SCHWARTZ, Allyson Y.

Image Courtesy of the Member
SCHWARTZ, Allyson Y.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1948–

Biography

A former colleague from the Pennsylvania assembly once observed that Allyson Schwartz possessed an executive rather than a legislative focus—that she was more comfortable doing rather than expressing. Her emphasis on getting things done, and willingness to strike an independent course from her party to get results, carried over into her decade-long career in the U.S. House. “For me, it is only important to—where I can—work with my Republican colleagues,” Schwartz told a reporter in 2005. “That’s what the legislative process is all about.”1

Allyson Young was born in Queens, New York, on October 3, 1948, the second of four children and the oldest daughter. Her father, Everett Young, was a dentist in Flushing, New York, and later Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Renee Perl, was a Jew from Vienna, Austria, who was sent by her family to Holland in 1938 after Nazi Germany had annexed Austria. Two years later, at age 16, Perl settled with a Jewish family in Philadelphia—about the time Perl’s mother committed suicide in Austria.2

Allyson graduated from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1970 and went on to earn a Master’s in Social Work (M.S.W.) from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1972. She married David Schwartz, a cardiologist, and they had two children, Daniel and Jordan.3 Shortly after Schwartz started her career, her mother Renee took her own life. Schwartz was 26 at the time. “My mother was very clear that painful experiences in childhood don’t necessarily make you stronger,” Schwartz would later recall, “which is maybe where my interest in children and family comes from.”4

Shortly after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, in 1974, decriminalizing abortion, Schwartz and others established the Elizabeth Blackwell Center, a women’s health center providing a full range of services that included cancer screening, birth control, and abortions. Schwartz served as its executive director.5 In 1983 Schwartz drafted health care position papers for mayoral candidate Wilson Goode which led to her appointment as deputy commissioner of Philadelphia’s human service department in 1988.6

Schwartz successfully challenged a 12-year Pennsylvania state senator representing northern Philadelphia in 1990. In the state senate she continued to concentrate on public health issues, sponsoring a children’s health insurance program, “one of my proudest accomplishments.”7 As one of the few women senators in Harrisburg, she also learned to play “hard ball” politics. When ignored by senate Democratic leaders, she consistently bucked caucus decisions, disrupting their legislative strategy. She gained both a record of accomplishments and a reputation for being independent among her legislative colleagues.8 In 2000 she decided to challenge Republican Senator Rick Santorum and entered the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. But she came in behind Ron Klink, 41 percent to 27 percent.9

Representative Joe Hoeffel decided to challenge Republican Senator Arlen Specter in 2004, he vacated his northern Philadelphia U.S. House seat. The National Constitution Center’s director, Joe Torsella, announced his candidacy. Schwartz announced for the seat with the endorsement of abortion rights groups and financial support from EMILY’s List. Torsella, a former aide to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell had the backing of the state Democratic organization. In a hard-fought primary, Schwartz edged out Torsella, 52 percent to 48 percent.10

In the general election, Schwartz faced Republican Melissa Brown, an ophthalmologist who had run against Hoeffel in 2002. While health care policy became the central issue of the campaign given both of the candidates’ backgrounds, the race also took, at times, a lower tone. “The two opponents proved,” observedthe Philadelphia Inquirer, “that women can sling mud as capably as any men.”11 It also became one of the more expensive House campaigns in the country. Schwartz, alone, raised $3.7 million.12 Schwartz was elected handily, winning 56 to 41 percent.13

The first time Schwartz spoke on the House Floor was on January 25, 2005, while the House commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Holocaust survivors from the Auschwitz death camp. She related how her mother came to the United States from Vienna soon after Nazi Germany had annexed Austria. “For me, it was a chance to acknowledge,” she would recall, “to speak from my heart in a way—the role that Jews have played in being willing to talk about a difficult period in our past.”14

Schwartz was assigned to the Budget Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. She would serve on Budget for her entire time in Congress. Schwartz would be on Transportation and Infrastructure only during her first term. She had two subcommittee assignments: Highways, Transit, and Pipelines, and Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.15

The first bill Schwartz sponsored, H.R. 1352, would encourage the hiring of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan by providing work opportunity credits to employers—a bill she would list as among her proudest accomplishments a decade later.16 The bill honored her father’s service during the Korean War when he served overseas for several years, away from his family.17 Her approach to lawmaking would remain focused on its eventual impact: “What we do or don’t do makes a big difference in the lives of my constituents.”18

Schwartz emphasized getting things done. An old senate colleague of hers, Tom Murphy, later mayor of Pittsburgh, observed, “there are two types of people in politics; one has a legislative mentality and one has an executive mentality. So you want to be sure you are in the right box. I think Allyson is a doer, and she is an executive.”19 This pragmatic approach meant bipartisanship.20

It also meant working against the loner reputation she had gained in the state senate. She made it a point to get acquainted with long-time Appropriations Committee Member John Murtha, representing a western Pennsylvania district. Murtha was not only a senior leader of the state delegation; he was also an important ally of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.21

When Schwartz ran for reelection in 2006 she faced Republican challenger Raj Peter Bhakta, a political novice. Bhakta had been on the television reality program “The Apprentice” in 2004. A weak candidate, the revelation of two drunk-driving arrests allowed Schwartz to amass a large majority easily, winning 66 percent to Bhakta’s 34 percent.22

Her 2004 reelection set the pattern for her three subsequent reelection races. The Republican challengers tended to be political novices—an attorney in 2008, a businessman in 2010, and an airlines pilot in 2012; Schwartz consistently raised millions of dollars more than her competitors; and her electoral victories were always impressive—63 to 34 percent in 2008, 56 to 44 percent in 2010, and 69 to 31 percent in 2012.23 Schwartz retained her popularity in the northern Philadelphia district that also overlapped into Montgomery County throughout her House career.

Beginning with her second term, the signs were clear that Schwartz’s star was on the rise. Continuing to serve on the Budget Committee, she took the opportunity to leave Transportation and Infrastructure for a new assignment on the Ways and Means Committee. When the announcement was made in December 2006, her new committee assignment was covered by the local press.24 Schwartz served on two subcommittees: Revenue Measures (a select subcommittee) and Social Security.25 Former Pelosi chief of staff John Lawrence noted that Schwartz had shown herself capable in “areas that are very complicated and high-risk” such as the budget and health care.26 A close observer of Pennsylvania politics, David Cohen, admitted that Schwartz “has played the game better in Washington.”27

Schwartz was ready for this new challenge. With her healthcare background, Schwartz occupied a key position from which to participate in the 2009 debates over President Barack Obama’s comprehensive health care reform proposal. Reports credited her with pushing to add two popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act: prohibiting the denial of health insurance due to a preexisting condition and allowing adult children to remain covered by their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.28 Schwartz also pushed for a pilot program for “Health Care Innovation Zones” that would facilitate patient care in specific geographic areas by coordinating activities among physicians, hospitals, and other providers (H.R. 3664).29

When the House Democrats returned to minority status after the 2010 elections their number of seats on Ways and Means was reduced, and Schwartz transferred to the Foreign Affairs Committee where she served on the Subcommittees on Middle East and South Asia and on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.30 The Democratic leadership, however, made up for the loss of her seat on Ways and Means by appointing Schwartz to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) as a recruiter of new talent. “It is our responsibility to increase our number, our clout, and the power of women in leadership,” she announced.31 Shortly after the 2012 elections Schwartz became the finance chair for the DCCC.32

But Schwartz was leaning towards a change. Sitting on a $3.1 million in campaign funds and with state opinion polls indicating that she was the most popular Democrat for governor, Schwartz announced her candidacy in early 2014.33 State law allowed her to run for both governor and her House seat simultaneously, but she announced “it wouldn’t be right” and committed fully to the gubernatorial run.34 Schwartz, however, came in a poor second in the state Democratic convention just before the primary election.35 Businessman Tom Wolf went on to win the Democratic primary with 489,000 votes (58 percent) to Schwartz’s 149,000 (18 percent).36

After she retired from the House in early 2015, Schwartz became a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, at the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative, and the Center for American Progress, co-chair of the Health and Housing Task Force at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and president and chief executive officer of the Better Medicare Alliance, a group concerned with the Medicare Advantage Program.37

Footnotes

1Joshua Runyan, “Rep. Schwartz Takes to Capitol Hill,” 3 February 2005, Jewish Exponent: n.p.

2Pennsylvania State Senate, http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/BiosHistory/MemBio.cfm?ID=5426&body=S (accessed 7 December 2016); Almanac of American Politics, 2006 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal, 2005): 1441, 1440; Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, D.C.: CQ-Roll Call, 2015): 846.

3Almanac of American Politics, 2014 (Washington, D.C.: Columbia Books & Information Services, 2013): 1439, 1441.

4Politics in America, 2014: 846.

5Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1439.

6Politics in America, 2014: 846; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1449.

7Politics in America, 2014: 846; Politics in America, 2006: 893; Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 1456.

8Robert Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?” 27 December 2013, Philadelphia Magazine, http://www.phillymag.com/articles/doesn’t-like-allyson-schwartz?/ (accessed 19 February 2015).

9Politics in America, 2014: 1441.

10Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441; Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 1456.

11Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441.

12Politics in America, 2006: 893; Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 1457.

13Election Statistics: 1920 to Present, http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.

14Congressional Record, 109th Cong., 1st sess. (25 January 2005): 730; Runyan, “Rep. Schwartz Takes to Capitol Hill”: n.p.

15Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 1456.

16Jonathan Tamari, “Allyson Schwartz Looks Back on Congressional Career,” 24 December 2014, Philly.com, http://articles.philly.com/2014-12-24/news/ (accessed 19 February 2015).

17Congressional Record, 113th Congress, 2nd session (10 December 2014): H8936.

18Runyan, “Rep. Schwartz Takes to Capitol Hill.”

19Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?”

20Runyan, “Rep. Schwartz Takes to Capitol Hill.”

21Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?”

22Election Statistics: 1920 to Present, http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/

23Ibid.

24Bryan Schwartzman, “Schwartz Gets Nod for Ways & Means Committee,” 14 December 2006, Jewish Exponent: n.p.

25Almanac of American Politics, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal, 2007): 1417.

26Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?”

27Ibid.

28Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441. Among the measures Schwartz introduced was a separate bill preventing insurance companies from refusing coverage of children due to a preexisting condition (H.R. 1619). Congressional Record, 111th Cong., 1st sess.: H3703).

29Congressional Record, 111th Cong., 1st sess.: H10069; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441.

30Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011): 1319.

31Tamari, “Allyson Schwartz Looks Back on Congressional Career.”

32Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441.

33Ibid; Politics in America, 2006: 845.

34Thomas Fitzgerald, “Schwartz to Set Up State Political Unit,” 2 March 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer: B1.

35James O’Toole, “Democrats Can’t Find a Favorite in Race for Governor,” 9 February 2014, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A13; Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?”

36Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1527.

37“Allyson Schwartz to Lead Medicare Advantage Coalition,” 21 April 2015, Better Medicare Alliance, http://bettermedicarealliance.org/press-releases/allyson-schwartz-lead-medicare-advantage-coalition (accessed 7 December 2016).

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Allyson Y. Schwartz" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Budget
  • House Committee - Foreign Affairs
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
  • House Committee - Ways and Means
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Related Media

Unique Background

The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz explains how her unique background in social services and health care made it difficult for others to classify her political qualifications.

The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz, U.S. Representative of Pennsylvania
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Gender and Fundraising

The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz shares her thoughts on the role gender plays in raising money for Congress.

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