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.
Snow and slush shut down most of the D.C. region for a day. Maryland lawmakers move closer to ending the death penalty in the Old Line State. And the District rolls out a plan to keep the FBI headquarters inside Washington. 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
- Anthony G. Brown Lieutenant Governor, Maryland
- Robert Spagnoletti Chairman, D.C. Board of Ethics and Accountability; Former Attorney General, District of Columbia
Politics Hour Video
Maryland Lt. Gov Anthony Brown explained why now is the right time to abolish the death penalty. He said studies show capital punishment is unreliable, biased against African Americans and doesn’t serve to reduce crime.
The Maryland Senate voted to repeal the state’s death penalty Wednesday, and the legislation now moves to the House of Delegates for approval.
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 who covers a great deal of politics here in town. But when we're expecting a snowquester, then Tom Sherwood gets out and covers snow. Did you?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI had my brand-new Channel 4 blue jacket that they told us to wear. They didn't ask us. They told us to wear -- I had to rip the, you know, the tags off of it 'cause I hadn't really worn it yet. I was all fired up, ready to go, and, you know, it was a no-show snow.
NNAMDIBut you did -- but you did do something.
SHERWOODI went out, and I -- two little children in Northeast -- Northwest, Washington, off of 16th Street had done a great little snowman. I interviewed their father, and I went around. I went to Anacostia over to the -- I'm sorry I can't remember the name of the Catholic church now that has that panoramic view of downtown Washington.
NNAMDIWas it St. Therese of Avalon? Was it that one? No.
SHERWOODNo. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I think.
NNAMDIAh, that's what you're talking about.
SHERWOODBeautiful place there.
NNAMDIWell, did you contribute to the ongoing reputation that the Washington region has that we panic at the first sign of snow and shut everything down?
SHERWOODWell, I don't think panic is the right word.
NNAMDIWell, we do. I think it is.
SHERWOODI think people are -- well, this is not a -- despite the fact we do get some snow, this is not a snow region. If you ask someone from Chicago or western New York State, this is not a snow region. And we have -- you know, first of all, it's all those crazy drivers from Virginia who are the cause of all the problems, whether it's snowing or not.
NNAMDIYeah, just get us into trouble with our Virginia listeners.
SHERWOODThat's OK. But, you know, it didn't happen. I was actually kind of disappointed. I wore my snow -- I've had the same pair of snow boots, I think, 20 years, 'cause I don't get out in it very much.
NNAMDIIn Virginia, it got political. That should remind you of something that happened in the District many years ago. In Virginia, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe sent out a tweet, you know, telling people to be careful in the snow, try to stay out of it. It turned out that he sent that tweet from...
NNAMDI...from Florida where his likely opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general in the gubernatorial race, said he was in balmy Florida, 76 degrees, palling around with his millionaire friends. Do you remember a snowstorm that we had in Washington many years ago where the then-sitting mayor was in balmy California at that time?
SHERWOODI was with him.
SHERWOODWe were in Los Angeles. Now, the mayor -- Mayor Barry had the worst luck. I mean he told Milton Coleman, who's now retired from The Post, once he, you know, the quote was, you know, the Lord brought it, the Lord can take it away type quote. I think Barry says he didn't really quite say that, but he probably said something like it. You know, but I had to tell you since Tony Williams -- the control board in the late '90s and ever since then, the city has changed radically, the District has, its snow policy. It's out early. It has new equipment every few years. It does what a major city should do.
NNAMDIMore talk about D.C. later, just wanted to run to Maryland for a second because in Anne Arundel county apparently The Washington Post is reporting anyway that Anne Arundel residents this week braced for another round of TMI after the discovery of hundreds of surveillance cameras at county facilities that were said to be under the control of former county executive John Leopold.
NNAMDIThe discovery of the cameras sending county leaders into a state of high alert. cameras in of themselves are not a problem, says Leopold replacement, Lauren Neuman, but they must, however, be utilized properly. You like transparency. Is that too late too much transparency for you?
SHERWOODWell, you know my feeling about security cameras. It's an overindulgence in security, anyway, but the -- how could someone put up 500 cameras and someone else not know it?
NNAMDIYeah. Well, somebody was looking into those cameras at something.
SHERWOODAnd I presume these are digital cameras where they record something for a couple 24-hour periods or something like that, then start over if nothing has happened.
SHERWOODBut maybe there's -- Richard Nixon, maybe there's a cache of tape somewhere with all kinds of who knows what from the...
NNAMDIIf there's a cache of tapes in Anne Arundel County...
NNAMDI...you can bet that you can find Anthony Brown on some of them because he has visited that county a lot as lieutenant governor of Maryland. He joins us in studio. Anthony Brown, thank you so much for joining us. Anthony Brown is a Democrat. Are you on some of those Anne Arundel County tapes?
LT. GOV. ANTHONY G. BROWNWell, first, Kojo and Tom, it's great to be back on the show. I don't know where the cameras were located, whether I'm on them or not. But, look, we've got a...
NNAMDIHere's a picture of Anthony Brown gambling.
BROWNWe've got a new county executive in Anne Arundel County, and she's determined to sort of restore confidence in county government. So we'd like -- we certainly like to see her successful in that regard.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for the lieutenant governor, you can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Mr. Lieutenant Governor, General Assembly took a big step closer this week to ending the state's death penalty. The bill still needs to go through the House of Delegate. But it's an issue that one of the governors -- it is one of the governor's biggest priorities. You have said that you have always been against the death penalty. Why do you feel that way, and why do you feel this is right now the right step for Maryland to take?
BROWNYou know, Kojo, the death penalty and the debate around the death penalty brings out strong opinions on both sides. And regardless of where you are on the sort of the morality of state executions, for me, the death penalty, the death penalty system, it's biased. It's unreliable, and it hasn't served as a deterrent. Let me take up the issue of bias. You know, there are well-intended judges and prosecutors and law enforcement, correctional officers that seek justice every day, yet if you look at the numbers in the death penalty system, they're alarming.
BROWNWhat I mean by that is 13 percent, for example, nationwide, 13 percent of Americans are African-American, yet 42 percent of the people on death row in America are African-American. Eighty percent of the death row inmates today in Maryland are African-American. The numbers just don't stack up. There are biases in the system. I don't think the system will rid itself of those biases. So that's one of the reasons why I support replacing the death penalty with life sentences without the possibility of parole. That's not a light sentence. That's -- I mean jail...
NNAMDIWell, Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler, when he was on the show, said that he thinks the fact that Maryland now has both of those gives prosecutors another option when they're prosecuting a case because sometimes people will decide to go with life without possibility of parole because they want to avoid the death penalty. So the impression I got is that he doesn't necessarily want it taken off the table.
BROWNWell, you know, the -- and I also oppose it because the death penalty is not reliable. So, for example, we have a case in -- you don't have to look further than Maryland. I mean this happens around the country. Since 1977, 140 people who are on death row were later freed. They were exonerated because of evidence that showed their innocence. In Maryland in 1991, a guy named Anthony Gray, he was charged with murder. He was threatened, if you will, with the death penalty.
BROWNHe pled guilty in order to get a life sentence. And five years later, Anthony Gray was released from jail because they found the right killer. It wasn't Anthony Gray. In 25 percent of the cases where death row inmates are later exonerated and freed, in 25 percent of those cases, they confessed or pled guilty to the crime originally charged. It's -- when you're threatened with the death penalty, defendants apparently will say things and do things to avoid the death penalty. And if that means confessing to a crime that results in life imprisonment instead of death, they'll do it. So it's an unreliable system.
NNAMDII hate to admit it, but you seem to have a good point. Tom, go ahead. Make him say something bad.
SHERWOODIs there no crime so heinous, so horrible, so terrible that the death penalty shouldn't be used?
BROWNYeah, Tom, I think that, you know, you could -- anyone of us could look at a crime whether it's the mass killings in Newtown, Conn., whether it was the Oklahoma City bombing, whether it was the tragedy on 9/11, and you'd probably get an overwhelming majority of people would say that is a case where there ought to be the death penalty. The problem is that we don't set up the system that way. The death penalty is for a broad category of offenses, and we're putting innocent people unfortunately on death row.
SHERWOODWould that call for revising how the death penalty is applied rather than and when as opposed to never?
BROWNSo, for example, in Maryland, Tom, we tried that. Two years ago, maybe three years ago, we passed a law that said that, yeah, they have to have DNA evidence or a tape confession, even prosecutors came and said you're tying our hands. And what it suggests is that you simply can't design a system that is so fail-safe, that is so reliable, that doesn't have prejudice and bias in it that that would give us confidence that the death penalty is an acceptable penalty.
BROWNIt's one thing when you make a mistake and someone spends time in jail and then you have to release them. And that's not a good thing. It's an entirely different thing when you put someone to death only to find that they were not guilty in the first place.
SHERWOODI don't know the statistics. How many states have outlawed the death penalty now?
BROWNI don't know how many states have -- you mean repealed the death penalty?
BROWNNo, I don't know, but here's also an interesting fact that really supports my position that we should repeal the death penalty. Some say it's a deterrent. But a 2011 study looked at the death penalty in those states that have the death penalty, the murder rate and compared it to those states that do not have the death penalty and what their murder rate was and what the study found was in states that have the death penalty, the murder rate is actually 18 percent higher than in states that don't have the death penalty. So what it demonstrates to me is that the death penalty isn't really a deterrent.
NNAMDIWhat about the politics of this? What approach are you and the governor going to take to make sure that things go your way when the bill gets to the House?
SHERWOODAnd when does it get to House?
BROWNIt will go to the House next week, and I mean the bills were cross-filed. So the bill -- the House has been debating the issue. I don't know when it will make it out of committee and on the floor in the House. But the governor and I continue to work with likeminded legislators in both the House and the Senate that believe that our system of justice should be, you know, based on fairness and reliability and truth, not on retribution and bias.
BROWNThere's a growing number of legislators that feel that way, and that's why, you know, several years ago, we could not pass it in the Senate. This year, we did, and we're hopeful that we'll be able do the same thing in the House.
NNAMDIOur guest is Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown of Maryland. He's a Democrat. You can call with your questions or comments at 800-433-8850. If you have called already, stay on the line. We will get to your call. You can also can send email to email@example.com. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODHow much time is left in this General Assembly session?
BROWNWe have a little over four weeks.
SHERWOODFour weeks, OK.
NNAMDIAll eyes will be on House of Delegates for another issue next week, gun violence. A committee expected to vote on a proposal that would put stricter gun measures in place, including more expansive background checks and a handgun licensing programming -- program. What do you see is at stake in this debate?
BROWNI think what's at stake is whether or not we can make our communities safer from violence. I don't think there's anything in our proposal that would entirely rid our communities of violence. But our proposal does have a number of provisions that will move us in the right direction. For example, right now in Maryland, there's a requirement for a background check. And if you are on the list of people who are ineligible to buy a firearm, then you won't receive the license.
BROWNBut what we're proposing is, in addition to that background check, that they're include fingerprinting and also safety training requirement, four hours of safety training. Why this is important is we believe it will go a long way in reducing straw purchases.
BROWNStraw purchases is where you have someone who's not eligible to buy a firearm, they ask someone else to do it for them, that person agrees to do it. And that's not a good thing. The background check does not prevent that from happening. Licensing -- stringent licensing will not come altogether, entirely prevent it from happening, but it will reduce the number of straw purchases.
NNAMDIIs that going to be enough for Prince George's County, where we have seen six young people die this year already in addition to the gun measures from a policy perspective? What do you think can help to bring the numbers down in Prince George's County?
BROWNSure. We need to do more than just gun control. There's no doubt about that. Gun control is a big piece of it. Enhance law enforcement, which means better coordination between state and local as well as state and the District of Columbia, the better use of technology and supervising our most violent offenders. As you know, Kojo and Tom, the numbers are moving in the right direction in Prince George's County. I mean, last year there was a 35 percent reduction in homicides and in call categories of crime. Prince George's County really has led the state in the reduction.
SHERWOODAlthough it's been a kind of a rough start, hasn't it been, to this year for homicides?
BROWNNo, it has been a rough start, and certainly all of us are troubled by the six students who were -- have been killed since the school year started in September. I think Angela Alsobrooks, the state attorney there, sort of, you know, got it right when she said that this is a all-hands community problem and that we need to look to not only what we're doing in schools, providing opportunities, conflict resolution, engaging the faith community, non-private -- nonprofit service providers…
SHERWOODHasn't all of that been for decades, though, and the crime rate still go up and down, they kind of rise and fall? All of that community, people talk about coming together and holding hands and getting -- attacking them on all fronts. And it just seems I've heard that for 30 years in Prince George's, in the District and other places.
BROWNNo, you're right. And in the last 30 years, the trend line has been down. I mean, it's been -- it's fluctuated with highs and lows. But the trend line for a crime in Maryland, in Prince George's County has been down. So that's the good news. So there are some things that we're doing that are working. For example, we more closely supervise our most violent offenders that are on probation.
BROWNWe're supervising them better today than ever before. We're using DNA testing. And I know that's controversial, the sampling, but we've closed many, many cases with the use of DNA technology. So there are a number of things that we have done that we need to continue doing so that the trend line continues to move in the right direction.
SHERWOODOne more question I have on guns.
SHERWOODThe source of guns -- the city of New York, the mayor wants to sue Virginia, if he could, saying that guns from Virginia. Here in the District of Columbia, you talk to D.C. police officers and they say, well, it's easy to get guns in Virginia. I assume that people come across the Wilson Bridge and bring guns. Is Virginia a problem in terms of source of guns in Maryland?
BROWNWell, I think, perhaps, the best way to respond to that is that that is exhibit A on why we need federal gun control. And I was pleased to see that a Senate committee yesterday passed that or approved a measure that would reduce straw purchases nationwide. So the comments by officials in New York about what's happening in Virginia just reflects that we need a national policy on gun control. It shouldn't prevent us in states like Maryland and elsewhere to impose more strict gun control measures. But it does call for a federal -- the need for a federal policy.
NNAMDISeveral people want to talk about the death penalty. We'll talk with Eileen in Arlington, Va., first. Eileen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EILEENThank you for taking my call. I'm a former prosecutor from the District of Columbia and certainly saw the broadest range of the most heinous offenses that can -- one person can commit against another. And nonetheless, I support Maryland's effort to abolish the death penalty for the reasons that the lieutenant governor has spoken before.
EILEENBut also because the statistics in terms of the imposition of the death penalty across the entire United States of America strongly indicate that the likelihood of getting the death penalty or not getting the death penalty can be statistically anticipated based on the race and the gender of those -- the perpetrator and the victim of the crimes.
EILEENSo that if you are a white female, for example, who commits a crime against a white male, no matter how heinous the offense, the likelihood that you'll get the death penalty with be greatly diminished versus if you're an African-American male who commits a crime against a white female. That's one concern.
EILEENAnd then the other concern is that the imposition of the death penalty in some states, it shouldn't -- it should not be that if I commit my crime in Maryland that I'm highly likely to get the death penalty, but if I cross the state line into Pennsylvania that there's no likelihood that I'll get it. So that's...
NNAMDIEileen, thank you very much for your call. Anthony Brown is hoping that you move to Maryland and become a voter there. I'm sure he shares your view. Lt. Gov. Brown?
BROWNNo, I mean, I do. I mean, the -- I've looked at similar statistics. And since 1978, 23 percent of the death penalty eligible cases included a black defendant and a white victim. However, in that same period of time, 70 percent of those cases where the death penalty was actually imposed was when you had black defendant and a white victim. So you're seeing a three-time greater prosecution rate under those circumstances. And again, it goes to the question, is the system biased? Is it just? And I answer that, no, it isn't.
NNAMDIAndrew in -- if you want to talk death penalty, go ahead. Yes.
SHERWOODYes, and very quickly. Well, let's extend it from the death penalty to life imprisonment. Are there statistics that show that African-Americans got life imprisonment more than other people who are charged with crimes? And why not attack that issue also, that they're punished unfairly?
BROWNRight, so that issue was raised, Tom, during the hearing before the Senate judicial proceedings committee, and we're actually running those numbers. I think a point to make is that, again, the death penalty is an irreversible, irrevocable penalty. And so if you sentence someone to life imprisonment even without the possibility to parole and they're later exonerated, well, you know, you've made a mistake. And to travesty, the person's alive, they may be able to go on with their lives. That's not the case with the death penalty.
NNAMDIHere is Andrew in Washington, D.C. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWAll right. Thanks for having me. So I'm just curious, you know, if you look at Maryland versus Virginia over the last couple of years, they've been going in very different directions. Maryland has passed the DREAM Act and gay marriage, probably going to pass gun control. Virginia hasn't done any of that. I was wondering why you think that is?
NNAMDIWhy Anthony Brown thinks that is?
SHERWOODYeah, that's a good question.
BROWNWell, let me speak to Maryland and you can draw your own sort of inferences or conclusions. Look, Maryland, you know, ours is a state where we value inclusion, and that why we passed marriage equality and dignity. And marriage is a state where we are really big on opportunity, And we understand the important role that education, both K-12 and higher education, plays in erecting these ladders of opportunity, so that's why we extended or passed the DREAM Act.
BROWNOn the death penalty, you know, we want a system that's based on our core beliefs, in justice, in truth, systems of justice that promote deterrence and rehabilitation. And we don't see the death penalty as part of that.
NNAMDIWell, I guess our caller and Tom Sherwood want you to say, what's wrong with Virginia?
SHERWOODWell, I don't want to say what's wrong with Virginia, but it is a significantly different state. Is Delaware different? Pennsylvania different?
BROWNYou know, let me just concede on what...
SHERWOODWe're trying to get...
BROWNLet me concede a shortcoming perhaps on my part. I've got my hands full in Maryland trying to, you know, promote progressive policy positions and measures and initiatives, folks, and on quality of life in Maryland.
SHERWOODI just want you to know my Channel 4 cameraman lives in Virginia. So...
NNAMDII'm sorry, Andrew.
SHERWOODSo he can make you look bad with it.
NNAMDIAndrew, thank you for your call, but it's not working right now. Last year was a big year for your administration. Gay marriage went forward. The DREAM Act law withstood a referendum. This year, you're moving very hard again on measures that can fairly be considered, I guess, legacy kinds of bills, not just on guns and the death penalty, but on wind power now on transportation. When the governor's term expires next year, what are the things you hope people remember this administration for?
SHERWOODOr you for?
SHERWOODWho is that lieutenant governor?
BROWNWho is that Brown in the O'Malley-Brown team?
BROWNLook, I think we've accomplished a lot in the last six years. I mean, we built the best-in-the-nation public schools according to Education Week magazine. We've made college much more affordable. In fact, I think The Post recently ran an article with a nice graph that showed Maryland's rate of tuition increase is the lowest now in the country. We've made our community safer. We've expanded health care to 365 Marylanders who didn't have it before.
BROWNSo we've done -- we've made a lot of progress even during difficult times, balanced our budget, maintain a AAA bond rating, which I think is the gold seal for, you know, fiscal responsibility in government. So we've stayed focused on our values of education, protecting the environment, public safety, public health, balanced the budget through a tough recession and a protracted recovery. And I think Maryland want...
NNAMDIAll of which would seem to auger well for a lieutenant governor making a run for the governorship of this state. When are you going to make a decision? It's my understanding that a possible opponent, Doug Gansler, is busy raising money. What are you doing?
BROWNYou know, I was raised in a home where my father taught me the lesson of service. He says, focus on what you're doing. Serve people. And when you do that, you do it well. Opportunities will present themselves. I know that my service to the people of Maryland will not end with my term as lieutenant governor.
BROWNSo I'm exploring running for governor in 2014. We're certainly engaging leaders in every industry, in the community, around the state. We're raising money as well so that in short order here, we certainly need to get beyond the legislative session. We've got a lot of work left to do. We'll be able to announce what direction that I'm going.
SHERWOODI hate to bring up Virginia again, but some people suggest that this is a situation where the attorney general in Virginia leapfrogged over the lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, to run for governor. And Bill Bolling now is trying to decide whether to run an independent campaign.
NNAMDIA third party -- independent candidacy.
SHERWOODAre you in -- Mr. Gansler has raised about $5 million dollars to your one-half or something like that. Are you concerned at all that he's quite clear what he's doing, and you're waiting that you could be -- or is it a past tense?
SHERWOODYes. What's the past -- Leaptfrog over.
BROWNLook, I think...
SHERWOODAre you worried about the frogs?
BROWNI think at the end of the day, Maryland voters are going to evaluate their candidates based on record of accomplishment, the vision that we are articulating in pursuing for a better Maryland and, sort of, our values.
SHERWOODWell, what would you do that you haven't -- you have been right along shoulder to shoulder with the governor. What would you -- what would be different about you that the governor is not doing? Where do you disagree? Where has the governor, politely if you have to, hasn't done something that you would have done if you were in the lead seat?
BROWNWell, look, I mean, I think that under -- during the last six years under this partnership, the O'Malley-Brown partnership -- and I'm going to restate the progress that we've made in schools and the environment and health care. And I think Maryland generally believe that Maryland's moving in the right direction, certainly when you compare how we have weathered the recession compared to other states. And a lot of that is, of course, due to Martin O'Malley's leadership. He's been an extraordinary governor.
SHERWOODWell, you're talking about him instead of you, though. Do you support all his gas tax increases?
BROWNWhat I support is solving the transportation infrastructure challenge, and it does require raising revenues. So certainly, the governor and I, working with the residing officers, yes, I support the package to raise revenues so that we can reinvest in our infrastructure, the purple line. We're not going to be able to do the purple line unless we increase funding in the transportation trust fund, the red line in Baltimore, the Nice Bridge and expanding capacity there. So all of this quality that we have measure...
SHERWOODIf we have the money also in 2017 for how -- if you don't do anything.
BROWNIf we don't do anything, the cost of inaction is greater. Marylanders right now spend more time stuck in traffic than in anywhere -- anywhere else in the country. And I know that Marylanders -- certainly that's true for me -- would rather spend time either at home with their loved ones or on the job being productive and not stuck on traffic.
SHERWOODCan I do one more quicker question?
NNAMDIOK. But I still want to get my phone….
SHERWOODFracking. Before there was an attempt to ban fracking. It died in committee this week. Are you willing to look at fracking as something that happened in Maryland?
BROWNRight. So it wasn't to ban fracking. It was to put a moratorium until a study was completed. We put $1.5 million in our budget to complete the study. So here's where I am. I believe that we can responsibly extract natural gas from the Marcella Shale but with the emphasis on responsible. We've got to do it in a way that's environmentally sensitive, that is protective of the workforce, the men and women that will be engaged in this activity. I believe that we can do it, so that's why we've put $1.5 million into studying it.
NNAMDIWe got time for one more. Here's Mazzar (sp?) in Falls Church, Va. Mazzar, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
MAZZARHey, Mr. Nnamdi. How are you?
MAZZARThe one thing I don't want to do -- to say is that people want to hear things. Look at the -- they're all garbage, all nonsense. These people want to have gay marriages and all these nonsense to get a vote or whatever it is that they're doing. When they use the word eMac and all that -- when a person is illegal, there's something -- when the police has stopped me and say, you did something illegal, he doesn't give me a $10 voucher to use it as a, you know, he doesn't...
NNAMDIMazzar is opposed to the Dream Act in Maryland, it would appear, the notion that people are in this country illegally. And in his view, you are rewarding them with a path to citizenship.
SHERWOODAnd the Dream Act, we should point out, is about children going to school.
NNAMDIIt's about the children...
BROWNRight. The Dream Act is...
NNAMDI...being able to go school, being able to play in-state tuition.
BROWNAffordable college for undocumented -- children of undocumented immigrants. And look...
NNAMDIMazzar feels you're rewarding people for illegal behavior.
BROWNBut that's not what the people of Maryland believe. And as you know, I mean, not only did we pass that in the legislature, but we took it to the people. And by referendum, close to 60 percent...
SHERWOODWell, you didn't take it to the people.
SHERWOODSome people who didn't like it took it to the people and they lost.
BROWNWell, that's right. That's right. And so it went to the people of Maryland and close to 60 percent -- I think it was 58 percent of Marylanders said, look, we support opportunity for children graduating from Maryland schools. So...
NNAMDIIt's a done deal, Mazzar. Thank you very much for your call. Anthony Brown, thank you so much for joining us.
BROWNThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnthony Brown is the lieutenant governor of Maryland. He is a Democrat. We'll be joined shortly by Robert Spagnoletti, chairman of the D.C. Board of Ethics. But before he makes his way in here, Tom Sherwood, there are few D.C. issues I would like to discuss with you. Should the D.C. shadow delegation get paid?
BROWNAt-large councilmember Vincent Orange has introduced a bill that would, for the first time, pay these three elected officials. We have a shadow representative and two shadow senators. His bill would pay each official a stipend of $35,000, presumably a year, plus, a $75,000 staff allowance and a $75,000 programming allowance.
SHERWOODWe can look at it one of two ways. The -- these jobs, ever since they've been in place, have been statehood senators, statehood representative, they haven't had any weight on Capitol Hill. They're kind of existing, but they don't really have any weight until -- only through the good personal graces of whoever -- whomever holds that job has something done, and not much gets done.
SHERWOODAnd you could argue that if you actually pay them and recognize them, then they would have more of a standing to call upon members of Congress because they would actually be somebody and we have -- not to worry about other jobs.
NNAMDIThere was the other side of that argument.
NNAMDIWell, the other side of the argument is that the statehood fight is virtually going nowhere because it's not run as aggressively as, you know, the head of the NAACP told us here a couple of months ago, that there's got to be a lot more turning over the tables. You just can't politely ask for somebody to give you something they don't want to give you.
NNAMDISo that, I guess, the reckoning is that if they are paid, then somehow, they can be more effective. Presumably they won't just be running around with their hands out, asking people to give them an audience.
SHERWOODRight. And, you know, it's...
NNAMDIThey'll be able to do something of a more assertive nature.
SHERWOODAnd if you give them some money like that, maybe there'll be some opportunities, more ethics investigations.
NNAMDIWell, you never know. Mayor Vincent Gray proposing to locate the new headquarters of the FBI at the Poplar Point site. He said it won't take up that much room, maybe a 10-acre footprint.
NNAMDIBut it would appear that Virginia and Maryland were in this race, so to speak, ahead of the district.
SHERWOODWell, they're always ahead of us because they have congressional representation. So bada boom bada bing, but the fact is -- I'm surprised by Poplar Point. You know, there was a proposal to do that commercially, develop over there with a soccer stadium and some other things. You know, the FBI is a -- it's a killer on Pennsylvania Avenue. It's a dead zone. It wouldn't even allow little shops selling flowers and coffee on the front of their building 'cause they thought it was a security risk, and this is well before September 11.
SHERWOODAnd so, they need to go somewhere, like southeast, you know, at the St. Elizabeth's plot of land out there. That Poplar Point is right next to the baseball stadium, a reviving waterfront for this -- Anacostia, right around the corner from the Southwest Waterfront from where I live. Why would you want to put, essentially, a Rikers Island building right there in the middle of what is a reviving downtown?
SHERWOODThat should be a place for parks and boats and families to enjoy the city, not to look at some kind of monstrosity building that will probably have to be build to house their 11,000 employees and all of their records.
NNAMDISo that very...
SHERWOODI think the mayor wants to disdain it.
NNAMDIYou hope this is dead in the water.
SHERWOODNo, I think it's good. If you -- a business comes to you and says, I've got 11,000 employees, I'd like for them to be in your jurisdiction, you ought to look for a place for them. And we have places in the district for them. But Maryland and Virginia are very aggressive. The power in Maryland with Barbara Mikulski, the head of appropriations, and Chris Van Hollen and the budget matters, and Steny Hoyer in Prince Georges County, that's pretty powerful.
SHERWOODVirginia has some other power, too. We just don't have the power. But the FBI doesn't really want to be isolated and send away from the nation's capital. So we have some chance for them to stay in town, but it's not a great chance.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspaper. Joining us in studio now is Robert Spagnoletti. He is the chairman of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Accountability. He's also a former attorney general for the District of Columbia. Robert Spagnoletti, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
MR. ROBERT SPAGNOLETTIYou, too, Kojo. Good to be here.
NNAMDIYou chair the board that was created by the Council as its primary response to concerns about ethics in D.C. government. The last time we spoke back in 2012, you were putting staff together, getting the Ethics Board off the ground. Since then, you've issued formal opinions, conducted investigations and preliminary investigations. It's still a little confusing to the average citizen what the board is responsible for and what its enforcement powers are. How would you describe those, and how are they working in practice?
SPAGNOLETTII think it's going pretty well so far. We are charged with enforcing the code of conduct that applies to all District employees and public officials, and that's a big set of rules and regulations and statutes that govern how folks operate in an ethical way when -- in their government business.
NNAMDIAll District of Columbia employees.
SPAGNOLETTIAll D.C. government employees: public officials, elected officials, the mayor, the Council, everyone. And we -- in addition to that, we're charged with training everyone on what the ethics rules require, making recommendations about changes to the laws and the rules. We also take care of the financial disclosure and lobbyist registration systems and enforce those, and we have myriad other responsibilities all relating to government ethics.
SPAGNOLETTIWhen I was here last time, we were still hiring folks. We're now almost fully staffed. It's a relatively small group, nine employees. We did get one additional slot to deal with the Hatch Act. The District is no longer under the federal Hatch Act. We have our own local Hatch Act, and it requires us to go ahead and train and enforce and monitor those responsibilities as well. So we have a spot that's open for that position.
SPAGNOLETTIAnd additionally, we're finishing our hiring for the director of open government, which also falls under our purview, so -- but I do think that within the next few weeks, we'll be completely staffed. So we spend most of our time doing exactly as you described. There are -- the staff issues, and we review, ethics advice and opinions, formal and informal, which come in dozens every week.
NNAMDIWhat's the size of your staff now?
SPAGNOLETTIWe have a director of government ethics who oversees the operations of the office and a general counsel and investigators and a couple of lawyers as well as a top-notch office administrator.
SHERWOODOh, I'm sorry.
SPAGNOLETTINo. And we have about, I would say, two dozen or so investigations that are either ongoing or just included, some more high profile than others, but they come in every day. And as a result of more word getting out about what we do, more complaints are rolling in.
SHERWOODWhat is public knowledge for what you do? You have ethics advisory -- I think you said formal and informal. How much of this is -- if I want to be an aggressive reporter and come down to see what you're doing, how much of is it in the public record and how much is this behind a more closed door?
SPAGNOLETTIAll of our advice is required to be published. So anytime we give a formal advisory opinion, we are required to actually publish it. So it's on our website, and it winds up in the register. The person who's requesting the advice has the option of staying confidential. So we redact their name so you don't know who it is.
SHERWOODBut, say, if a councilmember asks you for an ethics advice, and then you would publish that advice in the -- but he or she might have her name not attached to it, but would you say a councilmember asked?
SPAGNOLETTIIn addition, all of our investigations, there are two sort of tracks for them. There's a preliminary investigation, which, generally speaking, is confidential, and that's to protect the identity while we decide whether or not there's at least a reasonable basis to believe that there was a violation, to go forward, you know, to prevent every sort of merit-less allegation being trotted out publicly.
SPAGNOLETTIBut once it gets past the preliminary investigation, or in rare cases where we decide, even in a preliminary stage, that there's really reason to believe that a violation occurred and that there's no harm in going public, we'll make that public.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. If you have comments or questions about the issue of ethics among D.C. government employees, whether they happen to be council members or simple everyday employees, call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It's my understanding you've taken over financial disclosure responsibilities for the Office of Campaign Finance. Is that in effect for this upcoming special election that we're having next month?
SPAGNOLETTIYes. Yes. I mean, we start -- we inherit the responsibility starting this filing season, if you will, in May. That will be when the general filers are required to submit it, and our online filing system should be operational sometime the end of next week or early the following. So we will be responsible for receiving and, you know, in an appropriate way, publishing those financial disclosure...
SHERWOODFor -- you don't do that until May, but the election is April 23. So you won't -- you will not be reviewing?
SPAGNOLETTIWe'll be taking -- we -- yeah. That's -- there is a little bit of a gap there.
SPAGNOLETTIBut we have been working with the council to the council to take those in a non-official way, if you will, and then make those available.
SHERWOODCan I say, if I can lobby the head of the ethics...
SPAGNOLETTIYou can lobby me. I can't lobby you the other way around.
SHERWOODThe -- well, I'm doing it publicly, not closed door. The financial disclosure form, where people give money or spend money in a campaign, seems to be woefully inadequate and barely follow their identities of who -- what type of work you do. Someone says consult, you know, something like that. It seems to me -- why can't there a better form to give better information and then hold the candidates and their campaign officials accountable when they don't fill out these very basic forms that all have much more information than they already do?
SPAGNOLETTIOK. I want to do -- I want to draw a distinction between campaign finance information and financial disclosure information.
SHERWOODOh. That was my next question. Where did you get this?
SPAGNOLETTIBecause -- so we don't -- we're not the...
SPAGNOLETTIWe're not the repository of all the campaign finance information.
SPAGNOLETTIThese are for government employees, current government employees...
SHERWOODRight. Yes. It comes every year, every May. Right. I'm sorry.
SPAGNOLETTII'm sure there's no conflicts of interest.
SHERWOODI was so irritated by the other one. I forgot -- and I thought, God, this is great. He's going to be in charge of that. He can fix that form.
SPAGNOLETTINo, no, no, no.
SHERWOODAll right. Well, the financial -- I have another complain about that one. The financial disclosure forms were great. You could go and look at it to see what people own and their potential conflicts. You could see if, in fact, they were living in the District of Columbia and where. And the previous attorney general for the District told the -- told them to redact the address and all this other information, this kind of fundamental information to find out if, in fact, they are in the city of Washington. Why is that?
SPAGNOLETTIWell, it is -- one of the things that we're doing right now is putting together a best practices report, and we're also required, on an annual basis, to make recommendations to the council and mayor about ways to improve and changes to things. We inherited the law the way it is. So, at the moment, we are considering all of those things, including making recommendations on changing the way that financial disclosure information is, in fact, disclosed and reviewed. And so that is one of the issues that the board is considering.
SHERWOODEven where someone lives. I mean, I could always go to the elections office and look up the person's voter registration. It just seems to me -- was it Peter Nicholas who was the -- in office at the time? He directed this. It wasn't a law. He directed them to withhold the information. I wasn't even sure there was a basis for them to do that.
SPAGNOLETTIAnd that is one of the things that the board will be considering.
NNAMDIWhy are your enforcement capabilities different for government employees than for what they are for elected officials? I read that you can enforce regulations for employees up to five years in the past, but apparently you can't do that when it counts to elected officials.
SPAGNOLETTIOK. So I'll try to explain this in as much non-legalese as I possibly can.
NNAMDIGood luck with that.
SPAGNOLETTII know. Just something in my DNA that may stop me from doing that. So there's -- we are -- we can enforce it against -- excuse me -- everybody, both regular D.C. government employees, council members and the mayor, going back for five years. That's our statute of limitations.
SPAGNOLETTISo if something happened three years ago, we could do it. The problem comes into play when -- if there's going to be a sanction. We can only -- the constitution limits you from imposing new sanctions, new penalties, new punishments on things that happened a long time ago when those sanctions weren't available before. So, for example, if you jaywalked, you know, today, jaywalk today, the only thing you would get was a $10 fine. If they change the law two years from now and make it a two-year jail sentence, they couldn't go back and say, look, two years ago, you jaywalked.
SPAGNOLETTIWe're not going to put you in jail for two years. So that's the same thing that we -- that's the issue that we have now, which is to say that for regular government employees -- and I apologize using the regular -- for the non-elected officials, 'cause they're all spectacular government employees, they were subject to a whole host of sanctions back before we were created.
SPAGNOLETTIBut council members and the mayor were not. That is that there was no sanction in place that the previous Board of Elections and Ethics combined could have impose on council members or the mayor, which is why we were created. So the new penalties of monetary fines, censure recommendations for removal from chairmanship or committee assignments, they only came into play in January of 2012 when we took effect.
SPAGNOLETTISo anything that happened before him we can investigate it. We can certainly investigate it. We make a finding about it. We just can't sanction anybody, the councilmember or the mayor, because of things that occurred before that date.
NNAMDIBut wait a minute. That would also apply to government employees in general?
SPAGNOLETTIBut there were sanctions available for government employees. And so whatever they could have been sanctioned for before by their agency directors or by the board of elections, whoever had that power, we can still do. It just happened to be a little gap in the previous law, something that we were supposed to fix and we do going forward. It's just anything that occurred before our effective date. The ex post facto clause of the Constitution prevents us from doing it.
SHERWOODWe're going to move along from that.
NNAMDIPut on your headphones soon because we'll be going to the phones. But go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODOf the cases of preliminary inquiries, have you done preliminary inquiries that you just missed involving elected officials that you said that it's not enough to pursue?
SPAGNOLETTIOff the top of my head, I couldn't -- I think the majority of the ones that's been dismissed in the preliminary fashion of -- had been against non-elected officials.
SHERWOODOK. And when you took this job, you had served on the mayor's transition committee. And I know people ask -- I saw you almost bristle about this -- that you could be independent and all the things the mayor's administration has done and said you would prefer your reputation than your job. Has that been a problem in any way with the number of people in the mayor's administration?
SPAGNOLETTINo. I'm fact great credit goes to the mayor's administration and to all of the -- quite frankly, all of the elected officials and the government employees. No, we have experienced no pressure. We've -- no attempt to influence our decisions. Certainly, people disagreed with things that we have done along the way in our preliminary investigations. But we've -- I can say uncategorically that it has been hands off by the administration.
SHERWOODAnd you're not involved in the federal investigations and all?
SPAGNOLETTINo. I mean, we certainly talk to and coordinate with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Attorney General's Office, but it's their investigation.
NNAMDIHere is Chez (sp?) in Columbia Heights in D.C. Chez, you're on the air. Or is that Chez? Go ahead, please.
CHEZOh, yes. Hello. I'd like to know two things. Do you investigate hiring, promotional and firing practices that are unfair within a department?
NNAMDIIf there is...
SHERWOODLike nerd personnel act stuff, that kind of.
SPAGNOLETTIGenerally no. I mean, we or -- we're only empowered to enforce the code of conduct. And as a general matter, unless there was some pervasive conduct that rose to an -- in a violation of that code, we wouldn't do it. I mean, that generally falls within, you know, it depends on whether it's a human -- the Office of Human Rights or it happens to be an EEO complaint or it happens to be some other personnel entity that handles those things, we generally do not.
SHERWOODDo, you know...
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Chez.
SHERWOODThere's a popular view, you can hear it in casual conversations from people, oh, the District of Columbia is so corrupt. It's just run -- it's rife with corruption on all levels. Those people don't deserve voting rights. I'm sure you've heard all of that. While you've had this job in ethics, have you gotten a sense of how the city compares to other cities or other jurisdictions? Are we some kind of Wild West of ethics issues? Are we just kind of normal American places?
SPAGNOLETTII mean, I think it's -- I certainly think we have our share of high-profile issues, which gives way to the suggestion that somehow or other we have a problem with ethics. I do think that we had gaps in the law and in the enforcement mechanism that have been largely but not completely remedied by the creation of the board. And we'll be making recommendations about how to strengthen that. But part of this is we have been looking at what happens in other jurisdictions.
SPAGNOLETTII mean, New York City has got a very aggressive and very busy conflicts of interest board, which is our equivalent up there. It's dealing with all the very same issues, struggling with the very same problems that we are. It's just that our recent past has encompassed a number of high-profile, high-level elected officials, which gives a bad name to, you know, the District government, which, by in large, operates on very ethical basis.
SHERWOODCould you tell me just kind of an example of what more administrative or enforcement power you might look for if you're not quite ready to take it to the council? In what general area do you need a little beefing up of your operation?
SPAGNOLETTIOK. So we had a discussion yesterday. We had a board meeting yesterday. It was public meeting. And we discussed at length whether or not the board should take on ethic issues related to contracting and procurement and whether or not we should -- how much...
NNAMDITriple your staff. Go ahead.
SPAGNOLETTIWell, that's the issue really. I mean, the -- and we also are very cognizant. We don't want to be an alternative to the Contract Appeals Board. You know, we don't want to be taking on bid protests. We also don't want unhappy vendors who have lost their opportunity to bid or lost in their bid to come to us as a big hammer because the minute you say ethics violation or formal investigation, that sounds a lot of worse than a bid protest.
SPAGNOLETTIOn the other hand, there are many sole-source contracts that don't have big protests that are involve because there's no losing bidder. And you don't want to necessarily ignore those. And so we vary. We've debated long and hard about whether we should be taking opposition yet on what if any of those contracting issues we should identify as ethics violations, both in house for the District and also, you know, invited violations, if you will, by the contractors. And so that is -- that's a subject to a much internal discussion. It's something that we'll be discuss in the best practices.
SHERWOODAnd would it require legislation if you decided you wanted to go forward?
SPAGNOLETTIYes, 'cause we'd have to redefine what the code of conduct is to include things like collusion and contingency fees.
SHERWOODWell, contracting, this is a huge -- I mean, within the subcommittee -- people talk about the big contract, but it's in the subcommittee, subcontractors is were all the favoritism occurs.
SPAGNOLETTIThat's right. And I will say that we see sort of a trend, and a lot of the complaints and questions that we get is contracting. They want to know or they suspect or they've heard or -- but it could swallow the board entirely if you open the door so much and also could -- we don't want it -- we're not trying to undermine in any way the Contract Appeals Board or OCP and their auditing group. On the other hand, we recognize that there is a gap that needs to be filled.
NNAMDIWhat's the relationship between your office and the Office of the Inspector General? How are your responsibilities different?
SPAGNOLETTISo the Office of the Inspector General is investigating waste, fraud, abuse, and they are also independent. And they have no enforcement authority. They are purely investigative, and then they do a referral to -- whether it's a law enforcement agency, prosecutor's office, U.S. Attorney's Office, the attorney general, or if it turns out to be purely administrative, to the agency director for action there. They also are empowered to refer things to us. We are an enforcement agency. We do investigate but we enforce.
SPAGNOLETTIWe have sanction authority. We can do fines. We can do censure. We can do a number of things. And so that is the primary difference between us. We also enforce the code of conduct, which is a more limited series of -- a set of rules and regulations than the inspector general, which has wide-ranging authority to, again, waste, fraud and abuse, mismanagement.
SHERWOODYou're judge -- so you're a judge, jury and executioner. You can investigate, decide and punish.
NNAMDIYou got monthly...
SHERWOODWe have start calling him Mr. Spagnoletti.
NNAMDIYou've got monthly public meetings. You're working to try to get an open government office off the ground. What functions will this open government office perform?
SPAGNOLETTIThat's a good question. The statute is pretty broad and undefined in terms of the day-to-day stuff. There is an enforcement arm of the Office of Open Government to enforce the open meetings laws to the extent that agencies, boards, whatever are not complying with the open meetings law to -- there is an enforcement mechanism. But we're really looking for that person. The director of open government is to create the vision and to be the spokesperson for greater open government interest to pass.
NNAMDII have a candidate.
SPAGNOLETTIWell, we have 16 candidates at the moment so we're narrowing them down.
NNAMDIWell, make it 17. Tom Sherwood...
SHERWOODHow much does it pay?
SPAGNOLETTINot as much as you're making now, I'm sure.
NNAMDIThere is no one more for open government than Tom Sherwood. He is our resident...
SHERWOODOpen the checkbook.
NNAMDIRobert Spagnoletti is the chairman of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Accountability. He is also a former attorney general for the District of Columbia. Robert Spagnoletti, thank you for joining us.
SPAGNOLETTIThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, go forth and work.
SHERWOODI'm going to dry out my snow boots all weekend. They got such a workout this week.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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