A longtime Arlington County Board member shakes up Virginia politics by announcing plans to step away. Uncertainty clouds the future for the chief of one of Maryland's treasured public school systems. And the field of candidates narrows in D.C.'s special elections looming in the spring.
District voters will head back to the polls on April 26 to elect an at-large member of the D.C. Council. It’s a city-wide race that’s pitting political newcomers against veterans. We chat with a group of candidates competing for the job. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Bryan Weaver Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
- Joshua Lopez Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
- Vincent Orange Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large); Former Member, D.C. Council, D-Ward 5
- Sekou Biddle Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large); Member, D.C. Council (D-At Large)
- Patrick Mara Republican Candidate for D.C. Council (At-Large)
Five of the candidates for the At-Large seat on the DC Council present their opening statements:
Five candidates for the At-Large seat on the DC Council discuss recent city scandals involving politicians, including current Council Chairperson Kwame Brown:
Five of the candidates for the DC Council’s At-Large seat talk about immigration issues in the District of Columbia:
Five of the candidates for the DC Council’s At-Large seat discuss education reform and present their closing statements:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Welcome, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODHello. Hello.
NNAMDIToday, we've got five candidates for the at-large seat on the D.C. City Council vacated by now chairman Kwame Brown, so we're moving fast. Because of time constraints and the size of our studio, we had to break our conversations with the at-large candidates into installments. Next week, we've invited Tom Brown, Alan Page, Dorothy Douglas and Arkan Hale to appear on the -- that edition of "The Politics Hour." We will introduce our candidates today shortly, but first, Tom Sherwood and I would like to discuss a few issues quickly, and then, we'll tell you how you can call and how you can participate in this conversation.
NNAMDILet's start with Virginia, Tom Sherwood. Tim Kaine, after a great deal of speculation, the former governor has decided to dive into the Senate race, giving up his chair of the Democratic National Committee. He appeared to be reluctant at first, but I am reliably informed that he showed a great deal of enthusiasm when he made his announcement this past week.
SHERWOODWell, once you jump in, you have to be enthusiastic. Otherwise, you might as well not run, but it did take him a long time. Once Jim Webb said he was not going to run, for Kaine, I think his arm was twisted in a couple of ways, but he looked at it. The president would like him to run. All the Democrats in the state want him to run. He was a good mayor of Richmond. I think that he had a pretty good reputation from there. He has a very good reputation across the lines with the governor -- as the governor of the state. So he clearly is the best candidate for the Democrats to put up.
NNAMDIAnd last week, we had the Tea Party candidate who's going for the Republican Party nomination, and it is generally assumed that George Allen is in this and in it to win it. Former governor, former Senator George Allen.
SHERWOODYeah. He wants his seat back. He thinks he -- only because of his missaying the word Macaca in the last campaign, he thinks he probably would have beaten Jim Webb in that campaign. He wants another try at it. But six years ago, the Tea Party didn't exist, and so he's got to deal with Ms. Radtke as a -- how do you say her name. Ms. Radtke?
SHERWOODAnd she's making a concerted statewide effort. There could be other candidates in there, and that's -- there will be a primary. I don't think the date is set yet. Very interesting. This campaign in Virginia because of the -- Obama carrying Virginia four years ago.
NNAMDIIt's going to be a real interesting...
SHERWOODIt will be one of the most significant races in the country.
NNAMDIIndeed, it will. Everybody is talking about the likelihood, possibility of a government shutdown and how that will affect business around here. What does it mean in terms of the District of Columbia government itself?
SHERWOODWell, because the District government is subject to the whims of Congress, it's treated as a federal agency in this kind of situation, so therefore, it will shut down too. The schools will stay open, although I'm not really quite sure why. But police and fire will stay open. Emergency services will be done, but basically, the government will stop. And we've all been joking, having a good time about it that one thing that won't happen is that the parking ticket writers, not the police, but the parking ticket writers will not be writing tickets. But the police will still be able to do so.
NNAMDIOne of the big stories in the District of Columbia this week, of course, the hearing yesterday by City Councilmember Mary Cheh on the hiring practice of the Gray administration shortly after it came to office. It would seemed that one can say, as usual, Sulaimon Brown seemed to have attracted the most attention by showing up and then refusing to participate in the hearing. But what did you get? What did you glean from yesterday's...
SHERWOODWell, there are two aspects of it. Clearly, one of the issues is whether it's how many of the mayor's department heads had their adult children hired in the administration, and it's pretty clear now that there was a pretty open door for people to get their kids hired in the administration. Most of whom are all gone now. But that was clear. It was not necessarily illegal. It probably wasn't illegal, but it appears to be bad politics. The flipside and the serious part of this is whether or not Sulaimon Brown, a minor candidate for mayor last year, in fact, was paid money and, in fact, was given a city job to attack Adrian Fenty on the campaign trail last year to promote Vince Gray. We still don't know the answer to that.
SHERWOODThe mayor's former chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, said yesterday that she hired Sulaimon without any pressure from anybody, the mayor or Lorraine Green, the campaign chairman, or any of that. Some people simply don't believe that. I don't think we know exactly whether or not Sulaimon Brown was paid anything or whether he got that job because of politics, but it certainly hasn't been cleared up by the Gray administration so far.
NNAMDIAnd finally this, the big news about D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown this week coming out of the Office of Campaign Finance that his campaign in 2008, when he had no opposition, failed to account for more than a quarter of a million dollars in expenses used in the now defunct political consulting firm to pass $239,000 to a firm operated by his brother that, according to an audit release by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, that...
SHERWOODI thought that the program all in the family had closed, shut down but apparently not. This is a big deal for Kwame, I mean, for the chairman. He's come into office under a terrible -- he rolled into office, you might say, in an SUV that created a horrible problem for him. Last year, during the campaign, News 4 first reported it that he was horribly in debt. He was being sued for $50,000 in credit card debt. He said he'd take care of that and be better. Now, it turns out his 2008 campaign is in shambles when it comes to accounting. No one has yet looked at the 2010 report for chairman, so it just seems to be one more problem after another with the chairman of the council, and it's bad for him -- and I hope we'll get into that with some of the candidates who want to take over his seat in the special elections.
NNAMDIIndeed, those candidates seeking for the seat that Kwame Brown held before he was elected chair of the city council. The candidates join us in studio. Gentlemen, before I introduce you, the rules. There will be an opening statement to introduce yourself to our listeners of no more than 30 seconds. Then, there will be questions from Tom and yours truly and from the members of our listening audience. We ask you to restrict your responses to no more than one minute. Each of you will be given a closing statement of one minute. We assume, Tom, that these candidates, like so many others, operate on the assumption that he who takes up the most of your time wins the debate. We'd like to think that that does not work with our listeners. That, for them, trying to grab too much time can simply make a candidate, well, annoying.
NNAMDIFor our callers or e-mailers, please do not request that all candidates respond to any one question. Please, direct your questions to a specific candidate. That said, the number is 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow, e-mail to email@example.com or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. This is "The Politics Hour." The candidates I will introduce each one and ask him to make a short statement introducing himself to our listening audience, and then, we will start taking or asking questions of the candidates.
SHERWOODOnce again, I don't get an opening statement.
NNAMDINo, you don't get an opening statement...
NNAMDI...but you do, however, get a closing statement. First candidate to my right is Bryan Weaver -- to my right is Patrick Mara, immediate -- to my immediate right. He's a Republican candidate for the D.C. Council, seeking an at-large seat. Patrick Mara, why are you seeking this seat?
MR. PATRICK MARAGreat. Well, thanks, Kojo. Well, first of all, as you...
NNAMDIWell, no, tell the audience who you are.
MARAMy name is Patrick Mara. I am a fiscally responsible, socially progressive Republican. I live in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Ward 1. I am currently the Ward 1 state board of education member. I am extremely active in the community, particularly in the areas of education. I am running because nobody else can claim the mantle of ethics and independence more than me. I am the only true outsider in this race, and if a member of the council is complete -- doing one of these unethical legal acts, like council members seem to be doing lately, I am the only member who can clean -- help to clean up this government. We just have not been doing a good job with ethics, and obviously, I'm running for fiscal reasons as well.
NNAMDIGlad to hear you say you live in Columbia Heights. I always see you there. I thought you were just kind of hanging out over there. That's actually where you live. Our next candidate is Bryan Weaver. He's a Democratic candidate for the council. Bryan Weaver.
MR. BRYAN WEAVERThanks for having us on the show. My name is Bryan Weaver. I'm a former eight-year ANC commissioner in the Adams Morgan community. A 20-year community activists around youth issues in Ward 1 and now throughout the city. I am an independent progressive Democrat. I don't think that you can really sort of claim the mantle of being an outsider just because you're a Republican or (word?) person or a Democrat. I think that everyone is extremely bothered by some ethical lapses that we've seen at the council. And right now, what the thing that I really think that we need in the District is we need to fight for oversight, holding our public leaders accountable and reform of the overall government of Washington.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Bryan Weaver. If you don't win this race, are you going to go into the video business professionally? That's what you seem to really like doing. Our next candidate, Vincent Orange, needs no introduction. So, Tom Sherwood, you suggest we move on?
SHERWOODNo, no. I think we should get him 25 seconds.
NNAMDIBecause he's better known or what? Our next candidate is Vincent Orange. He is, of course, a Democratic candidate for the D.C. Council. Vincent Orange, your turn.
MR. VINCENT ORANGEGood afternoon and thank you for having me here. My name is Vincent Orange. I'm a former two-term councilmember and currently serve as a Democratic National Committee man. I'm here to offer my services to the city once again in its time of need. As you know, I served on the council when we had a $518 million deficit when I left in 2007. We're at $1.6 billion. Today, the situation is somewhat similar. We have a $322 million deficit. Our leaders are in a bit of trouble, and we need to, you know, get things back on track again. So I offer proven experience, integrity and accountability, and an independent voice that will stand with the citizens of the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Vincent Orange. Our next candidate is Joshua Lopez. He is too a Democratic candidate seeking the at-large seat on the city council. Josh Lopez.
MR. JOSHUA LOPEZYes. Good afternoon. Thank you for having me on here. My name is Joshua Lopez. I'm a former ANC commissioner, former vice president to the Ward 4 Democrats. I've worked inside the city council as a staffer and worked outside in the nonprofit sector. If voters are looking for a candidate who's going to be honest, someone willing to work hard, someone willing to introduce new ideas, think outside of the box when it comes to solving problems and continue to fight for education reform, stand firm on it, stand firm and support the new chancellor, I'll be the best candidate. If you're looking for someone to shake things up, I'm your guy.
LOPEZNumber five on the ballot. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Joshua Lopez. And finally, we hear from Sekou Biddle. He too is a Democratic candidate. He's currently the member of the D.C. Council who's holding that seat on an interim basis. Sekou Biddle.
MR. SEKOU BIDDLEThank you, Kojo. Once again, my name is Sekou Biddle. I'm running for this position because education is, quite frankly, the number one issue the city faces today. I am the independent education reformer running in this race. I've got a track record of proven results in education and education reform. I started my career with Teach for America. I taught for eight years. I went on to lead -- work in organizations like KIPP that have been high performing serving low-income students across the city. And through my leadership with Jumpstart for Young Children, I've demonstrated real results for our children. I believe, frankly, that what the council needs is a leader on this issue, and I am that leader.
NNAMDIThank you very much, all. And Tom Sherwood insisted that I be the one running the clock so he could get to hog all the questions on the broadcast. So hog away.
SHERWOODI want to come back -- well, thank you. And I won't take 30 seconds. A gentleman stopped me on the street the other day, and he said, why doesn't Kwame Brown, the chairman of the council, resign? His finances are in disarray. He has campaigns that are in disarray, and he misspent money right out of the bat last year by asking for a fully-loaded SUV. It's a joke. Why shouldn't he resign? I would ask the candidates -- we'll start with Sekou Biddle. You were endorsed by Kwame Brown to take the seat when the Democrats chose somebody. Should the chairman resign, or what should he do with this horrible ethics cloud?
BIDDLEYeah. Well, I think, what the chairman has got to do...
SHERWOODWell, yes or no in terms of resigning.
BIDDLENo. But what the chairman has got to do is get the information about all these scandals out in the open. I think, most recently, this issue with the -- his campaign finance filings leaves us, as Kojo mentioned, a quarter of a million dollar question mark about where did this money go, and how it was spent. And the most important issue is we've got to get the facts out, so we know exactly what it is what's wrong, and so we can have some clarity on this issue.
SHERWOODWell, the facts are that the audit from the campaign finance office says that he misreported hundreds of thousands of dollars. Either didn't report it, or didn't account for them. So what more do you need to know?
BIDDLEWell, I would like to know. I'm sure we all like to know where the money was spent. That's the question.
SHERWOODWhat about you, Josh? You said -- I think you said ethics in your 30 second -- should the chairman resign? What should he do?
LOPEZIt's probably still too early to make that call. But, you know, I think you need to step up to the plate and accept responsibility. I mean, you know the guy has, you know, the chairman has, you know, apologized on numerous occasions for the number of mistakes. You know, the best thing you can do moving forward is to stop making simple mistakes. You know, step up to the plate, establish an ethics committee, you know, really lead by example.
SHERWOODVincent Orange, in your campaigns, I don't recall that they were campaigning controversies in your previous -- maybe they were. I can't remember. What about this? You know Kwame Brown. You ran for chairman last year. You create -- raised issues about his finances. Now, there's new information. Should he resign?
ORANGEWell, I think that's a personal decision for Kwame Brown at this point in time. I do think that the process will continue and he should be, you know, forthright. The next step is the audit report will be referred over to the general council's office in the office of campaign finance. And then there will be a hearing and he will be able to come in and state on the record what his position is. There's two key questions. The $169,000 that was distributed and called day labor, and there are no records to document that.
SHERWOODNo money details.
ORANGEAnd the other issue relates to the $30,000 that was written out in cash. And they can only account for three of the eight transactions. So it's some very serious questions that has to be addressed and, hopefully, through that process that they will address those issues.
SHERWOODBryan Weaver, if you win this election, you'll be on the council even as the chairman manages the $10 billion budget going through the council now. Given the chairman's personal and campaign finance problems, should he resign or what should he do?
WEAVERHe won't resign. I mean, that's -- I mean, whether he should or he shouldn't, I think that, right now, if you look the way that the ethics is set up at the council, it really calls into question how we govern ourselves here as a city. And if you look at all the scandals, it's not just Kwame Brown. It's five sitting city council members that are embroiled in deep things. We have -- last year, we had Marion Barry and the censure that came forward from the council. But all of these ethics laws that we have before us, they have no teeth.
WEAVERWhat we really need to do is have an ethics reform that actually has teeth, and there are penalties if you actually violate off the campaign finance or if you are misspending city dollars or you're violating the law. I mean, there have to be penalties toward city council members. There has to be some sort of accountability.
SHERWOODPatrick Mara, the chairman has said that he'll pay any costs to the city for the SUVs. He has said that he's tried to -- he is busy cleaning up his finance records, and he's apologized, essentially, for bad record keeping on his campaign. Again, should he resign? If not, what should happen?
MARAWell, first of all, the U.S. attorney must investigate this. It's pretty -- it's very clear from the Office of Campaign Finance findings that they cannot account for monies from the chairman, they can't account for monies that went to his brother. And this is just more of the same, old clubby culture, business-as-usual mentality in Washington, D.C. When you have 800,000 and you can't account for 300,000, that's a big problem.
MARAAnother thing that people are missing, for example, in 2008, the chairman didn't have an opponent in either the primary or the general, and just lots and lots of campaign monies are raised in these races. And if you're not ethical with your campaign finances and not properly reporting your campaign finances, what's going on with the D.C. budget?
NNAMDIAnd, Sekou Biddle, this poses a particular problem for you because there is a perception that, A, you and Chairman Brown are personal friends, B, it is known that Chairman Brown not only endorsed you but helped you with the Democratic state committee so that you could be, in fact, the person who would get the interim position. And so on this campaign, during the course of this campaign, people are likely to say, how is Sekou Biddle likely to be any different from Kwame Brown?
BIDDLEWell, you know, Chairman Brown and I attended Woodrow Wilson High School right across the street together, so we have known each for some time. You know, how -- you know, people judge me by the work that I've done, the work that I've done on the council for the last several months, really addressing the major issues that the city faces around education and employment. People would judge me around my track record of work and education, you know, my service in the classroom, my service to this community.
BIDDLEI think people, you know, certainly ask me every day, why do I think I'm the best person for the job. And my track record of service speaks for itself. I think that's what the people will judge me on. They judge me on the work that I've done and what they believe I can do for them in the future.
NNAMDIAnd, Vincent Orange, even though I know that you ran against Kwame Brown in the race for chairman of the council, and it was quite a testy race, I know that you will say that if elected, you will be able to work with Chairman Brown. So the broader question, what measures do you think are necessary to make sure that ethics and accountability are part of how the council operates, and what do you intend to do to bring about those measures as a member of the council?
ORANGEWell, the first I would do on the council is I would introduce emergency legislation and establish an ethics committee as soon as I came on to the council. That way, it will force every council member to address the issue. I think it was unacceptable when the chairman went on his retreat with the council members, and they went into the retreat with the idea that they would come out and create an ethics committee. And then when he came out, he made the statement, well, the votes aren't there. Well, we don't know what happened in that meeting.
ORANGEAnd I think it's incumbent upon every council member to officially go on record and state where they are as it relates to the ethics committee and hold a vote right away. And the only way you can get that done is to have emergency legislation, declare emergency because of the ethics problems and get people to vote at that point in time.
NNAMDIOur caller would like to ask Vincent Orange, if it is found -- no, I'm -- this is the caller who couldn't stay on the line, I'm sorry. If it is found that the chairman abused power by ordering two SUVs, should he step down?
ORANGEI think if he abused his power and also it's determined once this process is complete on his finances as it relates to his 2008 campaign and if it does not come out in his favor, yes, I think he should resign.
SHERWOODDo you, gentlemen -- Patrick Mara had just said that he thinks the U.S. attorney should look at the campaign financing dollars. Do you guys object -- do any of you object to that at this point or do you agree with that?
ORANGEI did want to speak to that. I think it was too...
SHERWOODThis is Vincent Orange.
ORANGEYes, this is Vincent. I think it's too -- it's premature to call the U.S. attorney in at this point in time because the Office of Campaign and Finance, they're doing their job. They have the one that they've completed a record. And the next step, by law, is to transfer that over to the general council to hold hearings and...
SHERWOODTo let the process go on.
ORANGEAnd let the process...
ORANGEAnd also in that process, there are penalties. So, you know, we need to see what they will impose based on what they found.
SHERWOODBryan Weaver, you said...
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, this is "The Politics Hour" starring Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst, an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. We're interviewing five candidates for the at-large seat on the D.C. City Council. Sekou Biddle is a Democrat who is currently holding the seat on an interim basis. The other candidates are Joshua Lopez, he is a Democrat, Patrick Mara is a Republican, Vincent Orange is a Democrat, Bryan Weaver is also a Democrat. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODBryan Weaver, you were suggesting that there ought to be new laws and tougher ethics laws. But, you know, it seems to me if they would just obey the laws that are there in terms of campaign finance, filling out forms properly, reporting the money properly. But what do you suggest -- did you say there should be new...
WEAVERI think, you know, I think it's wider sweeping. I mean, you look at the...
SHERWOODWhat should be done?
WEAVERI mean, if look at the censure for Marion Barry last year. I mean, if you'd look at what that was, I mean, you were talking about a sitting city council member, who fought to get an earmark to someone he had a personal relationship with, and that he took a portion of the earmark. You know, if I worked at Taco Bell and I organized exactly that same thing, they would want to throw me out of my duff and, two, they would call the cops. But somehow at the city council, that's okay.
WEAVERWe allow council members to take foreign trips paid for by third parties. We allow corporations to bundle cash through blind LLCs. It is not a particularly open and transparent form of government that we have here. It's a 1980s model and we really need to modernize it.
SHERWOODI was just gonna say if Joshua would be getting on that to ask further on ethics issue. It just -- it has overwhelmed -- everywhere I go as a reporter, people are saying to me, well, I won't use the cuss words, but just what's wrong with the city? And I wanna hear answers of how to fix the reputation of the city, not just the individual council members.
LOPEZWell, you know, honestly, you know, I just think we're missing honest individuals who are just willing to put the interest of the people first. You know, you look at, you know, all the scandals surrounding the council members. You look at the laws in place. You know, a perfect example of kind of just the hypocrisy that we have going on. You know, last year, we led a write-in effort. You know, we were fined over $18,000. But that you have council members, public officials who blatantly break the law, you know, and they get away with a slap -- you know, slap on the wrist.
NNAMDIJosh Lopez, you led the write-in effort for former mayor Adrian Fenty. Has he endorsed your candidacy? I noticed that your campaign has the colors that he is noted for, but has he personally endorsed your candidacy?
LOPEZThat's a good question for him.
NNAMDIHave you asked him to endorse your candidacy?
LOPEZNo, I haven't.
NNAMDIWhy have you not?
LOPEZMy only focus right now is to go out and speak to individual voters across the city. I've been doing that since I started circulating my petitions on Christmas Eve.
NNAMDIThe city is not a static place. Neighborhoods across the Districts are changing every day. This is a citywide race to represent every single one of those neighborhoods. We mentioned the census earlier. When you look at the most recent census numbers, that indicates the shifting demographics in the District. But, Josh Lopez, people tend to look at these numbers as a story of black and white, but the city's Hispanic population is growing. To what extent do think that candidates and the elected officials have ignored this part of the city's demographic?
LOPEZYeah. It's almost shameful. I mean, if you look at the representation within a District government, you have under a thousand employees who are classified as, you know, Latino or Hispanic. You know, we've never had an elected official on the city council who comes from that background. To be a city that, you know, celebrates diversity, that says that we include everyone's voice at the table, you know, this is a population that essentially has zero voice, you know, when it comes to politics in the city.
SHERWOODCan you speak Spanish?
LOPEZ(speaks foreign language)
SHERWOODOkay. You know, someday, even with my Southern accent, I want to learn Spanish if I could just stop being so lazy about it but (unintelligible)
NNAMDII have one answer for that, and it's the same in English and Spanish. No. (laugh) Here's Patrick Mara. You live in Columbia Heights.
NNAMDISame question that we directed to Josh Lopez in terms of the city's Hispanic population. You live in a part of the city...
NNAMDI...that has a large Hispanic population. How would you represent that community's interest?
MARAI spent a significant amount of time -- I currently represent Ward 1, the most racially diverse Ward on the State Board of Education, and I spent a significant amount of time knocking on doors, attending community festivals. And one of the things I noticed is that there is a huge disconnect and a tremendous unawareness of the numbers of Latino, Latina students in D.C. public schools in Ward 1. And so what I spent a lot of time doing was handing out literature, school choosers, really raising awareness for parents, who may not speak English, of the opportunities they have in D.C. public schools, D.C. public charter schools and -- but I do believe this is one of the largest -- this is the most overlooked population in Washington, D.C.
NNAMDIThis issue has apparently a lot of traction with our listeners and e-mailers. But first, Brian Weaver, I'd like to hear you on the same issue.
WEAVERYeah. I'm -- well, I'm married to a Colombian immigrant. My children are bilingual. They learned to speak Spanish first. They go to a bilingual public charter school. I do think -- I mean, I see it in the reality every day with my own family, that it is an underserved population here in the District. And even with the change in demographics, the largest portion of Latinos that we have are either folks that have come here and are working or people that have come undocumented.
WEAVERAnd they are a blind voice here in the council. Our ANC, for several years, have tried to get it so that people who were legal immigrants into Washington D.C. would at least have local voting rights for their own school board and ANC so that, you know -- because that's the most true form of government at the base levels so that you could have people that were here with residency being able to participate in local government.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the phones. Here is Mike in Northwest Washington. Mike, you're on the air. Gentlemen, please don your headphones. Mike, go ahead, please.
MIKEHi. This question is for Josh Lopez. Do you have any relatives that are here illegally? And, if so, how do you think that's fair to D.C. residents who have to compete with undocumented residents for D.C. resources? I mean, we're in an economic hardship right now.
NNAMDIMike, I am not going to allow Joshua Lopez to answer the question of whether or not he has any relatives who are here illegally. I will allow him to answer the question of what are his views on immigration policy.
LOPEZOkay. Well, to answer your first question, no. The only person who came over to this country were my mother and my father, and my father has since returned to Guatemala. But my whole family lives over there. My mother is the only one that's here, and she's a citizen. Second part of the question, you know, one is just to have, you know, policies that are inclusive of people. You know, you look at, you know, Latinos in the city, you know, we're the highest dropout -- you know, we have the highest dropout rate in the schools.
LOPEZYou know, we're disproportionately affected when it comes to teen pregnancy and health issues. You know, and part of that again is not having a political voice, people that understand the issues that can communicate to the residents in the city. You know, they're essentially being ignored on every level in D.C., which is part of the reason why I jumped into this race. I'm tired of the tokenism. I'm tired of being ignored. You know, it's time that we step up and accept responsibility and go out there and advocate on our own selves.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is Steve at Easton Market.
STEVEHi. This question is for Mr. Orange. Mr. Orange, you go after Council Chair Brown for over $100,000 in unaccounted for campaign expenditures. But in your last campaign finance report, you reported over $60,000 in money order contributions, which are essentially cash contributions that are 100 percent untraceable. So I'm just curious how you square your campaign criticisms of Council Chair Brown against, you know, what you do and practice with your own campaign.
ORANGEWell, first of all, every contribution on my campaign finance report is documented with a name and an address and -- so it's completely within the bounds of the law. And let me say that I did not go after Chairman Brown. Chairman Brown filed for amended campaign reports in the midst of a campaign. And as an attorney and a CPA, and you're looking at this like, why are these reports being filed a couple of weeks before, you know, election day?
ORANGEAnd when I looked at it, I saw that one report indicated that the ending balance was $73,000 and the beginning number was a zero. So being an accountant, the first question is, wow, what is that about? What happened to the $73,000? So it was based on that question that, in fact, the inquiry was started.
SHERWOODWell, it's taken to this race to just clarify 'cause I haven't seen that report. The caller said $60,000 in money order contributions to your campaign, but those money orders had names and addresses attached to it. Then I'm not quite sure what his allegation was.
ORANGEYeah. I don't know the allegation, and I'm just assuming that his premise is correct. I don't know how many were money orders or not, but I do know that it is in compliance with the laws of the District of Columbia. And, actually, the Office of Campaign Finance has done a desk audit, which I assume of every campaign, and they want copies of some of the checks of what they want to examine. But I'm in full compliance, and I plan to be in full compliance.
SHERWOODCan I go? Thank you. Patrick Mara, you, as a Republican -- you've been endorsed as a (word?) Is that what it's called? (word?)
MARATo the best of my knowledge, yes.
SHERWOODWell, you don't know if you've been endorsed by them?
MARAI mean, they're --
SHERWOODWasn't it (unintelligible) his wife...
MARAYeah. I don't know if there's any kind of endorsement. But I know it's a...
SHERWOODBut they've sent out a mailer for you.
MARAI'm aware there's a -- there was a mailer that was sent out.
SHERWOODThat's independent mail.
SHERWOODPeople like to have endorsements, and I think people should be endorsed by various interest groups. The teachers union, I think, endorsed Mr. Orange. Is that right? Are there any endorsements anybody wants to quickly mention?
MARAI was endorsed by the police officers yesterday.
SHERWOODBy the rank and file FOP?
SHERWOODOkay. Do you think Chief Lanier ought to go?
MARAI think that we need to -- I mean, I think we need to…
SHERWOODOh, you're wait -- that's a long time to answer. (laugh)
MARAWell, no. I think we need -- no. But one of the issues that I see with the D.C. council, specifically, is that if you watch a hearing on any given day on channel 13, you see a chairman and really no members of the Council asking tough questions. I think that as a member of the council, I'll ask Chief Lanier the tough questions.
SHERWOODKris Baumann, the head of the FOP, didn't want Chief Lanier reappointed by Mayor Gray and he's furious at Mayor Gray for reappointing...
NNAMDIHe was here last week and all over channel 13 yesterday...
MARAYeah. I mean, I'm on record as saying that I supported her appointment.
SHERWOODAnd her continued employment?
MARAYes. I mean, I'm not a member of the council.
SHERWOODIs anybody here against Chief Lanier? Well, she got the higher 80 percent approval rating so nobody is gonna say right in her face.
SHERWOODBack to the business thing. Business is an important part of the city, I mean, in terms of the development money. This city is rapidly changing. The -- a lot of the poor population is moving to Prince George's County. Some people think we're becoming Manhattan, that you're gonna have to be well to do or totally dependent on the government to live in this city. What does it mean for a substantial business group to endorse you? What does that mean?
MARAWell, I think there is a certain level of recognition that the way the Council approaches spending and taxation now is not the path we need to be on. For example, spending is up 78 percent in the last decade. We cannot continue. These levels of spending cannot be sustained. So I'll be a member of the Council who will look at spending this recent budget. You know, to say that it's -- we're, you know, tightening our bootstraps is a farce. You know, it's up 3.1 percent. So I am gonna be a member of the council who looks at spending.
SHERWOODWhat about -- anybody want to jump in on this in terms of the spending? The mayor has proposed a budget, talking for endlessly about $300 million deficit issue. But the budget, in fact, is gonna grow by $300 million. Is it more than accounting? Sekou Biddle, you're on the council what do -- you looked at it.
BIDDLEYeah. I think we have to live within our means. That's the bottom line. And I think that this budget does have increases. I think we really need to ask ourselves, you know, the mayor has laid out some priorities. And I personally feel as though what we need to do is keep the budget as level as possible in those areas that are priorities and look for places to cut.
SHERWOODDo you support the mayor's proposal that people who make $200,000 or more a year pay about half percent more in income taxes?
BIDDLENo. Because if we don't live within the means we have right now, we will never have and exert the political will to make the cuts and make the government more efficient. I mean, no one would argue that we're running a clean, efficient machine and we look at our (word?) from this year. We know that (unintelligible)
SHERWOODThe -- don't say (word?). Nobody knows what that means.
SHERWOODAll right. Josh Lopez, always in that southern 'cause we always drag that name, and I apologize. Lopez. What about it? Do you support the higher tax for the higher income?
LOPEZYes, I do.
SHERWOODWhy is that?
LOPEZYou know, historically, you know, the first people to feel, you know, any effect are low-income residents. You know, we're unwilling to dip into the reserve funds anymore. You know, realistically, you know, if we wanna preserve the good programs that are in place and wanna take of our neediest residents, our young people, our seniors, you know, our working class, you know, we're gonna have to raise taxes somewhere.
SHERWOODCouncilmember Jack Evans, who's been the long time finance chairman, said at the council this week that the mayor doesn't understand that if that $200,000 cap will affect 4,000 small businesses that are operating in the city, those people, those small businesses that employed two or three or four, five, six, 10 people, they will be paying more money. Do you -- is it your intention that small business owners pay more money or are you talking about just individuals?
LOPEZIndividuals. But, you know, I was at a workshop this morning with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute with Ed Lazere, Alyssa Silverman. They did a breakdown. You know, those who make 300,000, you know, we'll see a $400 increase in their taxes. So, you know, I think in D.C., unlike other jurisdictions, we have progressive individuals, you know, who care about the city, you know, and they're willing to pay a little bit more if it means, you know, taking care of our neediest residents.
SHERWOODWhat about that, Mr. Weaver? And, of course, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute is an advocacy group for social spending. It's not a -- it's not an accounting firm just to be -- it's a good organization, but that's what they wanna do. Mr. Weaver, what about it?
WEAVERYou know, I agree. I think that if you look at what my family's tax increase under Mayor Gray's proposal, it's $200. It's about $200 increase, something like .08 percent growth, and it's -- there's a sunset clause to it. If you look at where the majority of the cuts have come out of the last two budgets, it ends up being everything that's within the social safety net. It's domestic violence, shelters. It's low barrier family shelters. There is no space for families that are homeless right now. And also, we really just completely have closed off any revenue to the public housing trust fund. I mean, the -- we have no real money that's gonna be able to help spur any...
SHERWOODSo that's yes on the higher tax?
WEAVERSo, yeah. In this proposal, I mean, I -- it wasn't ideal. It's not what I would have proposed, but I support that portion of the mayor's...
NNAMDIVincent Orange, your website says, collectively, we need to increase revenue. We need to grow our tourism industry in the nation's capital and bring our many economic development projects to fruition in order to increase revenue and provide jobs. A, do you believe as others seemed -- as a few others seemed to, that there needs to be this tax increase on people above a certain income? And, two, obviously, there have to be cuts. Where would be the first place that you would cut?
ORANGENo. I do not believe that we need to have a tax increase. I believe what we should be doing is going out collecting the money that's owed to the District of Columbia. You know, we are owed approximately...
SHERWOODWould that include going after people who haven't paid parking tickets because there's a lot of screaming about that.
ORANGEAbsolutely. Absolutely. That's a $300 million number of...
SHERWOODAll -- but some people haven't paid tickets for back to the 1990s. You wanna go and get them?
ORANGEAbsolutely. In fact...
ORANGE...in fact, the entire amount that's owed in that particular area is about $1 billion. The article came out just a couple of weeks ago. But in addition to that, there is $347.7 million from Medicaid reimbursement, of which 109 million was from last year. And then we also have our real estate tax lien portfolio. So it's easy for someone to say that, hey, let's go raise taxes. No, let's go collect our money so we don't have to raise taxes and so we will not have to have these cuts. We're in bad economic times, but remember, we were in bad economic times in 1999 when I came to office...
SHERWOODYou're not gonna collect those taxes any time soon. It will take months, if not years, to collect the money. How would -- you have to balance the budget before, you know...
ORANGENot true, because on the real estate tax liens, if they had put that out on the market, which has been done before, if the package is $200 million and you sell it for $100 million, they're gonna pay you up front because someone else could gets the -- gets their rights.
SHERWOODOkay. You're gonna privatize that collection?
ORANGEThat would be fun. I'll outsource that. And then as it relates to Medicaid reimbursement, it's unacceptable for an agency here to say, I cannot and will not file the paperwork to get money that's owed to District of Columbia. So if we go out and raise taxes, one thing we're getting more money, but we still have not solved the problem that in excess of a billion dollars that's owed to the District of Columbia, and we're doing nothing about it. And that's what I will do, push to collect the money that's owed to the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIWe're talking with five at-large candidates for D.C. city council. There are nine candidates in all. We have to break our conversations with those candidates into installments. Next week, you will hear the other four candidates. In our studio now is Vincent Orange, who you just heard. Sekou Biddle is a Democratic candidate who holds the seat on an interim basis. Joshua Lopez is a Democratic candidate as is Bryan Weaver. Patrick Mara is a Republican candidate.
NNAMDISekou Biddle, one of the major issues during last year's race for mayor was education. Vincent Gray advocated for a more community-based approach and more deliberative approach than that pursued by Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee. What approach do you think would serve the city well when it comes to reforming the schools and how do you intend to sell that approach to your colleagues in the Wilson building?
BIDDLESure. We have got to be aggressive, Kojo. I mean, I was a student at school system over 30 years ago and, unfortunately, things have only gone backwards. Things have not got any better, and they are only gonna get better when we put our foot on the gas. We've got to expand the things that we know work. And I started my career as a classroom teacher and then...
SHERWOODSchools aren't better after three years of Michelle Rhee? Did I misunderstand that?
BIDDLEWhat I'm saying is the school system has not dramatically improved in the -- in my lifetime.
SHERWOODThirty years is -- I'm sorry, Vincent. I thought you just said that you were in the school 30 years ago, and they're not any better. But Michelle Rhee made some progress.
BIDDLEAnd so we've some progress in the...
SHERWOODOkay. Okay, I'm sorry.
BIDDLE...last few years during this educational reform era. But we have got to continue to accelerate that progress. I think the way -- what I bring to the table is real practical experience, as a classroom teacher actually making -- having those results with students with my classroom, leading efforts with other teachers to help teachers be more effective because at the end of the day, the effectiveness of our teacher is really what drives all this. So we've got, you know, utilize tools like the IMPACT to improve our teacher quality, and that's how we improve the quality of our schools.
NNAMDIWhere do you come down on the IMPACT evaluation system, Bryan Weaver?
WEAVERI think it's malleable. I think that there is definitely a lot of good that's come out of it. For me, I think that teacher qualifications are an important asset that we have to sort of really look at. I think that, often, we end up having teachers who are teaching outside their field of expertise in our most underperforming schools. I think that if we've looked at the reforms and actually the new buildings that we've built, they tend to be in a certain location in the city. I would really, sort of, say we have to watch our dollars a bit more effectively and try to push more of the education reform elements to east of the river. And that really is, sort of, the battleground of where we need a desperate level to improve education.
NNAMDIVincent Orange, you have been endorsed by the Washington Teachers Union and that can give some people the impression that because of the conflict that existed between that Union and Michelle Rhee, that Vincent Orange does not support school reform and, in particular, does not like the IMPACT evaluation system.
ORANGEAbsolutely not. You know, I've been credited with being out front for education reform early. As you know, when Mayor Williams would try to take over the school system, I joined him and I came up with standards for third and eighth graders, and that's why I joined that legislation. But let me tell you the reason why I think I was endorsed by the Washington Teacher Union is because I am the bridge to the executive and the teachers in brining everyone together. Clearly, I've been out front on education reform. I have a very good education record with McKinley Technology High School, Noyes Elementary School, getting books for our children by the second week of school and what have you.
ORANGESo, you know, at this point in time, the IMPACT evaluation is very, very, very serious document that has been executed. We have an agreement. Teachers will receive 21 percent increase over the next four or five years in exchange for pay for performance. The only problem we have right now is the 737 teachers on the bubble -- I'm gonna work to ensure that those teachers are gonna get the professional development, all the tools that are necessary to move them to the effective category so we can all be successful.
NNAMDIPatrick Mara, before Tom Sherwood takes over again.
MARAThank you, thank you, Kojo. First of all, IMPACT is literally the cornerstone of the Rhee legacy. I am a big supporter of the reforms that Chancellor Rhee put in place. I had the opportunity...
SHERWOODWe should just be clear. The IMPACT is the way they judge...
MARAYeah. The evaluation tool.
SHERWOOD...and (word?) what IMPACT stands for?
NNAMDIIt's -- you had to bring...
MARAI had the opportunity to speak with over a hundred teachers in the last year. And where the greatest confusion exists, it's not in the ineffective teachers, it's not in the highly effective teachers who are rewarded, it's really in the minimally effective in the effective teaching categories. What I think we probably need in that category -- I know there is a book for professional development, but teachers, you know, just need to be aware of professional development strategies.
MARAAlso, teachers need to be getting structured plans for improvement, and there seems to be a disconnect at this point in time as to how that can happen at the school level. And as Chancellor Rhee recently mentioned, we need to figure out how to incorporate student evaluations into the system as well.
SHERWOODOr you can worry about the cheating, the...
NNAMDIAllow me to have Debbie in Ward 5 raise that issue. Debbie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DEBBIEThank you for having this show at this particular time. My question is going to be for Joshua Lopez. A couple of weeks ago in USAID's Day, it was publicized widely about how Noyes Elementary School was a cornerstone or had been recognized with a high ratio rate from wrong answers to right answers. Now this issue was brought before the council person back in 2003, and nothing was done. I need to know -- and the city demands to know -- what is going to happen, moving forward, to prevent these principals from having the answers in their hands, as the administrators, preventing these tests from being able to get changed and to make sure that our students are getting the true education...
NNAMDIHere is Josh Lopez, Debbie.
LOPEZSo how do we prevent that from happening in the future? Well, you know, support the chancellor's move to refer it to the inspector general, you know, to really find out if there was any wrongdoing in the first place. If there was, you know, you have to take appropriate action from that point. But I think, right now, it's a little bit too early, you know, to kind of make judgment on what's actually happened.
SHERWOODAnd the chancellor, I think, also said there would be more security for the tests. They would be sealed or something so that there will not be local teachers or principals who look at them. Is that right?
MARAYeah, we -- the State Board of Education...
SHERWOODThis is Patrick Mara.
MARAOh. Excuse me. The State Board of Education had a working session this past Wednesday, and we examined the new policies and procedures. And, you know, there are seals on the test guides. There are -- you know, it's very highly regulated. You have two folks at the -- up to two folks at the school who are administrating the entire test. Up to 37 percent of the tests are randomly reviewed. So that's a fairly large percentage, and that's actually a larger percentage of reviews that take place than, I believe, just about any other jurisdiction in the nation.
WEAVERYeah. One of the things I think that Michelle Rhee mentioned on your program last week -- or Monday this week -- was that we're assuming that all of the erasures were going into positive directions. We're actually -- it could go either way. And we talked about other jurisdictions have the same. They would go back through tests. The ones that were marked incorrect actually were marked as correct. So, I mean, we're making a wide assumption about those test scores.
NNAMDIBryan Weaver, your website is the only one among these candidates that seems to have blocked off considerable space for public health issues like HIV/AIDS. What do you think are the city's most pressing public health concerns, and where will those issues fit into your agenda as a councilmember?
WEAVERI think HIV/AIDS. I mean, there was the public relations campaign that happened last year that said that, you know, that HIV is our Katrina. And if you look comparably to our HIV rate in the city compared to internationally, I mean we are in a rate of being very similar to West African and some Caribbean nations in where we are. What I really think that we've -- where we failed on is we have not managed our grant money particularly well. I think that if you followed any of the scandals about money that we've spent -- the $25 million that have gone out into HIV research and making sure that new communities, when heterosexual women of color are the largest new community that are suffering from HIV/AIDS and they don't view it as their crisis -- I think that we've missed the boat. We really have to monitor those dollars better.
SHERWOODMayor Gray has announced a couple -- in the course of all these scandals. It's hard to remember, but he announced a major effort with Dr. Akhter that -- public health person -- that the city, within two years, would stop the growth of AIDS. There would be enough education, enough support, enough treatment for people in demand. Do you think the city can do that? Are you familiar with what the mayor...
WEAVERYeah. I mean --
NNAMDIYou only have 30 seconds.
WEAVERNo. I mean, right now, on the path that we're going on, no. I don't think that. I think that if you look at the mismanagement of how we have spent these...
SHERWOODIt's not like another great leap forward to some people.
WEAVERYeah. No, it's -- I like the sentiment, but we're actually not there. With our oversight responsibilities, these grants have been abysmal.
NNAMDIWe've gotten to the point where each of our candidates is allowed a 60-second closing statement. We'll start in the other direction with Sekou Biddle.
BIDDLEThank you. Once again my name is Sekou Biddle. I'm asking for our listeners' support during the April 26 special election. I believe I'm the best candidate for this position because, as I mentioned earlier, I'm an independent education reformer with years of experience in actually transforming the lives of children, young people, through education. It is the city's number one issue, and I'm quite frankly the most qualified candidate on the issue. I've been, you know, talking about this earlier about endorsements. I was endorsed by the Sierra Club recently and by Democrats for Education Reform, named the Education Reformer of the Month because I am the only candidate in this race with the skills, the experience and the competency to improve education reform by that type of leadership on the council.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Joshua Lopez.
LOPEZThanks, Kojo. You know, the residents of the District of Columbia are looking for someone who's gonna bring some new energy to the city council, someone that's willing to go down and hold people's feet to the fire, our biggest, strongest candidate. If we keep electing the same people, we'll get the same exact results. You know, enough of career politicians, enough of people who don't have backbone and will rubberstamp every decision that's put in front of them. You know, let's go with some new energy, someone who will continue with the progress of the city. I know the city well. You know, I've served in many different capacities. I grew up here. I went to schools here. And I'm willing to work hard. I'm willing to be honest with people. I'm willing to go out into the community. The same way I'm running my campaign is the same way I'll be a councilmember. I'll go out. I'll knock on doors. I'll speak to voters directly, find out what their issues are and come up with solutions. Enough of the excuses. If you're looking for someone new and someone that's gonna work hard for you, vote Joshua Lopez. I'm number five on the ballot. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Vincent Orange?
ORANGEWell, thank you once again. I'm Vincent Orange and I am number nine on the ballot. And I would like to ask the voters of the District of Columbia to vote for me. Not only do I bring experience -- proven experience -- integrity and accountability and an independent voice, but I bring a record of achievement second to none. I have what these other candidates don't have. I have produced. I've produced in the areas of education. I've been out in the forefront. I've produced in the areas of finance, helped balance the budget on numerous occasions and taken us from deficits to surpluses. I've had the opportunity to create jobs. And not only that, I have a vision for the city. I want to get back to creating jobs east of the river, to attack the 30 percent unemployment in Ward 8, 20 percent unemployment in Ward 7. We like to move the city forward in collecting money that is owed to us. So at the end of the day, experience counts, experience matters and production matters as well. And I'm the producer. Thank you very much.
WEAVERWhen I came to Washington, D.C. 22 years ago as a Howard University student, I took an internship, working for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. And Paul at every venue, would say the same thing. It's become a bit of a mantra for my campaign, which is politics is not about power. It's not about money. It's about the improvement of people's lives. It's about the noble fight for human rights and human dignity. I view that we are at a crisis in this city. We lack the responsibility to fight for oversight. We hold none of our public officials accountable. And we continue to fail in reforming this government at every level of government. We talk about education reform. Part of the reason that we don't have a strong school system here in the city is that, for years, we turned the other way. We allowed oversight to be lax. We allowed costs to go up. And I just say, no more. If you want someone that's gonna come out and actually after sweeping ethics, responsibility, and sweeping ethics changes at the council, then I'm the city councilmember for you. Bryan Weaver, number three on the ballot.
MARAMy name is Patrick Mara and I'm asking for your vote on April 26. These forums are like Groundhog Day. Year after year after year, you hear the same promises over and over and over again. I'm running to be the ethical and fiscal watchdog on the D.C. Council. Folks, five members of the D.C. Council have done something extremely unethical, which is also offensive and/or illegal in the last year alone. When are you gonna say enough is enough? I am not endorsed by Mayor Gray. I am not endorsed by Chairman Kwame "Fully Loaded" Brown. I am not endorsed by any member of the D.C. Council. I never will be, and this is something I am quite proud of. Without a doubt, I will be the most independent member of the council and will have the ability to be a whistleblower on my colleagues and in all areas of the district government. I will focus on the fiscal. We need to reduce spending. I will focus on continuing education reform. But I will be the most independent member of the council. My name is Patrick Mara. I'm asking for your vote on April 26. Thank you.
SHERWOODNot a closing remark 'cause I want people to vote. There's gonna be -- you'll be a -- there will be some voting early. I don't know the times, but please pay attention. You can vote early, unless you don't have a...
NNAMDII will be out of town on April 26, so I will be one of those ward voters.
SHERWOODJust don't be a dismal turnout.
NNAMDIGentlemen, thank you all for joining us, and good luck to each and every one of you.
ORANGEThank you very much.
MARAThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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