A 16-car derailment in Northeast D.C. reignites a debate over freight routes in well-populated areas.
The White House re-installs license plates on the presidential limousine recognizing D.C.’s lack of congressional voting representation. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley lays out a package of laws targeting guns. And Virginia lawmakers ponder the future of a controversial rector at the University of Virginia. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Yvette Alexander Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 7)
- Nancy Navarro President, Montgomery County Council (D-District 4)
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
The Little-Known History Of How D.C.’s ‘Taxation Without Representation’ License Plates Got Their Start
President Barack Obama announced this week that all presidential limos will sport the District’s iconic “Taxation Without Representation” license plates, just ahead of Inauguration Day.
But the idea to use the protest message on the city’s official license plates originated years earlier — and the Politics Hour played a starring role.
In 2000, D.C. resident Sarah Shapiro sent an email to the radio broadcast, which was then helmed by activist Mark Plotkin, suggesting the city adopt the slogan.
After reading the email, Plotkin led the effort at city hall to authorize the anti-tax license plates. He also persuaded former President Bill Clinton to use the plates while in office.
Shapiro said the idea just popped into her head. “One of the problems with our whole situation is that most Americans have no idea that we’re not represented in Congress. So I thought people need to know,” Shapiro said.
Though Shapiro said she doesn’t expect Obama’s decision to affect D.C.’s voting rights, she sees the license plates as symbolic and emblematic of a notable fact.
“Life is made up of symbolism,” resident analyst Tom Sherwood added.
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. How are you feeling this week?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI'm pretty good. You know, I hope this will be the last week we even have to ask about that, but I want you to notice I am wearing my inaugural press pass.
NNAMDIBecause you're working.
SHERWOODAnd I'm not taking it off till Tuesday, not because the Secret Service is being so tough or because the FBI is being so tough. But Edie German, (sp?) who's our planning editor, who's worked for a month to get ready...
NNAMDII'm familiar with Edie.
SHERWOOD...is making us sign for these things, and she said the worst thing you can do in your career is to show up on the weekend and lose these things. I'm not taking them off till Tuesday.
NNAMDIEven as he will be complaining about security everywhere he goes during...
NNAMDI...the course of this inauguration weekend. Later...
SHERWOODSecurity, not (unintelligible).
NNAMDILater during the course of this hour, you will meet the woman who launched the D.C. license plate revolution that President Obama finally signed on to this week. She will tell us how it all began and what this usually inconsequential show had to do with it. But first, Gov. O'Malley, rolling out anti-gun control measures in Maryland, Tom Sherwood, he is seeking to ban assault weapons.
NNAMDIHe's restricting visitor access to schools in one of the more extensive, expansive, according to The Washington Post, government responses sought to last month's school shooting in Newtown. He's going to ask the General Assembly to force prospective gun owners to provide fingerprints to state police. What do you say to all of this?
SHERWOODWell, I think maybe you'll hate me for saying this. I think Gov. O'Malley is following Gov. Cuomo quite well, you know, on the same...
NNAMDIHe is -- by the way, today is Gov. O'Malley's birthday. You just...
NNAMDIYou just spoiled it, yes.
SHERWOODBut -- and it's actually very serious legislation. I know the governor means well, but I'm just noting that the governor in New York, you know, they did the same-sex marriage thing first and then Maryland did it. And now we're into guns.
NNAMDIAnd neither of these measures...
SHERWOODNew York has already done guns. So I think it's, you know, I'm for an open debate and discussion about what can be done to make families and children and our lives safer. So it's good that...
NNAMDIAnd neither of these men have any presidential ambitions, do they?
SHERWOODMaybe they would be a good team. Are they too close together for Cuomo- O'Malley, O'Malley-Cuomo?
NNAMDIThe Republican opposition in the state of Maryland who we had on before was saying that, "Well, this just looks like somebody who's trying to run for president." They will have to deal with that in the legislature itself.
SHERWOODO'Malley, he's trying -- he's doing what a good public servant should do. He's trying to get some things done before he leaves office whether that works to his advantage for 2016 that's a long way.
NNAMDIIt's not only happening at the state level. It's happening at the county level too. And here to tell us about some of that is Nancy Navarro. She is the president of the Montgomery County Council. She's a Democrat who represents the county's 4th District. Nancy Navarro, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. NANCY NAVARROThank you for having me, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here.
SHERWOODAnd where's -- can we just ask her to just tell us very briefly where's the 4th District in Montgomery County so we'll have the sense of it for people?
NAVARROSure. So the 4th District, it changed a little bit with redistricting, but now, it stands anywhere from downtown Wheaton and it just proceeds north, all the way to Olney and areas of the agricultural reserve as well, so it's...
SHERWOODI like that phrase downtown Wheaton. I've never heard that phrase before.
NAVARROIt is -- it's -- here, it's being announced right here, right now. So it's a very expansive district. It's very diverse in its geography.
SHERWOODIt looks like a dog leg left on a gold course.
NAVARROYou know, it does. I think actually I keep looking at it, and, Kojo, it looks a little bit like Guyana.
NNAMDIOh, the country of Guyana, yeah, yeah.
NAVARROWhen I see that -- yeah. When I see the outline...
NNAMDI...now you've mentioned it, yeah.
NAVARRO...I'm always reminded of that. So, you know, I like to say maybe there are some connection there, but that's what I represent.
NNAMDIThat's why I feel connected to the 4th District.
NAVARROIt's -- is that what it is? I thought about it, yeah.
SHERWOODTalk about a blatant appeal for favoritism from the host.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join...
NAVARRONot at all.
NNAMDI...the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. 800-433-8850. You can send email if you have questions or comments for Nancy Navarro to firstname.lastname@example.org. We were just talking about Gov. O'Malley's package of gun measures. The Montgomery County passed -- County Council passed a resolution of its own calling for action on guns. How does that square with the governor's plan? But you don't really have the power to implement any of these, do you?
NAVARROThat is right. You know, oftentimes, the Council will choose to adopt a resolution and support or perhaps against particular measures or programs that are driven by the state or have jurisdictions by the federal government, this is one of those instances where we heard so much from constituents with regards to school safety, with regards to issues of gun control that we felt it would be important to send that message.
NAVARROIt is very much aligned with what the governor has spelled out, and it has a heavy emphasis on ensuring that we focus on issues of mental health as well. And so these are our pieces that he has highlighted, and it is truly just an official recognition and just a message of support.
NNAMDISo when you vote to adopt this resolution which you're scheduled to do this coming Tuesday...
NNAMDI...what do you do with it? You simply send it onto the...
MS. YVETTE ALEXANDERWe do. We send it on to the governor, the General Assembly, as well as our federal representatives, and again, you know, we don't do this often, but we felt that it was important to be on record and express the views and the sentiment of a vast majority of our constituents.
SHERWOODAnd when you lobby, will you go to Annapolis just to help people out or maybe doing events in Montgomery County.
NAVARROWe will go and -- yeah. We will definitely go and support what the governor has introduced because, as I said, it's very much aligned and it -- and I think it is important to, you know, always remind everyone that there's no such thing in these types of messages or resolutions that do not respect the right to -- for responsible gun owners.
NAVARROI think that we all have seen the swell of support across the nation and concern to ensure that we deal with issues of mental health, and that we also deal with issues of, you know, massive rounds of ammunition, et cetera. So it was important to send that, and hopefully, it will be a unanimous adoption.
SHERWOODWhat do you -- I talked to people, some in the NRA, just some people and -- who are -- who like this Second Amendment, what it provides for them. And they say they would be more willing to discuss curbs and -- on bullets and all other types of things, except they feel like if they do that, if they just start going in that direction, they will be log rolled and they will just -- everything will happen. And they'll give up the very things they actually want to protect. So that's why they're so adamant against any change...
SHERWOOD...not that they're not sympathetic and concerned about the shooting death of children.
NAVARRORight. You know, what I have heard in the sentiment that has been expressed is a very commonsense approach. I mean, I have never really heard a massive push for us to not allow, you know, and respect the Second Amendment. I think it's more in terms of this recognition that perhaps we've been taking it a little bit too far and that too many times we have seen examples where mental health has played a role. And what can we do with it? How can we share information in a responsible way that respects privacy?
NAVARROHow can we be proactive in that respect? That's what we keep hearing. And I think that this horrific tragedy has just put this front and center for all of us. So I'm not so concerned about it just snowballing into, you know, an extreme. I think it's just some necessary measures that would keep everybody -- and they make sense, so I think everybody wants it.
NNAMDIOur guest is Nancy Navarro. She is president of the Montgomery County Council. She is a Democrat who represents the county's fourth district. If you've got comments or questions, call us: 800-433-8850. We talk a lot on this broadcast about how rapidly the District has changed recently, but it's important not to forget how fast Montgomery County is changing as well.
NNAMDIYou've become president of the Council at the time when the county has become increasingly diverse. It's now a majority minority county. With all this change in mind, how is that status shaping or affecting, influencing your priorities as president of the Council?
NAVARROWell, I think it should shape the priorities and -- of any public official in Montgomery County because the bottom line is that these changes have been occurring rapidly for the past 30 years. So of course, the 2010 census, I think, gave us a pretty specific snapshot of who we are in the county, and I think we're pretty much a reflection of the nation, which is very exciting. And to me, the reason why Montgomery County is so great is because the diversity is not just ethnic or cultural, you know, it's also geographic.
NAVARROWe also have diversity with, you know, within our socio-economic levels, diversity within our economic development strategies. And so to me, it's just -- we just reached that point where there is no one majority group. But it was interesting to see the five -- four of the five councilmanic districts when we were doing -- going through this issue of redistricting are now a majority people of color. And you see it in the school system first.
NAVARROI always say that's the epicenter of what's happening, what's changing in the -- in your community. So I think that it's just a matter of recognizing, you know, again, who we are, understanding that there's extraordinary potential but that we do have some issues of inequities and some gaps that we have to address. And we just have to do it 'cause, again, this is the face of Montgomery County.
NNAMDIWell, I'm going to jump on the fact that you say there are some inequities that have to be addressed as a priority. Does that suggest that the political centers of power in Montgomery County are changing? And have you observed that change in all of the time that you've been involved in either civic matters or politics?
NAVARROWell, if you take as a measure the number of elected officials who are, you know, who come from such communities or who are of color, I don't think that we're definitely there yet. But I think, you know, there has been amazing improvement. When I talk about the inequities and the gaps, of course, the most important one, I think, is the academic achievement gap, considering, again, that it's the school system, which has been, again, you know, recognized nationally.
NAVARROMaryland has the number one public schools, rated number one in the nation. But that means that as we see issues, for example, academic achievement not being at the same level as it should be for African-American and Latino students and we see the growth in those communities, we do need to get to the bottom of this issue. And, you know, and again, we do have some disparities in health and we have some disparities, of course, in access to even, you know, wealth.
NAVARROSo these are issues that are important to us. And as the community continues to change, I think it shouldn't just be seen as specific policies that we have to address. It just needs to be recognized that in order for us to remain strong, we have to be mindful.
SHERWOODBut in a school system that does get so many accolades, what more needs to be done? Does it need to be more tutoring and English as a second language, a more, you know, in the District of Columbia, you know, there are not just breakfast in the morning, there's breakfast, lunch and even an afternoon meal for children who come from families that can't afford to feed them in many respects. And -- but it's not just poor students. It's any student of any level who's not familiar with the language or culture. What does the school system do to make -- to close that gap you just spoke of?
NAVARROWell, of course, there are many, many different studies that have been done, and there are many approaches. I think that we start with our staff development. I think it's really important. There are staff, you know, is well-versed in how -- what are the best practices in terms of differentiation and in terms of support for our students. I think that's number one. Number two, this issue of parental engagement is key.
NAVARROI think luckily in Montgomery County, because we have been so committed, you know, we do have in place amazing best practices. But we still also have to be mindful that we have what I use to always refer to as an urban school system within a suburban school system. You know, we have almost 65,000 students with highest rates of, you know, FARMS, which is free and reduced meals mobility and also English as a second language. And so...
SHERWOODHow big is the student population?
NAVARROA hundred and 48, I believe, thousand students at this point. So we have -- Montgomery County is poised because we have the tools, we have had the investment all along.
NAVARROAnd I think we are poised to be able to finally answer this question of how to eliminate the economic achievement gap, which by the way, nationally should be seen as the way for us to continue to move forward as a strong nation because if you look at the demographic changes, you realize that this growth, especially in the youth, as we have already seen a growth in our aging population, but the youth are youth of color. And so if we want us to be competitive, if we want our socioeconomic, you know, future to be strong we do have to start with education.
NNAMDIYou've said also that you'd like to hang your hat on the issue of transportation.
NNAMDICounty Executive Ike Leggett announced this week that several projects related to the Purple Line are going to be postponed because of a lack of state transportation funds. What do you see at stake with the Purple Line specifically, and what should the state be willing to do to pay for it?
NAVARROWell, all these issues that we were just discussing whether you're talking about education, whether you're, you know, talking about any kind of, you know, growing and, I guess, your tax base, et cetera, it's all connected to economic development. And the council -- when I joined the council in '09, it was amazing, the, you know, the agenda that we had with respect to the redevelopment projects.
NAVARROAnd so we got really busy understanding that there is a connection between our redevelopment opportunities and economic development. But all of these redevelopment projects are tied to transportation infrastructure. And so, you know, Montgomery County gives more than its fair share to the state. We are the economic engine of the state. And so logic dictates that if we are able to grow and maintain our strong lead, then the state is, you know, in general benefits.
NAVARROThat is why we have made this our number one priority for this legislative session. And, you know, we are open to see what can be achieved, what combination, you know, what approach. And so those are the discussions that now have started.
SHERWOODIt's seen as a pretty well-to-do county. But I was looking at some notes on Nancy Floreen's website, and it said that 77 percent of the property values have decreased since 2010. I was surprised by that big number. Seventy-seven percent?
NAVARROWe have our challenges. There is no doubt. And, you know, as we looked at the situation with this recession, you know, for the last three years, we had to close some extraordinary, you know, very large gaps. I mean, in totality, almost $1 billion. And we've done it because we looked structural changes within, you know, government. And I think it's been amazing, you know, that we have been able to retain, for example, our AAA bond rating.
NAVARROI'm also chair of the fiscal policy committee. And so we've been very busy at that. But again, recognizing that, you know, we had to be very proactive and very aggressive because, well, you just noted, people tend to believe that Montgomery County just has money growing on trees and that we have not been affected. We have. We responded very quickly.
SHERWOODThey think that in Annapolis, don't they?
NAVARROWell, there seems to that sense. And we're, you know, doing everything we can to pretty much put a spotlight on the realities of what we face and also the potential. And again, that's where this issue of transportation infrastructure is front and center because all these very ambitious master plans that we adopted are now taking advantage of what seems to be the creation of an epicenter for biotech and life sciences, for example, just to mention one sector, they will not be realized if we don't move forward.
NAVARROAnd also what I like about this approach is that we have, you know, not let any part of the county untapped. I mean, the East County, which for a very long time, and it's what I represent, had been almost in a moratorium. And people are often asking me, how come we don't have the amenities that we would like or the, you know, infrastructure? Where are the destination spots in the East County? You know, this will help that. This will help create job center so people are not -- having to get in their cars or, you know, and drive everywhere. But...
NNAMDIDo you think there's a possibility that there will be no Purple Line at all if the state doesn't act? Your colleague George Leventhal seems to feel that's possible.
NAVARROWell, it's a possibility for sure and again, unless we get very serious about this, you know, recognizing this. And for a very long time, you know, various leaders, including our executive, you know, for years, they have been predicting that we were going to reach this moment. And this moment is here.
NAVARROSo again, I think that, you know, I have amazing faith in our delegation, and they understand what's at stake, and they know that this is a partnership to move this county and the state forward. So we will be working very hard. I'll be spending quite a bit of time in Annapolis to send that message.
NNAMDIA lot of people are getting antsy about delays in the completion of the Silver Spring Transit Center. They feel that they've been left in the dark about structural issues that caused the delays. When can people expect things will get moving again, and what can you tell them right now?
NAVARRODepartment of General Services communicated with the council. There was a session in the fall where the Transportation and Environment Committee held a session precisely to go through this issue. And Department of General Services has committed to opening the transit center in the fall. There is a study being done right now to make sure that we have the specific information on the remedies.
NAVARROThe executive has forwarded a request for about $7 million to address some of the remedies that are forecasted. And so it's been a very frustrating situation. I think for the council it's been very difficult because, of course, we appropriate the money, and we have to provide our oversight. But we don't do the management and the oversight in terms of, you know, the construction piece itself. But again, my understanding and what has been proposed and committed to is that it will open in the fall.
SHERWOODMay I ask one more development question?
SHERWOODIt's a big one for the entire region, whether you live in Virginia, the District of Maryland, and that's the future home of the FBI. On Thursday, 350 developers got together with the General Services Administration here in Washington to discuss who can propose to build a new headquarters for the FBI.
SHERWOODAnd I do believe you've got space maybe in Montgomery County. Prince George's County is almost lusting after it. The District would like to keep it. Northern Virginia had a big meeting with its elected leaders saying they wanted to come there, 11,000 employees, 2 million square feet of development. What's the chance of -- what is your position on getting the FBI?
NAVARRODirector of the Department of Economic Development Steve Silverman and I talked about this. And they are going to pursue this. There is no doubt that they are going to do whatever they can to pursue this. You know, we are hopeful that we will be in the running. We have heard of some expressions of support, you know, from Sen. Cadin, for example, for Prince George's County.
NAVARROSo, you know, we're monitoring everything. But we believe that we have to be in the running, and we have to make sure that we are also included and evaluating the possibilities of what can we put on the table to attract this very important federal agency.
SHERWOODThe deadline for General Services Administration is March 4 for proposals.
NAVARROThere you go.
NNAMDISpeaking of running, you mentioned Economic Development Director Steve Silverman. It's my understanding that he is considering a run for county executive because it's up in the air as to whether Ike Leggett is going to run for county executive again. His predecessor, Doug Duncan, wants his job back, and Councilmember Phil Andrews says he's running.
NNAMDIGeorge Leventhal has expressed strong interest. Nancy Floreen, at-large councilmember, Valerie Ervin, Eastern County, Marc Elrich have all expressed an interest. Who are you backing at this point?
NAVARROOh, that's a very, very interesting question, Kojo.
NNAMDIYes. Give us a name.
NAVARROI keep adding to the list of the possibilities. But you know what, I'm very much -- my intention is to wait for that line to see who actually filed.
SHERWOODWhen is the deadline? I'm not sure.
NAVARROThe deadline, I assume...
NNAMDII'm not sure.
NAVARRO...it would have probably have to be -- I guess it'll be towards the end of this year. I would have to check that. But right now, I feel like we're at the beginning of a dance, and, you know, we shall see who's serious enough. But I will tell you that, you know, what I hear time and time again from all different sectors in all different corners of the county is that, you know, folks want to have something fresh. They want to have a -- sort of new direction, take the county to the next level...
SHERWOODDoes it mean now no to Ike Leggett?
NAVARRO...recognizing that, you know, that we are an amazing, I think, reflection of this country. And so I think there is a lot of interest in a new face.
SHERWOODThat means no to Ike Leggett.
NAVARROI -- that's -- I'm just...
SHERWOODUnless he has a facelift.
NAVARROI am just sharing with you what I hear time and time again. I think that if you have somebody coming forward that articulates a vision, a strong vision for the county and what the next steps are and, you know, what does this sort of 21st century Montgomery County can look like, that would be the person that, in my opinion, can win and also somebody that understands that, you know, in the past, a lot of people have said, you know, minorities don't vote. Well, that's -- this is a new day in Montgomery County. So...
SHERWOODWhat about your own political future? It would be unwise, and probably I'm foolish to talk about running for other offices. But I presume you don't want to just -- not just be, presumably, would like to do something beyond this at some point.
NAVARRORight now, I am extraordinarily happy where I am and will seek another term for sure, and that's because, you know, a lot of the -- these master plans and these projects, for example, that are either in my district or near my district will take a little bit of time. So that's important to me. But as I said before, you know, I'm always ready. I mean, if there's an amazing opportunity that presents itself and I can make a difference and make a contribution, I will definitely evaluate it to consider it if that moment ever presents itself.
NNAMDIHere's Greg in Berkeley County, W.Va. Please don your headphones, please, so you can hear. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GREGYes. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
GREGOK. I am a proponent of increasing school budgets, and that was mentioned earlier and also increasing the focus on education, things like that. But the reality is that with public budgets being to where they are and public debts being where they are, you can't truly expect to increase anything without cutting something else. So in order to have a valid discussion about increasing our school spending and school programs, what would your guest suggest that be cut?
NAVARROWell, I'm not sure that when I made that remarks, I spoke about, you know, increases and major increases. I think that -- and I can only speak for Montgomery County, you know, one of the great things about this school system is that there has always been a strong support of investing in our education, and that investment has been managed very well.
NAVARROThere's been various, you know, important strategic investments across the way that I think have strengthen the school system, which is why we have the reputation that we have. I think you're absolutely right. I think that the new normal has a lot to do with how we, you know, study very well, evaluate and make some choices in terms of consolidating or restructuring what we have especially in light of recognizing certain challenges.
NAVARROAnd so I'm a big proponent looking at how we can tweak what we have, how can we best evaluate our clientele. And if things have changed, how do we redirect those funds? And there's plenty of studies, there are plenty of best practices, I think, that you can, you know, approach without necessarily adding to it, without necessarily expanding consolidation and restructuring. It should be something that should be always the priority.
NNAMDIGreg, thank you very much for your call. Nancy Navarro, thank you very much for joining us.
NAVARROThank you much, Kojo, and great to be here.
SHERWOODHappy inaugural weekend.
NNAMDI...is the president of the Montgomery County Council. She is a Democrat who represents the county's fourth district. You're listening to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Now, you may have heard or seen on the news that President Obama says he will attach the D.C. taxation without representation license plate to the -- all of the presidential limos. And you may be wondering, well, where did that come from?
NNAMDIWell, we can tell you that there's an activist in this town named Mark Plotkin who used to be on this show who pressed the then-mayor of the District of Columbia Anthony Williams back in 2000 to have that license plate -- be the District of Columbia's license plate. He wanted to have a contest, Anthony Williams did. So Plotkin approached the then chairperson of the city council, Linda Cropp. She went for the idea, a law had, in fact, to be passed to get this done. She got it passed.
NNAMDIThe mayor signed on to it, and taxation without representation became the license plate. Shortly after that, the aforementioned Plotkin went to the White House, persuaded President Clinton by way of his spokesperson to put the license plate on the presidential limo. It was there for maybe, oh, less than a month. And then when President George W. Bush came into office, he took it off. There had been attempts since then to get President Obama to put it on.
NNAMDIHe apparently resisted those attempts during his entire first term and this week announced that he would put it on. But you know how this all got started? This all got started when an email came into this broadcast in 2000 from a listener who said, why don't we have the District of Columbia license plate say, taxation without representation? That listener, Sara Shapiro, joins us now by phone. Sarah Shapiro, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. SARA SHAPIROThank you for asking me.
NNAMDISara Shapiro, first and foremost, what was it that influenced you to send that email to us?
SHAPIROI don't know. The idea just popped into my head. One of the problems with our whole situation is that most Americans have no idea that we're not represented in Congress with a voting congressman. So I thought, well, people need to know this, and one easy way to have a little placard all over the place as we drive around the country or as tourists come here is to have our license plates tell a fact about the District, which is that we have to taxation without representation.
SHAPIROSo as that little fact is running around the country and people are seeing it on the back of cars, they'll say, hi, how come the license plated say taxation without representation? And in fact, I Googled it recently, and I saw how many tourists thought it was a joke. They thought it was some sort of vanity plate until they noticed, like, all the cars have it and all the cabs have it. Like, it can't just be one person's crazy notion. So they looked, you know, they found out more about taxation without representation. So it did actually work. People did question why we had that on our license plates.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding, based on an article that I read back in 2000, that this was something that you used to include on emails that you sent to friends --just the phrase, taxation without representation -- is that correct?
SHAPIROSometimes, yeah, I'd say, like I'm from the District of Columbia where taxation without representation thrives or, you know, still exists. Or, you know, sometimes. But...
NNAMDISo you send an email to a radio...
SHAPIROThat was around the same time as that email. I don't know which came first.
NNAMDISo you send an email to a radio broadcast. At the time, did you have any idea that it would have that the legs that it ultimately did?
SHAPIRONo, not at all. In fact, when the email wasn't used on the show, I wasn't the least upset. It was like one little idea. Like, you know, you can't possibly read all the emails that are sent to you during each show. So I wasn't in the least upset. I was utterly thrilled that Marc went with it. I just -- it was a source of just joy and pride.
NNAMDI'Cause you're right. We did not...
SHAPIROIt was such a little idea.
NNAMDIWe didn't read the email on the show. You're absolutely correct. But as you said, he went with it, and now, President Obama says he'll have it on the presidential limos. How do you feel about that?
SHAPIROI feel wonderful. And in fact, I've been thinking it's not so -- although it was disappointing that he didn't put in on immediately like the minute he was elected or the minute Bush was out of office. It's almost good that it's going on now for this inauguration because the last inaugural was such an important event in America. It's such an astounding, amazing thing.
SHAPIROThis inaugural won't have that much of interest like it's a, you know, it's the same old president again and there is less excitement so that maybe the tags will get more coverage than they might otherwise have gotten if he's had them on for the first inaugural parade. I guess the TV cameras have something, you know, much-- as much to talk about. Maybe there'll be more coverage of the plates. So it might work out well.
NNAMDIWell, there are a lot of people like you, Sara, who are in a way celebrating this. But, Tom Sherwood, in the final analysis, we're really still talking about something symbolic here.
SHERWOODWell, it's -- I think even D.C. Vote, you know, James Jones spoke, you know, this is a symbolic thing. But life is made up of symbolism, and this is -- I would just -- my concern about the slogan is that when people see it -- I've had people read it and say, I agree with that, 'cause they assume no taxation without -- oh, yeah. I like that.
SHERWOODThey don't necessarily equate it or ask why is it on the D.C. tag. Just -- they just kind of lump it in with the federal government and how we're all wards of the federal government and we wouldn't exist if there weren't a Congress and the White House. So I worry -- I wish it were -- had more of a curse tone to it.
NNAMDIBut, Sara Shapiro, Tom made a very important point. You did not want to say no taxation without representation.
SHAPIRONo, exactly. I just wanted it to be a fact, not plea but a fact just the way West Virginia has mountains, so it's the Mountain State. We are the -- what's notable about the District is that we pay taxes and are not represented by a vote in Congress.
SHERWOODAnd I just worry that people subconsciously add the no when they see that. That's such a popular phrase of Vermont history that they just add no without thinking about it.
NNAMDIRight, it's in their heads. Well, it is a fact...
SHAPIROOf course, it's a symbol and it won't make any difference. And for that matter, if Eleanor Holmes Norton could vote, that wouldn't make any difference. But one of the comments somewhere said it isn't just the District that's not represented in the Congress. It's everybody. Ninety-nine percent of us aren't represented in Congress.
SHERWOODDo you support -- before we let you go, do you support voting rights in Congress? Do you support full statehood, a monarchy? What do you actually support?
SHAPIROMonarchy would be great. I'll make you king.
NNAMDIKing Sherwood, yeah.
SHERWOODSome people think I act it like it anyway, but that's OK.
NNAMDIKing of Sherwood Forest.
SHERWOODAre you for statehood?
SHAPIROI think statehood is appropriate. It, you know...
SHERWOODAre you for statehood?
SHAPIROPeople say it's just a city. It's not a city. Cities don't have license plates. Cites don't have Medicaid. Cities don't have all kinds of state functions. And, in fact, I think shouldn't all say Washington, D.C., as our address. I think we should say Anacostia, D.C., Deanwood, D.C., Foggy Bottom, D.C., Chevy Chase, D.C. We should act more like a state in our small behaviors like that.
NNAMDISara Shapiro, thank you so much for joining us and congratulations.
SHAPIROThank you very much.
SHERWOODYou know what, can I say before we get to our next guest, I agree with the idea that, you know, people talk about Washington and I know a lot of media organizations including mine, we just refer to -- something happened in Northeast Washington. Well, that could -- you could be touching one corner of the Capitol building or you could be out in Brooklyn or somewhere other places or you could say Northwest Washington, you'd be downtown or you could be way out on MacArthur Boulevard. And we're just not seen as a place.
NNAMDIAnd once again, Sara Shapiro, thank you very much. Joining us in studio now is Yvette Alexander. She's a member of the D.C. Council. She's a Democrat from Ward 7 who chairs the council's committee on health. Yvette Alexander, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
ALEXANDERThank you for having me. Great to be here.
NNAMDIOver the next couple of minutes, Tom and I will be discussing a couple of topics in general. Feel free to weigh in on those before we get to your specific interest. The first, Tom, at-large Councilmember David Catania has quit his job at M.C. Dean. He said he wants to devote more time to his duties as chairman of the council's education committee. You know, there's all -- there's a raging debate over whether D.C. council members should be allowed to have other jobs.
SHERWOODWell, we can have that debate. You know, they can. M.C. Dean, David Catania's worked there for sometime. But as we've said on this program, when David was here and when Kaya Henderson was here before that, David Catania may be the first elected official or significant elected official who is going to take a microscope to the school budget. And that will take a lot of time.
SHERWOODYou know, there are some people who still think he might be among those who might run for mayor. He has substantial citywide credentials with the United Medical Center and some other issues that he's taken on that others haven't. So it will be interesting to see, but he left at private -- I assume he's made enough money that he doesn't need the money. But I think you're going to see an extraordinary focus on the budget of the D.C. school system like we have never seen in modern times.
NNAMDIYou are on the Education Committee, Yvette Alexander.
NNAMDISo I'm assuming that you will also be a part of that, looking at the education budget closely. But I'd like to hear your view on whether or not council members should have second jobs. You do not.
ALEXANDERNo, I do not. And, you know, the Council -- the position, as far as I'm concerned, really requires a full-time councilmember. But it depends on, you know, what the residents think or what the constituents think that voted you in. I could not definitely work another job because of the demands that I have in Ward 7 and with regards to my committee. So I think it depends on the individual. I personally don't have a problem with it if you choose to work another job, but the demands are so high. I honestly don't see how anyone could actually work another job and hold the Council position.
NNAMDIBecause one of the things that council members have to do is to see to the needs of their constituents. And, well, this week, there was this.
NNAMDIThe D.C. Health Department, the D.C. Department of Health moved to close a business in the city because of rat infestation among other things. And according to reports, a councilmember quickly intervened, if you will, to assist a constituent. The councilmember in this case, Vincent Orange, said that he was seeking to prevent the closure, long term, of a business that would have 40 people out of work over the Christmas holidays.
NNAMDIAnd by the next day, the business had reopened again. The Health Department said the business simply complied with what it had to do in order to reopen. It brought in exterminators. It did everything else. But, Tom Sherwood, questions were raised about the manner in which Councilmember Vincent Orange did this, apparently by demanding from the Health Department employee to talk with his supervisor and to talk with the supervisor's supervisor. My experience with this is that council members usually help like this -- with stuff like this by putting staff on it.
SHERWOODWell, yes, but, you know, I don't know the -- why a councilmember would have to demand to talk to someone's supervisor. As councilmember, you simply call and ask for me. You don't have to demand. I think -- I am aware, 'cause I have read lots of health reports and different things, that many businesses, if you look at the list, many businesses are closed because of a failure of inspection. And they do, in fact...
NNAMDIThey used to provide lists, yes.
SHERWOODAnd they do open the next day. They pay a fine, and then they have a re-inspection. So I don't know all of the details. I don't know if the councilmember threw his weight around and came in demanding -- you used the word demanding -- or if he just came over because the guy called him and said, look, they're closing my business. But if the Health Department did its job, it closed, and then the place reopened.
SHERWOODSo the -- this measure has -- this matter has been referred to the Ethics Committee for review. And so we'll see if there's any violation there, but it sounds like Mr. Orange was taking care of a constituent who -- at least helping that constituent. But the Health Department did what it was supposed to do. And the only question is whether the business met its requirements to reopen. If there was some shortcut there, then Mr. Orange has a lot more to answer for. But I haven't heard that...
NNAMDII myself have called my councilmember to have things done in my neighborhood when they were not done to my satisfaction.
SHERWOODClean up the studio.
NNAMDIAnd I've usually heard from a staff member, who was the person who generally followed through on this. What is your own method, Yvette Alexander?
ALEXANDERWell, sometimes your staff can, you know, go out there. Sometimes you want to be hands-on, and you go out there. I've personally gone out to constituents and to businesses in my community as well, so that's not unusual. I did talk to the director of health, Dr. Saul Levin, and everything was, you know, was up to par as far as the Department of Health was concerned.
ALEXANDERThere were no shortcuts with Department of Health. They were closed down. They were shut down, and they met some requirements and they reopened. But, surely, that's nothing unusual for a councilmember or for a staff member of a councilmember to go out on the scene if there's a request for that.
NNAMDIOur guest is Yvette Alexander. She's a member of the D.C. Council, Democrat representing Ward 7. She chairs the Council's Committee on Health. If you have questions or comments for Yvette Alexander, call us at 800-433-8850, send email to email@example.com. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson yesterday announced new plans for school closures.
NNAMDIShe removed five schools from the list she originally floated. Smothers Elementary in your ward will stay open. But you said yesterday that the closures going forward in Ward 7 will have what you call a trickle-down effect on communities there, and you want a moratorium on future closings in your ward. Why?
ALEXANDERYeah. We went through this before, Kojo. This -- in 2007, some of the same schools that were slated for closure in 2007 were slated for closure last year. And what, between 2007 and 2012, was done to prevent schools from closure? What investments did DCPS and the chancellor make with regards to improving our schools so that they would not be under-enrolled, so that they would not be underperforming?
ALEXANDERAnd I didn't receive any evidence of what was done, and lo and behold, some of the same schools were on the list again. So we need some definite confirmation. We need some definitive ways that you're going to improve the schools to put confidence back with the residents of Ward 7 and across the city.
NNAMDIWell, the school's chancellor seemed to put that back on you -- by you I mean the communities in which there were targeted school closings -- by saying throughout the process that what she wanted to see were concrete alternatives from those communities, that she needed to see more than just complaints. What involvement did you have, if any, in helping communities in your ward come up with any such plans?
ALEXANDERWell, you know, we came up with solutions. We have the Ward 7 Education Council, who worked diligently to not only impose, you know, their opposition against closings, but they did give options. They did give demands and what they wanted. Some of those demands required money, you know? Some of those demands required more resources put into schools, that in similar schools in other parts of the city, they have those resources. So we're demanding those same resources across the board that are lacking in some of our schools east of the river.
SHERWOODThe chancellor's told us, the reporters, yesterday -- I'm sure she said it to the council members too -- that the money saved -- $20 million of first year, 19.5 and 8.5 -- that will go to the schools that remain open, that will be better staffed, better funded. Kenyan McDuffie from Ward 5, who's not too happy -- several schools, I think five, in his ward closed also or are closing -- said it was nice for her to promise us that, but, you know, we really won't know if that's true until she actually does it. But you -- one of the five schools -- is that -- one school in your...
SHERWOOD...your ward was turned around. Smothers...
SHERWOOD...didn't close. It's clear, though, that this is the chancellor's decision. We asked her. She said -- of course, the mayor. She works for the mayor. The mayor could intervene and make a change if he wanted, but he seems to support what she's done here after these months of meetings. Is there anything you will try to do going forward to stop this from happening? Will you try to just put it on the Council?
ALEXANDERWell, you know...
SHERWOODIt doesn't sound like there's enough votes on the Council to put a stop on what the chancellor is going to do.
ALEXANDERRight. And I'm not -- yeah. And I'm not saying reverse the decision in the schools that were decided to be closed because when I do look at the enrollment, it doesn't make sense financially to run schools that are half-empty, you know, for the city's sake. But what I will say going forward, as a member of the Education Committee, we're going to see to it because I know the operating budgets of the schools that were closed.
ALEXANDERI'm going to see to it that the school consolidation -- that the schools that were consolidated are going to get that money. If there's a principal at the school that was closed, well, then maybe we can transfer that into a art teacher or to science teacher at the school.
SHERWOODAnd she said, the chancellor said, that the 140 staff positions, one of them will be lost. If they're an -- if they're a highly rated teacher, those teachers will be moved in places where people have retired or resigned or done something, that the highly qualified teachers won't be lost.
ALEXANDERAnd that makes sense. The chancellor committed to putting resources in all the schools across the board. So where that money will be saved from the closure, that money should be resourced where it's needed, where the schools are lacking those resources.
SHERWOODAre you -- and what do you think -- and when David Catania, the chairman of Education Committee, was here, he said that -- I think he said it here that he was going to task -- give task to the members of his committee. Rather than just the chairman doing everything, he wanted the members of the committee to actually do something. Have you guys discussed that yet, and is there anything you might specifically do?
ALEXANDERNo, we haven't discussed that. My task is to work in the best interest of the Ward 7 schools. So that will be my task if he's listening.
SHERWOODBut as the member of the committee, you have to be aware of the entire city, right?
SHERWOODRight. So he said -- I think what he was saying is he was -- didn't want to be autocratic about it, like many chairman are. I'm sure you're not. But -- that to make sure that all the committee members on education are involved so that you guys can really look at this billion dollar budget first time ever.
ALEXANDEROh, definitely. Now, if he is assigning tasks, I wasn't aware of that.
SHERWOODI don't think he mean assigning task as if you work for him.
SHERWOODBut he says he wanted to be inclusive.
ALEXANDEROh, definitely. And I want to know what's going on in Ward 3 just like I want to know what's going on in Ward 7 as far as the schools are concerned. So I look forward to working with all the members in that effort.
NNAMDIHere is William in Northeast D.C. William, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WILLIAMFirst, Kojo, I want to give you an ovation. I love your show. I listen to it daily. I tried to never miss it. And, Ms. Alexander...
NNAMDITom Sherwood says, hurry up and get past that part.
WILLIAMMs. Alexander, I'm a constituent of yours. I was working under (unintelligible). You and I spoke to each other a couple times. And I want to congratulate you, and I thank you for bringing some more resources into the Ward 7 area. Currently, I work for WMATA now, and, you know, making big efforts there.
WILLIAMBut what I did want to inquire about was whether or not there would be higher education facility brought to the Northeast especially the Ward 7 region. You know, I find it to be a difficulty to have to travel so far across the city to engage in higher level education facilities and other activities. I wanted to know if there's...
NNAMDIAny plans or proposals along that line, Yvette Alexander?
ALEXANDERYeah, definitely. There have been some talks with regards -- well, the Community College of the District of Columbia is in Ward 7. They're located at the campus on (word?) on East Capitol Street. There have been some talks of the University of the District of Columbia coming to the Parkside Community. And actually, Reservation 13, there may be some interest. Georgetown University is really -- had major involvement in Ward 7 with the Meyers Foundation that are taking our middle school children.
ALEXANDERAnd they take them from seventh grade to 12th grade actually with the mentorship program. And many of our Ward 7 students have gone on to Georgetown University. So there is some involvement with Georgetown and the University of the District of Columbia already. But I would welcome a physical campus to come to Ward 7. So, yeah, stay tuned.
NNAMDIWilliam, thank you very much for your call. The man you are replacing as the chair of the council's health committee, David Catania, we talked with last week. During the campaign last year, some LGBT groups expressed concerns about your view. Some of them may feel concerned now that you are the chair of a committee with jurisdiction over issues like HIV/AIDS.
NNAMDIYou say you'd like to find commonality on health issues with all communities, including those with whom you've had political disagreements. How do you go about doing that?
ALEXANDERDefinitely. I disagree with constituents on various issues on a daily basis, and that does not stop my work for the good of the residents of the District of Columbia. I'm excited about the health committee. HIV/AIDS is one of my major topics of concern that I'm going to delve into, and all members of the community, you know, let bygones be bygones. We disagreed on one issue, and there were so many other issues of support with every community to include the GLBT (sic) community. So I look forward to working with everyone.
SHERWOODThe, you know, that we still have this, what I call the mattress of ethics issues hanging over the city while we wait for the U.S. attorney to reach conclusions on the mayor's 2010 campaign, the lottery contracts and all of that. I was already struck there at the turn of the year when Colby King and The Washington Post wrote a column saying he did predictions, and he predicted that two elected officials, east of the Rock Creek Park, would resign this year. Now, I wonder, A, did you read that? B, do you know who he's talking about? And, C, does it worry you?
ALEXANDERWell, no. Predications don't worry me, so...
SHERWOODI presumed you think you're not one of them.
ALEXANDERNo. I'm not one. When I read that east to the park, I said, well, minus one. It won't be Yvette Alexander. I have no intentions of resigning, and there are no ethics questions, clouds hanging over my head, so...
SHERWOODWhat do you think -- I mean, a lot of people -- well, not a lot people. I'm going to be clear about this. A few of us who have talked about it think that a lot of the -- some of the investigation seems to have shifted to some of the lottery contract stuff. Are you clear, and do you think -- do you know what happened there, and what the Council could do to avoid all of that? Maybe when you guys get to where you have to rebid the contract again or...
ALEXANDERRight. Well, what the Council can do to rid themselves of that -- I know at one time, there used to be a lottery board. Maybe we need to bring that back. You know, the lottery, it just seems to bring in, you know, all types of kind of seediness to it from the lottery.
SHERWOODRight, $80 million dollars a year.
ALEXANDERYeah. So, I mean, we need to definitely keep the lottery. But in terms of our, you know, our voting on it or, you know, maybe we need to stay out of that 'cause there have been so many questions raised with the lottery. So we need to revisit how that lottery contract is approved.
NNAMDIAnd you would not mind staying out of it completely at all.
ALEXANDERI would not mind staying out of it completely.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODI was going to say on that same matter, some people suggested back when John Wilson, for whom the building is named, was chairman and the mayor was Sharon Pratt Kelly. He is the one who initiated the any contract worth $1 million dollars or more would come to the Council for review. Now, some people are thinking that you guys shouldn't be doing that now. You should had let the executive branch be the executive branch, and you just do the legislative oversight.
NNAMDILeave the transparency to us in the media.
ALEXANDERWell, no. I don't agree with that necessarily. But one thing with the lottery -- and it's common knowledge that there are only three companies that do that lottery work. And the questions have been with the partners, with the CBEs that are attached to them.
SHERWOODTell people what a CBE is.
ALEXANDERThe Certified Business Enterprise.
SHERWOODAll right. Minority business.
ALEXANDERAnd that's like the local business. Yeah, minority business. And...
NNAMDIBut to pursue Tom's argument for one second here, people feel that if the Council has to approve every contract over $1 million, it leads to what people feel is too much interference and too much influence by council members on who actually gets contracts.
ALEXANDERWell, we get oversight of the budget. And all contracts involved moneys, tax dollars, so we do need some involvement on how money is spent in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODMaybe you could have every contract. Maybe we could have floors. We don't have everyone. But maybe every contract over 50 or $100,000 ought to be online, not with just a basic contract itself but who are the subcontractors. Somebody very famous, who's name I won't mention, said, Tom, the money and the funniness get started in the subcontracting business, not the main contract but the subcontractors. It would be nice to see all of that online.
ALEXANDERI agree. I think everything should be open to the public.
SHERWOODDisclose, disclose, disclose.
NNAMDIWe don't have much time left, but another issue coming into your wheelhouse on the health committee is the rollout of the city's medical marijuana regime. You called for emergency legislation to target the cultivation center approved for your ward. What's going to be your philosophy as you approach this issue?
ALEXANDERYeah. In medical marijuana, I'm supportive of that measure 100 percent.
NNAMDIIt was just that one location you should do -- be concerned about?
ALEXANDERJust that one location, and that could be anywhere in the city, not just in Ward 7. But in this particular area, it's a development, a retail development zone, and there is a major -- a large warehouse. We plan to build a town center in downtown Ward 7 so...
NNAMDISo you don't mind marijuana cultivation in your ward, just not in that location.
ALEXANDERJust not in that location. It should be in an industrial location.
SHERWOODYou call it downtown Ward 7 just like we had downtown Wheaton. We have a whole new definition for downtown now.
NNAMDIYvette Alexander, she is a downtown member of the D.C. Council.
NNAMDIShe is a Democrat from Ward 7 who chairs the Council's committee on health. Thank you so much for joining us.
ALEXANDERThanks for having me, guys.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, work hard this weekend.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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