Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we're at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Tensions flare again between a prominent D.C. Council member and the region’s Asian communities. Maryland lawmakers could be looking to settle their scores in multiple special sessions. And a surprise candidate adds tabloid fodder to Virginia’s race for governor. 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
- Tommy Wells Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Chairman, Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation
- Isiah Leggett Montgomery County Executive (D)
Politics Hour Extra
D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells said that in the wake of the Harry Thomas Jr. corruption scandal, and despite some efforts by the council to pass new ethics guidelines, there is still a “pay-to-play” perception of the council. Wells said that although it’s a difficult time for the city government, the city itself is thriving:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe's back, ladies and gentlemen. It's bigger than the Capitals advancing in the playoff. It's bigger than the Nationals starting the season off in first place, and it's bigger than the Redskins drafting RGIII. Tom Sherwood's...
MR. TOM SHERWOODYou know, what does that do?
NNAMDI...the evil empire.
SHERWOODThat may be the first time ever I've had symphonic music played in my (unintelligible).
NNAMDIThe evil empire is back. That's from "Star Wars."
NNAMDIAnd even though he's -- well, first and foremost, let's do the polite thing. How are you feeling?
SHERWOODWell, you know, I'm pretty good. I don't want to get into the administrative aspects of insurance and worker's comp issues 'cause I would talk for an hour about that. But I would say my knee is, for an old man, is doing very well. And as you saw, I'm not -- no crutch, no cane.
NNAMDIHow come? Did you ever walk with a crutch or cane after surgery?
SHERWOODWell, I'm actually pretty healthy for an old man.
NNAMDISo did you ever have to use a crutch or a cane after surgery?
SHERWOODI did for the first week.
NNAMDIAnd now, you're walking on your own speed again. We are calling him our own Hopalong Cassidy. But it was only -- it only took you 24 hours, it would appear, before you were already in a brouhaha with your old nemesis, former mayor, now Ward 8 councilmember, Marion Barry, who after his campaign speech in which he denounced Asians who own stores in...
SHERWOODDirty stores only.
NNAMDIDirty stores in Southeast.
SHERWOODNot the clean ones.
NNAMDIOn this occasion, he was hearing testimony involving UDC and training of nurses and talked about the fact that we have to depend on nurses who are immigrants, specifically Filipinos, and somehow or the other, you got in that story also.
SHERWOODWell, you know, yesterday was my first day back to work. And it just turned out to be the day that Marion Barry was having a budget hearing...
SHERWOOD...on the little committee that he chairs, which is on community groups, and one of those community groups is the Asian and Pacific Islanders. And so we knew there might be some discord at that event. Of course, there was. But, you know, and Barry took this tact of blaming the media, saying that we had distorted what he said, both in the Asian matter and the Filipino nurse matter.
NNAMDIYou were the one who reported the Asian matter.
SHERWOODWell, I didn't -- my station -- my cameraman...
SHERWOOD...got it, you know, and I -- and my editor saw the video. And then I reported it, yes. But, you know, Barry, he's like -- you know, I have a long history with him. He's like this big bass fish on a hook. You know, he's just wiggling in every direction, trying to act like he's not caught.
SHERWOODBut his own words have him saying what he said. Now, the Filipino nurse thing, I think he was trying to say that, you know, we need better local education here in town.
NNAMDISo that we can educate our own nurses from the District.
SHERWOODSo we can train people for the jobs in the health -- growing health care.
SHERWOODI'm a living example of it, especially today. So -- but, you know, he cannot -- and then Eleanor Holmes Norton says you cannot cast things in a racial descriptions and expect people to think that you're not racial or racist. But he was very adamant about he won't apologize, but there's always tomorrow.
NNAMDISaid it was the media's fault. Did I mention that Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst? He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, who is likely not to be very pleased by the fact, if it affects him, that Metro fares are going up again, not that we did not expect this.
SHERWOODWell, you know, Metro -- I'm more irritated about the fact that it's going to be a dollar surcharge for people who use paper cards and not -- don't have a smart card.
SHERWOODAnd it's not that I don't know how to get a smart card.
NNAMDIIt's to make me get a SmarTrip card now.
SHERWOODAnd I will get one. And I'm sure there will be tens of thousands of people locally who get them. But I'm thinking that the family of four who comes in from Kentucky or Illinois and wants to ride the Metro, and they're going to pay a steep price every time they get a card 'cause they won't know about the smart cards.
NNAMDIYeah. And so there are...
SHERWOODBut Metro needs the money.
NNAMDISo it would appear. Let's go to Virginia for a second because it's been reported in The Washington Post that more than three dozen people have been charged with election fraud in Virginia with the 2008 election, in some cases, were registering to vote despite disqualifying felony convictions. There are two voter ID bills in the Virginia legislature which Gov. McDonnell is supposed to be pondering at this time.
NNAMDIIt would make it necessary for people to have ID when they show up to vote. There are those who say this is simply another form of voter dilution, comparable to the literacy test and the poll taxes that were enacted in a previous era because they say, after all, 3.7 million people voted in Virginia in 2008. And if only 38 of those people -- or 39, depending on whether you include the person for whom there is a warrant out but who has not yet been arrested -- apparently voted illegally because maybe they had a felony conviction, then you don't have widespread voter fraud.
SHERWOODWell, if 39 out of 3.7 million -- I wish I could do the math on what that percentage is. But, you know, some Democrats alleged that this is simply a -- and that there are other ballot matters initiatives in other states, that this is simply a Republican effort to tamp down the vote of Democrats.
NNAMDIIn particular African-Americans and seniors. It's supposed to -- the allegation is that this will deter some of the fraud.
SHERWOODWell, I was just trying to be broadly based.
SHERWOODBut then -- that's right. It is an issue. But, you know, and the bill, the laws that were passed to have an ID, there's an expanded use of ID, meaning not just a government-issued ID but a utility bill or something that shows your address. Still, that can be restrictive for people. And then I think he also said that we -- you could -- that boards of elections could compare signatures with the card with the ballot signature.
SHERWOODBut, you know, who said -- who has the ability to do all of that. So it's quite a mess, but I think it's just -- if we get into the politics of McDonnell, you know, positioning himself to be the vice presidential nominee (unintelligible).
NNAMDIAnd later in the broadcast, we'll be talking a little bit more about the sentencing coming up for former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. We'll do that closer to when we talk to the current Ward 6 councilmember, Tommy Wells, who will be joining us in studio later in the broadcast. We've been spending the entire week hyping Tom Sherwood's comeback to "The Politics Hour."
NNAMDIBut our next guest may have done us one better. Ike Leggett -- Isiah Leggett is the county executive of Montgomery County, Md. He is a Democrat. And he has brought back his proposal for an ambulance fee in Montgomery County, a lightning rod of an idea that sparked knock down, drag-out debates before. Council executive -- county council executive Ike Leggett, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ISIAH LEGGETTThank you for having me again.
NNAMDIGood to see you. Why are you floating this idea again?
NNAMDIAnd what are your expectations for it?
LEGGETTWell, things have changed in the last two years. First of all, Maryland, the state of Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia, Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction without such a fee, which is quite odd in many ways.
SHERWOODPrince George's has it?
LEGGETTYes, District, Fairfax, everyone.
NNAMDIThe District has it, too.
LEGGETTWe are singly out there by ourselves. In addition to that, things have changed. We just had a sea change in the General Assembly that, over the years, especially after you get beyond FY13, we could be hit by as much as an additional $400 million. In addition to that, we have a very inflexible MOE law that could hurt us.
SHERWOODI'm sorry. What kind of law?
LEGGETTIt's called the maintenance of effort. It's a change in the law -- school law, how much...
SHERWOODThat's the school law, how much money you put in the schools.
LEGGETTJust how much money you put per student. And the...
LEGGETTAnd about -- most estimates now, it is quite inflexible. And if you look at it, this is really to bill the insurance companies. There's no co-payments. There are no additions to it. There's nothing that you don't have to do other than have the ability for us to bill your insurance company. That's all that's required.
LEGGETTSo given the magnitude of the change that we've seen and the fact that this kind of change was not there two years ago, I think is best for us now to say to the voters, are you prepared to reaffirm that decision in light of these changes that we now have in Montgomery County throughout the state of Maryland?
SHERWOODIs there an...
LEGGETTThe voters may say no. But I think it would be irresponsible of me to say I am now prepared to go back and make further cuts where we've cut the budget by a record number of $2.5 billion or to increase taxes further. See, you got a choice. The choice will be additional taxes, further cuts and reductions, or we try to at least get some of that money that is already on the table that other jurisdictions will get it.
NNAMDIWhat do you think? 800-433-8850. Do you think that economic circumstances in Montgomery County have changed significantly enough since the last time that you would change your own mind about whether there should be an ambulance fee? 800-433-8850. Tom?
SHERWOODIf this were to go into effect -- and I don't know the experience in D.C. and in Prince George's, for example -- would there be an increase in premiums for insurers, either group insurance or individual insurance, that way you would get -- you would be hit on the back end, not the front end?
LEGGETTNo. That has not been the case in any of the jurisdictions we've talked about. For example, since we last had this discussion, at the same time we were discussing it, Anne Arundel County was discussing it as well. They decided to go forward. They now receive, for a smaller county, $10 million -- none of the adverse effects that people have talked about. In addition to that, you already paid for the insurance. You are paying for it now. It's already in your coverage. So we do not anticipate that there will be an additional increase in premiums. If there are, they will be relatively minor.
SHERWOODAnd if you get the additional 14 to $17 million, if this were to go into effect, is this money earmarked for something, or is it just your general budget fund that you're trying to cover all your cost?
LEGGETTIt's earmarked for public safety, especially for the fire and rescue service because we are expanding those services. And what we have to do -- and we will do that because we have growth in places like Clarksburg and Damascus and Germantown. And we have to provide the equipment, the resources that are required. And we generally take that money out of the normal operating budgets to fill that. And we will do that because it's public safety. It would...
SHERWOOD'Cause this should be additional money, not a switch of money.
LEGGETTYeah. It will be additional moneys going into that segment of our public safety. In the law, it is dedicated to public safety and to fire rescue (unintelligible).
NNAMDIThe last time around, you got a great deal of opposition from your voluntary -- volunteer...
NNAMDI...firefighters and rescue workers. Do you anticipate that this time around, or have you already had conversations with them?
LEGGETTI anticipate that there will be opposition, but I feel relatively confident that if people understand the issues, as I've just described them, and look at all the factors -- and people, believe it or not, are really surprised that Montgomery County is in this isolated position by ourselves. People really need to understand that. And now, much of what I talked about a few years ago about the increased cost to us -- and that doesn't include -- that $400 million does not include additional cost that we have to deal with ongoing government operation. This is an additional cost to the county government.
SHERWOODSo -- but that's the Chevy Chase Emergency Services, one of the most well-known, even does some services in the District of Columbia.
LEGGETTIn the District, yeah.
SHERWOODIt was opposed to this initially. Has there been any change there?
LEGGETTI don't think so. I don't think that they will be in support of it. I think that they have a very good arrangement that they like. And I think they will like to keep it that. But I think the time is gone for us to continue to afford the system that we have given the growth, given expectation, and expect for the taxpayers to increase the cost on them and all further reductions.
LEGGETTIt's just simply not (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWell, Maryland leaders are also looking at the possibility likelihood of holding two special sessions in the legislature during the coming months, one devoted to a revenue package, the other on gambling legislation. If you're concerned about what might happen in those special sessions, why not wait until those sessions happen before making this proposal?
LEGGETTWell, because I'm reasonably certain that, in the next couple of weeks, we're going to get the teacher pension shift. That's almost a certainty. And if we don't get it now, we'll get it next year. The revenues that we're talking about will not start until next year. So I don't think we need to wait until all of this is over. And by the time we have a decision about this, the General Assembly would have concluded its session.
LEGGETTSo we are more likely to have a teacher pension shift now or sometime in the foreseeable future. The law does not go into effect until after that and would allow us some time we wish to adjust.
NNAMDIOur guest is Ike Leggett. He is the county executive of Montgomery County, Md. He is a Democrat. Please don your headphones, Mr. Council Executive, because we're headed to the telephones, starting with Andre in Washington, D.C. Andre, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREOh, yes. I was wondering if Mr. Leggett could explain -- it seems like this is such a no-brainer decision to charge for ambulance billing. Perhaps Mr. Leggett could explain some of the political issues and things that led to the downfall of this legislation previously.
LEGGETTI think -- first of all, I just mentioned ago, we have a very strong volunteer system. And the volunteers have supported that system, and they've done a wonderful job at Montgomery Country. We have a very strong, very powerful Bethesda-Chevy Chase system as well. I think that they did a very good job, in many ways, confusing people of making it be known that the ambulance will not pick people up. People were fearful to call, and other allegations, scaring seniors around.
LEGGETTAnd as a result of that, in a very quick election that was heavily funded in many ways. I think the message was somewhat confused. For example, people are just now learning the fact the Montgomery County stands alone as the only jurisdiction, does not collect. And you don't collect monies as a fee from the individual patients. It simply goes to the insurance company, which you already paid for.
NNAMDIHow about those people who either, A, don't have insurance or people who, B, are on Medicaid?
LEGGETTWonderful question. People on Medicaid, we bill Medicaid. We bill the federal government. It's the federal government and the insurance company. If you don't have insurance, we're not seeking to get monies from you directly. So if you don't have insurance, we'll pick you up. We get -- we will get the 14 to $17 million just from the insurance company (unintelligible).
LEGGETTWhat is the opposition then of the -- of volunteer responders, that they don't -- is it -- they don't want to be saddled with the paperwork of having to -- what is it that is the opposition?
LEGGETTWell, they don't have to do any paperwork. The paperwork is done through the hospital and then through the normal paperwork you have anyways. There's no additional paperwork. I just think that we've had a system that has worked, at least, in terms of their perspective. They do not want to change the status quo, and they have a very good arrangement with some of the hospitals under the current system.
LEGGETTThey do not want to see that change. They could come over to all these other excuses. For example, the ambulance won't pick you up, or seniors will be fearful. None of those things exist in any of the jurisdiction. It is simply we've had a very powerful, very politically motivated system and a system that has been, in my view, worked fairly well, but it cannot, going forward, given the demands that we have on our system.
NNAMDIWell, Tom asked who -- why are they opposed to it. We have one person, Steve, in Silver Spring, Md., who will explain why he's opposed to it. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEOK. Thank you. First of all, I don't like to balance the budget of Montgomery County on the backs of the medically indigent or medically challenged. Second of all, I...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have you -- allow me to have Ike Leggett respond to one...
STEVELet me finish.
NNAMDINo, no, one question at a time. Ike Leggett, he says he doesn't want this to be balanced on the backs of the medically challenged.
LEGGETTThat's just a falsehood. I just stated a moment ago, for those who do not have insurance, you're not billed. For those who have insurance, you will collect. For those who have Medicare, we bill the federal government. That's just nonsense.
NNAMDISteve, your turn.
STEVEThat's baloney. The proclivity of the county government and the county council to change the rules of taxation once the camel has gotten nose under the tent is just -- it's unrestricted.
NNAMDIYour mixed metaphors are confusing me here, but go ahead, please.
SHERWOODWhat's wrong with the idea?
SHERWOODWhat is wrong with the idea? What is the drawback for the individual or for the volunteer responders? What is wrong with it?
STEVEWell, it's if -- you can say there's only safeguards today. But tomorrow, the safeguards can go away with an act of the county council or -- and the county executive.
STEVEJust the terms and conditions that apply right now are not no necessarily the terms and conditions will apply a year...
NNAMDIYou don't trust your county government, is what he seems to be saying.
LEGGETTWell, if that is the case, that's the kind of argument you can make about anything, taxes, reductions, and that's across the board. So that kind of argument I don't think applies very well. But the point of it is that has not happened in any other jurisdiction. This is not something that is new. This is something that has been enforced in virtually jurisdictions around the country for the last 15 or 20 years. So none of the things that you've stated are true, and you need to go back and look at the literature and records to make sure -- certain of what you're talking about.
SHERWOODWho is setting -- what agency of government will set the fee for the ambulance service?
LEGGETTIt is determined by the rate which we pay forward. It's already in our estimation between four and $800 and on the type of the service.
SHERWOODBut which part of the government decided that it might be three to $800 or whatever? Is it your health agents? Who -- I mean, what -- who actually says that? Who says that rate -- this person is thinking, well, the rate can change and you can make other -- but who sets this rate?
LEGGETTThe rate is based on...
SHERWOODSome national standard?
LEGGETTYeah, the rates -- but, generally, it's fairly national, but it goes to the local jurisdiction, depending on what level of service they provide. And that is determined by our fire and rescue services, as well as our Office of Budget and Management. That is already out. But, again, it doesn't matter in terms of that rate. That rate will not be billed to the individual patient. It is billed to the insurance company. And if the insurance company has a problem with the amount of that rate, then they can challenge it. That's where the bill goes.
NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call. Who currently pays for ambulance fees?
LEGGETTThe taxpayers in Montgomery County, plus some amounts that we get from volunteers and others who make collections individually.
NNAMDIIn that case, I'd like to go to Bonnie in Fredericksburg, Va. Bonnie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BONNIEHello. How are you today?
BONNIEOh, good. First of all, does it -- I -- my sister recently was taken to the hospital by ambulance, and they charged an outrageous fee for it. And she actually...
NNAMDIWho did they charge, you sister or the insurance company?
BONNIEA part of the -- she did have insurance, but what the insurance didn't pay Anne had to pay. And, secondly, it...
NNAMDIWhich was what?
BONNIE...seems to me as though everybody is trying to dip their hands into the insurance company's pockets. I don't know what happens to our tax dollars. I don't know why need to continue to subsidize in other ways. It just seems to me there should be a better way to approach this.
LEGGETTWell, some people believe there's a better way, by the taxpayers or by further reductions. In our system and most system, we simply go by the rate to which we charge insurance companies. There are no additional payments beyond that. If the insurance companies paid $500 or $600, that's it. You do not get anything beyond it.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Bonnie. Tom?
SHERWOODI was just thinking, well, if the insurance company declines -- so the county could then, say, raise the fee or -- once you set the policy in place, there's not vote to raise the fee. Could you say the fee could be $900?
LEGGETTNo, no, no. It's the -- what we bill the insurance companies. We have no ability under this law to go beyond that point. But we cannot...
SHERWOODBut you could change...
SHERWOODYou can't change the billing?
LEGGETTYeah, you could always change a law, if that's what you're saying.
SHERWOODRight. So if you bill the insurance $800 and the insurance company says this is a $500 tab, who pays the $300 difference?
LEGGETTWe just lose it, and our assessment is that we get 14 to 1,700 -- $17 million on what we simply collect from the insurance company.
LEGGETTAnd we are very certain that our rates are fairly competitive.
NNAMDIFinal word on this issue, we have Ed in Montgomery County, who is apparently for the ambulance fee. Why is this, Ed?
MR. ED ASHERHi. Thanks for taking my call. Ike, this Ed Asher. Greetings.
LEGGETTHey, Ed. How are you doing?
ASHERYou know, I was the former chair of the Montgomery County Chamber a long time ago before I retired. Now, I live in West Virginia. I just want to tell you that in Morgan County in West Virginia, they have an ambulance fee, and it seems to work OK. Nobody -- you know, nobody likes to pay fees, but it -- it's accepted. It's accepted every year, comes on the ballot every year. But the other thing I want to talk to you about, Ike, for just briefly was the county council was voting on the tax break for McDonnell Douglas.
ASHERAnd, you know, you're one of the few people I know that's been around long enough to remember the Bechtel -- you know, when we chased Bechtel of Frederick County over the same issue, and I just hope that -- we maintain a home in Chevy Chase as well. I pay, you know, the property taxes there as well. But I just hope that, you know, that somehow can be ameliorated and keep that company in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you brought it up, Ed. It's not McDonnell Douglas. It's Lockheed in this case. The county's in a tax dispute over one of its biggest business residents. The Washington Post Editorial Board said the other day that it's making everyone look bad. How do you see it, and what do you think Lockheed's business is worth to the county? You don't want to keep Lockheed there, obviously.
LEGGETTWell, what we have, Kojo, is a tax that should not apply, and the basic facts of the -- we...
LEGGETTYeah, we have a motel tax -- hotel-motel tax that was instituted some years ago, designed to buy tax revenues for those who come into the county and pay.
SHERWOODWhat percentage tax is that?
LEGGETTThat's about seven, 8 percent added to your bill.
LEGGETTAnd so it was designed for people coming in to the county for a variety of reasons and staying in hotels and motels. What Lockheed has is, in fact, a conference center that they have for their employees. They come in for training at periodic periods throughout the year. What this tax has been used to is it applied to Lockheed's employees who are on their facility, utilizing their facilities and staying there. That was never intended for that. I know and when you go back and look at historically at that.
LEGGETTSo what I wanted to do is simply to, in effect, eliminate that tax or have the county reimbursed for the collection of that tax. I think that's a no-brainer in terms of, if you look at the law, the intended purpose of the law and what's happening. I don't want to have an adversary relationship with one of the largest employers in Montgomery County over your tax dispute at this amount of level. People have mischaracterized this. The law was never intended for this purpose.
NNAMDIAnd we're talking about about $450,000?
SHERWOODOh, I didn't know there was a Lockheed B&B and that maybe I could go and recuperate or something.
NNAMDIIf you happen to be working at Lockheed.
LEGGETTIf you're working for Lockheed and you come there for a conference, you could.
SHERWOODThis is solely an employee...
LEGGETTThat's all it is.
SHERWOOD...or a contractor thing within -- internally within Lockheed's world not...
LEGGETTThat's all it is. Yeah. And I don't think people dispute the fact.
LEGGETTI think when you look at the law, the law was written in such a broad -- and I would call irresponsible -- way that it covers all of that. But it really never was intended for that.
SHERWOODIs this the unique situation where there is no other corporate-run facility for stay-overs?
LEGGETTI think this is it.
SHERWOODI don't -- so -- OK.
NNAMDIWell, there's another broader issue, Tom Sherwood, and that is, if on the one hand, you want to keep Lockheed, on the other hand, when the council contemplates a resolution encouraging Congress to cut down on defense spending, which is what the Montgomery County council did, what concern do you have about the message that debates like that send up -- send out about the business climate in your county?
LEGGETTIt's an inconsistent message that we have in the county whereby in one hand, we are trying to encourage and to promote a business-friendly atmosphere, and at the same time, we have laws or regulations or rules that in some way go the opposite direction. It never became a law. It never became a resolution. It was never fully adapted. But simply the message of that along with things such as the Lockheed Martin tax dispute are not the kinds of headlines you want to see, at the same time, you're trying to promote your business-friendly atmosphere.
SHERWOODAre you concerned at all in this election? I know you're a Democrat. You like to see the president win and Democrats control the Senate, whatever. But that the cost of defense spending and the spill out from that, to contractors, which is a big part of the government, I mean, the economy of Washington's region, are you concerned at all that -- do your projections see that declining or slowing down its growth? What do you see there whether Republicans win or not?
LEGGETTObviously -- yeah, obviously, I don't -- when you look at the fact that we are two laws down turning one and possibly the other fairly soon, there's a huge amount into defense spending. I think that anybody, Democrats included, could look at the Defense Department Budget and say we need efficiencies there. And so obviously we'd go down. What you don't want to do is have a hatchet job and a responsive reduction. But to say that we could continue to fund the defense department to the level that we've had in the last few years, I think, would be wrong.
NNAMDIOn to Nick in Potomac, Md. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKYes. Mr. Leggett, I like to know how you think that you could go behind the back of Montgomery County citizens and make a private secretive deal with MSI to -- for the Brickyard Road Soccer Field when the Park Service says that there are -- any more fields anyway?
NNAMDIYou make a private secretive deal with the Youth Soccer League?
SHERWOODIt must not be secret if he knows about it.
LEGGETTThat's right. He knows about it. We've been discussing it for the last two years in all kinds of discussions at every level. Nick has a farm out there, and I think the farm is in his backyard. And he wants to maintain it as an organic farm. We've suggested it be placed somewhere else. And there are some opposition to two soccer fields in a proposal by MSI to put soccer fields in some county-owned land, so there's no backroom deals. It's been discussed publicly and debated. I've had at least four discussions with you.
LEGGETTI've been out on your land, on your property. We've had at least a half a dozen conversation. You're just on the wrong side of this issue, and we might as well admit that. We disagree, and we're moving forward there.
SHERWOODWhat is the status of that? When is that going to actually happen if, assuming, it does happen?
LEGGETTWell, if the contractor can fulfill the term, and they've signed the lease and an arrangement for it, and they've signed the contract recently, it will go forward. There will continue to be disputes about it, and I recognize and accept those differences, but I'm on a different side of that. But you can mischaracterize the process as being unfair. You can mischaracterize it by attacking people. I think that's the wrong approach, and I think you've done the process of great deal of harm by doing that. We simply disagree on something that is quite fundamental on two soccer fields.
NNAMDINick, your turn.
NICKWell, actually, I'm -- I am not that Nick, I'm another Nick myself...
LEGGETTOh, I'm sorry. I apologize.
NICKBut, you know, Roger Berliner -- number one, Roger Berliner said that you had secret deals. Number two, you had to be subpoenaed to get the records of those secret deals. Number -- you didn't want to let go -- any of those secret deals...
NNAMDIYou're breaking up on us, Nick. We'll have to go with number one and number two. Ike Leggett.
LEGGETTNumber one, Roger Berliner is mistaken by that. And I think you need to go back and talk to him about that, and I think that he's got the facts wrong. And you look at the record. All of that is wrong. And trying to mischaracterize all of this, I think, is the wrong way. Secondly, you don't have to subpoena anything. We gave you so many records on something that's very fundamental. We said and we had an agreement, which we have -- we are walking through.
LEGGETTThere's nothing secret about that. We simply disagree. And so I said before, you're doing yourself a disservice by the attacks and things that you stated. You put all of that out there. I disagreed with you, and I continue to disagree with you and...
SHERWOODWas there a subpoena? Was there, I mean, it's either there's a subpoena or there's not.
LEGGETTYeah. There was a subpoena, but they had the records already. It was not anything added in addition to subpoena. You can have subpoenas for everything simply to generate publicity. So they've tried every trick you could think of. Suing people...
SHERWOODOh, this was a lawyer subpoena.
LEGGETTYeah. That's all it is.
SHERWOODOK. Not like a government subpoena, right?
LEGGETTWell, they were trying to get records to -- which they were given, and they wanted additional records, they got. But it's not anything of any substance.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we -- oh, go ahead.
SHERWOODCan I ask him one quick question...
NNAMDIOf course. Sure, please.
SHERWOOD…'cause it'll lead into our next guest. The back tax in Montgomery County.
SHERWOODYou know, we were talking before the show, Tommy Wells and the District of Columbia is one of the people -- or the person credited with that. How is the back tax working in Montgomery County?
LEGGETTIt's going very well. And I want to congratulate and thank the District of Columbia and Tommy, especially, for the efforts to move into that direction. It made our transition much smoother and, in fact, I think we've expanded the back tax in Montgomery County. So they've done a great deal for...
SHERWOODWell, don't say anything nicer 'cause he's coming in.
NNAMDIYeah. It seems like the back tax is not an even issue any longer in the District of Columbia.
LEGGETTHe did a wonderful job. Thank you.
NNAMDIIke Leggett, thank you so much for joining us. Ike Leggett is the country executive of Montgomery County, Md. He is a Democrat. You're listening to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. I don't know if you wanted to comment at all, Tom Sherwood, on the entry into the governor's race in Virginia of one Tareq Salahi.
SHERWOODYou know, I have -- if I have ever made a resolution that I've kept, it's not to talk about that person.
NNAMDII see. Or to talk about reality stars in general or just this particular?
SHERWOODI believe anyone and everyone has a right to run for public office, and we should give them the -- all of the attention he deserves. And that's what I'm going to do.
NNAMDIOK. Well, then, in that case, we can move on. Sentencing coming up for former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., and the result of an investigation conducted by the council under the leadership of Councilmember Jim Graham finds that Mr. Thomas Jr. was probably assisted in his successful effort to take some $350,000 out of the city's budget for his own use but has not identified anyone who assisted him. What did you think about that report? Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODOh, I'm sorry. I thought you were asking our next guest.
NNAMDII haven't introduced our next guest yet. He is mentioned in the report (unintelligible).
SHERWOODWell, I'm a little irritated that The Washington Post had it first, and I don't know exactly how that happened. I don't know if that was a good work of their reporters or if it was handed to them, so I just leave it at that at this moment.
SHERWOODBut I would say, I'm a little bit -- I'm not quite sure why it got such front page play. I mean, Millicent West, who was the emergency management director for the city had been over this child and youth facility that was giving out the money. She resigned because of this. No one thinks that Harry Thomas Jr. was magically bringing money into his place without some assistance.
SHERWOODAnd there are couple people who pleaded guilty from some nonprofits, and there's been a shake up in the youth organization. So I wouldn't -- I'm just not surprised by that at all. I think if you're going to do a report like that, I'd like to see some names attached.
NNAMDIWell, the report also says that Councilmember Tommy Wells recalls having conversation with then city -- then Council Chairman Vincent Gray about that, but then it goes on to say that Wells has an uncertain recollection of what was said. The Tommy Wells we know tends to remember everything that was said. He joins us now in studio. He is a member of the D.C. council. He is a Democrat representing Ward 6. He's also chairman of the council's Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning. Tommy Wells, welcome. Tell us a little bit about your own view of that report.
MR. TOMMY WELLSWell, thank you very much. And in reference to talking to the Chairman Gray, actually, what I talked to Chairman Gray about was the number of the council members that had earmarks in there. There was earmarks to go to organizations that weren't even nonprofits. They were just groups of people. So I talked to the chair about concerns about a number of my colleagues and what we had -- what was in the earmarks and that the -- we need to put some controls on this.
MR. TOMMY WELLSAnd, you know, it was out of the box. But how do -- if we can't put it back in the box, what do we do? So with the chairman, we -- then-Chairman Gray, we sent a letter to Greg Roberts, head of the Children and Youth Investment Trust, to say, look, follow your rules. Even though this is not going to be bid out 'cause it's earmarked, follow your rules.
MR. TOMMY WELLSAnd in the end, that's one of the things that Tommy Thomas' team did is that they -- or his staff so that they forged the reports following those rules. But, yes, I met with Chairman Gray and talked about a number of my colleagues, and I was very concerned of not just about Tommy Thomas but about a number of them moving money that really needed to follow the rules.
NNAMDIAnd the reports suggested that since you were chairing that committee, that specifically you should've been taking a closer look at funds being doled out by the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation to your colleague.
WELLSWell, I was very concerned not just about Tommy Thomas. Now, understand this did not come...
NNAMDIWho else were you concerned?
WELLSWait a minute. This did not come to the committee. It's at the end when they adopt the budget. You get the budget in the morning, you know, the final version, and you see, you know, they've attached the money in there, these earmarks. And you know what? We're going to have the trust spend it. It didn't go through a, you know, a committee process, but they would add in monies, and, you know, a lot of earmarks went not just to the trust, went to other areas. But I had concerns, and I am very concerned about, you know, it was not just Tommy Thomas.
NNAMDIWho else do you think? Who else? Name names.
WELLSWell, in Ward 8, there was that groups that were not nonprofits were designated to be recipients in earmarks. And that's why we had to deal with that, and in the end...
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) Barry for a variety of things.
WELLSAnd in the end, working with then-Chair Gray, the only, you know, the only conclusion in the end is that the council should not do earmarks.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you've got questions or comments for Councilmember Tommy Wells. 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
SHERWOODDid Councilmember Jim Graham talked to you or did his staff talked to you before issuing this report? Or how did -- I mean, I'm not sure...
WELLSWell, yes, I...
SHERWOODWhat is your general thought about the report itself?
WELLSWell, I don't think the report covers any new ground. All of this is out there. I don't think there's anything new except for, in the report, it says, you know what, maybe there is some other people involved in telling the trust to, you know, to give money. And I'm just -- I've, of course, participated in helping Jim with providing information to the report, but I'm -- I don't see if there's some speculative conclusions in there that he'd like to investigate further, and I'll support him.
SHERWOODI think that -- and this is -- you're known as saint councilmember -- saint council martyr...
SHERWOOD...Tommy Wells. I thought maybe this was just an opportunity to scuff you up a little bit.
WELLSWell, I certainly was put in a position. That's why I went to the chair to, you know, with all these earmarks not going through my committee but adding it to the trust. I didn't want to be in the position of having to investigate a good number of my colleagues after the money is spent. That's why I went to the chair and said, we got to stop this.
SHERWOODNow, can we talk -- while we're on this subject, can we go to Harry Thomas Jr.'s...
NNAMDIBut wait, before you said we got to stop this, Anthony Williams created this trust in 2000. When you say we got to stop this, do you think the trust...
NNAMDI...has served its purpose or do you think the city should consider getting rid of the trust altogether?
WELLSWell, oh, I think that the problem, main problem with the trust was that initially that the board was being changed over to a yes board for the executive branch. And so the trust has its own board of directors. It has to be strong folks that can say no to the city council.
NNAMDIIsn't that the case now?
WELLSIn my oversight hearings, repeatedly I said, are you getting calls to direct money to groups? Are -- is there any councilmember that's pressuring you to do something that ought not be done? I mean, that's repeatedly. And so I believe that the trust is retooling, that they're bringing in strong folks like Robert Bob, who will be the chair of the trust. I think these guys can stand up to the council and say no.
WELLSThe trust has a very important role in the city to create public-private partnerships to help those small nonprofits that help kids, and I think it worked up until...
NNAMDIBobby Bob is bobbing back.
SHERWOODYes, he is. Well, I'm not quite sure how it would be done if the trust didn't exist. It started with Tony Williams. I mean, he would be splintered throughout the government, the various -- each agency would have to handle it.
WELLSThat's right. The government is not...
SHERWOODLet's go on. Speaking of splintering, though, Harry Thomas Jr. next Thursday will be sentenced. He's likely to get a prison sentence according to what everyone who has anything to say about it will say. But he will not -- he probably will not go to prison, will get some date to report 30 or 60 days after that and then he'll go to prison, first councilmember to be convicted at the time from office in this kind of situation. What's your own thought about what's happened in the meantime?
WELLSWhat do you mean in the meantime?
SHERWOODWell, you had the ethics legislation in the council, which, you know, was not nearly as strong as you want. You've got the Initiative 70 to ban corporate contributions. Those are all not directly related to what he did, which was steal money from children, which still irritates me when I think about it. But just the -- was it a wakeup call to the council members to pay attention more?
WELLSOh, I, -- as you know, I don't think the council has fully understood that there's -- and understands even today that there's a crisis of ethics and that I think that there is a pay-to-play perception of the council.
WELLSOh, no question. And so we see, you know, again, the corporations bundling, having outside influence over individuals giving the campaigns. I think that we do have a problem with the public having confidence in the honesty, and the council serving them, I think, there is a big problem.
SHERWOODAnd Harry Thomas is going to be sentenced, again, next Thursday. By then, everyone is still waiting for the -- what I call a centipede of shoes to drop -- is that, you know, the mayor and the council chairman. I mean, how do you get work done knowing that there's mattresses hanging over everything you do that the mayor might be moved -- removed from office, the council chairman might be removed from office, which case you might run for one of those two jobs?
WELLSThis is a very difficult time for our city, but I know that, still, our city is really growing. It's doing well. Our -- we're rebounding financially.
SHERWOODCity is doing better than the government.
WELLSI agree, Tom. And so I do think that this is an awful cloud of our government but -- and I think creates cynicism in our elected government. That sort of thing happens before, you know, all across the country. But our city is on the right trajectory. We're a diverse city. We're a great city, and we've got to get through this.
NNAMDIWell, the reason why Loose Lips has nicknamed you Ward 6 Council Martyr Saint Tommy Wells is because there is a distinct atmosphere on the council that tends to shut Tommy Wells out. How difficult is life for you on the council right now?
WELLSI still feel like we're moving an agenda. You know, the mayor is new. You know, sustainability agenda is an agenda that I...
NNAMDIGoing to that in a second...
WELLS...have a strong support for. I strongly believe that I still, at the end of the day, am on the right side of the issues. But I don't believe that the council has dealt with the issues of ethics, and I think that the council does not have the standing it should have. And I'm, you know, I don't vote just to go along. I vote on behalf of what I think is right for our city.
SHERWOODAre there personal animosity? You don't have to name the council members unless you wanted to, but are there -- do you, on private conversations, on the receiving end of personal animosities yourself?
WELLSAbsolutely not. Absolutely not. I think anybody that knows me that I'm pretty congenial, and I'm congenial with whether...
SHERWOODI have an email. I have a voicemail message I can play, which shows how congenial you are.
NNAMDITell us about it.
SHERWOODNot while we made a mistake on this show. You know, I was talking about...
SHERWOOD...Tommy Thomas' crimes and misdeeds.
WELLSYou're going to undermine my reputation.
SHERWOODAnd I said Tommy Wells. And so I have still in my cellphone here, Mr. Councilmember, saint martyr or whatever you call it, his reaction. I played it at a couple of public events to help raise money. I will play it again.
NNAMDIThe mayor ruled out a big plan this week to make the city more sustainable, a 20-year vision that would include bike lanes, buses, street cars, clean rivers, all the things you are for. But WAMU's Patrick Madden reported yesterday that you've got some doubts about whether -- even though you approve of this vision, but you've had doubts about whether the city can execute this kind of vision. Why is that?
WELLSWell, first, let's start with I want to commend the mayor and we should all commend the mayor for laying out a vision for where he wants to take the city. He laid out a very bold vision for over the next 20 years to have a clean Anacostia River that you can swim in, fish in, that we have a city where most of your trips, at least 75 percent of your trips, you can walk there, bike there, you know, that we have a healthier city. Also, talking about, you know, containing the water runoff and improving the air quality.
WELLSThat's a very strong good vision for the city, and I appreciate the mayor laying that out there. And -- but I, you know, in some of the things that are going on, I'm very concerned about execution. We haven't been able -- here, we're putting in a new street car line on 8th Street and...
NNAMDIWe want to get to that next.
NNAMDIIsn't that supposed to be up and running next year?
WELLSAnd what I don't see yet is that they have not signed the contract for the people that are building in the rest of the, you know, you got to put in the power lines and the boxes and where does it end up on -- up by Union Station? That -- they haven't been able to execute the contract, and they got in their best bids and offers seven months ago. So I do think that sometimes it really seems that molasses has been poured over some of these government gears and things have slowed down. And that's very frustrating for me. In terms of vision, the mayor is right on.
SHERWOODSomeone said it's not so much vision as a mirage, then the distant 20 years of planning, but meanwhile we can't get the street cars ordered on time and get them -- and we can't get, as you said, the infrastructure.
WELLSI'm going to work with the mayor. I'm going to work with the mayor to help get -- to implement this vision.
SHERWOODWhat does that mean? Are you going to be tough publicly on him? Are you just going to call him up and say, you got to do something?
SHERWOODAre you the affable Tommy Wells or the other Tommy Wells?
WELLSWell, as we know, that -- the affability is not something to be fooled by, that I will stick by my principles and not bend on that. But in terms of working with the mayor, it's that when a contract hasn't been signed and needs to be signed, going on WAMU and saying, come on, mayor, get the contract done. So that brings it down, you know, moves it forward. It also means when we do the budget for Parks and Rec, that community gardens, a lot of public space activation that needs to happen on our public property, you'll see in my budget report.
SHERWOODCan I lobby him now for the duck pond in Southwest? Some of these -- some -- they're getting the -- all the coating of the stuff around done. And we're -- I'm hearing lots of complaint from my neighbors that...
WELLSI got a great picture...
NNAMDIHe asked, can I lobby him? And then proceeds to lobby him anyway.
SHERWOODI just want to be public about it.
WELLSI got a wonderful picture of the duck pond: Sherwood with a broom.
SHERWOODClean it up. You know, I put sweat where my words are.
WELLSIndeed. We've made a lot of progress in the duck pond, but also because of the help of the neighbors. The fountains work and all that. Now we got some more structural work to do. You bet.
NNAMDIHere is Mary in Washington, D.C., who wants to do some lobbying of her own, apparently. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYHi, Councilmember Wells. I was wondering, Parks and Rec, I think, has a good camp program. But for a lot of our kids, they need an educational component over the summer. Have you thought about getting PTR and our school system to partner to add an educational component so all our kids continue being educated over the summer, but without having to take -- you know, give up camp and the fun of summer?
NNAMDIYeah, just wreck the kids' summer with more education.
SHERWOODI was just thinking. I went to camp, and I don't remember having to do any educational things. But I thought the educational thing was being out in nature, on the lakes and doing all those types of thing is education. No books.
WELLSYou know, there's a lot of things we can do around the camp programs. We've got one of the highest obesity rates in the nation, and I think that teaching young people about good -- you know, about how to eat right and become food ambassadors for the families. There's a lot of education that is not necessarily just continuing with trigonometry or continuing on with, you know, other parts that we should be doing with our kids. And I've asked Department of Parks and Rec to have those components, of course.
NNAMDIMary, exactly what kind of educational components were you thinking of?
MARYWell, like, actually, I had my kids at camp, and after the activities they want to get on their computers and just play. But if instead they had some kind of computer adventure camp, which would be fun -- kids love being on computers -- but included some programming, and then they're problem-solving, but they see it as fun…
MARY...is an example of where you can do something that kids want to do. And they can learn sort of by themselves.
SHERWOODLike compute your batting average, if you know, when you're playing the softball game…
SHERWOOD...or that kind of thing. Don't -- you're not allowed to play unless you can compute your average.
NNAMDIThose things got to help. Mary, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIYou, too, can call, 800-433-8850. Our guest is Tommy Wells. He's a member of the D.C. Council who represents Ward 6. He's the chairman of the council's Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning. About that long-term vision thing, whether we're talking about sustainability or not, we talked to Jack Evans a few weeks ago about whether the city should be having conversations with the Washington Redskins about building a training facility within the District. In your ward, how do you see it, particularly if the facility was on the so-called Reservation 13?
WELLSWell, the first thing is that it wasn't Ward 6. We did a master plan for that area that did not include a Redskins training facility. It's now in Ward 7, and the leadership in Ward 7 will have a lot to say about this. But let me say that if we're creating livable, walkable neighborhoods, it makes our city great.
WELLSAnd let me say one of the best things, I think, if you could say something good about George Bush II, was that he transferred a lot of property to D.C. that we can put into mixed-use development to generate -- you know, really improve our tax base in a way that we get at the structural deficit that Brookings and folks talks about.
WELLSSo that does nothing for our tax base. It does nothing for the neighbors around that area. That's a neighborhood that we need fresh grocery. We need, you know, rec facilities. We need the kind of things that create healthy neighborhoods. And putting a training center is not smart growth there, and it really adds nothing to the vibrancy of the neighborhood over there. That is not a livable, walkable plan.
SHERWOODThe mayor has not backed off.
NNAMDILet me put in my Dan Snyder notebook here: File lawsuit against Tommy Wells.
SHERWOODThe mayor has not backed off. Just, I think, yesterday, Tim Craig of The Washington Post tweeted that the mayor was so excited about RG3 being the new quarterback for the Skins instead of just another reason to bring the Skins back to Washington. It didn't sound like he was talking about the training facility. He's talking, like, maybe the whole team back near the new stadium at RFK.
WELLSWell, that's a different conversation. To bring the Redskins back to the stadium is a different conversation than taking 30 acres out of...
SHERWOODOut of 62.
WELLSRight. And then the rest will be roads and all that. I'm just saying the Washington, you know, we're just going to put -- you know, a training facility has walls around it that you can't see around. You know, it doesn't add life to the neighborhood because it's professional football. They don't want you to see them train unless you pay Dan Snyder some money, of course. So this is not -- does not add to the life of our city. The conversation of bringing the Redskins back to the stadium is a different conversation.
SHERWOODNow this is -- the land we're talking about is where the old D.C. General Hospital is...
SHERWOOD...where the jail is and things like that.
SHERWOODBut there have been two -- you referenced a decade ago there were two developers who proposed developing this Reservation 13 site. The deputy mayor this last week, I think, said that they might rebid this whole property. Is that acceptable to you to rebid the property or to go back to these two developers, maybe ask them for best and finals?
WELLSWell, one of the developers has a master plan put out, a great vision of generating power on site, having mixed-use between retail and office space and people living there, along with a place for farmers' line and all that. It was a great vision. But then we had the recession, and he didn't have -- or that developer -- development team didn't have all the money to do it. It's kind of what you saw on Poplar Point, where they gave the award back to the District.
WELLSSo the proposal is do we go ahead and just take two paths, one or two paths and go ahead and award those? I think we probably should, to go ahead and get it moving because this is great land that should be used on behalf of Washington -- you know, of our Washington community. And it's -- we need to move forward.
NNAMDIAnd I think we have a joint announcement that both Tom Sherwood and Tommy Wells would like to make. But first, a fanfare, if you will. The music, the music, the music that we'd like to...
NNAMDIYeah. Both Tommy Wells and Tom Sherwood will be enjoying this tomorrow. What's the occasion, Sherwood?
SHERWOODIt's the Bluegrass Festival on Kingman Island, which is a spit of land right behind RFK Stadium. You can park at parking lot number six and walk over some pool bridges I think originally were there from 1976. And it's kind of a rural area right downtown Washington. It's great.
WELLSThis is part of rediscovering the Anacostia River. Bring people down on Anacostia River and rebrand that this is not just a dumping ground for things. This is a place where you can have a Bluegrass Festival. It's a place to bring your children, your pets, you know, whoever, your neighbors. Come on down to Kingman Island from 1 until 8 o'clock on Saturday.
NNAMDIOr you can watch Tom...
SHERWOODAnd it's free.
NNAMDIYou can watch Tommy Wells, and hop along, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWho's paying for it?
WELLSLiving Classrooms and sponsors. You got...
SHERWOODMake sure there's no earmark.
NNAMDIAs for me, I will be spending my evening watching Natwar Gandhi play Mohandas Gandhi in "A Tryst..."
SHERWOODI've seen the video of that.
NNAMDI"...A Tryst with Destiny" at the Lansburgh Theatre.
SHERWOODHe's pretty good, I hate to say it. He's pretty good at that. I've seen the video of him doing it. It's very good.
NNAMDII went there so I -- I bought tomatoes. I was planning on booing. You say he's pretty good?
SHERWOODHe's pretty good. You know, he looks like Gandhi. He's got a name like Gandhi, wears that -- what do you call that thing that they wear?
NNAMDIWell, I'll be there. You make sure you go out tomorrow and do something useful yourself. And if it's not necessarily useful, at least something that is entertaining, in which you can have fun, like at the Bluegrass Festival. Tommy Wells, thank you for joining us.
WELLSThank you, gentlemen.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIHe's back, baby. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The author talks about writing, his ties to the region and literacy advocacy.
Kojo explores how much input the public should have in public art projects and how that squares with the visions of the artists who do the work.
The Arlington County Board halted two long-planned, but long-controversial streetcar projects, saying voters had spoken this month against moving forward. We examine the implications of the decision.