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 break a budget standoff – cutting funds for Dulles rail out of the loop. Maryland legislators contemplate a special session – and whether casino gambling should be part of it. And D.C. politicians resume an erstwhile past time – squabbling over baseball tickets. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Mark Herring Member, Virginia Senate (D-District 33, Loudoun/Fairfax)
- Jim Graham Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 1); Chairman, Committee on Human Services
Politics Hour Extra
Graham talks about his reservations over Mayor Vincent Gray’s proposal to extend hours for alcohol sales. Graham said that especially in his ward, which includes the Adams Morgan area, residents will likely be disturbed at later hours by the noise of people in the streets. Graham also believes later hours will provide greater opportunities for robberies of people’s personal items. But Graham concedes that if the measure is voted down, the council will need to find an alternative way to plug the current budget holes:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. We are now on week two of Tom Sherwood's injury comeback. He had emergency knee surgery last week. He's now apparently healing in Florida, following a strict rehab strategy that apparently involves sunshine, oysters and beer and tuning into Washington Nationals baseball games.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe has promised to return better than ever, but better than ever is Patrick Madden, who is our guest analyst today. He's a political reporter for WAMU 88.5. Patrick, good to have you aboard.
MR. PATRICK MADDENThank you, Kojo. And we're wishing Tom a speedy recovery in Florida right now as he -- I know he's still been active on Twitter, so I know he is -- he may be in Florida, but he still is...
NNAMDIStill very active on Twitter. And I don't know if he's in Florida on his doctor's advice or on his own whim and fancy. I think it's the latter. That's...
MADDENI think so, too.
NNAMDI...where he likes to go. He was tweeting today about the fact that former Mayor Anthony Williams is now going to head the Federal City Council here in Washington, D.C., replacing the departing John Hill, who's been around since 2004. This is arguably the most high-profile leadership that the Federal City Council has had, is it not?
MADDENRight. They play a very crucial role in sort of helping guide and sort of provide strategic sort of help to the city government. And it's interesting that the former mayor is back in this big position because you -- there are sort of these people talking about, you know, the renaissance of the former mayor and what a wonderful job he did. And, you know, you wonder sort of what -- why he was sort of picked for this position.
NNAMDIMaybe he's working his way back into politics in Washington, D.C. He has, however, refused to reveal his salary. Come on, pony up, Tony. Tell us how much you make -- you're making. Patrick Madden, the other story in the news this week that I'd like you to comment on since you're the one who broke the story about Jeffrey Thompson's contributions to now at-large Councilmember Vincent Orange.
NNAMDIJeffrey Thompson not only has stepped down from Chartered Healthcare, but, according to today's Washington Post, it's unlikely that the health care firm that he owns -- Chartered Healthcare -- is going to be able to win a contract with the District unless it is quickly sold because, even though he has stepped down from the board, he still technically owns the company.
MADDENYeah. And it's a very interesting story 'cause, on one hand, it -- we just keep having more and more revelations about the campaign contributions. But the other part of this is that the city -- Chartered plays a critical role for the city in terms of its Medicaid contract. And, under city law, there has to be at least two of these MCOs -- Medicaid contracting groups that are providing this care.
MADDENSo it's not like the city can just drop Chartered. They have to have, you know, something in place -- another company in place. So I know that there are RFPs going at -- and they are looking, you know, for other groups to come and step in. But this is big news that they are really pushing -- it seems like they're pushing Chartered out, and they're trying to find someone to come in and take that contract. And I know that Chartered -- at least according to a Post article I read -- is also looking for a new owner.
NNAMDIAnd we're talking about a $320 million-plus contract that the city has with Chartered Healthcare. It's the biggest contract that the city (word?). And one gets the impression that providing Medicaid services to District residents is either not the most profitable business in the world, even though the contract is large, or that the accounting procedures involved are so complicated...
NNAMDI...that it invariably seems to come out at a loss revenue...
MADDENYeah. It's interesting because you hear about it's the largest -- the single largest contract in D.C. government history up to $320 million a year. But then you also read that these contracts are usually not profitable. I know Chartered has been losing money in years. Unity Healthcare, which is the other Medicaid contractor, has been losing millions each year. So it is a tough, tough business.
NNAMDIIt is The Politics Hour. Our guest analyst is Patrick Madden. He's a political reporter for WAMU 88.5. Tom Sherwood is recovering from knee surgery. We're hoping he's back very soon. Joining us now in studio is Mark Herring. He is a member of the Virginia Senate. He's a Democrat whose district includes parts of Loudoun and Fairfax County. Sen. Herring, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. MARK HERRINGWell, thank you, Kojo. I'm delighted to be here.
NNAMDIWe'll talk later in the broadcast about the scuttlebutt about Sen. Herring and his own political plans and ambitions...
NNAMDI...but, first, your colleagues in the Virginia Senate passed a budget this week on their fourth try. But that budget was stripped of money for a major project that would extend Metro rail to Dulles Airport and into Loudoun, your neck of the woods. How would you describe what happened, and what is it going to mean for your constituents?
HERRINGWell, I think it was a huge mistake for the Senate to pass that budget without the funding. The Dulles rail project is one of the nation's most important transportation infrastructure projects going on right now. It's critically important not just to the region but, really, Virginia -- Virginia's economy as a whole. Dulles Airport is one of the largest job generators in the state. Dulles Airport together with the ports of Virginia are really Virginia's gateway to the global economy.
HERRINGAnd the refusal of the governor and Republicans in the General Assembly to commit to any additional funding increases the risk that the project -- that Loudoun might opt out of it. If it does, potentially, that could unravel all of phase two. And I hope that doesn't happen. I'm going to work as hard as I can to try and make sure the project goes forward. But without the additional funding, it increases that risk. And if we are able to keep it together, it means much higher tolls for the toll road users.
NNAMDIYou talk about Republicans, but it was Democratic Sen. Charles Colgan who changed his vote and led to the turnaround here. Have you had the opportunity to talk with him personally since he made that vote, and what reason did he give?
HERRINGWell, not yet. The vote happened very quickly on Wednesday afternoon. I've not yet had a chance to talk to him to get an explanation for why he changed. And, frankly, I think all of Northern Virginians need to get an explanation from him about that. But it's important also to put it in context that we had worked very, very hard as a Democratic caucus, the Senate Democrats to hold out for that funding.
HERRINGThere was one issue left unresolved, and that was the question of funding for Dulles rail. And the governor and Republicans in the General Assembly were adamantly opposed not to send one additional dime back up to Northern Virginia. And they would have preferred to shut the state government down before contributing any additional money. And Sen. Colgan supports the project, had fought with us and kept working with us. But my mid-April, he did change his vote.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Sen. Mark Herring, you can call us at 800-433-8850. If you have concerns about the future of Metro rail to Dulles, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Patrick.
MADDENSen. Herring, what assurances now do you have from the -- Gov. McDonnell about money for this project? I know there is a letter that says he supports it, but there are -- now, it seems there's no actual money for the project. So what does Northern Virginia have right now?
HERRINGWell, first, just to get some numbers out so people know, the magnitude of what we're talking about, the phase two of the rail project would extend from Wiehle Avenue on -- in Reston on to Dulles Airport and two stops into Loudoun County. The overall project cost would be approximately 2.7 or $2.8 billion. Previously, the state had pledged $150 million toward that. And I felt very strongly that that was inadequate and too small.
HERRINGTo put it in perspective, Loudoun County's share for phase two would be $275 million. Fairfax County's share would be $525 million. So the two localities together would be putting in $800 million, yet the Commonwealth of Virginia was only doing 150 out of $2.7 million. And that's why I worked so work to get the additional funding. Now, the -- we have seen a letter that states the governor's support in general terms for it.
HERRINGBut make no mistake about it. He was fighting us tooth and nail with the Republicans, opposing any additional funding. I'm confident. I'm hopeful that that he's not going to waver on that additional, you know, the original 150. And I think there are some ways that maybe the governor can correct that mistake, and I'm going to be working on something to try and get that to him.
NNAMDIDemocratic Sen. Janet Howell told The Washington Post that a few weeks ago the McDonnell administration, presumably Gov. McDonnell himself, was willing to put up as much as $200 million for Dulles rail. How did it go from there to zero?
HERRINGIt's difficult to explain. And I'll tell you, in a budget negotiation, it was really difficult to get a clear indication of where the governor stood. At least I had been given and seen clear indications and signals that he would support some additional funding. The transportation secretary had come up with a mechanism to put an additional $300 million in. And the secretary asked us would we agree to how do this.
HERRINGWe did. And that was put into the Senate budget. It was passed by the Senate on a wide bipartisan vote, 36-4. And at that point, we thought everything was moving along as it should. And the next thing you know, during the budget conference, the governor sent down a letter that said he would not support any additional funding, and that abruptly ended the budget conference.
NNAMDIHere is Jodie in Woodbridge, Va. Jodie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JODIEHi, Kojo, great show as always. My -- we live in Northern Virginia. We send lots of tax money to Richmond that benefits the whole state. Maybe there should be some legislation made that we can retain more of our tax money to pay for our needs, or maybe we should just secede and become the state of Northern Virginia.
NNAMDIOne of the aspects of this, Sen. Herring, seems to be the ongoing divide that Jodie indicates between Northern Virginia and downstate.
HERRINGWell, it did seem as though, when it came down to it in the budget and there was only one issue left and it was, should the state put some additional funding to Dulles rail or not, there -- it seemed palpably anti-Northern Virginia that was the result. And, you know, other legislators from other parts of the state have a lot of transportation challenges, no question about it.
HERRINGAnd Sen. Howell, myself and others in Northern Virginia, we're working together with legislators in Hampton Roads because we have similar transportation challenges. And they were facing some toll issues themselves, but, you know, certainly, it does ask the question, why is it that the governor and the Republicans in the General Assembly just cannot bring themselves to support any additional funding?
NNAMDIMark Herring, he's a member of the Virginia Senate. He joins us in studio on The Politics Hour. He's a Democrat whose district includes parts of Loudoun and Fairfax Counties. Our guest analyst is Patrick Madden. He's a political reporter for WAMU 88.5. Patrick.
MADDENWell, I think, just to go back to what the caller just mentioned, can you talk about why it's not possible that, for example, Loudoun County couldn't just raise taxes specifically for -- to put money into this project, right?
HERRINGYou know, there -- Virginia is what's called a Dillon rule state, and that means that localities are only authorized to do those things that the General Assembly expressly, or by implication, permit them to do. So there are some parameters by which Loudoun might be able to raise some additional revenue, but it's not necessarily the magnitude that they would need. But not only that, beyond the mechanism by which Loudoun might be able to raise money in Loudoun is the question -- this project is not just for Loudoun County or Fairfax County.
HERRINGThis is a project that benefits the region. It's a project that is of statewide importance, national importance even, and the state as a whole needs to step up. We are a commonwealth. We are supposed to -- on these kinds of high-profile very important state priority projects, the state needs to step up and make a meaningful contribution.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned that it's of national importance because an additional to the regional divide, there seems to be a philosophical divide here, a philosophical divide between those people who want to see more rail and those people who say, no, we are road people here. These environmentalists want more and more rail, who want to take us out of our cars and get us into public transportation. Is there such a philosophical divide that might be affecting this discussion?
HERRINGWell, that might be true for some individual members, but I think it's important when you look at the success of where rail and transit has been made available, it has strengthened the economies. It has helped people's mobility to get from one place to another. And this is a critically important project. And, you know, in a lot of ways, it also reflects a lot of other issues that came out in the General Assembly, in the split down in the General Assembly.
MADDENI guess, Senator, I wanted to ask you about this General Assembly. It seemed to me that there were just a number of -- it seemed to me dominated by social issues. There were -- there was the ultrasound bill, the personhood bill. Was -- has it always been the case for these General Assembly sessions? Or are you seeing something new here where these sort of social issues are beginning to dominate the discussion?
HERRINGDefinitely, the General Assembly session was one like I've never seen before, and I think it really should be a wake-up call not just to Northern Virginians, but Virginians all across the state. I think it was precipitated by the change in control in the Virginia Senate. Previously, up until the last election, Democrats had a majority in the Senate and a reputation for a more moderate agenda.
HERRINGWe focused on things like improving public schools, doing what we could to help the economy and job creation, doing what we could on transportation. With the change in control -- and the Senate is now evenly divided 20-20, with the Republican breaking the ties. So that set an opportunity, given the Republicans have every elected office in the executive branch, now control both chambers of the state legislature, an opportunity to put forward their agenda, which they did.
HERRINGAnd when the curtain was revealed, their agenda was really full of divisive social issues, as you mention, from the ultrasound bill to personhood to repeal the one handgun a month law, just a whole avalanche of bills. And in terms of the number, I've heard them come back and say, oh, no, you know, it was only about 75, 85 bills in total out of a couple thousand.
HERRINGThat may be true numerically, but, in terms of the time, energy, and attention that was spent, the overwhelming majority of time and effort was spent debating these divisive social issues. And I don't think that's what the Virginia legislature should be doing. I don't think that's what the voters want us to be doing.
NNAMDIIt's what Gov. McDonnell said before the session that he didn't want social issues to dominate the legislature. But, well, it happened anyway, or it seemed to.
HERRINGIt did. And, you know, I don't know whether that was with his tacit support or not. But it certainly seemed as though -- he was there -- in fact, if you look at the ultrasound bill, it was only when there was nationwide attention and a national outcry that he folded on the most invasive parts of that legislation.
NNAMDIOn to the phones again, here is Bob in Charlottesville, Va. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBThank you very much for taking my call, sir. I love your show very much.
BOBI work in linguistics and relatively new to Virginia. I've been living here for about two, three, four years now. And I'm not hearing so much, you know, possibly because of my trade, not hearing so much about the extra topic of candidates. It's what the good senator is actually saying behind, which is -- and forgive me, Senator, for being blunt, but partisan rhetoric, the words that I hear using. And I'm neither Democrat nor Republican.
BOBI'm just tired of all of it. What I really would love to hear is how you're working together instead of how you're working tirelessly, and the Democrats are working tirelessly. But the Republicans are "adamantly opposed and fighting tooth and nail."
NNAMDIWould you like to hear a specific...
BOBBut why aren't you using the same verbage regarding Democrats?
NNAMDIWould you like to hear, Bob, specific examples provided by the senator of attempts he has made or occasions on which he had worked successfully with the Republicans?
BOBI would like to hear specific -- that's exactly it. We want to hear...
BOBAs voters, we want to hear successful work of people coming together. We elect all of you to help us, to guide us, not to fight.
NNAMDICan you -- Sen. Herring, guidance, please.
HERRINGCertainly, I've been able to work successfully with the other side whenever that's been an opportunity. For example, in a number of economic development initiatives that I've brought forward, particularly in technology-driven economic development, in there, Democrats and Republicans have come together. I introduced legislation that would promote new investment in small start-up technology companies and a number -- and promoting telework. So, on those types of issues, we have had a lot of success.
HERRINGThe issue that we started off with on the show, which was funding for Dulles rail, that is one where we were working to try and build a compromise. I certainly had -- I had suggested the state come in with a much larger contribution. The Senate budget put in $300 million. We understand that there's got to be a compromise to get a budget through. We were willing to compromise that number down. Every time we came back with a proposal, we were just told, no, flat-out no.
NNAMDIThe alternative, it seems to be -- I read an article where you said that, without funding, you're going to be in a situation where you're leaning on tolls to pay for Dulles rail. What do you think the consequences of heavy tolls are going to be? They could end up being a one-way trip costing as much as $6.75 by 2018 according to one article.
HERRINGWell, that's right. Of the $2.7 billion project, 63 percent would come from tolls. They would double next year to $4.50, then up to $6.75 in 2018. There are a couple of consequences to that. First of all, if you do the math, that would result in -- if you do the math, it comes out to about $2,200 a year for commuters.
HERRINGAnd that's a big hit on any individual household. Not only that, it means that people will try to avoid the tolls, so they'll clog the other arteries that are already congested. It's going to have a serious impact on the number of vehicles that are there to pay the tolls, maybe not able to raise the sufficient revenue to pay off the bonds and ultimately, I think, discouraging economic development along the corridor, which is the exact opposite effect of what we want to have happen.
NNAMDIHere is Harrison in Arlington, Va. Harrison, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HARRISONHi. I was originally calling to comment on the caller asking about the northern part of the state subsidizing activity downstate. I was wondering what the senator thinks about the northern part of the state subsidizing rail projects in Hampton Roads and the most recent deal on the Bridge-Tunnel in response to that comment. But also, with what was just most recently said, I think the most simple solution is to live where you work and work where you live. And it's outrageous to expect to be able to drive from Loudon County all the way into the city every single day. How about that?
NNAMDIHow about that, Sen. Herring?
HERRINGAll right. Well, I'm certainly a big proponent of good land-use planning, and we need to do that. But certainly also another component is providing the infrastructure to allow people to get from one place to another. And on the Hampton Roads issues, that was really one reason why I thought it was unfair for Northern Virginia. Again, I understand the transportation challenges that they have in Hampton Roads and want to help them out.
HERRINGBut the governor had supported putting $500 million to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel project in order to keep tolls down there and then, just a day or two before we voted on the budget, came up with another $100 million on toll mitigation. Now, I was working with representatives from those areas 'cause we had similar challenges. We are working together. I just -- I felt strongly that this was really more anti-Northern Virginia, and if we're going to be supporting those, the state ought to be able to support us up here.
NNAMDIHarrison, thank you very much for your call.
MADDENAnd, Senator, speaking of statewide issues, are you running for attorney general in 2013?
HERRINGYou've been reading the blogs, haven't you?
NNAMDII was going to ask it in a much more circumlocated manner. You get right to the point, Patrick. Are you running or not?
HERRINGWell, I'm giving a very serious consideration, and my focus has primarily been on the budget issues and the Dulles rail. But it's an important position. It's got a lot of responsibility, a lot of visibility, and I take that very, very seriously. So I'm beginning to talk to people around the state and getting a lot of encouragement, and so we'll see.
MADDENWould you like to make your official announcement right here on The Politics Hour?
HERRINGThat would be a little premature, but you'll be among the first to know.
NNAMDIIt's the job Bob McDonnell used to springboard to the governor's mansion. What are the issues that, if you ran, you would run on statewide that could win their job back for Democrats?
HERRINGWell, I think if you look at the current occupant of that seat, Ken Cuccinelli has used it or misused it to advance the same kind of social agenda that we saw unleashed in the General Assembly this year. And I think it's important to have an attorney general who's not going to use the position in that way to unleash that kind of a social agenda. We need an attorney general, I think, who will apply the law evenly and fairly, not overly politicizing.
NNAMDIIndeed, Cuccinelli has been one of the loudest voices challenging the new federal health care law. You don't think that that is an appropriate approach to being the attorney general of the commonwealth of Virginia?
HERRINGRight, regardless of how you feel about that. When you look at how he approached it, rather than working collaboratively with other attorneys general, he broke off on his own, advanced a piece of legislation to try and create a different kind of lawsuit and wanted to be the first one into court. As a result, his case didn't make it to the Supreme Court and the others did.
HERRINGSo that's an example of where, I think, the current attorney general has put that kind of political ambition ahead of the best interest of the state. And I think those who were lined up so far on the Republican side are looking to him as a role model, and I think the last thing we need to do is to have his accolades follow him in his footsteps.
NNAMDIWhen can we expect you to have your mind made up?
HERRINGWell, right now, I'm out talking to people around the state and getting a lot of advice and thoughts, but, probably over the next few months, I'll come to a decision.
NNAMDIOver the next few months. Would that be by, oh, August?
NNAMDIOK. Here's Imman (sp?) in Chantilly, Va. Imman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IMMANKojo, thanks for taking my call. I just want to ask the senator. Senator, usually, we hear all the sound bite that you tell as a politician, but the reality is this, if we don't increase the tax here, we cannot have good roads or even good schools. When are we going to realize that when we need a good service, we have to pay for it, rather than just keep talking, you know, giving us the same dose of medicine every year? (unintelligible).
NNAMDITell us you're going to raise taxes.
HERRINGIt's going to require leadership at the top. And, you know, so far, we have not seen that. If you remember back a few years ago, I was at a meeting with a group of business leaders in Fairfax and then candidate McDonnell said one of the reasons why people should support him is he had a detailed plan to fix transportation.
HERRINGAnd the first legislative session, very quickly, he came out and said that transportation was not going to be a priority that year. He spent a lot of time the following summer and into the fall trying to put together an ABC privatization plan that was not workable and wasn't going to produce significant revenue. So that session was lost.
HERRINGThen the next session last year, the governor had say -- had come up with a proposal to advance some bond sales that Gov. Cain had put in place to get us over the next few years, which I supported, but that came with a caveat that the governor was going to come forward with another plan this year, and instead it was really a plan to take some money out of public schools and put it to transportation. And I've met with bipartisan opposition, and the governor's legislation we were left with was naming rights.
NNAMDIImman, thank you very much for you call. Mark Herring, thank you very much for joining us.
HERRINGThank you for having me.
NNAMDIMark Herring is a member of the Virginia Senate. He's a Democrat whose district includes parts of Loudon and Fairfax Counties. He's considering a run for attorney general. And by August, we will probably know for sure. Mark Herring, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden is our guest analyst. He's a political reporter for WAMU 88.5. And, Patrick, we began by talking about Jeffrey Thompson. We have a call from Oscar in Northwest Washington who wants to talk about that. Oscar, you are on the air. Go ahead, please. Oscar? He went away? Are you still there, Oscar? OK. Oscar, we're going to put you back on hold as we discuss more business of the District of Columbia and see if Oscar comes back to the telephone. Business of the District of Columbia seems, once again, Patrick, to involve baseball tickets.
MADDENIt's an annual rite of spring here in the District where...
NNAMDIIt really is?
MADDEN...we have to squabble over sports tickets, especially those tickets in the Nationals -- at the stadium. And I guess what happened this year, as you know, last year and maybe even years previously, there's always been this fight between the mayor and the councilmembers over who gets the tickets.
NNAMDIMayor Fenty was the mayor, and now, Mayor Gray was the council chairman. The complaint was that Mayor Fenty was not sending over the tickets at all.
MADDENIt's mind-boggling that there continue to -- with all the big issues going on right now, that this issue keeps coming up.
NNAMDII remember city administrator -- when he became city administrator, Neil Albert walking the tickets over to the council, and that's how the council finally got tickets. On this occasion, however, the tickets are divided between the mayor and the council. And this time it seems to be councilmembers feel that Chairman Kwame Brown has not been distributing the baseball tickets equitably.
MADDENThat's right. And I guess, also, the issue is that there are less tickets to give this year, so that's created even more friction surrounding the baseball team, which, of course, is first place in the National League East. So these tickets are worth more now.
NNAMDIThey are very coveted tickets right now. I wonder if Jim Graham got any. What do you think?
MADDENThis is a very good question.
MR. JIM GRAHAMI did, which means my constituents got them because I don't remember the last time I was at a game, but my constituents love their tickets.
NNAMDIBy now, you have guessed that Jim Graham has joined us in studio. He is a Democrat and member of the D.C. council. He represents Ward 1. So you're not complaining about getting insufficient tickets at all?
GRAHAMNo. I haven't had that problem.
GRAHAMI got other issues, you know, going on right now.
NNAMDIWe'll get to that. You know, we'll get to the nightlife issues and so on. But let's get with some more scuttlebutt for a second because there's clearly some ongoing tension between the mayor and the chairman of the council. Patrick Madden, what's that about?
MADDENWell, it's about a number of things. One is the supplemental budget process. There's been a lot of back in forth between the mayor and the council chairman. Also, just heard of the -- there's this personality conflict going on. There was this story in The Examiner where, I believe, it was an unnamed source close to the mayor who called the chairman a do-nothing chairman. And then the response was...
GRAHAMHe did something.
MADDENYeah. He did something, and he called out -- there was another article where there is -- I forget what the mayor spokesperson was called, but it wasn't a nice name.
MADDENClueless was the term, yes.
NNAMDIThe chairman referred him to as clueless.
MADDENSo -- and so, I guess, there was supposed to be this meeting yesterday to sort of smooth out these issues.
NNAMDIJim Graham, did you know whether the meeting actually took place between the mayor and the chair of the council?
GRAHAMI don't know.
NNAMDIIt was my understanding also since I traffic and scuttlebutt that the mayor had not spoken with the chairman of the council in months, although Patrick Madden said the mayor says otherwise.
MADDENIt's interesting. But when I raised this issue with the mayor and he said they -- that they talk often, that they have a much better relationship than people realize and that they talk more often than people assume, so it's unclear. But on the other hand, I think it was Councilmember Catania who said, you know, this tension between the executive branch and the legislative branch is a good thing. I mean, you sort of don't want...
NNAMDIIt's now become a tradition, whether it's a good thing or not...
MADDENBut you don't want to sort of rubber stamp council. You sort of want some give and take.
NNAMDIWhat is your assessment, Jim Graham?
GRAHAMWell, I think one thing that has to be observed is that our chairman, Kwame Brown, has an uncanny but very, very much in evidence ability to assemble votes when he needs them.
GRAHAMAnd so on various occasions, since he's been the chairman, he, if called upon, he can send the message saying that he has more than a majority of the council behind him. And this is a very important message for anyone to receive.
NNAMDIAnd, hopefully, you're saying -- implying, I'm inferring, the mayor is receiving it.
GRAHAMWell, I think the mayor has his own abilities, you know? I mean, he's not bereft of capacity either. And so -- but I hope that the meeting went off, and I hope that we have an amicable working relationship. It can't involve 100 percent agreement all the time, but certainly we should be better -- at a better place of where we are the moment.
NNAMDIWell, anybody who knows Jim Graham knows he's the life of the party. And when it comes to the city's nightlife, he represents some of the busiest and noisiest parts of town, Adams Morgan, U Street. But it's my understanding that you're not too keen on the mayor's proposal to keep those neighborhoods hopping for a few more hours every week by extending the time for alcohol sales. Why do you think extending bar hours would be a bad idea both for your ward and for the city?
GRAHAMWell, there are raft of problems with it, and they're mainly quality of life problems. There are probably some public safely issues because I've worked hard to add police to the neighborhoods at late night. But the fact -- the major issue is one that we have a very difficult time dealing with in the neighborhoods, and that's noise. That's the exit from the bars when we have people slamming their car doors, arguing, singing, cursing, talking, cars starting, stopping, cabs coming, going.
GRAHAMThis is a very major issue for anyone who lives nearby. And what we would be doing as best I can tell is just extending that problem another hour. And despite the best efforts of the regulators and the police and, frankly, the council, wrestling this noise issue is a very difficult thing. And so I think we've just got to understand that that's going to be one of the byproducts.
NNAMDIFrom a public safety perspective, Chief Cathy Lanier says this would not be a problem for the police, and there were several supporters of the extension who testified in a hearing last week who said, A, only a few bars and nightclubs will take advantage of it and, B, it would help with crowd control while providing more nightlife options. How do you see that?
GRAHAMWell, there's a bunch of people, as we all know, who are predators, who go to the nightlife areas to rob people, and if you're intoxicated and you're not paying attention, you got an iPod, you're on your cellphone, you're an obvious victim for these types of crime. So I think that will have another hour of life. You know, I'll, you know, Chief Lanier has made her judgment. I hope she's right. I think that, again, though, like with noise, it's just another hour for those activities to occur.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 if you'd like to join the conversation on The Politics Hour. Jim Graham, life of the party, is a member of the D.C. Council. He's our guest. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 1. Our guest analyst is Patrick Madden. He's a political reporter for WAMU 88.5. Patrick.
MADDENAnd just on this issue of extending the bar hours, we ask you about -- there was a line in a Post article on this, and it said, you know, you have this parochial view of this, and you're framing the issue as what's best for Ward 1, not citywide. Are you able to look at this, not it's what's best for the bars in Adams Morgan, but what about some of the other neighborhoods out there? Are you...
NNAMDIDowntown, places where there are a lot of residents.
MADDENDowntown, places where there are a lot of...
GRAHAMWell, you know, Patrick, you know that I was there Monday night at the public hearing until 11 p.m. and we have -- from each of the nightlife areas of the city, there was -- there were advisory neighborhood commissions who testified against it. The citizens association from Georgetown, Logan Circle Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan all testified against it. So it's not parochial to Ward 1 by any means. At any nightlife area in the city, the message that we're getting is that there are very serious concerns about this.
MADDENSo where do you get the money to replace the $5 million, I mean, if this is taken out of social service, some more social service cuts, homeless funding cuts? I mean, where is the money going to come for this if you want to take this out of the budget?
GRAHAMWell, number one, the money associated with the later hours is $3.2 million. And actually, I think it's less than that because we found out at this very same hearing that about 20 percent of the bars who would be likely to extend their hours have voluntary agreements which restrict that extension. So you got to take, I think, 20 percent of the income out. I've just received a detailed message from the chief financial officer for D.C., explaining to me how they came to the $3.2 million in the first instance.
GRAHAMBut I think it's reduced down to about $2.3 million, and we've got to examine it. But here's the challenge: You're absolutely right that we've got to figure out a way to plug the budget hole, which would occur if we somehow veto this revenue coming in, whatever the amount.
NNAMDIOn to the phones, here is Vinnia (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Vinnia, you're on the air. Jim Graham, would you put on the headphones, please? Vinnia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
VINNIASure. Good afternoon, Kojo and Councilmember Graham. I'm actually calling in representing the Prevention Center for Wards 1 and 2 at the Latin American Youth Center.
VINNIAAnd we've heard some of the same concerns that Councilmember Graham just mentioned in terms of, you know, what's going to happen in people's communities in terms of noise and trash and littering and what not. But what's most concerning to us is the impact that this will actually have on our young people when they see an increase in the availability and the use of alcohol in their communities.
VINNIAYou know, we believe that, for the most part, our restaurants and bars and other alcohol retailers are being responsible by not providing alcohol to minors, but we really do just believe that this legislation will actually likely contribute to the increase in the risk associated with alcohol...
VINNIAYou know, Wards 1 and 2 already have the highest density of alcohol retailers per square mile, in which a young person or any person, for that matter, can spot more alcohol retailers than churches or their schools. You know, the World Health Organization even have said that there's a proven strategy to help reduce the harmful use of alcohol, and that's been responsible management of alcohol availability.
VINNIASo why would we increase that in our communities when we know that alcoholism is such an important issue here for us? You know, we just don't believe it would be a right step for that.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. Councilmember Graham, it seems that one of the bigger-picture issue, that, in a way, Vinnia's call addresses, is the identity of the city as a whole, whether or not Washington is cut out to be a 24-hour kind of place like, say, New York. How do you see it?
GRAHAMWell, I think, you know, many say I represent a ward where the entertainment industry, if you will, is a very important feature. And, you know, I've worked very hard to support these businesses by providing extra police protection, subsidies and trash cleanup subsidies and so on. I mean, I have supported the moratoriums as well. It's a matter of striking the right balance. But the fact of the matter here is we're talking about going beyond that balance.
GRAHAMWe already have a city which is -- there are a very few cities in the United States that go beyond 3 a.m., by the way. You know, you got your Las Vegas. You got your Atlantic City, New York City, I think, Buffalo. There are not too many. And in our surrounding area, there's -- nobody has a 4 a.m. closing, and that would attract more people into the city. It'd be a competitive advantage for the bars. But, as you know, the public transportation is shut down. So these people are going to have to drive in or they'd take taxis. A taxi to Fairfax City is -- I hear is pretty expensive.
NNAMDIOne more on this, here is -- Vinnia, thank you for your call. Here is Eric in Washington, D.C. Eric, you're on the air. One more for now. If you've called on this issue, stay on the phone. We will get to your call. Here's Eric. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICGood afternoon, gentlemen. My question is -- Councilmember Graham, you talk about the change in dynamic that this will have in the community. But my concern is, as someone who grew up in the city, these have always been nightspot destinations. You knew when you move to Adams Morgan or Columbia Heights or U Street, this was a nightspot destination.
ERICIt's why you move to that place over somewhere such as Brooklyn or University Heights or Cleveland Park. You move to a nightspot destination, and your concern is about trying to curb nightlife there. It doesn't make sense, in my opinion.
NNAMDICome to the party and then want to be a party-pooper.
GRAHAMI'm never going to forget this life-of-the-party appellation that I have been given. Well -- but noise -- excessive noise in the District of Columbia is illegal. This is not like an airport where the noise is legal. You know, I mean, there are laws on the books and various laws on the books that are -- that, you know, prescribe these activities, including specific laws relating to bars. So people are entitled to the enforcement of those laws.
NNAMDISpeaking of life of the party and partying, your ward is along the route for the D.C. Caribbean Carnival...
NNAMDI...an event in which I have had some peripheral involvement over the years as a partier myself, and I also -- full disclosure -- am on the advisory board to the D.C. Carnival Committee, having attended zero meetings during the course of the past 10 years. However, it's my understanding that the events organizers are still in debt from years past and that this year's carnival is in jeopardy. What are your expectations for this year's carnival? What are you doing, if anything, as a councilmember about this event, and can you give us any news at all?
GRAHAMYes. Number one, let me disclose that I have been personally in this carnival 14 times, 14 years.
NNAMDIHence the appellation life of the party.
GRAHAMLife of the party. And I can say, from my own experience, this is one of the best days in the District of Columbia. And it is something that is deeply appreciated in the east side of my ward and anyone who goes to Georgia Avenue to see and participate in this lively event. We've got to figure this out, Kojo. We have some debt. But we also have a major event that contributes mildly. And there are studies to show just, as I suspect you know, what kind of economic contribution is being made.
GRAHAMAnd here we are. We're in mid-April. We got to get this figured out. We want this carnival parade and event in June. And I'm working with both Deputy Mayor Quander and Deputy Mayor Hoskins -- and they have spoken to the mayor -- you know, about how to figure this out. I think...
NNAMDIToday was supposed to be a deadline day if they did not pay the debt by today.
GRAHAMYeah, I know. I'm well aware. And we've had -- I've got an email that I just saw from Deputy Mayor Quander, and I hope it's containing very good news.
NNAMDIOK. Patrick Madden?
MADDENI just wanted to ask you, councilmember -- you've talked about this report, this investigation that you've conducted into the Children Youth Investment Trust Fund. You've mentioned that -- I believe the deadline is sort of when you sort of said it would be out. So I'm just curious if you can talk about this now, sort of, what have you found? What issues have you discovered? How big of a problem was this trust fund?
GRAHAMWell, Patrick, you're absolutely right. We're about to issue the report. And then Ellen London, the director of the fund was somewhat unceremoniously canned. She was fired. And we were literally a day away from issuing the report. Well, that put us back because, obviously, we wanted to ask some questions about what the circumstances were of that. I mean...
MADDENBut can you just tell us sort of the meat of what you found?
GRAHAMWell, I'd rather not because, at this point, it is still somewhat in flux because of this very important development. And the news that I'm getting is troubling, and I think we're going to have to have additional questions, additional serious questions. But I think the plan now is to issue the report and then have those questions put. But this was a very disturbing thing to us. We've been working on this since last June. And so we've gotten -- we've reviewed 1,500 emails, great many documents.
MADDENWhich was -- was Ellen London let go because of what you found in your report?
GRAHAMWe believe so.
MADDENAnd can you talk about sort of what you found that led to her resignation...
MADDEN...or -- OK.
GRAHAMThat's the point.
GRAHAMThat's the very point.
NNAMDIAt what point will we members of the public be able to know exactly what it is that you have found?
GRAHAMProbably next week.
NNAMDIBy next week?
GRAHAMYeah, because now we've made -- we've reconnoitered. I've discussed this with my colleagues -- most of them -- and we're going to go forward and issue it and let -- you know, there's majorities here that have a lot to say about what happens. Let them vote. Let them decide what to do.
MADDENBut you're saying that the director was let go because of what you found in your report.
GRAHAMThat is what I have been told.
NNAMDIJim Graham. He's...
GRAHAMI'm not saying I have -- yes, sorry.
NNAMDIJim Graham is a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 1. He is our guest. Patrick Madden is our guest analyst. He's a political reporter for WAMU 88.5. Quite a few callers would like to speak with the councilmember. We'll start with Tia (sp?) in Southeast Washington. Tia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIAHello. Hi, Kojo, love the show. I am calling from Southeast, but I am a D.C. employee.
TIASo my question for Councilmember Graham was where he stands on the proposal to return to the D.C. employees the furloughed money that we lost when we were furloughed last year.
NNAMDIThat was one of the proposals that was put forward by Mayor Gray, was it?
TIANo, Marion Barry.
NNAMDIOh, OK. Here's Councilmember Graham.
GRAHAMYes. Not clear who's put forward. You're absolutely right, Kojo, but, yes, I'm generally inclined to favor it. But I also want to restore the cuts that were made abruptly and with very little notice for TANF recipients because they took a 20 percent cut. They're all D.C. residents. We can presume that. And I think we've got to deal with that $3.2 million very much as part of this. The similarities are unmistakable and compelling.
NNAMDITia, thank you very much for your call.
TIAOK. Thank you.
NNAMDIOn to Nadine in Washington, D.C. Nadine, your turn.
NADINEYes. Hi. Good afternoon, Kojo and Councilmember Graham. This is Nadine Parker. I'm the executive director of the National Capital Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking, otherwise known as NCCPUD. And what I'm responsible for is training youth to be leaders. It has to do with the prevention of underage drinking.
NADINEAnd one of the things that concerns me about the -- increasing the hours of operation of establishments would be that it's mainly young people who are out late at night, and it would allow for greater accessibility of alcohol to be in the hands of minors, which increases our public safety, increases drunk driving, dram shop laws.
NNAMDIBut, technically, they're not allowed to serve alcohol to minors in any of these establishments. I guess I'll ask the question I asked before of you, Nadine. What leads you to believe that expanding the hours will suddenly cause the rules to be changed?
NADINEWell, yes. Technically, they are not supposed to sell to minors within -- serve alcohol to minors in the District of Columbia. However, the District of Columbia has an enforcement program that shows that minors are sold alcohol. And especially because of the element of the false IDs now, minors are easily -- they can easily get a hold of false IDs and be in establishments.
NNAMDIOK. OK. Thank you for expressing your concern about that, Nadine. One more on this issue, Charles in Washington, D.C. Charles, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHARLESHow are you doing, Kojo? I listen to what I consider to be emotional arguments about why we should not extend the hours of the bars. I want to know if there's any historical data available that specifically addresses whether extending the hours resulted in any higher statistics related to crimes or other miscreant activity.
NNAMDICan you give us any historical data, Jim Graham, any study that indicated what caused -- happened the last time we expanded those hours?
GRAHAMWell, we've had, as everyone knows, we'd had a huge increase in robberies, theft from auto, muggings, and this is related to a number of factors, not the least of which is the economy. But the fact of the matter is that there's just another hour for that to happen, another hour for intoxicated people, who are vulnerable to these attacks, occurring. And so I think that's your documentation.
MADDENCouncilmember, I wanted to ask you about the initiative I-70. This is the campaign that they're trying to get enough signatures on the ballot right now, which would ban corporate contributions in local elections. And to my knowledge, only two council members so far have actually signed the petition. I believe it was Councilmember Wells and Councilmember Cheh. First off, I just wanted to ask you, if you have signed it...
GRAHAMI have not.
MADDENOK. So I guess the follow-up would be, do you believe that this is an issue, regardless of whether you support it or not, but one that should go before the voters?
GRAHAMWell, I think, for me, I've got to get more information on what has happened in localities that have done this.
MADDENBut you believe this issue should go before...
GRAHAMIt seems to me -- I want to answer that. But it seems to me that we're implanting the federal system into D.C., so all of these super PACs will be operating at a much reduced level, but still operating in our system. For an incumbent, it could be heaven because the monies will no longer come in $500 increments or so on. It can -- these guys can just write a check for $10,000 to the PACs.
GRAHAMAnd so I got to have that answer. And then once I have that answer, I would determine whether or not I would want to put this on the ballot. I think the voters are entitled to elected officials who are thoughtful about their support for a particular measure because you present an issue to the voters. Without that type of thoughtful consideration, I think it's irresponsible.
MADDENBut do you think voters should have a chance to decide this issue?
GRAHAMWell, I mean, I think that's a different matter altogether from what I'm talking about, you know? But I think, for me, before I would sign anything, which is the way in which I would express support for that doesn't come before the council.
MADDENBut can't you sign something regardless of whether you think it's a good idea or not in terms of just getting it on the ballot?
GRAHAMI have not signed various petitions for various things and people that I just didn't want to be on the record as supporting. And so I got -- but I've asked for this information, by the way. I -- when I was voting the other day, I -- someone approached me, and I said, please send me this information. They said they'd send it to me, and I'm sure they're doing it, but I haven't received it yet.
NNAMDIHere is Vicky in Adams Morgan. Vicky, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
VICKYThank you so much, Kojo, for your show. I really, really enjoy listening to your show every day. And thank you for taking my call.
VICKYCouncilmember Jim Graham, I don't know if you remember me. I donated all the murals to the Whitman-Walker Clinic back when you were the director of the clinic. And I've been trying to locate their whereabouts since the clinic has been moved into the Elizabeth Taylor Center. Is that a question that you have the answer to?
GRAHAMNo. But you've asked it of me before, and I'd like you to send me an email. And I'll go to the -- in fact, I think I'm featured on one of the murals you painted, if I'm not mistaken.
GRAHAMSo I have self-interest in finding this mural that has me captured as the life of the party...
MADDENWhat is the picture of? Yeah.
GRAHAM...as the life of the party when I was much younger than I am today. But seriously, if you'll send me another email, I will go to the leadership of the clinic and ask them, where is this mural?
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Vicky. Do you want to know how to send that email?
VICKYYes. I would like the email address, please, Kojo.
NNAMDIYes. Jim Graham?
GRAHAMIt's jim@graham -- G-R-A-H-A-M-W-O-N-E.com. Just as I've said it, W-O-N-E.com, grahamW-O-N-E.com.
NNAMDIAfraid we're just about out of time, except for this email from Josh. "Instead of or in addition to the 4 a.m. closing time idea, why not let liquor stores open on Sundays? Let supermarkets sell hard liquor. Both would increase liquor taxes without some of the complications of the 4 a.m. closing."
GRAHAMYeah, we're looking at that. It's a $700,000 game, so it doesn't carry us to where we need to be.
NNAMDIJim Graham is a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 1, hereinafter to be known as life of the party. Jim Graham, thank you for joining us. Patrick Madden is our guest analyst. He's a political reporter for WAMU 88.5. Patrick, always a pleasure.
MADDENThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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