The D.C. region is home to numerous roads with ties to - or that go through - National Parks. We consider the balance between preservation and access those roadways represent.
The new Prince George’s County executive cleans house. D.C.’s mayor-elect makes his first round of key hires. And a veteran Northern Virginia Democrat wins a new statewide job. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Nathan Saunders President, Washington Teachers' Union
- William Campos Member, Prince George's County Council, D-District 2
- Mike DeBonis Reporter, The Washington Post
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Politics Hour Extra
Washington Teachers’ Union president Nate Saunders talks about what he sees as the WTU’s priorities and his role as its head:
Washington Teachers’ Union president Nate Saunders answers a caller’s question about his committment to students:
William Campos, member of the Prince George’s County Council, D-District 2, discusses the council’s handling of member Leslie Johnson’s role (D-District 6) in light of the ongoing FBI investigation surrounding her and her husband Jack Johnson’s activities:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour featuring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. I don't watch reality TV, Tom Sherwood. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. I don't watch reality TV, Tom, so I did not make an exception for this show.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThat, you may or may not know, is the theme music for the reality show "Mayor for Life," about former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. But by not watching it, I may have missed one of its major stars in the reality show "Mayor for Life."
MR. MIKE DEBONISNo.
MARION BERRYI know used any of those words, never ever.
DEBONISWell, I'm going to go back and look up at the council hearings, so you better be sure about this.
DEBONISBennett report is out. Make some very, very tough accusations against Marion Barry, says that he created these groups and sent taxpayer money to his friends. And it says that there's possible criminal wrongdoing.
NNAMDISo let's start again. Welcome to The Politics Hour featuring Tom Sherwood with a guest appearance by television star Mike DeBonis, who in his spare time is a reporter for The Washington Post. Mike DeBonis.
DEBONISThank you, Kojo. I appreciate that.
NNAMDIWere you actually paid for this gig? Was this a big television appearance?
DEBONISNo, I was far from it. I would pay it to have my name taken off as a "cast member." I gave the filmmaker -- Kirk Fraser's a very nice guy, very convincing guy, and I -- you know, I sat for an interview about that whole Marion Barry saga earlier this year. And now the finished product is out. Reality show is sort of an interesting word to use since most of the scenes appear to have been sort of staged. But it's a very impressive product. It's very -- it's well produced, and we'll see if they can actually get it on television.
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, see, I have purposely -- every...
NNAMDII was wondering, how come you are not in it?
SHERWOODWell, you know, for all those people who know that my career is based on, I have to thank Marion Barry for all the wrongdoing. It's made my career.
SHERWOODI have, as he does often -- he says, Sherwood, I made you. And I say, yes, you did, and I appreciate it. Now, the fact is I have avoided -- I have not been involved with this reality. I have not seen it. I have not done anything to be in it, and I'm -- I want to know if -- Mr. DeBonis, did you sign a release form to allow them to use the -- your name and your...
NNAMDIOf course, that's standard procedure.
SHERWOODWell, you know, he looks like he doesn't...
NNAMDIHe probably doesn't remember signing (unintelligible)
DEBONISI don't, because I...
SHERWOODHe doesn't know what that means.
DEBONISI may have. I don't -- I mean, for the interview.
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) I can become his agent and make a few dollars here for him then.
NNAMDIHe probably doesn't remember signing one of these forms.
SHERWOODWell, you know, it's -- I think it's good. You know, I think whatever people want to do, Barry is a larger than life character in this city, for good or bad, in many respects. And it's interesting what Barry will do, and he had to get permission for this, right? So he's...
DEBONISSomething like that. There's...
SHERWOODHe's -- you know, he's never going to write his book. I mean, he talks about writing his book. He's -- that's never going to happen.
NNAMDIWell, let's move on to what else happened during the course of this week. Mayor-elect Vincent Gray made announcements about some of the members of his team. City administrator is going to be Allen Lew, who is well-known for getting D.C. construction projects done on time. And Mayor-elect Vincent Gray says, well, he's now going to be the one making the trains run on time.
SHERWOODAnd the problem is there are a lot of trains. You know, Allen Lew is a terrific -- I mean, I'm hearing just, like, really positive things for him. But he's done -- over the last decade, you know, he helped -- he built the convention center, which got a lot of praise for (word?). He built the baseball stadium. And over the last three years, he has remodeled, torn down and rebuilt or constructed new school facilities, much to the delight of people across the city that the schools are working.
NNAMDIHe's not a big talker...
SHERWOODOf course, all that, but he's not -- but he -- I mean, he is decisive. He doesn't like -- as he said, I don't like bureaucracies. I like slim operations. I want to hold contractors to their word. I mean, it's going to be interesting to see if his hard-charging personality will go along with the kind of Mr. Nice guy Vince Gray, who wants to get together and talk about things.
DEBONISSo, yeah, I mean, the challenge of being city administrator running government is different from the challenges, and admittedly large challenges, that he's tackled before. Building a stadium...
DEBONIS...or building a convention center. You have a one very large goal in mind. And you -- everything you do is working towards that goal. Running the city, you're thrown a bunch of new different challenges every day, and you got to adapt and figure out how to take care of this stuff that comes up every day while still achieving your long-term goals for the administration, achieving the mayor's vision.
SHERWOODI told you of Vince Gray when he was on the verge of announcing -- I said, you know, I've already started calling him the male Michelle Rhee.
SHERWOODI mean, Michelle Rhee was tough, and she was -- she made decisions, and she didn't care too much about the collateral damage to the left, to the right of her. And Allen Lew says -- you know, jokingly, he said at the press conference that he would depend on his charm to get things done.
DEBONISWell, I think the -- one -- another instructive analogy you might pick, you know, Tom, you have reached for Michelle Rhee. I will reach for Rahm Emanuel, who is also famously prickly and, you know, known to use a few words that we couldn't use on this program.
NNAMDII was reaching for Bobby Bob. But any of the other personnel, Robert Bob (unintelligible)
SHERWOODWell, the main thing is that Allen Lew doesn't want to run for mayor, and everyone is afraid that if Robert Bob came in, which (word?) and said he would immediately begin preparing to run for mayor.
NNAMDIAny of the other personal moves made by Mayor-elect Vincent Gray that you think are noteworthy, Mike DeBonis?
DEBONISWell, the one that got the most press and most attention was Gabe Klein being informed that his services would no longer be needed. And that was -- you know, he had really generated his own...
NNAMDIAs head of the Department of Transportation.
DEBONISAs head of the Department of Transportation. He had generated his own constituency in a way among a certain set of supporters of what, you know, is referred to as smart growth. And he had a lot of fans, and that is a very difficult position to be in when you're coming in as mayor, and you have to -- you're going to have a guy in your administration who has fans, who has an independent sort of base. And I think that, you know, is one of the things that might have been on his mind when he decided to let him go.
SHERWOODWell, he also had clashed with Gray over the streetcars...
SHERWOOD...issue during the summer when Gray -- last spring, I guess it was, when Gray...
SHERWOOD...took -- I can't remember what month it was when Gray took the $50 million out of the budget.
NNAMDIIt was May.
DEBONISIt was in May, yeah.
SHERWOODWas that? A lot of things have happened.
SHERWOODHe's a little too new-agey for the Gray people.
DEBONISSo, you know, one council member described it to me, yesterday, as the difference between an entrepreneurial point of view and a competence point of view. So, you know, Mayor Fenty brought this visionary people in who had these big ideas. They may not have had an extreme amount of experience in their respective subject areas. Vince Gray really values that sort of subject matter experience and somebody who's done it before, so I think you're going to see older people. You're going to see people with pretty good resumes. You're going to see people who sort of do things by the book.
SHERWOODBut the Department of Transportation under Gabe did a lot of things, which would...
SHERWOOD...completely support his competence, but, again, he was a little bit too new-agey for Gray.
NNAMDISome people would be saying, okay, it's one thing to be discussing personnel matters, but the most crucial issue facing the city of the District of Columbia right now is our $188 million budget gap. The city council has approved a midyear course correction on its budget to try to bridge that gap. A few council members tried to include tax increases, but those efforts have failed. There was one very innovative -- some may have another word for it -- proposal by at-large council member Michael Brown that the city legalize and promote online poker and fantasy sports gambling as a way to slash the budget deficit. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWell, you know, I believe that we could do very well with a casino in the city, but the Congress is never going to allow it. Taxing Internet gambling operations is a huge deal. It's just not going to happen. The city is not going to be a gambling place as long as Congress controls the city.
DEBONISAnd I think there's -- I mean, there's the simple matter of federal law not allowing -- you know, being unclear whether it would allow what they want to do anyway.
SHERWOODWe can always change the law.
DEBONISYou know, they can always change the law, but, you know, Congress would have to change the law. And then Congress would have to sort of sit idly by while they do it. I don't really see that happening.
SHERWOODI put this is in the category so far as Marion Barry's yoga tax -- you know, tax on services as opposed to goods.
NNAMDIWhat do you think will ultimately happen? It seems to me that next year people are saying that regardless of what happens, there's probably going to be a tax increase lurking somewhere next year, even though Jack Evans said that would be the worst idea that we could possibly have.
SHERWOODHere's the short story. Vince Gray is outgoing chairman, incoming mayor, needed to have -- he said no tax increases in this budget fix now. Let's take the next couple of months after I become mayor, and we'll figure out how many taxes we want to raise, how many services we want to cut and what we want to do. But I want -- I don't want to start out my term and ending my term as chairman as raising taxes. So let's get this done, and we'll consider everything. But he's not even that interested in raising taxes in the spring, but there probably will be some. But, you know, the last couple of years, there's been all kinds of fees and different things raised, and some taxes have been raised.
DEBONISBut he can -- he will be able...
SHERWOODHe didn't want to start out...
DEBONIS...in the spring, he will be able to pass the buck. He can propose a budget with no tax increases and let the council, which has a certain...
NNAMDICertain tax increases.
SHERWOODI don't think he'll do that.
DEBONIS...number of -- let them do which is what, you know...
SHERWOODI think he'll...
DEBONISYou don't think he will do...
SHERWOODI think he will include -- I think he will work with the council, and, you know, some people think he's going to be the mayor and the council chairman...
SHERWOOD...because, you know, he's great -- Kwame (unintelligible).
NNAMDIBut the council chairman-elect is Kwame Brown.
SHERWOODKwame Brown is learning the job, but I think he will do one of these thoughtful things and have everybody in for endless hearings, and he'll propose a budget. And it will probably include some taxes.
NNAMDIJoining us now in studio is Nathan Saunders. He is the new president of the Washington Teachers' Union, which represents teachers in the District of Columbia public schools. We have already started to receive phone calls for Nathan Saunders, but we still have a few lines left open. You can call us at 800-433-8850, or you can send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet @kojoshow. Nathan Saunders, welcome. Congratulations.
MR. NATHAN SAUNDERSThank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIYou told The Washington Post's Bill Turque recently that during the past three years when Michelle Rhee was negotiating a new teacher contract with your predecessor, there was a lot of blood left on the floor, and it was all teacher blood. What do you feel went wrong during that period?
SAUNDERSWell, one of the things that we know for a fact was a success was the fact that many of the teachers who should have been at the table in a form of a negotiating team were not present. And, as a result, there were items included in the contract, which I feel the rank and file would have seriously had problems with at the negotiating table. And, as a result, those items found their way into a final contract.
NNAMDII know that both Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis have a lot of questions for you, so let me get mine out of the way before they take over. It is fair to say that school reform is not Nathan Saunders' number one priority. Your number priority, as you indicated to Bill Turque of The Washington Post, is compensation, negotiation and working conditions for your members. School reform, as I understand it, is all about teachers, hiring and compensating teachers whose students show good results, retraining and/or firing teachers whose students don't show good results. Two questions. One, what is your view of school reform?
SAUNDERSWell, what we need to do, firstly, is get it straight. And that question -- the statement of premises of the statement pertain to, what does unions do? They focus on those three items that you previously mentioned. Now, school reform is a high priority of mine. The reality is that teachers are in an environment where reform is being pushed, not only in the District but all around the country, so you have to pay attention. I'm for school progress. What I'm not for is rushed reform. We have some instances here where change for the sake of change is being pushed forward, and, as a result, many of our members are the victims of change. They are losing their jobs. They are losing pay. They are being tossed about in this ocean with no real recourse.
NNAMDIOne more. What role do you see race playing in this equation we call school reform? You've talked about the role of teachers as a bastion of the African-American middle class on this broadcast. A lot of people think school reform in this town was just a cover for getting rid of older African-American teachers. What do you think?
SAUNDERSWell, you have to be sensitive to that issue. You have to be sensitive to some other racial issues, one of which is that the vast majority of the children in the District of Columbia Public School, 90-plus percent are African-American or Hispanic or of Hispanic origin. So you must consider how the impact of reform in terms of what it does to their families, what it does to their communities. Many of the teachers not only have taught -- are teaching the children but have taught the parents and, in some instances, the grandparents. Teachers are stable senses of parental influence in children's lives, and, as I previously mentioned, in that case, in families' lives.
NNAMDIOkay. Tom Sherwood? Mike DeBonis?
DEBONISWell, I would...
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood first.
SHERWOODBefore we get too much looking back about what's happened, you won. You beat George Parker. I was surprised that fewer than 1,000 of the 4,000 or so teachers voted, but I want to look ahead. Kaya Henderson is the interim chancellor of the school system now. For three years, she was Michelle Rhee's deputy. Kaya Henderson was the person who carried out the IMPACT assessment program for the teachers. She helped negotiate the contract, about what you have some problems. What is your view -- should Vince Gray, the incoming mayor, select Kaya Henderson to be the school's chancellor? And are you looking forward to working with her if you think that's so?
SAUNDERSOkay. And those are two questions. First of all, your statement is a statement of fact. Kaya Henderson...
SHERWOODAll of my statements are statements of fact.
NNAMDIYou go, Tom.
SHERWOODI'm sorry for interrupting you. Go ahead.
SAUNDERSYeah, somewhat. I had the opportunity to meet with Kaya Henderson this weekend.
SAUNDERSShould Vincent Gray choose her as chancellor, is a decision that is solely within his purview. The Public School Reform Act gives the mayor the opportunity to choose the chancellor of the DC Public School.
DEBONISNo one is disputing that fact. But should you -- should he, is the question.
SHERWOODDoesn't she have to be confirmed by the Council?
SAUNDERSShe -- yes.
SAUNDERSHow many questions at a time here, Kojo?
DEBONISDo you like her? Do you like her?
SHERWOODAre you for Kaya Henderson? That's what I want to know.
SAUNDERSOh, let me tell you something.
SHERWOODWhoever gets to choose her, are you for her?
SAUNDERSDespite what many people think, it's not about Kaya Henderson. Whoever is standing in that role, if that individual -- whether it's Michelle Rhee or Kaya Henderson -- proves to be a danger, a threat to our membership and our interest, we're going to stand up. We're going to be aggressive about our position. And so it's not about Kaya Henderson. It's about the agenda. We've got some problems with the agenda as left on the table by Michelle Rhee.
SAUNDERSMany of it -- no one asked that question more aggressively than you, Tom and Mike, than my members. My members -- I got calls on the way here. My members are very concerned about the prior relationship between Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee. And it is going to prove to be a tremendous burden or hurdle for Kaya Henderson to overcome, not Nathan Saunders. It's about the agenda with Nathan Saunders.
DEBONISSo, as you mentioned, tremendous amount of baggage with your members, and with a lot of other people with the name Michelle Rhee.
DEBONISSo, I mean, what is your thought on Kaya Henderson vis-à-vis Michelle Rhee? Do you -- I mean, is she just Michelle Rhee with a smile?
SAUNDERSWell, listen. In my conversation with Kaya Henderson, it was made clear about some of the things that I would have a problem with if she engaged in and some of the things that possibly we could get to -- done together. It is not see Kaya Henderson, see red, attack. See anything Michelle Rhee, attack. That's not what the -- what it's all about. It's about making progress in this city for children and for the individuals who teach those children, which happens to be my members -- teachers.
NNAMDIIn case you were just joining us, this is the Politics Hour featuring Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analysts and a reporter at NBC 4, a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Our guest analyst is Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post. Our guest is Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, recently elected to that position. That union represents teachers in the District of Columbia Public Schools. Here is Jack in Washington, D.C. Jack, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACKHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I had a question for Mr. Saunders, that if there's so many problems with the contract, as he stated, why did his membership so overwhelmingly approve it?
SAUNDERSWell, that's one of the questions that we are in a process of finding out. What we do know about the approval of that collective bargaining agreement is that it was not done through an elections committee. It was -- while it was counted by the AAA, we did not have an elections committee that was actively involved in the process.
NNAMDIExplain to our listeners...
DEBONISSo are you saying…
NNAMDI...what that means. (unintelligible)
DEBONISAre you saying that you're trying to go back and look at the underpinnings of the vote and challenge the vote?
SHERWOODWell, let's first explain for the listeners, AAA is -- that's the private firm that did the...
DEBONISAmerican Arbitration Association.
SAUNDERSThe American Arbitration Association is the entity that counted the ballots when they came in.
SHERWOODAnd you're questioning the ballot?
SAUNDERSNo, I'm not.
NNAMDIWhat is the elections commission? And what role could it have played?
SAUNDERSThe elections committee is a committee of teachers, as defined by the WTU constitution, 15 teachers who are responsible, for the most part, in conducting all elections. Those of us who are active in the union know the elections committee to be the entity designed to conduct the vote on the contract. My predecessor thought differently and conducted the vote on the contract. When that results -- when those results were released, many teachers had questions about them, and, frankly, I did, too. At that time, I said, if 400 teachers voted against it, I must know all 400 because it was questionable. But we -- the question is, how do we move forward? Where do we address the deficiencies in the contract? And is it economical or efficient in order to address it in that fashion?
SHERWOODWhen is the contract up?
SHERWOODSo it's -- okay. Well, would -- can you address the contract until the negotiations start late next year?
NNAMDIWhen you talk about blood on the floor, where do you think teachers have been asked under that contract to make the sacrifices that you find most unreasonable?
SAUNDERSWell, most specifically in the area of the IMPACT.
NNAMDIThis is the evaluation process for teachers.
SAUNDERSYes, the teacher evaluation tool. A number of the teachers, as you know, over the summer recently were terminated under IMPACT. And that tool, which was not piloted with the D.C. Public Schools, created tremendous victims in our system. And it did not give them the opportunity to be supported, to move forward positively. And you have, for example, just two sections which pertain to performance-based access based on IMPACT, performance bonuses based on IMPACT. So that is two of the areas which my members were damaged.
DEBONISMr. Saunders, is there a city, a school system, a district anywhere in the country that you think has got it right, in terms of teacher evaluations?
SAUNDERSA number of systems have it right. Teachers -- the systems, not just in the United States, but also in Europe -- teacher evaluation tools, across the board, that don't focus solely on student scores as a major...
DEBONISRight. IMPACT doesn't focus solely on student scores. It's one portion in a number of different things. But...
SAUNDERSAnd what I said is as a major component.
SAUNDERSIMPACT and testing grades comprise 50 percent of the teacher evaluation. Another 5 percent, which deals with the teacher's involvement in the community and school and environment, that's 55 percent. So you can have an excellent teacher who is doing a great job in a classroom, and that teacher can -- abilities will only reflect 45 or 50 percent, whereas 55 percent could be based on a student's score.
NNAMDIBut first, 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODSo the contract's in place now. What is your immediate -- what are your immediate short-term goals that you're -- you took office, what date?
SAUNDERSTen days ago.
SHERWOODTen days ago.
SHERWOODSo what have you done in those 10 days, or you plan to do in the next 10 days? What is your immediate short-term -- I'm going to do this now that I'm in charge. What have you done or are about to do?
SAUNDERSWell, in terms of my campaign, what I promised teachers I would do in the first 30 days, a great deal has already been accomplished. The first thing was to go about reestablishing union democracy. We're about to have our first membership meeting this coming week -- 16th I believe it is -- in which member will have the opportunity to provide some direction to the Washington Teachers' Union. In doing that, we will also publish at that time a list of all of the delicate assembly and general membership meetings for the rest of the year. So that's incredibly important when members were clearly stating we hadn't had a membership meeting in two years.
SAUNDERSThey felt that they were isolated from the union so that's a major component that we're going to conduct. The next component is that I promised the members that I would meet with the mayor, and I would meet with the president of AFT, Randi Weingarten. Those things have been accomplished as well.
NNAMDIYou've met with the mayor-elect?
SAUNDERSLet me be real clear. I met with the mayor-elect's education transition team, Michael Lomax and Katherine Bradley. This coming week, I will have a sit-down directly with the mayor.
SHERWOODYou're not going to meet with Mayor Fenty. We know that, right? You don't need to.
SAUNDERSI'm going to meet with mayor-elect Gray. And, nextly, (sic) I met with Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson. I've -- I brought in a new law firm, Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, in order to assist with the transition in some level high-level education issues, labor issues. And I've done any number of things in order to help move teachers' agenda and promote the (unintelligible).
SHERWOODHave you met...
NNAMDIBut in the eyes of some, you still have some unfinished business. Here is Mike in Washington, D.C. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHey, Nathan. How are you today, sir?
SAUNDERSI'm fine. Thank you.
MIKEMy question is, now that you're the Washington Teacher's Union president, what are you going to -- what's your plans with the 266 and how to get those people back in their jobs? And, also, some of...
NNAMDIWhen you say the 266, that's an inside teacher phrase, meaning the 266 teachers who, in the view of Mike and others, were terminated or wrongly terminated in your view. Is that right, mike?
MIKEAnd some of those people are on a do-not-hire list by DC Public Schools.
SAUNDERSSure. Excellent, excellent question. That was part of the reason why I brought in a new law firm. I wanted to make sure I had an independent analysis of the case, which is still in superior court. Nextly, I'm going to meet with the 266 within the first 30 days. And, nextly, I'm doing some investigation to determine whether or not there is, in fact, a do-not-hire list with these individual names on it. Now, I can speak from experience. I do no know that DCPS' practices in the past have included what was known as a do-no-hire stamp.
SAUNDERSI actually saw it myself. It was maybe four or five years ago where there were certain individuals where, on their personnel records, they stamped do-not-hire. So that whole issue remains out there, and I would hope we get a ruling that they weren't to use that anymore. And I would hope I do not find that that exists.
DEBONISMr. Saunders, have you met with Randi Weingarten, your national union head? And, you know, her and your predecessor were quite very much arm-in-arm on the approval of the contract, and you -- during a time in which you were not. How are you getting along with Randi?
SAUNDERSWell, I have talked with Randi at least two times. And I have a sit-down meeting with her coming up, the early part of this week.
DEBONISWhat is your assessment of her approach to the national teachers' union right now? Right now, we seem to be in a moment in the country where there's a lot of attention, a lot of scrutiny on teachers' unions, you know. Obviously, you have Michelle Rhee on the cover of magazines. You have her in this documentary, "Waiting for Superman," as very much critical of Teacher's Unions -- Randi Weingarten, too.
SHERWOODAnd then she started a national political organization to...
DEBONISShe just started national political organization to harness...
DEBONIS...and specifically said to be the anti-teachers' union, sort of, counterbalance.
DEBONISAnd where -- how do you think Randi is approaching this? Do you agree with her approach, which is, you know, we got to get out in front of this, which is very much your predecessor, George Parker's attitude, too?
SAUNDERSWell, let me say that there is much dynamic action within national and local teacher unions around the country. Randi has a fair amount of proponents on her position, and she has a fair amount of critics. Some of the things that Randi Weingarten, as president, has been involved in I agree with. Others, I don't. But I'm not unlike a lot of local presidents around the country. There are local presidents, like Karen Lewis in Chicago, others in L.A. and Florida that are more in line with my type of thinking.
SAUNDERSNow, getting out in front of it suggests to me that something should have been done a whole lot early and not -- you don't get out in front of the train after it's going 100 miles an hour, and it is clearly going 100 miles an hour. And just like I said to my predecessor, the problem is we weren't out in front of it. The problem is the train started. It's picking up speed. It's impossible to get out in front of it. Now, what we have to have is an agenda for progress. These people are moving against members, and we've got to be able to address the critical issues.
DEBONISTo extend your train analysis, you're trying to derail that train or slow it down or what?
SHERWOODOr get on it?
DEBONISOr get on it?
SAUNDERSWell, let's stay with the...
NNAMDIEither drive it.
SAUNDERSLet's stay with the train analogy. We need to, first of all, decide where our tracks are going. If our tracks are going in the same direction, then we can get on that train, and we can participate. However, this whole issue of reform and how we approach it has got to be the result of our thoughts, our initiatives and our ideas, not simply trying to fall lockstep in with what's already going on because we haven't done the hard work in terms of preparing our members in doing the hard thinking and analysis.
NNAMDIWe got an e-mail from J.P. who says, "Mr. Saunders, I've been listening to you for over 20 minutes, and the word children has come out of your mouth once. This is the precise reason why teachers are fired under Michelle Rhee." And we have John on the phone in Washington, D.C., who seems to share that sentiment. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNThank you, Kojo. Yes, Mr. Saunders, I hear you're talking about our members and our agenda. And I've never heard a thing about my children, who are in the D.C. public schools. I think that's what got you in trouble in the first place with these no-show, no-fire jobs with no accountability. And I haven't heard anything about the students and the quality of education. Could you please address that?
SAUNDERSSure. John appears to be very angry. I don't know what for, but, nevertheless, the -- let me say this. Our members, all 4,200, go to schools every day and teach children, and they do a heck of a job. And what's unfortunate is that we do this because we care. We're committed, and we are overly compensated from time and time again on behalf of children. Now, the teachers pay union dues. By law, I'm required to talk about my members and to promote and advocate their interests by law. I argue I'm always promoting the interests of good education for children when I promote the interests of people who deal with children every single day.
SAUNDERSMy members don't get enough credit for thousands of teachers showing up every day and taking care of 56 -- 50,000 kids with very few disruptions, every single day for 180 days a year. So I'm proud to represent them. Just because I don't -- every other word out my mouth isn't children doesn't mean I don't care about children. I'm a licensed, certified and highly-qualified teacher myself. My role at this particular point is to help to promote the interests of our members who spent dollars so that they can be -- and do the hard work in the classroom with your children, so that I can make sure that they are taken care of.
SHERWOODWell, I was just wondering, what do you teach? Or what have you taught when you've been a teacher? What do you...
SHERWOODWhat are your qualifications?
SAUNDERSI'm certified in social studies. I've taught high school social studies.
NNAMDII know that.
SHERWOODHigh school social studies?
SAUNDERSYeah, with -- I'm sorry?
SHERWOODHigh school social studies?
SAUNDERSYes, government, economics, social studies...
SHERWOODName the three branches -- no, I'm sorry.
NNAMDIAll the classes (unintelligible)...
SAUNDERSThat would be the judicial, the legislative...
DEBONISI would -- just want to say before we move on, I agree with you, Mr. Saunders, that, you know, I think it's kind of silly for a lot of people to expect the teachers' union leader not to be interested in the interests -- you know, representing the interests of his members. But, you know, you referred to the 4,200 teachers that you represent. You said, they do heck of a job. But what percentage do you think do a heck of a job? Because if IMPACT -- under IMPACT -- I forget the exact percentage, but the percentage that need improvement or have been rated already ineffective in that first round it was, what, 40 -- 30, 40 percent, somewhere in there?
SHERWOODThere's 700-something teachers who are on probation this year.
DEBONISOn probation. It might be a little less than that. So what do you -- what percentage for the 42,000 teachers you represent are doing a heck of a job or effective or highly effective?
SAUNDERSI believe about 95-plus percent of our members are excellent teachers, and I think it's roughly the same percentage that...
DEBONISAnd that's excellent? That's not just...
SAUNDERSWell, let me say, in my category, I have good and bad in this particular answer. And, listen, this group of teachers are very good. It's equivalent to the same percentage of bad lawyers and bad doctors and bad bankers and bad news reporters.
NNAMDIThis is a first visit for Nathan Saunders as president of the Washington Teachers' Union. Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis, you should know, held back their punches.
NNAMDIBut next time.
SAUNDERSAfter that, Kojo...
SHERWOODWhat about radio host? Would you say Kojo is an excellent -- is he an excellent radio host? Or is he a bad radio host?
DEBONISWell, let me -- let's get one hardball in. Mr. Saunders, do you have -- I've just been curious. You are known for showing up at political events, being involved in a lot of, you know -- showing up for a lot of these things. Do you have political ambitions of your own? Are you, perhaps, running for office down the road?
SAUNDERSWell, considering I just won a very important office, in my mind, I want to do this job well. I want to be the best president WTU has ever seen, and...
NNAMDIA sure sign that this man is seeking higher office.
DEBONISTom. Tom Sherwood would call that a political answer.
SHERWOODThat's a nice answer.
NNAMDIA sure sign that he's seeking higher office.
SHERWOODThat's a good answer, and I congratulate you on formulating it.
NNAMDINathan Saunders is the president of the Washington Teachers' Union, recently elected. Nathan Saunders, thank you for joining for us. Good luck to you.
SAUNDERSThank you, gentlemen.
NNAMDIHere's something we just got. Here's what Loose Lips wrote just a few moments ago. The first casualty of Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry's reality show appears to be Andre Johnson, a former communications aide for Barry who is currently, but not for long, the communications director for Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander. Alexander called Loose Lips this morning to say that Johnson will be out of a job because she says he lied to her about his involvement in the show. It's over, his gig is up, says Alexander. She also mentioned it in the comments section of a post written on the Loose Lips blog yesterday. Alexander says she asked Johnson repeatedly whether he was involved in the show, and he told her no.
NNAMDIAlexander also pulled no punches when it to the appearances made in the show by her council colleagues, including incoming Chairman Kwame Brown, at-large Council member Michael A. Brown, and Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr., quoting here, "I can't believe elected officials are involved in this. I am truly shocked," she says, adding that she wants to give her colleagues a message, "Please stick to the council. Hollywood is not in the stars for you." Apparently, Hollywood is in the stars...
DEBONISI saw that comment on Alan's post yesterday, and I wondered whether it was her. And I actually spoke to the council member yesterday, and she was not happy at all. So I can't say I'm surprised. But Andre is -- Andre is a really nice guy, and, yeah, he works really hard. I hope that he lands on his feet.
SHERWOODHe work for (unintelligible)
NNAMDIHollywood is in the stars from Mike DeBonis because he appeared frequently in that reality show called...
SHERWOODWell, he was a non-paid...
DEBONISFrequent? Come on.
SHERWOOD... walk-on bit...
DEBONISI gave an interview...
SHERWOOD…walk-on bit part.
DEBONIS...and they filmed me surreptitiously.
NNAMDIHe is our guest analyst today. He's a reporter of The Washington Post. Tom Sherwood, who did not appear in the reality show, but who owes his entire journalistic career to Marion Barry is a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. A new county executive and new council members were sworn in in Prince George's County this week. Joining us in studio now is Will Campos who is a member of the Prince George's County council. He is a Democrat. Will Campos, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
MR. WILLIAM CAMPOSIt's always good to see you, Kojo. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDILeslie Johnson, the wife of former county executive Jack Johnson, they're under -- they are involved in a bribery investigation by the FBI. Leslie Johnson was among the new council members who took the oath. You were among the council members who wanted her to abstain from doing so. Why did you feel that way? And now that she has taken the oath, what concerns do you have moving forward?
CAMPOSWell, Kojo, I mean, for obvious reasons. I mean, it definitely is a black eye in Prince George's County politics. Now, this is -- a couple of things, first of all. This is nothing personal against Leslie Johnson or Jack Johnson for that matter, and you definitely don't want to go ahead and judge anybody before the legal process has its due. But the fact is that, clearly, it does not look good for an entity the size of Prince George's County in the D.C. metro region, or anywhere for that matter, but obviously to being so close in a such a large entity in the Maryland state politics, where the outgoing county executive and the potential coming in county council member, one of my colleagues, is under these serious allegations and charges.
CAMPOSSo for the benefit of the image of Prince George's County and our new government coming in, because I thought that it was going to take away from what we should be focusing on, which is we have a new administration, we have majority new council, and it's a step in the right direction coming in together and moving forward. I thought it was going to take away from that, and it clearly has. And that's one of the reasons why I asked her not to take the oath.
NNAMDIThe council has barred Leslie Johnson from sitting on any of the council's committees where a lot of the key decisions are made. But as part of the deal struck during a closed door session, she will be allowed to attend committee meetings and, most importantly, to vote on bills that come before nine -- before the full nine-member body. Do you have concerns about her ability to vote?
CAMPOSWell, one of the things that we try to figure out as a council as a whole was to see how it is during the -- at least during the investigation -- how we can be at least proactive in the event that anything happens in the District 6 seat, that we are ready for whatever it is to come, whether it's -- the seat becomes empty or somebody comes in, somebody new. And so what we did was, basically, we voted to not have Leslie Johnson serve on any committees. We have four different committees, education, public safety, zoning and...
NNAMDIThe other one.
CAMPOS...and environment -- and environment. And, basically, what we wanted to do is just -- I hate to say the word limit, but that's basically what -- you know, we wanted to see how it is that we can at least, in the meantime, prevent her from voting on anything that may be potentially controversial.
DEBONISNow, Council member...
NNAMDIThat was the part where we say, release the hounds.
SHERWOODIn the executive committee where the -- all these decisions were made, what was her demeanor? How did she behave? There was some word that she wasn't too happy, but did she express that? Did she sit there mournfully? Did she lash out at you guys? What -- tell us something about how the demeanor was inside this private meeting.
CAMPOSWell, naturally, she wasn't very happy about it. I mean, it's understandable, but I hope that -- and I made it a point to say that, you know, we're all this -- in a tough situation here. And we're trying to do what it is that we think is the best for the image and for the government of the county. No, but she definitely was not very happy, by any means.
SHERWOODBut did she -- I mean, did she lash out at you? I mean...
CAMPOSNo, she -- I mean, it was...
SHERWOODWe don't get much image of her. She was very cool to reporters on the cameras when she was -- took the oath of office that she's going to represent her constituents. So I don't have any sense of how -- was she embarrassed?
CAMPOSShe doesn't -- she didn't let -- no...
SHERWOODDid she even apologize in private for the situation in which she's in?
CAMPOSNo, she, you know -- she did mention that she was very appalled for what we -- what it is that we were doing as far as the council is concerned, but there was no apologies. There was no -- it was very -- I'll tell you this. It was a very uncomfortable situation. It really was. But I did try to make sure that I explained that it was a tough issue for all of us, and this is what we were trying to -- we thought was the best thing that we were doing.
NNAMDIWe are talking -- Prince George's County -- with County Council member Will Campos and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Here's Mike DeBonis.
DEBONISCouncil member, on Monday, right after -- you know, after the ceremony was completed, I spoke to former Gov. Glendening, a former county executive himself, and he thought that Council member Johnson should recuse herself from all business. And he suggested that any vote that she take in, particularly a single-vote margin, would be, you know, subject to suspicion, under a cloud. Would you agree with that assessment?
CAMPOSWell -- and that's basically the reason why we suggested not having her serve on any committees. And that's why she will not be...
CAMPOS...serving on any committees.
DEBONISBut any -- in a general council vote...
NNAMDIBut let me take the opposite position for one second.
NNAMDIIf you happen to be a resident of District 6 in Prince George's County, and you're told that because your representative is under indictment, you now have no voice in county council affairs whatsoever?
CAMPOSThat's one of the things -- there's a couple of things that we could have done also. Legally, we could also take in her staff, and as well as her budget from her so that she essentially was a one-person...
CAMPOSBasically. And we didn't want to do that because of the same reason that you just brought up. Because we don't have -- want the District 6 constituents to have no representation, to have no constituent service or anything along those lines. However, there may be some issues that come along, whether it's zoning cases, whether -- it may be, you know, legislation, that we also want her to be -- as far as what you just mentioned, you know, prevent such a -- the next media outline -- or media headline, I'm sorry, saying, Leslie Johnson is the deciding vote on X.
CAMPOSAnd, you know, then what's going to come from that? You know, there's all the different things. The allegations are going to come back on. This is the person that's under investigation. We didn't want to do anything. We didn't want to have anything like that happen to us in Prince George's County, so that's why we kept her from doing that.
CAMPOSAnd, yes, I do agree with what Mr. Glendening said.
DEBONISYeah, the -- I mean, it should be noted that close votes like that are fairly uncommon in county council votes. There's a lot of 9-0 votes for it in my experience, but that may or may not be fair. I'm sorry. Can you sort of describe, on Monday -- you know, I was there on Monday, and everyone is out there freezing their butts off waiting for this to go, and we're going through the -- all the county council, District 1, District 2 -- Will Campos takes the oath of office. And everyone is waiting to see what's going to happen with Leslie. What were you thinking? You're sitting up there in that dais while everybody is waiting for this to happen. What's going through your mind?
CAMPOSI can honestly tell you it was definitely a very uncomfortable feeling because I didn't know it was going to happen. You didn't know if there were was going to be people that protested. There was definitely people in the audience that are very verbal, and, literally, we were just waiting for them to come out. But nobody said anything negative-wise. We had quite the opposite. She did have a large fan base, and she got very large applause, I mean, as well as Jack Johnson. So it was good in the sense that it did not ruin a great moment for the rest of the council members, as well as Rushern Baker, that, you know, we're trying to move forward on a positive note. So, in that sense, it was good, but it was definitely surprising that nobody came out and said anything.
NNAMDII can tell you what was going through Mike DeBonis' mind 'cause I read his tweet. Doug Gansler, the Maryland attorney general, is not wearing a coat, and it's freezing outside.
DEBONISI don't know how he did that.
CAMPOSI noticed that also.
SHERWOODWhose decision was it to be outdoors?
DEBONISHe must have had long underwear on.
SHERWOODI mean, who made that decision to be outdoors? Is that the first bad decision by Rushern Baker?
CAMPOSYou know, I'm not...
SHERWOODI mean, goodness gracious.
CAMPOSI'm not going to blame anybody, but I am -- I'm getting rid of a little 24-hour flu that I caught from that day.
DEBONISYeah, so the man had the William Henry Harrison moment.
DEBONISYou know, he catches the bug in his inauguration. He's dead in a month.
NNAMDIRushern Baker didn't waste a lot of time this week. On his first day, he fired or he accepted resignations from about a dozen top officials from Jack Johnson's administration, including Police Chief Roberto Hylton. Starting with Chief Hylton, what did you make of the personal moves that Rushern Baker made this week?
CAMPOSYou know, every new administration is going to come in, and they're going to put the people that they feel are the most adequate for those positions. It doesn't matter whether it's the -- it's a mayor, county executive, a new director. I mean, that's just going to happen. That's just natural whenever you start a new government. So, in that sense, it's not surprising. Now, I like Roberto Hylton. I thought he was...
NNAMDIHe's got a lot of supporters. A lot of people believe that he was out front on all of the corruption issues, that he was trying to clean house, that he was trying to discipline people, and, particularly in the Hispanic and Caribbean communities, a lot of people are upset.
CAMPOSNo, I do agree with you. He was the first and only Latino chief that we have had -- Afro-Latino that we have had in Prince George's County. And he was very well-liked. Unfortunately -- now, this is not to say that it's necessarily his fault, by any means -- unfortunately, there was an issue. There's been several issues in Prince George's County Police in the last couple of years of corruption. And whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, or whether he deserves it or not, sometimes, you know, you got to go to the top. You got to put the blame or the responsibility on the person who's on top. And so, unfortunately, it's tough to overlook the different things...
NNAMDIYeah, but speaking of the person on top, crime is down to a record low in Prince George's County -- the numbers of the numbers. What concerns do you have about how changing the leadership of the police department are going to affect that aspect of its performance?
CAMPOSYou know, that is true. There's a couple of things in politics that you got to look at. You want to look at what it is that the person has done. You look at numbers. And, in this case, we see the crime has gone down quite significantly in violent crime, so that is great. But there's more to it than just numbers regardless of what position you're in, regardless of what -- as an elected official, regardless of -- you know, there's more than just legislation. It's how it is that you get along with the community. It's how it is that, you know, you present yourself or in the district of Prince George's County. And certain things, unfortunately, not only -- if they're -- even if they're out of your control, they're going to -- you're going to be responsible for it.
DEBONISCan you sort of -- you know, sort of put a point on that? Because it seemed that Chief Hylton had -- generally got good reviews for his community relations.
CAMPOSNo, and he did. He did.
CAMPOSWhat I'm saying is, you know, sometimes -- there's two things...
DEBONISJust to have these constant sort of issues with the police department, whether it's, you know, the beating of this kid at...
SHERWOODSecond job, so and so.
DEBONIS...whatever, these issues with the police academy testing and all this other stuff? It's that sort of thing.
CAMPOSThe testing, the FBI investigation, the beatings, I mean, the corrections facility with the issues that we had there with the cell phone situation. I mean, all that adds up now.
DEBONISWell, would you like to see the new county executive -- you know, eight years ago, when Jack Johnson first came in, the same sort of situation, but he really went outside of the sort of -- you know, outside of the department to bring in Melvin High in from the...
CAMPOSNo. I'll tell you a couple things first.
CAMPOSMy personal -- just on -- just to finish off with Chief Hylton, I think he should have deserved at least a little bit more time. He's only been there for two years. Two years isn't -- one to two years is not enough to change a whole entire system. So, in that sense, I would like to have at least seen him work out with Rushern to see what it is that he could brought to the table once with the new administration. So that's one thing.
CAMPOSNow, as far as bringing somebody in from the outside? No, absolutely not. I think we have people in our department that know the system very well, that have gone up the ranks and are very well-deserving of being the next chief of police in Prince George's County. We have people that have grown up in the county that know it very well, and I would like to see them come to the leadership position. But, no, in my opinion, I think we have more than adequate talent to bring up. I think it would be -- personally, I think it'd be insulting to bring somebody from the outside.
SHERWOODFor many years of the reputation of the Prince George's police with the brutality issues, it just has taken forever for that to fade away. Now, you have all these officers who are -- the guys who are accused of protecting cigarettes and booze, illegal booze running, the guys who -- officers who are, you know, have these questionable private jobs, off-duty jobs. There was some suggestion that there was -- the new acting Chief Mark Magaw was going to have what he called a office of secondary employment up and running by today. Do you happen to know if, in fact, that office is up to monitor more what the officers do in their private time?
CAMPOSHonestly, I don't know.
CAMPOSThis is the first time I hear about it, so I couldn't comment on that.
NNAMDIBack to the county council for a second, what do you think should be the immediate legislative priorities for the council moving forward?
CAMPOSWell, right now, to be honest with you, everybody is so new and fresh into county politics as far as the government is concerned, between administration and the council, we literally need to come together to learn the process and figure out how it is that we're going to move together within the administration and the council. 'Cause I think that's one of the things that we, unfortunately, did not do very well this last time around, is getting together with the administration and being in sync. So...
SHERWOODHow many council members are new? How many there are?
CAMPOSFive, five out of the nine.
SHERWOODFive of the nine are new.
CAMPOSFour of us are returning, five are brand-new, and we -- also we have, obviously, the new county executive and his administration. So, right now, quite frankly, we need to find out what the numbers are for the budget. We need to get briefed all together to find out if there -- which, I'm sure there will be a deficit -- and how we it is that we move forward and also be in sync with our legislative officials at the general assembly.
NNAMDIWe don't have much time left.
DEBONISGiven all the changes, all the different people, things sort of feel different down at the county administration building these days?
CAMPOSWell, naturally because everything is just -- we're so new. On the positive note, we are looking forward to moving ahead with a new council with new members. I think from the little bit that I know of them, they seem like great people, and I'm very...
SHERWOODI got to ask this question 'cause I haven't been out to the council chamber. Somebody told me that in order to get in to see a council member, you have to go through two security stations. Is that true?
CAMPOSYes. Well, you had to go through the first floor security station.
SHERWOODAnd then another one to get to the council member?
CAMPOSOn the second floor.
SHERWOODWhy is that? What are you guys afraid of?
CAMPOSI'm not afraid of anything, to be honest with you. These are changes...
SHERWOODI'm just -- it just seems -- these are the elected of the people, and the people are proud.
DEBONISWell, it seems -- would there be any -- from a reportorial standpoint, I mean, a lot of my colleagues have always been frustrated, you know, getting in touch with a council member. Council Member Campos, you have a very good reputation for returning phone calls. But some of your...
CAMPOSThank you. I appreciate it.
SHERWOODOh, good grief.
DEBONIS...and colleagues do not. I mean, and, you know, we got funneled through this person...
SHERWOODAnd they also get to go into this closed office in an inner sanctum.
DEBONISRight. And we get funneled to this one person...
NNAMDII'm afraid we're just about out of time. Will Campos...
DEBONISCan you give some -- address some changes on that front?
CAMPOSThat's something that I would like to change.
SHERWOODOpen the doors.
NNAMDI...is a member of the Prince George's County council. He's a Democrat. Will Campos, thank you very much for joining us.
CAMPOSThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIMike DeBonis is our guest analyst. He's a reporter at The Washington Post and a sometime television star. Mike DeBonis, thank you for joining us. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst, who, unfortunately, was not able to indulge in his usual rant against all security procedures today. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current...
SHERWOODAnd I'll be doing Festivus in Adams Morgan, Saturday, at 1.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Montgomery County residents are voting this fall on term limits for their local council representatives. Are they picking up on lessons learned from Prince George's County?
The MacArthur Foundation named 67-year-old Baltimore artist Joyce J. Scott a 2016 Fellow -– an honor that comes with a $625,000 "genius grant" and international recognition.
We explore concerns in the black community about the "Death with Dignity Act" which is advancing in the D.C. Council, and what medical aid in dying means among those who are historically skeptical about medical intervention.