Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
The D.C. Council starts rolling back plans for internet gambling. Virginia lawmakers move ahead with a law requiring ultrasounds before abortions. And Maryland’s governor pitches a packed agenda before the state’s General Assembly. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Roger Berliner Montgomery County Councilmember (D-District 1)
- Michael Brown Member, D.C. Council (At-Large, Independent)
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Politics Hour Extra
Brown talks about his continued advocacy of Internet gambling and answers questions about what some critics have perceived as his attempts to get legislation allowing it passed without proper notice to D.C. residents:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring the unbelievable, irrepressible Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. And, Tom, do you have the latest update from Potomac Phil on what the weather is likely to be over the next six weeks in Washington?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI think it's still dead or stuffed. I'm not sure.
MR. TOM SHERWOODYou know, I thought it was -- this is the same organization that brought us the snowball fights during the big snow. I mean, they wanted to do something that would be a little funny. And people gather around.
NNAMDIYou like Punxsutawney Phil. We'll give you Potomac Phil.
SHERWOODYes. And then we had Councilmember Jack Evans from Ward 2 who loves, of course, that area, who shows up in his ridiculous hat and vest and tie and goofy as ever. But, you know...
NNAMDICouldn't they find a live groundhog?
SHERWOODYeah, I don't think they're that prevalent around here. I told -- I suggested they get...
NNAMDIRun out to the University of Maryland. You'll find them all over.
SHERWOODI suggested they get a Norway rat. You know, those are the big rats in town that are flying all over the place. I thought that'd be great. But, you know, poor Jack, he -- you know, he dressed up like that. Then he went up to New York where today he's up there with the mayor and the council chairman, talking about how good the city's finances are and, you know, how we should have a better bond rating.
NNAMDIYeah. $240 million surplus, something that we will get into later on. But given that the groundhog was stuffed, does that mean that the prediction is completely invalid?
SHERWOODIt's probably as good as some of the predictions that are made in Washington on many subjects.
NNAMDIWhy did Millicent West resign as head of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency in the District of Columbia?
SHERWOODAnd why did Mayor Gray accept her resignation without saying one word about her valuable service?
NNAMDISome reports indicated that Mayor Gray might be the one who was calling for her resignation.
SHERWOODWell, he didn't get a chance to call for it because, when she heard that she was going to be meeting with the mayor's staff to discuss her employment, she offered her resignation. And our sources are telling us that, you know, when she was called to come meet with the mayor's top officials, she said we don't need to. I'm going to resign.
NNAMDIWhat is the informed speculation as to the reason for her resignation?
SHERWOODWell, the informed speculation -- actually, it's more than speculation. The fact is her name came up in the Harry Thomas scandal case. She was the head of the organization...
NNAMDIChildren and Youth Investment...
SHERWOODA terribly long name. But she ran that organization for the city, was responsible for the dispersal of millions of dollars in grant moneys to various neighborhood organizations, and she gave some money to Thomas. Apparently, she didn't do anything illegal, but she didn't have her ethics antenna high enough that she did some things she should not have done. And so, therefore, she resigned.
SHERWOODWhether she shows up in the prosecutor's next wave of charges, we don't know yet.
NNAMDIShe helped councilmember -- former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. secure more than $100,000 from the organization to pay for an inaugural ball that was held at the Wilson Building in 2009, an action that she defended. But I suspect it was less the legality and more the ethical aspect of it that is causing concern. However, we do not know if there is likely to be any charges as a result of the ongoing investigation.
SHERWOODMy sources said we should pay attention to it. It'd be like the other two guys who got caught up, the people from the foundation said to pass money from grant money to Mr. Thomas who stole it. It was intended for children. But I think what this suggests in the broader picture is that, while we have an annual audit that just came out in this past week that showed there's $240 million surplus, I'm just not sure that we're doing enough checking -- auditing to government agencies and where the money goes and how it's spent.
SHERWOODI think the audit pretty much just says, yes, you had this much money, and, yes, you've accounted for it. Maybe we need more of a quality audit to say what did you do with the money?
NNAMDIWell, let's step over to Maryland since that's the direction in which we're headed, anyway. Maryland First Lady Catherine Curran ultimately apologizing for a statement she made last week, quoting here, "We didn't expect things that happened to the House of Delegates to occur, but, sadly, they did. And there were some cowards that prevented it from passing," it being same-sex marriage legislation last year in the General Assembly.
SHERWOODYou know, I don't know if she just spoke off cuff. I don't know if she thought about that. Maybe she thought she, you know -- but calling people cowards because they changed their mind on a vote, I mean, I think you really have to -- you know, people were under tremendous pressure about this vote. And cowards was not the right word, even -- whether you agree with people or not, I would just -- it's the coarseness of the politics that -- and she walked it back. She said she chose the wrong word. But certainly, there were people who were going to vote yes, then voted no. And they had their own reasons.
NNAMDISome said they did it out of religious conviction, but it's coming...
SHERWOODWell, some people were worried. I mean, they got heavily lobbied on both sides. And some of the people said, look, if you vote for this, you know, we're going to be after you. But, you know, it was a tough thing. I just think cowards is a word we don't need. You have to have a really good case to use that word.
NNAMDIIt's on the agenda again. We'll see how it comes out this time around. Montgomery County could be heading to court soon. A brand new transit center in Silver Spring was scheduled to open soon, but it's going to be delayed again because of concerns about the safety of the concrete. Joining us now in studio is Roger Berliner, president of the Montgomery County Council. He's a Democrat. Roger Berliner, thank you so much for joining us.
COUNCILMEMBER ROGER BERLINERNice to be with you.
NNAMDIWell, the council met on Monday to assess the damage. What did you learn, and where do you go from here?
BERLINERWell, what we learned was that we had specs in our contract for the construction of this very major facility, which WMATA is a partner in...
BERLINER...that called for concrete to be poured to a certain thickness, 10." This is a significant structure. The specifications were quite clear. And we saw pictures that indicated that, instead of 10" in some places, it was 8." In some places, it was 8.5." In 50 percent of the second floor, the thickness was not what it needs to be, according to the specs. So that caused a great deal of consternation, obviously.
BERLINERAnd now, we are in conversation with the contractor. It is their turn, if you will, to come to the county and say, this is our remediation plan, if they believe remediation is necessary. And then the county will sit down and assess that and figure out what it needs to do.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Roger Berliner, president of the Montgomery County Council, call us at 800-433-8850, send a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask your question there. Any indication yet of whose fault it is? It's my understanding that there are several contractors involved.
BERLINERWell, there's a major contractor, and that major contractor has a subcontractor that was in charge of the concrete. And typically what takes place when you pour concrete is somebody goes around and puts a ruler in, if you will, and measures the thickness. As to whether that took place or not, we don't know at this moment in time. All we know is it does not meet the specs, and WMATA is pretty clear that these were important specs.
SHERWOODWell, that's what I was going to ask you. Why are they important? Is this a quality issue, a safety issue? Will the building or whatever -- will fall apart if it's not 10" as opposed to 8.5? Is it you can't have that much variation?
BERLINERAnd I have to say I am not an engineer, so to ask the president of the county council a structural engineering kind of question, I can't answer that. But I can tell you that the specifications were designed because of load-bearing considerations and durability. This is a structure that needs to last a long time. So...
SHERWOODAnd any indication this was a mistake or just cost-cutting or some changes? How -- don't know?
BERLINERWe do not know that at this moment in time.
NNAMDIOK. As I said, the project involved different contractors and subcontractors who were involved with the construction. How do you begin to determine who is accountable here?
BERLINERWell, we know who is accountable.
BERLINERThe contractor is accountable.
NNAMDIIn the final analysis.
BERLINERIn the final analysis. It's not the county's obligation to go around and measure the thickness of the concrete, so it is the contractor's responsibility. And now, the question will be precisely as what has been posed as to what is the significance of this deviation from the specs. The preliminary indications from our county seemed to suggest that it's a significant issue.
NNAMDIA plan to build an 80,000 square mile -- square foot Wal-Mart in Rockville Pike has been delayed due to protests from members of the community, as well as members of the council. You yourself have strongly opposed the development plans. What are your specific complaints about this Wal-Mart proposal?
BERLINERWell, actually, my specific concerns with respect to the Wal-Mart proposal really relate to urban design. What this particular parcel is currently zoned for is our old-fashioned suburban model. It can only allow for the old-fashioned suburban model. And we have just gone through a great deal of effort to turn that portion of our county into the new urbanism, if you will -- street activated, pedestrian friendly, mixed use.
BERLINERAnd this would set us back decades. So what I've proposed -- and I've worked closely with Wal-Mart's developer to come up with an alternative way in which they can proceed as long as they do so consistent with our vision of that portion of our community, which would be mixed-use, which would be small stores around the Wal-Mart. So Wal-Mart actually acts as an attractor for small business and where you have residential units on top. This is within 1,500 feet of a Metro station.
NNAMDIWhat power do you...
SHERWOOD...very similar in Boston, in Virginia. They've done this in Boston, another place that -- just the other day, and I was -- it's impressive. There are stores on the bottom. There are people living above, access to Metro. But it would -- you'd still have a huge giant big-box store and all of that?
BERLINERIt depends on the design. We've seen alternative designs that actually look quite attractive from an urban design perspective. So I have been agnostic with respect to Wal-Mart per se. This isn't pro or con Wal-Mart. It is saying this portion of our community is too important to push us back two decades into the past. So that's the point of this exercise.
NNAMDIIf in the final analysis Wal-Mart says we're going to do what we're going to do and that's it, what influence or power do you have to change that?
BERLINERWe have the power to rezone this property, and that is what I've proposed and worked with them towards. So instead of them going forward under the current zoning, which only allows this old suburban-style approach, we are proposing a new zoning approach that will allow them to do mixed use.
NNAMDIWhat's your view? Do you think Wal-Mart should be, A, allowed to locate in that area, period, or B, allowed to locate only if it follows the guidelines that the president of the Montgomery County Council has indicated? 800-433-8850. You said in your letter that the potential building of Wal-Mart would turn Rockville Pike into, quoting here, "a throwback to the '50s suburb." What's your view -- in your view, what's wrong with leave it to the -- "Leave It to Beaver"-style suburbs?
BERLINERWe have lots of "Leave It to Beaver"-type suburbs. We have some wonderful residential communities. But if you drive up that portion of Rockville Pike and see all the asphalt, you would say to yourself, we can do better than acres and acres of asphalt. We can have a street activated. We can have a Grand Boulevard. We can have people living in our community and getting on Metro.
BERLINERSo these are all the things that we are trying to do that, as you suggested in Boston has achieved with great success. We haven't achieved it with the same degree of success because our Metro, quite frankly, is more of a suburban-style Metro.
SHERWOODAre we losing -- the big picture appears to be that we're losing what we commonly called suburbs. When you look at Virginia, Tysons Corner is trying to reinvent itself to become urban, walkable, sustainable, livable, all those words, which we've all used for urban places, like Washington, is Virginia actually ahead of Maryland in this? I mean, White Flint is -- Bloomingdale's this week started tearing it down, is that correct, this week?
BERLINERYes. It is in part because we are going to redo that whole section to be more of a new urban approach.
SHERWOODIs -- we're just going to have huge urban places? Is this going to be one giant urban place of walkable, sustainable communities? Are the suburbs dead unless you go way out?
BERLINERNo, because, again, I represent communities like Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac. I promise you, our suburban communities are thriving and alive and well. We have some of the finest residential neighborhoods in America. We -- what we are trying to do is retain those qualities and at the same time look at where we have commercial development and say, is this the kind of commercial development we want and do better by our environment and have smarter growth and achieve the kind of land use that we think the future is dictating?
NNAMDIGentlemen, please don your headphones. We are about to go to the telephones. We will start with Corey, who is in Silver Spring, Md. Corey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
COREYHi. Thanks for having me. Could I ask the council president about bus rapid transit? Traffic's pretty bad up here, and we've got to do something to fix it and get us out of the cars. I wonder if there's a proposal by Councilmember Marc Elrich to get bus rapid transit to solve some of these problems. Is there ever going to move forward?
BERLINERIt is my hope that it will move forward. Thank you for your question. It -- Councilmember Elrich has really done a great a service for our community for advancing this concept that is now become the subject of a county executive transit task force that has worked very hard for over a good part of the last year. And we are talking about a system that, in my judgment, is a potential game changer for our county and is transformational.
BERLINERIt is a system that is practically indistinguishable from light rail, much less expensive, much more flexible and will move so many people so that the number quality of life issue in our community like many communities in this region is congestion. And we need to get people out of their cars.
NNAMDIWell, you say it's practically the same as light rail. But a lot of people are skeptical about buses. They think slow, they think traffic, they think, why not just drive my own car? How is the bus rapid transit system different, and will people actually ride it?
BERLINERThis is not your father's bus, OK? This is -- the most important message you can send to people is that this is a very different vehicle, more like a bullet train in look and dedicated lanes. That's the key. If you have your buses as we do today in traffic with everybody else, you're absolutely right. What's the benefit here? So in the absence of dedicated lanes, yeah, then I wouldn't be making this pitch.
BERLINERBut we will have dedicated lanes for vehicles that look like bullet trains, very sleek that you get on with a fare card, much like you do our subway, so it will be a service that's indistinguishable and will attract people who, otherwise, would not be attracted.
NNAMDICorey, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Tom.
SHERWOODWhat do you think of street cars? The District of Columbia, going back to the future, back to the past, whatever the hell it is, they're going to have street cars again.
BERLINERI like that approach. I commend the...
SHERWOODWe have a street car down Wisconsin Avenue in the middle of Bethesda to White -- no, you couldn't go to White Flint.
BERLINERWell, we hope to have rapid transit vehicles literally down the middle of our White Flint redevelopment. We want to turn White -- that part of Rockville Pike into a grand boulevard with rapid transit running right down the middle, so, yes.
NNAMDICan we talk Pepco? The State of Maryland and Montgomery County have been at war with Pepco for much of the past two years. Pepco was recently fined at the state level for failing to provide reliable service to Maryland customers. What's the county strategy going forward to improve reliability at Pepco?
BERLINERWell, I think I'm quite proud of our county's contribution to that result. Our county has been pushing very hard, and it was a result of our request for an investigation that the Maryland Public Service Commission actually launched an investigation into Pepco's reliability. So we participated heavily. We argued that Pepco should be found to be imprudent because its reliability was so terrible, and the commission ruled that Pepco was imprudent and gave them the biggest fine in the Maryland Public Service Commission's history.
BERLINERQuite frankly, I think that $1 million was more of slap on the wrist to a corporation of Pepco size, but have we gotten their attention? I think we have.
NNAMDIWell, what concerns do you have about, now that you've gotten Pepco's attention, whether the pressure on Pepco will result in steeper rates for Pepco customers?
BERLINERWell, that's going to be the ongoing debate is when they seek to recover from our ratepayers, from our residents, the cost of improving the reliability, how much of those costs should be borne by shareholders as opposed to our residents? And that is a debate that will define the next couple of rate cases.
NNAMDIIs it a debate that the Maryland Public Service Commission would have a say in?
BERLINERMaryland Public Service Commission has 100 percent say in all of these things. I wish our county council had 100 percent share -- say in this. We have zero say in it, other than being an advocate before the Maryland Public Service Commission, which is the regulator of Pepco.
SHERWOODThere's no one happier about this unusually warm winter than Pepco.
BERLINEROther than our residents.
SHERWOODWell, no. I don't think -- I think Pepco's joy is...
NNAMDIAnd you seemed happier than the residents.
SHERWOOD... is because they needed this break after 2010 with the snowmageddon and the problems last year with sudden storm last January a year ago. So they -- they're at least getting a breather here to get some more work done.
SHERWOODDo you think there's been a culture change at Pepco? I mean, we see the ads on the -- hear the ads on radio and see them on television, that they are, in fact, changing, that they are much more aggressive in getting reading to be in place to provide power and react to storms?
BERLINERI do think there's been a change, and the proof will be in the pudding that we need to see the statistics. We need to see the reliability increase. As you know, they were in the lowest quartile in the nation in...
SHERWOODThe Washington Post.
BERLINER...in reliability. They're also the most hated company in America, but they were the lowest quartile in the nation in reliability on sunny day outages. We're not talking about big storms. We're talking about the normal operations, and they were in the lowest quartile in the nation. In my judgment, they need to be in the top quartile in the nation.
NNAMDIWe got an email from someone who says, "The governor is pushing forward a plan that would essentially force counties to shoulder cost for pensions. What concerns do you have about the governor's plan, and what are you telling members of the county's delegation in Annapolis to do?"
BERLINERWell, it's funny you should ask because I just drove from Annapolis after making a presentation to our delegation on precisely this point. We cannot afford them shifting to us this financial burden. We've struggled just as the state has struggled. We've cut our budgets just as the state has cut its budgets. And...
SHERWOODAnd you're one of the most wealthy counties.
BERLINER...and we're one of the most wealthy, and we will...
SHERWOODIf not the most.
BERLINERAnd so if you look at the -- we will bear a disproportionate share of the pension cost shift, and we will contribute a disproportionate share of any tax increases that come about as a result of this session. So it's sort of a double whammy. We will pay the most and we would be shifted to the most, so we're arguing very strongly that this really can't happen in this manner.
SHERWOODI read something where -- that Fairfax and Montgomery County each get, like, 25 cents on the dollar back for every dollar you send to the state. It's a very small amount of money that you got.
SHERWOODIt is and it's one of the burdens of having been a relatively prosperous community.
NNAMDIOn to Toni in Southwest Washington. Toni, you're on the air. Go ahead, please
TONIWell, I feel a little bit embarrassed about going back to suburbs. But I have a question about suburbs. Who would want to keep them? I mean, suburbs don't encourage walking. Suburbs don't have walkways or accessible doors or, you know, why wouldn't we want to get rid of them? I heard a comment that, you know, won't that destroy our suburbs? Well, I hope it does.
SHERWOODBut do you live in near Southwest or far Southwest?
TONII live at River Park, which is...
SHERWOODOh, you're my neighbor.
TONI...somewhere -- oh, I'm quite surprised.
SHERWOODThis is Tom Sherwood. I live next door at Harvard Square, or nearby.
SHERWOODSo very smart...
NNAMDIThis is making me sick.
SHERWOOD...very smart person calling in here.
NNAMDIThis is making me completely ill.
NNAMDIBut, Roger Berliner, people moved to the suburbs in the first place to get away from the city.
NNAMDINow, suburbs are -- seem to be transforming themselves into cities.
BERLINERAnd I think the caller has a good point. And as an environmentalist, I think we also have to recognize that the old suburban model-created sprawl so that in our community, for example, we have so many people driving through our community to the extent to which, again, our number one issue in quality of life is congestion. We want to get people out of their cars.
BERLINERWe want to reduce the number of miles people are driving in their cars, then this new urbanism approach really works very well as long as we can assure our community that their residential neighborhoods are preserved so that this is at their expense that we can have the best of both worlds.
SHERWOODDid you take a bus to Annapolis?
BERLINERI did not.
SHERWOODHow many cars do you own?
BERLINERI have a Prius.
BERLINERI have one car, OK?
SHERWOODIt's one of those insufferable people with a Prius.
BERLINERI have a Prius.
NNAMDII, too, drive a hybrid. Thank you very much.
SHERWOODOh, they just -- they drive down. You see that smile on their face.
BERLINERExactly. We are so self-satisfied.
NNAMDIThat's for you and for Toni who often (unintelligible).
SHERWOODDo you also own a bicycle? No bike?
SHERWOODOK. All right.
NNAMDIOK, Sherwood owns a bicycle. Here is another...
BERLINERI used to have a motorcycle.
NNAMDI...caller in Rockville -- on Rockville Pike. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMYes. I wanted just to chime in on the proposed new Wal-Mart that's coming across the street from a center that I have on Rockville Pike. I'm a small businessman. We have 2,500 square foot retail shopping center with eight tenants in it. And since our last hearing -- from time to time, I'll go see the tenants if they need anything or if there are any repairs or maintenance. And I broached was what going on across the street 'cause a lot of them have been asking questions.
TOMEvery one of them, unanimously, all eight of the tenants -- and these are big tenants. There's Original Pancake House, Nighttime Pediatrics Hospital, Men's Wearhouse, Sleepy's, a hair salon, a Yang's Alterations and a chiropractor. Every one of them thought it was great to have that development across the street. They're all positive about it.
SHERWOODBecause it will bring more customers who will see your signs and their signs, and go into their stores?
TOMWell, not only bringing in more customers -- and I understand since they just opened up Nebel Street, you know, that now brings a lot of traffic off of the Pike, and that cut-through seems to bring more people directly to our center, which has benefited, but more importantly, with their employees. There must be -- between the eight tenants, there must be 50 employees, and, you know, they're hardworking people. They're there early in the morning till late at night. And specifically what they like is the ability to have food and sandwiches and bread there from the deli.
NNAMDIBut, Tom, allow me to interrupt. I don't know where you come down on the size of the Wal-Mart.
TOMI'm sorry. I don't understand your question.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Roger Berliner address what you raised and talk about what he is proposing then to clarify.
BERLINERTom, I appreciate your point of view. As you know, Wal-Mart is controversial in a lot of communities because it doesn't pay as well in its wages. Its benefits aren't as good. But as you observed, it also provides low-cost purchasing opportunities, and in this economic climate, that is so terribly important for so many people. It is one of the reasons why am I am "agnostic" with respect to the benefits and the costs associated with Wal-Mart.
BERLINERAnd my approach, I think, you will actually find appropriate is just to make sure that as it goes forward, that it goes forward in a way that it's consistent with our vision of wide flint and that it actually helps small businesses, that we ring the Wal-Mart with small businesses and that we have residential units there, which ought to also be a help to your mall.
NNAMDIDoes this sound appealing to you, Tom?
TOMOh, it definitely does...
TOM...and the way I understood it, when I went to that town meeting is that this is a smaller Wal-Mart. We're not talking about 80- or 100- or 120,000 square foot box. We're talking about 40,000 square feet, which...
NNAMDIOh, no, we were talking about 80. We were talking about 80. Here is Roger Berliner again.
BERLINERYes, sir. As originally proposed, it was going to be an 80,000 square foot big-box sitting all by itself. And it was that design feature that prompted a number of us to sit down with them and say, can't we do something better? Can't we do something that is going to serve us well into the future?
SHERWOODI thought this caller Tom was going to say he was worried about the big box coming because the small stores he described, the Pancake House and Men's Wearhouse and Sleepy's, would...
NNAMDIOh, he sees more business coming his way.
SHERWOODBut they would be put out of business 'cause people would go on to the big store to buy those things.
NNAMDIApparently that is not Tom's concern.
NNAMDITom, you seem to feel that other businesses will benefit by Wal-Mart's presence, but I'm afraid we're just about out of time. So, Tom, thank you very much for calling. And, Roger Berliner, thank you very much for visiting with us.
BERLINERNice to be with you again.
SHERWOODNo Purple Line discussion.
NNAMDIAh, you want to meant -- you want to ask something about the Purple Line?
SHERWOODWhen it's going to be built?
BERLINERTalk to the federal government for us. As soon as we can get them to say yes, yes, yes, that's when it'll be built.
NNAMDIRoger Berliner is the president of the Montgomery County Council. He is a Democrat. Roger Berliner, thank you so much for joining us.
BERLINERNice to be with you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, let's go to Virginia for a second because the Virginia Senate is up and busy because it now has technically a Republican majority. It's evenly divided, 20-20, but, of course, the Republicans have that one tie-breaking vote there. And they passed a bill Wednesday that would require women to have an ultrasound before an abortion. And it's the first, apparently, of several legislative measures that are expected to dramatically alter abortion law in the Senate.
SHERWOODYes. This was expected once the Republicans essentially won the control of the Senate. And some of the people who are opposed to abortion believe that if a mother is shown the fetus that she is about to abort that maybe they won't. Some people -- others have said that's a cruel and emotionally stressful thing to do to a woman who's already struggling with the idea of having the pregnancy or not. But I think we'll see -- and the vote was, I think, 21-18. I think you'll see -- nibbling around the edges on the abortion issue, you know, I covered the big light -- March for Life January.
SHERWOODAnd people -- or people who are anti-abortion wanted out. They wanted -- in almost no case. And I think you'll see in every place they can to find a soft spot, they are going to do so, and that's what the Virginia legislature has done.
NNAMDIAnd the Virginia Senate is also expected to do away with the one-gun per-month cap on purchasing handguns. They are expected to vote today on that. And with that purchase limit apparently headed for extinction, we now have a Virginia that is more friendly to gun rights than ever. The House passed a bill allowing government employees to store guns and ammunition in personal cars parked in workplace lots, including those at child care centers and parks.
SHERWOODI don't want to be too flippant about this 'cause it's too serious of an issue. But if I were pro-life, I think, I'd be anti-gun.
SHERWOODBut, you know, Doug Wilder was a governor in 1993. He wanted to do something that would curve gun sales because Virginia is nationally known is a place where you can go get guns. So he managed to get the legislature and say, well, at least you can only buy one gun a month. And so 12, you know, like the a-gun-a-month club. And now, that's going to go away. And there's this, again, is -- the gun folks who want no impingement on the Second Amendment right to have a gun want to be able to carry a gun wherever they can, and they don't see an end to their campaign either.
NNAMDIYou cover D.C. politics very closely. You cover the issues of voting rights and statehood. Did you make the trip to New Hampshire last week in the company of the mayor and several members of the council in the attempt to persuade the New Hampshire state legislature to come out in favor of statehood for the District?
SHERWOODNo. I did not go, and we'll be talking maybe about what the results of that trip were because I'm not sure -- I mean, I have written in my newspaper column somewhat critically about D.C. vote and how it's polite lobbying organization when we basically need someone to set himself on fire on the National Mall, as long as he's not Marion Barry. But...
SHERWOODIt's my standard speech joke. I apologize. But, you know, it's an important issue. But -- the -- I think what these folks found up there is woeful ignorance about exactly who we are here in the District of Columbia. They all think we work for the federal government. I have said before, I actually interviewed a guy on the Mall from Kentucky or Indiana, and he thought that I work for the federal government. And I was so dumbfounded by his view that I almost couldn't talk to him. And I think some of that is in New Hampshire, too.
NNAMDIWell, they may have found a misinformed state legislature, but what they also found was a majority Republican state legislature. And one of the individuals who was involved in that trip as an organizer and a councilmember is Michael Brown. He's a member of the D.C. council. He's an independent who joins us now in studio. Michael Brown, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
COUNCILMEMBER MICHAEL BROWNAnd thank you for having me, Kojo. Tom, how are you?
SHERWOODI'm good. Mr. Councilmember, it's woeful ignorance, isn't it?
SHERWOODIt's almost as if we're not even -- that we don't exist.
BROWNIt's too bad.
NNAMDII beg to differ, but go ahead.
BROWNNo. It's too bad. One of the things -- there are two pieces that you raise.
NNAMDIDidn't you guys Google New Hampshire state legislature before you went and saw that it was a majority Republican state, but just to make sure that (unintelligible) chances?
BROWNWe sure, but it's not -- Kojo, it's not just -- yes. But it also not just about getting votes where we need to get votes. It's about raising awareness. It's about educating people about what we're trying to get accomplished. There's no question. We have to have some kind of Republican strategy related to it because just on politics alone, you could have Republicans say, why would I want to support something that'll probably guarantee two left leaning senators to the United States Senate? So...
NNAMDITwo Democratic senators.
BROWNYeah. Well, left leaning, Democratic.
SHERWOODWell, it's same thing.
BROWNYeah. So from my standpoint, I understand the politics of it, so we do need to have a Republican strategy. We've reached out to the D.C. GOP a little bit to try to figure out some of these pieces 'cause it's makes it probably challenging for them because if that's not part of their plank, it's probably going to be difficult for them to be helpful. But we're still going to go around the country and educate folks. We're going to win some states. We'll lose some states. Hawaii and Alaska weren't perfect either, and we'll figure it out. But we got to be more aggressive. We're going to let down this baton.
SHERWOODThe vote was eight to three, and several of the members of the legislature committee said, well, you know, we don't know if this is constitutional. You know, the Constitution says bluntly that the Congress has full legislative authority over the District. And to which I would say, well, if it does, then it can grant us statehood irrespective of the other conditions of the Constitution 'cause it has full legislative authority.
NNAMDIWell, what's the overarching strategy...
BROWNIn fact, I like that. You should've called me. You could've testified with...
NNAMDIWhat's the overarching strategy here? Because you're heading down to Florida in the coming weeks on a similar mission, what's the overarching strategy? Why...
SHERWOODIt's not the Super Bowl week. And you're going this weekend when there's...
BROWNNo. No. No. No.
SHERWOODNot to Indianapolis anyway.
NNAMDIWhy does that strategy not include the members of Congress right here in Washington in Capitol Hill?
BROWNIt actually will be. We're talking to folks in Maryland now. We're talking to Virginia. Well, we have to talk all over the country. But you're right. We are talking regionally as well. And there'll be different thresholds in different parts of the country, again, in Florida. A lot of it just -- I'm going to be honest about it. A lot of it is -- it is pomp and circumstances. It is about educating people.
BROWNIt is about getting attention to this issue even if we know we're not going to get the votes in particular states, but that doesn't mean you stop fighting. We have to fight for statehood. This is too important, and it doesn't matter how many hurdles are in place.
NNAMDIYou are a known supporter statehood, but during the course of the past few weeks when people hear the name Michael Brown, statehood is not the first thing that comes to mind.
BROWNI hope they're talking about jobs, right?
BROWNOh, I thought you're going to say jobs and housing and...
NNAMDIOnline gambling is the first thing.
BROWNMy kids are getting to go to college. I don't know what you're talking...
NNAMDINo, online gambling.
NNAMDIWe've had you on this broadcast several times to talk about your plan to roll out Internet gaming, gambling, whatever we choose to call it. But now, it seems that the council, your council is ready to roll back that plan before we get into what happened this week. Allow me to channel a recent column by The Washington Post Colbert King who wrote this past weekend that the entire issue is emblematic of an amorality. He made the distinction. He said, not an immorality in D.C. 'cause amorality means a lack of morality in D.C. government. How would you respond?
BROWNWell, I think that's part of what's going on with the repeal legislation. I think there's a lot of media intimidation going on that have...
SHERWOODWhat does that mean?
BROWNThat means if folks don't do what particular newspapers want them to do, then they're going to write bad things about you. I'm -- you know, I guess I have a different level of threshold. I really don't necessarily care. I want to do right by the residents of the District of Columbia. And as we went through this process, three to one residents were in favor of online gaming.
BROWNSo, in fact, when you use the term roll back, folks are actually going against what the political will is and what the people's will is relative to this particular issue. That's why I raised the issue about the casinos must be now involved in trying to block this because it is in their benefit for us not to have this.
NNAMDIMy own unofficial, disorganized poll agrees, indicates that people from the majority...
NNAMDI...seemed to be in favor of Internet gambling in the District of Columbia. If that is indeed the case, why did you not introduce it simply as a separate piece of legislation that the council would have been able to consider and have hearings on rather than the method by which it was introduced? And the inspector general criticized the chief financial officer of the District of Columbia for putting it in a lottery bill that nobody noticed that it was in.
BROWNYeah. Well, I can't speak for why no one noticed it. I mean, when anytime you put something in the budget, it's in bold type. It's hard to miss. And I can't speak for folks who didn't read it, who didn't read it. But there were also two readings in the council. I came on your show. I was on countless TV shows. It was in the press. The fact that people are using they didn't know that is -- that's -- it's curious. But I think more curious -- keep in mind, the inspector general also vindicated all the different issues related to online gaming.
BROWNAnd everything was vindicated relative to process, council rules. When they attack me and my council members, my fellow council members personally, that was all vindicated. Everything has been debunked.
SHERWOODExcept the inspector.
BROWNWe went around the city...
SHERWOODI know -- well, there was no -- you know, that's that stand, is, no laws broken and kind of -- that's the base standard. But didn't the inspector general say that the contract itself was changed after the fact that it should've gone back to the council?
BROWNAnd I have no -- that part is legitimate for discussion. All that stuff started, though, well before I was on the council
BROWNI was talking about the process of online gaming, which was done properly amongst council rules. The question now is what's the solution? Why would we as a city want to walk away from an asset that everyone else wants? States are now clamoring to do the same thing we did. They want to get in before the federal legislation comes 'cause keep in mind, once it's federalized, local jurisdictions will not get the revenue. People need to understand that, so we have an opportunity...
SHERWOODYou mean if the federal does it, then the states will have to stop doing it?
BROWNUnless you're grandfathered in.
BROWNHence, why so many states are trying to get in like we did before the federal law is passed.
SHERWOODI think we -- you said two things, which I don't think we should just let slide by because I asked you about one of them. You said that there are -- you think there are casino interests doing this. But we asked you, is there any evidence of that? You haven't said anything. You just think there might be.
SHERWOODEveryone I've asked has said that's -- no one's been contacted by anyone who's obviously from a casino interest. Do you know of some?
BROWNI have -- I've heard some names, yes.
SHERWOODAny council members?
BROWNOh, I don't know. I don't sit in their offices to monitor it.
SHERWOODOK. The other thing is you said that news media is in some way playing -- are you -- do you mean the news media, are you specifically talking about The Washington Post editorial page or...
BROWNNo, I think….
SHERWOODI mean, be a little more specific 'cause I'm in the news media. I mean, I don't know that I'm got any scheme. I haven't gotten any marching orders from some power.
BROWNFair enough. Fair enough.
SHERWOODSo who are you talking about?
BROWNThere have been some other print newspapers that have done countless editorials, other stories that have done -- and they're all leaning negative. Even after facts came out that cleared up particular issues, they continue to report the same thing that's not factually correct.
SHERWOODSo -- but you think they're doing that as a conspiratorial thing because they oppose you or 'cause they're ignorant?
BROWNI don't know if there was a conference call that said it, but I think as elected officials, people are always very sensitive about what's written about them. And I think there has been some level of intimidation by folks, that if you don't do what we say, what we think is wrong for our city, we're going to write bad things about you.
SHERWOODI would just say as a reporter -- can I just say one more thing?
SHERWOODAs a reporter who writes a column and such, I will say, though, I think the big stumbling block was that this was done without public hearings. And even people I know who are for gambling, who come up to me in the grocery, as they do you as an elected official, will say, well, why we didn't we discuss this first 'cause I think it's a good idea?
BROWNBut you know what's interesting, Tom? Of community meetings I've gone to -- and I'm at-large. I get around the city -- I could count on one hand how many times I was asked about online gaming. I was asked about jobs bill. We've passed the biggest jobs bill in the city's history. I've been asked about making the city a more business-friendly place. We gave a business incentive bill that, if you hire D.C. residents, you get a tax break.
BROWNNo one wants to talk about that stuff, which really involves D.C. residents across this city. They want to talk about this, which is fine. I don't know. I still don't know why we want to...
SHERWOODPeople disputed the -- how well-known it was because, I must say, when I went to the lottery back in the spring to do a story in it a year ago, I was a little bit surprised when I learned that they have done this and all that. But all that aside...
BROWNBt then, Tom -- but then we went to every ward in the city. An unprecedented community...
SHERWOODYeah. But that was -- 300 people, most, out of the whole thing, came (unintelligible).
BROWNBut that's how many people come to most of our hearings. We don't get that many for most of our hearings.
SHERWOODHere's the deal. When the Council rejects -- and the mayor -- even after seven people in the Council indicated they'll vote against it, the mayor, you know, took a bold stand and came out and said he would be against it. So how long will it be after Tuesday's vote before you reintroduce the bill?
BROWNWell, that's if the repeal passes. I'm not confident that whoever has been handicapping these votes is accurate.
SHERWOODI thought you told me on camera Monday or so that the votes were likely to take it down on Tuesday.
BROWNNo. I actually said I didn't believe in what was being down on the handicap. I thought I said that on The Desk, but...
SHERWOODYou did on The Desk, but I'm talking about Monday.
BROWNOh. Well, if I said that, I misspoke 'cause I don't believe that those numbers are accurate. We have a couple of days to see if people really want to do walk away from this asset.
NNAMDII would like to walk back the reasons you give why your colleagues, you think, decided themselves to walk this back. And allow me to channel Maryland first lady Catherine Curran for a while. You seem to be suggesting that your colleagues lack a certain intestinal fortitude.
BROWNNo. No. People have the ability. From my standpoint, this is a legitimate public policy debate. If you don't think you should vote to have online gaming in the District of Columbia 'cause it's the nation's capital, that is a legitimate concern. But to raise...
NNAMDIBut that's not what you said, that the reason they...
BROWNOh, no, no.
NNAMDIThey were intimidated. They were intimidated.
BROWNNo. I said that's one of the issues...
SHERWOODNo. He says they are bought by some unseen casino hand.
BROWNNo. I didn't say that either. What I said is two things. I said, yes, I think there's some media intimidation. I did say that. I did say there's some external interest from outside our the city that are (unintelligible) keep in mind, when I -- early on in this process, I said the two things that concerned me wasn't process, wasn't legality. The concern to me was Capitol Hill and outside interest. And now I think outside interest are playing a role in this.
NNAMDIWell, what I'm hearing is that Michael Brown does not back down from media intimidation, but some of my colleagues do. Care to comment?
SHERWOODWell -- and I'd like to k now more about what the media intimidation is. I mean, The Post reporters have been aggressive in writing about this story. The editorial page is certainly been questioning the process about it. But I just -- it just sounds conspiratorial, like, you know, they are out to do something. I wonder who the they is.
BROWNAgain, I said I don't know...
SHERWOODI'll do a story about them.
BROWNI wish -- I don't know who the they are. I don't know who -- if there was a conference call...
SHERWOODI worked at The Post, and I would do stories. And people would say, well, in the editorial page, he's making us do this. And that was just total crock. In the 15 years I worked there, I did -- there was one story that I thought an editor had too big of a hand in, and I didn't do that story. I just...
BROWNWhat would you consider too many editorials on a particular issue, two, three, four?
SHERWOODWell, I think the editorial page can write -- they can have one every day. The editorial page is...
BROWNRight. I'm not suggesting they can't, but have you seen an issue in this many editorials by a particular paper, on one issue?
SHERWOODI've -- oh, I think so. There are quite a few editorials about Harry Thomas.
SHERWOODI never -- did you...
BROWNBut, I mean, there are not that many.
NNAMDIWait, wait, wait. I got to get the listeners in. Here's Jim.
SHERWOODWell, the listeners, what do they know?
NNAMDIHere's Jim in Washington, D.C. We're hogging the conversation to ourselves. Jim, your turn. Jump in aggressively.
JIMYes. Thank you, sir. Councilmember Brown -- Jim Edley (sp?) -- do you acknowledge that gambling can be addictive for people, but there -- that if we have gambling, we're going to have people who will become compulsive gamblers and that there will be an impact in that, a fiscal impact and a social impact as a result of that?
BROWNJim, you raised two points. One, you and I have talked about this. You're -- and just let me say, Jim. If I can say publicly, Jim, you're certainly correct. Jim is a supporter of mine, but he and I happen to disagree -- have agreed to disagree on this particular issue. Absolutely, that's something we're concerned about. If you've heard from the lottery folks, they have talked quite a bit about having extremely aggressive treatment plans.
BROWNWe've made sure that that will be included. So I understand what you're saying. You also mentioned something about a budget, and we would be having a negative fiscal impact if this were repealed, that we would have to plug up that 14 -- just about $14 million hole in this out-year. So there are some other issues, but Jim is exactly right. Yes, we're doing everything we can, and, Jim, you're right.
BROWNBut, Jim, keep in mind -- you and I have talked about this too -- this is happening already. There are thousands of D.C. residents that are already playing unregulated in our city.
SHERWOODYou can also ban alcohol and cigarettes if you want to keep people from having addictive behaviors.
SHERWOODSo we can see that amendment coming.
NNAMDIJim, thank you very much for your call. Here is Anne...
BROWNSome revenue challenges, in fact, too.
NNAMDI...also in Washington, D.C. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNEI would just like to say that the biggest problem with this whole thing is that there's no there, there. The statute that was passed had no requirement for regulations. It's had a -- said there could be. It had no real guidelines on how it's to be handled. There are no regulations that have been published, even proposals by the lottery board, except one for demonstration games, which would be basically just to hook you on free games so that you'll keep on gambling.
ANNEWhen the lottery board held their community meetings, the -- what they said changed at every different -- at every meeting. There's nothing that binds them to anything. And the only thing that gives any indication about what it's going to be going on was appendix A to the contract, which was the part that was added several months after the Council approved the contract. And if anyone -- I don't know if anyone besides Mr. Brown has read it.
ANNEIt is absolutely appalling. It looks like Intralot is eating our lunch. It is full of all kinds of fees that go straight to them. It has all kinds of promotions and loyalty...
NNAMDIWhat would you like to see happen, Anne?
ANNEI think it -- I think the -- what's happening is what needs to happen, which is the law needs to be repealed. And if we want to get into Internet gambling, we need to actually have a full public discussion and have binding legislation that sets out what the program is going to be, and binding regulations that are very detailed. And if we look at other states that are doing this such as the...
NNAMDIOK. I got to allow Michael Brown to respond because we're running out of time.
BROWNI agree with her. We need to make sure the regulations are as tight as possible, and what I would propose is we do that now. We have an exhaustive public hearing related to the regulations. Keep in mind -- that's what's so interesting and curious also about the opposition -- they never weighed in on the regulations for the free games, which is interesting. They had an opportunity to do that through public notice. They chose not to do that. But I agree. They should be very tight. But if this -- once I re-introduce this, Anne mentioned, on the dais, it'll never get past Congress again.
SHERWOODWell, here's -- Tommy Wells and other council members expressed concerns that the lottery board, specifically Mr. Roogow, who runs it, can make a lot of decisions that he thought ought to be made by the elected leaders, of what games would be played, all those kinds of things, the limits of $250 a week and how that's going to work and why it would be -- change it to $500 if the revenues don't come in. It seemed to me that it was like Wild West, open, do pretty much what you want without enough oversight.
BROWNWell, no. I don't think anyone can question that that hearing was not the best face that those particular agencies have put forward. But what Councilmember Wells -- one of the things I've talked about, too, is let's take the power out of that office, and every game that goes live, let the Council approve it, and let the public weigh in that.
SHERWOODWell, I'm not sure you guys are the best group either...
SHERWOOD...with all those casino interests after you.
BROWNAt least let the public have a say in what games go live. I've no problem considering that. I just think it's a mistake, Tom, for us to walk away from a $200 million asset. That's a mistake.
NNAMDIAnd one of the reasons you think it's a mistake is because you've consistently said that the District cannot afford to turn down revenue from gambling, that the city needs it to pay for its social safety net. You tweeted this week about how, unlike Mitt Romney, you have real concerns about very poor people. But an audit released this week found that the city is sitting on $240 million surplus. How does the surplus affect your argument?
BROWNWell, no. Well, first of all, I think everyone is pleased about that, but we still have to do a lot of restorations with these cuts. I don't know if that includes the shortfalls we have in 2013 and 2014. As you know, I'm on the financial revenue committee. And so we still have shortfalls in the out-years, and that will be great. But we have to spend that money responsibly, or we have to put it back in the fund balance. So those are budget discussions that have to occur. And...
SHERWOODDoes this money go to the fund balance to -- unless you overtly choose to spend it?
BROWNWell, you better -- people have already started emailing and calling, saying, hey, we want housing production trust fund restored. What about rental housing assistance? What about our TANF recipients? So folks -- what about -- the University of District of Columbia needs more money...
SHERWOODThere's tax on pensions also that people are getting out.
BROWNThat's right. Charter schools want more money. DCPS wants more money. So everyone saw the surplus, so everyone got in line to come feed at the trough.
NNAMDIWell, nevertheless, I press on.
NNAMDIA lot of people are saying that the surplus is evidence that the Council acted in a knee jerk fashion last fall when it passed a tax hike on high-income earners, a tax hike that you supported. How do you see it now?
BROWNWell, obviously, any -- if the surplus was sitting there then, probably I would have had some different thinking, but at that time we didn't know about the surplus. I wish we had a crystal ball sometimes when we make decisions.
NNAMDISo would you be willing to take a second look at the tax hike the Council enacted last year?
BROWNIf -- after we do some little vetting on it to make sure that it does plug the whole 13, 14 and those out-years. If it does, I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to have that discussion. However, I don't think I would be supporting it. I think once that tax is there, we need to be in line with other folks in the region.
NNAMDIOn to Larry in Annapolis, Md., who wants to talk statehood. Larry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARRYOK. Thank you. Can you hear me?
LARRYMy -- I've been watching this thing for years, and it's actually the fact that I can't believe that the Tea Party would actually violate the major premise of the original Tea Party, which was representation and not support D.C. Be that as it may, there is a possible solution. One is that there's always really -- as far as the federal entity goes in the District, there's only two -- one, possibly two legal residents. That's the president of the United States and the vice president. Everybody else is -- something -- somewhere -- all the employees and so forth actually should not be residents of a federal enclave.
NNAMDII'm afraid we're running out of time, Larry, and the argument you're making seems to be one that will require a lot more time to discuss. So I'm going to have to move on. I'd like to share this email we got from Michael Lipin, who said, "Just heard mentioned on the show that the folks who organized the recent Dupont Circle snowball fights were also responsible for the Groundhog Day spectacle in the park yesterday."
NNAMDIThat's actually incorrect. The Dupont snowball fights were organized by myself and my friend Ami Greener. And Aaron and the Dupont festival had no role in the snowball fights, and Ami and myself had no role in the Groundhog Day...
SHERWOODWhat? I made an error? Well, I won't quote my source 'cause I'll embarrass him. I'll take the blame for that. I'll throw a snowball if we ever get snow.
NNAMDIMichael Brown, good to see you. Thank you so much for joining us.
BROWNKojo, this is also just bad business for the District of Columbia. I mean, folks wonder why...
BROWNNo. Folks wonder why...
BROWN...we rank 51st in doing business in the country. We can't just rip the rug out of businesses that have acted in good faith for the residents of District of Columbia.
NNAMDIWe can't go without noting the passing of beloved radio host and music historian Jerry Gray. Though he retired from WAMU some 10 years ago, he was a member of our WAMU family for more than 30 years. Our condolences go out to his family and friends. Information about memorial services or tributes will be posted at bluegrasscountry.org. Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Thank you all for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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