Inside an 800-square-foot shop, D.C.-based social entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar is using his Mom's falafel recipe to raise money for refugees.
Virginia lawmakers fail to beat the buzzer in their budget debate, forcing an overtime session later this month. D.C. politicians confront a full court press of subpoenas related to their campaign finances. And just in time for March Madness, Maryland gears up for another debate about casino gambling. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Milad Pooran Democratic Candidate, U.S. House of Representatives (6th District, Md.)
Politics Hour Extra
WAMU 88.5’s Patrick Madden talks about information he uncovered about suspicious money orders tying the friends and associates of Jeffrey Thompson, one of D.C.’s most prolific political donors, to Council member Vincent Orange and some other city leaders:
Milad Pooran talks about his commitment to women’s rights issues and how in his view, none of his opponents have given the area much attention:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Welcome, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODHey.
NNAMDIWe have a guest analyst in studio with us today. Patrick Madden is a reporter for WAMU 88.5. Welcome, Patrick.
MR. PATRICK MADDENGood afternoon.
NNAMDIWhat we'll be doing today, we'll be talking about the controversy swirling around Jeffrey Thompson. Jeffrey Thompson being the head of Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, which is an accounting firm, and the head of Chartered Health Care, which administers a Medicaid program for the District of Columbia worth over $320 million. We'll also be talking about the Ward 8 and Ward 2 races.
NNAMDISo you can start calling on any of those topics right now. We'll discuss why Elizabeth Noel may not have been appointed or voted on favorably for the Public Service Commission. And we'll be talking about Pete Ross, the candidate for shadow senator or statehood senator of the District who served one day in jail and the issue surrounding that. So you can start calling now, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, if you'd like to comment on any of those issues. Later on the broadcast, we'll be talking with Milad Pooran, who's a candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in Maryland's 6th District. And when he comes on, you can call about him. But any of the other topics, you can start calling now, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDITom and Patrick, the Washington Informer has a long piece by Barrington Salmon on Jeffrey Thompson in which it talks about the good things that Jeffrey Thompson has been doing from a philanthropic point of view for the city in which his chief operating officer of Bazilio -- of Thompson, Bazilio & Cobb & -- Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, Ralph Bazilio, talks about the fact that this is an international business and the fact that they serve jurisdictions around the country.
NNAMDIFull disclosure, that company also does the auditing for the Public Access Corporation of the District of Columbia of which I am the chair, but what people are concerned about is clearly not all of those things that firm is doing with one thing in particular that Jeffrey Thompson and "associates" have been involved in, and that is questionable donations to candidates for office in the District of Columbia. Tom, I'll start with the story you broke yesterday involving Mayor Vincent Gray and $100,000.
SHERWOODAnd just let me say an introduction about what -- all the good things that Thompson-Cobb has done or Chartered Health has done, it doesn't matter. The question is, did they violate the law? Was there a scheme in order to shift money into campaigns, maybe going back for a decade into campaigns to pick winners and losers on -- based on faulty, fake, corrupt contributions? That's the question. We don't know the answer yet.
SHERWOODBut I reported -- just got that out of my system.
SHERWOODI reported as I was working on it for about 10 days and asking the mayor twice about it that sources within the mayor's campaign itself told me that on June 10 of 2010, the first reporting day when he first got into the campaign and needed money to show he was a viable candidate against Adrian Fenty, that there is -- that his own team of campaign workers were hoping to have $400,000, that maybe they might get up to $450,000 by the midnight deadline.
SHERWOODWhen the mayor walked in with about $100,000 in checks -- and I don't know what checks means, if that means money orders or just simply checks -- and turned the money in, and they ended up reporting $530,000 -- $536,000 that night total. So where did the money come from? Twice I asked the mayor, please, just give me some idea of what this was. Sources of mine had said the problem for the mayor in this scandal is that he, quote, "He touched the money," unquote.
SHERWOODAnd then I don't know if this is -- what they were talking about, but it was very unusual to have all this money. It's not unusual for money to flood in at the last moment in a campaign, like on deadlines, 'cause you want to show the most money you can. But having the candidate himself hold money, very unusual in campaigns. You talk to anybody who runs a campaign, the first thing you want to do is tell your candidate not to pick up a check.
SHERWOODIf someone walks up and hands you a check, you immediately hand it to an aide. You don't handle the money. It's too complicated. The rules are too tight. And for the mayor to have come in with that much money just raises more of a suspicion of what went on here.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have comments or questions about this issue. So much for the mayor for the time being. The council is where Jeffrey Thompson has apparently also been giving a lot of money. And our reporter Patrick Madden reported in particular on contributions to at-large Councilmember Vincent Orange in the last election. Patrick, could you talk a little bit about that?
MADDENSure, Kojo. Well, what I reported -- what initially -- my initial story, the initial focus were -- was on these money orders that -- there was about 26 of them that had come into Vincent Orange's at-large election. This is 2011. And it really was -- it didn't make a lot of sense when you look at where these money orders were coming from -- California, Georgia. And the names, they -- there was no clear connection to anyone in the District.
MADDENSo after doing some digging, you know, I found an obituary that actually linked all of these names to G...
NNAMDII was fascinated by that. How...
NNAMDIHow did that work out? How did the obituary link the name?
MADDENWell, what it did, it was...
MADDENIt essentially listed this family in Georgia, all these different donations to Jeanne Clark Harris, who as an associate of Thompson, has been sort of...
NNAMDISometimes, at times, a spokesperson.
MADDENRight. And has been wrapped up in these -- in this investigation. So once that connection was made, some of the other pieces start to fall into place. There were some other companies that had been linked to Thompson based on the address that are listed on their registration documents. So, long story short, all of these money orders came in to Orange over a two-day period, and they looked -- they look suspicious.
MADDENAnd when I initially raised this to Orange, he defended the contributions. There were calls for him to release copies of these money orders. And he initially refused. And then after a Washington Post editorial made that call again, he spent the weekend going over these money orders and found that, yes...
NNAMDIIt should be recalled that Vincent Orange is a CPA, is he not, in addition to being an attorney.
MADDENYes. And -- yeah, a lawyer and an -- yeah. And a CPA.
SHERWOODBut he's not an expert, he will tell you.
MADDENRight. Well, basically, what he found was that a lot of these money orders had sequential serial numbers. There were very similar, nearly identical handwriting styles. And as I believe, the City Paper has also reported they were purchased at the same -- you know, at the various, you know, the same post office, Western Union branches, so it just -- a lot of questions. And the big question is, well, were these straw donations being used to sort of skirt contribution limits?
NNAMDIDo any of you find this to be a matter of concern? Call us, 800-433-8850. Or are we making too much of this? 800-433-8850. In today's "Loose Lips" blog, he points out the contributions that have come from Jeffrey Thompson to a variety of candidates, both for mayor and council, over a period of, I guess, the last two years or so, since 2010. And, of course, it stands out that the one individual who ran for office who did not receive a contribution from Jeffrey Thompson is the individual "Loose Lips" has labeled council martyr Saint Tommy Wells of Ward 6. What's the significance there?
SHERWOODWell, Tommy apparently doesn't know how to ask for money, you know?
NNAMDIWell, it -- Patrick Madden pointed out something (word?). He knows the answer to that question.
MADDENI think I actually -- I figured out the answer to that puzzle because I was looking at...
MADDEN...all of these records. And it's because all of this Thompson money, the same list of donations went to Wells' opponent in that race -- Kelvin Robinson.
MADDENSo if you go back and look at those records, you will see the same list of donations that we're talking about right now.
SHERWOODWells was on the school board, and I don't think this network, this Thompson network had permeated the school elections to my knowledge. You didn't give, Patrick, credit also for reporting additional moneys on Mayor Gray's campaign. He has also found something like $100,000 in donations.
MADDENI initially reported 60...
SHERWOODI suffer from what I've reported.
MADDENSixty. But now going back, I found even more connections. And it's up to 90 to $100,000 in contributions that could be linked to Thompson employees, different companies.
MADDENAnd the problem is, Kojo, is that, for whatever reason, the Gray campaign left the occupation category blank in their records, and so that -- in previous campaigns, it usually says, you know, the accounting firm or -- and it -- so -- but without having those connections made, it sort of adds to this...
SHERWOODHere's the specter of what's happening, is talking to prosecutor-type people, people who have access to the prosecutors -- 'cause the prosecutors obviously don't talk -- is that what we could have here is a massive political scandal of -- to make all of this -- the rest of the stuff of the past look miniscule, that we could have a situation where this network of -- Thompson's network has tainted so many campaigns and so many politicians that, in the worst case, if there are criminal charges brought against the mayor, the council chairman, any of the council members, it could be so bad that the Congress will look at the city and say, well, you've got your finances in order because we don't need a financial control board.
SHERWOODBut you're so corrupt. We're going to re-impose the control board. It could be -- that's one of the worst-case scenario as someone has laid out to me that could happen if this is -- and that people are already...
SHERWOOD...starting to talk now.
NNAMDIIt is, of course, the job of the U.S. attorney to investigate and if necessary bring criminal charges. Our job, of course, is to talk about the impact this can have on politics in the District of Columbia. Before I go any further, Patrick Madden?
MADDENWell, I just want to add to two things to what Tom said. And this was sort of mentioned, but, again, this was -- these contributions are not just in Gray's campaign records. As the City Paper, you know, has documented, these were in Fenty's race for mayor. We're talking about the same race. The same donations were going to Fenty as they were going to Gray. And you can -- so it's sort of hard just to pick on Gray, but he is the mayor.
MADDENAnd the second point, I guess, would be having your employees write donations to our -- if your employees are writing donations to a candidate, that in itself is not illegal.
SHERWOODRight. And if they're reimbursed, if they somehow are reimbursed, that they got a bonus for $2,000 and gave a $2,000 check in the contemporaneous time and all of that, that's what prosecutors are looking at there. It's an amazing weave of money. And it could be just, as he said, that many of these donations are perfectly legal, that, I mean, Mr. Thompson certainly knows a great many people, and he can call upon people in California and Philadelphia and Georgia and Miami, New York and other places to send a check to these folks.
SHERWOODAnd people do that. That's -- nothing is wrong with that. The question is, was there a conspiracy to hide the source of the money?
NNAMDIThat's the legal question. The political...
SHERWOODThe legal question.
NNAMDI...question that I'm raising with you, gentlemen, is if, as you reported, Tom, the $100,000 that Mayor Gray got was gotten, was obtained just in time for a midnight deadline in June to make him at the very least a credible candidate...
NNAMDI...to oppose the incumbent mayor, if we look at that and we look at all the other contributions, is it clear that Jeffrey Thompson seemed to have an outsized influence on the outcome, if you will, of political races in the District of Columbia?
SHERWOODWell, you know, it's nothing -- if he wants to be the kingmaker bundler of great skill and ability, and he's done it and he's done it legally, then there's no issue. You can -- I mean, we're all having this effort, you know, the group is trying to get the law passed that corporations cannot donate to campaigns, to take some of that money out. But if Mr. Thompson simply got money because he knows a lot of people, that's, you know, is perfectly fine, and we can discuss the influence of one person on so many races.
SHERWOODBut everyone who has been looking at this says the money orders are suspicious, as Patrick was saying. The handwriting, the -- it's like the campaign petitions, when you look at them, you see it looks like one person filled in 500 names. There's too many flares going up, saying, something is not right here, and that's what the prosecutors are looking at.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Moez (sp?) in Hyattsville, Md. Moez, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOEZHi, Kojo. Thank you again for taking my call. Kojo, I think, once again, we're talking about money in politics. I think the issue here. We need to have an honest debate. It's not just the mayor is doing it. Everybody in the United States, any official, is going for election. He's doing it here in the United States. He's pulling in our democratic process to win an election. He's not fair for honest people. It should be...
NNAMDIBut I think, Moez, we're -- Moez, I, however, would like to make a distinction. We're not talking about money in politics. We're talking about the legality of contributions to people running...
NNAMDI...people running for office in the District of Columbia. You are right, money and politics is a larger national issue, but that's not specifically the issue we're talking about here. And to confuse the two can give people the impression that we are discussing just a regular legal matter here.
MOEZWell, I know you make the distinction here. But the people contribute to the mayor and trying to sounded like they are different people, they are just trying to give him ahead with illegal money in the way nobody will find out. If it's not for the journalist who found out, nobody would know. And he got an advantage to use those money and win an election, and that's not fair.
SHERWOODWell, that's what prosecutor is looking into.
MOEZThey're all the same.
SHERWOODWell, that's what...
MOEZSay it again?
SHERWOODThat's what prosecutor is trying to determine whether criminal -- well, first of all, whether federal laws were violated. And if not federal laws, it could be, at minimum, the Office of Campaign Finance and the city itself could find that there were violations, and there could be city laws violated. It's money and politics. What's that cliché? The money is the mother's milk of politics. Money is going to be in politics no matter how you arrange it. The question is vigilance and watching it and prosecuting those who violate the law.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Moez. Here is Oliver in Sarasota, Fla. Oliver, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OLIVERGood morning. I thank you all on discussing a very unique issue, which is very important to all taxpayers. There was a similar situation like that here in Sarasota. Yet a business partner was convicted of having a similar concept of what you're saying, yet the senator was elected from that. However, the process still going on. But I think it's important that we look into situations and circumstances like this to find the truth and let the justice system prevail, whether it's on their side or not on their side.
OLIVERThere should be transparency in all levels, and I think that your investigation into this is very unique and great opportunity.
NNAMDIOK. Oliver, thank you very much for your call. Both Tom and Patrick Madden are patting themselves on the back. Stop it, Patrick. Go ahead.
SHERWOODWe are not patting ourselves. I'm actually very -- you know, as much as a reporter loves a good story, as a citizen of the city, it's depressing. I find it extraordinary that if Mr. Thompson is slightly guilty of some of what's being charged, here's a man who has built up a three -- this $300 million or $320 million a year -- it's a year, not just one -- it's every year that Medicaid provides a valuable service in health care. He has an accounting firm, which is one of, I think, the top five in the country, particularly minority firms, which have broken into a very difficult field.
SHERWOODI mean, he has a lot to be proud of. And yes, he's done -- had many -- he's been a benefactor for many good things with Dorothy Height and all types of things. But if there has been a sub rosa shadow campaign of showering money illegally, none of that matters.
NNAMDIIndeed. Patrick Madden?
MADDENWell, I guess the other question I have is, what has the Office of Campaign Finance been doing for the past decade? I mean, when you hear about some of the stuff, like they actually looked at the money orders that went to Vincent Orange the first time around and signed that.
SHERWOODWell, you that...
NNAMDIWhich is what causes a lot of people to say, this stuff has probably been going on for a very long time undetected.
SHERWOODWhere they -- let's go back to 2003.
MADDENRight. But can you think of one example of when the Office of Campaign Finance has come down and looked at either the bundling issue or the money? I mean, it just seems...
MADDEN...and I know they're understaffed, but it just seems like they have dropped...
SHERWOODThey asked Mr. Orange about his finances 30 days after that election. There's like six letters that didn't just happen overnight, so I do think -- that's why the ethics laws change, and we now have a new three-member ethics board, which is not yet been appointed, Mr. Mayor. And there -- they do need to toughen up. Even the Atty. Gen. Irvin Nathan said the D.C. attorney general's office needs more staff to do something like this and authority from Congress to do some prosecutions.
SHERWOODThe inspector general's office needs to be more aggressive and perhaps have more staff. The Office of Campaign Finance and Ethics needs to be more aggressive and perhaps have more staff. It clearly is -- they seem to be almost in neutral in some ways, and they can't get any gear. Again, this is what the prosecutor may end up doing.
NNAMDIThe investigation is under way. It is everybody's hope that it doesn't take too long because, as Tom has pointed out, the consequences for the District of Columbia politically are -- well, the target, the objects of speculation right now, but if it's a worst case scenario, nobody wants that to happen. But if it's going to happen, let us know as soon as possible. In the meantime, there is an upcoming election. And if you're just joining us, by the way, this is The Politics Hour.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Our guest analyst is Patrick Madden. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5. We're getting ready to talk about the Ward 8 race and the Ward 2 race. Can we call that a race for the city council? I'm inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. First, let's talk about Ward 2 in the primary in April. The incumbent, Jack Evans, is uncontested. What else should we know about this race, Patrick Madden?
MADDENI guess the two things that stick out to me in their connector is that, despite running unopposed, Councilman Evans has raised a good amount of money, and he's also earned a lot of endorsements and has been sort of crowing about this. So it makes me wonder if, perhaps, he is eyeing a citywide position down the road.
NNAMDIThe answer to that is yes.
SHERWOODWell, he always talked...
NNAMDIHe's been eyeing the citywide position for the last 15 years.
SHERWOODNo, you know -- well, he -- you know, he ran for mayor in 1998. He's talked about running again. He's -- I mean, he's not -- he doesn't hide that. I mean, for all the talk about, you know, this being a throw-the-bums-out kind of political year around the nation, there was only one person who really tried to step up and run against him, and she withdrew almost as soon as she got in. Evans is a good fundraiser. Even with a subpoena, he has said, you know, I keep all my records. I can have everything. I'm not worried about anything.
SHERWOODSo he's happy to turn all of that over as he has to do. He represents the business community for the people who don't like things like the Convention Center and the Verizon Center and baseball stadium.
NNAMDIBefore he calls, he will also say, I represent my constituents, too.
SHERWOODRight. He represents his constituents and so he went. So it's tough road, but he's now no opponents. And he won to seat as a delegate to the Democratic Convention.
NNAMDIAnd if and when he wins this race, he will be the longest-serving member -- longest-serving elected official in the District of Columbia continuously. Is that correct?
SHERWOODI think he may be that now, but, you know, he says that all the time -- you can hear him on (word?) he says, I've been here longer than anyone else. I always tell him, you know, that's not a positive in most peoples' minds.
SHERWOODStop saying that.
NNAMDIWell, Jack Evans is a much too-frequent guest here on The Politics Hour.
SHERWOODYou can't get him out.
NNAMDIAnd that'll probably continue if he does get elected.
SHERWOODHe does know -- I'll tell you what he does know. He does know the finances of the city, you agree or not agree with his position.
NNAMDIAnd he's been chairman of -- he's been chairman of the finance committee.
SHERWOODHe does know the finances, and more council members ought to learn more about the finances of the city.
NNAMDIHe's been chairman of the finance committee for quite a while. Clearly, the more interesting race is in Ward 8 with the incumbent, Marion Barry, known throughout the city, around the country and, well, around the world, is fending off several other challengers. There's Sandra Seegars, former spokesperson for Mayor Barry, Natalie Williams, Darrell Gaston, who ran in 2008, and Jacque Patterson. I don't know. Patrick Madden, pick at will. What do you want to talk about in this race?
MADDENWell, I guess -- I mean, as you mentioned, this is -- this race is about Marion Barry. And even though he has not been at all of the debates and forums that have been held in Ward 8 for this race, most of the questions, as I've been following this, are about Councilmember Barry, his record, if he is the best person going forward for the ward, his record on jobs, affordable housing. Those are the issues that have kept coming up.
MADDENBut, I mean, as Marion Barry famously tweeted -- I believe it was a couple of weeks ago -- that the Barry machine has been activated. And I guess that means he is going to be a very top opponent, especially if he has four opponents sort of divvying up the anti-incumbent pool of voters in Ward 8. So it's going to be very tough.
SHERWOODThat's kind of true around the city, that the incumbents -- everyone thinks, oh, it is, again, the anti-incumbent year, many of the incumbents, unlike Jack, who doesn't have any opponents, most of the incumbents have three or four or more, and so it makes it hard for the people who are opposed to the incumbent to win. I have -- I actually did a debate last night with the Ward 8 candidates at Anacostia High School, the new gymnasium, which is terrific. He would greet all the kids there who were showing us around. It was (unintelligible).
NNAMDISeveral of them were here yesterday. We had a visit from kids from Anacostia High yesterday.
SHERWOODWell, that's good. But, you know, in all -- and Barry was there and the four challengers, and Darrell Gaston -- incidentally, I learned how to pronounce his name. It's not Daryl (sp?) but...
NNAMDII'm sorry Darrell, Darrell Gaston, yes.
SHERWOODBut, you know, Barry had his group of people there, and they applauded him. He was on point for most of the time. At one point, he either misunderstood the question or didn't hear it, but -- and the other candidates, they make, Kojo, aggressive, serious arguments. The problem is none of them...
SHERWOOD...none of them -- well, even so, some of them are too well-known. But just some of them...
SHERWOODSome of them, they don't -- they have not built the organization, the people who fan out around the ward and who get -- who do work with you. Everyone has a little group, it seems like. If they got those little groups together, maybe Barry would be in more trouble than he is. And he is working hard. You know, he's calling all the time, trying to get on this show or that show. He was on this show, what, just a couple of weeks ago.
SHERWOODSo it's Barry's race to lose because the opposition at this point is splintered. But Jacque Patterson, you know, he says a lot of good things, but he hasn't kind of gelled a lot of the people around him yet to...
NNAMDISandra Seegars is a well-known activist...
NNAMDI...who, in a previous life, sought to recall Marion Barry while he was the mayor.
SHERWOODBut she's also very active in all kinds of community things.
SHERWOODAnd she was very good talking about things she has done, too, not just things she will do.
NNAMDIAnd Natalie Williams is a former spokesperson for Marion Barry. She was spokesperson doing that infamous incident, which we will not relive, at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, but she has now become an opponent of the former mayor.
SHERWOODWell, she's a single mother. She presents a good case about how she wants to be more aggressive. Some people are complaining that she hasn't really been in the ward that long. And she said she's not new to the ward, but she knows all the issues there. I think all of the four candidates really make a very strong case, that they could do something good for the Ward 8, which needs a lot of help, but they are running against the giant.
NNAMDIAnd the giant in this case being the incumbent, Marion Barry. Here is Lacey (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Lacey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LACEYYes. Tom, this is for you. This is Lacey calling. I'm glad you're back from your vacation because I've been calling your office, and I talked to Pat. But I'm calling because I want to know why Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness was the only female candidate for the at-large position. She's not getting any kind of publicity. This woman has been around. She has been an activist. She's a lawyer. She is a pastor. She's done a lot for this city. And every -- all these three males that are running, they get all kinds of publicity, good or bad. She's not even getting any inch.
NNAMDIWell, what you should know, Lacey, is that we will be having the candidates for the at-large race in studio on The Politics Hour during the course of this conversation. So you can make a note of that. As for why Tom hasn't been returning your calls...
SHERWOODWell, let me just say this: I don't know that I have any unreturned phone calls, perhaps, I have emails. But I would say this, you know, it's -- there are many -- I told this to David Catania, who's now been on the council 10 years, when he was an ANC commissioner running, he stood up and criticized me in front of hundreds of people and saying, why don't you cover my race? Why don't you cover the ANCs? We're important. I always tell people the same thing. It's up to the candidate to do things to make the media pay attention.
SHERWOODWe're not the League of Women Voters where we thimble out two minutes to one person and two minutes to another person and two minutes to another person.
NNAMDIWe are the news media.
SHERWOODThis is the public forum, and the candidate has to do things to get attention, get supporters and then ultimately get voters.
MADDENLike going to jail.
SHERWOODWell, that would...
NNAMDISpeaking of going to jail, if we're done with the ward races, we'll be doing this from time to time on The Politics Hour.
SHERWOODWe -- have we said the election is April 3?
NNAMDIThe primary election is on April 3 here in Washington.
SHERWOODAnd there is -- our early voting starts, I think, on Monday. I'm not -- is it Monday, early voting, I believe, starts next week. So if you can't be around on April 3, you can certainly vote early.
NNAMDIA candidate for the District's shadow or statehood senator seat managed to get himself arrested during a voting rights protest and was apparently demanding that the judge send him to jail for a prolonged period of time, that candidate being Pete Ross. And then, apparently, this somehow became spiraled down into a bizarre situation in which his opponent, the incumbent Michael D. Brown -- one has to include the D 'cause there's a Michael Brown on the council-- Michael D. Brown apparently called up the judge in the case and said, don't send this man to jail.
NNAMDIHe's already raised $200,000 in his campaign against me, and he's trying to make a show of it by going to jail. And so if you send him to jail, well, it'll -- well, kill my campaign. And the judge said -- the judge apparently said, end of conversation, took herself off the case. A new judge came on the case. He got sentenced to one day in jail. But $200,000 for the race for shadow senator? That's a surprise to me.
MADDENWell, I think, again, this proves Tom's point that to get, you know, to get reporters talking about it, it has to be...
MADDENThere have to be some bizarre twists and turns. And that's what this has been. On one hand, you have, you know, Pete Ross who is donating to his own campaign, like, $200,000 out of his own pocket for a position that is unpaid. He is also -- he you know, as you just mentioned, you know, was asking the judge to sentence him to 90 days in jail as part of, you know, to sort of raise attention to his campaign and the District's lack of voting rights. And then you have his opponent Michael Brown, who apparently called the...
SHERWOODMichael D. Brown.
MADDENMichael D. Brown...
MADDEN...who apparently called the judge in the case urging the judge not to let Ross spend any time in jail.
SHERWOODWell, you know, Pete Ross has had financial difficulties in his business past. And he doesn't have a real big track record in the city. But he has a lot of money, and he's got nice posters up on -- in various public places around town, and -- but he's not very well known. I don't know how much -- you know, he says he's donated -- is it 150 or $200,000?
MADDENTwo hundred now.
NNAMDITwo hundred thousand.
NNAMDIIn a race for the D.C. shadow or statehood senator, that's...
SHERWOODThe statehood senator where you get -- you're not paid, and you're not -- and no one pays much attention to you on the Hill either. So I'm not sure what he wins if he wins it. But it's just -- it's a very odd campaign. Now, I talked to Michael D. Brown about it last night. He spoke for a minute in front of the Ward 8 forum, and he encouraged people to, you know, let's all stay together and let's fight for statehood and all this. And he just was -- he's beside himself that Pete Ross is trying to, he says, buy this election.
NNAMDIOur producer Michael Martinez says, lesson for D.C. voting rights advocates, if you want to get attention for your protest, get George Clooney or a star of that magnitude to get arrested. George Clooney, of course, was arrested today in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODYeah, this morning. Jim Moran -- Congressman Jim Moran was right there next to him.
MADDENI believe he was booked in the police station not too far from here today.
NNAMDIWell, if you got to get a major star to get attention, get Tom...
SHERWOODWhy don't you get out there, Kojo?
NNAMDII was about to say get Tom Sherwood locked up with you. That'll...
SHERWOODI'm not going to jail.
NNAMDIThat will get some -- here's Talib (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Talib, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TALIBYes. I wanted to thank you very much for this thoughtful conversation, particularly about Jeff Thompson. And as a fellow colleague of the writer from The Washington Informer, I'd like to push back a little bit on my dear mentor's observation that the contributions that Mr. Thompson may have made to the community are of no merit. I do believe you're right in the context of whether or not there was a violation of law. I mean, for sure the work that someone has done of good does not excuse any bad doing. However, (unintelligible)...
SHERWOODExactly the point I was making. Thank you.
TALIBBut I would like to say that it is absolutely impossible, though, to just delete any works that Mr. Thompson may have contributed to the betterment of, particularly, health care issues in District of Columbia and the context of sentencing. So if there is a finding that there was a committed crime...
NNAMDIYou have leapt ahead. You have leapt ahead from investigation to trial, and you've convicted the man already (unintelligible)...
SHERWOODWell, I think Talib's -- Talib is making a good point.
TALIBHold up, hold up. My point is only that they should...
NNAMDIYou're sentencing the man already. Go ahead, please.
TALIBNo. We absolutely must, though, nonetheless, have balance. And that's really what the Washington Informer article did. I mean, if you look at the past week-and-a-half, there's been absolutely almost a kind of a hangman type of prosecution of the -- of all the issues on paper and, you know, of course, electronic media. And I thought that the...
NNAMDII don't want to go there, Talib, because it's the job of the media to bring stories to us that are news.
NNAMDIThe article in the Washington Informer, which I read, was an article that provided some answers to the question of who is Jeffrey Thompson.
NNAMDIWhat the news media have been reporting on is not who is Jeffrey Thompson but is what is Jeffrey Thompson alleged to have done.
SHERWOODAnd, Talib, I agree with you that for people who know Jeffrey Thompson -- I've talked to a lot of them -- there are fine -- there are many fine things this man has done, all right? There's no -- I'm not -- and I don't mean to belittle, ignore or dismiss any of that. When he -- if, in fact, he gets to the point -- you just mentioned if he gets to where -- a point he has to be sentenced, certainly, any judge will take in consideration his life of work, what he's done as -- whether he will be rehabilitated and put that in perspective.
SHERWOODAnd I don't mean to dismiss any of that. But, at this moment, we're talking about the reputation and the validity of the entire D.C. government. And that is something that's going to be aggressively pursued by the media and, more importantly, by the prosecutor.
NNAMDIBefore we get off of the District of Columbia, another well-known name of the -- in the District of Columbia is Elizabeth or Betty Noel because she served as people's counsel in the District for 18 years. The people's counsel is a government lawyer representing city residents. She had been nominated by Mayor Vincent Gray to join the Public Service Commission, a body which regulates the utilities in the city. And Betty Noel had often argued before that commission.
NNAMDIWell, a vote by the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs in the Council yesterday went 3-2, and Ms. Noel's nomination was voted down. Care to comment, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODYes. You know, labor had fought hard for her. It's almost like the one thing they've asked the mayor to do, and she didn't get it. I mean, part of the problem was the D.C. attorney general and others, Washington Post editorial page among others, pointed out that should Ms. Noel get on to the Public Service Commission, she'd be able -- unable to rule on something like 40 percent of the cases ongoing. This is not like a lawyer who's...
NNAMDII should point out that her own estimate conflicts with that. But go ahead.
SHERWOODYes. But I'm -- I think it was the attorney general I was going by. But, you know, if you're a lawyer and you -- an aggressive defense lawyer or aggressive prosecutor and you get appointed to the bench as a judge, you don't go back over to all the cases you had. You have to recuse yourself. So that was part of the issue. And some of the people who really like her had -- said they would have voted against her. Here's what I suggest: The mayor should appoint her to the ethics panel.
NNAMDIWell, I raised the question in a tweet today: Is Elizabeth Noel comparable to Elizabeth Warren, somebody who was seen as an activist and who, when nominated for an agency, it was felt that she was too activist for it? So will Elizabeth Noel now run for office?
SHERWOODBut her job was to be an activist.
MADDENRight. But I also think it's interesting that this case sort of -- it has connections to the larger story about, you know, the sort of the concern that corporate money is having in local politics right now just because -- I guess the concern of people that were supporting Ms. Noel were...
NNAMDIIs that Pepco opposed her so strongly.
MADDENRight, that essentially Pepco has decided that she should not be on the commission.
SHERWOODYeah. Pepco was straight-up public about it.
SHERWOODThey said, look, how can we -- is it a three-person...
MADDENBut you also wouldn't want Pepco deciding who the person should be that's going to regulate them.
SHERWOODWell, Pepco said, we just don't think somebody who has been our --essentially our people's advocate opponent for 20 whatever years it was can now suddenly be our impartial judge. Some people said Betty could certainly do that. I -- so maybe we haven't lost her at all. Maybe she'll find another place to be in government.
NNAMDIAfraid that's all the time we have. Patrick Madden is a reporter for WAMU 88.5. Thank you for joining us. You can hang around for the next segment if you want to.
NNAMDIHe's becoming like Jack Evans now. He refuses to leave the studio.
MADDENCan't get rid of me.
SHERWOODNo. This -- Hotel California.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. And joining us now in studio is Milad Pooran. He is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. He's running for the seat in Maryland's sixth district. Milad Pooran, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. MILAD POORANThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. This is a seat that has been held by a Republican, Roscoe Bartlett, for nearly two decades. But you've been arguing that your party should put forth a progressive candidate in that general election. Why are you confident that you could win when other people feel, well, maybe a more moderate candidate rather than a progressive candidate will have a better chance of success?
POORANWell, Kojo, thank you so much for having me on air. It's good to be back in a studio. I use to broadcast sports for College Park Radio when I was at the University of Maryland, so it's nice to be back in a studio.
NNAMDIYou do have that radio voice. Go ahead.
POORANAnd I have a radio face, too, so it really helps.
POORANSo, you know, we will win this race. And the voters tell us that we have a very good chance of winning this race. And the simple fact is that, for the last eight weeks, the other two major candidates in this race have been going at each other. It's become a nasty race. And when we talk to the voters, when we do our phone banking, they're telling us they're sick and tired of it, and what they want is a real choice. They're sick and tired of hearing the negativity, and they believe what the other person is saying about each other.
POORANAnd, frankly, they don't like either of them. They want a real choice. Now, Howard Dean, who has endorsed -- Gov. Howard Dean, who has endorsed my candidacy, one, because of the fact that I have very strong, progressive views and issues -- he's also looked at the numbers in the race -- and he said that in November, I'm the only one that can withstand the negative attacks the Republicans are going to levy. And I'm the only one that can win the West and Montgomery County and that I will win this race. And I'm the only one that can beat the Republicans and Roscoe Bartlett in November.
NNAMDIWe should mention that the opponents in this primary are Rob Garagiola, who we had on the broadcast last week and John Delaney, who we will be having in the future. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODI was looking over your Web pages and various things, researching this. What have you done -- what -- have you held public -- what type of doctor are you? I know you're a good doctor. Don't -- that's no joke. But what type of doctor are you?
POORANIt's like asking a fighter pilot who is a good pilot, the best pilot. That's right,
SHERWOODYeah, that's right.
POORANI'm a critical care physician.
POORANBefore I did critical care, I also did allergy and immunology, so I've done about seven years of HIV research.
SHERWOODRight. You have a very -- an established career as a physician. Have you been active -- I mean, I didn't recall seeing you -- have you been -- not as yet to be active in county politics or community, but have you held any kind office? This is the first office you've ever run for?
POORANSo I have a record of public service. Since the age of 22, I've been a public servant. I've served with the Air National Guard for the last...
SHERWOODNo, I'm sorry, the community -- in the community. I realize the sixth district has just now created...
SHERWOODAnd (unintelligible) civic association, president or anything like that, just kind of ground-level, grassroots-level stuff?
POORANAbsolutely. And I'll give you the answer by saying that, in the last 13 years serving with the military, I've deployed to Saudi Arabia over 9/11, Bosnia, did a tour of duty in Iraq. That takes up about three years of active -- three years in uniform over the last 13 years. Along with that, I've been involved in public health. I was working for Secretary Sebelius when the pandemic influenza struck. So my public service has been through the national level with the DOD.
POORANI -- part of the reason why I left the federal government was that so I could come out from underneath the Hatch Act, which really restricts a lot of the civic activities we're talking about in terms of being able to run for office, being able to serve. And so now this is my foray into this process.
NNAMDIPatrick? You're here.
MADDENI am here. I just...
SHERWOODThat's right, can't get rid of him...
MADDENWhen we were -- we've been talking earlier about all the fundraising issues. Do you -- how has that gone for your campaign in terms of setting yourself apart from your opponents? Do you think that has become an issue in this campaign?
POORANWell, we have -- we will have enough money to win this race. You know, one of the candidates buys influence. The other one sells influence. You know, we weren't going to win the Annapolis primary. We weren't going to win the money primary. But we're going to win the primary in the sixth district. And so we have concentrated our efforts in talking to the voters. In fact, this Tuesday night, we're going to have a phone and Internet town hall at 7 p.m. People can find out about that on our website.
POORANIt's miladforcongress.com. That's M-I-L-A-D-forcongress.com. So we've been out there talking to the voters, and the voters respond to what we have to say. And so we have -- we will have enough money to win this primary.
NNAMDILet's look at the big picture for a minute. You've got Iranian heritage. Your family came here to this country when you were just six years old. You're running in a district that includes a city, Frederick, that just declared English its official language for the right to be on the same ballot as a referendum on the state's new DREAM Act law. How do you think immigration is going to factor into the general election, given that the referendum will be there? And how do you see that affecting your race?
POORANWell, I'm -- first of all, I'm very proud of my heritage. When we first came to America, my parents came here to afford me with freedom and then the opportunity to succeed in life. When we were first in this area, I -- we didn't have a car. And so every Sunday, my parents and I, we'd walk a mile-and-a-half to the nearest McDonald's.
POORANMy parents wouldn't eat. They would just get me a sandwich so that I'd feel like I was living the American dream. That message resonates with the voters in the 6th District. In the 6th District, the way it's cut out in Montgomery County, almost 25 percent of the District are foreign-born Americans who have gone through the process of becoming citizens, have walked the hard road to show their love and their dedication to this country. And they serve this country proudly. So the immigrant story plays very well.
POORANAnd out west, I live out there. I work out in the west. I know the struggles that they're going through in finding jobs. These are the issues that really resonate with the voters, and they like my military service. So, again, we have this ability to not only speak clearly with the voters out west, but speak clearly with the voters in Montgomery County. And I can tell you, one of the issues that I really don't hear anyone else talking about on the Democratic side is the issue of women's choice.
NNAMDIOne second, please. Here is Melissa in Gaithersburg, Md. Melissa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MELISSAOK. Oh, first of all, I would like to thank Dr. Pooran for his military service. And just kind of about the women's choice, reproductive rights issue, you know, as a female, this is something that's very important to me. And I attended one of these forums the other night, and it seemed like no one else was talking about this. You know, what is it that you feel we should do to protect reproductive rights, and why is no one else talking about it?
NNAMDIAnd what distinguishes your view -- why does -- what distinguishes your views from that of the other candidates, on that issue?
POORANI don't think the other candidates frankly talk about it unless they're asked about it. To me, I look at the assault that women's rights are being put under in this country, you know, where people are trying to convince everyone that contraception is an abortifacient, all the false arguments that are being made. As a doctor, as someone who cares for the needs of women, this is a very, very important issue.
POORANI take it very personally, and I can speak to it from that standpoint, from a very professional standpoint, but also from someone who's been involved with dealing with issues that deal with women's rights, women's contraception, women's health issues. And part of it is access to health care and ensuring that not just women but every American has access to quality and affordable health care. God forbid we become ill.
SHERWOODI don't doubt that this is going to be part of the makeup of the November general elections. But in the Democratic primary, your two opponents -- you say they don't speak about it unless asked. But they sound like they're in agreement with you. So how do you distinguish yourself from them, other than -- you say they're not pushing the issue strong enough, but whoever wins will have to push that issue in the fall.
POORANTom, we don't just need someone who agrees. We need someone who will fight for these rights and fight for these issues. This is something that I'll make a priority. This is not something that if I'm asked about it, I'll just go along to get along with whatever the party feels. This is a priority issue for me. It's an important issue. The civil liberties of women are being put under assault every day in this country. And, frankly, it's an issue that we need, as Democrats, to be talking to, to counter what's being put out there.
NNAMDILet's talk education for a second because you've got plenty to say on your website about No Child Left Behind. That's the education law passed under President Bush. But the Obama administration has basically offered big pots of money to states that make reforms that they see fit when it comes to education as a part of its Race to the Top program.
NNAMDIMontgomery County has some of the top performing public schools in the county -- in the country, and they've said no to Race to the Top, that they don't want to be bound to pledges, to use test scores to measure teacher quality and other things. What do you make of Race to the Top and the Obama's -- Obama administration's approach to education?
POORANYou know, No Child Left Behind was a good effort. It was well intentioned to see if federal standardization would be a good metric to use to see if children were succeeding, but it became a punitive process along the way. And, frankly, I can count on a handful the five teachers that impacted my life growing up, and one of them was a shop teacher. There's no test you can test that. He taught me creativity. He taught me resource management.
POORANSo those are the things where it's up to the local administrators to know what a good teacher is, how they reach out, how they engage with the students, how they energize their students. Look, frankly, I think it's a shame when people in Congress hold an eighth grader and their teacher responsible for a test score when we're not funding to the needs of the students. We're not...
NNAMDIYou mentioned people in Congress, but I asked most specifically about the administration's position on it, the Obama administration's position.
POORANI think what the secretary of education and what the administration are trying to do, I think they understand that there is a problem with No Child Left Behind, the way it is. They're allowing regions to opt out of No Child Left Behind. And, again, in my opinion, it is a local issue. We should support the locals in making the decision. We can't have a national cookie cutter approach.
POORANYou know, the needs of school districts in a suburban area are very different than the needs of a school district in an urban area not just because of the students, but because of the households that surround them, the households that feed into them, the rates of two single versus one-parent homes because that does impact the needs of the students and the school. So it must be left at the local level.
NNAMDIAnd -- correct me if I'm wrong -- but it's my understanding that you're also opposed both to charter and voucher programs in the 6th District.
POORANCertainly with the voucher program. It's very clear that it takes away money from, in my opinion, an already underfunded and inappropriately funded public school system. Charter schools in the Frederick County area are a much more creative endeavor. There is local support for charters within the Frederick County area and points out west. Again, I -- initially, I feel that we have to fund our public school systems to the best of our abilities. And once that happens, then we need the creative ideas that charter schools bring in.
MADDENAnd on the issue of education, do you believe that there should be changes to how teachers are paid, how they are rated and fired, whether it's merit pay, whether it's, you know, tenure-based? Do you think that some of the changes that we're seeing in -- we've seen in D.C., Chicago, would you like to see that...
SHERWOODAnd then, also, why should the federal government be involved in so much local education? Some people think the federal government is polluting the waters, so both questions.
POORANWell, I think both questions go exactly to what I'm saying, is that I think it should be a local issue. But look at what happened with D.C. and the efforts that they made to fix their school system. We also -- part of what a congressman needs to do is to then educate the voters to say, if this administrator is working to the benefit of the kids, we shouldn't then come around and vote out the administration and make that a point of contention.
POORANYou know, politicians should not be playing politics with our school's education system, with our kids' education system. Our role is to provide the funding, to provide the support, and then to put the local people in there that can best do the job.
MADDENBut would you support, you know, having that sort of -- we have the IMPACT system here in D.C. that's sort of changing how teachers are paid, their contracts. Would you support that?
POORANWhether it's through advanced degrees, whether it's through local metrics, it has to be local metrics. I do -- again, if the locals decide that it's the best tool for them, then I would support that.
MADDENBut you don't have a position either way.
SHERWOODLet me ask you about -- you tout your considerable military record here. Can you succinctly tell me, are we wasting our time and our lives and our resources in Afghanistan and Iraq? Would you be for quicker pullout? Would you be for more engagement? What -- quick summary, thumbnail summary of these two wars that have dragged on now for a decade.
POORANI would hate to think that we've spent all the money and precious countless lives and soldiers that are wounded and the moneys we're going to pay to take care of the veterans and honor our commitment to the active duty military and their families, to think that that was a waste of time. I like the idea of the withdrawal within the timeframe that's set up so that we don't leave a power vacuum there.
POORANWe can't afford a civil war to occur in Afghanistan. We have to have a political system in place as we withdraw. The current administration's timeline -- and this is my personal opinion, not the personal -- the opinions of the DOD, but I believe that the timeline is appropriate.
SHERWOODCan I ask a quick question? Do you believe -- being Iranian, do you believe that Iran should be allowed to have nuclear power, weapons?
POORANI think all of that is smoke around a fire that's the regime. There's a regime there that doesn't respect its own people. Everything that we do in this country should be to support the removal of that regime. I think, you know, we've seen over the last 10 years that pre-emptive bombing has tremendous amount of costs which are not beneficial to this country. But at the same time, I think we have to hold the regime's feet to the fire and get them out of there.
NNAMDIMilad Pooran is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. He's running for the seat in Maryland's 6th District. Thank you so much for joining us, and good luck to you.
POORANThank you very much, Kojo. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden is a reporter for WAMU 88.5. He is our guest analyst today. Patrick, thank you for joining us.
MADDENThanks a lot, Kojo.
NNAMDITom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst, an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHappy St. Pat's Day.
NNAMDIHappy St. Pat's Day to you and everybody else.
SHERWOODBe sober. Be sober.
NNAMDIWell, at least don't drive if you're not sober. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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