Inside an 800-square-foot shop, D.C.-based social entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar is using his Mom's falafel recipe to raise money for refugees.
A D.C. tax office employee is accused of ripping off hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city. Voter fraud becomes a central issue in races across Virginia. And an online glitch complicates Maryland’s voter registration system. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- A.J. Cooper Independent Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
- Vincent Orange Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large); Member, D.C. Council, (D-At Large) Former Member, D.C. Council, D-Ward 5
- Leon Swain Independent Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
- Ann Wilcox Statehood Green Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
Politics Hour Video
Kojo and resident analyst Tom Sherwood talked with a group of candidates competing for at-large seats on the D.C. Council. The guests included independent candidate A.J. Cooper, Democratic candidate and current D.C. Council member Vincent Orange, independent candidate Leon Swain and Statehood Green candidate Ann Wilcox. The debate covered a wide range of issues facing District residents, such as Council ethics, taxis and affordable housing.
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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 is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Today, we'll be talking with four candidates for the two at-large seats on the D.C. Council that are coming up in this November's election in less than two weeks.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, Tom, a couple of issues that you have been covering. The story in Virginia in the campaign of Congressman Jim Moran who's running for reelection, his son, Patrick Moran, apparently had a conversation with an individual who was apparently a representative, if you will, or an activist with Project Veritas, the organization led by conservative activist James O'Keefe, and apparently, Patrick Moran said, well, a little too much.
MR. TOM SHERWOODYes. Patrick Moran, young man, he's the field director for the Jim Moran campaign, and most people think Jim Moran is going to win handily reelection against Patrick Murray, the Republican who's challenging him again. But for some reason on Oct. 8, this undercover person with a hidden camera went up to Patrick and started talking to him, saying, hey, I've got the names of 100 infrequent voters.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI'm thinking about casting ballots for them, and I want to know how to do it, what do I need to do. Instead of telling the guy what to do, like, get the heck away from me, he starts talking in casual ways. Well, you have to do this. You know, you have to do that. You'd have to have identification. And you get some feeling that Patrick Moran was trying to be kind of polite to the guy for the enthusiasm or whatever.
NNAMDI'Cause at first he seemed to be trying to dissuade the guy.
SHERWOODAnd dissuade the guy. You know, maybe just get him to vote or something, to do something. But then he kept talking, and Jim Moran himself, you know, I think the biggest part of the story was Congressman Moran took too long to come out with a statement. You know, we did the story yesterday for our 5:00 and 6 o'clock news, and the congressman didn't have a statement out. And if I were the father, I know what I would have said.
SHERWOODBut Jim Moran, the congressman said that this -- his son drifted into discussions that reflected a serious error in judgment. And if that's the public language for what he did in private, probably that's a good thing. But Patrick Murray, you know, the Republican candidate, says, look, there -- this is a serious issue. And in fact, the Arlington police are now inquiring about what happened to see if more should be done as a criminal matter.
SHERWOODWe just don't know if that's going to go any farther.
NNAMDIWe'll see if it goes any farther because last week there was an issue with the GOP being involved in Virginia voting shenanigans. CNN reporting that the Justice Department is reviewing a request from some Virginia Democratic lawmakers ironically including the aforementioned Congressman Jim Moran to investigate a Republican hired firm, Pinpoint, amid allegations of voter fraud. A Pinpoint employee, Colin Small of Phoenixville, Penn., he had been brought in to conduct voter registration.
NNAMDIHe's charged over allegations as he threw eight completed voter registration forms, well, into the trash. He's also charged with obstruction of justice. Virginia Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli said he is going to expand the investigation to see whether there was an effort to destroy voter registration applications statewide.
SHERWOODWell, I think this is just part and parcel of nationwide -- there is a --many close races, lots of anxiety on all sides about what's going to happen, who's going to win, who's going to lose, and some people are -- I mean, their lawyers have been assembled for various campaigns to move against anything that looks like massive voter fraud that could affect the elections.
NNAMDIThis is always a good season for lawyers and for television advertising revenue, isn't it?
SHERWOODWell, I don't get involved with the advertising revenue of TV, but I'll say it's good for the American people to be involved in their campaigns. But I would like for them to do it legally.
NNAMDIWell, before we get to our conversation with the candidates here, you should know that this election season WAMU 88.5 has unveiled a new service for local voters: our WAMU voter guide. The guide takes your address and gives you a list of races that will be on the ballot come November, not just the presidential or Senate races but local school boards and ballot questions. It will also allow you to compare their positions and policy proposals side by side.
NNAMDIYou can print them out, do your homework and take them with you to the polling booth. You can log on to wamu.org/elections and learn a little more about the issues affecting your local community. And now onto the business at hand on "The Politics Hour" today where we have four candidates for one of two at-large seats or for two at-large seats on the D.C. Council. Joining us in studio is Leon Swain. He's an independent candidate for the council. Leon Swain, thank you for joining us.
MR. LEON SWAINThank you very much for having us.
NNAMDIAlso with us is A.J. Cooper. Mr. Cooper, thank you for joining us.
MR. A.J. COOPERThank you so much. I've been listening to your show for a long time. So it's almost surreal to actually be sitting here in the studio with you. Thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd you're more than welcome. Also with us is an incumbent at-large member of the D.C. Council. He's running to retain his seat. Vincent Orange, thank you for joining us.
MR. VINCENT ORANGEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Ann Wilcox is a Statehood Green Party candidate for council. Ann Wilcox, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANN WILCOXThank you very much.
NNAMDII'd like to make two small rules here. One of them is that you may have noticed that in the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, CNN was keeping track of who spoke longer. And it turned out that President Obama actually spoke longer than Mitt Romney in that debate even though everyone, including the president himself, seems to concede that he lost that debate.
NNAMDISo our first rule is that, please, do not be dissuaded or please do not be convinced that the person who speaks the longest is necessarily the person who will win the debate because that's apparently has been proven to be wrong. And the second is that the end of the conversation, we will each give -- we will give each one of you one minute to make a final statement, so you will have the last word over what other people may have been saying about you during the course of the conversation.
SHERWOODAnd do I get a one-minute closing statement also? I've never gotten one.
NNAMDIYes, you do get a one-minute closing statement.
NNAMDII brought an end to that right there.
NNAMDIYou also get the opening question to any of our candidates here.
SHERWOODWell, I would think -- I would ask the candidates who are new to the ballot this time -- Mr. Swain, Mr. Cooper, Ms. Wilcox -- why is it that you think you need to be elected to the seat beyond Vincent Orange or the other at-large candidate on the ballot, Michael Brown, who will be with us next week, but what is the compelling issue for you going forward? I'll start with you, Ann, just ask you, you're the Statehood Green Party. I don't think statehood and voting rights is driving -- what's driving your campaign?
WILCOXWell, we should have a seat for our party, the Statehood Green Party. We were represented by Hilda Mason back in the '70s and '80s. We do need more third-party candidates on our council or candidates representing other parties, not just Democrats or independent Democrats.
SHERWOODBut you're a successful lawyer. You -- people may not know you have represented many people who have demonstrated...
SHERWOOD...and gotten arrested in various things. I hope you have other more clients who pay you better fees for you.
SHERWOODBut why you? Why did you get into the campaign knowing it's an uphill slide?
WILCOXRight. Well, I am a former school board member. I'm a lawyer, as you say. I went to American University Law School, represented the school board, Ward 2 on the school board from '94 to '98. During that time, we worked on a lot of the education reform issues, also helped get charter started in the city, and those have been very successful. I believe I bring a progressive agenda to the board or to the council.
WILCOXWe would look at affordable housing, jobs for D.C. residents first, and also my experience in government, both on the school board and the D.C. Commission for Women.
NNAMDIMr. Cooper, can I just...
NNAMDIOh, by the way, if you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. If you have questions for any of our candidates or comments, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to email@example.com, or you can go our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
SHERWOODAnd, Mr. Cooper, A.J. Cooper, is it the record of the incumbent council members, the behavior of the incumbent council members? You're really new to this elective process here, although you have some family background in it. So why did you do this? It's money, recognition, all the things that make it very difficult to get elected. I saw you -- on my way over here, I saw you out personally putting up some of your signs over on (unintelligible).
SHERWOODAnd they were all legal. I checked.
SHERWOODSo why are you doing this?
COOPERWell, first, to the signs, we've got a lot of volunteers out here, you know, working for free for our campaign, and I want them to know that if they'll take, you know, their personal time to put up signs and to go out there and fight for this movement, then I can put up signs, too. I'm not too good to do that. And I believe that leadership by example is important.
SHERWOODActually, this is not an opening statement. I'm cut you off.
SHERWOODWhat do you do to earn money, or how do you earn your living?
COOPERI'm the policy director at a nonprofit organization in D.C. called D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. And my position at that nonprofit has given me a glimpse into the failures of D.C. Council when it comes to our children. We had a sense of the council passed called the Half by 2015 resolution that passed...
SHERWOODA what kind of resolution?
COOPERA Half by 2015 resolution. This is the first time city council has ever set a goal of cutting teen pregnancy. And what's even more important is they enumerated the reasons why it is so important. Now, after they all signed it, had a pretty press conference and promised to fight for the children, we got zero results. Phone calls stopped being returned. I visit, you know, multiple council offices, some of the incumbents' offices dozen of times and got nothing.
COOPERAnd so after a meeting at DOES where I was basically told that...
SHERWOODThe DOES is the Department of Employment Services.
COOPERDepartment of Employment Services.
SHERWOODWe have to say what the names are here. Abbreviations don't cut it.
COOPEROK. DOES is -- right. Department of Employment Services. I came to talk to them about the summer youth employment program. And I wanted to have D.C. campaign come free of charge and provide seminars for the children about why it's so important to prevent teen pregnancy. And they seemed to think that teen pregnancy has nothing to do with workforce development.
COOPERAnd so I pushed a little more because I wanted to have an anonymous survey that we could find out about the facts about teen pregnancy in our city, and they basically said if we did that survey and we found out that 50 percent of our kids are sexually active and 30 percent of them are either teen parents or the children of teen parents, it would make the department look bad so they wouldn't do it.
SHERWOODSo you're frustrated with city services in response to urgent needs in the city.
COOPERWell, and not only that. There's a crisis of confidence in the leadership here in D.C. And when I talk to young people, they don't believe in their leadership, and that's the way a democracy dies when the younger generation believes it's all a sham. And so I want to bring back trust in D.C. government.
SHERWOODAnd if I could just complete my round robin here, Mr. Swain, you were the taxicab commissioner. You're a former police officer. You served undercover for two years at the FBI to help bring some crackdowns on corruption within the cab industry. It's one of the things you're best known for. The Washington Post endorsed you in part because of that. But you have an incumbent council member sitting here you're running against him, and the other one, Michael Brown, who's not. But is it that they have failed, or you can do better?
SWAINThank you very much. It's a combination of the two. It's not just that they have failed. It seems like failure has come really from just about every member of the city council. The city has really lost faith in the city council. It's lost faith in the government from the mayor on down. And what has happened is that I live in Ward 8. I live in the poorest section of Ward 8, and the citizens there have all said one thing: We're not being represented that we don't have a voice on government.
SWAINAnd we simply don't trust these individuals. And I'm sure they're all great people individually, but collectively, nothing has happening, and nothing is happening for a long of period of time. And, yeah, doing that investigation, I was surprised with some of the things that I found out insofar as the corruption within the taxi industry but also other corruption within other agencies in D.C. government.
SWAINAnd people would come up to me and say, hey, we've tried to contact them. We've tried to contact the directors and tell them what's going on, and nobody wants to hear what we're saying. And, you know, and so my thing was, I think, it really came to a head when Harry was convicted.
NNAMDIHarry Thomas Jr.
SHERWOODHarry Thomas Jr.
SWAINHarry Thomas. Mr. Thomas. Yes.
NNAMDIWard 5 council member -- former Ward 5 council member.
SWAINRight. And my thing was -- my question was simply this: There's no checks and balances that, you know, how can somebody steal $350,000 and nobody knows about it? And if they did know about it, nobody wants to answer it. And that's the answer that you keep getting from the city council. Well, we don't want to step on the toes of our partners, and that's simply not -- that's not a good answer.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, that's the voice of Leon Swain. He's an independent candidate for D.C. Council. We're having a conversation with four candidates. Mr. Swain is joined by Ann Wilcox. She is a Statehood Green Party candidate. A.J. Cooper is an independent candidate, and Vincent Orange is a member of the D.C. Council. He is running to retain his at-large seat. He is a Democrat. Mr. Orange, I have a question for you that does not yet involve the words Jeffrey or Thompson.
NNAMDIIt's getting more and more expensive to live in the city, whether you own or rent, whether you're a family with two six-figure salaries looking to buy in upper northwest or a longtime resident who just wants to stay in the neighborhood they know and love. If my friend George happens to be delivering pizza for a local agency here and he makes $10 an hour, what can you do to assure George that he will be able to continue to live in the city?
NNAMDIIf not only his rent is going up but every time he gets a speeding ticket in his attempt to deliver that pizza on time, he has to pay a $250 fine, which represents, for him, a week's pay, what policies would you put in place to make sure that George can continue to live in this city?
ORANGEWell, as it relates to speeding cameras and the high prices, the high fines that are associated with that, I've joined council member Mary Cheh and council member Tommy Wells in introducing legislation to reduce those fines on record saying that, you know, those type of fines should be related to safety and not to revenue. And now we know that those fines are related to revenue.
ORANGEAnd also, you know, we're now focused on revenue projections. At the end of fiscal year 2011, we had a $240 million surplus. At the end of this fiscal year, we have a $140 million surplus, so we have dollars available. That's $380 million, so we should not be, you know, gorging the citizens of the District of Columbia and taking every penny from them. A person making $10 an hour needs to have as much disposable income as possible.
ORANGEIn addition to that, we're working on making sure the 55,000 jobs that the deputy mayor for economic development is indicating that we will create over the next 10 years are connected to D.C. residents. We have 30,000 unemployed D.C. residents. We need to make those connections. And so I've advocated through legislation that we take our training dollars, and we put the training dollars in our community college and create curriculums that will provide their proper training for our workforce to go right into the jobs that we are creating.
ORANGEFor example, the Convention Center Hotel is going to be open next year. We already know. We have advanced notice, 1,000 permanent jobs. But we're not training our people for those 1,000 jobs.
NNAMDIHow about affordable housing?
ORANGEAffordable housing, we need to put more money in the Housing Production Trust Fund. It's unacceptable that the Housing Production Trust Fund is not funded when we are taking these dollars and just putting them in a rainy day fund. Well, it's raining now, and so I'm pushing to restore that fund as well working with Bob Pohlman and others, the Fiscal Institute, as we make the case to pit those dollars back into the Housing Production Trust Fund.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Mr. Swain, you are a bit of an enigma to me. You have such a sterling resume. You're a third generation Washingtonian. You're all of the things that Tom Sherwood said you are: former police officer, had a silver Medal of Valor in 1981 for arresting John Hinckley, of all people, who is so famous, and yet you're running so low in the polls. You haven't been able to raise a significant amount of money. What do you think is -- can explain the apparent lack of public response to your campaign?
SWAINWell, I know for a fact that several phone calls have been made around the city basically saying do not help Leon Swain. He is the last person we want at the city council.
SHERWOODWho made those phone calls?
NNAMDIThat's what we'd like to know.
SWAINWell, let's put it this way. I think that if you take -- I know that John Ray made some of them, but...
NNAMDIYou know that John Ray made some of those.
NNAMDIJohn Ray, 800-433-8850 is the number to call...
SHERWOODFormer council member who's been a lobbyist for a variety of votes.
SWAINAnd, you know, I've talked to a couple of council members, and the council members, they privately tell me, you know, Swain, we like what you stand for. We know what you want, but we have to work with these individuals. And basically, it's like this -- if they'd taken -- say that they're going to back me, then what they're doing is admitting to the fact that what I'm saying is true. And the bad part about this is what had they done about it?
SWAINYou know, it's just like we're talking about job trade and we're talking about the housing fund. These problems have been around for years, and guess what, now, because we're in election cycle, this is what we're doing. But, guess what, unemployment in Ward 8 has been there for 25 years. Somebody's been blind. Nobody saw it coming.
NNAMDIBut how long have you been campaigning? How long have you been making phone calls? How long have you been knocking on doors in this campaign?
SWAINStarted June 15.
NNAMDIWhy do you think you're not just -- a couple of phone calls can't explain why you're not -- why you don't seem to be getting traction in this campaign?
SWAINWell, we're picking up traction. I mean, we're getting volunteers. We're getting people out there now. I think that we've -- the amount that we've collected has been reasonable, especially in this climate when you talk about the presidential election -- the election's going on, money being already committed to other people. But, you know, I think we're collecting as much money as anybody else.
SHERWOODWell, all three of the candidates sitting here who are challenging Mr. Orange and -- for one or two seats on the council...
NNAMDIAnd Michael Brown, the other incumbent…
SHERWOODYeah, I mentioned his name twice (unintelligible) going to do it three times.
SHERWOODBut he should be here next week. But none of you have specifically criticized the incumbent you would like to replace, and this is a respectful station. But I'm just -- I was kind of struck by -- you made general comments about ethics, and I know there's an aura of ethical issues over the city because of the investigation of the mayor and the Harry Thomas episode and the Kwame Brown episode.
SHERWOODBut why is it that Mr. Orange should be replaced? Then we'll give him a chance. A.J., I mean, I know you're running for -- I'll take care of all the clichés.
SHERWOODYou're running for the office, not against anyone else. But you want to replace Mr. Orange or Mr. Brown. So what is it they have failed to do that makes you more important to hold that seat?
COOPERAll right. First, let me be clear, you know, I respect Mr. Orange and Mr. Brown as my elders. And I was...
SHERWOODOoh, there goes a criticism right there.
COOPERNo, no. That's not -- no, no. That's...
COOPERThat's not a criticism. It's...
SHERWOODNo, I'm just teasing. Go ahead.
COOPERI really do respect them because, you know, they were doing stuff for the city when I was still in high school. And so I respect them. So the following things, with all due respect, Mr. Orange, because, you know, I don't want to get on your bad side. But let's be clear. Most people in this city are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Most people in this city are tired of opening their paper and seeing either alleged money being stolen or pictures of their council member hugging or groping a staffer. It's embarrassing.
SHERWOODWho -- but we're not talking about Mr. Orange here.
COOPERNo. We're talking about Mr. Orange. As a grown man, young men like me want to be able to have somebody to look up to. But everywhere we turn in our community, the people we're supposed to be looking up to end up being the ones getting in trouble or doing things that are less than honorable. Those photos are one of them. I think that Mr. Orange has been a fighter for our community, but I think that it's time for a new voice on the city council.
SHERWOODWell, Mr. Orange, you're running -- you've been very firm in saying you've done -- that you have a good reputation, that you've done nothing wrong. But you know the atmosphere of this ethics -- blanket, I call it a wet blanket hanging over the city. How are you responding to what Mr. Cooper just said, for example?
ORANGEWell, first of all, I think that we have to look at the timetable. The Washington Post endorsed Adrian Fenty for mayor and Vincent Orange for chairman. And on the other side was Vincent Gray...
ORANGERight, Vincent Gray and Kwame Brown. Vincent Gray and Kwame Brown, they won. That opened up Kwame's seat. Kwame was extremely upset with me. I was -- I'm the D.C. Democratic National Committee man. It was assumed that I would win the appointment in the party. Clearly, elected officials at that time got together, ganged up, and I was not successful at that point.
SHERWOODA job that Sekou Biddle ended up getting...
SHERWOOD...with the mayor and Kwame Brown's support.
ORANGECorrect. But the people were there, about 300, 400 people were there that night. They witnessed what took place, and they walked out saying, you know, we don't like what took place. You know, wait till we get to the polls. And then I found out that I was up by 20 points in the polls after that event. And so I got back in. Now, while that was taking place, there was a shadow campaign going on. You think -- I wasn't on that side, was not involved in that whatsoever.
SHERWOODThe Gray shadow campaign.
ORANGECorrect. And it's been established over $650,000.
SHERWOODSo you think you can unfairly -- that it's actually been unfairly tarred by the ethics issues swirling around you?
ORANGEI believe so. But I do think there was a legitimate issue when we got to the special election. We received contributions, and we reported all the contributions properly, and they were classified as they came in. And they came in, they were all in different kind of arranges, what have you. We reported. A year and a half later, Mr. Thomas gets rated, and those money orders became the issue.
ORANGEBut the law says this, on the D.C. Official Code Section 1-1163, no person shall make a contribution or cause a contribution to be made in the name of another person. I did not do that nor did anyone on my staff. The law says no person shall normally accept the contribution made by one person in the name of another person. I did not do that. Until this date, there is no evidence that we've done that. Now, the Office of Campaign Finance, they're probably on the sixth audit of that special election.
ORANGEThey tell me now they a final report. And it's going to come to the same conclusion. But, you know, in this atmosphere, you know, especially when you're running, you're on the other side, you know, you got to make these arguments. You got to put the candidates, you know, in the hot seat. And, you know, I'm in this business...
COOPERWell, I'm not talking about Jeffrey Thompson.
NNAMDIThen allow me to talk about Jeffrey Thompson.
NNAMDIAllow me to talk about Jeffrey Thompson for a second because, Mr. Orange, you were quoted in today's edition of The Washington Post to saying that you approached Jeffrey Thompson then you needed -- you felt you needed his help in your campaign. What was the nature of your relationship with Jeffrey Thompson?
ORANGEOh, well, as you know, Jeffrey Thompson is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia. He set up an accounting firm and that became the number one minority accounting firm in the nation, public accounting firm. And I'm a CPA, and I belong to the Greater Washington Society of CPAs. I know him through that professional association. I know him through his work with the National Council of Negro Women helping Dr. Height out of the first African-American building on Pennsylvania Avenue.
ORANGEHe received the award in 2010 from the D.C. Democratic State Committee. I was the one that presented the award. So, you know, and Mr. Thompson, at that time, was held in high esteem. And let me say this, Mr. Thompson has provided contributions to President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Gov. O'Malley, Gov. Rendell, much more -- much (unintelligible) me.
NNAMDIYeah. But those contributions are not the ones that are on the question at this point. And I guess because you're a CPA, people expected you to scrutinize the contributions that you got a lot more carefully than you did. You often refer to the fact that you are a CPA when you ask for people's votes. Why did you not scrutinize those contributions more carefully?
ORANGEWell, that's absolutely correct because as you know, in the structure of the campaigns, you have a finance chair, you have a treasurer. The contributions came in on March 10. We got them around nine o'clock. The report was due at midnight. So we made the report, met that deadline. Two week later, we received communications from the Office of Campaign Finance for this audit. They ask for documentation for 77 transactions. A lot of those related to the transaction of those money hours.
ORANGEThey went through, gave us a clean bill of health. When the election was over, we got another communication from the Office of Campaign Finance for examination. See, when the money orders came in, they came in with a donor card, had the person's name, address, had their occupation, everything is required by law.
ORANGEEven when The Washington Post tried to call up some of the people that had the donor cards, a couple of people they were able to contact said, yes. I know Vincent Orange. I gave him a fundraiser before. I made the contribution. So there's no evidence that I was a part of any fronted activity.
SHERWOODCan we cut to the chase on this before we leave him on this?
SHERWOODI want to just make it clear since we ask about ethics issues in this cloud. You've said, and I want you to say it again if it's true here, that you're -- you don't believe -- you say you are not under -- with all these investigations going on, you -- your records have not been subpoenaed. You haven't been before the prosecutors or the grand jury. Where do you stand in this swirl of investigations? As I understand, you're saying you are not in any way under investigation that you're aware of.
ORANGEThat is absolutely correct. I am not under investigation. None of my records have been subpoenaed. And once again, if you go back to the timeline, you can see why. I was -- I had no involvement whatsoever as it relates to any shadow campaign or anything of that nature. And receiving contributions, we record them properly. Like I said, we've gone through the sixth audit and there's just no evidence other than the media keeps stirring it up, stirring up the pot.
NNAMDIAnn Wilcox, the U.S. attorney's investigation of the 2010 mayoral election seems to have called into question whether the District's system for electing local political candidates is fundamentally broken. What do you think is necessary to restore the integrity of how the city elects local officials?
WILCOXWell, thank you. I mean, we have been discussing this on our forums out in the campaign trail, and I've been calling for stronger audits. The Office of Campaign Finance, it's my understanding they're actually adding some staff so they can beef up their resources in this area. I mean, I think it's a shame when it has to go to the U.S. attorney's office. But we need to find -- locate these problems while they're still small problems.
WILCOXThe ethics legislation that was passed by Muriel Bowser, promoted by her, is a start. But we need to have stronger rules which prevent conflict of interest once council members are...
NNAMDIDo you support efforts to limit corporate contributions to D.C. Council?
WILCOXWe have, as Statehood Green Party, we have supported Initiative 70. The National Green Party, of course, doesn't take corporate contributions. I'm not sure we'll ever get to that point, but we certainly need to strengthen our ethics.
NNAMDIShould the council be a full-time job?
WILCOXI think that we need to attract the best council members. If they do have an outside job, again, there should be strong -- the Chinese wall, so to speak, between your work that you do outside and the legislation you're promoting on the council.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the telephones. Please don your headphones because Dina in Northwest Washington has been waiting for a while. Dina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DINAHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call, and I'm glad to get in on the conversation a little bit after you're talking about the city budgeting issues because this is somewhat related. I'm not -- I live in Northwest. I'm a parent of three DCPS elementary school students, and they go to Hearst Elementary School in Northwest, D.C. And it's a really small school and needs --- in desperate need of renovation and modernization. And we've been on the list to be renovated and modernized. And this was supposed to be our year.
DINAAnd, you know, the parent community was really kind of shocked and surprised when even after DCPS presented design for what the new school is -- what the school is going to look like after the renovation and modernization, we came -- learned that there are actually not sufficient funds to do the work. And, you know...
DINAMy question is what's the general stance of the people that you have there on funding this stuff? And considering that there are so many overages in the city budget, would this be something that they would support, you know? I mean...
MR. KOJO NNAMDILet me direct the question to A.J. Cooper because he's attended both private and public schools in the District of Columbia.
COOPERYes. You know, I think that more than anything, a city's budget is a document that says where their morals are. And when our city budget isn't focusing on making sure that every child has the best chance possible at success, we need to change who is directing that budget. I'm all for school modernization. I'm all for making sure we have librarians and libraries in every one of our schools.
COOPERD.C. is the capital of the United States of America. We should have the best schools on the planet. Instead, we're the example of what not to do when it comes to educating children. And so on the council, I'll make sure that our schools are world-class learning environments, not just good enough.
SHERWOODAnd can I...
NNAMDIBecause most of -- because more than half the show is over, I'm going to ask you in -- for the rest of the show to keep your responses limited to about 45 seconds.
SHERWOODYou know, I have, as a reporter, I have covered that the school budget's going up. Operating budget is over more than 40 percent since 2003 or '04. The city spent more than $1 billion. I had been to the renovated elementary, junior high and high schools. There are still some schools but not many schools that need the kind of restoration that the Hearst wants.
SHERWOODBut you sounded like the city has done nothing. The city has done an extraordinary amount of rebuilding of the school system.
COOPERWell, I tell you what, you know...
SHERWOODAnd enrollment's up. Charter schools...
COOPERRight, enrollment's up, all of that stuff. You know, when I walk my dog, you know, I carry the little bags to pick up the crap. You can have the most beautiful bag in the world but you're still, you know, picking up crap. You can put a beautiful football field and a new facade on a school, but when we're not actually dealing with so many issues...
SHERWOODOK, you're talking about the education programs inside the school?
COOPERRight, the programs.
SHERWOODOK, I got it.
COOPERRight, the curriculum. And also, when we're spending all this money for administration and teachers having to come out of their own pockets to buy stuff for our students, then there's a lack of leadership and vision. And that's -- that, more than money, is what's important.
WILCOXOne thing in the schools also -- we had a good education forum last night that was sponsored by DC VOICE and some other groups. And what seems to be lacking right now under the mayoral control is a real conduit for the parents and students to get their views out. They used to go to the board members. That was their local person to talk to. But now, the council doesn't have a dedicated education committee.
WILCOXIt's like, if everyone's in charge, no one is really in charge at the council level. So we were talking about ways to either expand the powers of the State Board of Education or to have other ways for parents and…
SHERWOODPhil Mendelson, who's going to be the chairman, has talked about an education committee. Quickly, Mr. Swain, do you think -- should be an education committee (unintelligible) 13?
SWAINThere should be an education committee, but also what they need to do is stop separating public schools and charter schools. OK.
SHERWOODWell, that's a pretty complicated subject. A.J., education committee, yes?
COOPERYes, and it should be a conduit for parental involvement in the system.
SHERWOODWell, Mr. Orange, the council gave up schools because -- to help the mayor get control of them. Should there be an education committee?
ORANGEAbsolutely. When I was running for chairman of the council, that was one of my positions that we should reinstitute the education committee. But to answer the caller's question directly, Hearst Elementary School, I certainly agree with the caller that we should be making an investment in the school, and the school really should be renovated properly and making sure that it has resources. If you'd know, I've led the first relentless effort to reopen McKinley Tech as McKinley Technology High School, $85 million investment.
ORANGEAnd now that school will receive the school excellence award from President Obama. When our children were on Fox morning news complaining about not having books for their core subjects in the month of May and school was out in June, it was my legislation that now mandates that our children receive books, instructional materials by the second week of school, and the chancellor is to examine the school inventory of books, instructional materials every five years to make sure they meet national standards.
ORANGEThis year, the Council passed my Early Childhood Education bill, which mandates that the chancellor trains our 3- and 4-year-olds for kindergarten and that they have a curriculum in place that ensures that our third graders, upon entering the fourth grade, can read independently and can add, subtract, multiply and divide. So we are doing a lot as it relates to education, but there's more to be done. And it's great that Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union, and Kaya Henderson, the chancellor, are communicating better than George Parker and Michelle Rhee.
NNAMDITeddy in Washington, D.C. has a question, I think, for you, Mr. Swain. But, Teddy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TEDDYThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. The question I have is I salute Mr. Swain for standing for corruption while he was in Taxicab Commission. But by saying that, actually he's very much hated by all cab drivers because of what he believes, and he is really against all cab drivers. Now he's running for...
NNAMDIWhy, Teddy, is he hated by all cab drivers?
TEDDYBecause he's never standing for cab drivers. While he was on -- chairman, we're not even getting any wage or any adjustment. He was just treating all cab drivers like...
NNAMDIOK. So what is your question for Mr. Swain now?
TEDDYAre we -- he (word?) by others is not even needed -- one Taxicab Commission while he was commissioner.
NNAMDICould you repeat the question, please?
TEDDYWell, how he is running for a bigger office. He's not even functioned one department. He's never standing for people who don't even have a bonus. And the other thing...
NNAMDIYou have never stood up for taxicab drivers, so why would you now be running for higher office is what our caller seems to be suggesting.
SWAINNot only did I stand up for the taxicab drivers by exposing the fraud and corruption, I've also been -- received contribution from taxicab companies that are backing my campaign. Yellow Cab Company, USA Cab Company and other cab companies have given me money to back my campaign. The thing about it is that what a lot of people are upset about is because I wouldn't sell out to a lot of the cab drivers.
NNAMDIAre you a supporter of the Uber service? Do you think we should have the Uber service here in D.C.?
NNAMDIYou are against the Uber service.
SWAINI'm against the way the Uber service operates, and I'm against what Uber service does to the taxi industry.
NNAMDIWhat do you say about that, Mr. Orange?
ORANGEWell, once again, I'm working with council member Mary Cheh in looking at the whole Uber experience in the District of Columbia. At the forum at Catholic University, I actually ran into a resident in D.C. who is starting a Uber operation, and he's based in D.C. The Uber operation right now is based out of San Francisco, Calif., and I don't think that they should operate to the detriment of our taxi system.
NNAMDIWhat is your feeling about the poll that was conducted by the City Paper and our show that indicates that, in every single ward in the city, a majority of the voters in that ward support the Uber service?
SHERWOODFifty-nine percent overall, I think.
ORANGEYeah. And that's the reason why Council member Cheh, who has jurisdiction on this matter, is working with other -- with our colleagues to come up with a viable solution where both can operate in the city. I mean, obviously, we see the poll. Fifty-nine percent of the people want it. You're going to make sure -- we're here to represent the people, but we also have to protect the taxicab industry as well. But -- so I think both can coexist in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWell, I have an Uber account, and I've used it only twice, but it's pretty good. You just -- when you want to -- I've had trouble -- I live in southwest -- trying to get a cab. You call, and they always say it might be an hour. It might be this. It might be that. And they'd say, go out on the street and hail one, if you can get one faster. It's not good when it's raining. Under the Uber system, I have to say I've called it twice.
SHERWOODYou go in your phone, and it says you have a car that would be there. And it's just 7 miles away, and it's there in a heartbeat. And the price is a few dollars more, at most, than a cab that you can't get per hour.
ORANGEAnd the person that I talked to that lives in the District, if he sets up a Uber service, that would be great. He'll be subject to D.C. taxation, and we'll be able to move forward. But Uber operation is out of San Francisco that is subject to California taxation, not D.C. taxation.
NNAMDIA.J. Cooper, how do you feel about that?
SHERWOODWell, if we start holding businesses to those only located in Washington, we are in deep trouble.
COOPERYou know, there's a lot of pieces to this issue. What we need to remember are two things. One, our taxicab drivers are small business owners, a lot of them, mom-and-pop owners, and so we have to make sure that we're protecting them. And also, with Uber, I think it's a great idea, and it's a great program. There are technologies coming out that will give cab drivers parity with Uber, 'cause, after all, it's just an app.
COOPERAnd so there are apps coming out that cab drivers will be able to use, too, that you'll be able to go to, you know, Yellow Cab or whatever and do the same thing that Uber does. I think that we just have to make sure that there's a level playing field and everybody is getting a fair shot. We can't, you know, regulate cabs out the wazoo and then let Uber have free rein. There's got to be some parity.
NNAMDIAnn Wilcox, how do you feel about this?
WILCOXWell, I think there should be a fair system for cab drivers, but you also need alternatives. The bike lanes are another option, the city bikes, you know, the dog parks. All those things are innovations that we need to sort of work into our city system, and the new residents, 1,100 new residents every month that are moving into D.C.
COOPERWhat do dog parks have to do with transportation?
WILCOXWell, it's adjustments that have to be made because they have to share public space.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about dog parks, A.J. Cooper?
COOPERWell, I think that, in this city, there are people that would have rather had a working public school in the neighborhood than have a dog park.
SHERWOODIs that a realistic comparison, though? I mean, why can't you have both?
COOPERWell, I agree that it shouldn't be an either/or proposition. But I'm...
SHERWOODSome people allege that you say dog parks and bike trails and...
COOPERIt's coded language.
SHERWOODThat it's coded language for racial politics. Is that a factor in this campaign?
COOPERThat is what I've been hearing from residents. I mean, let's be real about it.
SHERWOODDo you think it is?
SHERWOODI don't care what the residents say. I mean, what do you -- in this -- I'm asking...
NNAMDIYou don't care what the residents say. I'm just joking.
SHERWOODNo. No, because every time I ask it...
COOPERTom Sherwood doesn't care about residents.
SHERWOODNo, no, no. Yeah, you -- I'm sure -- here's the problem. Every time I ask that question, someone always says, well, that's what I'm hearing...
SHERWOOD...and they never answer. I mean, if you ask me, yes, there is a racial issue at virtually every election.
SHERWOODAnd every politician who's ever been on this show and I've interviewed always says, well, that's what people are telling me. And...
COOPERYes, I think there's a racial issue.
SHERWOODAnd I just think that's dodging the answer.
COOPERWell, yes, I do think there's a racial issue, but not one that we can't overcome. I think...
NNAMDIHow would you, on the -- as a member of the D.C. Council, resolve that racial issue? Because...
SHERWOODWhy are dog parks racial?
COOPERWell, it's just -- it's kind of coding, like they say there's the -- you know, those dog whistles. It's coding. But the way that I would resolve it is this. Folks from my generation, we grew up with white folks. We grew up with Latinos. We grew up with the immigrant population, grew up with gay folks. We don't have those same kind of walls and barriers that the older generations have. We party at the same places. We listen to the same music.
COOPERWe date each other's sisters. So bringing a young mind to the city council will alleviate a lot of these issues, 'cause at the end of the day, all we want to do is have life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness and be able to pay our student loans off.
SHERWOODWe have all of those but the last one.
NNAMDIOn to Thomas in Washington, D.C. Thomas, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
THOMASYeah. Thank you very much, Kojo. Look, I found it rather odd when Council member Orange talked about his deep interest in investing heavily into the academic excellence of our public schools. The reason why I say that is because, as one of the candidates mentioned, the schools in the District of Columbia, since segregation and before, at least for black students -- and for poor white students, too, I'm sure -- have been a dismal failure.
THOMASThey continue to be failing. Many of the charter schools suffer from that same condition. In the meantime, Council member Orange and his longstanding colleagues have supported the construction of the baseball stadium to the tune of practically $1 billion, the Target mall to the tune of about $42 million, the hotel, the Marriott Hotel that's being subsidized by the District of Columbia government on...
NNAMDIAnd your question is?
THOMASAnd my point -- and also, lower -- much -- 10-year lower tax base for new construction of townhouses and condominiums. So my question or comment that I would like the candidates to talk about is how do we get away from the talk, the superficial talk about wanting to make the academic programs of the schools better and also to fully fund a library so that they're not...
NNAMDIThat's a lot of questions in one, Thomas. Are you aware that, according to recent reports, there has been a significant increase in enrollment in D.C. public and charter schools?
THOMASI'm all with enrolment, and I'm all with new buildings, and new buildings for libraries. But the libraries in three years have -- for the inventory, the book inventory, has -- the budget has been cut from $6 million to $1 million, assuming...
NNAMDISo Thomas doesn't think either the libraries or the schools are up to par and would like to know, Vincent Orange, why you have been supporting money to build stadiums and other things and not focusing on the schools and the libraries.
ORANGEWell, first of all, I think we should be clear. I and along with my community, we were the impetus for the school modernization program, starting off with McKinley Technology High School and Noyes Elementary School and then the city followed. In terms of economic development, I had the first major economic development project in 20 years. Home Depot, giant nine other retail outlets and, well, Costco will be opening this November and the city followed.
ORANGEAnd then in terms of employment, I've always said we need to connect jobs that are being created with D.C. residents. Now, in terms of what's going on in the city, the plan is the economic resurgence of Washington, D.C., Citizens Plan for Prosperity.
NNAMDIYou see National Stadium as a part of that?
ORANGEAnd it was a part of generating revenue. The $450 million community benefit fund was realized, but Mayor Fenty took the $450 million that was supposed to go back into the community. Now, part of that $450 million, there was supposed to have been laptops on every desk for children starting with McKinley and Ballou High School. So there was a plan. The stadium pays for itself. It generates revenue. And it's up to us to make sure that revenue gets to where it's supposed to be in the classroom and other places.
NNAMDISpeaking of city finances, Tom, you have any questions about Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi? I have one.
SHERWOODWell, you go ahead, and I'll see if it's good enough. If not, I'll bolster it with my own.
NNAMDILeon Swain, would you have voted to approve the nomination of Natwar Gandhi to remain the District's chief financial officer? Mayor Gray says he has no regrets about reappointing the city's longtime chief financial officer.
SWAINI'll say we...
NNAMDIGiven the cloud that has been hanging over the Office of the Chief Financial Officer in general and the Office of Tax and Revenue in particular.
SWAINWe lost $50 million the first time. Now, we'd lost another couple of million dollars. Natwar Gandhi, it seems, runs a very, very good shop. And when you get down to the internal running of the shop, I think he is lacking. I think that, first of all, the city council should never had approved Mr. Gandhi for a second term or for a third term also.
NNAMDIHow about you, A.J. Cooper?
COOPERYou know, here's the thing. If Natwar Gandhi worked at Starbucks and the cash register came up short, he would get fired. We need to start holding our public officials to the same standards that we're held to. So, you know...
NNAMDISo you wouldn't have voted to approve his nomination?
SWAINNo, I would not. And I think there are plenty of talented people that could do a better job.
SHERWOODCan -- before the other two answer, I've looked into this. Ever since Harriette Walters, who stole the $48 million -- about $48 million, there've been four or five other people in the CFO's office. The CFO's office told me -- and they sent the information -- all of them were caught by internal checkpoints within the CFO's office.
SHERWOODNow, Council member Jack Evans have said, well, they call them after they stole too much money. They stole -- but they do want to make the point for Gandhi that all the people who've been caught have been caught after the CFO's office either initiated the investigation or helped in the investigation.
SWAINBut the money is still gone.
SHERWOODI know. I'm just saying that's what Jack Evans says. If you steal 100 bottles of milk from the store, why didn't they catch him when he stole two? But I just want to make that clear. Mr. Orange, what about Nat Gandhi?
ORANGEWell, I would say he's...
SHERWOODShould he resign?
ORANGENo. Let me say this. Dr. Gandhi has been a crucial part of the city rebounding. When I came into office, we had a $518 million deficit. When I left in 2007, we have $1.6 billion in the bank. We have gone from junk bond status to AAA status. And so Dr. Gandhi has done well in working with Wall Street and Congress. Now, what we have is a situation where the internal operations have come to the forefront. And we need to look at those internal operations and see what's taking place.
ORANGENow, I think, Tom, you make a very crucial point. When Harriette stole $48 million, that's a lot of money, internal controls were out of control. What Dr. Gandhi is now saying is, yes, the person came after her and stole $400,000, but the internal controls they put in place detected that, the person who stole $300,000. So they're not even getting up to $1 million.
NNAMDISo you think that the CFO should stay on for while.
ORANGESo I'm just saying we -- what I'm saying is we should examine this objectively and see whether or not there are some real Dr. Gandhi failure.
NNAMDII'm afraid we're just about out of time.
NNAMDIAnd so, Ann Wilcox, you will to make you response to the Gandhi question a part of your final statement.
WILCOXMy final statement.
NNAMDIAnd you have a minute.
WILCOXWell -- OK. Real quickly. Well, we do have a surplus in our budget now. There's a lot money that can be use to benefit the citizens. We have to make sure we set priorities. And our priority stands for making sure the safety net is maintained for those who need it -- homeless families, the homeless. We need to make sure there's inclusionary zoning, affordable housing and all the other things that we've been talking about. I think we -- the Statehood Green Party brings that agenda to the table.
WILCOXI did get in a second endorsement at the Sierra Club. I want to point that out in addition to -- I think Mr. Grosso got that. And I want to take a minute of my time real quickly to invite everyone on Tuesday, Oct. 30, to a statehood candidates' forum down in Ward 8 at the Islamic Heritage Museum, which is 2315 Martin Luther King Ave. This will be Tuesday, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. All candidates and all citizens are welcome.
SWAINThank you very much. I really do appreciate you inviting us here today. The basic problem is that there's a lack of -- at least (unintelligible) a lack of integrity in the city. And I think that the city is sick and tired of it and that they want to see some type of change. We keep having our elected officials tell us what we (unintelligible) we didn't know about it. But the thing about it is that that's been going on for years. We talked about unemployment.
SWAINUnemployment at Ward 8 has been 25 to 30 percent for years, and yet they're saying, well, we're getting a handle on it. We're not getting a handle on it. And what needs to happen is that we need to have elected officials who are actually paying attention and including the public. And that's not what's happening. We figure or what people are saying is that if you're not big business, if you're not donating hundreds of thousands dollars one way or the other to campaigns, you know, it's -- you're not representing the city. But I do have one question if I could ask it.
NNAMDIYou only have 10 seconds.
SWAINMy question is to Mr. Orange. Mr. Orange, you're saying that you had no knowledge of a shadow campaign. And my thing is that, well, this -- if it's proven that you did have knowledge of the shadow campaign, will you resign?
NNAMDIThank you very much, Mr. Swain. Mr. Orange, you now have your minute. You can choose to respond to Mr. Swain or not.
ORANGEWell, let me just say to the listening audience once again, you know, my name is Vincent Orange. I am the at-large council member. I also serve as a D.C. Democratic National Committee man. I'm elated to be a Democrat. I'm elated to be on the official Democratic ticket with the president of United States, President Barack Obama, and Eleanor Holmes Norton. I would ask you to come out and vote for the Democratic ticket.
ORANGEI've been endorsed by the Northwest Current, the Washington Examiner, TENAC, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the National Nurses United, AFSCME Council 20, the building trades, SEIU Local 722 and then local -- Laborers Local 657. I've led in the areas of economic development, education and employment. And I continue to look forward to work to working for the citizens of the District of Columbia. I have a lot of energy. I have the reform package. I'm the one that introduce the legislation to ban outside employment...
ORANGE...as well as to look at ethics issues. Vincent Orange, number five on the ballot, and I look forward to serving you all.
COOPERFirst, thank you for having me here. This has been pretty awesome. I've always heard your voice, but it's great to actually meet you. Residents of D.C., listen. We deserve better than what we've been getting from our city council members. We've all heard the politics and, you know, the rhetoric in the theater before, but this is our chance to show our elected officials that we're not going to have it any more. We need to be about results.
COOPERIn the past four years, homelessness has increased, for children, 73 percent, for adults, 23 percent. In Ward 7 and 8, unemployment rate is more than double the national average, almost three times the national average in Ward 8. More than 30 percent of our children live beneath the poverty level. The incumbents have failed, and so they should be fired. You have two votes in this election. You could get two new people into city council so that we can really affect the ballots of city council.
COOPERI'm for making sure that city council members only have one boss and that should be you, the residents. We were endorsed by TENAC also because they know that I will fight for the renters.
NNAMDIOut of time.
COOPERI'm number seven on the ballot. Vote for A.J. Cooper. Have the courage for change.
NNAMDIA.J. Cooper is an independent candidate for the council. Vincent Orange is an incumbent. He's running to retain his seat. Leon Swain is an independent candidate, and Ann Wilcox is Statehood Green Party candidate for the D.C. Council. Thank you all for joining us, and good luck to all of you. Tom Sherwood...
SHERWOODI didn't get my closing minute.
NNAMDIWhen this is all over, there is likely to be an election...
SHERWOODI feel like (word?).
NNAMDI...to fill the seat for Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. We'll discuss that on a later broadcast. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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