good shape. We all should be proud of our Office of Attorney General. It is independent. It is effective. It is a law office full of the talent, smarts, diversity and grit that a place as talented and smart and diverse and gritty as Washington, D.C. deserves.

OAG has a legacy of excellence that I pledge to carry forward. Because I believe the law, in the hands of smart, hardworking, committed professionals, is the single greatest tool we have to make the District the place, indeed, the State, we all deserve it to be.

So with this New Year, let us commit to listening, to collaborating, and to holding ourselves accountable. If we do, we can realize the promise of this great city, and build a community where prosperity is shared, where democratic rights are secured, and where everyone, in every neighborhood, is safe.

Thank you.

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DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb

Dad, listener, 3rd gen Washingtonian. Committed to independence, safety, democracy, and shared prosperity in DC.