Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
Investigating gas prices, negotiating with ticket master, and enforcing environmental laws—it’s all in a day’s work for Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler. And District lawmakers agreed on a budget — but they are counting on money that may not materialize. What happens when the bill comes due.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Douglas Gansler Maryland Attorney General (D)
- Kwame Brown D.C. Council Chair (D)
Politics Hour Video
D.C. Council Chairperson Kwame Brown says that he would take back some things if he could in regards to the scandal earlier this year over the city’s leasing of a $1,900 per month SUV for his use. He said that he recognizes the seriousness of the issue, and that although the Home Rule Charter allows for both the mayor and the council chairman to have a city-provided vehicle, his should have been a hybrid or some other type of car:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. The D.C. City Council is in the redistricting business. Two things, question. Will a portion of Southwest Washington be redistricted to Ward 8? This is known as the will-Tom-Sherwood-be-running-against-Marion-Barry question, a question that a columnist in the Current Newspapers, who shall remain nameless, both asked and answered in his column this week.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter, and he, too, is a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, so good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
MR. TOM SHERWOODYou know, I am, you know, I could barely make it. I'm so disappointed. You know, I wanted the council to put my little segment of Southwest Washington, where Arena Stage is, across the river into Ward 8. And I told Barry if that happens, I'm running against you.
NNAMDIAnd what did he...
SHERWOODTo which he says I can't wait.
NNAMDIAt which point, Tom Sherwood decided that he's not throwing his hat...
SHERWOODI don't know how many votes I would get. It would be kind of a -- it would be a fun race, though.
NNAMDIWell, you decide -- you said that you were not serious about it, but there have been people who, in the past, have been asking Tom more seriously to run for office, but he's answered that question. He's not going to be running in Ward 8, but you're not going to be in Ward 8 at all, according to the plan.
SHERWOODI know. I'm very disappointed, but, you know, this -- the council, the three-member committee has put out a redistricting map. You know, we have to do it every 10 years, every jurisdiction does, and they make pretty minor changes. To people in Ward 6, Capitol Hill, not really in Southwest, but Capitol Hill part of Ward 6 are upset that some of their neighborhoods near Congressional Cemetery are going across the river and Anacostia to Ward 7.
NNAMDITommy Wells, the councilman for that ward, is saying, look, we've been working on schools in this part of town. They're just getting good. Eastern High School, you now want to put it in another ward?
SHERWOODBut, you know, they don't move the schools or the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods -- what happens is the people who live on Capitol Hill in that far section near 17th Street will become a small part of the larger Ward 7, and so they'll have less political influence in who gets elected as the Ward 7 councilman.
NNAMDIWell, please explain to me what I and others saw on the city council channel yesterday. Redistricting Committee Chairman Michael Brown telling Councilmember Marion Barry he was out of order. Councilmember Barry continuing to talk. Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. telling Barry to stop that he was indeed out of order. Councilmember Barry asking Thomas, how did you get into this?
NNAMDIAnd most notable, and unusually playful Councilmember Phil Mendelson trying repeatedly to turn off Councilmember Barry's microphone only to be warned by a much less playful Marion Barry. What was that all about? Was that all about the Ward 8 councilmember looking to have you living in his ward?
SHERWOODWell, see, Barry wanted my neighborhood in his ward...
SHERWOOD...because it's pretty well-to-do neighborhood. And he says Ward 8 is the poorest ward. We need some economic diversity. And so that's why he wanted -- he was upset. So they had this committee meeting, and although he wasn't on the three-member committee to redraw the lines. Any councilmember could come speak, and several of them did.
SHERWOODWell, Barry wanted to keep speaking even after they were calling -- into the meeting, so you're right he tried to ask for another round. He kept talking, and then, Michael Brown, the co-chairman of the committee, said I would just recite the alphabet while you keep talking. Barry kept talking. Mendelson, who is a pretty mild mannered guy, reached over and turned the microphone off.
SHERWOODAnd then, Jack Evans, the co-chairman of the committee, said no further business coming for the committee, the committee is adjourned. And Barry looked somewhat irritated.
NNAMDIYeah. I got the impression that he was not happy with how things developing -- developed in the redistricting process. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas where everything that's supposed to happen in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas. Mayor Gray was demanding that if Wal-Mart builds stores in the District, then they have to have one at the Skyland Shopping Center. There were either going to be five stores. Wal-Mart wants four.
NNAMDIHe said either five or nothing at all. Today, he's apparently taking a walk back from that position, saying it was not that hard a deal that he was trying to cut.
SHERWOODWell, you know, Jonathan O'Connell, the good reporter for The Washington Post business section, went to Las Vegas...
NNAMDIGood jump shooter too.
SHERWOOD...and got the story. But the fact is Wal-Mart wants to build four urban stores in the city, in two underserved areas of the city and one of George Avenue, one in Northeast Washington. And the mayor is the latest -- the third mayor in a row who wants something to happen at Skyland mall, the big shopping center over there in Ward 7, across the Anacostia again. And they've just had fights to condemn some of the land or to buy some of the people out. But they do want Wal-Mart to look at it, and Wal-Mart says we'll look at it. And, I think, you'll end up seeing something going to Skyland.
SHERWOODThe city wants that to be developed. It's already put up $40 million to help in the transition, but the problem is Wal-Mart needs to have a business model that works. So does that mean they'll do one at Skyland and maybe not one somewhere else? I think that's undecided at this point because it's a little unusual for the mayor to even jokingly make that demand.
NNAMDIWell, we'll have to see...
SHERWOODWe'll call it a joke after it's done.
NNAMDIWell, one infers from that, however, that the mayor is one of those people who is generally in favor of Wal-Mart coming to the District. And as you ride into the city along South Dakota Avenue, you see signs there saying Wal-Mart stay out of D.C.
SHERWOODWell, yes, the signs are up, but the overwhelming sentiment in the city at this point is allow Wal-Mart in. We cannot in the city, I believe, continue to have tens of thousands of the people who live in the city go into those horrific suburbs of Maryland and Virginia to shop in those stores, and Pentagon City and White Flint and other places, Wheaton Mall. They need to come-- we need to have -- if it will be viable, we have to have businesses in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIWell, the District of Columbia attorney general is investigating Joe Mamo, who owns maybe half of the gas stations in the District of Columbia, to see if he has anything at all to do with the price hikes in the District of Columbia, even though the District have -- has a statute that outlaws price gouging. Gas prices indeed have spiked all over the area and especially across Maryland this spring where prices jumped 25 cents in one night back in early May at pumps in Rockville, Md.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now is Doug Gansler. He is the attorney general for the state of Maryland. Doug Gansler, good to see you again.
ATTY. GEN. DOUGLAS GANSLERThanks for having me. I think it's charming that Tom thinks that Wal-Mart is in White Flint mall.
SHERWOODWell, it's not in...
GANSLERThat's a little upscale up there.
SHERWOODNo. But I mean, our people go shop in those places when they, you know, at Western and Wisconsin, that people up there who didn't want development on the city side...
SHERWOOD...and so all that development where Bloomingdale's is and all that and the houses and the new restaurants are all in Maryland land. And when those D.C. residents walk across Maryland Avenue -- Western Avenue to shop there, the tax money goes to Annapolis, not to the District.
GANSLERAnd we appreciate that.
NNAMDIYou won't hear Douglas Gansler complaining...
GANSLERYeah, we appreciate that very much.
SHERWOODI know (unintelligible).
NNAMDIGas prices, as I said, have spiked all across Maryland.
GANSLERYeah. On the gas price issue...
NNAMDIYour office is looking into complaints about price gouging.
GANSLERWe are looking into complaints but, unfortunately, not about price gouging. What happened was that the prices, as you mentioned, from a Tuesday to a Wednesday went up 25 cents, overnight. We started getting calls very early in the morning. How could this be? Because one of the reasons is Americans now have this sort of $4 line that they don't want to cross for gas.
GANSLERObviously, we're hoping it's in the dollar range, $2 range, but it did go over the $4. It went up 25 cents. And we were told that the reason why that was from the gas station owners who, by the way, lose money when the prices go up, so they're not the ones that control the pricing. We were told by them that the distributors said, well, this is because of the flooding in the Midwest.
GANSLERThe problem we have in Maryland, the reason why I mentioned it was not price gouging is, unlike the District of Columbia, where Irv Nathan is -- who's a wonderful -- your new wonderful attorney general there, and in Virginia where they have price gouging statutes, we don't have one in Maryland. I tried to get one passed in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and the oil lobby were able to defeat that.
GANSLERThe reason why we were able to look into it was because that single rise of 25 cents was the largest in recent history, larger than any rise or in Katrina or any other time. And what we did was we looked at it under the Consumer Protection Act, was the statements to consumers ultimately misleaning -- misleading and deceptive. We're in the course of that investigation at this time.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. If you have questions or comments for Doug Gansler, attorney general for the state of Maryland, questions about gas prices or anything else, call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Also part of your role in consumer protection, you're looking into a new fruity alcoholic drink. You and a number of other attorney generals want this removed from the market. I know that Tom and I are old enough to drink it. Tell us about the drink.
GANSLERWell, they're not...
SHERWOODAnd smart enough not to.
GANSLERYeah. And the problem is they're not marketing it to either one of you. They're marketing it to kids and...
NNAMDIAnd especially African-American kids.
GANSLERIn this particular case, African-Americans. What happened was about two or three years ago, I -- as the chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Youth Access to Alcohol Committee, I went to Miller, Coors. I went to Anheuser-Busch and had them take their products off the market. These products are caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
GANSLEREach one of those big cans that sells for about $2.50 contain five drinks -- the equivalent of five drinks and three cups of coffee -- of caffeine in one can, and they're marketing at children. They made them look like they're taking advantage of the Red Bull and the monster cans, making them look like those are selling next to them at the convenience stores. They took it off the market Four Loko, and another company called JOOSE, J-O-O-S-E, filled that void.
GANSLERAnd they began to sell these to the kids, and kids started to get hurt or die on college campuses in particular. We went -- we told them that they need to remove their products from the market, and they did. The most recent one is the case you're talking about where I wrote a letter and I -- and other attorneys general joined on with me to Pabst, which owns Colt 45, and they were having Snoop Dogg as their marketing person for this product, which, again, had five drinks worth, was a single serving.
GANSLERWe called it binge-in-a-can, plus -- in this case, it didn't have the caffeine, and they were marketing at kids over at Twitter and Twitter and Facebook and social media outlets. We have -- we've -- at this point, they say, well, we're not going to -- we think we're doing nothing wrong. They always say that up front. We anticipate them removing it from the market down the road.
SHERWOODIsn't there a market -- there's a market for this kind of drink, so it seems to me no matter what you do to discourage them -- I don't know how you would craft a law that could outlaw it. So you'd just have to -- each time one of these springs up, you have to then act on it. So it's a never-ending game it sounds like.
GANSLERIt is a little bit. What happens -- these drinks are grape flavored, watermelon favored. I mean, they're clearly marketed at kids. What happened was, if you remember 10 years ago, you go into the convenience store, there will be a refrigerator with beer. There will be a refrigerator with soda, maybe Mark's -- Mike's Hard Lemonade or one or two of these other products. Now, there's more the alcopops than either beer or soda.
GANSLERAnd the companies are pushing the envelope as to what they can get away with. And this -- in this particular case, the 24-ounce deals, the binge-in-the-can, particularly when they mix it with caffeine, is very dangerous, and we can go after them under marketing practices.
NNAMDIAnd so far, of course, what the companies say is that, no, we're not aiming at underage kids at all.
SHERWOODYou know, we've got too, I think, too quickly given this Memorial Day weekend off the gas prices. Peter Franchot this week...
SHERWOOD...the comptroller of Maryland...
NNAMDI...because we have callers who want to talk about that.
SHERWOODOkay. Proposed that maybe the state should -- think about suspending the 23.5 cent gasoline tax in Maryland at big weekends like Memorial Day in order to encourage people to buy gasoline. I don't know what they would encourage. Are you for or against that idea?
GANSLERWell, I'm typically against gimmicks like that where you save, you know, maybe $3 if you happen to fill up gas on that day, but you're costing the rest of Maryland something -- in this particular case, something to the tune of $6 million in a state that needs money for schools and other things. So, you know, we're all against -- I would prefer to go after the problem by going after oil companies and distributors when they artificially raise taxes.
GANSLERThat we talked about the notice of intent. The question -- the letter we sent about the high prices that particular day, going up 25 cents -- someone took notice because the next day, they went down 13 cents. So I would rather go after it that way.
NNAMDIOnto David in Potomac, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHi. First of all, you didn't really ask this as part of the discussion, but I would observe that there are some people, including me, who strongly favor higher gas taxes. I think it would take a lot of money out of the pockets of the oil companies and out of OPEC. And you could change your tax structure so that it could become a tax credit, everybody would get a tax credit. Everybody would get a tax credit. But you ask -- that wasn't what you ask about. So, first comment is, the prices in Montgomery County in May shot up partially because the Exxon gas station by Montgomery Mall closed, and the Shell station, which is literally next door, increased its price 25 cents a gallon.
DAVIDSo it's the Shell station that you should be going after. And then, historically, if you want to look at the problem, it goes back to when Exxon acquired or merged with Mobil and the competition in the western part of Montgomery County virtually disappeared.
NNAMDILet's hear what Doug Gansler has to say about that.
GANSLERWell, a couple of things. On the first issue, on the gas tax, the issue regarding gas tax legislatively and raising the gas tax that they talk about in Annapolis is not really going after the tax on the corporations but the tax on the consumer. The idea is, if you raise the taxes enough on the gas tax, people will drive less.
GANSLERWhether or not that works or not, who knows? And, of course, that money then goes in to the state coffers. Most people are against taxes. I think if -- clearly, if you're going to look at new sources of revenue, gas taxes would be one of the areas where you'll look because of the residual positive effects. In terms of the rising prices, Shell vis-a-vis Exxon and the merger, again, the stations don't unilaterally go out and raise their prices because they actually end up paying more on the credit card cost back to the credit card companies when the high -- the price is higher.
GANSLERThey're told what they can charge by the distributors and, ultimately, by the gas companies. What is interesting in your comments is what you see quite often as you go to an intersection, you'll see two stations, different companies catty-corner with each other with the exact same price. You have $3.93 point six, and you wonder how could that be? They must be talking to each other. And they're not allowed to talk to each other under antitrust laws. They are allowed to look out the window and see what the guy across the street is charging.
GANSLERSo it's fairly interesting how -- and fairly interesting and, I would suggest, arbitrary how these gas prices are rising, particularly as world oil prices are lowering. This is why we need, in my view, the ability to look in to price gouging in the state of Maryland. We don't have that now. We should have it in the future.
NNAMDIDavid, thank you very much for your call. Our guest is Doug Gansler. He is the attorney general for the State of Maryland. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. You can call us with your questions or comments at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. Tom?
SHERWOODWell, you know, it's warm so we're talking about gasoline prices. During the winter, we talk about Pepco and all the uproar about Pepco. What is the status of that? Has that faded away? You were asking -- you were looking into Pepco's failures, too, weren't you?
NNAMDIIn addition to this, there's, apparently, more competition for customers of Pepco and other utilities in Maryland because of a new law.
GANSLERThere is. We were not in the front of the Pepco situation. Fortunately, everybody else jumped on that. And so, we were supportive of the efforts to look in to what was going on there in terms of the pricing. My -- for example, my house, we were out of power for 14 days last year in our house. So I think we all saw what happened. We all find it to be disturbing. But I do think there's some in-depth investigation going into the way in which Pepco distributes their power and, more importantly, how they fix it if it goes out.
GANSLERSo there's not an issue in terms of the competition in Maryland. You know, Constellation Energy is our biggest power company in Maryland. They are, right now, in the process of attempting to be bought by a company called Exelon, which is out in Illinois, and there are many people looking in to that merger and whether or not it's a good thing for the people of Maryland in terms of economies of scale and -- or a bad thing for the people of Maryland. One of the things we've been interested in is trying to get a power plant in Maryland, you know, looking at alternative sources of energy.
GANSLERWe've been interested in this, trying to get a power plant that'll convert chicken litter to energy in Maryland, and we're hopeful that this merger will allow us to get that plant here because we would be able to take -- of the 1.2 billion pounds of chicken manure that pollutes our bay every year, we'd be able to get half if that, about 500 million pounds converted to 500 megawatts of energy. And that would be obviously a good thing in terms of alternate source of power but also from the environmental standpoint.
NNAMDIWe have a caller. Mike in Harwood, Md., who has a question about that pending merger. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEThank you. Mr. Gansler, my question deals with the threat to the bay from the sediment behind the Conowingo Dam and, I'm sure you know, Exelon owns that power station there. And I'm wondering whether this merger is an opportunity for Maryland to get a commitment by Exelon to, at least, put a plan in place. As I understand there's really nothing under way to address this, and it's likely to be the next big catastrophe in the bay.
GANSLERYou're totally well informed on that issue. You know, Conowingo Bay, for those of you who studied this less, is on the Susquehanna River, which provides half the water to the bay, and so it's a huge issue. There's three dams upstream of the Conowingo Dam that are all backed up completely with sediment so they really don't really serve as dams at this point. All the water goes over it and gets to the Conowingo Dam. Within 10 years, the Conowingo Dam itself will also be backed up completely with sediment and things will just go over it and go right into the bay, the pollution.
GANSLERThe Army Corps of Engineers us the entity that is charged with removing the sediment and trying to figure out this problem. That said, yes, Exelon owns the Conowingo Dam. We've had discussions with them. You know, this is only about four weeks old that we have learned that, you know, Constellation and a number of Florida Power & Light, the French company, now this, they were gonna get bought out by. At this point, it's about three or four weeks old, but we've already had discussions about that very issue because it's critical.
GANSLERAt a major rain event, you would -- it's hard to imagine the stuff that comes over that dam, like refrigerators and other pollutants. So there needs to be -- it needs to be addressed, and we hope that this is exactly that opportunity to address the issue of the Conowingo Dam going forward.
SHERWOODDoes the Anacostia River fit in any of the efforts to clean up tributaries in water into the bay because a lot of people don't realize, I think, something like 80 percent of the Anacostia is in Maryland, not in the District? People focus on the dirty water over there by RFK Stadium and cautious about how -- whether to fish there or not and whether -- and how to clean them if you do. But the city officials say, look, the problem comes from the polluted waters of Maryland. What can you tell us about the Anacostia River?
GANSLERIt's that whole upstream deal. We're always -- Maryland is always...
SHERWOODWe're always downstream.
GANSLERRight. Maryland is always looking at Pennsylvania, and when we hear about the Anacostia River, they rightfully talk about Maryland and...
SHERWOODWe all live downstream in one way or the other. (laugh)
GANSLEREspecially you, Tom. Yeah. We have done, what we call, river audits. Every three months, we go out and do a river audit. We spend the entire day on the river. We talk to the environmental activists there. We talk to elected officials. We have town hall meetings. And our next river audit is June 16. And I didn't plant this question, by the way, with you.
SHERWOODNo, you didn't.
GANSLERIt's June 16, and we will be doing the Anacostia River. Most of it is in the District of Columbia, though some of it is in Prince George's County, Md. And it is relevant -- what happens in D.C. is relevant to what's going on in Maryland, so we will be spending time on that. Each Earth Day, we release our publication of the four or five river audits that we have done that particular year.
GANSLERI'm actually looking very forward to the Anacostia River because it's an issue that has cropped up from time to time. And we do have a very good relationship with the District of Columbia Attorney General's office and their environmental group, so we're working with them on that same day.
NNAMDITom, we are outnumbered by callers seeking Doug Gansler's attention. I'll go first to Michael in Bethesda, Md. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELYes. Thank you, Kojo and Tom. I would say that both of you would be attractive candidates for elective office.
NNAMDIIn Maryland, you think?
MICHAELGen. Gansler, it's an interesting question where one is, upstream or downstream. Might you join with former attorney general Cuomo, who's now governor of New York, to investigate predatory lending practices of Wall Street past, that has hoisted upon the people of Maryland and the American people let alone the people of the rest of the world, and artificially leveraged valuation that causes higher interest rates, perhaps than otherwise would be?
MICHAELSo again, just to take the question, what might the attorney general do to investigate the predatory lending practices of Wall Street? And I'll take my question and your answer off the air. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Michael. Before we get the answer, here is Ferdis (sp?) in Rockville, Md., who has a question along, I think, similar lines. Ferdis, your turn.
FERDISYes. The questions was, to Doug Gansler, is what role is he taking, along with, you know, Tom Miller and other attorneys general to pursue the banks that have been allegedly involved in, you know, fraudulent lending practices in the housing area and specifically addressing the question of foreclosure mess and...
NNAMDIOK. Here's Doug Gansler. Thank you for your call, Ferdis.
GANSLERYeah. And they are related because -- and Tom Miller is the attorney general, longest-serving attorney general currently. He's been in it for about 30 years from Iowa. And on the national level, we are -- Maryland is involved in that lawsuit against the banks. There's nothing alleged about it. Bank of America and others have admitted that they were engaging in what was called robo-signing for some of these foreclosures that is human beings weren't even looking at the conditions upon which somebody living in their house is about to lose their home.
GANSLERYou know, again, this isn't the robo-man, repo man coming for your television. It's somebody coming to remove you from your home. And so what they did was wrong. They know it was wrong. They put in measures for the future so this won't happen. But 49 states are working together on a suit with the national banks: Bank of America, Citi, the big ones.
GANSLERWithout saying anything I can't say, there have been public reports that they're looking at somewhere between five billion and $25 billion in terms of a settlement, which can be used for some of the people who are wronged and also for future amelioration of this problem.
GANSLEROn the local level, what we've been doing for years -- I actually set up, when this whole issue came to the fore, I set up a committee where I brought mortgage lenders, the bankers -- I'm a pro-business moderate guy. I'm in the middle, but I'm very sympathetic to people who shouldn't be foreclosed upon if they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. And so we put together a group that where -- which ultimately became much of the governor's legislative package so that in the future we'll have -- we have mediation and other measures that will be taken before somebody's home is taken from them.
GANSLERAnd finally, we went after a number of predatory lenders, for example, American Dream Homes, which is in Prince George's County, where they have about $72 million. Basically it was a predatory lending meets Ponzi scheme. And actually, people have gone to jail as a result of that.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Ferdis. Here now is Anthony in Aquasco, Md. Anthony, your turn.
ANTHONYYes. Thanks for taking my call, Kojo and Tom. I agree. I'd vote for both of you guys. And Tom is hilarious. He's just funny. My question...
NNAMDIThat's a qualification to run for office? (laugh)
SHERWOODListen, we need humor in public service...
SHERWOOD...and I would -- that would -- I would deliver on that promise.
NNAMDI(laugh) Here's Anthony. Go ahead, please.
ANTHONYMy question for Doug Gansler is I know that Maryland failed to pass the same-sex marriage initiative this year. And I wanted to know if -- I'm in a relationship with a gentleman. If we get married in other state, how -- is that recognized in Maryland at this point? And then the second question is when is he gonna run for governor?
SHERWOODThe very next time that job is open. But you can go with the rest of the answer. (laugh)
GANSLERSo it looks like you -- I'll pass on that answer since you're on...
GANSLERYeah. On the same-sex marriage initiative, if you were to get married in one of the five states or the District of Columbia, Maryland would recognize that marriage. You can -- I wrote an opinion that is actually available on our website. It's 46 pages. And the issue there, as you know, is in 39 states, the -- by statute or constitution, there is no recognition of same-sex marriage in that state or legal, valid marriages from other states. There are five states and the District of Columbia that do recognize it.
GANSLERMaryland isn't -- it was one of the six states where marriage is defined as between a man and a woman despite that being violative of due process and equal protection, but it is. That's the state of law at this time. Yet, it was silent as to what do we do about those valid contracts that were -- took place in other states. The opinion actually is much less actually about gay marriage and much more about full faith and credit, that is these states have -- they recognize same-sex marriage. They have a contract. And we recognize that contract just much like we recognize driver's licenses from other states in our state.
GANSLERSo I do think we'll have same-sex marriage in Maryland in the near future either because the legislature passes it -- it got out of the Senate this year, it should get out of the House in short order -- or through a lawsuit, where the three of the judges have changed since the last time they looked at whether it violated the Constitution to have marriage between a man and a -- being defined as between a man and a woman instead of defined as two people. I do think that the Court of Appeals will overturn it, recognizing that it's against the Equal Protection Clause in the United States Constitution as most courts have done in recent times.
NNAMDIAnthony, thank you very much for your call. We're just about out of time. But we got this e-mail from Catherine in Silver Spring. "Just wanted to thank Doug Gansler for all his efforts doing the Freddy Tello murder incident. Those of us who live in Aspen Hill/Wheaton have been used to being ignored or used by county officials. And I was impressed with all of Mr. Gansler's efforts to bring Samuel Sheinbein to justice. He's a standup guy, and I'm glad he's our AG." Sorry to end with such a praisy, an e-mail praising Doug Gansler...
SHERWOODAnd all the air just went out of the room.
NNAMDIWe'd much rather end on a solid note, would we not?
SHERWOODNo. When is the next race for governor? When is the -- 20...
SHERWOOD2014. So you've got, well...
SHERWOODIf you are going to run...
NNAMDISince you've already announced his candidacy, he's running.
GANSLERYeah. They moved up the primary due to a federal act regarding...
GANSLER...allowing the military to come to be able to vote. So the primary will be in June of 2014 and then the general is in November. And, of course, we have a presidential election between now and then.
SHERWOODRight. So I guess the...
NNAMDIDoug Gansler is the attorney general for the State of Maryland. Thank you so much for joining us.
GANSLERThanks for having me.
SHERWOODAre you supporting Obama?
NNAMDIOh, wait a minute. Explain your attire today.
NNAMDIYou're not dressed as the attorney general.
GANSLERWell, we're -- I am dressed as the attorney general.
SHERWOODLooks like someone the attorney general took in on a charge.
GANSLERThat's right. (unintelligible) the people. We are furloughed. The State of Maryland is not in business today. But I was happy that you invited me to come in, so I wore my shirt with a Maryland flag on it, which is the...
GANSLER...which is two-state -- with two family emblem, state seal -- the state seal...
SHERWOODWhat are the letters at the bottom? It's an old letter.
GANSLERThat's the old -- that's the state law enforcement troopers association...
NNAMDICome on. No commercials for the two of us, please. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIDoug Gansler, good to see you.
GANSLERThank you, Kojo.
SHERWOODBuy some new clothes.
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. Tom, I would like your judgment on a piece of music that was submitted by a group called Tougher Than Ward 3. It's a video that's an appeal to Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh to support the tax increase proposal that Mayor Gray made to the wealthiest residents. It's by a group called Save Our Safety Net. I'm interested in your judgment about this.
SHERWOODWell, let me just -- let me say this: I think the music is nice. (laugh) Even with my kind of, you know, concrete knees could feel a little beat in that.
NNAMDIOh, I thought that the music was OK, but the talking in it was why the tax proposal went down in the city council as far as I'm concerned.
SHERWOODWell, I would think somebody in the room might object to that and say it was done through thoughtful thinking about what the city should do, not because of terrible music.
NNAMDIWho is in the room is Kwame Brown, the chairman of the D.C. City Council. Chairman Brown, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. KWAME BROWNOh, no. Thank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou oppose the tax increase, and in fact, the preliminary budget deal this week eliminates it. Does it give you paws that over -- according to the survey conducted by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute -- over 90 percent of the residents of Ward 2 and 3 in that survey, where many of the people with higher incomes live, apparently supported that tax increase?
BROWNWell, I mean, I think the real question on the table, Kojo, is how do we look at tax code policy in the District of Columbia in a more comprehensive way. When I talked to the residents throughout the city, people were very concerned about the number of cuts that took place in the human service area, in the safety net service. They wanted to make sure that the homeless services for families and men and the continuum funded. They was very concerned about the TANF benefits being cut off for those that need it the most as well as the IDA program and making sure that the...
NNAMDIWhat's the IDA program?
BROWNIt's the interim disability assistance program, as well as the affordable housing. And people just saw that as if there wasn't enough money to actually make sure that those who need it the most were taken care of, then the tax increase was a way that people wanted to give more. We found a way to do that without raising income taxes. And for the first time, we would be able to create a balanced approach to how we deal with this government in terms of its spending.
NNAMDITranslation: I hated that video. (laugh) The preliminary budget should take care of $322-million budget gap, and it avoids the cuts to social services that Mayor Gray had planned. So how did you make up that revenue?
BROWNWell, let me just thank the mayor for all the work that he and his team did on -- sending the budget to the council by April 1. And I think it's just a collaborative of just working together to get a clear sense of what residents really wanted. What residents know is that we're gonna have to make tough decisions and tough choices, but we wanna make sure that those that need it the most we're able to be taken care of.
BROWNWe looked at the options of moving the operating dollars back to the Capitol and looking in a long-term effect to make sure that we can replace that particular money. We were able to do that. As well as what other revenue ideas could be on the table before we move to income taxes and property taxes. But more importantly, I introduced a bill called the Tax Revision Commission.
BROWNThe District has not looked at its tax policy since the control board 15 years ago. And this just gives us an opportunity, from now and until the end of the year, to really take a look at our tax policy overall so then we can make an informed decision that's not based on a budget, but based on the best interest of how we move the city forward.
NNAMDIBefore Tom takes over, I mentioned fees and several new taxes, but could you explain the proposal to tax non-D.C. municipal bonds for the first time?
BROWNWell, we're the only state -- and I said state 'cause, hopefully, we'll be a state one day -- that does not do that. And Indiana, I believe, just converted over, where they were allowing those to invest in bonds in other states and be tax-exempt here in the District of Columbia. It wasn't, you know, an easy decision to come up with that. But let me be clear. The proposal on the table was to actually remove that exemption in the short run, and then, as more revenue came in, to replace those monies to make sure that people can get that exemption back in place.
BROWNAnd that's what the proposal was on the table, which would have made it neutral overall for the residents that actually are taking advantage of that particular product right now. And we're gonna see if we can get that done in.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Chairman Kwame Brown of the D.C. City Council, call us at 800-433-8850, or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODI don't want the chairman to have a heart attack here, but I'll say something nice.
BROWNThe cameras are on.
SHERWOODMake sure the camera is off. You are credited with bringing -- despite the rough start you had with the SUVs and all of that, you are credited with talking to all 13 council -- 12 councilmembers about what they wanted, what they needed. I don't know who actually came up with the specific idea of taxing out-of-state bonds. It's been around, but you did get credit. And I would think -- I was surprised when I walked into the council. Was it Wednesday the day you guys voted?
SHERWOODRight, Wednesday. The mayor's budget director was in the hallway, passing out a letter from the mayor -- even before the council met -- praising the council for its work and saying that he was gonna go along with them. And, you know, usually the mayor kinda holds back and sees if he can do any last-minute negotiations.
NNAMDIIs that what's behind that, Mike DeBonis love letter today in which he described the council chairman as Picasso?
SHERWOODWell, he did. There's two nice things the media has said about this. So there is hope.
BROWNOh, there's hope.
SHERWOODBut was it -- usually he's talking to the mayor...
NNAMDIYou know that he's setting you up for the fall.
SHERWOODNo, I have no fall question coming up next. You know, that I've said something nice, I'll say something terrible. But the fact is, the mayor's letter acknowledged the work the councilmembers have done to put this budget together, you're done, and that he says, I'll sign it. He says, I still would like to have the income tax increase for people over $200,000. But he said, that will not keep me from signing the budget. So a pretty good achievement, I would think.
BROWNOh, thank you, Tom. And, you know, I know Tom for a long time and I always appreciate his comment.
NNAMDIThe first time he's ever said anything nice about you, by the way.
SHERWOODThat is not true, but it's -- the ledge is heavy on one side.
BROWNWell, at the end of the day, I think what people want here in the city is to continue to move the city forward. And they wanna find ways where even when you can agree or disagree, you're able to work together what's in the best interest of the District of Columbia. And this mayor has done a phenomenal job really making sure that the open line of communication is there. We had an opportunity to, you know -- of course, we disagree on the income tax, but found a way in which we can move forward.
BROWNAnd this was a perfect example, Tom. And I think that's what people are looking for as it relates to their elected officials. So, you know, it's just an opportunity to show that that's what's actually taking place.
SHERWOODThere are tax increases, though. They are -- I mean, the things...
SHERWOODThere are -- the parking tax. If you park in a garage, it's gonna go up a few pennies. If you register your vehicle, that's gonna go up. Some fees are going up.
BROWNYeah. Well, you can't. It's $322 million, so you can't do it all taxing, and you can't do it all cutting. I honestly believe that we have to reduce the size of this government and become more efficient. And I think that as we move forward, you know, we can no longer continue to spend the way we are, and that's the next thing you have to tackle.
SHERWOODBut there's a bill that's actually being -- Mary Cheh, soon, are hearing, I think today, on a bill that will allow the mayor to...
NNAMDIThat's what I was watching before the show.
SHERWOODSalaries go from 179,000 top salary to 279, and then like 50 percent increase of the monies that the mayor can spend. Is that just because the marketplace demands that these higher salaries be paid?
BROWNWell, I think it had a lot to do when we raised the salaries of the council and the mayor a couple of years ago, which really moved everyone's salary up altogether. But it's not about what we pay people. It's about how effective and efficient the government operates and runs. And we can no longer continue to spend and not get the efficiencies a government necessary to -- what residents are looking for.
BROWNSo I believe that we should come up with a four-year plan to become more efficient by reducing the size of government. And I think that the bill that -- the budget that was passed laid out a plan, for the first time, Tom and Kojo, that any new revenue that comes in over the revenue estimates, 50 percent will go into the reserve. So the first time the city is even looking at putting money in a savings account, and all the members agreed that we're gonna start saving money and replenishing our reserve because we need that as we go to Wall Street. That's what we promised Wall Street we're gonna do, and that's what I made sure was in this budget.
SHERWOODDepletion is -- Chris Bowman said -- you know, he was one who called it to my attention, this bill before the council now that -- they have a hearing on Friday before the holiday, where not many people are paying attention, but it's gonna open up the money wallet for the mayor. But we'll have days to look at that.
NNAMDIBefore I get to the phone, Natwar Gandhi, the District's chief financial officer, finds some of the revenue production, shall we say, optimistic. What happens if those projections turn out to be wrong?
BROWNWhat is it out there? You know, first time that additional revenue has been used in a budget process. This new revenue comes in that we would make some decisions on some priorities for the city that people want, like making sure that we get our police force back up to where it needs to be, and that's 100 additional new officers, making sure that $12 million or, now, $18 million goes back into the Housing Production Trust Fund for affordable housing.
BROWNWe believe that the city is hot. We believe that this city is better than any other region. You saw what came out today that did not have the District of Columbia in the top 10 crime cities in America, I mean -- which it shows you that, you know, we still have a ways to go, but we're not, you know, the murder capital of the world. We have some of the finest restaurants here. You look at the Old Convention Center Site. It's coming off the ground.
NNAMDIUh-oh, tourist board stuff again.
BROWNTourist board. When you look at Convention Center Hotel...
SHERWOODI'll tell you what. You know, it looks like with all that Qatar money, looks like they're gonna have that place built in two weeks. They have -- look at it. It's unbelievable, the construction there.
BROWNIt's coming out the ground. Convention Center Hotel is coming out the ground. St. Elizabeth's is happening, Walter Reed, way more property than we thought the federal government is gonna give us. I mean, I think that what's happening in the city is the city has taken off. And the real question is, when it takes off, we don't wanna continue to grow the government. We need to make sure that we continue to put money in our reserves for a rainy day. We spend a lot of money when it wasn't a rainy day. Imagine if we didn't have that money available. It would have been a little…
NNAMDIHere is Campbell in Washington, D.C. Campbell, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAMPBELLThank you very much, Kojo, and thank you so much for this program. Chairman Brown, I'm very concerned that in this time when people are applauding the fact that we have a balanced budget, I would ask you and challenge you to resend the Real Property Tax Appeal Commission that has been written in and is going to be started in October. This is replacing a -- professionals, real estate professionals with government employees in terms of appeals of property taxes.
CAMPBELLThis is going to impact long-term low- and moderate-income homeowners in a very atrocious, atrocious fashion. And I think that, you know, when you have 90-plus percent of people who can afford in the richest areas of D.C. who can afford a tax increase saying they're okay with one, to let this stealth bill just continue, which is going to be very oppressive towards low- and moderate-income homeowners, I think it's horrific. And I would like your opinion on challenging this and resending that bill.
BROWNWell, I'm committed definitely to take a stronger look at it. I wanted to thank you for calling in and thank you for your comments. And we'll definitely make sure we take another look at that.
NNAMDII am not intimately familiar with what the caller is talking about. Are you, Tom?
SHERWOODI think I am, but I think it would take a while to talk about it. But the -- I'm not really sure how switching to government workers as opposed to professionals will change it. But people are worried about the value of their properties and how the city reacts to the big property, people lowering their property assessments. And an ordinary person has a hard time getting that done.
NNAMDIOkay, Campbell. Thank you very much for your call. Here is Smithda (sp?) in Washington, D.C. You're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hello, Smith. Are you there?
SNIKTHAWell, look, I think you're talking to me. My name is Sniktha (sp?).
SNIKTHASniktha, that's right. And I am calling about the Pepco smart meters. Have you heard much about them? We just had one installed last week and since then we have had practically every kind of problem you can imagine except for, you know, floods and pestilence. Our wireless is down. Our Internet is down. Our phone line is sketchy. And the last straw was that our air conditioning has -- well, it doesn't work. And...
NNAMDIAre you sure you're in Washington or in Missouri? Go ahead please. (laugh)
SNIKTHAYeah. Right. I know. I mean, and we spent the better part of the last week, you know, troubleshooting these things one by one. Finally...
NNAMDIWhat conclusions have you come to, Sniktha, about what could have happened?
SNIKTHAWell, you know, there are many, many reports of A, the smart meter is being installed inappropriately, often by subcontractors for Pepco who aren't really as skilled, as well-trained as they should be. And B, the fact that this - whatever the wireless mechanism is that is part of the smart meter has been shown around the country to cause problems, not every single time, but, you know, enough.
NNAMDIWell, before we go into any further detail, allow me to have Council Chairman Kwame Brown respond in terms of city council oversight of Pepco.
BROWNWell, let me just say that I know that we do have a couple of members that are very concerned about making sure that the subcontractors that are going out to install these meters are doing quality work. And this is the first I've heard in terms of a complaint. But what I'd like to do is give you Mister Charles Mason's number at 724-8032, that's 724-8032. And we will definitely follow up on this matter to make sure we take care of it.
BROWNBut you're absolutely correct. There has to be some sort of mechanism to ensure that the quality meters are being installed. Because when that does not happen, it just really takes away from the whole purpose of having smart meters and having people more excited about having those installed in their homes.
NNAMDISniktha, thank you for your call and good luck to you. Speaking of property taxes, Chairman Brown, an issue came this week over millions in taxes that a couple of attorneys say commercial property owners failed to pay and that the city has apparently been misinterpreting the regulation having to do with the payment of commercial property taxes. What does the city plan to do? Some say that the property owners when further, failing to file documents that would trigger the taxes, essentially hiding the money.
NNAMDIDo you know whether there's any evidence of that? The attorneys say that the property owners have used an interpretation of a regulation change dating back to 2001 that allowed the city to tax, refinanced commercial mortgages. The Office of Tax and Revenue has been taxing commercial property owners only on the refinanced portion of the mortgage. The attorneys say the office should have been taxing the entire amount of the original loan.
BROWNWell, clearly, that's an issue that on the table now. I know the chairman of the committee, Councilman Evans, clearly came out also and say they've in fact - we're supposed to be taxing people we should. You know, we sent a letter over the CFO's office, asking him for more details. I think there's a, you know, question at whether this person's right or who's right. And the real question is how is the law interpreted and what the regulation is saying in order to make sure it's clear.
BROWNClearly, if there's a dollar left on the table -- let's say you do a refi and then you do another refi after the refi, it's where you taxed. And I think that I've looked at a couple of different ways and it's not as clear as it should be to me. But I know there's something there at Councilman Jack Evans has looked into. And we're looking forward to having his result, hopefully within -- hopefully the week to get a better understanding of where we are.
SHERWOODBut one of the people who brought this up is Doug Patton...
SHERWOOD...who's a former deputy mayor of Eco and Development, I think under Tony Williams.
SHERWOODRight. And who's still an active lawyer in town and his lawyers looked at it. Initially, they were saying they wanted to be paid. They said, here's a big problem. It could -- they said it could be 75 million. It could be 500 million.
SHERWOODAnd so, they said, well, we'll do it as a fee. And then, after some more discussions, I think they've said, no. It won't be a fee. They just think it ought to be done. And -- but your committee -- or at least looking at it to see if something needs to be done.
BROWNWell, clearly, people are saying, you know, if in fact you're looking at a combined reporting tax on big businesses at $23 million, if you're looking at raising, you know, thinking income taxes should be raised, if you're looking at cutting services and can't get more police officers on the street, people wanna know how do we collect the dollars that are actually -- that are owed to us? And Doug Patton has been in the city a long time.
BROWNHe's been around. He does understand it. The real question is that if he's right, the city needs to do everything it can to start collecting those dollars now before we start to look at reducing services and raising taxes...
SHERWOODAnd it might be difficult to go back to...
BROWNBut going forward...
SHERWOOD....without a lot of legal suits, but we'll see what happens.
BROWNBut going forward...
SHERWOODGoing forward, you are right.
BROWN...we should be clear, and if that's anticipated revenue, then we need to make sure that that's where we are.
NNAMDIChairman Brown, we haven't had you in studio since your campaign for council chair along with Mayor Vincent Gray. You had a somewhat bumpy start to your term related to the SUV you requested from the city. It's still what many people know best about you. On reflection, what have you learned from that episode?
BROWNWell, I learned that, you know, everyone, you know, makes a mistake. And what I've learned is that as council chair, I started off doing everything that I promised I'd do, and that is to ensure that we get an ethics bill out of the council, committed to make sure that we have a fiscal -- government is gonna have a budget that's gonna be balanced, but it's also gonna make sure that we don't leave out the people that needed it the most.
BROWNWe've hired a phenomenal staff. I mean, we've hired the first female budget director in the history of the council who has done a phenomenal job. We put together a solid team. When it comes to the institution itself, no one has talked about the institution not being on the same page. We've had more legislative meetings than any other period in a time in the District of Columbia. So, you know, if I had to take some things back, I would. But at the end of the day, you know, you learn and you keep moving, and you make sure you deliver to the -- for the people at the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODYou had promised that once the attorney general looked at the SUV and the two that were leased and whether it cost us, you know, you would offer to pay. But I don't believe he has come up with the dollar figure, has he?
BROWNWell, it's clear that for the month that I had the vehicle, I clearly said that I'd definitely would...
SHERWOODAnd no one said to you it cost X dollars or...
BROWNWell, once we get that information, we'll move forward.
SHERWOODAnd then also, on the campaign finance issues, there's been -- that's still kind of pursuing. You're waiting to see if the campaign finance office is maybe gonna fine you for the incomplete reporting you did. Are you all comfortable with that at this point?
BROWNWell, I mean, I'm comfortable with the Office of Campaign Finance. I mean, they have been looking at this issue before the campaign took place three or four years ago. And it's very clear, if they come up with a fine that we would pay the fine and we keep moving. At the end of the day, the question is how do we move the city forward, and that's what we're looking to do.
NNAMDIIndeed, if the city does move forward, you seem to have undertaken a good start on this budget deal. Do you think that at some point, you'll be able to look back at this and do what a lot of other people are doing, find some humor in it, like in the SUV incident?
BROWNOh, no, it's -- I'm fully loaded.
SHERWOODThus, the city paper has adopted as your ID.
BROWNYeah. I'm fully loaded. I'm fully loaded. But, I mean, I understand the seriousness of things that have taken place. And let me just thank the residents because at the end of the day, you know, people make, you know, decisions and then they learn from them. And that's what I think has happened. I'll let Tom have the SUV fully loaded...
BROWN...for him this weekend.
SHERWOODBut you still drive that, that little mail truck, that little mail jeep. It's not a truck. It's a jeep with the -- its steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car. You can have a wreck and everybody is gonna ...
SHERWOODIt's gonna be a nightmare. You could have -- keep driving that thing?
BROWNWell, let me say, Kojo. You know what you learn is that, you know, the home rule charter allows the chairman to have a car, as well the mayor to have a vehicle, and it shouldn't be an SUV. It should be hybrid or electric car. And I'm fine with that. You understand that. And that's what we'll do as we move forward.
NNAMDIAnd of course, D.C. used to be the number one city in the country for three years running as the fittest city in the country. Now, you know, with people who bike or walk, I know you're a jogger. Tom Sherwood goes out and gets a bicycle, and we get knocked down to the second fittest city in the nation.
SHERWOODOh, all those...
NNAMDIWe're like being punished 'cause you started riding a bicycle.
SHERWOODYou know, most of those surveys are ridiculous. And the one about we're the, like, the worst drivers and all that stuff...
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst.
SHERWOOD... we're making progress in the city.
NNAMDIHe's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspaper. Always a pleasure, Tom. Kwame Brown is chairman of the D.C. City Council. Kwame Brown, thank you so much for joining us.
BROWNNo, thank you for having me, Kojo and Tom.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Coming up Monday on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," you've seen the photographs and the paintings, now hear the soundtrack of America's civil war. Plus, from toddler discipline to strollers as status symbols; the good, the bad and the ugly of parenting websites. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," noon till 2:00, Monday, on WAMU 88.5.
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