A longtime Arlington County Board member shakes up Virginia politics by announcing plans to step away. Uncertainty clouds the future for the chief of one of Maryland's treasured public school systems. And the field of candidates narrows in D.C.'s special elections looming in the spring.
A federal bank fraud charge forces the second-highest elected official in D.C. to resign. Virginia politicians jockey down the final stretch of the commonwealth’s primary season. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Davis Director of federal government affairs, Deloitte LLP; Vice Chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Board; President, Republican Main Street Partnership; Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives (R-Va, Dist. 11).
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Mark Plotkin Political Analyst, Fox 5 (WTTG)
Politics Hour Video
Reporting from the U.S. District Court, resident analyst Tom Sherwood talked about former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s guilt plea to felony bank fraud. Brown will be sentenced on Sept. 20, 2012, and faces up to six months in prison. Fox 5 political analyst Mark Plotkin called Brown an “accidental council chair” who didn’t have a life of substance or accomplishment prior to joining the council.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood and a mystery guest. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. He joins us by phone from the U.S. District Court. Tom Sherwood, thank you for joining us.
MR. TOM SHERWOODKojo, glad to be here. It's a nice day to be standing outside the federal courthouse, but it's not a nice day for Kwame Brown.
NNAMDIIndeed, and that's a subject we will get to shortly. Our guest analyst is known as Mark Plotkin. He is a political analyst with Fox 5 here in Washington, D.C. However, he is also the founder of the "D.C. Politics Hour" that aired here on WAMU 88.5, which I joined in 1998 as his co-host on that broadcast. It's now, of course, known as "The Politics Hour." Mark, welcome back.
MR. MARK PLOTKINWell, Kojo, it's a high honor and tribute to be invited back, and I thank you for that comment. I must say that my other accomplishment was, which you're so modest characteristically, I recruited you. You were an absolute nobody operating in the periphery until I elevated you to your prominent status which you now so richly deserve.
NNAMDITobey, please shut off Mark Plotkin's mic from here on in. This is an issue that both you and Tom Sherwood will be interested in. Before we get to Kwame Brown, we all remember the fire that devastated the homes of Dorothy Brizill and Gary Imhoff in May. Dorothy Brizill and Gary Imhoff's government -- good government watchdogs and publishers of DC Watch, well, there is now a relief fund because in that fire they lost their home and they lost everything...
NNAMDI...and there's a relief fund. Robert Malson is the chair. Marie Drissel is the treasurer. You can write checks to Emergency Relief Fund for Brizill and Imhoff care of PNC Bank, 800 17th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20006, attention Maggie. Non-cash contributions are also being accepted. Should you wish to donate a prepaid gift card, computer, camera, any furniture, household items or clothing, you may call 202-234-6982 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you're listening to this broadcast, again, online, please, make sure you write that down.
PLOTKINI think Dorothy Brizill performs -- and her husband Gary Imhoff perform a very valuable singular service to the city and to the region. And I know this isn't a fundraiser, Kojo, but I challenge -- and this is not rehearsed. This just came spontaneously. I challenge my fellow journalists or anybody interested in civic affairs to contribute. I'll start by pledging $100, and I hope others will match.
NNAMDII will also pledge $100, and I know Tom Sherwood, these are also colleagues of yours.
SHERWOODYes, they are colleagues. And I think Mark said everything. But I just want to make it clear in the public record that Mark didn't just make you, Kojo. He set the standard for local political commentary and talk, whether it's TV or radio. So don't let him (unintelligible).
NNAMDIOh, that's a very low bar to set in this town.
PLOTKINWell, thank you very much for that comment.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood, let's get to the business at hand. You are at the courthouse where, at 11 a.m. this morning, former Council Chair Kwame Brown was to -- set to plead guilty. Could you tell us what happened and set the scene for us?
SHERWOODYes. Judge Leon came in, and thankfully right on time at 11 o'clock. And then Kwame Brown had walked in and sat with his attorney Frederick Cooke. And then, 20 minutes later, Kwame Brown went from being a former chairman of the D.C. Council and a rising political star to being a convicted felon. One count of -- I'm sorry. Excuse me. (unintelligible) got in my way here.
SHERWOODOne felony count of bank fraud. He forged a -- what is called a 1099 document, which is what you get when you work for a company but are not an employee, where he made $35,000 back in, like, 2006 or so. He forged that document and literally changed the three to an eight to show that he made $85,000. And what's astonishing to me, most of the -- this is a home -- a loan to buy a boat, to buy his bulletproof boat.
NNAMDISo he pled guilty to having done that. What else do we know about that transaction outside of the fact that he changed it from 35 to apparently $85,000 a year?
SHERWOODWell, he submitted it to the Industrial Bank for the loans, and he literally signed someone else's name on the document -- a friend of his. Kwame Brown said the name in court, but he was so muffled and so low speaking, it was very difficult to hear what he said. And, of course, you know, we shouldn't miss to point out immediately that he's not here now. He did come out and speak to the reporters assembled outside and, of course, saying he made a serious mistake.
SHERWOODHis voice broke. I think he realizes the severity of what's happened to him and -- but he's also on his way now to D.C. Superior Court, not federal court, where he's going to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, a far less serious charge, but still, another scar on his public record, that he allowed a bank account to be set up in his campaign of 2008. And that money was used, as he said, walking-around money without properly being accounted for.
NNAMDIThe number to call if you'd like to join this conversation is 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Did Kwame Brown make any statement in court at all outside of simply pleading guilty?
SHERWOODHe answered the -- the only statements he made -- he answered questions. There was no statement in the court. Now, the judge, Judge Leon, set the sentencing date for September the 20th. And so, at that time, Kwame will go into court -- Mr. Brown will go into court, and the judge will have had at least two weeks prior to Sept. 20, all the letters of support, anything that Kwame Brown can give the judge to say I'm a good guy, that this was a mistake.
SHERWOODAnd on Sept. 20, the judge will sentence him to a prison sentence. Now, the prosecutors and Kwame Brown's lawyer, Fred Cooke, reached an agreement in this plea deal that his time in prison would only be from either no time up to six months, but -- as each side emphasizes, it really is up to the judge to give the sentencing.
NNAMDIAnd under the...
SHERWOODSo it could be more than that. It could be...
SHERWOODWell, frankly, it could be a 30-year sentence, a million-dollar fine for bank fraud. But this agreement is only up to six months in prison.
PLOTKINWell, there were reports from other entities, not this entity, that he -- that part of the deal was no jail time. That is absolutely right. It's a recommendation of the U.S. attorney, and the judges usually accept it. But they don't have to accept it. What...
SHERWOODYeah. That's -- you're right, Mark. But I think U.S. Atty. Ronald Machen on "The Kojo Show" there and other places has made it quite clear that he thinks public corruption is a number one serious issue in this city and that -- I'm not sure that the U.S. attorney would be happy if Kwame Brown got no jail time.
PLOTKINI agree. I was just trying to say there were some reports that, I think, are erroneous. What you've reported and which I had heard and didn't state on TV was the forgery, which seems to me...
PLOTKIN...a whole different dimension.
PLOTKINIt's one thing to exaggerate your income on a bank application. And many people do that and don't go to jail. But to actually forge something seems to me an entirely different dimension. This is really an individual who was an accidental -- I'll say it -- council chairman, beat Harold Brazil, who was really not very popular at the time, had no, really, life of substance or accomplishment prior to this.
PLOTKINAnd I think there isn't a lot of -- I'll speak for myself. There -- I don't feel a lot of sympathy for somebody like this who, even when he was first accused said, I'm not going to resign at this time. What does that mean? Said, I'll have a comment tomorrow, and that didn't -- his whole past statements have been inconsistent and untruthful.
SHERWOODYes. And I think it's important, Kojo, if I could just have my 40 seconds of editorializing, I've already seen in some online postings and other places that -- and the mayor and some other people, they are expressing their sadness and disappointment at this. And I said it when the Harry Thomas thing happened. Where is the anger? As a citizen, we should be angry first when public officials betray the trust that we put into them.
SHERWOODSo, yes, you can be sad if you want to and you feel sorry for his family members -- and there will be a court case involving family members. But let's be -- you can be sad, and you can be disappointed. But as a citizen of the city, we ought to be angry, too.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. The other voice you hear, the blast from the past, is Mark Plotkin. He is our guest analyst today, former co-host of this broadcast. He's now a political analyst for Fox 5 here in Washington, D.C. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. And I have heard quite a few people expressing anger.
NNAMDIHowever, I have also heard a few people expressing some skepticism in the way this charge was filed. Remember, Tom, when we spoke yesterday, David Simon, creator of "The Wire" and former reporter -- court reporter for The Baltimore Sun, saying that, if the prosecutor tends to lead with a bank fraud charge, it's usually an indication that he doesn't have enough to make the other charges stick and get a conviction in court.
NNAMDIAnd there are some people who are saying, well, if this is all they had against Kwame Brown, that bank fraud is not what we usually associate with political corruption. We usually think of people taking bribes, people using public money for other purposes. But you, Tom, yesterday and today, and Mark also, underscore that this is still a very serious offense.
SHERWOODMr. Simon -- and I'll respect his view and his experience in Baltimore -- the fact is he didn't know when he's told us yesterday that millions or thousands or hundreds of thousands people create bank fraud and this is the last resort of a desperate prosecutor. He didn't know that Kwame Brown took a pen or a pen -- whatever he did and typed in $85,000 instead of $35,000, a $50,000 inflation of his income.
SHERWOODHe didn't know that Kwame Brown took the name of a friend of his and stuck it on a document that was a fraud and then submitted it to a federal -- a regulated institution to buy a boat. This is not -- and to spend money in any number of the ways. Remember how Kwame used to say, well, I got into financial trouble 'cause, you know, it's ballet lessons for my children and the struggles of raising a family. No. He bought the Bulletproof, and he spent the money.
SHERWOODSo it has to be clear of what Kwame Brown did, and other people are not doing that.
PLOTKINThis -- for someone who's lived here for 47 years -- and it really is now my hometown -- it is so...
NNAMDIWords fail you.
PLOTKINWords -- they really do because we shouldn't be talking about this. We shouldn't be -- we shouldn't have people who have risen to such -- not that it doesn't happen in my native Chicago or doesn't happen in other places. But it takes us off what we should be talking about, which is furthering the rights of these people who are -- we're not -- who are disenfranchised, who don't have full American citizenship.
PLOTKINAnd I want to talk about, Kojo, or bring up the subject of the talent pool here. How does somebody like this arise to this level of chairman where he really had an uncontested election against Vincent Orange, which I don't consider a serious competitor? There are a lot of bright talented people here. And why do we -- why are we left with this remnant?
PLOTKINAnd that's what really bothers me.
NNAMDIThere's two parts of that discussion I'd like to have. One of them is Colbert King of The Washington Post, making the argument a week or so ago in his column that one of the reasons for the lack of the talent pool is that we have divided primaries. Instead of having divided primaries, Republican and Democrat, in a town that is predominantly Democratic, if we had open elections, then more people would be willing to come forward. But I...
PLOTKINIf I can briefly -- I know everybody will be surprised by that prelude. What about the California system, where the top two people -- they can even be of the same party -- face each other? Maybe that's a possibility.
NNAMDIBut I don't want to move too far afield from the topic immediately at hand. Tom Sherwood, what may we find out in the press conference that is scheduled by U.S. Atty. Ron Machen for 4:30 this afternoon? I get the impression that not only those of us in the media, but a lot of citizens, are hoping that this press conference tells them a little bit more about what Ron Machen knew about what former Chairman Kwame Brown was doing.
SHERWOODWell, by that time, we'll know more about what this -- the misdemeanor charge is in Superior Court. But I don't think there's any ambiguity at all about what Ronald Machen thinks. Ronald Machen has said it in press releases. Remember, when the second person in the Gray campaign pled guilty to a felony of trying to throw the election by helping Sulaimon Brown, Ronald Machen said that the Gray campaign antics deceives the voters.
SHERWOODHe has said that he considers public integrity his number one job. I'm sure it's equal to international terrorism. But he says it's not a secondary thing with him and that he's going after corruption in any shape and form of these public officials, whether it's in their private lives or public lives. But he's going to be tough, and I think he's been consistent and clear from the time this started.
NNAMDIHere is Elizabeth in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHYes, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I'm an over 30-year resident of the District of Columbia, and this conversation just makes me totally angry not just at Kwame Brown but at the apparent problems of Vincent Gray and others because Congress controls our lives in the District of Columbia. And any appearance of malfeasance is just fodder for those in Congress that want to beat up on us and take away more of our rights and say we're not capable of governing ourselves and we can't add abortion information to our financial bills.
ELIZABETHAnd I think this kind of behavior, even if it's not totally proved, but if it's questionable, it threatens home rule. And I just wish we could find some people that would put the city before their personal gain.
SHERWOODYou're right that it threatens our home rule standing. It should not -- and I'm sure Mark would agree with this. It should not affect it. I mean, Mark from Chicago in Illinois, I think it's four governors in 35 years or something have gone to prison. No one talks about taking Illinois rights away.
SHERWOODSo -- but you are correct that it will add to the buzz of people who say those people in the Washington, D.C. don't know what they're doing.
NNAMDIAnd as I said to Tom Sherwood yesterday, Mark Plotkin, it may be unfair for the Congress to do that to us. But the fact is that it is real, and people who are running for office in the District of Columbia know that going in, and they should make sure that their behavior is capable of being scrutinized without any kind of adverse elements in it like this. And when they don't do that, they have nobody but themselves to blame for bringing down the city.
PLOTKINI've said it before, and I'll say it again, democracy is not a reward for good behavior or good deportment. And The Post editorial said it very well today, went after Jason Chaffetz from Utah who already has posed this, you know, you better behave, lest we won't give you anything. For those that don't wish us well -- and I'm glad Tom Davis is here because we'll question him about that -- it's a convenient ready-made excuse.
PLOTKINAnd I'm glad that Tom mentioned Illinois. I remember in 1990 when Paul Simon and Ted Kennedy introduced the bill for statehood. And, you know, let's see, 23 minutes went -- 26 minutes went by, and I didn't mention that word. And a reporter said, well, how can you talk about statehood for the District when Marion Barry is going off to jail? He said, well, if -- and at that time, there only been two governors who had gone to jail...
NNAMDIThere've been two since then.
PLOTKIN...Otto Kerner and Dan Walker. Now, there are four. And he said, well, if you want to apply that standard, why don't you take our statehood status away from it? So that is just a unholy cabal. And every time it rears its ugly head, it should be shot down.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Elizabeth. We go on to Yuseff (sp?) in Alexandria, Va. Yuseff, you're on air. Go ahead, please.
YUSEFFThank you, Kojo, for picking up my call. My question is, if the Senate goes after Mayor Gray before the special election in November, is it possible that we'll have Mayor Mendelson -- Councilman Mendelson become the mayor if he becomes the chairman?
NNAMDIOK. For those people who do not understand the implications of Yuseff's question, next week, the chairman pro tem of the D.C. Council, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, will be calling a meeting for the councilmembers to vote on who on their next chair should be. The odds at this point seem be in favor of At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson.
NNAMDIHowever, all four at-large members of the council are eligible for this, and we -- it is our understanding that Vincent Orange is also campaigning for this position. I saw a tweet yesterday that said that if there's going to be any kind of race, one should assume that Vincent Orange is going to be in it.
PLOTKINWell, Vincent Orange, he has some ethical questions raised. Nobody is into it, and we haven't mentioned this name, Jeff Thompson. They're subpoenaing 2.3 million documents, and his influence in the city politic, it seems to be pervasive. And a lot of politicians, unfortunately, will have to be answering questions about their association. Orange, I was told, is not going to be the chair.
PLOTKINAnd, second, they were going to do a further rebuke because there seems to be a resolved question that the chairman pro tem, which will be the second line, will be Michael Brown, a former Democrat -- really is still a Democrat -- but who is in an independent. And then the caller is absolutely right. If the mayor was indicted, the chairman succeeds the mayor. And so that is not an unlikely scenario.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, what have you been hearing about what's going to happen with this council chair position?
SHERWOODWell, David Catania is an at-large councilmember, an independent, former Republican. But he has said publicly -- if I heard it clearly -- that he's supporting Phil Mendelson as a calming influence on the council. But I think that what we'll see -- it's possible that if Vince Gray, the mayor, goes down for any reason, it's possible that Vince Gray could take a leave of absence or step aside, and the city administrator would be running the city.
SHERWOODI think Barry did that for a while. But if Gray were to leave office for any unfortunate reason for him, then the acting chairman of the council would become simply the acting mayor. And the council would have to reconvene to appoint another acting chairman. It's a really -- a chessboard of potential outcome. Then it has to go forward every week.
NNAMDIAnd there is likely to be in November an election to elect a new chair of the council. Phil Mendelson has already indicated his intention to participate in that. I guess we can assume that Vincent Orange will be participating also.
SHERWOODI don't think you should assume that Vincent Orange is going to be doing that. I think you -- I think Orange is on the ballot. And there is some discussion, I think, that one of the weirdest things is -- and, Mark, I think you can help me with this -- the Board of Elections has at least initially indicated that we may have essentially two ballots in November the 6th. It will be the special election and then the regular ballot, and you could appear on both ballots.
PLOTKINYeah, that, to me, is unbelievable, that you could run...
SHERWOODThat's just ludicrous. That's (word?) council changed the law.
PLOTKINYeah, that you can run for two offices, lose in the first and win in the second, and...
SHERWOODBut any person who did that, I just -- that -- what a thumb in the eye to the voters (unintelligible).
PLOTKINWell, I do not ever underestimate the hubris of politicians or -- having been a former one that Kojo referred to in the billboard unnecessarily...
NNAMDII didn't say you're a former politician. I said you're a former...
PLOTKINYeah, failed, worse.
PLOTKINAnd the point being -- I will quote George Washington Plunkitt, the legendary head or boss of Tammany Hall, who said, I saw my opportunities and I took them. And I think this applies to everybody, although Orange is concerned that he might not get elected, that if he ran for chairman, that he could lose twice. He can lose for chairman and for at-large, his present position.
NNAMDIWhich is probably why Tom says we can't be sure that he will run for chairman at this point. Let's go to John in Washington, D.C. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNThanks for taking my call. Like one of your earlier callers, I was born at what used to be the Columbia Hospital for Women. And I've been a more-than-40-year resident of D.C. And I've watched Marion Barry and all of the other antics of D.C. politicians. And I think the reason why there's no outrage coming from the political establishment is virtually every one of them looks at this situation and says, there but for the grace of God go I when somebody finds out what I've done.
NNAMDIWell, Tommy Wells has been quoted as saying...
SHERWOODWell, you know...
NNAMDI...that his colleagues on the council just don't get it in terms of the outrage on the part of the people. Well, Tom Sherwood, I interrupted you.
SHERWOODWell, I was just going to say, you know, this idea that every political person is corrupt and foolish and -- or stupid and all that, I mean, I just find in the American political system, that is simply not true. And I think it's unfair to any legislative body or that all the elected officials in Maryland and General Assembly are stupid or subject to corruption. And I do think people lose their way in public office. I don't think we're any different than any other jurisdiction in America. And you have to remember this is a 13 -- now a 12-member council.
SHERWOODBut 13-member council, it's a small world. In order to get anything done in the legislature here, you have to have seven votes. If you go out and badmouth everything that happens and you're a loudmouth person about everything, you won't get anything done. We elect people to represent the people and compromise and come to some decision about what government should be. But if you go in there in some kind of common scold, well, then you won't get anything done.
PLOTKINI've said this before -- and I'm glad to have this venue to say it again. Part of the problem is that the city council or the equivalent of a state legislature has been like the farm team or the first place you go in your political advancement. And you serve in the state legislature, and then you want to become a congressman or a governor or a United States senator.
PLOTKINThe -- if the prize was worth more, that is, if we were really part of the American political system and we had a governor with real powers and we had a representation in Congress, in the House and the U.S. Senate, then I think you would find people attracted to serving in the city council because they would want to move up. And that builds a whole culture maybe of excellence and responsibility.
PLOTKINThere are talented people here. But they know everything about where to go on vacation and what car to buy, and they can talk about foreign policy. But when it comes -- and they're well off and affluent, but when it comes to the District, they never bother to immerse themselves in the place in where they live. And that's what's really missing from the dynamic.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. Mark Plotkin is our guest analyst. He's a political analyst with Fox 5 here in Washington, D.C. And we have received a number of emails with people concerned about what appears to be the level of animosity between Mark Plotkin and me since we trade insults. But they don't -- I guess we should assure such people that Mark and I have been close friends for many years, and that is the nature of our relationship. It defines our relationship.
PLOTKINKojo is an extraordinary talent, although I do feel that he is overrated.
NNAMDISee? This is why you're not going to be invited on the show again. Tom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst. He'll be back. He's an NBC 4 reporter and the columnist for The Current Newspapers. The number is 800-433-8850. We move on to Talib in Washington, D.C. Talib, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TALIBGood afternoon, gentlemen. I'd like to pick up on what you talked about in terms in animosity and wonder whether or not there's really, at the root of this, an animosity between the, you know, Caucasian and population in the people of color here in the Washington, D.C., area. A lot of people, you know, did not -- of course, and I'm one of them -- don't dismiss mistakes and errors by the former chairman or any other -- the political, you know leaders representing us.
TALIBBut, to be honest, Ward 3, as you know, just so happens to be largely affluent in Caucasian, voted overwhelmingly for Adrian Fenty who, despite, you know, $3 million in the bank, lost to the mayor, not because of Sulaiman Brown but because Adrian Fenty was a jerk. And he just so happened to choose to, you know, reward his friends and punish his enemies so much that people were offended by that.
SHERWOODHe offended his friend.
TALIBYeah. Absolutely. So the question is, whether -- why is it that -- you know, I want to ask each of you -- why is it that the U.S. attorney, who is, you know, one of my former homeboys from Detroit, is so focused on the African Americans in political office but has chosen almost to ignore the Caucasian and affluent members of the council who, some have argued, have passed along government benefits to their clients or who have improperly influenced contracts? I know...
PLOTKINWho are you referring to by name?
NNAMDIWell, I -- when he's talking about improperly influenced contract, I'm pretty sure you're talking about Councilmember Jim Graham. And I have said before on this broadcast that the U.S. attorney who, by the way, is African American -- the attorney general is African American -- the U.S. attorney is investigating the lottery contract in the District of Columbia. And a part of that investigation has to involve looking at the nature of Councilmember Jim Graham's involvement. So it is not only the African American members of the council who are coming under the scrutiny of this U.S. attorney title.
SHERWOODWell, you know, and also, you know, people talk about -- and someone came in to me on the street and said, why doesn't anybody go after the white politicians? And I'm -- and I said to this person, I said, you have Ronald Machen who's African American. His principal deputy in all these investigations, public integrity, corruption, is Vinnie Cohen, Jr. whose father was a lion in the city. And Vinnie Cohen is a son of this city. And he -- and he is African American.
NNAMDIYou should also mention that he's African American because with the name Cohen, people may think he's of another religion.
SHERWOODYes. And then, of course, Eric -- and then there's Eric Holder who's the attorney general of the United States and who was a former U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia. And people...
PLOTKINAnd a former D.C. Superior Court judge.
SHERWOODYes. And so if people believe -- if they want to believe that the racial animosity between African American and whites is so strong that these three men of accomplished means, African Americans, have turned their back on African Americans and are only going to go after them and let the white people go, that is an astonishing level of racism that I don't (word?) understand.
NNAMDITo which, Talib, you say what?
TALIBCan I -- and I also want to say this 'cause you know I work in -- for the Washington Informer and African American.
NNAMDII do know this.
TALIBAnd the people who, you know, read our newspapers and even -- you know, I also do some commentary on another radio station that I won't name...
NNAMDIThat shall remain nameless.
TALIBThe people who contact us point to these people who you just mention who are African Americans and say that, because the political pressure upon them is so great that they don't have, you know, the room to be balanced in the investigation.
SHERWOODThat is an astonishing...
TALIBAnd I -- hold on. Can I finish?
SHERWOODThat's an astonishing insult, an astonishing insult (unintelligible).
TALIBAnd you are my mentor, and I'll only say to, you know, my respected mentor who I admire, you know, immensely is that this is -- and we don't address this issue. As Michael Brown said, we don't address what we see as a growing divide between the Caucasian population and the people of color in the District of Columbia and have it, once and for all, a coming out, if you will, so we can reach a common level of understanding and cooperation. Then we are doing ourselves a disservice, and I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, you were saying?
SHERWOODI would like to say, if you want to have a conversation about racism -- and I will be happy to talk about that. We talked about it on "The Kojo Show" about the inequities and the discriminations and the historic and the current discrimination against African Americans and their being treated differently from whites, that is -- I could argue that all the time. That's certainly true.
SHERWOODWhat I find astonishing is that people will say this racism is so tough that these three white people who hold these extraordinary jobs are somehow beholden to white people, that they've lost their minds in their ability to act as human beings, and strong African American men in high levels of law enforcement should suggest that they are somehow kowtowing to white people is just, to me, astonishing.
PLOTKINI would just add one other feature. The name Vinnie Cohen, Jr. was mentioned. Vinnie Cohen, Sr. was...
PLOTKINYes, was as the first African American person asked to be a partner in a major law firm.
SHERWOODYou're talking about his father, right. You're talking about his father.
PLOTKINYes. And I think that should be mentioned. So it's not only that he was a great basketball player, All-American, and was Jim Brown's roommate. That one statement in itself in terms of achievement in 1969 it took before there was a black law partner in a major Washington, D.C., law firm. I agree wholeheartedly that there is selective prosecution and that these people owe their jobs by not indicting black people.
NNAMDITalib, that said, one can understand how 400 years of slavery and segregation and lynchings and oppression can cause people to be particularly suspicious, maybe even paranoid, when they see large numbers or a disproportionate number of African American officials being prosecuted. That said, as Tom Sherwood pointed out, you cannot use that to besmirch the integrity of African American officials like Eric Holder and Ron Machen and Vinnie Cohen, Jr. who have worked extremely hard to get to where they are today and presumably had to fight off some discrimination of their own.
SHERWOODThe unseen white hand...
NNAMDIBut, Talib, thank you very much for your call.
TALIBThe unseen white hand did not grab Kwame's and change the three to an eight.
NNAMDIOscar in Washington, D.C. You're on the air, Oscar. Go ahead, please.
OSCARWell, you know, my question is somewhat -- after hearing what you all just said -- to rush to protect and to talk about the accomplishments of Vinnie Cohen, Sr. has nothing to do with the mindset of his son. I don't...
PLOTKINNo. But he has -- wait a second. No, hold it.
NNAMDIOK, let him -- allow him to finish.
OSCARI don't believe for a moment that these three guys are kowtowing. I think they're just doing their job. But, I mean, it seems like the rush to talk about his father has nothing to do with his son, and I think that that was nothing but a cover. But I also want to say, if you're going to talk about ethics and you're going to go back to 2006 and look at Kwame Brown, then we got to go back that far and look at Jack Evans. Well, he's the one who started all of this with this JACPAC. He had money lying around. He was flying all over the country with his family.
OSCARThen we need to look at standards. If, after this, there is going to be a standard, then we have to be fair and apply it fairly, whether we're looking at Jim Graham, whether we're looking at Jack Evans. What we seem to have a standard that two -- where some can get by. And, matter of fact, in reference to Evans, he is calling the kettle black. You know, and he has some more problems. But, anyway, the problem is this, too much money in politics.
SHERWOODAll right. Let -- well, let...
NNAMDILet him finish. Let him finish 'cause I...
OSCARToo much money on politics. Many of these guys who tend to seem to need this job as a job, they spend all their time raising money, then kowtow to the special interests. That's your problem. They don't come to the people to figure out exactly what they want. They only ended up...
NNAMDIOK, Oscar. Here's Mark Plotkin and then Tom Sherwood.
PLOTKINI want to reference what you said. The reason I brought up just not to be superfluous about Vinnie Cohen, Sr. was the fact that that was a particular legacy for his son so that he was extraordinarily conscious of what his father had done and what he acclaimed. And I just didn't point that out. I thought that it would be doubly hypocritical for his son not to inherent -- inherit the distinction that his father brought to the legal community so that his self-responsibility -- and I've met him and talked to him...
NNAMDIWell, I guess...
PLOTKIN...would be even great. He's left.
NNAMDII guess Oscar would have one response for you. Harry Thomas, Jr.'s father was...
PLOTKINOkay. Oh, all right. Well, that…
NNAMDI...a lot like Vinnie Cohen in that respect. But the son, nevertheless, didn't apparently follow their path.
PLOTKINWell, that's a different example.
PLOTKINThe other point that he makes is there is -- about money, I think, is very valid. I saw a letter from the governor of Montana saying they don't have corporate contributions. And there's going to be something on the ballot, I believe, in November banning corporate contributions. I think that would go...
NNAMDIOscar, thank you very much for your call.
PLOTKINThat would go a long way toward what he was talking about.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we got this email from Michelle that says….
SHERWOODOK. Can I respond to the JACPAC thing first? (unintelligible).
NNAMDIOh, please do. Yes.
SHERWOODI think it's important to note that no one accused Jack Evans, in my memory, of illegal materials. I think he was just wholly embarrassed as well he should have been about the free flowing money and the things he spent it on and, you know, the questions about buying tickets and all these other things that have happened around Jack. But no one, to my knowledge -- and correct if I'm wrong, guys -- have accused him of doing something illegal.
SHERWOODHe did abandon JACPAC after he was ridiculed and denounced by the people in public. He got rid of it. But I don't think prosecutors or anyone ever said that he violated laws by spending the money. He may have spent it stupidly, but I don't think he violated it criminally. Correct me if I'm wrong, Mark, you might remember.
PLOTKINWell, I think you're right, and the point of it is the caller's question is that if there's evidence presented to the U.S. Attorney's Office, who is our local prosecuting attorney, that they make a judgment based on the pigmentation of the skin of the person who's being charged. And I just can't believe that and won't believe it.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Michelle that won't take you very long to answer, either Tom Sherwood or Mark Plotkin. "Do the guests have any sense of whether Fenty -- Adrian Fenty would run for mayor again?"
NNAMDIYes, I do have a sense.
SHERWOODYes, I have a sense...
NNAMDINo, he won't run.
SHERWOOD…and no is the answer.
PLOTKINYou know, the political demise of Adrian Fenty really is a textbook for the Kennedy School of Government. Here's somebody who won all 143 precincts four years earlier and then just literally destroyed himself, and I think nothing more showed the arrogance -- would not meet with Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou, you know, titans of the African American community. And that symbolized his sort of personal unraveling and insensitivity to being the mayor of a city.
SHERWOODHe wouldn't meet with anyone. I'm surprised he would go into a room by himself because he didn't want to have anybody in the room. I once asked him -- I said, why don't you meet with the labor leader (unintelligible) ? If you don't agree with him, just meet with him so he doesn't feel like he's a non-human being. Or why don't you meet with the developers who are trying to build in the city 'cause they want to -- and he says, well, everybody who meets with me, they ask me for something. I said, you're the mayor. And he just looked at me blankly.
NNAMDIHere and maybe one of the reasons why Adrian Fenty is no longer in office, but as the emailer, I guess, is expressing a sentiment that there are a whole lot of people who thought that the city's prospered under Fenty's leadership and would like to see him back again. Not going to happen. Here's Rachel in Silver Spring, Md. Rachel, your turn.
RACHELGood morning or, rather, good afternoon. I have a very naive question. It's terrible that so many politicians are caught up in the superficial benefits of being public personalities and interested in fancy possessions and customized cars and so on and so forth. Who is worrying about the down and out and the poor in Washington, D.C.? The children who come from families that are barely holding it together, go to school barely able to learn, sit in this building that may or may not be comfortable to be in. Who's -- that's what really bothers me about all this corruption.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you brought that up, Rachel, because I'd like to go to John in Washington, D.C. because you're saying that these things are such -- or implying that these things are such major distractions that politicians cannot focus on the things they really need to be focusing on. But here's what John in Washington, D.C. would like to say. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi. Thank you. Good afternoon.
JOHNKwame is a parent of children who go to school with my children. And I guess I can say John Eaton. That's where they go to school. And, without hesitation, he has supported a program that I wanted to put in place, which was lacrosse -- the first instructional lacrosse league in elementary school in D.C. And he just stood behind me and pushed and pushed and pushed. And the major point, from my perspective, is that all he cared about was what was best for the kids.
JOHNAnd he must have said that, I don't know, dozens of times to me. And I believed it, and it was true. And we got it through. And it now is in place, and I have to thank him. I mean, he was wonderful. And he's a great parent, his wife is. They're great parents, and they have great kids. And that's the other side that we don't hear about.
NNAMDIWhich is what I was going to say to Rachel. Rachel, one of the, I guess, unusual phenomena about all of this that's taking place in the city -- and without focusing on Kwame Brown individually, Tom Sherwood -- is that, despite all of these distractions, the business of the city seems to be going ahead as usual, even though some people like Rachel may be dissatisfied with the level of attention being paid especially to people who are homeless or poor.
SHERWOODWell, if I can just jump in, crooks can be nice people and can -- crooks can do good things. But -- and Kwame Brown certainly did -- you know, the team that you just mentioned. He did any number of things. In this past budget, he worked very hard as council members did. They increased money for TANF -- I mean, welfare payments and assistance and other kinds of things. They added more money to housing. They did a lot of things. But that is their job. They are to look out, as Rachel said, for the poor. We spend billion dollars and more on schools.
SHERWOODAnd our Social Service things are more than billions of dollars. And they can be improvements, but the money is there. And lots of the council members care about all those things. But none of that balances, not on the scale of justice where we say, well, you're a good guy over here, but you stole money over here, so, therefore, we don't have to treat you this harshly. He stole money, and that -- he not only besmirched the city, but he besmirched his own reputation and the good things the gentleman caller just talked about.
NNAMDIAnd, Mark Plotkin, as I mentioned earlier, these distractions do not seem to have hindered the ability of the council to do business on the one hand. On the other hand, they draw the kind of attention to the city that the city does not want at this time, often from opponents of any form of voting rights for the city. But you were about to say something.
PLOTKINWell, I wanted to comment on the fancy possessions. Both Harry Thomas, Jr. and now Kwame Brown seemed to have a craving or feel -- and Thomas himself, to his credit, Jr., talked about his sense of entitlement, that getting elected required going to Pebble Beach for golf trips and buying automobiles that are super ostentatious because this was an enhancement or this went with -- this was a prerequisite of serving in office, and it isn't.
PLOTKINIt has nothing to do with being -- serving in office. But they obviously had their own massive insecurities, or just their feeling of "entitlement" made them do that. On this...
SHERWOODIt's called -- I'm sorry. Just to say it's called public servant, not a public serving or a big helping of whatever you want.
PLOTKINYeah. And you're supposed to be a public servant. You serve at -- with -- that's why there are elections. Averell Harriman once I stopped -- I know that's another dated reference. I'm glad to be able to do it -- the former governor of New York. I once said, hello, Amb. Harriman. And I want to tell this story because it was so meaningful. In front of the 7-Eleven on P...
NNAMDIOf course, because most of our listeners weren't born when this occurred.
PLOTKIN(unintelligible) And governor -- he was ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was the peace negotiator. He said, don't say ambassador. Say governor. Now, why did he say that? Because the greatest honor that can be bestowed on somebody is to have your own populace elect you. And that is why he wanted to be remembered. And that's something that these people have lost sight of. I think this is a good segue. Tom Davis, who was a champion, at least of a moderate...
NNAMDICan I remind you that you're no longer the co-host of this broadcast?
PLOTKINOh, I'm no longer the co-host. Well, I...
NNAMDICan I introduce the guests?
NNAMDIMark Plotkin is our guest analyst today. He's now a political analyst with Fox 5 here in Washington, D.C. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. And joining us now in studio is Tom Davis. He's a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Republican who held the seat in Virginia's 11th District. He's also the former chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform. Congressman Davis, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. TOM DAVISKojo, good to be here.
NNAMDIAnd we always refer to him as Congressman Davis for the same reason that you refer to...
SHERWOODKojo, you got to let Congressman Davis -- I'm going to say it for him. He served seven terms in the House undefeated and unindicted.
PLOTKINThat's his line, yeah. Can I...
DAVISMore meaningful with today's discussion, I think.
PLOTKINCan I ask the congressman...
NNAMDINo, I get to ask the first question.
NNAMDIRepublican Congressman Jason Chaffetz told The Washington Post this week...
PLOTKINThat was my question.
NNAMDII know -- that it's hard for the District to argue for more autonomy with all the political scandals swirling around the city right now. As a longtime ally of the District, how do you see it, Congressman Davis?
DAVISWell, I think Jason is -- I mean, he speaks the truth. It's hard for members who don't deal with the city every day. When they see these indictments coming after the council, it just makes it tougher for them back home. So these members who get on there and are corrupt do not do the city a service, so that's why...
PLOTKINEverybody agrees with that, Congressman Davis, Tom. But is it right? I mean, is nobody in Virginia ever been indicted? Wasn't -- Sherwood, weren't you there when Philpot was indicted?
DAVISNo, Philpot wasn't. We had a...
SHERWOODNo, Philpot wasn't.
PLOTKINOh. Who was? You've never had an indicted individual in the state of Virginia or in any other state?
DAVISNo, we've had -- we had three members of the Fairfax board go to jail in the late '60s.
SHERWOODDon't forget Prince George's County, folks.
PLOTKINYeah. So should this -- I understand and appreciate...
DAVIS(unintelligible) you didn't ask me, should. You said, does it? And the answer is it does.
PLOTKINBut, no, I want to ask you, should it?
NNAMDIWell, obviously he'll say it shouldn't, but...
PLOTKINWell, no, I want to hear him say it should.
DAVISWell, I think the bottom line, Mark, is that not everybody studies this as deeply as you and I do. In the end of the day, it shouldn't.
DAVISAnd you have a lot of good members of that council that are working hard, trying to get things done, and you have some bad apples. But...
PLOTKINNow, how long will this retard what you were trying to do, which was a modicum of democracy, at least one seat in the House? Or does this now say, wait a second, you better clean up your activities, or we're not going to consider anything even as minimal as budget autonomy?
DAVISWell, look, don't shoot the messenger here. But we had an opportunity when the Democrats -- when this bill got through the Senate, to get...
PLOTKINI agree with you.
DAVIS...voting rights. And nobody wanted to pull the trigger because it wasn't the perfect bill. And I said at the time, you have a -- you have it out of the Senate, which can be filibustered. This is the only time, probably, in the next 10 years you're going to get that opportunity. I think that's, you know, that's my opinion.
PLOTKINSo this has nothing to do with -- that this won't even further impede or retard any development.
DAVISWell, it doesn’t help. I mean, look, we got budget autonomy. We have some other issues. The city needs some autonomy on that they ought to be able to get what other cities have. And this doesn't help the language, and it doesn't help the narrative. But, look, we can recover from this pretty quickly. I think we just have to let them clean up whatever is going to happen, elect new people and, you know, continue with the fight.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, I know you have to be at D.C. Superior Court at one o'clock, but you get to ask one question before I move on to what...
PLOTKINYou mean Sherwood's indicted, too? Sherwood wasn't indicted, was he?
NNAMDI(unintelligible) Silver Line. Not yet, anyway.
SHERWOODI'd like to ask Mr. Davis a question. You know, Mark Plotkin was one of the people who urged that we have an elected attorney general in the city. But we do have an appointed attorney general who doesn't really have enough power. Do you think it would help the city in terms of elections and whatever the reputation on the Hill is, if we had a more local, not the U.S. attorney doing everything, but we had a local attorney general who could raise hell with -- and bring charges against people as they do in other states?
DAVISWell, sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. I mean, you got to remember, this is a one party city. In my own opinion, you know, you ought to have your local elections nonpartisan. I think it gets more people into it. Chicago has gone to that. Los Angeles has gone to that. Then things aren't settled within a little narrow party structure. It gives, I think, wider participation.
DAVISRight now, you have a -- you're allowed to have -- you have to have two non-majority party members of the City Council, and one of them is -- I saw him on TV the other day, and he was put as a Democratic analyst and strategist. That was the title underneath him, and he's running as an independent.
PLOTKINMichael Brown. Michael Brown.
DAVISSo just make everybody independent. They can be Democrats. They can put it on, and people can make their decisions accordingly. But when you get one-party structures, what you get is you have things covered up. Where you get the real interest is when you have an attorney general, one-party, governors are the others, and that's when it tends to be better. But I'm not taking the stand. I'm just walking you through my historical knowledge.
NNAMDIYou sit on the Airports Authority, which is navigating a thorny dispute about the completion of the Silver Line to Dulles Airport and into Loudon. You voted to drop a labor agreement this week to remove one roadblock to the project.
NNAMDIWhat was this fix vote all about to you?
DAVISWell, look, I never -- I was one who voted against the labor agreement to begin with. I think the marketplace ought to set that, not politicians under the influence of unions. If it's a good deal, if the labor -- if the PLA is good or bad -- I don't know if it is or not. I'm not prepared to make -- they're not smart enough to know that. Then I think the...
NNAMDIThe project labor agreement is what the PLA is.
DAVISExactly. Then I think the contractors will bid that as a part of what they did. The PLA that is currently in place for phase one was done voluntarily. It was part of the business plan. That's fine with me. But I hate to have restricted procurements where you're telling people how they have to get the job done. The problem here...
NNAMDIAnd Virginia, of course, is a right-to-work state, so there was a lot pressure on you.
DAVISRight. There had never been a mandatory PLA in Virginia history. And as a result of that, you could guess, politically -- and this is a Republican- Democrat, goes to basic constituencies. We didn't need this fight.
NNAMDIHere's Amy in Reston, Va. Amy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MS. AMY MARLOWHi there. I'm Amy Marlow with the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce. Thanks for having me on the air.
MARLOWWe are major supporters of completing the Silver Line through Loudon County, and we really see this as an investment in our region's economic future. And we strongly advocate for local, state and federal funding for phase two. So my question is for Congressman Davis. Given the size of the federal workforce in our region, shouldn't there be more federal presence in funding phase two as there was in phase one?
DAVISWell, of course, there should. And, as you know, I fought very hard to get it in phase on, but one of the kind of the tacit agreements was that there wouldn't be funding for phase two. Now, having said that, now that we have this PLA, and once Loudon comes on board, it is my intention and I think -- to go to the federal government and see if we can get some more money for this.
DAVISWe could do it in terms of the TIFIA loans, which would be very helpful, or direct money, and also go to the state. We don't want this to fall entirely on the toll road users. I get very nervous about how tolls could potentially go out there and what it does to economic development out the door.
NNAMDIBefore Plotkin ends the show with a two-minute long question, what are your expectations for the primary next Tuesday in Virginia, in the Republican primary for the Senate race? If George Allen wins, as most people expect he will, what do you see is his path to victory against Tim Kaine in November? In 30 seconds.
DAVISWell, I think that you're going to see this race parallel to the presidential race. I think whoever carries the state is likely to win the Senate race. I think Allen is ahead in all of the polls, but there's going to be a very low turnout in the Republican primary.
PLOTKINTom, once again, the namby-pamby, pushover, suck-up host has not asked you the relevant question. I will ask that question, which is Bolling versus...
NNAMDIBefore he's finished, the show will be over, so it doesn't matter.
PLOTKINBolling versus Cuccinelli, who are you voting for?
DAVISWell, we haven't even gotten to that.
PLOTKINOh, come on, Tom. Come on.
DAVISIt's a hypothetical question to...
PLOTKINBut it's going to be a real question. They are both running for governor.
DAVISThey are both good friends of mine. I've hosted fundraisers for both of them. I will support the winner. This has a long way to go to ferret itself out. There could be third parties getting in this, Mark. And you know what it's like...
PLOTKINWho's the Democrat then? Play the analyst.
DAVISOh, well, I think the Democrats -- look, I think, first of all, Terri McCullough will be probably the Democratic candidate. Having said that, Virginia tends to elect a governor opposite the party of the president.
PLOTKINSo the Democrat will win?
DAVISIf Romney wins the presidency.
NNAMDITom Davis. He's a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Republican who held a seat in Virginia's 11th district. He's also the former chairman of the House committee on government reform. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, thank you for joining us. He's our resident analyst and an NBC 4 reporter. Mark Plotkin, thank you for joining us.
PLOTKINThank you. High honor to be invited.
NNAMDIMark is a Fox -- an analyst for Fox 5. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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