It's health plan open enrollment season for many employees, including federal workers.The editors of the Consumer Checkbook's annual Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees join us to discuss what you need to know to make smart choices for 2016.
More D.C. politicians end up in handcuffs. Virginia lawmakers push to free up coastal waters for offshore drilling. And Maryland officials lock horns again over in state tuition benefits for the children of undocumented immigrants. 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
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Walter Tejada Member, Arlington County Board (D)
- Vincent Gray Mayor, District of Columbia (D)
Politics Hour Extra
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray says that he was not involved at all in his administration’s decision to hire former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown for a city job and that he has reviewed his own phone records to reveal that he only ever held two brief phone conversations with Brown. Brown has been served with a subpoena and is set to testify before the D.C. Council on May 13 regarding his allegations that the Gray campaign paid him to continue his public criticism of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty:
“I think you’ve got to have multiple approaches to how you advance the issues of the city,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said of recent criticisms that public protests on the part of city officials may not be as effective in advancing the District’s rights as formal lobbying techniques. Resident analyst and NBC4 reporter Tom Sherwood asked Gray if he agrees that advocacy must happen both “in the streets and in the suites:”
Arlington County Board member Walter Tajeda (D) says that although he would support it, there’s not much of a chance of Virginia passing a law similar to Maryland’s that would offer the children of illegal immigrants in-state tuiton colleges and universities:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. He is our resident analyst. Tom "Yes, I was patted down at the airport, though not intrusively" Sherwood. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. You finally made it onto the subversive list, didn't you -- you got...
MR. TOM SHERWOODYou know, it was quick enough...
NNAMDI...patted down at the airport?
SHERWOODYou know, I personally don't like them because I think they're intrusive, but I was happy to be selected. I think the guard that took me suspicious because I smiled when he took me out of the line. And I said, well, you know, I haven't one of these full-body activities, at least not at an airport, and so it's kind of interesting. They were all very polite.
NNAMDIWhy were you...
SHERWOOD...very professional. I thought the TSA people were perfect.
NNAMDIWhy were you happy to be selected? This is an experience...
SHERWOODAs a reporter, I wanted to see it...
NNAMDIThis is an experience...
SHERWOOD...so that I can write about it. Then, that makes my column tax deductible.
NNAMDIYeah. But did you get any indication at all. I certainly didn't get any in your column about why you were selected.
SHERWOODYou know, they wouldn't say. You know, it wasn't anything -- it wasn't all the accoutrements that I had in my little -- the two plastic buckets full of stuff I was taking to Florida. It was something on my person...
SHERWOOD...and I said, well, can you give me a hint? Was it an upper half of the continent or the lower half? Or what was it? And, you know, I didn't have any shoes on. I've taken my belt off, but it -- they said something.
NNAMDIWell, for people who've been watching you on television for the past decades and those of us in this room, you should know you look subversive.
SHERWOODI like to think I am subversive.
NNAMDIOur guest analyst is Patrick "No, I was not blowing a vuvuzela outside the White House Sunday night, I was only covering the people who were" Madden. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 News. There were a lot of vuvuzelas in the report that you aired.
MR. PATRICK MADDENIt was odd. It's sort of as the night went on, there were air horns showing up, vuvuzelas. It became almost like, you know, it was much more of a celebration, almost a spring break-like atmosphere by the end of it. So it was interesting.
SHERWOODThere were so many young people. Why were there so many young people because they're they only ones who can stay up that late or what?
MADDENWell, I think, the George Washington University was right next to the White House, so those students came. Then, word got out across other campus. The other students came, and then suddenly, it's just -- you were seeing all these other students came and then suddenly it just, you were seeing all Bikeshare and cabs of all of these students just rushing in. And I was there at two in the morning.
SHERWOODYou know, I heard that some Maryland students brought a sofa down and set it on fire. (laugh)
NNAMDIWell, you know, I'm glad you raised the generational issue because City Paper editor Mike Schaffer talked about, "In the Reagan years, we kids were reassured by our parents that the Soviets wouldn't send missiles here. The logic which may not have been right but which was certainly reassuring to a 10-year-old was that the commies would want to have a government with which to negotiate after they had wiped out Kansas City and Denver. But in the last nine-and-a-half years, there was no sense that the bad guys adhered to that sort of thinking." The people who were out there on Sunday night were 9 or 10 years old at 9/11 in 2001, so they may have a slightly different view of this than those of us who are older. So you think it might have been generational, Patrick?
MADDENOh, without a doubt. I mean, I would say nine out of every 10 people there were college students. And you would ask them, why are you here? What does that mean for you? And you -- it was hard. They had trouble sort of explaining what it all meant, but I think for those that were 9 or 10 when 9/11 happened, it's just a much different feel. As one person said to me, you know, I was -- I've grown up half my life living under sort of the specter of this public enemy one.
SHERWOODYou have -- somebody tweeted me and wanted to know where do all the Americans flag come from? Do these kids like -- did they have them in their dorm room next to the beer keg?
MADDENI had -- there was one student I spoke with, and it was clear that he had lifted this off of somewhere, and he had then wrapped it on a stick, so.
NNAMDII thought vuvuzelas were a South African thing. When did they migrate? (laugh)
MADDENBlame the World Cup.
SHERWOODAnd where do you buy them?
NNAMDIThey apparently migrated over here. But, Tom Sherwood, one of the things you were somewhat gratified about was that the security response to this did not seem to be excessive.
SHERWOODThat's true, and I've written about this since September 11. They've done it on television, that we cannot defend freedom by shutting down the freedoms. We've done that in the city with all the road closures and the double and triple ID checks, even in private office buildings. But when -- and so when I went down on Monday with my camera crew, I fully expected to move into an armed camp. And my plan was to go from Capitol Hill to the mall to the White House, and at every instance, I met people who were going about their business. The police officers were all almost routinely doing what they normally do. There was no what I call security theater. People were basically just doing their jobs. There were no excess -- I've been told there were officers on Capitol Hill running around with big machineguns and things like that.
SHERWOODWe saw none of that, and I thought that was good. It was more mature, more sobering response that, you know, security terrorism stuff is an everyday thing, you know? Unlike Metro, which, you know, they bring out their two police dogs when they have an event or two officers with machineguns. Then you don't see them the rest of the time. The law enforcement people at the Supreme Court, the Capitol, the Smithsonian and in front of the White House were all relaxed doing their job. And the people understood that while this is a big deal that Osama bin Laden had been killed, it was not the end of the terrorism alerts that we have to put up with.
NNAMDIAnd there was a threat to schools in the District of Columbia yesterday. Later in the broadcast, we'll be joined by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. And I know, Patrick Madden, you were covering those threats. We'll talk about that later in the broadcast. In a lot of ways, President Obama has been on a roll this week, especially on national security, but he told the people at a Cinco de Mayo party last night that he's got his eyes on immigration reform. This is an area where there's been a lot of disenchantment among people in Latino communities and in immigrant communities in this area also. And joining us now in studio is Walter Tejada. He is a member of the Arlington County Board. He's a Democrat. Walter Tejada, good to see you again.
MR. WALTER TEJADAGood to be here. Thanks for inviting me, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou have said that there's a great deal of disenchantment among people in Latino communities and immigrant communities about the president's posture on immigration reform. What is your gripe, and what hope do you see for moving forward to resolving it?
TEJADAYeah. That is correct. I think it accurately reflects the sentiment around the country when we are seeing a record number of deportations, many correctly so who are supposed to be there, the criminals, you know, the rapists, the murderers, the drug dealers. Fine, we have no problem with that. What has happened is a number of other deportations have taken place where families are being separated. Parents are being deported, leaving their children, U.S.-born children behind, and there's just a number of other issues. And then, I think there are -- many people feel that the administration has reacted more to the far right call for punitive approaches, and we all want to have a secure border, of course, and all of that.
TEJADABut that the eventual enactment of comprehensive immigration reform or at least some steps that will lead the community to believe some progress is being made, like approving the DREAM Act, is not happening. And so I think there's a sense of a lot of frustration. One out of six children today in the United States is of Latino descent. We want to make sure that our young people who are -- we want to be the leaders of tomorrow are well educated, and that, you know, so it's a sense of a lot of frustration for us after the sensationalist story of rape or somebody gets caught and then goes away. What happened to these folks when they're detained? Does a judge decide that they deport them? Where are they held? And do they see relatives?
TEJADAAre they -- do they have access -- just a number of questions, human rights issues, a lot of things that are -- that have evolved. And so all together, we are very concerned about the approach that the current administration is taking.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Walter Tejada, call us at 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Tom?
SHERWOODIs it your sense that the Obama administration has stepped up these types of immigration enforcements or just continuing what was happening under President Bush, and what would you have the present administration do that would help in the short run?
TEJADASure. I think it's a -- some of it is a continuation -- in fact, the -- I think that folks want to -- may perhaps get to the point -- you get the impression that they want to say, well, you know, we've had actually a larger number of deportations in this administration than the one before. We have been tougher on the issue. The message that, you know, somehow -- we've been more punitive and encourage then other local governments and state governments around the country to then engage in that type of mentality sort of encouraging that part. And again, we all want to comply with all laws. In Arlington, we comply with all federal and state laws of any kind, including immigration, and I think everybody does. But we do have a sense of frustration that the administration has not moved forward more aggressively on enacting some kind of comprehensive immigration reform.
TEJADAThe president also in Cinco de Mayo said that he wants to do it in a bipartisan way. We agree. I think that we need to have Republicans to step up and not be obstructionists because essentially that's what it boils down to. And so...
SHERWOODIt sounds like, though, some people or political commentators are able to say, well, this -- whether the president does anything about it or not really, that these three or four weeks where he's kind of given this some attention...
SHERWOOD...is simply a way to prepare for -- it's like a checklist. I have to do this for the 2012 elections, so people can't bust on me next year because I'll be better than the Republicans.
TEJADAWell, that some people...
SHERWOODIs that too callous?
TEJADAWell, I think...
TEJADAI think we look at the evidence, and the evidence says that the Democrats have been friendlier to the community inclusive. I think we've seen the punitive proposals at the local, at the city, at the state level come from the Republican Party. And so then you conclude that that's the way they want to go forward, and in some cases blatantly some say they want to scare the community out of the jurisdiction, not realizing they're shooting themselves in the foot because these immigrants they want to scare actually own businesses, hire people and pay taxes. And so that's part also of the problem we have.
SHERWOODPrince William has lost -- I'm sorry I don't want to monopolize the conversation. But didn't Prince William -- hasn't Prince William lost Latino population? I mean, people have moved from that county because of the aggressiveness in that county.
TEJADAWell, Prince William County is a -- have one -- has had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the area, in the nation. And their economy lost a lot -- the tax base, they had to increase taxes. I think those things speak for themselves.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He always says I don't want to monopolize the conversation just as he's about to. Patrick Madden is our guest analyst. He's a reporter at WAMU 88.5 News. Patrick?
MADDENWell, I guess, I was curious from your perspective if there isn't a federal comprehensive immigration reform, what are the consequences of this sort of continuing sort of patchwork approach to immigration policies we're seeing at the county and the local level and the state level?
TEJADAIt's passing on the buck to local governments who take independent actions, and we know that many of those are divisive, and that many of them -- actions taken by local governments have proven unconstitutional in the courts. And so we waste a lot of time and energy, the divisiveness alone plus the local dollars spent on endless lawsuits and all those things. So I think we have plenty evidence why the federal government does need to act. Our immigration policy has been a justice from time to time in the history of our country. It is time to do that once again.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus asked the president yesterday to freeze Secure Communities the program that essentially screens the immigration status of people in local jails against a federal fingerprint database. We'll be talking more about how this program is implemented locally on Monday's edition of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." But what sense do you have for whether there's an opening for congressional action to roll back or to alter this program?
TEJADAI think that we're not going to give ourselves any illusions that this is going to happen any time soon. It's a difficult environment, and now that there's an election environment for 2012, it makes it that much more difficult. The time to act was the first year the administration was in power. You know, the health care reform bottlenecked everything, and this was one of those. But we are where we are, and certainly, many of us who have been working and trying to find solutions to this divisive issue will continue to do.
TEJADAI inspire throughout the country the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, you know, all these other groups that we want to see this happen are ready not only to provide the constructive criticism or maybe a sharper criticism these days, as some of us are making, but also we're willing to roll up our sleeves and be part of the solution and encourage all concerned, particularly the Republican Party, to actually put up and take action and come up to the -- come to the table and enact comprehensive immigration reform now. And we're ready to do that. It's just -- we need to get the Republicans to actually finally be bold and step up.
NNAMDIOur guest is Walter Tejada. He's a member of the Arlington County Board. He is a Democrat. We go to David in Arlington, Va. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHi. I just wanted to ask Mr. Tejada why the board, the Arlington Board, felt it was necessary to almost sneak through the effort to pull out of the ICE Secure Communities program. It wasn't on the agenda. They brought it up in the board meeting before the official meeting actually started. Hardly anyone knew about it, was able to comment about it except some supporters for the effort that were at the meeting. And I was such curious why, in such an overwhelmingly Democratic district, where Mr. Tejada says the Democrats have more support for those kind of efforts, that it was almost not true.
TEJADAThank you for the question, David. I'm happy to answer that question. We learned, in April of -- or May of last -- about a year now, that, somehow, we were under the Secure Communities program. And no one had asked Arlington County for our opinion. There had been no public process. I set out then to start our own process. And, in June of last year, had a standing-room-only forum, where I asked the chief of police, the sheriff and all those folks who have come over and answered questions to the community.
TEJADAWhat does this program mean? There were a lot of unknowns. We didn't know exactly what this -- how this program worked. What we did know is that ICE and folks in Homeland Security had made statements and writing some of them, saying that localities could withdraw from the program. And there were three particular writing, one signed by our Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano. Another document, interestingly enough, was entitled Setting the Record Straight, in which the localities could withdraw from the program.
TEJADASo with all that information, we actually spent all summer discussing this issue, and it was not until September that we took action and passed a resolution. Basically, it boils down to two words: clarity and guidance. Exactly, if it's up there, how does it work? And, if not, why not? And to guide us on how this is processed. So it will never surprise me that when we are discussing something in great depth, some folks have not heard about it. For instance, right now, we're in the next agenda.
TEJADAWe're gonna discuss an energy -- community energy plan that's been in the works for 15 months. Task force (unintelligible) yet I'm not gonna be surprised someone's gonna come and say, you know, I haven't heard about this. Why haven't you asked me my opinion? So, you know, it was something that we have been discussing. We created our own public process when there hadn't been none for us to give an opinion. And -- but their comment is important, it's good, and we have to continue to get the word out on everything that we do.
SHERWOODIf there's no federal action on immigration because of the 2012 election coming up, just quickly rank, for me, in the general Metropolitan Washington area, the most hostile -- or just tell me the most hostile and the most friendly jurisdictions that are for immigration.
TEJADAYou know, I think you'll find -- it's kind of hard to say. The first thing to emphasize is that all of us who are in local government understand and do follow all federal immigration laws, state laws and...
SHERWOODBut you can follow them, but you -- and then you can aggressively enforce them. Who is...
SHERWOODWhich is the jurisdiction -- is it Prince William County, the most aggressive enforcement?
TEJADAWell, I think that when folks have passed resolutions, they failed to research and basically to -- lately publicly admit that they wanted to scare people out. Prince William happens to be one of those.
SHERWOODOkay. What's the safe harbor? What's the best place, the least oppressive, in your view?
TEJADAWe are the eighth largest immigrant population in the nation. We have immigrants from all walks of life here. In my community, for instance, one out of four people were born in another country. These issues are particularly serious to the localities. And so, you know, we have jurisdictions like Arlington, the city of Alexandria, city of Falls Church, the county of Fairfax, Montgomery County. We all follow the law, but we're also not gonna engage in divisive punitive approaches that simply don't add up to local government policy. I want to know how to get fund to repair the pothole. I don't wanna waste time on immigration matters. That is the federal government's responsibility.
NNAMDIAnd we'll be moving on from immigration matters pretty soon. But, first, state legislators in Maryland, this year, passed a bill that would offer in-state tuition benefits to the children of immigrants who happen to enter this country illegally. And Laura in College Park, Md. has a question about that. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURAYes. Thank you very much. I am concerned about our legislation passing that particular law that you just brought up because I don't understand why we want to bring more illegal aliens into the -- into Maryland and give them in-state tuition that our children have earned through us taxpayers.
NNAMDIBefore I have…
LAURAAnd once they're illegal -- what -- so they graduate. They're still illegal. How are they gonna get jobs?
NNAMDIWell, I'll have Walter address that question in terms of Virginia. But what legislators in Maryland who passed this measure say is that those children have gone through Maryland public schools. They have done very well in Maryland public schools. They're expected to do well in college. They're expected to be assets to the state of Maryland. You don't want to lose your best and brightest children after you have educated them in your public schools and just when they're in a position to make a substantive contribution to the state. What do you say, Laura?
LAURAI'll say they're still illegal. They have to show that they're U.S. citizens to be able to work in this country legally. I don't understand it. I feel like, yeah, sure, let them go to school, but they need to pay out-of-state tuition. They're not Maryland residents, so they do not get -- I don't care if they moved here when they were two days old. That's their parents' responsibility to go through the process of legally becoming...
NNAMDIOkay, Laura. Allow me to go to Walter Tejada. Walter Tejada, do you think there will be an opening in Virginia to do something like was that -- that was done in Maryland anytime soon? (laugh)
SHERWOODThat's a no.
NNAMDITwo chances, slim and none.
TEJADAI don't think that there's a chance right now, in the political environment under a Republican governor, a Republican attorney general, Republican lieutenant governor and the vast majority of Republicans on the House of Delegates. The -- thank God for the Senate -- State Senate in Virginia, by a margin of two, are -- is -- are Democrats. I would say, also, that -- remember what we ask our kids to do is to do their homework, to study, to pass the test, to not get in trouble. This is exactly what these kids have done.
TEJADAMany of them find out, when they start applying for colleges, that they are, in fact, not U.S. citizen. They are -- consider themselves American, just like anybody else, and they -- if they have done everything that we ask them to do, it's not given them any particular preference. They still have to compete with everyone else to be admitted to a college. They are willing to pay their share of tuition. And so, we have the best and the brightest, some who are valedictorians, who are -- we are not allowing them to continue their education.
TEJADAIt is wrong. It's this part of the system we talked about a moment ago where we need to resolve it as part of comprehensive immigration reform. The vast majority of Democrats have supported this. In fact, the last time, it was 55 -- 52 Democrats, three Republicans that came on the floor. The vast majority of Republicans in the Senate denied that opportunity. So, once again, this is why the call goes to the Republican Party to fix this once and for all and start -- and stop this debate that the woman, Laura, and others, and myself and others are engaged throughout the country.
NNAMDIOn to politics. We've been following the recent...
SHERWOODThat's not politics, what we just talked about? (laugh)
NNAMDIOn to local politics. We've been following the redistricting process in Virginia as best as we can. It's complicated stuff. But Mary Margaret Whipple has been representing Arlington in the State Senate for what seems like forever. She is retiring. Do you have a preference right now for who you'd like to see (laugh) take the baton from -- you were one of the people who were considered to run for this position and then you politely declined.
TEJADAWell, first, it's important to also mention Senator Patsy Ticer who also...
TEJADA...served (unintelligible) Arlington and both of them have retired. We have lost two major pillars in the history of our region who have served us very well. And our hats go off to both of them. Mary Margaret Whipple, a tremendous state senator...
NNAMDIYour hat is off, but you didn't throw it in the ring.
TEJADAYou know, at the time I was -- that people have asked me to think about it, I was residing in the 31st District, State Senate district. And at the time, I did give it in order to honor those folks who were requesting me to think about it. I did think about it. I had already begun assembling my reelection campaign team for the county board. It's a community that I love. And I felt, after thinking about it, that it's best that I continue to serve my community. There are a lot of things we do locally that also affect the region and the state.
TEJADAAnd so I decided to run for reelection to the county board. I would say that now, you know, that there's new plan for the 31st, if I hadn't announced then, now I will be in the 32nd District...
TEJADASo it wouldn't have been a kind of awkward situation. And I'm not gonna move. I am where I am. I've been moving throughout my life and I love where I am, and I'm gonna continue to be there. Now, we have folks that -- my colleague, Barbara Favola, a tremendously talented, formidable candidate. We have a new -- a person who just announced two days ago on Wednesday evening, Jaime Areizaga-Soto, who is a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard who has long history of involvement in the community politics, was an aid for Mary Margaret Whipple.
TEJADASo we have two folks who stepped forward who are talented. And I think Ms. Favola, probably, is more well known. And having worked closely with her, I can tell you that she's very sharp and well-versed in all the issues as the county board liaison to the General Assembly. Mr. Areizaga-Soto has work as Mary Margaret Whipple's aid for two sessions, and that he knows all of the senators there. So that's...
SHERWOODIs there are a Republican candidate that I may not know that we ought to mention if we know his or her name? Well, potential Republicans?
TEJADAThere may be a Republican in there...
SHERWOODI know you don't wanna say them, I'm just making you.
TEJADA...you know? You know, it's...
NNAMDIWalter is a fair guy. He'll mention.
TEJADAYeah. Yeah. If there's a Republican, you know somebody else will need to make that call.
NNAMDIWe're smack in the middle of budget season. You and your colleagues in Arlington have already punched the budget out.
NNAMDIHow did the results compared to what your goals were going into this process? And I've got to tell you that what we're seeing here in the District of Columbia, what we're seeing in Montgomery County, are budgets being cut. And then Arlington County, you found money some place to increase your budget?
TEJADAWell, our budget total is about a billion. And we gave -- the key for us has been the guidance we provide to the county (word?) that it needs to reflect our values. Our values of -- to continue our environmental sustainability, affordable housing, protect the health of our community, safety of (unintelligible) resources.
SHERWOODI'm sure we heard it. Those are all great things, but is there more revenue coming in than you expected? Now, that's kind of the core issue.
TEJADAOur quarterly returns have been better than we anticipated.
SHERWOODOK. That gives you a chance to do the things in your core values.
TEJADAThat has provided the flexibility. That's right. And, you know, for instance, I'll give an example. Today, I heard the national unemployment rate is about 9 percent right now. We, in Arlington, have it at 3.9 percent. So, you know, it just gives you an example of some of the things...
NNAMDILet's talk about a specific controversial issue, because some counter-Republicans have called funding for the Artisphere facility...
NNAMDI...a red-meat issue. The county board members approved half a million dollars...
NNAMDI...in additional funding. And the county GOP Chairman Chris Berg says an art center in Arlington is a fine idea if the market will support it. Why are public funds supporting it?
TEJADAI think there's evidence that the market will support business plan. It has been updated, I think, that now -- although, actually, we didn't have the full elements we needed to have for the Artisphere, like for instance, having the executive director fully onboard. We did not have a restaurant that was operational that can serve people food and get their business license as well for serving alcohol and all those things. All those things are coming together now. And I think it's really (unintelligible) an outstanding facility for folks to get to know. We're working on enhancing the publicity to it. If you haven't been there, I strongly urge you to go there. It's a wonderful facility. You can watch as many...
SHERWOODWhere is it?
TEJADAIt's at -- it's in Rosslyn. It's on the end of Wilson Boulevard, right across the street from the WJLA Building.
MADDENThe former museum used to be?
SHERWOODThat's the old -- former museum...
SHERWOOD...which rightly moved into the district where it belongs.
TEJADAYou know, that's a matter of opinion. But, you know, (laugh) we certainly feel that we have great facility there. And I think in the long run, it will prove to be a financial sustainable facility. One thing to remember, we are not paying rent here. We haven't for about-- over 15 years, we were able to get it as a community benefit, as a deal with some of the developments going on there. It is difficult to pass up a deal like that where you're gonna have a facility like that. And we have to give some thought, make adjustments, and that's what we're doing.
MADDENWhen do you think it will be sustainable?
TEJADAWell, we updated the business plan and then we wanna give it some time. It's always difficult to say exactly at this particular date. We are putting the resources to make it work.
NNAMDIWalter Tejada, chairman of the Arlington County Tourist Board -- no, Walter Tejada (laugh) is a member of the Arlington County Board. He's a Democrat. Walter, thank you so much for joining us.
TEJADAThank you for inviting me. Great to be here.
NNAMDIYou're listening to the Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Patrick Madden is our guest analyst. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 News. And, Patrick, you have been covering the incidents of powder or a powdery substance being delivered to over 20 schools and a youth institution in the District of Columbia. The schools have reopened, again, today on time. Tell us -- give us an update.
MADDENWell, I think right now, the list of schools that have received these suspicious letters keeps growing. I think it's almost up to 40 at this point. And right now, I can tell you the FBI is still, you know, they haven't officially said what this substance is, but they're saying it's not harmless and that -- sources are saying it's some sort of cornstarch-like substance and so that, hopefully, leaving some of the concerns. And the FBI has also said that these letters have been found during the past couple of weeks being sent out to other places around the country, so...
NNAMDIOh, it's not just the District of Columbia?
MADDENIt's bigger than just the District.
SHERWOODAnd they all come -- apparently, are coming, I think, out of Texas?
MADDENOut of Dallas. Yeah, Texas or Dallas.
NNAMDIAnd so far, they have not found any necessarily harmful substances in any of these powders?
SHERWOODSomeone is going to a lot of trouble, though, to do this. I mean, these letters have been going out for, actually, some period of time to various places. And I'm not sure -- it's not clear why the District of Columbia school system would be picked. It's been in the news a lot. Maybe Michelle Rhee, something, somebody saw it, but it's got to be a really odd bird or some odd group...
MADDENExactly. And I guess it's their...
SHERWOOD...that's doing this. And the fear of one police officer said to me is all these things are not harmful. The scare factor is pretty serious, but they aren't harmful. But you never know if somebody is gonna tip over and move from harassment to really endangering people.
MADDENAnd, of course, the drain on resources. I mean, we saw this yesterday where fire engines were racing from school to school as the count just continued to rise during the afternoon. It just was a very hectic day. I think the police chief called it a very intense day for the authorities as they tried to manage this situation that kept growing.
SHERWOODYeah. Thirty-nine schools may be nothing, but the 40th school might be something, so you just can't say, oh well, it's just another one. Like, how many suspicious packages do we have in a day now? And after a while, people would say, well, you know...
SHERWOOD...we've got to check it out. You just don't know.
NNAMDIIt's frankly very scary, causing the mayor of the District of Columbia, Vincent Gray, to go back into the use of Old English. I heard him calling it a dastardly deed on television last night. Mayor Gray joins us now in studio. Mayor Gray, it has turned out that, so far, no harmful substance has been found here, but as I said, this is pretty scary.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYIt is very scary. And, again, I underscore it is a dastardly deed for someone to have done something like this. And I completely agree with Tom also. You have to take every one of these situations seriously. Every envelope that shows up has to be thoroughly checked. We've been working in consort with our federal partners. The FBI has a lead on it. And I really wanna commend them, as well as our leadership with MPD, at the FEMS, chief -- the two chiefs, Ellerbe and Lanier, and Millicent West, who leads our Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.
NNAMDIWell, this is the first opportunity we've had to talk to you since your inauguration. You came into this job with a reputation as a planner or someone who likes to think things through before charting a course of action. Would it be fair to say that five months into your tenure, things have not exactly gone as planned?
GRAYNo, we certainly haven't. Certainly, some of the early going, you know, around the hiring issues, I would certainly not have had those things happen. And there were two or three of those. On the other hand, we really been able to, Kojo, attract some wonderful people to this administration, outstanding leaders, some of whom were in the city. Some of whom have come from elsewhere to work with us. And I'm really excited about this leadership team we've been able to put together and what they're doing at this point.
NNAMDIBecause of all of the distractions, I suspect that there are a lot of people in the District of Columbia who are not aware of what the Vincent Gray agenda is because they were distracted by everything else that happened. If you could state it briefly, what is your agenda? And at this point, what concerns do you have about whether your vision for the city has been swallowed up by all of these arguments?
GRAYWell, I don't think it's been swallowed up at all. As a matter of fact, one of the things we're doing, Kojo, is a series of town hall meetings. We did a set of those back in October, went all across the city. And we now are doing them around the budget, because the budget is a substantial part, a reflection of what your vision for the city is and how you intend to effectuate that vision. We have four priorities in principal part, and I'll add a couple of those when I finish. But first and foremost, fiscal stability. We've had some real fiscal challenges over the last three or four years in the city.
GRAYAnd when I came in to this job, I indicated to anybody that will listen that we were going to present a budget for fiscal year '12 that would be balanced, structurally balanced as we like to call it. And what that mean simply put is that we won't spend any more money on our budget that comes in the door. There will no money spent out of the fund balance or the bank account. The stimulus dollars are gone. We have a $322 million deficit that we have now solved in the budget that was submitted to the council on April 1.
GRAYI was very involved in education reform and continue -- and intend to continue that. I talked about it. And we are effectuating a birth-to-24 continuum. In substantial part, we have proposed in this budget to add an additional 1,000 slots to our early childhood education program, our pre-kindergarten program for 3- and 4-year-olds that, by the way, has gotten us to the point now where we are, I think, the only city in America that has universal pre-kindergarten.
SHERWOODMr. Mayor, let me ask you about the money that you need, because there was $300 or so million budget deficit concerns. David Catania, the councilmember, was concerned that you're actually increasing the size of the government, but you've said that's just cause it's honest accounting as opposed to putting things off budget. Is the economy getting better?
SHERWOODThere's some indication from the CFO's office that some of the cuts that are in place -- the housing trust fund, the community benefits from the baseball stadium -- maybe you can and maybe you won't need to raise taxes -- could be tweaked back a little if you anticipate the revenue is gonna be better. You don't get another revenue estimate till June, but they -- it looks like that the sign is for uptick in revenue not down.
GRAYWe hope that's the case, Tom. In fact, we actually had an uptick just as we were doing this budget. We were told by the CFO that we could expect 105 million new dollars ...
SHERWOODMost of which you gave to the school system.
GRAYI did, because those are the investments that I wanted to make. Almost $77 million went to the schools...
SHERWOODDo you have to have a tax on theater tickets, live theater tickets, those -- the theaters who like to be competitive with each other or banding together. And if I could say so, they wanna act out over this (laugh) 10 percent.
SHERWOODCivil obedience, they're gonna block the road like you did on the Hill. Ten percent tax on theater tickets raised just like $1 million. And they just think that while that's a small amount of money actually for the city, it can make it more difficult for the theaters to sell tickets.
GRAYWell, it's actually between two and $3 million, and theaters really are the only ones that don't have that tax imposed. I mean, we have it at the Verizon Center and we have it at the baseball stadium...
GRAY...we have it on movies, exactly. Again, one of the things we were trying to accomplish with this budget was to strike a balance. And that is with a $322-million problem, we did $187 million in cuts and we have $127 million in revenue initiatives. The budget is now before the council, and I've heard from a lot of people, especially as we've gone out into the community. And, you know, a lot of people don't like certain of the cuts, a lot of people don't like certain of the revenue estimates, and we knew that was going to happen even though everybody agrees we should have a balanced budget. The ticket item actually raised between two and $3 million.
SHERWOODI remember 1.3, but I'll take your word for it.
GRAYYeah, yeah. I know these numbers. (laugh)
SHERWOODYes, you do. Just don't give them all to us now.
MADDEN...in terms of this budget, obviously unemployment just continues to be perhaps the number one problem here, especially in some of the neighborhoods in Ward 7 and Ward 8. But when you look at this budget, there is no additional money for either workforce development or job training in this budget, so I'm curious why that was.
GRAYThere actually is some money in there, Patrick. And there's money in 11 also.
MADDENBut is it more money than previously?
GRAYWell, we added -- excuse me -- we added, I think, close to $6 million for 11, and we are sustaining that going forward, so look at that as increase also. And then on top of that, we added another -- between -- almost $3 million. So there is a lot of money for training. Is it as much as we would like to have? Absolutely not. That's just the reality where we are. And we're looking to our, you know, our partners in the private sector in particular to be able to assist us with some of these opportunities.
SHERWOODOne of your setbacks on employment services 'cause I -- you've talked about essentially blowing up to the Department of Employment Services like the school system was blown up to make it better because you said the Department of Employment Services is not serving the very needy people, 30 percent unemployment in Ward 8 and whatever it is in Ward 7. But your director of employment services got caught up in this web, got caught up in the hiring controversy. Where does that stand? I'm not even sure. Do we have -- do you have a new nominee or what's -- for employment services?
GRAYWe have an interim at this point, yes.
SHERWOODI know you wanna get started on making that agency spend more money on the ground...
SHERWOOD...as opposed to inside the building.
GRAYThat's absolutely right. And we have a brand new building, too, on Minnesota Avenue...
GRAY...as you all know. We have an interim, and I expect within the next week to nominate somebody for the permanent appointment.
SHERWOODAnd you want an aggressive person in that job.
GRAYAbsolutely, somebody who really gets it and frankly somebody who's collaborative, also because workforce development can't come down to one agency. It has to be DOES at the heart of it, of course, but then we've got a community college and a university system that is contributing to the growth and development of our workforce, and then restoring career and technical education to our schools. You know, we've got Phelps back online now, we've got several schools like Cardozo that are providing career and technical education...
SHERWOODPeople who need job skills.
GRAYThat's exactly right. And, you know, you put your finger on something as well. It isn't that we don't have jobs that are developing in the city, there's just a mismatch between the skill sets of those looking and the skills required for those jobs.
NNAMDIOnto Tim in Germantown, Md. Tim, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMYeah, I wanted to ask a question about the powdery substance that was found in the mail.
TIMHas anyone considered the possibility that it's not a scare tactic rather, but a mass reconnaissance on our security and emergency responses?
GRAYWell, the FBI, again, has a lead on this, and we consider every possibility. We take everything as seriously as it possibly can be taken. You know, we don't wanna ever be in the situation of having underestimated the motives or the intent of somebody who would do something like this. So every eventuality, every possibility is being considered, and every envelope -- the substance in every envelope is being tested to determine what it is.
MADDENMr. Mayor, I know in some of these intel that was picked up at the bin Laden compound, I guess it's been reported that D.C. was sort of named along with three other cities as something that was being looked at. It's not an operational attack, but more aspirational as what they're saying. But have you been briefed by any of the intelligence agencies about what was found there and potential -- the District being a potential target?
GRAYYes, I have, Patrick. I had an extensive briefing with both our local law enforcement officials and the federal officials. And, you know, what it did for the most part is corroborate some of the things that have been talked about previously and some of our own suspicions about what might be targets.
MADDENCan you -- I know you can't talk about explicitly what was said, but can -- are there any plans to change any of the security measures around the city or on Metro or other public infrastructure?
GRAYI think, you know, we went on high alert in the immediate aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden last Sunday and we will obviously continue to be even more vigilant. But I don't think there's going to be a material change in what we do because what we know now simply corroborates a lot of the information that we already knew or suspected.
NNAMDII wanna go back to the future for a second because both Patrick and Tom have had access to you to ask you about this issue, I have not. Sulaiman Brown has now been officially served with a subpoena requiring testimony on May 13 before the city council. He is the mayoral candidate who says he was paid by people in your campaign. You have said it was never about payments or anything like that, that his charges are off base. But a lot of people wonder, why were you taking this guy's telephone calls in the first place.
GRAYWell, there were two calls -- and frankly, I talk to other candidates during the campaign as well. There were actually two calls 'cause I went back and looked at all of my phone records as well, and both of them occurred -- one of them occurred on the day that we had a radio forum from which he was excluded and showed up, and we had a conversation the aftermath about that. And the other one was on a day when we had a social worker forum. And again, I don't recall all the details. It was a two-minute conversation, assuming it actually happened.
SHERWOODI thought one was like 16 or 17 minutes?
GRAYOne was 14 minutes, and that was the day of the one that was on WPFM.
SHERWOODBut you are known to take a subject and talk about it.
GRAY(laugh) That would be correct, Tom, ad nauseum
SHERWOODOh, I didn't wanna say that way.
GRAYWell, I guess I said it. But, you know, I had conversations with other candidates as well, and in both instances they were around forums that were conducted.
NNAMDIAnd why was he eventually hired in your administration?
GRAYWell, he was hired. He -- I promised him an interview. He asked for an interview, and I told it and I've said it repeatedly. And the interview was conducted by others. As a matter of fact, Gerri Hall has now testified that she was actually the one who, one, referred him initially to the inspector general's office for a position over there as an auditor. That did not work out because apparently they didn't have a position. And then he was interviewed for a similar position in the Department of Health Care Finance and was hired. I think he came on board towards the end of January or early February. I was not involved in any of that nor was I involved in the hiring decision of him. And, of course, we all know, it only lasted a few weeks and he was dismissed.
SHERWOODWhat -- the most damning thing to this -- in this is his allegation that monies were paid to him as a reward or as encouragement or as an inducement to continue his attacks on Mayor Fenty, not that he needed any inducement. But that have you satisfied, in your mind, any private conversations you've had with people you know, as far as you can understand no monies ever passed hands -- he didn't get $50 from somebody and he's magnified that into 5,000 or something. As far as you know, no one from your organization gave him money?
GRAYI know nothing about that, Tom, at all. And it's certainly nothing that I authorized or would have seen, I mean, as a pragmatic matter, it was completely unnecessary. You know, I watched (unintelligible)
SHERWOODThis allegation is to Lorraine Green, your chairman did it, but people who know Lorraine Green said that whatever criticism they may have of her, they can't see her taking a bag of money…
GRAYI can't see that.
SHERWOOD...made with a 5-cent deposit into the Union Station to give to Sulaimon Brown.
GRAYIt makes absolutely no sense. I've known Lorraine Green for 20 years. She, you know, was the director of the Office of Personnel for the city. She's been through two Senate confirmations for federal positions. She was the deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management at the federal level.
SHERWOODDid she buy him lunch? Maybe she bought lunch at the Union Station. I just think there's...
GRAYI don't think so.
SHERWOODIt seems to me that something happened and to which Mr. Brown has said it's more than what others say it is, but that -- I can't believe that nothing happened.
GRAYI know of nothing, Tom, at all.
MADDENI guess the other question is, though, Howard Brooks, who was the other person who has been alleged to have hinted cash payments to Mr. Brown, he has hired a lawyer and has essentially told the council that he is pleading the Fifth in this case. And that's why he was not at the last council hearing into the hiring practices. Has Howard Brooks told you why he is pleading the Fifth?
GRAYNo. I haven't talked to Howard Brooks this year. I don't have a close working relationship, or close any kind of relationship with Howard Brooks. I have not talked to him this entire calendar year. And if he's pleading the Fifth, it is a surprise to me. I don't know why he would do that.
SHERWOODYou publicly have asked him, if you know something, say something.
GRAYExactly. Just say it. Exactly. And, frankly, I have cooperated fully. You know, we got to...
SHERWOODYou've been interviewed by the FBI?
GRAYNo, not yet. What we -- we've submitted a lot of records to the U.S. Attorneys' Office, phone records and other records. I've complied with everything they've asked me. And with the Office of Campaign Finance, we've turned all of our campaign records over to them as well.
NNAMDIThe Washington Post reported last month on the lobbyists that the city has paid to represent its interests on Capitol Hill, though not on voting rights. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said she didn't even know who some of the people on the payroll were. What can you tell us about who the city hires for this kind of work and how you're evaluating where they should fit into the city's strategy?
GRAYWell, I don't think any of them now are on the -- you know, have a contract with the city. We're evaluating our whole approach to how we represent the city's interests with the Congress. And we will, one, first of all, fashion a much more cohesive and coherent, I guess I might say, approach to how we represent it on the Hill. And that will involve a lot of different folks. You know, we shouldn't forget that we have three representatives who were elected to represent our interests there as well -- as they call it, the two status senators.
NNAMDITwo statehood senators and one statehood...
GRAYThat's right. Representative. That's right.
GRAYThey obviously have been very active, and they will continue to be involved. We have, you know, our outstanding congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who's constantly battling on behalf of our city.
SHERWOODSo the hiring of these or using of these lobbyists is not a slap at her in any way.
GRAYHardly. It's really...
SHERWOODI mean, she does have a full plate.
GRAYThat's right. And, really, when you think about it, there are multiple areas of interests as well. There are, you know, those who represent the city in terms of our own self-determination objectives. And then there's the issue which many states and many cities hire people for, and that is identifying federal opportunities...
SHERWOODYeah. New York City has a whole office here. I mean, just the city itself...
GRAYRight. Boston too.
SHERWOOD...not just state, you know.
NNAMDIHere is Anise (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Anise, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANISEYes. Good afternoon. I wanted to call in to thank the mayor for reigniting the free D.C. statehood movement. I was one of the arrestees along with the mayor, and it was a spontaneous, wonderful movement -- I mean, moment. And I definitely wanna make this a positive call and thank him. We had a great rally yesterday at the court of some of the arrestees. And we'll have another rally coming up Thursday of an ANC commissioner...
ANISE...who was arrested. So we wanted to invite him.
NNAMDIAnise, thank you very much for your call. Thank you very much for your call.
SHERWOODYou'd get arrested.
NNAMDIAnd I'm glad you raised that issue because Councilmember Mary Cheh was arrested...
NNAMDI...this week. And...
GRAYAnd I'm very proud of Mary Cheh.
NNAMDIAnd when it came to the discussion of the city hiring lobbyists on Capitol Hill, former Republican member of Congress Tom Davis says regardless of who is on the payroll, the city should adopt some of the tactics used by K Street professionals rather than staging protests. To what say you, Mr. Mayor?
GRAYI think there's not a neither or a proposition. I think you gotta have multiple approaches to how you advance the interests of the city. You know, for many people, the civil disobedience approach has been one that's been engaged in for many, many years and frankly has been effective. I mean, just frankly, look at the attention that was given to the city in the wake of the 41 of us who were arrested. We were obviously interviewed extensively by the local media, by national media and even by international media.
GRAYAnd one of the goals has to be to get people better educated about the plight of the city. I think there are people who -- many people who don't know that we don't control our own budget, that our budget has to be approved by the Congress. You know, you look at this bill, it was just passed a couple of days ago by the House, H.R. 3, around, you know, paying for abortions. The District was treated just like a federal agency in that bill. We were told that our money had to go through the federal treasury, and therefore it gave license to those at the national level, the Congress, to have approval authority over whether we could spend our money in that -- on these issues.
NNAMDIAnise, thank you very much for your call.
SHERWOODThese campaigns are -- you talked about the dual nature of them. You gotta be in the streets and in the suites, as they said during the civil rights demonstration. I think Marion Barry I first heard say that. But anyway -- but that is -- you have to have inside and outside. Do you see yourself doing civil disobedience again? Some people have said, let's block the 14th Street Bridge. Let's do something else. Let's do something down in the mall. Let's -- some people are already taking about taking over the World War I Memorial across the street from the King Memorial when it opens in August 'cause you've talked about maybe doing something on that day.
SHERWOODThat would be a great staging area, some people have said. But do you see yourself doing civil disobedience more? Or do you think you've set the tone now and you can go into the suites instead of the streets?
GRAYWell, I hope that the tone has been set or reset because we've had starts before on this. So this is reigniting a commitment and an effort. I think what we've got to see, Tom, is really a much broader commitment on the part of the 600,000 people who live in the city. I could do this, you know, ad infinitum and, frankly, it'll make no difference at all. The best effect of this was a catalytic effect. I...
SHERWOODYour second arrest will not get nearly as much attention...
SHERWOOD...unless you do something really good.
NNAMDIWe gotta move on to budget issues. I'd like to discuss quickly two unrelated issues 'cause we're running out of time. We talked with Police Chief Cathy Lanier last week about how the budget would likely affect her department. She is concerned that the level of officers is gonna go from about 3,880. It'll dip under 3,600 by September 2012. A lot of people seem to be concerned about that.
GRAYWell, one of the things we found, Kojo, was there was nothing in the pipeline when we got there. And public safety is one of my priorities. You know, we were talking about priorities earlier. Public safety is one of those. What I have proposed in this budget is the recruitment and hiring of 120 new people to become a part of our police force. What we're looking at now is whether we can actually accelerate that instead of waiting till October 1 to start the process. The question is whether we can actually start to recruit the first 30 in June, bring them onboard, the first 30 in September, so that that would allow us to infuse people as folks go out the door. We lose 13 to 15 a month. We wanna stem that as best as we can.
NNAMDIOne of the casualties of this budget process might be the DC Caribbean Carnival, which takes place the last Saturday in June every year. It's my understanding that the organizers are being told that the city might not be able to provide the DPW and the public safety support. Vendors and owners of stores on Georgia Avenue say, it's our biggest day of the year. The tax returns will pay the city back. What do you think is likely to happen?
GRAYWell, we are working with them closely to try to do whatever we possibly can. And remember, this isn't the fiscal year '12 budget we're talking about. That's the one before the council. That's the current year budget that was already -- has already been in place since last October. But we are working with the leadership to try to make that happen.
NNAMDIAnd, no, Tom Sherwood and Patrick Madden. I don't have a personal interest in the DC Caribbean Carnival.
SHERWOODYou know, I thought that -- that was a wishy -- that was a fishy question I ever heard.
GRAYYeah. I don't want anything, Tom. (laugh)
NNAMDIMr. Mayor, thank so much for joining us.
SHERWOODYou're the grand marshal. You're the grand marshal, aren't you?
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Patrick Madden is a guest analyst and reporter for WAMU 88.5. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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