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.
An upcoming book by Virginia’s attorney general makes waves in the commonwealth’s race for governor. Maryland’s top lawmaker maps out his final chapters in office in his “State of the State” address. And the District debates its response to the surprise plot twist of a budget surplus. 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
- Benjamin Cardin U.S. Senator, D-Maryland
- Tommy Wells Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Politics Hour Video
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) addressed questions about his potential bid for mayor in the 2014 election, including whether he thinks the district is ready for a white mayor. Wells said he would decide whether to throw his hat into the race by this spring.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome -- well, wait a minute. It's Super Bowl weekend. The Baltimore Ravens are in it. We've got Maryland U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin in studio. Ray Lewis will be making a grand entrance. So, Tobey Schreiner, let's try a different approach.
MR. TOBEY SCHREINERAt place-kicker, from the school of hard knocks, number 66, Tom Sherwood.
MR. TOBEY SCHREINERAnd at quarterback, number one in your programs and number in your hearts, from Georgetown, Guyana, Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOK. Well, enough of that. What do you think, Tom?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, it sounds more like a UFC program, that crazy fighting program. We're all in a cage. That's what that sounded like.
NNAMDIAnd I thought he was going to say from Georgetown University, but that would have been incorrect.
SHERWOODIt would have been inaccurate, and this show is certainly accurate.
NNAMDIHe said Georgetown, Guyana, which is correct. How did you like it, Sen. Cardin?
SEN. BENJAMIN CARDINWell, thank you. It made me feel right at home. The Ravens are going to do great on Sunday, and everybody is just so excited about this weekend and this game.
NNAMDITom, you know, the senator is wearing a purple tie. That's because...
NNAMDI...the Ravens' color. It's purple day.
SHERWOODThat's because he's stylish, not -- I wear purple ties because...
CARDINNo, this is...
SHERWOOD...I'm politically neutral.
NNAMDIExplain to him, please.
CARDINNo, no, no. I just came from Annapolis, so visiting with some of the members of the General Assembly. And it was a purple Friday. Everybody is dressed up. This is good for our region. It's good for the entire state.
SHERWOODThat four-leaf clover looks like the D.C. lottery logo.
CARDINThat's not intended to be...
NNAMDIBenjamin Cardin is a member of the United States Senate. He's a Democrat from Maryland. Thank you for joining us in studio. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, who is technically on leave but nevertheless broke a story this morning about a resignation that's occurring here in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I'm not in government. I'm not on leave. I'm on vacation. In the private sector, it's called vacation.
NNAMDII see. There's...
SHERWOODBut in any event, yes, Nat Gandhi, the longtime CFO of the city who succeeded Tony Williams as the CFO and helped guide the city back to a strong financial footing, sent a letter to the mayor around noon today. It said he would be resigning in June. He -- Gandhi, who's very well respected on Wall Street and very well respected mostly in the financial world, has, you know, he's had these stumbles in the city.
SHERWOODThere's an ongoing federal investigation into the lottery contract. Excuse me -- contract. And then a few years ago, you know, we had that horrible situation where Harriet Walters stole nearly $15 million that they could show, maybe more. So there's been some audits and issues that he's had to deal with, but overall, it's been a positive experience for him to be the financial leader of this city. And while you'll hear all the complaints about him, he did a pretty good job on this.
NNAMDIThe city currently has a $400 million budget surplus as we speak, but there is going to be speculation about the reasons for Mr. Gandhi, Dr. Gandhi's retiring. He says that it is purely personal reasons. There's already speculation about, A, whether he is likely to run for mayor in the tradition of his predecessor...
SHERWOOD...Anthony Williams. He says no. I'm speculating, B, he might be going after a career on stage, given that he performed as Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi here in Washington.
SHERWOODYes, he did very good. You know, he has a new love interest. His wife died I think a couple of years ago, and he has a new love interest...
NNAMDIYou've been following the man's love life.
SHERWOOD...in Philadelphia. And -- but I do think that after -- and because of the controversies, he wanted to leave I think on a high note, having a $400 million surplus. And I was telling Sen. Cardin, the city now has $1.5 billion in its rainy day fund, that this is a good time for him to go.
SHERWOODAnd so he is going.
CARDINBut, you know, it's interesting. On Capitol Hill, it's quiet about the District government. That's always good news.
NNAMDIAnd there's nothing being said. Chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi announcing his resignation from office. Turning to you, Sen. Cardin, there are a lot of big issues before the Senate right now. A group of your colleagues rolled out a plan to tackle immigration this week, for example. But at the same time, a lot of people are deeply skeptical of the chamber's ability to fight through gridlock and make substantive progress on big issues.
NNAMDIYour former colleague John Kerry, now secretary of state, said this week that the Senate is not broken as an institution, but that individual choices made by senators to put themselves above the body have created gridlock. How do you see it?
CARDINKojo, 2013 is a new start. We had the inauguration of President Obama for a second term. The Congress had a very difficult and the last Congress we started the new Congress in January. The first thing the Senate did was to modify some of its rules. I know people would like to see us do more.
CARDINBut a group of eight senators -- and I was part of it -- four Democrats, four Republicans, brought forward changes in the way the Senate does its business to make it a lot easier for us to get on legislation, to consider legislation, to approve the president's nominees and to get the differences between the House and Senate resolved. We've already seen some progress. We were able to pass in the Senate in record pace the extension of the debt ceiling. Next week, we will approve the Violence Against Women's Act.
CARDINI expect it will be done in a rather efficient way. We saw eight senators get together on immigration reform, showing that we have the framework for the consideration. We had a hearing on the gun issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And I think most people said it was done in the right way. We've already approved Sen. Kerry is now Secretary of State Kerry, who will take the oath of office, I believe, today as secretary of state.
CARDINAnd we're on course to take up other of the president's nominees. So I think we've gotten off to a better start, but let me be clear, the differences between the Senate and the House are pretty difficult. There's no indication that the House will change the method in which it has been dealing with issues which could create some real difficulty in trying to reconcile.
NNAMDIWell, you're suggesting that approval of the president's nominees will now be more efficient, but the confirmation process for defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel seems to be running into some objections. You yourself requested a one-on-one meeting with Hagel last month to chat about reservations you had with comments he's made in the past about our relationship with Israel, among other things. What were your concern, and did Sen. Hagel assuage those concerns?
CARDINWell, you know, Sen. Hagel's hearing was yesterday. I am currently reviewing not only his testimony, but as part of that hearing process, he has to submit answers to written questions. It goes over a hundred pages. I had those documents to review also. There are concerns about Sen. Hagel's nomination. I think at the end of the day -- and I've not resolved my own, well, my vote to support him or not, but at the end of the day, the president normally gets his team in place, and I expect that will be true for president Obama.
NNAMDIIf you would like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Our guest is Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a Democrat. 800-433-8850. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODSenator, let's look at the financial -- we went past the financial cliff, which is more like a slope, but we still have these issues before us and thousands of government jobs -- government-related jobs are hanging in the balance, both within the Pentagon spending and all the federal agencies in Maryland, in Virginia and the District of Columbia. How seriously do you think some of those jobs are in terms of maybe losing some pay or suspending payments for lots of them? A lot of people could be affected.
CARDINTom, I'm very concerned about it. The next deadline is four weeks from today when the sequestration, across-the-board cuts will take place for all discretionary spending including national defense as well as our domestic budgets. These are across-the-board cuts and will have a major impact, not just on our region. And it will on our region. We'll get hit harder than any other region. But we'll have it on our entire country. It's not just -- you'll see furloughs of federal workers.
CARDINYou'll see services that are going to be dramatically reduced. But you're also going to see contractors laying off employees because they're not certain as to the status of federal contracts. It will have a major impact on employment and on our region. We need to avoid these across-the board-cuts. We need to substitute it through a responsible way to get our budget in balance by making tough decisions.
CARDINAnd what I've suggested and I've talked to a lot of my Republican colleagues as well as my Democratic colleagues, let's take a look at the areas where we can reduce some more revenue through closing loopholes in our tax code. Let's look for ways that we can bring in real savings and health care that could help us with Medicare and Medicaid. And let's look at our military and look at our overseas contingency operations and see whether we can't reduce those balances in a responsible way, a balanced approach, Democrats and Republicans working together.
SHERWOODWe do have, in addition to the federal government workers and the people there, we have this huge Pentagon connection, and then we have the reservists. I was talking to a reservist the other day, and he said that his whole unit was being told that it's possible they may shut down. And we have thousands of reservists who also could be affected by the cutbacks in the Pentagon spending.
CARDINWell, on the military side, Secretary Panetta has made it clear that if these cuts go into effect, it does compromise our readiness. The training missions will be reduced significantly. Contractor contracts won't be able to be renewed, so that -- it will affect our workforce. It will affect our training capacity. It will affect our procurement needs. It will have not just an effect on our economy -- and it will -- it will have an effect on our national security.
SHERWOODWell, on the same subject, I was talking to Tony Williams, who was on this show last week, is that right, Tony Williams...
NNAMDIYes, he was.
SHERWOOD...a former mayor, and he was talking about how the region remains a federal center for the government but that spending is not going to continue and that the city, the District and the region needs to do more to promote tourism. He mentioned New York City itself doing more to promote tourism and alternative business models instead of expecting the federal government to continue to grow. Is that -- do you agree with that view?
CARDINI think that's a smart thing to do to always try to diversify your economy as much as you can. The bottom line, though, is that we should have predictable budgets, and I think the (unintelligible) will do well in the future. But we got to get things done now. There is no excuse for inaction. These are self-inflicted wounds. There's -- we have the capacity to work out these issues. We need to do it now.
CARDINWe shouldn't wait four weeks and let four weeks go by and say, oh, all of a sudden we have these across-the-board cuts. So I think there are solutions that will help this region, and we need to get on them quickly and not wait. Now, we have major differences between the House and Senate. We got to reconcile that. We got to work together.
SHERWOODAnd again, if I may do one more (word?) thing...
SHERWOOD...the FBI headquarters, maybe a $2 billion project, to move from downtown and bring life to that section of the street, I know Maryland's interested. I was just looking at the list of it, and I said, you're on the finance committee, a ranking member, is that right, on the finance committee? You...
CARDINWell, I'm not a ranking member. In fact, I am on the finance committee and chairman of environment and public works, which has direct jurisdiction on approval of these types of leases.
SHERWOODRight. And then Barbara Mikulski, little known senator from Maryland...
SHERWOOD...who is the chairman of the appropriations committee.
SHERWOOD...Steny Hoyer who is effectively the speaker of the House -- or wishes he were, Chris Van Hollen. It seems to me Maryland is pretty well racked up already to make a strong push for that although many of the people think this might go to Virginia if it doesn't stay in the District. What's the competition like?
CARDINThe RFP, the request includes that it needs to be near transit because so many of the workers will be coming to work, leaving work through the use of our Metro system. We believe in Maryland that we have the location that would be ideal for the FBI. They need to consolidate their facilities. They don't -- they can't do that within the District.
SHERWOODThey're in dozens of building.
CARDINAnd it's just inefficient. They need a secure campus environment. We believe that Maryland has that location, and we're working very closely with our local officials. So we do believe that the best for the FBI, the best for the taxpayers of this country and for our security is a location that we are all going to come together in Maryland. We should be in a position to make that much more public in the very near future. I think...
SHERWOODWill Rushern Baker be happy?
CARDINHe will be. Absolutely. He will be happy.
NNAMDIWell, we'll see what Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have to say.
CARDINWell, now, I mean, there's going to be competition, and we want competition. We welcome competition. Let it be open competition. We want the taxpayer to get the best value for the dollar. We want the FBI to have the best facility. We want open competition. We welcome open competition. At the end of the day, we believe that we have the best site.
SHERWOODAnd that includes having the District have a say in the competition.
CARDINAbsolutely. And, of course, the District will have facilities that we need to see held. They're going to be recycled into the local economy.
NNAMDIWe mentioned the District's economy and former Mayor Anthony Williams talking about looking for other ways like tourism to make money. But Maryland's economy is tied closely to federal spending, defense spending. Lockheed headquarter is just up the road from this studio in Montgomery County. How would you describe the relationship between federal spending, defense spending and the local economy in the state of Maryland?
CARDINWell, Maryland's economic indicators are much better than the national economic indicators. We -- and our employment numbers are stronger. We have a diversified economy. We are seeing a tremendous growth in the high tech areas, in cyber security and in traditional manufacturing. We're doing well, as well as government sector itself. Having said that, if the national economy were to slip back, if we were to do self-inflicted wounds, Maryland will suffer.
CARDINIf we go through across-the-board cuts to the federal budget, Maryland will suffer. Our economy will suffer. So we're doing better. I can applaud the leadership of Gov. O'Malley investing in education, investing in job growth. These are important investments and also investing on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act Obamacare. Maryland's ahead of many -- most states in the country. And that's going to help our economy. It's going to help our people.
NNAMDIWell, more spending cuts are scheduled to take effect in March. A lot of your Republican colleagues say that deficit reduction is the only way to stimulate growth again. How do you see it?
CARDINWell, it's interesting. The most recent economic numbers show that we saw a negative factor. And when the economist analyzed it, it was because of the contraction of government. So what the federal government does is very important to our economy. And, yes, we need to get our budget into a sustainable budget in our deficit. We understand that. And that's why you've seen over the last two years a reduction over baseline.
CARDINWe've reduced the deficit by about $2.5 trillion over what it would've been if we didn't take action on the Budget Enforcement Act and on the cliff negotiations at the end of the year. So we got to continue to do that. But we need to do it in a way that allows for job growth, that we need to invest in education.
CARDINWe need to invest in our roads, our bridges, our infrastructure. The federal government needs to be a major player. And it was interesting. If you look at Simpson-Bowles, they suggested that our cuts be gradual 'cause they knew how important the federal government's role is in getting our economy back on track.
NNAMDIGot to get back to the phones. Our guest is Benjamin Cardin, member of the United States Senate. He's a Democrat from Maryland. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Here is Anise (sp?) in Vienna, Va. Anise, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANISEYes. My question is for the senator. I honestly was very confused yesterday in listening to the confirmation hearings for, you know, secretary of defense. You know, instead of hearing questions pertaining to our war in Afghanistan or, you know, defense cuts and what not, it felt like, you know, he was being a nominee for the state of Israel. What is going on?
CARDINWell, I don't serve on the Senate Arm Services Committee. I did monitor the hearing yesterday. I had a chance to talk to Sen. Hagel one-on-one in my office. There were concerns about his position as it relates to Iran and as it relates to Israel. I thought he clarified that. Again, I have not made up my own judgment on Sen. Hagel, but I think he made it clear that he is -- believes that Israel is a critical partner to the United States, that we are the only nation in that region that shares our -- the same values.
CARDINAnd that he made it clear that Iran's becoming a nuclear weapon state would be a game changer in the Middle East. So I thought he answered those questions pretty firmly. But the reasons those questions were asked is because the impact it has on the United States. Israel's relation to the United States is important to the United States. Preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state is important for the United States.
CARDINI can't tell you how many of the leaders of other countries in that region have told us how important it is for the stability of that region for Iran not to become a nuclear weapon state. So it's not Israel. It's the United States, and that's why these questions were asked. And I thought, in regards to those two points, Sen. Hagel was pretty clear.
SHERWOODWhile I was lounging in Florida this week, I was reading also that Sen. Hagel doesn't have a lot of managerial experience, certainly senatorial experience. And with all the financial issues and how the Pentagon will downsize or stop growing as fast, transition from the war economy to maybe a different kind, can he do those types of things? Do you have any reservations there about his abilities to oversee the massive bureaucracy that is the Pentagon?
CARDINTom, you're asking the right questions. First of all, the president is almost always -- I mean, he's entitled to have his team in place.
CARDINSo the commander-in-chief is the president of the United States, not the secretary of defense. Having said that, there is concern about the way that he would manage and advise the president in regards to the largest agency by far in the federal government, the Pentagon, so how will his judgment be exercised? And what advice will he give the president? And that -- they are the question that, I think, many of us trying to understand how he would respond to.
SHERWOODWhat's the timeline on his nomination would likely to come before the Senate? Do you have to make your mind or something like that?
CARDINThe earliest the Senate Arm Services Committee would recommend would be next Thursday. The earliest the Senate would take it up would be the week after that. That would be the last week before a scheduled recess for the president's week. But I would think, you know, either be that it'll be the week after next or the week we come back from the recess.
SHERWOODThat's called eminent in the Congressional world.
CARDINYes, the next...
NNAMDIOn to Perry in Brunswick, Md. Perry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PERRYThank you, Kojo, and thank you, senator, for your service and your service to Maryland.
PERRYSo I have -- was following the hearings briefly yesterday, and I was really quite offended by the way Sen. Graham questioned former Sen. Hagel with respect to his thoughts about -- and his -- I guess his thoughts about Israel and our relationship to the state of Israel. And I agree they're a very important partner, but I would emphasize that a partnership -- a full partnership is a partnership. We are partners.
PERRYWe are not slaves to everything they want us to do and to every action they take which they expect us to approve. And he asked a specific question about -- he repeatedly asked him, what were examples of intimidation relating to what Sen. Hagel had said sometime in the past? And I -- to that answer, I would say every journalist I've heard of and a person who knows the Middle East knows that people are freer in the state of Israel to discuss Israel's policy with respect to their government than we are here in the Unites States.
NNAMDIAre you asking Sen. Cardin if he have views with your observation?
PERRYNo. I'm not asking him. I'm saying that's what I've heard in my following of people who know the region than...
NNAMDIOK, OK. But do you have a question?
PERRY...that that's -- yes, I am which would -- we'll, that's just an opinion, and I'm hoping that you -- I'm asking you to carry that forward if you agree or not.
NNAMDIThat's why I was asking if you...
CARDINWell, let me put this in context. Again, I'm evaluating my own particular vote in regards to the nomination. Sen. Graham was responding to a statement that Sen. Hagel had made a couple of years ago concerning the influence of the...
NNAMDIWhat he called the Israeli lobbying.
CARDINHe called it Jewish lobbying...
SHERWOODWell, Jewish lobbying.
CARDIN...and intimidating senators. Sen. Hagel was quite clear that he apologized for the use of those terms. There is a pro-Israel lobby, and he should have classified it that. And we're not intimidated. But I think he -- and he said that -- when that was brought to his attention, he said it was a poor choice of words, and he would not have used those words. I accept that from Sen. Hagel.
CARDINI -- as I said before, I don't believe that he is -- I believe he is pro-Israel, I believe, because he understands the importance to the United States. And so I regret that exchange, but I think Sen. Graham was responding to a statement made earlier. That's a fair game. Sen. Hagel understands that. He's a former senator, and that's part of the confirmation process how he can respond to the types of questions asked by United States senators.
NNAMDIPerry, thank you very much for your call. I wanted to ask you a question about immigration because that's a big issue. You mentioned the eight senators who have come together on it. How do you see that measure making it to the president? The plan that has been rolled out would call at some point for a path to citizenship and that seems to be a stumbling block with some of your Republican colleagues. They seem to be in favor of legalization, but they are not, it would appear at all, comfortable with the notion of a path to citizenship especially if it's fairly rapid path.
CARDINKojo, I thought this was big news, I really did. The fact that we have -- and look at who these eight senators are.
CARDINThere are -- it's not only bipartisan of eight, four Democrats, four Republicans, but some of the strongest advocates for immigration reform and some of the most difficult members. So it was a diversified group and a bipartisan group and key to that is a pathway to citizenship. This is comprehensive reform. It's a pathway to citizenship 'cause there must be hope.
CARDINBut there's also securing our borders and making sure employers only hire people who have the proper documentation. So it was a balanced approach. But clearly, part of that is to make it clear, you can come out in the shadows. You can acknowledge your status. You'll be able to get a legal document and a pathway to citizenship by following the rules. And I -- look, it's going to be controversial.
CARDINBut at the end of the day, I think it's critically important for this country, and I think we'll get it done. You need immigration reform. It needs to be comprehensive. People coming out of the shadows have that hope. Our nation needs the stability of certainty in this regard, and that's what I think is key to...
SHERWOODI've read also that some of the pathways to citizenship, though, are pretty -- it's like going over to Himalayas. You're going to have to pay back taxes, you're going to have to a number of things which will be a burden on the people who are here. But I assume some of this will be worked out as the Senate goes forward.
SHERWOODI mean, E-Verify it.
CARDINYou know, the details are critically important, but there -- but it is clear. This is not amnesty, and there is an acknowledgement. There is a cost factor. There are certain expectations, not just expectations but certain requirements that have to be met. And we're going to -- it going to be strictly enforced. So I -- it is not amnesty.
SHERWOODDo we have E-Verify in terms of -- I'm just thinking of all the agricultural people in Southern California.
CARDINFor the employers, there will be a much stricter -- again, let's look at the details but a much stricter way to enforce this regime. We don't want to go back to what's happened historically.
NNAMDIRunning out of time but another hot button issue in front of the Senate right now is gun violence. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords testified at a hearing this week. In your gut, what do you think is necessary for the Senate to do on gun violence, or maybe more to the point, what do you think is achievable?
CARDINWell, here, to me, it's very, very clear. Assault weapons have to be -- have to go. These large ammo clips, we got to get rid of. We've got to have a universal way of doing background checks. I thought there with the three points that there is clear in my view -- and I think in the view of the American people -- that Congress needs to take action.
CARDINKojo, we -- I heard from our colleagues in Connecticut, and they told us some of the details of the tragedy and how the shooter was changing clips and murdering kids and that we were fortunate that he couldn't get the third clip in or there would've been more children potentially dead. The size of the clips make a difference. These assault weapons are -- talk to law enforcement.
CARDINWe had Chief Johnson from the Baltimore County Police who testified before the Judiciary Committee. Police officers said that if they would've come in and this guy would've gone against them with an assault weapon, some of these police officers wouldn't be here today. We need to get these military-style weapons off the street. We got to get these large ammo clips off the street, and Congress needs to act.
SHERWOODNow the NRA, of course, one of the people testified and said, well, you also -- if you limit the clip to ten bullets or something or seven, you're also limiting the single mother of two -- I think it was exact quote she used -- a single mother of two who's in her home who has a chance maybe to fire six or seven rounds, maybe 10, but that's not nearly enough if she's being attacked. What's your response to that? I mean, it's an emotional strong thing. Well, I believe most of the people who worry about guns, that this is just the beginning steps on guns, but that's what she said in her testimony.
CARDINLet's be realistic about the right to be -- to have a weapon to protect yourself. It's protected by the Constitution. I don't think that anyone's going to be standing home ready to work with an assault weapon with multiple rounds in order to protect themselves. It's interesting that the specific cases that have been brought up, the weapon of choice for protecting yourself is going to be a handgun or a shotgun.
CARDINAssault weapons are just not realistic, and they are used for harm. Look at the harm versus the good. We have the right to control the type of weapons, and it's time to get military-style weapons off the street.
NNAMDIBenjamin Cardin is a member of the United States Senate. He's a Democrat from Maryland. Sen. Cardin, thank you for joining us.
CARDINIt's a pleasure to be with you. Have a good weekend. Go Ravens.
SHERWOODOn your way out the door, you will predict the score on Sunday?
CARDINRavens are going to win by six points.
NNAMDIYou want to say whether you're going to support a bill for statehood for the District of Columbia before you leave today.
CARDINI not only will support it. I voted for it. I voted for it when I was a member of the Maryland General Assembly.
SHERWOODWe're out of time, but I would bring up the commuter tax. And when the federal...
CARDINNow, he's going too far.
SHERWOOD...the federal government stopped subsidizing Maryland and Virginia, but we'll get to that another time.
CARDINI'm sorry. We ran out of time.
SHERWOODWe'll make sure you leave on a sour note.
NNAMDISenator Cardin, good luck for the Baltimore Ravens this weekend on Sunday in the Super Bowl. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, the county executive in Anne Arundel County, John Leopold, found guilty on two counts. It would appear...
SHERWOODWe should've asked Senator Cardin about him.
NNAMDIBecause he's -- because Anne Arundel...
SHERWOODLook at him running out the door.
NNAMDI...are among his constituents. He's running out the door. I suspect I know a little bit about what he would have to say about that. Everybody, I suspect, would agree that a lot of what the Anne Arundel County executive did was deplorable. What the county executive seems to be saying is yes, but it is -- is it prosecutable? The court seems to think it is. He's now been convicted on two counts. The question, of course, is whether the council -- county council is going to dump him and whether or not he faces jail.
SHERWOODWell, first of all, you ought to resign because of such foolishness. I mean, I just love it when some -- a citizen says, this is just foolish. What he allowed himself to get into was foolish and that reason itself is enough to resign. Yes, there are legal issues from the county attorney saying well, it's not clear. Does he have to resign only until after he's sentenced? Is the conviction not effective until he's sentenced? I don't know the legalities of all that. But just from sheer embarrassment, the wait ought to be such that he would move on.
NNAMDIAs we said, Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers and probably willing to answer the question, who should be the next mayor of the District of Columbia? But we won't put that burden on Tom Sherwood right now.
SHERWOODI have an answer.
NNAMDII know he has an answer, but we won't allow him to give that answer because he might not say Tommy Wells. Tommy Wells...
SHERWOODWell, it could be Tom Sherwood, you know?
SHERWOODTom has a nice ring to it. You know, Tom.
NNAMDITommy Wells is in studio with us...
SHERWOODTommy sounds somewhat, you know, not mature enough. I mean, it has to be Tom.
NNAMDIWell, if this candidate runs, we'll ask him whether or not he's going to reduce it to Tom. Right now, it's Tommy Wells. He's member of the council. He's a democrat from Ward 6 and the chairman of the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. He joins us in studio. Councilmember Wells, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. TOMMY WELLSGood afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you for having me on.
NNAMDIWe've got a lot of council business we'd like to talk to you about today, but we'd like to start by asking you about something else on your plate. On Monday, you will be forming an exploratory committee for mayor. You have not been that secretive about your ambitions here. You're going on a listening tour before you make this official. What will you be looking to hear from residents that will ultimately influence your entry into this race?
WELLSWell, I believe our city's at a crossroads where a lot of people would agree as we've just heard that we're running a surplus, we're in good financial health. We have more people moving into the city than moving out, but I do believe we're at a crossroads. I think with our elected government, with cronyism, culture of corruption, that things could go backwards pretty easily. We do know that that is the one thing that'll undo a city pretty quickly is a corrupt government.
WELLSAnd so I do want to see our city moving forward. I am concerned about, you know, a culture of ethics, crisis of ethics in our elected government. And so I'd like to meet with city residents, talk about the future of our city and, again, what can we do to restore integrity to our elected officials in the government.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Councilmember Tommy Wells, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and raise your comments there.
SHERWOODAn exploratory committee -- is there -- is it less onerous to do an exploratory committee rather than starting out as a candidate for mayor? What does it mean, having an exploratory committee do that a regular committee doesn't do? Do you get to raise more money? Do you get to do something differently?
WELLSWell, Tom, all the same laws that apply to a regular committee apply. It's transparent now.
SHERWOODIt should be different, but...
WELLSRight. Now, whatever you raise for an exploratory committee accounts towards the total if I decide to run, and I'll make that decision in the spring. But...
SHERWOODOh, wait. So this is a very quick exploratory committee?
WELLSI'll make the decision by the mid-spring. The primary's not that long away. It's in April 2014. In fact, you know, in terms of other folks that have run for mayor, looked at running for mayor, this is really a normal time.
NNAMDIMid-spring would give you just exactly one year or so to campaign for the position.
SHERWOODRight. And are you prepared if -- with the ongoing, continuing federal investigation into Mayor Gray -- I won't ask you to comment on that at this point, but if there were to come a time when the federal investigation force may be made the mayor to resign, would you jump into a special election of mayor? Are you only looking at a long-term issue here?
WELLSWell, I think, Tom, that the fact that you even been raised the issue that there is a investigation by the U.S. attorney to the sitting mayor and that brings about the level in stability and concern about the future of our city. I will do what I believe is right for the future of our city and it could include -- sure, it obviously could include running for mayor should the mayor step down. But I hope that does not happen. That'd be injurious to our whole city if the mayor had to step down.
SHERWOODMany people think you'll be a strong candidate should you decide to run. You're also will be a white candidate. What about the racial aspects of the city? Is the city "ready for a white mayor?"
WELLSWell, first thing is I would not be in my office now but for the -- for black votes and African-American support from when I was on the school board. And so is the, you know, the city ready? I believe absolutely. We -- you know, somebody would say, is the country ready for a black president? Apparently we are.
NNAMDIYou're going to be kicking off your listening tour at Big Chair Coffee in Anacostia, which is one of the most heavily African-American neighborhoods in the city. And you're also known for your mantra of looking for a livable, walkable community. There seems to be some tension between that notion and some parts of the African-American community. How do you plan on resolving that tension?
WELLSWell, the first thing is everybody that lives in the city wants a livable, walkable community, where they can walk their children to a great neighborhood school, have fresh groceries in the neighborhood, essentially have what some people call five-minute living.
NNAMDIWell, I beg to differ. Some people feel that a livable, walkable community inhibits their ability to drive as freely as they would like to in the city, and that's why I said there seems to be some tension there.
WELLSWell, you know, if we can take -- have to drive fewer trips where you don't have to drive to the grocery store, drive your child to school, drive, you know, to other things that you need, amenities in your neighborhood, then there's less cars on the road, making it easier to drive. We have a lot of people moving into the city.
WELLSIf everybody brought a car with them, it'd be almost impossible to drive to the city. So the best transit plan for the future of our city is land-use planning, which means, you know, take fewer trips. You know, the majority of the trips in the suburbs are, you know, to the 7-Eleven or to the, you know, to the drugstore. We can reduce that in the District.
SHERWOODYou support the streetcars, and I'm not sure there's some controversy or maybe some uncertainty about when they will actually start. But Anacostia will have a streetcar that will allow people not to have to drive to the Metro stop or -- and that can help create the economy in Anacostia that we're seeing there. There'll be one on H Street, which is if you haven't been -- people haven't been to H Street, they would be astonished at the changes there. And there are many people there who do not have cars.
WELLSAbsolutely. The -- I'm a strong believer in transit equity, and the worst transit system and the worst -- fewest offerings of great transit is, you know, is east to the river. And if you have a job -- and the job centers are not necessarily east of the river. They're elsewhere. You're having to take a two-seat ride by bus. That bus is late because if it just rains a little bit, snows a little bit like today, everything slows down.
SHERWOODLike this week when the Green Line -- people are abandoning the Green Line because they couldn't get anywhere.
SHERWOODCan we go back to ethics again? 'Cause, you know, media is just overwhelmingly focused on ethics.
NNAMDISo you were in Florida, following what was going on here with the Green Line in Washington, D.C.?
SHERWOODI am always in touch. I may be out of town, but never out of touch.
NNAMDIPlease go ahead.
SHERWOODLet's go back to ethics because it's easy to say, I will be ethical. I will be -- I'm for sunshine. I'm for -- but what does that mean as a practical matter? You've proposed a couple of changes in the law, some -- to ban corporate contributions. But in terms of contracts, I think it was (unintelligible).
SHERWOODI can't remember who said it online, that -- why not have every city contract -- and that means the subcontracts where all the hidden stuff gets done -- why not have all the contracts online so citizen watchdogs can look at it? Is that something -- would be a change if you were mayor and you can make that change?
WELLSAbsolutely. I think that just the transparency of knowing who is receiving money from the District, how are they receiving money, how much, for how long really does -- the sunshine really does bake out the cronyism. And I think that the -- anybody that invests in our city, whether you're a contractor or a taxpayer, you need to have confidence that we're -- it's not a pay-to-play system and that we're getting the best value for what you invest and that we're being honest.
SHERWOODAre you supporting...
NNAMDIOn the question of ethics, here's Ronald in Washington, D.C. Ronald, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MR. RONALD MOTENHow are you doing? This is Ron Moten.
NNAMDIOh, that Ron.
SHERWOODI knew exactly who it was when you said Ronald. But go ahead, Ron.
MOTENWell, first of all, I'd like to congratulate Tommy Wells for taking the chance and doing something that most people are scared to do. But I'm going to ask this one question. You were on top of the trust, the CYITC. And myself, I came to let people know about a lot of things that were going on with Harry Thomas and a lot of other people, and you oversaw that agency. And I remember when you stopped the Peaceoholics from getting funded, and we gave $272,000 worth of work for DYRS, and they promised as a contract would go in their work for free, which we didn't get paid.
MOTENAnd I'm cool with that, but then -- and then with the Southwest collaborative, which you oversaw, which is under investigation right now for money missing, how can we trust you? 'Cause this is what a lot of people want to support you in. How can we trust you when you pick and choose when you want to be ethical and you didn't act when you had the oversight of an agency...
NNAMDIOK. Here -- Ron, here's Tommy Wells.
WELLSLet me say the first thing is the Peaceoholics were getting no-bid contracts. In order to be honest and open and transparent, I said that Peaceoholics would have to bid for it, that the mayor couldn't just give them or give the Peaceoholics money directly. They should be forced to compete for it and be sure that we're getting the best price. And so I did not think that people should just be handed monies like that.
WELLSIn fact, with my oversight of the Children and Youth Investment Trust, that is the thing that I required. There's more requirements ever than there had been before that you had to bid. And, in fact, while I certainly did not anticipate that I would have a colleague that was running a criminal enterprise out of his office, it was the reporting requirements and the bidding requirements, the things that were required of Harry Thomas and his staff is what forced them to commit fraud, which helped to get them -- get him convicted.
SHERWOODMayor Williams, you know, was here last week, and he said that he -- the children's trust fund was set up when he was mayor. Now Robert Bobb, the former city administrator, is running as head of the board there. Do you think he's a good person to make sure that this agency goes in the right direction?
WELLSWell, I think Robert Bobb brings the gravitas that Mayor Williams initially envisioned for who would provide the oversight, the fiduciary responsibility of the public and private dollars that were there. And what happened was that the next mayor did not put the same type of people there. We had some of the best folks that could stand up to the council to say, you are not to mess with these dollars, and you can't direct these dollars.
WELLSBut we lost that under the previous mayor, and now they're rebuilding it. But the Children and Youth Investment Trust, if we lose it, it's just the casualty of the lack of ethics, and it's the irresponsibility of the city council. The only reason we would lose the Children and Youth Investment Trust is due to the actions of elected officials.
SHERWOODWill you take...
SHERWOODWill you take corporate funds if you run for mayor? You've talked -- remove them from the campaigns. But if that doesn't pass the council, you could be at a severe disadvantage money-wise.
WELLSYeah. I will not take corporate donations. But let me say that you're exactly right, Tom, that I tried to pass a law that'll at least tell us who owns the corporations that give donations to campaigns...
WELLS...at least tell us who owns the corporations. The principle should be you should only be able to give once. You shouldn't be able to max out more than once, 10, 20, 30 times because you have all these corporations that you don't have to say who owns them. So, no, I think that undermines the confidence in our elected -- electoral process.
NNAMDIRon Moten, thank you for your call. We're talking with Tommy Wells. He's a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat from Ward 6, chairman of the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary and will be announcing on Monday an exploratory committee to run for mayor of the District of Columbia. If you have questions or comments for the would-be mayor, call us at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. How would you describe the challenge in front of you, Tommy Wells, in having to introduce yourself to voters who may not know you well yet? People may know you as the plastic bag fee guy or, if they read the City Paper, as council martyr saint Tommy Wells. This is what Loose Lips calls. How do -- by the way, how do you feel about that moniker?
SHERWOODHe likes it. He likes it.
WELLSBeing identified with being honest is never a bad thing, I'll tell you that. But let me say that that's part of the work of the exploratory committee. Just like the forum that I'm holding Monday night in Ward 8, I'm holding a forum in every ward in the city to talk to people about what do they expect from their government. Are they getting it? What do they want different, and what's their vision for Washington that doesn't match what I bring? So that's the purpose of the exploratory committee, Kojo, is to go to every part of our city to talk about the future of Washington.
SHERWOODIs this committee a cast of thousands, or is it just going to be the close -- I can't think of the person who's always kind of run your campaigns. Is he going to run it again? And what -- is it going to be a cast of thousands? Are you inviting people to join your exploratory committee or to contribute? What is this committee? Full disclosure.
NNAMDIHow large is it going to be?
WELLSWell, the committee is...
SHERWOODIs you right now.
WELLSAbsolutely. You start out...
SHERWOODYou and Charles.
WELLSYou should not be -- it's against the law to spend any money on any activity, run for office, unless you have a legal entity like an exploratory committee, same as a campaign committee. And so that is -- the primary purpose is so that I'm on the right side of the law, so that I can do some polling, that we can have meetings, I can, you know, hire some folks to help organize and then determine is it the right thing for me to do.
SHERWOODWhat is the questions you want -- that you want to ask because you've got the experience, you have the ambition. And I'll say that word politely. I don't mean that as a bad word. You -- I'm not sure what you need to hear to decide that you would run because it seems to me you've been working, doing your job with the anticipation that you will run.
WELLSWell, part of it is to determine the dissatisfaction with the current government. I'm...
SHERWOODThe Post poll showed it was in the toilet. The Council rating is like the Congress and Mayor Gray has not recovered from the -- since last spring when his ratings were horrendous.
WELLSWell, that's part of what caused me to decide to open the exploratory committee, Tom. It's exactly that people feel very -- I think people feel hopeful about the city, that the city is moving in the right direction and people are just feeling, you know, feeling better about living in Washington. That's why more people are moving in. But it's the government.
SHERWOODSpeaking of that. What do you think of Nat Gandhi 'cause this would be a big issue? Nat Gandhi is leaving. I have said all the nice things I have to say about him. You can maybe say something else. You got to replace him. That's an important position to have next.
WELLSWell, the first thing is, I stated at his -- when he was to be re-appointed, that I would not have voted for him. But for the fact that the city was in turmoil, that there is loss of confidence in our elected government, whether it'll be Congress, bond raters, anybody like that, I felt like that because we were not stable, I would have to vote for Dr. Gandhi. But I've -- Dr. Gandhi is a friend of mine. We went to lunch, and I told him I would not be supporting him, but for that fact, he should be grooming his successor.
WELLSAnd that for, you know, any company that has an auditor, you don't want the same auditor for 10, 15, 20 years because whatever mistake you make becomes magnified. And we saw that under Dr. Gandhi, over $48 million from Harriette Walters stolen from the government and then some of the mistakes and things that are happening with tax assessments.
NNAMDIThere are casts of thousands waiting to speak with you. I'll start with Aaron in Columbia Heights. Aaron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AARONHi. How are you doing? Thanks for having my call. So I was -- I worked with the homeless population and, you know, it's just increasing quickly. And I was wondering, Tommy, what you would do with the increase in homeless families and homelessness in the city and about the lack of affordable housing and the building of massive amounts of luxury apartments but not mixed housing.
WELLSWell, that's a great question. The first is that I was an early supporter and helped guide Housing First for the District. And during the recession, we did not have a significant increase in single men homeless, which used to be the most chronic, intractable homeless problem in the city because Housing First, we placed almost over 1,000 people into apartments. And now we still have a 90 percent retention rate, and it worked. Now, in terms of what's happened, you're exactly right.
WELLSIt's homeless families that have been falling over the cliff at a rapid rate. And D.C. General is inhumane place to be stacking up families. And what we have to do is that -- I realized that as, you know, politically unpopular to put some transitional housing for homeless families elsewhere in the city, but that's what we have to do. We have to close D.C. General. We're going to have to open transitional housing where people are put in much better places, where they can interact in their neighborhoods.
SHERWOODAll eight wards?
WELLSIf that's a need be, all eight wards. I don't think it's a political equation of saying everybody has to do their share. But I think the city as a whole has to do its share. D.C. General should be closed. And as mayor, I'm closing D.C. General.
NNAMDIAaron, thank you for your call. On to Joe on Capitol Hill. Joe, your turn.
JOEHi, Tommy. I am -- I probably support the efforts that you mentioned to eliminate cronyism from D.C. government. But, sir, if you would place your Eastern Market Preservation Restoration Act on the recycling bin, that might be a first step to that end because despite pre-text, otherwise, those of us close to the issue believe that that's an attempt to take public asset and transfer it to a cabal of cronies. I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIWell, wait, Joe. Exactly how do you see that being done?
WELLSJoe, you're asking me to re-introduce my bill on Eastern Market governance?
JOESay again. Say again, Tom.
WELLSJoe, you're asking me to re-introduce my bill that died in committee last year on new governance for Eastern Market?
JOEYou are going to re-introduce...
WELLSAre you asking me to re-introduce that bill? Well, I'm trying to understand your question.
SHERWOODWell, you know, some of our listeners may not know. Eastern Market is a...
SHERWOOD...spectacular food service and community center on Capitol Hill that was burned a few years ago. It's been rebuilt.
NNAMDIWhat's the issue there?
SHERWOODThere has been an ongoing controversy about who is going to run it, whether contractors or the city. There's been a removal of the original contractors. Hasn't the city been running it for a while?
WELLSThe city has been running Eastern Market, and I think the city is doing a good job. But what -- generally, what I've heard from the head of property management for the city is that they're not very good at running, you know, commercial enterprises.
SHERWOODWhy should the city run a market anyway?
WELLSWell, only because the previous regime did not work very well with contracting it out. And so, you know, the market was not being renovated. But for the fire, the market would still be demolition by neglect. Because of the fire, we've rebuilt the beautiful Eastern Market. But how it goes forward, we do need a new governance model where, you know, if the government has to buy detergent, they have to, you know, get three bids.
WELLSThere's a lot of things around contracting that we've seen that really prevents us from being able to operate on something as nimble as when you -- for a commercial enterprise.
SHERWOODWas the caller suggesting you favor some person, some private contractor over another? It sounded like he was unhappy with what you are trying to do but he didn't quite say so.
WELLSWell, there's always controversy at the Eastern Market. It's part of the whole thing. I think Joe is one of the vendors there that -- is outside of the market. He wants to be sure that his grandfathered in so that he can continue to be there regardless of who operates the market. I know that all the vendors there are always concerned about their ability to stay there. And the bill that I introduced did make that happen and would make that happen, but I'm sure what he's...
NNAMDII want to talk...
WELLSI'm sorry. I won't go too far with that.
NNAMDITalk police for a second here because the police department is taking heat from that Human Rights Watch report that claims that during the past several years, among other things, police failed to document or investigate at least 170 sexual cases. As the new chairman of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee, you've promised to hold hearings on this. What kind of answers will you be looking for in these hearings? Chief Lanier defended her own record pretty strenuously on this broadcast.
WELLSWell, thank you for that question, Kojo. There has been this report that questions the chief and MPD's ability to responsibly respond to sexual assaults in the District. And so the chief has argued pretty forcefully back that this report is not legitimate.
WELLSAnd so we have a popular police chief. This needs to be handled responsibly, but we also have to make sure to citizens that indeed our MPD does investigate and handle these things.
NNAMDIHave you met with the chief to discuss it yet?
WELLSSo what I've done is I've -- and I should be able to announce later this afternoon that I've recruited a major law firm for D.C. to work with me and to help staff a hearing and then help work on a report, review all the recommendations and evaluate this Human Rights report along with the chief's response and everything else that we can get our hands on to look at deeply to be sure that this dispute is handled independently in a way that folks will trust the results.
SHERWOODAnd Chief Lanier has asked also -- she -- I think she said even the U.S. attorney or someone should investigate but...
WELLSShe asked the Justice Department, Tom...
WELLS...but that could take a year.
SHERWOODBut the point being she is open to an independent investigation, which is -- she's not opposing that. So that's good.
WELLSOh, I don't think she will oppose this, but I do want to bring in -- I'm going to bring in some -- a lot of extra help pro bono to...
SHERWOODWe're almost out of time. The police officers have not had a contract raise. There's a personal dispute maybe between Kris Baumann, the head of FOP, and the chief. What is the hold up? Why can't we pay the officers some kind of fair wage?
WELLSTom, that's, you know, I appreciate that because we need 100 new police officers. We just got approval. You know, I lose that vote 12-1. Just got approval for 50 more this morning, and we're going to get the next 50. We're going to get 100 more officers.
SHERWOODWill you keep this contract, though?
WELLSBut in order to keep them -- they haven't had a raise in seven years. Every day there is not a new contract with our police officers, I think we are a day less safe.
SHERWOODAnd you are pushing for that?
WELLSAbsolutely. That's the highest priority for me.
NNAMDITommy Wells is a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat from Ward 6 and the chairman of the Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, forming exploratory committee to run for mayor. Councilmember Wells, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, a man who break stories even while he is on vacation.
SHERWOODAnd I'm exploring what I'm having for lunch.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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