It's open season for federal employees as well as many privately-employed people to change their health plan selection for next year. We speak with experts for tips and will take your questions about how to make the right choice for you and your family.
D.C. politicians trade harsh words and reshuffle their leadership structure. Members of Virginia’s General Assembly have questions about the — apparently forced — resignation of the University of Virginia’s first female president. And a Maryland court clears the way for a voter referendum on the state’s Dream Act. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Victor Ramirez Member, Maryland Senate (D-Prince George's)
- Phil Mendelson Chairman, D.C. Council (D)
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
The Week in Local Politics
Kojo asked new D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson what kind of leadership he will have to provide to put the Council back on even keel. “We don’t restore the trust in the Council through passing a bill or through a statement. It’s really through our actions, and that’s going to take some time,” Mendelson said. He said it’s not clear whether new ethics legislation is needed. Mendelson added that this is the first time that Council members have resigned because of felony convictions since the District got home rule in the 1970s.
First there was #Sulaimania. Now, #Kojosjukebox is proud to present Vinny Citrus, featuring Marion Barry, Mary Cheh and Joe Esposito.
Music by Michael Martinez. Video by Brendan Sweeney.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Later in the broadcast, Maryland State Sen. Victor Ramirez, who crafted Maryland's DREAM Act that will be going before the voters in November, we'll talk to him about the announcement coming out of the White House today having to do with immigrants who came to this country as children.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, Tom Sherwood, you were in the Wilson Building in council chambers this week when the council met on Wednesday to vote for a new chairman and a new chairman pro tem. Can you set the scene for us, if you will?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, it looked like most people applauded Phil Mendelson when he was actually voted in. But before it happened in something the new chairman even noted himself, there was a fairly somewhat ugly debate beforehand when Vincent Orange, at-large councilmember, who wanted to be the -- named chairman to replace Kwame Brown, didn't get that. And then he went for the secondary prize of the pro tem position, which is number two. He didn't get that. But he and Mayor Barry, Ward 8 councilmember, I would just say they acted up. They shouted. They pounded the desks.
MR. TOM SHERWOODThey -- but all that said to me was that they clearly didn't have the votes, and they were, like, you know, flailing about 'cause they had lost. And it ruined the one thing that some people had asked for, Jack Evans and Phil Mendelson and others had asked for, maybe we should have a unanimous vote so we can show people we're in charge. We're going to move beyond the Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas embarrassment. But those -- their little contretemps, I think, spoiled some of the transition of leadership.
NNAMDIWell, when Vincent Orange compared himself to boxing champion Manny Pacquiao during that conversation, some members of the local media were amused. But "The Politics Hour" was more inspired than amused, inspired in a way we haven't been since Soilemania took over the Wilson Building last June. Inspired in a "Karate Kid" won tournament montage kind of way, it occurred to us that "The Politics Hour" fear does not exist in Vincent Orange's dojo and that defeat doesn't exist in Vincent Orange's dojo, either.
NNAMDISo, without further ado, we give you the newest mixed tape mashup from "Politics Hour" producer and amateur DJ Michael Martinez -- heavy emphasis on the amateur. He calls it "V.O. Goes Macchio."
NNAMDIA music video for "V.O. Goes Macchio," directed and edited by producer and Gonzo filmmaker Brendan Sweeney, it's available now on kojoshow.org. On the more serious side, though, Tom Sherwood, you have joked in the past that they should just put Vincent Orange's name permanently on the ballot because...
SHERWOODYou know, I have said that. I said if I ever got elected to something, my first bill would be to put Vincent Orange's name on every ballot that comes down the pike 'cause he seems to be on it already. I just want to save him some time. Someone called me and said, you know, I went to school with him, and, even in college, he ran for all the offices.
SHERWOODAnd then, remember, he ran in 19 -- against John Wilson -- I think it was 1990 when everyone was going who is Vincent Orange putting up these Orange signs when Wilson was going to win (unintelligible). So it's funny.
NNAMDIAnd this is the serious part. Does Mr. Orange's apparent zeal to run for every office that becomes available, A, affects how seriously he's taken and, B, has an impact on his colleagues apparent aversion to facilitate his ascent to these various offices?
SHERWOODWell, I do think there's some irritation with his -- don't want to call it naked ambition. Every political person is ambitious in some way or another. But I do think it does affect him in a negative way from his image. But, on the other hand, he also said himself apart as things go forward and things don't go well, if the new chairman or the pro tem person, Michael A. Brown, get into any kind of trouble or if there's any additional problems or if the council doesn't function well, he can always say, I told you so. I told you I was the best.
NNAMDIWell, he can say I told you so, but whether or not he is going to be elevated I suspect will be affected by the evolving perception, if you will, of Vincent Orange.
SHERWOODWell, he has said he's going to run, and then he says, oh, I haven't said I'm going to run for chairman in the November 6 special election to replace Kwame Brown. But I suspect he will want to run. He's setting up a campaign. Some people say he wasn't talking to the council members. He was talking to the cable television.
NNAMDIAnd that's where we -- most of us at least who were not in the chamber actually saw it. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Joining us in studio is Phil Mendelson. He is the interim chairman...
NNAMDIHe is the chairman of the D.C. Council. He is a Democrat. Why not interim anymore?
SHERWOODThere is no interim, acting, temporary, stand-in, wannabe, could be. He is chairman. That's what the charter says.
NNAMDIMr. Chairman, congratulations and welcome.
MR. PHIL MENDELSONThank you. Good afternoon, Kojo and Tom.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Phil Mendelson, chairman of the D.C. Council, call us at 800-433-8850, send email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you can join the conversation. People have been having fun with the puns this week, saying things like the Mendocracy has now begun in the Wilson Building.
NNAMDIBut the situation into which you have stepped as chairman is not a lot of fun. Now, you're the leader of a council that has lost two of its members, one of whom was its chairman, to felonies in the past six months. What kind of leadership will you have to provide in your new role to put the council back on an even keel?
MENDELSONWell, my goal is to get -- to calm things down at the council and get us back to focusing on our work, really a stabilizing influence -- that's what I hope -- working with colleagues, trying to be much more collaborative with the other members of the council. You know, the council goes through reorganization in January because that's what we do every two years. There's an election for the chairman in November -- on November 6, and I'm in that race. But I am, as Tom said, the chairman now, and so I'm looking at how we complete the term.
SHERWOODWell, on the very issue of ethics, the -- there is some dispute among some people about the seriousness of the Kwame Brown crimes. There's no doubt, and there's no debate about the seriousness of the Harry Thomas crime. But are you anticipating that as the chairman of the council that you'll propose any new ethics legislation or campaign legislation? I know that Muriel Bowser has been talking about some additional legislation. Is that something that's on your agenda? Do you need more legislation? Or you just need people to follow the laws we have?
MENDELSONIt's not clear to me that we need more legislation, and, in fact, that's one of the complaints many folks have about last year is that there was a major ethics bill or ethics rewrite last fall that was -- I felt was sort of rushed through the council. But the idea was that we were going to pass some legislation, and that would please or appease the voters and make everybody happy. As I said on Wednesday, we don't restore the trust in the council through passing a bill or through a statement. It's really through our actions, and that's going to take some time.
MENDELSONI don't know that more legislation is necessary. There are several things that are happening or going to be happening, one of which is that the new ethics board is to be established. I think there are a couple of bills pending. I'm talking to colleagues about some steps that we can take that are not legislating but are about our behavior. I'm taking suggestions from anybody and everybody with regard to just things that I can do to lead by example or that council members can do to just demonstrate more openness.
NNAMDIWhat is it that concerns you about what you call our behavior?
MENDELSONWell, being the most blatant is what you've already mentioned, that two council members have resigned because both pled guilty to felonies. You know, there hasn't been anybody who's resigned because they were convicted of a felony in office in the -- ever since we got home rule in 19 -- the mid-1970s. So we had one -- no, no, we have two. I mean, that's...
SHERWOODTwo in six months.
MENDELSONTwo in six months. And there are these investigations and continuing investigations. And while the one that has the most attention involves the mayor or the mayor's campaign, the fact is is that it's a cloud over city hall.
MENDELSONSo that affects us...
NNAMDIWell, the mayor would like to call attention to the fact that, despite all that's happened, the city by most measures is doing well. But at some point, it seems that there needs to be a vision articulated for the city, a vision that has become, I guess, more important now that you are chair of the council, even though you have campaigned citywide before. What do you tell people now about your vision for the city?
MENDELSONWell, you know, if it was up to me, the vision I would articulate is one where we make some real improvements to the education system. I know there's been a lot of talk about how we've instituted reform. I think there's a long way to go there. I -- you know, what we've been doing with public safety is remarkable. The reduction in crime in the District is greater than the average nationally.
MENDELSONThere are a lot of good things going on there, but there's more. And, you know, the city ranks above, I think, almost every city, if not every city in the country with regard to environmental initiatives. Those are issues that I would put forward as a vision. But at -- you know, talking to citizens, the vision that they want to hear about is that city hall is going to clean up its act, there are not going to be these ethical lapses and that we get the cloud -- get past the cloud. And that's what folks are talking about.
NNAMDIThere's also a perception that the members of this council really dislike one another intensely so much so that they find it difficult to be even courteous to each other when they're having discussions. On the one hand, people don't like too much collegiality because they feel that, well, this is supposed to be a body that's doing serious deliberations, but -- and they don't want people covering up for one another. On the other hand, when they hear members of the council who seem to be openly fighting all the time, they're wondering just when is it all going to fall apart.
MENDELSONWell, I think most members were not happy with the tone of the debate on Wednesday, but, Kojo, it's not correct that members so dislike each other they're not talking to each other. I've talked to all the members several times each over the last week and talked with -- and also have been part of groups of conversations, and members are getting along.
SHERWOODThere is a theatrical aspect to the -- establishing your position on the dais, which you might say privately in your meeting 'cause they want to win, that they...
SHERWOODBut you have to have -- an immediate issue now, Mayor Vincent Gray today, if he hasn't already done it while I was on my way over to the studio, is going to propose reappointing Nat Gandhi, the chief financial officer, to another five-year term. He served since 2000. Some people -- there are some homegrown issues that people don't like about him, but then others say he's got an excellent reputation on Wall Street.
SHERWOODAnd this mayor under criminal investigation himself is in no position to make a major change and to toss Nat Gandhi out. Do you have a view on Nat Gandhi's reappointment as chief financial officer?
MENDELSONI will support his reappointment. The -- you know, he is well-regarded by the rating agencies, which is important. That makes a difference to the tune of millions of dollars in what we pay in debt service. And I think he's well-regarded by the business community. And, as you said, Tom, his reappointment sends a stabilizing message, which I think is important as well. I'll add this: I think Nat's done a good job, and I have a lot of respect for Dr. Gandhi. And I'm aware of the some criticism and...
NNAMDII was about to say Councilmember Catania ran down a laundry list of what he feels are missteps by the chief financial officer that he felt should, at the very least, result in his being questioned, if not yanked altogether.
MENDELSONWell, and there should be a questioning, and there have been a number of incidents such as the 40, $50 million embezzlement. I don't know that anybody has ever embezzled that much money in the country. I mean, it really is breathtaking.
MENDELSONYes. And there have been a few other instances of embezzlement before and since then. And so there is grounds for vigorous questioning of him, and there should be because he should be held to the highest standard with regard to how he's managing the city's finances. I also would say this, and that is that in the ordinary course of business, these days, it's expected that one changes their accountant every maybe five, six years. Now, Dr. Gandhi's not accountant. He's much more than that. But this is not the time, and for the reasons that Tom mentioned.
SHERWOODAnd it could be that he -- even though he's being reappointed to five years, it could be less than that, depending on who becomes -- because there's some thought about this. Let me just get to the heart of the issue for a lot of people. Mayor Vincent Gray is under investigation. The aggregation of all the people who talk to me, who are looking at that, some people say he'll be pleading guilty out in weeks.
SHERWOODSome say it'll take maybe a couple of months. Others say he may limp to the finish line. But if, for any reason, he were to find some -- be in a legal position where he has to resign, you would become the first white mayor of the District of Columbia. You would move up as mayor of the city until there could be a special election. Does that wear -- do you weigh that at all? Do you think about that at all, what that will mean? What...
MENDELSONI think about...
SHERWOODAnd let me just -- for emphasis, by saying that in your last two elections, you've carried every ward in the city. You're not one of the politicians who benefits from or is hurt by the racial split.
MENDELSONCorrect. And I think about it when I'm asked, and I'm asked frequently about it. My ambition is to the city council. I am not happy about what's happened, and so there's not a lot of enthusiasm with my becoming chair given these circumstances. And so I'm not thinking, oh, boy...
SHERWOODBut you would have to be in some way prepared to become mayor if that were to happen. It happened pretty quickly with Kwame Brown. He was not resigning one day, and he was gone two days later. So it could happen.
MENDELSONI understand, and there was more awareness or notice with Councilmember Thomas when he had to resign. So, I mean, I don't know what to say, Tom.
SHERWOODYou'll be prepared?
MENDELSONI hope that does not happen. If it becomes apparent that it's going to happen, then I will prepare for that. It's not a position to which I want to rise and hold on to. I would look at that as stepping in to meet the need. And there are a whole lot of folks who are hoping that the city doesn't go through that.
NNAMDIWell, your lack of support for Betty Noel's nomination to the Public Service Commission was fodder for some people in the city who basically went on to say that you had a tin ear to racial issues in the District. I thought that was a kind of cheap shot myself, actually. But what did you learn from that episode, and how did you respond to what was said?
MENDELSONWell, I -- the way I responded to it was to explain why I voted the way I did. I did not think that Betty Noel, who was an excellent consumer advocate, could make the transition to a more impartial member of the Public Service Commission, which is a quasi-judicial commission. And that's -- what I just said is summarizing a whole lot of arguments down to that one.
MENDELSONI'm aware of the fact that there were people who very much supported her, and many of those people are very angry at me for my vote. And even though I've explained -- I have a newsletter that's available through my website that has an explanation -- a more detailed explanation. That explanation, my efforts at explaining, have been rejected, and folks have looked at, where they're making a reason...
SHERWOODWe're talking about votes. We're talking about organized labor. This was their primo number one request from Mayor Gray, is to have her appointed, and she didn't make it.
MENDELSONWell, I -- the...
SHERWOODWho else has complained but organized labor?
MENDELSONWell, there are some individuals who have been quite bitter in their...
SHERWOODBut no other group that I'm aware of other than organized labor.
MENDELSONThe tenants -- Tenant Advocacy Commission, TENAC, and much more from them than from labor.
MENDELSONI mean, I have a good relationship with union leaders, both public sector and private sector. And while I know that they supported Betty Noel, that really has not been a cause of much friction.
SHERWOODIs that an example of how you intend to be your own person? I mean, you are jokingly kidded and admired for your detailed approach to things with a little less dramatic flare than, say, any other human being on Earth.
MENDELSONI have no idea what that meant, Mr. Sherwood.
SHERWOODBut you are seen as...
MENDELSONI can toss it back.
SHERWOOD...serious, sober and, for the reporters, maybe too dull, but that is your approach. Even if you irritate your supporters, you're going to reach your own conclusion.
NNAMDIIn case you're wondering who Tom Sherwood is describing in those terms, it is Phil Mendelson. He is the chairman of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat who joins us in studio. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. If you have questions or comments for Phil Mendelson, call us at 800-433-8850. Did you care to respond to Tom's comments?
MENDELSONYeah, I think there was a question in there...
MENDELSON...before he got carried away on the detail stuff...
SHERWOODWell, I said your vote...
MENDELSON...before he got into the detail of the detail stuff.
SHERWOODYour vote on the Public Service Commission was an example of how you are sober and serious, but you will make your own decision as much as humanly possible.
MENDELSONWell, I think that's what people want. I think that's what citizens want. But more than that, the way I looked at that vote -- and it was painful, and I said at the time it was painful. And there's also a personal element to it because any time you have a nomination before you, there's a personal element to approving or rejecting the person, even though it's really about the position. The way I look at these issues -- and they come up from time to time -- is what am I most comfortable with?
MENDELSONWhat do I -- what am I most comfortable explaining to people afterwards? And this one was -- it was hard because I knew there would be people who are angry. I don't like that, and I try to respect that they have a view, even though they're so angry about it. But I could not explain as comfortably voting for her as I can having voted against her, but let me say more. As chairman, I now have a different responsibility, and that is that I have to facilitate the 12 other members of the council getting to positions.
MENDELSONAnd so that will now be thrown into the balancing. There will be issues where I feel -- where the principle to me is so important that I have to vote a way that may not be with the majority. But there will be other issues where I will say, you know, it's more important that the council is together on this than that I just get my way.
NNAMDIHere is Paul in Hillcrest in D.C. Paul, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULAll right. Good afternoon, Kojo, and to your -- to the guests there. I want to -- first of all, I want to congratulate council Chair Phil Mendelson. Notwithstanding how he got to be chair, I think he is the right person at this time for that job. I've known him for quite a while. I do disagree with his vote on Ms. Noel. However, I'm not one of those so angry about it. He voted his conscience, and I'm -- he's moved on, and I certainly have. But my comment, Mr. Chairman, goes directly to what I would call the zoo on channel 13 in D.C. where the council was allegedly representing the citizen.
PAULIt looked very bad. It was terrible, and the discourse, in my view, should not ever happen. These are so-called public servants, and they put on the worst possible face that they could. I hope going forward, Mr. Chairman, that you have transparency. I think that's what you were trying to do. However, it is unacceptable to me and, I think, other people, of the conduct of various council members.
PAULIt was just ridiculous, and I'll just say that it was stupid. It was very stupid, Mr. Chairman. And I hope that going forward, not only do they learn from the two people who have had to step down, but they are being paid by citizens to do a job. And they were not doing the job. They were acting like fools. Thank you so much.
MENDELSONWell, thank you, Paul, for your comments, and I understand exactly your perspective. And there are so many other people who have said pretty much what you've just said. The one positive side to it, which, actually, The Post put in their editorial is that if we're going to have open meetings, people are going to see publicly what often happens behind closed doors.
NNAMDIAnd we appreciate that.
MENDELSONBut Paul's absolutely correct that what we have to strive toward is civility in our discourse at the council meeting.
SHERWOODMary Cheh, the Ward 3 member who served as pro tem to get that meeting started, had difficulty, you know, controlling -- I'll say the names. Paul didn't say them. But Marion Barry and Vincent Orange are the ones who -- I think were the ones who acted out. I don't know -- remember anybody else acting out. What -- will you be -- your style is fairly methodical. Will you adhere to things, like maybe starting the council meetings on time, adhering to the three-minute rule, using the gavel to -- so people don't hijack the meetings as occurred at this meeting on Wednesday?
MENDELSONThat's my goal. I'll tell you, though, Tom, you know, the council rules are that members can speak for five minutes, and the chairman, by fiat, has imposed three minutes. I sometimes thinking, myself included, that everybody is better off if we stick to three minutes. So I will try to do that. And, you know, if a member wants to keep talking when they're called to order and they continue to talk when they're called to order, it becomes more difficult.
NNAMDIDecorum is an issue...
MENDELSONDecorum is an issue, and, as I just said a moment ago, civil discourse. We can -- there's no reason why we can't discuss things civilly. And, in fact...
SHERWOODThat's what we try to do here on The Politics Hour.
MENDELSONMost of the time.
NNAMDIExcept when we don't.
MENDELSONMost of the time. But, you know, the one thing about the debate on Wednesday was there wasn't one vote changed by it. The decision was to be made by the council members, and there was not one vote changed by the debate.
NNAMDIOK. Here is Oscar in Northwest Washington. Oscar, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OSCARWell, first I'd like to start by congratulating Chairperson Mendelson. I remember how evenhandedly you settled a dispute at Houston Elementary School some years ago.
OSCARSo, again, I followed your career. But my question as a parent of a D.C. Public School child, I'm concerned about the constant turmoil that occurs every year with principals. (unintelligible) headquarters the other day. Everybody in finance has to reapply for their job. Increasingly, where the achievement gap amongst kids of color has not improved, I want to know, are you going to -- do you believe that the leadership of Kaya Henderson needs to be taken a look at?
OSCARI can't see any improvement over the schools since -- you know, since we did take over the school, do you believe that we need to have increased oversight over Kaya Henderson?
NNAMDIFor the record, Phil Mendelson voted against that school takeover that Adrian Fenty initiated. And she has now replaced Michelle Rhee as the Fenty choice as schools chancellor. I guess our caller wants to know what is your view of Kaya Henderson and whether or not you think that the mayoral takeover his working.
MENDELSONWell, let me answer this carefully, and I'm a DCPS parent as most people know. I think that -- I'm disappointed with the pace of reform. And in 2007, what we were promised -- Michelle Rhee came before the council. I remember she said it'll take four or five years before we'll see progress. What we've seen is a lot of controversy regarding tests results, and we're still seeing that there are -- there's enormous disparity between the very good schools and the rest of the school system.
MENDELSONSo I think there's a lot more work to be done. The education was pulled into the community as a whole, which the chairman chairs, was pulled in 2007. And I think that education should be the focus of a single committee. If it's going to stay in the community to hold, then other things have to leave, or there's a separate education committee. And I will look toward that assuming that I am elected in November. I look toward that in the council reorganization.
MENDELSONI'm -- in addition to a general disappointment, I do think that there needs to be more vigorous oversight of DCPS, more vigorous than we have seen, and there are some specific issues where I've been pressing the chancellor to do better. It is an enormous bureaucracy, and I think -- so that makes change difficult, but there's got to be much more that happens. And it has to happen more quickly.
SHERWOODThe fear among people who worry about the council getting involved -- that is, it will become a super school board...
MENDELSONAnd it shouldn't.
SHERWOOD...in which it would complain about the principal of this school being moved from that school. From Phelps, there was a big -- there is a big issue about the Phelps' principal and other schools. If you can recreate a council education committee, will it look at policy in a broadest way or will it get into the school-by-school fights that I've heard?
MENDELSONWell, it should look at it in the broadest way. But, I mean, one of my concerns about the -- what the takeover in 2007, that was we abolished the elected school board and put it under the mayor, which means then that the council, because the council has oversight, was more involved. The -- but that's where we are in terms of organization. We should not be micromanaging.
SHERWOODDo you want the education -- school board education people back and having more power?
MENDELSONI don't want anybody to construe that I'm sitting here saying that we should go through another reorganization because I think that in itself delays progress.
SHERWOODSo you're going to work with the organization like Kaya Henderson has?
MENDELSONI'm going to work with the organization that there is and push.
NNAMDITom, what does it say about Phil Mendelson as a politician that he is the only one I can think off who would sit here and discuss schools without mentioning that he has a child in District of Columbia Public Schools?
SHERWOODHe said he was a parent. He did say it at the start.
NNAMDIOh, he did say that?
SHERWOODYes, he did.
NNAMDIOh, well, sorry. Then you're acting like any regular politician.
MENDELSONYou need to pay attention to your own show.
SHERWOODYeah. But, you know, but the good thing is, you know, you shouldn't, just because you have kids in the school, be any more interested in the schools than if you don't have kids. Of course, if you don't have a senior citizen and the senior citizen's in a home, does that mean you're not going to worry about it? I think the policy is be -- if you're a public official, you're a public official.
NNAMDIHere is Edward in Springfield, Va. Edward, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDWARDYeah. Good afternoon, Mr. Kojo Nnamdi. I must, first of all, recognize and say thank you for all the work you've done over the years with WHUR and now with NPR.
NNAMDIYou just proved that, like Tom Sherwood, you're old, but go ahead.
EDWARDYeah. And I want to thank Mr. Mendelson and congratulate him for being our chair.
EDWARDAnd thank you very much more for intervening on the cab drivers' behalf against medallion. I want to thank you very much and just keep doing the good work you're doing. You're a guy that we have tremendous respect for because you got convictions that whatever you say...
NNAMDIAnd, Edward, you -- are you a cab driver yourself?
EDWARDYes, I'm a cab driver.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. And, Phil Mendelson, we're running out of time, unless Tom Sherwood has another question for you. This is your first visit here as chairman of the council, so...
SHERWOODBe careful. We're talking about convictions.
MENDELSONHe meant principles.
SHERWOODYes, principles. I know what he meant.
NNAMDIHe meant beliefs, principles, yes.
SHERWOODWe just have to be careful.
NNAMDIBut when you're talking about this council, you have to...
MENDELSONWell, you know, taxi reform has always been controversial, very controversial. And I actually think that we're finally making some significant positive steps. There's some legislation that's going to the council now. There was a big debate over medallions, which basically limits the number of cab drivers and creates a system where -- such as in New York City, if a cab driver decides to retire, he can or she can sell that medallion for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
MENDELSONI think that's the wrong way to go. But there are a number of reforms that will lead to newer cabs, better cabs, the ability to pay by credit card and some assistance to the drivers so that the cost of these changes are not borne solely by those drivers. I think all of that is positive.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson is chairman of the D.C. council. He is a Democrat. This is his third bid as chairman of the council. Is that correct?
MENDELSONI believe you're correct.
NNAMDIWe'll be following you closely. Our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, who once operated out of Richmond. And we just had elections in Virginia this past week, and, to no one's surprise, former Gov. George Allen is going to be the Republican candidate for Senate running against former Gov. Tim Kaine. Any comments at all on that race, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, George Allen -- the good news is George Allen got 79 percent of the vote. The bad news is that was a total of 2,085 votes.
SHERWOODSo it just showed that the Republican Party of Virginia was prepared -- it is -- really, you can tell by the way the coverage has been that the party had moved on, that George Allen was -- the former senator, the former governor -- was, in fact, going to challenge Tim Kaine. And this was a formality that they had to go through to put him officially on the ballot.
NNAMDIIncumbents cruised in most other elections in Virginia. I suspect there was a bigger uproar in Virginia this week over the mysterious removal of the president of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan, and that's led to an uproar on the campus. The Faculty Senate has passed a unanimous resolution voicing lack of confidence in the rector, vice rector and the entire Board of Visitors. And we still don't really know why she was terminated.
SHERWOODThis was -- you know, we're in the middle of the summer, you know? We get what's a thunderstorm that suddenly forms and erupts. There's a lot of lightning and flashes and thunder, and, you know, somebody gets struck. But that's what seems to have happened to this university president.
NNAMDIYep. And indeed, not only has the lightning struck and people don't seem to understand exactly what the source of the lightning was because it's been described in broad terms that former President Bush 41, George H. W. Bush, would describe as she doesn't have the vision thing. And people are not exactly sure what that means.
SHERWOODI don't know what she -- I haven't pursued this enough to know. Was she -- as a university president, was she, like, bringing in enough money? Was she bringing no money in? Was she -- was there -- were there some internal issues? There's always tension, whether it's the board of a radio station or on TV or any organization. There's always some tension. But this was extraordinary in its lightning-quick happening.
NNAMDIWhat do you know about the removal of the official of the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance?
SHERWOODI know that it's too complicated to talk about.
NNAMDIOh, it was very, very complicated. However, because it involved an individual who's an adviser to a council member, does it underscore the issue of the relationship between members of the council and contracts that are left by the government of the District of Columbia?
SHERWOODThis may come as a shock to people, but we are a small town. We know people.
SHERWOODWe marry people. We align ourselves with people. It's a small town. That means that if you're a political person, you do have to be wary that the people who you associate with, you have to know what they're doing. And that's all that I'm going to -- it's a very complicated issue. Whether there's some wrong there, I don't know for sure.
NNAMDICongratulations in order for Michael Schaffer and Lydia DePillis of the City Paper, both of whom are going to be moving on to The New Republic, Michael Schaffer becoming the editorial director at The New Republic, and DePillis is going to be, what...
SHERWOODShe's going to talk about -- I think -- isn't she doing technology or something?
NNAMDICovering technology. Yeah, she's going to be covering technology.
SHERWOODBut she's done a great job on housing...
SHERWOOD...just unbelievably good stuff. You know, this -- the housing, the changes in this city economically, apart from the government, which is faltering, the economic change in the District of Columbia is and has been extraordinary for several years now. But this is a big change for the City Paper. If there's anyone out there who wants to buy a paper, the City Paper is for sale. Michael Schaffer has very openly said this is an opportunity for someone. He hates the fact that he's leaving the City Paper. It's his heart and soul. This is his second time around.
NNAMDIYep. Mike Madden is taking his place.
SHERWOODAnd so it'd be great if somebody were to buy it and keep it as a viable institution that it is.
NNAMDIMike Madden is taking his place. Arts editor Jonathan Fischer...
SHERWOODThat's a good guy.
NNAMDI...is headed to the managing editor spot, and the City Paper, so to speak, moves on. Joining us in studio now is Victor Ramirez. He is a member of the Maryland Senate. He's a Democrat from Prince George's County. Sen. Ramirez, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. VICTOR RAMIREZThank you very much, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here this afternoon.
NNAMDIWell, the news today is that the White House is revealing its initiative, its plan that people who came to this country as children will be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings. Those who demonstrate they meet certain criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.
NNAMDIThey'll be eligible to reapply for work -- to apply for work authorization if they came here under the age of 16, have lived here continuously for five years, currently in school, graduated from high school, have not been convicted and are not above the age of 30. What do you think?
RAMIREZI think it's wonderful news, I think, for the United States. I think it -- I applaud the president for taking -- his administration for taking this initiative. It's been a long time coming, and I think it's going to go help move this United States forward. It takes into account the many children that are in this situation through no fault of their own that are now about to graduate or have graduated from high school and now are in between. And what do they do next? And I think, ultimately, the United States will benefit from the great minds that we have here.
NNAMDIIt does not, however, do what your proposal in the state of Maryland would do. And the highest court in Maryland cleared the way for a voter referendum on that law that you crafted, that would offer in-state tuition benefits to children who were brought here illegally as children. What do you expect will happen when this issue now goes before the voters? And what's your strategy to get the result that you want?
RAMIREZWell, I think it's a matter of fairness. I think we have to ask ourselves. These are Maryland kids. Their families are paying taxes, and they should be allowed to pay Maryland in-state tuition to be able to go to community college and then afterwards, after they receive an associate or the equivalent, should be able to go on to a four-year university. The Obama...
SHERWOODAt in-state rates.
RAMIREZAt in-state rates.
SHERWOODThat's a key issue there.
RAMIREZAn in-state rate, which is an affordable -- which sometimes it's three times as much the cost, but I think what the Obama administration's initiative this morning in policy changes, it allows them to be able to work. Many people have brought up this -- the matter of, well, they're -- how can they be here? Why do we want to educate? And this is why we want to educate kids because immigration policy changes from day to day. Things happen.
RAMIREZAnd we have invested in these children for many years, and they -- we want them to continue to invest in us and in the great state of Maryland. Why we need this still is because, as we know, the Obama administration is up for re-election. There's an election in November, obviously. And this is a policy from the Obama administration directive. And so if another president is elected in November and comes into office in 2013, they could take the initiative to reverse this policy that has been announced today.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, if you have called -- if you have comments or questions for Victor Ramirez. He's a member of the Maryland Senate, a Democrat from Prince George's County. Tom?
SHERWOODHelp Save Maryland, which is one of the organizations fighting to defeat this DREAM Act on the ballot, says that this is rewarding illegal immigrants, that while it's intended -- could make a good policy of making sure people are educated in the country, you'll simply, if you continue this road, that you'll just make it easier and more desirable for more people to come to the country illegally and not go through the arduous process of immigration.
RAMIREZWell, I -- and I will agree with Save -- Help Save Maryland that -- I think we can both agree that our immigration system is broken. And in the meantime, we do have to find some practical solutions as to what do we do with children who are here now, who are Americans by all intents -- by all purposes because this is all they know, in many cases. I've met many children who have come here before they even -- English is their first language.
RAMIREZThey have gone through our public school systems from K-12, and they are -- they pledge their allegiance every morning when they went to school. And for the most part, they don't realize what their immigration status is until they get to the point, well, what do I do next? And I think that those hardworking students who have gone to school, who have gotten good grades, who have been law-abiding citizens should have an opportunity for a better future.
RAMIREZAnd I think the Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, also stressed that when they made this decision to allow kids who are undocumented to be able to receive an education, I think they cited the possibility that if we do not educate these children, it would close the door on them and on the United States to -- forever to be -- to ever contribute to us in return.
SHERWOODThere's a -- several organizations are having a rally outside the White House at 2 o'clock. I don't know if you're going to be going there or going back to Maryland.
SHERWOODBut it seemed clearly -- people who want this to happen and those who don't say this is clearly a bold political move by the president of the United States to shore up some shaky foundation for the -- for key states: Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Florida. That -- 'cause a year ago, there was some suggestion there'll be some move on immigration, and not much happened.
SHERWOODSo this is a bold-faced -- a good political move, right?
RAMIREZWell, I agree with the administration's, you know, move to do this. I think it's been a long time coming. I think, ultimately, we do not punish children for the sins of their parents. We do want them to contribute to the United States. It will now allow children to be able to be here legally and to be able to contribute without...
NNAMDIWell, what people are claiming is that this is an overtly political move by the White House. With an election coming up, The White House is planning to hold a Hispanic summit in Montgomery County. Are you planning on attending there?
RAMIREZIf I had the time, I will attend. I think that...
SHERWOODYou have the time to go visit, hear the president of the United States? What else do you have to do?
RAMIREZWell, you know, I think that we all have a -- it's great. And I do applaud the president for making this move. I think that ultimately, I think it is not political move. I think it's a matter of fairness, and I think, ultimately, whether it's today or whether tomorrow, whether he would have done it yesterday, I think that it sends a message that we are a nation of immigrants.
SHERWOODHe happened to be going to Orlando, Fla. Florida, a crucial swing state, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, one of the biggest organizations in the country, right? So it's a pretty good move.
RAMIREZYou know, I think that it's a move. It's, you know, I can't speak on the intentions of why at this point. I think it does send, you know, it makes a contrast to where did the -- does the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, stand on the issue which is -- the population is growing...
SHERWOODIt's just similar to what Sen. Marc Rubio wanted. He's a Republican from -- you know?
RAMIREZWell, I mean, he also had said he was for it -- against it. Now, all of a sudden because it's an election year, he's now for it as well, so some can say that it's also a political move by him as well.
NNAMDILet's move on to another issue. You're from Prince George's County, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to ask this question before Tom Sherwood does.
SHERWOODSomething to do with gambling?
NNAMDIYes. We got word out this week that MGM is finalizing negotiations for bringing a casino to National Harbor. How do you feel about the prospect of casino gambling there? And how would you like for this issue to move forward this summer and into the fall?
RAMIREZWell, I think it's an issue that it -- you know, I've been in the legislature 10 sessions since 2003, and it's one of those issues that -- it always comes up. And I think it will always continue to come up. And I think that -- you know, I'm not a gambler. I don't -- I'm not going to judge people who do. I'm just a bad gambler, I guess, but in the sense I don't have the good luck and a good fortune.
RAMIREZBut I think that, ultimately, in speaking to my constituents and talking to folks in Prince George's County, I think they do want to be able to vote. I think the majority of them do want to be able to vote on the referendum to see if you -- if we can have casino-style gambling in Prince George's County. I think the National Harbor site is ideal. Its location, it's attractive, and it's a revenue source for the state of Maryland and Prince George's County.
SHERWOODSome people thought Milt Peterson, the principal developer, you know, this was his intention all along. The MGM says 4,000 slots, 250 table games. They had the press conference in Annapolis just today. James Murren, the CEO of MGM, says it's extremely compelling location, not only because it's there but because across the river, all the people in Virginia, which will be the last state in America to have a casino, and so all those people will come across the river there.
SHERWOODAll the district -- he said the 20 to 30 million people who come to the nation's capital will make the short trip down 295 there. It's quite -- it could be quite the economic engine for Prince George's, but what about the people who say, yes, and along with it will be crime and destitution of people who try to go over on a weekend and try to make a few dollars and lose all their paychecks? There's a downside and an upside. The upside sounds pretty big.
RAMIREZThe upside is big, and we cannot discount what the downside would be. I mean, there could be an argument right now when the Powerball was in place, and people go and spend their last dollars doing that. And, you know, and people would -- and there's Keno and all the other type. There's, you know, there's gambling in the state of Maryland, that people every week and every day go out and spend possibly their last dollar on that for the hopes of winning it big.
RAMIREZYou know, I think that we have to take the totalities into account. I think if you make an attractive hotel, make it an entertainment site -- and I think the casino-style, Vegas-style gambling in the National Harbor potentially is just a part of -- it's just another entertainment at National Harbor.
SHERWOODWill bring jobs.
RAMIREZIt obviously will bring jobs. And funny 'cause someone -- a constituent of mine actually wrote to me and said, what is the big deal about table games? They said they went to the opening over at Casino Live, I believe it's called, and said they already have blackjack except it's a computer, that you're gambling -- the dealer is a computer and said, instead of having the dealer be a computer, why don't we put a human being there so we can give him or her a job?
RAMIREZAnd so the fact that people say that we don't want gambling in Maryland, we don't want gambling in Prince George's county, I think the counter-argument, whether you're for or against it, gambling is in Maryland, and gambling is in Prince George's County.
SHERWOODSo people say the same thing about marijuana.
NNAMDIHere is Dale in Greenbelt, Md. Dale, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DALEYeah. Actually -- thank you, Kojo. I love your show. And I'm just giving a call because I'm listening to the DREAM Act. I'm a resident. I have been here since '97. I was in the Marine Corps for 15 years, got transferred out here. And the issue I have is, actually, my wife was an immigrant to this country. We were married. But the University of Towson charged her the out-of-state rate, which is like three times the amount. So now with this coming through the system, basically, she would have paid all of this money when all of the rest of these people get a pass.
DALEAnd I don't think that's fair. Either you make the system where it treats every person the same -- and I think that that's a big problem. And I will be voting against this, unfortunately, because I think that every right -- every person has a right to a good education, opportunity, all of that. I'm completely for that, and, no, I don't think these young people should be punished. But there should be some standard solution that applies not just to, when you say immigrant, the Hispanic population.
NNAMDIHere is Victor Ramirez.
RAMIREZI think it's a valid question, a valid comment. And I do want to say this is, you know, the Obama administration -- and, again, I don't want to speak on behalf of him, but I'm sure there are plenty of other immigrants that are not Hispanic that will benefit from the Obama administration's policy change today. With regards to, you know, in-state tuition here in the state of Maryland, I think it's a simple matter of fairness. I think we do want to treat everyone equally, everyone the same.
RAMIREZIf you graduated from our Maryland high schools, you're a Maryland resident and you're paying taxes. You should be able to pay Maryland in-state tuition. I know that if I go and ask the University of Maryland's system, it does -- if you move from outside of the state or move from another country and you're here and you meet the criteria that is currently in place now, you do have to wait the one-year requirement, but you can, after that one-year requirement, pay in-state tuition.
RAMIREZAnd so I don't know this gentleman's whole situation with his wife, but I would say that if his -- if she was, you know, had legal permanent residency or legal immigration status and she met the one-year requirement, she should have been able to pay in-state tuition. And so I would say that -- you know, and that's what I think part of what this whole campaign is about, is educating Marylanders. You can go to educatemarylandkids.org to learn more about the facts versus what may people may think...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time. Dale, thank you for your call. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODA kind of a more lighthearted but serious question, are the folks in Prince George's County, like yourself, are you, like, looking over the border into the District with these two felony convictions and saying thank goodness it's somebody else and not Prince George's County?
RAMIREZI think we're trying...
NNAMDIIt was Prince George's County for a while.
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) or not. But what do you think -- what do you guys think about the District of Columbia? Are you saying thank goodness over there that they're acting up?
RAMIREZYou know, no. I don't think we think that. I think that we're all trying to make sure. I think that one thing we all going to have to take into account when you're in public service is it doesn't matter if it happens really in Prince George's or Washington D.C. It paints a bad picture on everyone because the perception is that politicians fall into this category and...
NNAMDIPoliticians get into office to get rich. Victor Ramirez says that is not the case.
RAMIREZWell, that is not the case. It's for public service.
NNAMDIHe is a member of the Maryland Senate. He's a Democrat from Prince George's County. Sen. Ramirez, thank you for joining us.
RAMIREZThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening.
SHERWOODGo Nats. Beat the Yankees.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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