Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Fairfax County Supervisor John Cook.
Maryland’s governor defends his turf. Democrats lose ground across the board in Virginia. And D.C. voters move to make city attorney general an elected position. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Rushern Baker County Executive-elect, Prince George's County (Md.); ormer member, Maryland House of Delegates (D-District 22B)
- Peter Nickles Attorney General, District of Columbia
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Politics Hour Extra
District of Columbia Attorney General Peter Nickles reflects on Mayor Adrian Fenty’s time in office and says that he hopes Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray is successful, but cautioned that “…if I see what I saw back in the nineties, I will probably be back suing the city:”
Nickles says having an elected Attorney General in the District of Columbia is a “crazy idea.” Nickles says the notion that he was a “handmaiden for the mayor” is ridiculous:
The Kojo Nnamdi Show (http://88-5.us/aWMWfK): County Executive-elect, Prince George’s County (Md.) Rushern Baker talks about lessons he took from D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s approach to education reform as he embarks on a similar agenda:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour" featuring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC4 and the columnist for the Current Newspapers, and he has really been feeling the love this week. Tom Sherwood, tell us and tell our listeners exactly how you have been, well, feeling out the love, so to speak.
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, you know, the love -- Love is a -- people may know it better as a nightclub called Dream out on New York Avenue, off an industrial -- I think it's on Okie Dokie Street or Okie Street. You know...
SHERWOODOkie Street. The corporation name is Okie Dokie, but it's known as Love. And it's a nightclub. It's had some troubles in the past. And it has a sign out front saying what the weapons policy is as you go in and that you can't chew chewing gum. And it was where Gray -- for some reason, Vincent Gray, the mayor-elect, had his election night party. And then it turns out, the owner of it, Marc Barnes, owes the city $860,000 in unpaid sales and use in income taxes. So it seemed like not the best place in the world for the new mayor-elect to begin a fresh new era in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIYou contacted the mayor-elect's office about that the day before the victory party was held on Monday. What was the response you got?
SHERWOODWell, the response was, well, Mr. Gray did not know about the tax, the delinquency, and that he hopes that Mr. Barnes and his wife will address it as quickly as possible and that he intended to have a good party that night at election night.
NNAMDIWell, from all the reports, there was a good party that was held there at that night. But you also speculated about whether some of the city's ministers would be participating in the event. Did you find out?
SHERWOODWell, you know, I had -- no ministers called me up and said they were going to go. And, you know, Gray has set a very good thing since the September primary. I'm going to say something nice about him since I've already started out on the negative side. You know, he -- since the election in the primary, he reached out to a whole host of ministers across the city. He's reached out to the reforms, on the school advocates, both private sector and government. He's reached out to the business people, many of whom don't know him, and tried to make a positive image that he's -- wants -- he believes in this one city thing.
SHERWOODBut then to go and have a party at a nightclub that, again, has a weapons policy listed out front, just seems to strike the wrong message.
NNAMDIIn addition to which the owner of the nightclub has tax problems, and there's been a lot in the news about people with tax or financial problems being in or related to government. I'd be interested to hear how you feel about that at 800-433-8850. We've had Councilmember Marion Barry with problems with back taxes. We've had now Chairman-elect Kwame Brown with a lot of credit card debt. You just talked about Vincent Gray and the owner of the Love Nightclub. And you are going to be talking about Reuben Charles, the Gray transition chief and the kinds of tax problems he's been having.
NNAMDIIs it the economy? What do you think about people being in or affiliated with government who have financial problems? Do you have a problem with it? Or do you think that, because of the economy that we're in it right now, it's understandable? 800-433-8850. Who is Reuben Charles?
SHERWOODWell, he's a little-known businessman in town. He came here a few years ago, and he's had businesses into St. Louis and Chicago. And suddenly, last May, he meets Vincent Gray, and he's the big fundraiser. And Gray, on election night at foresaid mentioned Love Nightclub, said he was instrumental in raising the money to $2 million that Gray used to defeat Adrian Fenty. And he's been named as the executive director of the transition committee, which is a fine list of people on there, with veterans of city government, politics and community affairs. And -- but we don't know much about him. He -- Gray would not let him speak at the transition meeting on Wednesday.
NNAMDIHe reportedly owes $236,000 or so in unpaid taxes and use taxes in Illinois.
SHERWOODYes. That was reported by the Washington City Paper Loose Lips'...
NNAMDIHe certainly did report that. And on full disclosure, Reuben Charles, I have read, is from Guyana, where I am also from. But I have never met Reuben Charles, so I don't know a great deal about him. People who do know him say I should not be overly concerned about him because other people have made investments and lost money and paid taxes. But I don't know.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I burst into the transition office yesterday unannounced and uninvited, and he came out. He's very polite.
SHERWOODAnd, you know, he was so happy to see me. And he said that, you know, he would be happy to talk to me. And he'd set up a meeting, maybe early next week, and we could talk. I said, you know, we just don't know you. You weren't allowed to speak at the transition meeting. These stories have been swirling around. Several people say nice things about him. But he's just simply not known, and he's playing a crucial role for the new mayor-elect.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. We take your calls at 800-433-8850. Mayor-elect Vincent Gray apparently did not go to the funeral of police officer Paul Dittamo who was killed in a Saturday car crash. Mayor Adrian Fenty showed up in the latter part of the proceedings and addressed the group, but police union chairman Kristopher Baumann called the snub unimaginable.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I have mixed -- some mixed emotion. First of all, Mayor Adrian Fenty got there -- someone said 90 minutes late, but got there very late towards to the end. And he is the city mayor. And the thought is, if a police officer dies in the line of duty, as this officer did, that the mayor ought to have been at the funeral on time. You could say the chairman of the council, Vincent Gray, should have been there also. But, you know, Gray is mayor-elect, and I think he's been careful not to be -- act like he's the mayor. And so there's some issue there, but his staff just put out a notice that he didn't even know about the funeral, which is -- says something about staffing work for somebody. But he was having lunch with Kwame Brown, the council chairman-elect, at the National Press Club. So -- and then, again, apparently, none of the other council members went either. So it was not the highest moment for the city to recognize what we'd call a fallen officer.
NNAMDIWe have a guest to get you, but we do -- to get to -- but we do have a couple of calls on the issue of people with financial or tax problems being in or affiliated with government. Here's Michael in Bethesda, Md. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELYes. Good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call. Is it or is it not the case that most so-called risk-takers and entrepreneurs have tax problems? So that's, in part, how they get to be relatively well-off compared to those who don't take the same kinds of risks. Doesn't UBS in Switzerland specialize in receiving money from Americans for the purpose of evading and avoiding paying taxes? Thank you. And I'll take my question off the air.
NNAMDIThis is -- thank you very much. There is no real answer to your question, but, yes. People who are entrepreneurs do take risks, and that is the argument that -- it is my understanding -- Reuben Charles has been making. But as Tom Sherwood has pointed out, none of us has had an interview with him so that we can talk at length about exactly who he is.
SHERWOODAnd a lot of people like Mark Barnes, the owner of the nightclub. But, you know, the sales and use taxes, this is money that Mr. Barnes and his company collected by selling things and charging fees and drinks at the -- so he got the money. He simply didn't turn it over to the taxing authority, which you're supposed to do. I think it's on a quarterly basis or whatever, but he took money that belongs to the city, kept it for his own business. That's different from just having a tough time financially.
NNAMDIHere is Berwyn in Alexandria, Va. Berwyn, your turn.
BERWYNYes. What I would like to say is that it is certainly an issue that candidates are -- have defaulted on taxes. And the main issue that I have is that -- how can we look up to leaders that don't pay their taxes? How are we expected to pay our taxes? So I guess that...
NNAMDIAnd I guess that is the crux of the problem. Berwyn, thank you very much.
SHERWOODBut these are not public -- I mean, there's no suggestion that Vince Gray or anybody like that hasn't paid proper taxes and all that. These are business people. And, yes. You want business people to take risks and to earn money and to pay taxes. It's all part of the mix of business and, certainly, public officials. That's why Kwame Brown got into trouble this summer because he had so many credit card debts. He was being taken into court, and he says he's going to work very hard to fix all those debts. And, now, he's paid $190,000 as chairman. He will have some more money which he can put to those debt payments.
NNAMDIWell, he ran for this job twice before. He came up short, but the third time was a charm for Rushern Baker. He joins us in studio. He's county executive-elect in Prince George's County, Md. He is a Democrat. Rushern Baker, congratulations.
MR. RUSHERN BAKERWell, thank you very much. Glad to be here.
SHERWOODDidn't you like all the conversation before you're brought into it?
NNAMDIYou can tell he wanted...
NNAMDI...to join the conversation, could you?
BAKERI'd just say I had a very nice meeting with the mayor-elect of the District of Columbia, and I look forward to working with him.
SHERWOODYou think you'll be able to work with him? I mean, you got common issues of -- you know, of economic development, transportation, the issue of crime, people who commit crimes across the borders on Southern Avenue and Sheriff Road and those kinds of places.
SHERWOODWhat did you talk about?
NNAMDIThey're both affable guys. They can work together.
BAKERYeah, I think we're going to have a very good working relationship. I mean, one of the first -- he was one of the first meetings I had after I won the primary. Former County Executive Wayne Curry -- who knows him very well -- put together a meeting with us, and we talked about economic development. We talked about crime issues, but we also talked about healthcare and education, which both our jurisdictions are faced. I mean, our children go from the District in grandmother's house, and then they come back over to Prince George's County where their mom or dad might live. So they go back and forth -- same thing with healthcare and health issues. So I think there's a number of issues we can work on and had a very good meeting with him.
NNAMDIWell, we look forward to you hating him at some point so that we can report on the conflict between the two executives, but, apparently, that's not going to happen. You have won the grand prize of reviving the economy in a county that's the foreclosure capital of the state. What's the first step you're going to take?
BAKERWell, first of all, I think, you know, the beauty of Prince George's County is that there's a lot of opportunity. I mean, we have the most undeveloped metro sites or those that are in position to be developed. So, I think, in the ability to attract and grow jobs is they're in the county. My focus is going to be development around those centers, so that we can create job opportunities which will help the economy.
BAKERThe other thing is in the foreclosure issue. The state has been very aggressive. The Department of Housing and Community Development has been very aggressive with helping local jurisdictions. I know the federal Department of Housing and Community Development wants to be aggressive in helping us. And I'm going to make sure that we put somebody in charge of our Housing Department that actually knows how to work with all of these agencies to make sure that our citizens get the most opportunities we can. I think -- but the key to that is going to be helping to create jobs and make sure that we do some of the stuff that other states are doing and other cities, which is holding banks accountable.
BAKERSo if they're going to get federal money, these banks that come in and have loans to folks make sure they're -- they are helping them to renegotiate their loans, or if not -- if there's a foreclosure that takes place -- that we quickly get those properties off the foreclosure row and maybe offer them to teachers or police officers.
SHERWOODPart of the problem...
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Rushern Baker, county executive-elect in Prince George's County, call us at 800-433-8850. Tom?
SHERWOODPart of the problem is that people are upside-down in that they owe more money on their homes than their homes are now currently valued, so then they cannot refinance unless they bring more money to the table. And then if you don't have a job, they don't have that money. It's really quite an onerous position to be in for thousands of people.
BAKERYeah, it is a really tough position to be in this economy, as we said throughout the campaign. At one time, it was, you know, folks just not paying it. Now, as people who had two incomes going to one income, and they're simply stuck with mortgages that are beyond their means to pay -- which is why, I think, you see in Massachusetts. Chicago has done this. And that is for the banks that are coming in, especially those that are getting federal funds, that they look at ways to make -- you know, give people a chance to renegotiate, maybe not refinance their homes but renegotiate those loans so that we give them time to get back on their feet. If that's not possible, then, I think, for us in the county so that the housing values don't go down, is that we get the banks to come in and get them off the foreclosure rolls as quickly as possible. Don't leave them as abandoned properties. And so...
SHERWOODIt takes forever to buy a house that's been foreclosed upon.
BAKERIt does, and those are some of the things that we need to look at shortening. And I think if we work with the federal government, the housing department and with the state which is -- which the governor has been very aggressive with this around the state -- I think in Prince George's County, we need to take the same approach.
NNAMDIWhen you joined us during the campaign, you said that education was the backbone of your platform. Four years ago, we had a mayor in Washington who proclaimed that education would be the backbone of his administration. Now, Adrian Fenty is out of a job. What lessons do you take out of the D.C. experience with education reform? And how will they shape your approach?
BAKERWell, one of the things that I think is helpful to me in this job is it's not my first effort at education reform. I did it when I was in the state legislature, so I know the pitfalls of it. But I think our situation in Prince George's County is a lot different. I think our focus is on making sure that we've got good schools, but we don't -- we want to make sure that every school is great. And to do that, I think working with the superintendent and the school board to make sure there are quality teachers throughout Prince George's County schools is going to be a priority for me. And with that, we're putting more money in to do that. I think you do have to do, you know, teacher evaluation. We want to make sure that we have highly qualified, highly certified teachers in all of our classrooms and that we have the best, you know, principals. We can do that. So it doesn't take a whole reorganization or whole shift that you saw in the District.
SHERWOODYou have an elected school board.
BAKERWe have an elected school board. We went back four years ago. So this is the second election for the elected school board since, you know, we had a period where they were appointed. But I think the key to it is for me as county executive saying, I am going to be your partner. I'm going to hold your feet to the fire because you get a large share of our money. You know, you get almost $1.2 billion in the school budget, and so -- and it's a critical part of our economic development.
SHERWOODAre the teachers a union workforce? Is that a...
SHERWOODIs it American Federation of Teachers or...
NNAMDIPrince George's education Association.
SHERWOODNEA. National Education Association.
BAKERNational Education Association. That's right.
SHERWOODDo you -- there was quite a three-year effort to get a new contract with the city in the District of Columbia. Do you think you'll have -- is there a contract issue?
BAKERNo. I think -- we don't have the contract issues that you saw on the District. I think we're...
NNAMDIBut you do have money issues. It's hard to turn around the school system without spending money. And it's my understanding that money has been hard to come by in recent years, that millions of dollars have been slashed from the school budget in recent years. What ideas do you have so far about putting together a budget that will rejuvenate the schools?
BAKERWell, I think what I've said during the campaign, and what I've said since the campaign, is education is our number one issue, and so, therefore, it becomes a priority in our funding. You're absolutely right. There are very little -- you know, new money that's going to come in there, so that means we have to prioritize. If education and public safety are the number one priority, that's where we're going to spend the lion's share of our money. That's where we're going to try and have the greatest impact. And if there's a way to put some additional funds targeted toward programs that will improve our school system, we're going to do that. That also means, though, that we're going to have to rely heavily on lobbying the state and the federal government to get money in in those other areas that we're going to need help in.
NNAMDIYou mentioned public safety. Does Police Chief Robert Hilton get to keep his job?
BAKERWe're talking to every agency head. We just put the transition team together, and so we'll be talking to everyone and make a decision quite shortly.
NNAMDIIn other words, I'm not answering that question.
SHERWOODThat was good. You'll see a little smile (unintelligible) look online and see a little smile that he's not answering that question. You spent a billion dollars for education and said public safety. What's the public safety budget about?
BAKERPublic safety budget is a little less than -- I think it's maybe about...
SHERWOODSeven or $800 million?
BAKERYes. About $7- or $800 million.
SHERWOODSo what is the county budget overall?
SHERWOODSo that takes up, what, 75 percent of your budget almost (unintelligible)
BAKERRight, right. I mean, those agencies right now are taking -- but if you look at our -- let's take education for instance. If you look at what we're putting in as a county portion, we're putting in about 30 percent of county money into our education system. Montgomery County is putting in about 70 percent. Now, they have a bigger -- you know, a bigger pool to choose from. But I think we have to look at ways -- if this is our priority, just like safety, this is our priority. Then we have to look for -- look to put more money in from the county's perspective. But it does mean that there are other areas where we -- we're going to have to hold the line (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWe're talking with Prince George's County Executive-elect Rushern Baker. Here is Jonathan in Hyattsville, Md. Jonathan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JONATHANThank you. Mr. Baker, I'm so glad you're here. I can't tell you how happy that makes me. I am standing here looking down a street at my public school that my son goes to in Hyattsville Elementary.
JONATHANAnd I was glad to hear some things that you just said, but I'd love to hear a little more specifics. I know it's a little early, but education is definitely on my mind.
NNAMDIWhat is your particular concern, Jonathan, about your son's school?
JONATHANWell, it goes from the state of the building to the stuff that they're feeding them from, you know, a doctor's program to lunch to, you know...
NNAMDIYou would like better quality food. You would like a renovated building. Here is Rushern Baker.
BAKERWell, let me deal with the food issue first because I do think that's important. Because if you look at the health of our students, obesity is a big problem in terms of Prince George's County, which lead to other behavioral problems in our school system. So what I want to do as county executive is work with the superintendent but also bring in our social services, our health department to help us, you know, figure out ways of not only changing the diet of our kids in the school, but also exercise. I heard him -- he was out there, sounds like the kids were out in the playground. I know Hyattsville Elementary School very well. My daughters went to Hyattsville Middle School. In the shape of the buildings, we want to make sure we have good quality buildings there, but those are capitol projects, you know.
NNAMDIKeep your hands off (word?). He's ours.
BAKEROkay. But we -- while we want to make sure the buildings themselves -- the structures are compatible for an inducing -- for education, I think the critical point is having good teachers, good principals and the staff that works around those kids. Like, you're in elementary school, so there's after school and before school. I think making sure that those programs provide the tutorial while we have the kids there and parents were dropping them off becomes important. And as county executive, I want to lead by example, so I plan to visit a school all the week during these next four years. And I promised people it won't be my child's school, so that won't count as one of the schools.
NNAMDIHere is Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODOh, I was picking up the earphones. I thought you're going to a phone.
NNAMDIWell, I'll go to the phones then since you...
SHERWOODBut, no. Actually, I do have a question about money because Governor O'Malley, who's just been reelected...
SHERWOODI know that you're happy about that, being a Democrat, but there's no state money where you, I mean -- is there state money that you can expect for all these ideas of school reform and capitol budgets to fix the schools? Because, you know, you can't have really good teachers in the system where the school building is not doing well itself.
BAKERRight. I think, you know, there's very little state money. And I think that's a critical portion of it. Having served on appropriations, I know that there is money, but there are a lot of people who were going to ask for a lot of jurisdictions. The case I would make for Prince George's County is coming off this last election. We delivered the line share of vote for the governor.
BAKERThat's right. And we work very hard for that. And we're very glad that he's back, and his commitment to education, I think, is commendable. The place where we're going to have the greatest potential for growth in the state is Prince George's County. That's where I think the investment in our education system should be. So not only raised to the top money that the state is getting, but also money that if you look at, you know, index around poverty and how we measure that in the state, if you look at Prince George's County and Baltimore City, I think we should get a good portion of that money. And that's what I'll be fighting for.
NNAMDIWe got an e-mail from Jay, who says, "I live in the Brandywine area of the county right on the border of Prince George's and Charles County off Route 301. And when it comes to county services, we are grossly overlooked. No police patrol. Response times for EMS and fire service is slow. Charles County is actually the first to respond, but my taxes pay for Prince George's service. No community center in the area, little to no snow removal from the southern tier of Prince George's Country. I just want to know if Rushern will honestly look into these things and make them right. Jack Johnson came down to one of our home association meetings and promised the world with zero results. If it wasn't for Delegate James Proctor, I don't think anyone would pay attention to us. Thank you for listening." And he threatens, "My neighbors will be listening as well."
BAKERYou know, we have a very, very active portion of the county, the southern part of the county, which is one of the reasons we did the town hall meetings in the south, so we could hear about these problems. I know they want a District 7 police station because response time is slow down there. Because it is -- it's a vast area to cover. I will say this. You've got a really terrific councilmember, Mel Franklin. I worked with him during the election, and he makes these -- when we had our one-on-one meeting, he brought up a lot of these issues. We're going to pay great attention to the southern part of the county, and especially along that Charles County border, because I think there are some things we could do with Charles County to make development and to make response in healthcare amenable there.
SHERWOODI live in the city and not in Maryland, but I've heard people say that Charles County is growing as a county with people moving into the county and to new homes and that many of those people are coming from Prince George's County. Is that a concern, that if Charles County offers better county services, that people will be moving to Charles County?
BAKERWell, it's certainly a concern when we're not offering the type of services that people are paying for. I mean, as a candidate who ran on a slogan that says, we're a good county but we want to make it a great county because we pay for great. So any time that services are not being delivered the way they should be, then that concerns me. Charles County growing -- yes, there are a lot of our middle and upper income families that are moving to Charles County. A lot of that centers around education, so we've got to tackle the education problem here. But amenities are also an issue. And in the southern part of the county, even with National Harbor, it's not reaching every part of the county. And so what I want to make sure is that we don't lose touch with those issues.
NNAMDISpeaking of services and amenities, we got a comment on our website from Suzie. "Please ask Rushern if he has shopped yet at Wegmans. You have never seen so many happy shoppers," says Suzie.
BAKERI actually did go to Wegmans, and I have to admit that I'm one of the people who actually -- I called my children when I was in there.
NNAMDINo, you didn't.
BAKERI did, I did.
SHERWOODTell people where the store is because some people may not know what that -- what a good thing this is.
BAKERIt is in Largo. It is right off the 202 in Prince George's County. It's amazing. Everyone should go there. Please go there. Spend a lot of money.
NNAMDIWhat did you tell your children when you called them?
BAKERI told them, you're not going to believe this. I mean, this is the quality store that we wanted in the county. And, you know, you have to tip your hat to County Executive Jack Johnson for...
NNAMDIYou mean your arch political enemy?
SHERWOODHe'll be out of office -- what is it, Dec. 6?
BAKERNo. We are friends, and we're having a good transition. But it is a big part of the growth to Prince George's County. And so it's something very special.
SHERWOODIs it true that there are -- that the Wegmans is hiring -- did I read it, 600 jobs? That sounds like a lot of jobs for one grocery, but it's -- people say it's a really large store.
BAKERIt is a huge store. I've never been to a Wegmans in my life. So this is -- this was an experience, but it is a huge store. And the development around it, I think, is going to speak well for Prince George's County.
NNAMDII've never been to one either...
NNAMDI...until I participated in the opening of this new Wegmans. Here is Caroline in Prince George's County. Caroline, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROLINEGood afternoon. Thanks, Kojo. Congratulations, Rushern.
CAROLINEWe're cheering your election here. Speaking of Wegmans and the wonderful development around it, just across the Beltway from that location sits -- what I call a moonscape -- formerly known as the Landover Mall.
CAROLINECould you please tell me what, if anything, you know about the status of this vast tract of land, which sits there getting moldier and moldier? And what, if anything, you might have in mind to push towards redevelopment? And I thank you for your time.
NNAMDIThank you, Caroline.
BAKERWell, we haven't gotten a full brief, you know, what they plan to do around that Landover Mall. There's clearly some ideas that I have. I mean, you know, I think it'd be a great site to marry with the Wegmans. And that is the -- or even the stadium that we have in Prince George's County -- and bring in, you know, a mixed use type of development there where we play off a sports theme, maybe have a Dave & Buster's and things of that nature. The other thing that came up was an interesting concept of actually moving the Prince George's Hospital and moving it to that site and bringing in office buildings, restaurants, and doing a complete development around there, which I think would be terrific. But, clearly, it's going to be one of the priority areas we look at. I haven't had a chance to sit down with the owners of that mall yet, the Lerner Corporation. But we are scheduled...
SHERWOODThe Lerner Corporation that owns the Washington Nationals and...
BAKERYes, that. See the development around that Washington National? It's very good.
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) I think it is. Yeah...
BAKERAll those look great, so we just want the same here.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly, but you mentioned Prince George's Hospital. I read that you'd like to make a deal with the University of Maryland to turn Prince George's Hospital Center into a teaching hospital. What's the philosophy behind that idea?
BAKERWell, I think, one, it would give us an opportunity to attract people with insurance to come there. The other, it would give us access to doctors who are in training. And I think if we do that, we're bringing a very strong credible medical school and medical operation to help Prince George's Country. That's just I want to...
NNAMDIYeah, but I feel it's up to the University of Maryland. Is the University interested?
BAKERNow that we've got the transition team on the way, they are actually to the University of Maryland, as well as others that are interested in hospital.
SHERWOODCan I very quickly ask one question about the Redskins? He mentions sports.
NNAMDIHe always does that.
SHERWOODAll right. You know, the city would love to have the Redskins build a new stadium in RFK. Are you willing to have Mr. Schneider, like, pay half billion dollars to the county for the 20 years left on the contract?
BAKERI am very willing to talk to the mayor-elect about any of the issues around development that there are.
SHERWOODWell, you -- that's a half, you know, billion dollars you could get or something if they were to file at least early.
NNAMDIThey will have to take it out of his cold, dead hands in order to bring the stadium over here.
NNAMDIRushern Baker is county executive-elect in Prince Georgia's County, Md. He's a democrat. Rushern Baker, thank you very much for joining us.
BAKERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt's the Politics...
NNAMDI...Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, what does it mean that Adrian Fenty nevertheless managed to pull in over 20,000 write-in voters in this campaign -- in this election?
SHERWOODWell, because there were a lot of others who may not have even liked Adrian Fenty, but liked what he did, I mean, he -- you cannot go around the city in the District of Columbia without seeing better and -- began under Tony Williams, I must say -- but, you know, new libraries, new rec centers, repaired streets, are all the kinds of things that people used to complain about. Fenty did a lot of work. And he thought he would be reelected because he did all these things -- and despite the fact he had a terrible personality with people. He didn't want to talk to anybody, but -- so people like that, that they wanted to vote for him, so he got those votes. Those are write-ins.
NNAMDIHere is Stacy in Burke, Va., still commenting on issue we raise earlier of people with financial and tax problems. Stacy, your turn. Go ahead, please.
STACYThank you, Kojo, very much. I've been patiently waiting, just hoping you might turn this corner back around to the tax issue, which, I think, relates to every other problem we have in terms of not having that funding for schools from Virginia all the way to California. And it doesn't seem that far of a stretch to me if we can find out about a person who owns a restaurant owing back taxes. There's got to be a lot of people in all spectrums of entertainment, business owners, whatever you -- you know, whoever owes taxes that are not paying taxes. And if we could tap into this revenue that is owed already, would this not help us budget problems? Would this not help with not having that funding for schools or not having that funding for, you know, public land, or whatever we need?
STACYThe other half of the question -- I'm sorry to interrupt -- would be, could it not be published in some form in, like, in The Washington Post or, you know, The San Francisco Gazette, whatever, the people and the businesses that are not paying their taxes, so people know these people are not too patriot. They're talking out of their mouth with one side to cut taxes, but they're not paying their taxes or whatever the issue. Could this not be public information?
SHERWOODWell, clearly you had -- you can be much more aggressive in many ways to collect taxes that are owed the city. In fact, I think the Fenty administration was aggressive in that, closing down businesses that were not paying taxes and not providing services. But, you know, yes. They should be aggressive to pay their taxes. But, you know, the issue of schools in the city is not an issue of not enough money. The changes that the city spent close to $2 billion or something like that in renovating all the hundred-plus schools that we have -- and the school budget is about a billion dollars -- so money is not an issue in the city school system. It's how the money is spent. But you're exactly right. If people owe taxes in the city, there ought to be a very aggressive effort to collect that money.
NNAMDIStacy, thank you very much for your call. Joining us in studio now is Peter Nickles. He's attorney general for the District of Columbia. He will be leaving...
SHERWOODFor the next couple of weeks.
NNAMDI...his post in December, and so he won't be bothered by people like Tom Sherwood and yours truly with questions about where he lives anymore. Peter Nickles, thank you very much for joining us. By the way, where do you live?
ATTY. GEN. PETER NICKLESI'm in transition.
NNAMDIYou're in transition from where to where?
NICKLESD.C., Virginia, D.C. and back.
NNAMDIYou have launched an investigation into Team Thomas, the charitable organization run by Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. Some have accused you of hastening this probe to hit back at a critic of the mayor's. What is this investigation about to you? And what do you think, or what do you expect will be the next steps? Some people would say, what's the hurry?
NICKLESThe media reported that Team Thomas had been soliciting money, and apparently there was some evidence of soliciting money for charitable operation called Team Thomas, which was set up for kids.
SHERWOODBy Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.
NNAMDIHarry Thomas Jr.
NICKLESCouncilmember Harry Thomas. Well, there were no records at the IRS that he had been registered to receive tax deductions, no license from the DCRA. In fact, the license had been revoked. And so we thought one of the ways to clear this up was simply to ask Harry Thomas, give us the relevant documents. And it's my view, having dealt with corporations for about 40 years, that if you have the documents, it takes you about 10 minutes to get the documents, show you're registered, show you have a license, show the people who have contributed want kind of tax deductions they get. So we sent a letter saying, please give us the information. And I thought, personally, it was relevant. And I think The Washington Post and other journalists thought it was relevant to have the information before the election because it went to the credibility of this councilmember in terms of this organization that he has had up and running for many years.
NICKLESWell, first, we got the, yes, we'll give you the documents. Yes, we want to be fully transparent. Then we got the no documents, so then we issued a subpoena. And in response, Fred Cooke, who represents a lot of very important people in town, said, well, you'll get the documents. But we don't like the idea that you gave us a subpoena. You're being a bully. We'll give you the documents voluntarily, but we won't give you the documents pursuant to a subpoena. I said, Fred, give us the documents, whether by way of subpoena or voluntarily. Let us see what the documents say. So he said, no. He went to court. He filed a long paper objecting. The judge rejected all of the grounds that Fred had put there, and the judge ordered that the documents be produced.
NICKLESBut he gave...
NNAMDIBut the judge gave them three weeks to comply with the subpoena...
NICKLES...gave them three weeks.
SHERWOODTo get the politics out of that.
NICKLESEffectively -- well, I don't know what politics are...
SHERWOODI thought the judge said something about that to keep it from being political.
NICKLESWell, the judge said -- I think -- I wasn't present. My lawyers dealt with it. But the Fred Cooke argument was that politics are somehow involved. Well, this gentleman is running for political office. The media raised legitimate issues as to his credibility, and then you put the documents off until after the election. I mean, that seems to me an abdication of responsibility and certainly inconsistent with comments made by the councilmember that he wanted to be fully transparent. So we'll see what documents we get in three weeks.
NNAMDIWell, I inferred from the judge's comments that he was also, in a way, rebuking your attorneys from your office because, by insisting that it come before the election, it gave the appearance that since you are appointed by the incumbent mayor -- and the councilmember did not favor the current mayor -- it gave the appearance of political interference.
NICKLESLet's talk about the new elected attorney general that we're going to have in a couple of years.
NNAMDIYes. Let's talk about that...
SHERWOODYou know, (unintelligible) that job.
NICKLESI'll tell you...
NNAMDI...because a lot of people feel that you were the inspiration for that ballot measure that was passed last week.
NICKLESYou get an elected -- yeah, absolutely. And these folks do not realize what they are doing because an elected attorney general would have said, now, wait a minute. These documents are crucial to the public's understanding of whether this individual is running a legitimate operation. The idea that is co-political -- what the hell does that mean?
SHERWOODWell, everything in government is political. But, you know, the move to have an elected attorney general in this city started well before you. It's back when you were suing the city, not representing the city. It was back in the 1990s, that's when it was first (word?). What is your...
NNAMDIThat's why he's here as the institutional member.
SHERWOODApart from the politics of what you're doing now, do you think it's a good idea to have an elected attorney general who can -- he or she can, in fact, do independent probes into how other government officials are behaving?
NICKLESI think it's a crazy idea myself. I think if you're going to have an elected attorney general, the elected attorney general should have all the powers of the U.S. attorney so they -- so this individual...
SHERWOODI agree with that.
NICKLES...will have the full scope of powers. This is a corporation counsel in the guise of an attorney general. And what you're going to do, Tom -- whoever runs for attorney general is not going to be a successful lawyer in private practice. He's going to have to go out. He's going to have to raise money. And once he raises money, he's going to be beholden to those folks, and there's going to be a new seat of power in the District government. You got the city council. You got the executive. You got the Congress, and now you're going to have the attorney general. The first thing he's going to think about -- just like Eliot Spitzer, Mario Cuomo and McDonnell, when they were all attorneys general -- how can...
SHERWOODAnd every governor candidate in Virginia is a former -- Cuccinelli.
NICKLESCuccinelli. Cuccinelli. Was he -- is he going to be satisfied being attorney general?
SHERWOODWell, what's wrong with having the politics -- I mean, where you have people get to vote, and you have these competing centers of power so that people can be held in check?
NNAMDIPeople feel that right now -- some people feel the people who supported this measure is that the attorney general is too close to the mayor. And specifically they point to you as an example, a family friend of the Fentys who becomes the attorney general supposed to represent the city. And in their view, you represented the mayor more than you did the city.
NICKLESWell, let me speak to that. I spoke for myself. And I think that's what was unusual, that in this administration you had an attorney general who spoke for himself. The mayor supported what I did, but I didn't have a situation where the mayor said, I want to take this position. You've got to help me. It made absolutely no difference that the mayor was a friend, that the mayor's father has been a longtime friend. I was in private practice for 45 years. I built my reputation on integrity. I was successful. I sued the city for over 45 years because of its egregious misconduct.
NICKLESThat I was a handmaiden for the mayor is simply ridiculous. When we went after the slumlords and the used car guys and the payday lenders and the brothel owners and the Verizons and the AT&T and the mortgage lenders and all of these entities, it wasn't the mayor whose job I was doing. I was doing my job. And when I leave this office, the one thing I'll be able to say is that everything I did was legitimate in my view and fully supported by the lawyers and staff that work for me.
SHERWOODWell, there were little issues like the fire truck and the ambulance.
NICKLESOh, the fire truck.
SHERWOODI mean, these things were not grand consequential things, but they gave the image that, well, a separate attorney general might have been less cooperative with the Fenty administration or whatever about how that happened, like nothing ever came of that.
NICKLESLet's take the fire truck, Tom.
SHERWOODI don't know if we'll re-litigate it.
NICKLESA twelve-year old fire truck worth $4,000...
NNAMDIAnd let's re-litigate it.
SHERWOODNo, that was...
NICKLES...doing investigations. Two committees write reports of over 100 pages each. I wrote a three-page report...
NICKLES...saying there was no violation at all.
SHERWOODWell, here -- well, the problem was that the mayor's administration and the mayor's office, I think -- basically, what I know about it -- inappropriately got involved. Whether any laws were broken, I don't care about that. It was just inappropriately got -- they were making these deals. It wasn't clear whether they used a non-profit to arrange it. It just seemed unseemly, whether it was right, legally or not.
NNAMDIOur guest is Peter Nickles. He's the attorney general for the District of Columbia -- for the next few weeks, anyway. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or an e-mail to email@example.com. One of the more common criticisms about Mayor Fenty was that he essentially handed over the keys to run the city to people like yourself while he went out, either cutting ribbons or exercising. What are your thoughts about that?
NICKLESWell, we kept Mayor Fenty advised of everything we were doing, and there was no question, but that he called the shots. Politicians are very good at spending money. It's my experience as a non-politician. What they're not very good at is running a city. Fenty was good at running the city. You look around the city, at the DMV, Department of Motor Vehicles, or getting licenses or permits, or having your trash picked up. He put good people in charge. He trusted those people. If those people didn't perform, they were out of a job.
NICKLESAnd so Fenty's view of running a city was very much like a corporate executive. Pick great people and give the people the trust they deserve and the backing they deserve -- the same thing with Michelle Rhee. He gave her 100 percent backing in a lot of tough issues. And I had to take the unions on in all those firings. And we want every one of those cases. The mayor didn't come to me and say, well, you got to change your position on this. He didn't go to Michelle Rhee and say, change your position. It's getting too hot in the kitchen. He basically said, I support you.
NNAMDIBut on a lot of occasions, it seemed as if you -- more than the mayor -- were the spokesperson for the administration.
NICKLESWell, I can't speak to that because, you know, a lot of the things that we got involved with were highly volatile and highly rhetorical, and that's the arena in which I do best.
SHERWOODWell, I do think -- do you -- the mayor lost. Obviously, you wanted the mayor to win re-election, and you saw the postmortems afterwards. And before, people were saying, this mayor had shut himself off. You talked about being a corporate executive, letting people do the job. A lot of people talk about how good many of the department heads were and how things were working. But they would say, the mayor doesn't talk to us. The Chamber of Commerce, he doesn't talk to us. He doesn't talk to the community groups. He stopped going to things. He went to very few things. Why was it that he went from being the popular guy who won every precinct when he got elected to almost not communicating with any of the power centers in town? What happened -- because you know him pretty well?
NICKLESWell, I thought the mayor did communicate pretty well. But I thought what happened very early on in the administration was that he took on the unions in a lot of different areas. And the primary is basically a Democratic primary. And looking back, I think one of the limitations of the primary system is that it excludes independents. And I have no doubt in my mind, if the primary had been opened to independents, all those people that saw how well the city was running, I think he would have won.
SHERWOODWell -- but I -- the point, though, is Vince Gray has privately told people -- the mayor-elect has told people that if Mayor Fenty had simply spoken to him once a month to help be on the same page of how the city was being used, he probably would not have run for mayor. But the mayor didn't speak to the council members. He didn't speak to so many of the power centers. He simply would not speak to them. You don't agree that that's an issue? It was an issue. It's not an issue now.
NICKLESI met with -- I'm not going to go and do a lot of postmortems.
NICKLESBut I met with Vince Gray once a month for many, many months.
SHERWOODYeah, but you're not the mayor. You're...
NICKLESAnd I -- and the mayor -- and he talked, the mayor. And he met for breakfast. Now, were they actually talking to each other in the sense of communicating with each other? I think their minds work very differently. I think the mayor's view is, okay, here's the problem. What's the date? Who's going to settle it? Who's going to keep track of it? I think the chairman's view is, well, let's get a committee. Let's have a plan. Let's deliberate. Now, I went through this when I sued the city, and I sued a lot of the agencies that were under the direct control of the current mayor-elect. And...
SHERWOODYou think Gray is going to be successful?
NICKLESI hope he's successful. But if I see what I saw back in the '90s, I will probably be back suing the city.
NNAMDIHere is Sam in Washington, D.C. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMHi, Kojo, Tom, Peter. Great show. Keep it up. I'm -- I audit nonprofits in town. And this whole Team Thomas thing is ridiculous. It's not only unethical, it's potentially more illegal than Barry giving money to a girlfriend or contract to a girlfriend. It's -- those documents or 990 should be -- I mean, he should be able reach in his filing cabinet probably in his council office and grab it.
SAMAnd it just blows my mind.
NNAMDIPeter Nickles, how does the law work such that there seems to be so little public accounting of the Team Thomas finances?
NICKLESWell, it's very strange in this city that until I -- about eight months ago -- promulgated rules and regulations on grants and nonprofits, there were no rules in the city. It has billions of dollars of grants from foundations, from the federal government, from the city government. No rules. And that's why Mary and Barry got away with a lot of crazy things.
NICKLESYou know, I agree with the caller that if you have a legitimate operation, you have the documents in your side drawer. You reach in. You pick them up. You produce them, no problem. If the operation is not on the up and up, you can look into every drawer in the room, and you will not find the documents. What I object to is the ability of Team Thomas and the lawyers effectively to put off the public from seeing if there are documents. That, to me, is not right, and that's what we were fighting against.
SHERWOODBut the judge did allow for the long period of time. Are you saying the judge was wrong to delay so long?
NICKLESI don't agree with the three weeks. I think that Team Thomas should have done what they said they were going to do and that is produce the documents immediately.
SAMIn the afternoon. They should not take more than the afternoon.
NICKLESI think that Fred Cooke should have done what he said he was going to do, produce them voluntarily.
SHERWOODHave some documents been forwarded?
NICKLESNot a single document despite many promises of many documents.
NNAMDISam, you get the last comment on this.
SAMWe know that they were donors. Do we know how the donors treated it on their returns? Did -- was it any charitable contributions on their side?
NICKLESI know that there were solicitations. I know that there were donations. We have no specific information because nothing's been forthcoming. But I can assure the listener that I'm in office, at least to the end of the year, and I intend to pursue this.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Sam. Here is Perry in Northwest, Wash. Perry, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
PERRYThank you, Kojo. You know, just going back to Peter Nickles' -- the Peter Nickles' deal. You know, Bush even knew when to change course when he came to the decisions that Mayor Fenty was making. I want to -- real quick, and I don't want to steal time from Mr. Nickles -- but I want to thank Mr. Sherwood for executing this responsible, fearless and courageous journalism. You have many resources that African-American reporters don't have, and, namely, accessibility. On the issue of the tax deal of this Mark Barnes, you know, I received a notice before revocation because they -- DCRA said that I owed $165 on my business. How -- Tom, let me ask you -- how is it that Mark Barnes can still operate this far into the amount of arrears that he reportedly owes?
SHERWOODWell, thanks for asking me that question. I'm not sure I can answer that. I do know that his liquor license is up for renewal in -- later this month. And so I don't know. Maybe the attorney general could tell us if you, in fact, owed...
NNAMDIThat's why I allowed the question. I thought the attorney general might give an answer.
SHERWOOD...$630 in sales and use taxes that you have apparently collected but not turned in, how do you stay open?
NICKLESThat's a good question, Tom. We've been all over this operation for the last three years. It's been closed down at times, and I intend with DCRA to find out what exactly is going on here because that's a lot of money to be in arrears.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Perry. Onto Paul. Paul, we're running out of time. Very quickly, please, go ahead.
MR. PAUL CRANEYHow you doing? This is Paul Craney with the D.C. Republican Party. Atty. Gen. Nickles, we're hearing a lot of Councilmember Harry Thomas allowing to run for a special election. What do you think about him running for a special election on higher office while getting investigated by your office and getting investigated by the IRS?
NNAMDIWell, he has the right to run. I don't know what Atty. Gen. Nickles thinks about it.
NICKLESIn my personal opinion, it's sort of beside the point. What I'm saying is that the documents that we requested are relevant to his credibility as a candidate.
SHERWOODAnd what we're talking...
NICKLESAnd once we have the documents, we will make some findings.
SHERWOODWell, there's a special election for Kwame Brown at large -- he -- once he comes chairman on Jan. 2, there'd be a special election in March, early April.
NNAMDII was going to ask you for parting thoughts about the city as you wrap up this job, but you've already given an indication of what your parting thoughts are. You might be back in the business of suing the city again?
NICKLESAbsolutely. There are number of things that I'm thinking about -- going back to teaching. I taught at Howard Law School for about 13 years and at UVA. And last semester, I taught at Georgetown Law School, had a lot of interesting offers and propositions, but I feel very directed to the vulnerable citizens of the city. And over about 40-some years, we sued the District over and over again because of the incompetence and the lack of caring by District officials.
NNAMDII take this to mean you'll be maintaining your city residence?
NICKLESI'll be maintaining a residence in the United States of America and remain...
SHERWOODHe'll be maintaining his law practice in the District.
NNAMDIHere we go again. Here we go again.
SHERWOODHe'll be maintaining his law license in the District but not his residency back in Virginia.
NNAMDIPeter Nickles is attorney general for the District of Columbia. Peter Nickles, thank you so much for joining us.
NICKLESThank you, Kojo. We may talk again when I'm on the other side of the ledger. Thank you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Always a pleasure, Tom.
SHERWOODHave a great weekend, everyone.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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