We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
A member of the D.C. Council dives into next year’s race for mayor. Maryland lawmakers make a splash with a plan to make undocumented immigrants eligible for driving permits. And a new poll suggests both of Virginia’s major gubernatorial candidates still face a high degree of difficulty in their race this fall. 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
- Muriel Bowser Democratic Candidate, Mayor of the District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 4); Chair, Committee on Economic Development
- Sharon Bulova Chairwoman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (D-Braddock)
Politics Hour Video
D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) recently announced her candidacy for mayor of Washington, D.C. She discussed how, if elected, her policies and goals would differ from Mayor Vincent Gray’s. Bowser said she would model D.C. public schools after charter schools because of their “out-of-the-box” thinking. She also stressed the need to know specifics when changing school boundaries. “It’s not good enough to only invest in one side of the city. It’s not good enough only to have a plan to close schools without having a plan to reinvigorate programs at the other schools,” Bowser said.
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. And, Tom Sherwood, the saga of the Silver Spring Transit Center continues with fingers being pointed in every direction. The county seems to be pointing the finger at the developer.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe developer seems to be pointing the finger at the county. Metro seems to be pointing fingers at everybody involved, and the county pointed a stern finger in our direction I guess a week or so ago when we were speculating about whether the whole thing could end up being torn down. They said perish that thought. That's not going to happen. But some thing has clearly gone very wrong here.
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, I would not rule out tearing the whole thing down.
NNAMDISee, you said it again. We're going to get another stern warning.
SHERWOODI was just saying and I would -- Adam Tuss, our transportation reporter...
NNAMDIThat's who I was speculating about.
SHERWOODWell, Adam said again this morning that there is a -- it's just a concern of whether or not it can be fixed. I've tried to think what other project in this region has had such a horrendous story to develop. Transportation needs are great in the entire region. This was going to help traffic. This was going to do many things, and now it's doing nothing except embarrassing and costing money.
SHERWOODSo I don't think we know at this moment what the solution is, whether they're going to be able to do some adjustment concrete to make sure it's structurally safe or not. But I know that everybody is watching it because it needs to be up and running rather than a constant eyesore, sitting there like a dead duck.
NNAMDIWe've got Sharon Bulova in studio with us. She is the chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She's a Democrat. Welcome. Thank you very much for joining us.
MS. SHARON BULOVAThank you.
NNAMDII was just wondering if this is making you nervous at all about development that's going on...
NNAMDI...with the Tysons transit stuff with the Silver Line.
BULOVAWell, we, of course, are watching Silver Spring and -- or relieved that that's not the situation in Fairfax County. And, of course, we are also very pleased that the Silver Line project is moving along. Essentially, it's within budget, essentially on time. We're hoping to have service begin by the end of this year.
NNAMDIBut this raises the question, Tom, of when you look at major construction projects like this with so many entities involved, you keep wondering who is really responsible for everything.
SHERWOODBut usually if -- but usually you have a contractor who's the lead contractor -- that's a phrase, but I'm not sure I've got the right word. The lead contractor does that, and that firm is -- coordinates all that has to be done. You know, they're very complicated. I mean Tysons Corner has a tremendous amount of development going on. You're -- the county oversees it, but then the private contractor themselves have a fiduciary duty to follow all this.
BULOVAThat is correct, and in the case of major construction projects that are county projects, we are responsible. It's the county that is responsible for inspecting, and the buck stops with us. But you're right. These megaprojects, they're complicated. They're big. And it absolutely is critical that we make sure that the kind of inspections are being done that ensures safety and ensure the projects.
NNAMDII'm glad you used the word ensure because there's a lot of insurance involved in this. The developer is insured. The county is insured. Ultimately, the lawyers are probably going to end up trying to figure out exactly who is responsible.
SHERWOODYes, more money will be not wasted. More money will have to be spent to legally sort out the mess before they can turn their attention to what to do to fix this.
NNAMDISpeaking of legally sorting out, in the District of Columbia, Omar Karim, a developer is suing Councilmember Jim Graham, Metro and another developer over the failed bid of his company, Banneker Ventures, to develop a property, the Metro property on Florida Avenue. This story has been around literally for years, and I guess we should have figured out it would end up in court, huh?
SHERWOODWell, it's kind of getting to have these very elements to it. It's kind of a made-for-cable TV serial story about Jim Graham and his service to the Metro board. He was a strong supporter of and proponent for bus riders for the poor people in this city to have buses and not be sacrificed to rapid rail and all of those things. But he got caught up in this where he was representing the Metro board and talking about development for Metro and representing the city and talking about the lottery contract.
SHERWOODAnd now some of the developers involved in all this are suing him because of these two ethics reports that have said that Jim Graham violated the ethics of the Metro board and the D.C. government. But I hasten to add it's not said. Neither said that he violated the law. So whether or not this kind of suit goes forward with any kind of success for the developers who are suing, that's a -- I would say at this point a wide open question.
NNAMDIOur guest is Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. If you have questions or comments for her, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. A few weeks ago, you delivered a state of the county address, Madam Chair. But before we get into that, there are a number of things we'd like to talk about that have to do with the future of the county.
NNAMDIFor the past several weeks, we've heard from people throughout the region who are trying to make the next home of the FBI, where they live. Last week, we heard from Cong. Donna Edwards who's pushing for Prince George's County. You've been an advocate for Fairfax. What's the case for why the FBI should be where you are?
BULOVAWell, we feel that the Fairfax County has an ideal site for the FBI headquarters to move to Fairfax County and to move into the Silver Spring Franconia area, which is the location right now of a large GSA warehouse facility. And so it's property that's already owned by the federal government. It's located close to the Beltway, but it also is located right on the Springfield-Franconia Metro station and also the VRE.
BULOVAAnd so transportation actually is pretty ideal in that location. And so we, you know, we've put in a very strong bid for us to be able to win that location. And it also happens to be in an area that we would like to see more revitalization take place. So the Springfield-Franconia area is a revitalization target for Fairfax County, and we feel that this could really contribute towards that.
NNAMDIWe mentioned the Metro site, but the fact remains that a lot of people are going to be coming to work by car. What would you say to people who make the argument that from the traffic perspective alone, Fairfax should be disqualified?
BULOVAWell, it is -- the location is right off of the Fairfax County beltway. But also, I would like to point out that the hot lanes project has just been completed in Fairfax County, and we also have the hot lanes project on I-95. It's a state project that's under construction right now and should be finished up by the end of next year or the beginning of the year after that. So conceivably, someone can come up from Spotsylvania, Stafford County, use those hot lanes or use the VRE and get to that location.
SHERWOODI was busy on some other stories this week, but part of the problem with the site though that these warehouses have an extra measure of use by the CIA, and that they're not just warehouses, that perhaps there's underground tunnels. I mean, are you in any way prohibited to discussing about what do you know is actually there?
BULOVAActually, I don't know what actually is there. I've -- I, too, have heard that there is a CIA presence as well as the GSA warehouse it uses. But I guess the bottom line is that if the FBI is looking for a secure location as well as a location that's convenient for transportation, why not co-locate with another organization that requires security and safety?
SHERWOODYou said you're looking to develop an area, and of course, bringing new - a lot of people in would help with some spin-off. But, you know, one of the problems that has been with the FBI headquarters downtown is not just that it is now too small and that they're in 20 private buildings, but that the FBI refused to allow any commercial space on the ground floor. Pennsylvania Avenue, you walk by and it looks like a bunker. They don't let people park. We got parking meters there. No one could park there because it's not safe now.
SHERWOODAnd so they want to live on an island. The mayor has suggested Poplar Point, this little space out from the baseball stadium. I said we could just call it Rikers Island or something. They can go off and -- be all by themselves. But they don't want development around them. They want to be isolated. Won't that hurt development rather than help if they built a bunker? I mean, look at the ATF building in the north part of Massachusetts in the city. It's -- it looks like a big waffle screen around it, and it's not user friendly at all.
BULOVAAnd I can't speak to the eventual actual development and design.
BULOVABut I would think that those sorts of things could be addressed. Obviously, we wouldn't want to make sure that the FBI has what they need for security and for their privacy.
SHERWOODThey're all -- they're counting the setbacks in the security. The Coast Guard has moved over to the West Campus of St. Elizabeths. There's a beautiful, new tiered building out there. That's a pretty secure place. I just wish you well, if you do get it, that it doesn't become a dead spot in your development like it is on Pennsylvania Avenue.
NNAMDIWell, plus you don't have to look very hard in Fairfax to see the changes that are coming down the pike. The first leg of the Silver Line on Tysons are almost open, Tysons itself getting a makeover so big that it's going to take decades to complete it. At what point do you think in Tysons things are going to start to look like the bigger vision that the county has been contemplating for some time now.
BULOVAWell, we already are seeing some development taking place. When Fairfax County approved a new vision for Tysons Corner, we approved a plan in June of 2010. And the very next morning after that approval, 18 rezonings were filed in order for landowners and developers to be able to build in concert with that vision.
BULOVARight now, we have about five of those rezonings that have been approved and -- where we already have development, especially in the area of the new Silver Line stations. So we have four new Silver Line stations that will be opening up by the end of this year. And along with those stations, we -- you can see a number of developments, residential developments as well as hotel, retail, commercial that is happening within the Tysons area right now.
NNAMDIWe have a caller on the line who I'd like you to listen to because he would like you to look even farther down the road than I have already asked you about Tysons Corner. So here is Hunter in McLean, Va. Hunter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HUNTERExcellent. Hi, Sharon. Pleasure to be on. I'm doing a project, a graduate program in Georgetown, a real estate program. But the project is on Tysons. I grew up in McLean, so Tysons is kind of my backdoor. And I'm curious what should residents of Tysons and, you know, that area expect construction wise, you know, over the next 10 years and then going out further from, you know, 2023 to maybe 2033 as far as these different developments? I've studied some of them, and I'm curious, you know, how much -- when is the bulk of the construction going to happen in Tysons?
BULOVAThat's a really good question. And it's important for people to remember that this is a 40-year plan and...
SHERWOODHow many years?
BULOVAWell, you know, a 40-year plan.
NNAMDITom and I will be looking at it 40 years from now, yes.
BULOVAAnd, of course, a lot of things go into actually when some of those developments are going to happen. Some are under construction right now. Others will take longer. And also, the -- in addition to the comprehensive plan, we also passed a transportation funding plan for Tysons that is very comprehensive as well. And so things will evolve, and they'll develop over the next 40 years.
BULOVASomething that is interesting that we are working on with students actually at George Mason University is to try to plan for temporary reuses, pop-up type uses in some areas of Tysons where development is not yet taking place but where we want to people -- for people to have, you know, an urban experience when they arrive in Tysons on one of the new Silver Line's -- at one of the new Silver Line stations, and for us to have uses there in order for people to be able to have recreation and retail, et cetera.
BULOVASo, again, this is, you know, we're talking long term. A lot has to do with what is happening in the economy as to what the pace...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to interrupt at that point because what concerns do you have that things like sequestration and federal budget disputes can permanently harm some of those big projects that the county is trying to manage?
BULOVAWell, I'm hoping that we're not talking about permanent harm, but it certainly is not doing us any good right now, the inaction on the part of Capitol Hill. The sequestration, just the threat of sequestration and just the uncertainty as a result of sequestration is something that is negatively impacting us right now.
BULOVAStuff is going on, very positive. We have a number of rezonings that are headed to us in the pipeline. But we also are experiencing, actually, a slight depression in revenue from the commercial base because business owners are not taking some positive steps that ordinarily they would be at this time as we're starting to recover...
NNAMDIHunter, does that...
SHERWOODHundreds of thousands, millions? (unintelligible) is the big government.
NNAMDIHunter, does that answer your question?
HUNTERYeah. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much.
BULOVAThank you, Hunter.
NNAMDIWe have another from Peggy in Olney, Md. Peggy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PEGGYHi, Kojo. Hi, Sharon. Thank you for taking my call.
PEGGYBut I was curious you have mentioned that the -- hello?
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Peggy.
PEGGYOh, I'm sorry. Sharon, you mentioned about the bus stop here when you referred to Fairfax County. I am curious, is that how always been the case, and is that how we got Tysons Corner as we know it now? I hear generally that it's car friendly, pedestrian unfriendly, and that the goal is to make it pedestrian friendly. Does that include car unfriendly? 'Cause as a driver, it is a nightmare. It always has been. Why should I believe it's going to be any better?
BULOVAIt really is pretty awful, and you sort of hit the nail on the head regarding what we're trying to do with Tysons. First of all, let me say that Tysons is an extremely successful central business area. It's one of the most successful, largest in the nation actually. And so as far as a commercial area, it is very, very successful, but, unfortunately, it's also very auto-oriented.
BULOVAAnd what you have are people driving in in the morning to report for work and then driving out in the evening, and then everyone complains about the congestion. And what we're trying to build in Tysons right now or rebuild in Tyson's right now -- this is redevelopment, revitalization -- is to provide a place where people can live, work, play, have recreation close by and not always have to get behind the wheel of a car in order to do everything that they want to do.
SHERWOODI was talking to Adam Tuss again this morning, and he was saying to me, what's -- when the Silver Line opens and those great spaces -- those four stops open, what's to keep the car-centric people from driving their cars to the Tysons Corner shopping garages, parking all day, and then coming back at the end of their work day after they get back off of Metro?
SHERWOODIt made me think, oh, it's just going to be like the people who use the Dulles toll road by going to buy a cup of coffee at the airport. Then they've used it for business, and they can use the Dulles toll road. What about the parking, being overwhelmed by commuters at Tysons Corner?
BULOVAThat's a very good question. And, you know, there are some folks who say, well, aren't you building parking garages as part of the Silver Line stations? And our answer is that we're, you know, essentially, the kind of community we're building in Tysons is a destination.
SHERWOODYou're building a downtown essentially.
BULOVAWe're building a downtown, that's right. And so we're hoping that people will take the train into Tysons and the train out of Tysons. But we also realized that there are people, of course, who live in and around Tysons right now who are going to want to be able to drive to those stations. And so for a period of time, we're going to need to make sure we're accommodating those neighbors. And we're working right now with landowners, business owners, property owners within Tysons who may have excess parking that can be made available for a period of time while Tysons is continuing to fill in.
SHERWOODAnd also the shop -- the Tysons garage themselves, they could have a maximum of, say, four or five hours of parking where you pay that smaller rate for the first four hours. But if you stay five hours, you pay twice as much or something like that, and that would discourage commuters.
BULOVAExactly, shared parking opportunities.
BULOVAAnd also, Fairfax County is beefing up big time our bus service that will help to serve this new Silver Line.
SHERWOODCan we finish -- wrap transportation with another quick question?
NNAMDISure. Our guest is Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She's a Democrat. If you have comments or questions for her, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers.
SHERWOODI haven't driven on the Beltway express lanes yet, and I'd hope, if there's any justice in the world, I won't. But how is it working out, and do we need another bridge between Maryland and Virginia other than the American Legion Bridge?
BULOVAFirst of all, on the new HOT lanes, they appear to be working well. And anecdotally, I hear from people who feel that they have really helped with congestion issues on the Beltway. Not only are the new lanes available but also the reconstruction of the Beltway by Fluor-Transurban has taken care of a number of the choke points that have previously caused a number of, you know, of backups and what not. Do we need a new -- another crossing over the, you know, over the Potomac and to Maryland?
BULOVAEventually, that might be a project that, you know, that we should work toward right now. We pretty much got our hands full with some of the other major transportation projects. Right now, the Silver Line phase two, you know, I think we need to, you know, make sure that we're completing what we've got on our plate right now.
SHERWOODI have one crime question.
SHERWOODThe groper, this is an alleged suspect -- or a suspect who's allegedly attacked or fondled 20-something women over various times. Now, he's been inside -- apparently inside -- what's happening there? The reason I ask you is I'm told that the Fairfax Police have surveillance video of this person of interest. But they haven't yet released it to the public to help identify. Is that going to be released soon or do you know?
BULOVAI do not know if that video is going to be released or when it would be. What I will say is that this is a very serious situation. And as you know, sometimes what may sound like it's not all that serious, the groping can turn into something more violent, and it is something that is an assault on women and something that we're working very hard right now to try to solve.
SHERWOODAnd could you check with the police, maybe, department and see if there's any reason not to release it? 'Cause if you released it, then surely somebody would know who that person is. That's very helpful.
BULOVAThat's a very good idea. I'm not quite sure why they are choosing not to release it at this point.
SHERWOODOK. There may be a good reason. I just don't know what it is.
NNAMDIGetting back to the future of Fairfax County, making it a little more urban, it's my understanding that kind of like the District of Columbia, you're trying to figure out a way to write rules for the boom of food trucks that serve Tysons. What's the challenge, and what do you think is ultimately the best way to figure it out?
NNAMDII couldn't help noticing that the report that I was reading in The Washington Post said that food truck vendors were reporting that the tickets that were being issued were tickets for selling merchandise from a state-maintained roadway. The Post said, that would apply to, essentially, every street in the county. What do you do about this?
BULOVAThat's exactly right because Fairfax County, unlike our sister cities and jurisdictions in Maryland, essentially, all of our streets in Fairfax County are owned by -- maintained by the state, the Virginia Department of Transportation. And state law says that it's not legally permissible to sell food from the side of a state road.
BULOVAI actually had a roundtable discussion group of the food truck industry in my office along with, also, the Chamber of Commerce and their zoning officials and their police to sort of dissect what is going on here that we need to address. We would like to be able to see more food trucks especially in the more urban areas of Fairfax County.
BULOVAAnd we know that it's going to be something that would be attractive and already is attractive in areas such as the Mosaic at Merrifield, in some areas of Tysons. But right now, our zoning laws look at a food truck as though it is a fast-food restaurant and then all the requirements that go along with it for bathrooms, et cetera, et cetera, just doesn't sink. And...
SHERWOODBut, you know, this is the same issue I've heard in Maryland and particularly in the District where the brick and mortar restaurants, the small carry-outs that depend on people coming to the stores, pay taxes and pay rent, things like that. The trucks pull up before the busy couple of hours and then pull away.
BULOVAMm hmm. And that is one of the issues that we need to make sure we are addressing, the fairness issue of existing restaurants, brick and mortar restaurants and making sure that everyone is paying their fair share and especially in the Tysons area. We have a number of service districts, transportation service districts and transportation special tax districts that land owners and business owners are paying into.
BULOVAAnd it's important that everyone is getting a fair shake when we're looking for ways to make it possible for food trucks to operate safely and successfully in urban areas of Fairfax County but also, you know, being fair to, you know, to the existing businesses.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Sharon Bulova, thank you so much for joining us,
BULOVAI enjoyed it very much. Thank you, Kojo.
SHERWOODGot to see that groper video.
NNAMDIShe enjoyed it. We're going to have to change that the next time she comes back here. Enjoyed this? Sharon Bulova is the chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She's a Democrat. You're listening to "The Politics Hour" where Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood seemed to spend a significant part of his life moderating forums in the upcoming at-large race in the District of Columbia. He moderated one such forum last night, didn't you?
SHERWOODLast night at the Foggy Bottom.
NNAMDIHow was it?
SHERWOODThey were -- people are entirely too polite. I was left unnerved. You know, that's one of the hotbeds of development for George Washington University and height limitations and all that issue. It was pretty good. Anita Bonds, who's the sitting acting -- sitting councilmember, filling seat now, cancelled out at the last moment there.
SHERWOODAnd Michael Brown didn't come, candidate. But we had five other candidates. I guess I have to name them all, but they did a pretty good job. It's, you know, Elissa Silverman and Pat Mara, who's run before, have garnered the most endorsements. I think Mara leads everybody else.
NNAMDIHe's the Republican candidate.
SHERWOODThe Republican candidate. He says he's the socially progressive, physically conservative Republican candidate. He's run before. He's much more sure of himself this time around. And it's an interesting campaign. Paul Zukerberg is focused on marijuana laws. Matthew Frumin is an activist in his neighborhood in Upper Connecticut Avenue area. And so you have now, P. Redd.
SHERWOODPaul Redd. Perry Redd. I knew it started with a P. He's a statehood green candidate. He vied to be the most progressive candidate in the race, and I feel like I'm leaving one of...
SHERWOODNo. Anita wasn't there.
NNAMDIOh, she wasn't there last night. Nor was Michael Brown.
NNAMDIWe are happy to announce that at noon on Monday, April 8, all seven of the candidates running for the seat will join us here in studio for a two-hour candidate forum. It's a special production of the WAMU news team and "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'll be co-moderating the event with WAMU's Patrick Madden. We'll be announcing more details about the event in the next several days.
NNAMDIBut for the time being, mark your calendars for noon on Monday, April 8, when we'll be hearing from all of the candidates running in that race, taking our questions and yours live on WAMU 88.5. We'll be joined shortly in the conversation by Muriel Bowser, the Ward 4 member of the D.C. Council who has announced that she is going to be a Democratic candidate for mayor. So if you've got questions or comments for her, you can start calling right now at 800-433-8850. 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can also send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Tom, the chairman of the Council's public safety committee on Thursday took Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe to task Tommy Wells, no longer referred to as Ward 6 Council Martyr Saint Tommy Wells, turned into a fire-breathing dragon of a councilmember, causing the fire chief to go into a kind of cat-got-my-tongue mode on some issues that he simply didn't seem prepare to be respond to.
SHERWOODWell, this is not the first time this has happened with Chief Ellerbe in that he's had difficulty with the documentation. One thing about being a public official and going before the Council oversight committees, you can't go in and wing it. I mean, you really do have to know what you're talking about if that's -- you're the department head.
SHERWOODAnd Tommy Wells, who also is expected to announce his campaign for mayor at the month of April, was saying to Chief Ellerbe, your job is on the line here. There are -- the fire department union, Local 36, I think it is, was very clear that they show documented that there were -- there are resources that are not resources, that they're out of service fire trucks and ambulances. And that doesn't sound like somebody's got their hand on the wheel exactly what kind of emergency services are available in the city that depends upon them.
NNAMDIMore about that later. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is proposing his budget. He's proposing to spend $1.7 billion in coming year to renovate and rebuild dozens of schools. I suspect that much of this is going to come up in our conversation with our next guest. He's proposing to spend more that $100 million to remake the Districts four-decade old central library. Before we turn to the next guest, I just wondered if you have any comment on the mayor's budget
SHERWOODWell, the mayor's budget is a outrun for re-election if I can on this budget. It is a broad base. It touch all the areas of interest. The mayor's office did, in fact, reach out to the 13 councilmembers asking what each member would like to see in the budget. And I think they went to some degree to try to address that. Obviously, there are some significant details about how much is being spent and how fast the money will be spent. But I would -- I have read that this is a campaign budget for Mayor Gray if he survives a federal investigation into his 2010 campaign.
NNAMDIAs we mentioned, our guest is Muriel Bowser, a member of the D.C. Council. She's a Democrat from Ward 4 who chairs the Council's economic development committee. She's also a Democratic candidate for mayor for the District of Columbia. Councilmember Bowser, welcome.
MS. MURIEL BOWSERWell, thank you, Kojo. Thank you for having me. It's always a pleasure to be here. Tom.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Last weekend, you officially jumped in as the first candidate to announce a campaign in the next year's race for mayor. As Tom Sherwood just said, it's the investigation of the mayor's 2010 campaign that seems to be his biggest problem. Frankly, outside of that, there doesn't seem to have been a great deal of controversial complaint about how Vincent Gray is running the city. But you said that D.C. needs real change. What do you mean by that?
BOWSERWell, one thing that we know, we're going to have an election. We have one every four years, and candidates can get into the race to talk about their vision for the future. And certainly, what we have heard from people on all eight wards all across the city is that they want to press for it with real urgency around the issues that they're concerned about. We know that folks want growth. We know that folks are excited about change. But we also know that people were fearful.
NNAMDIWhat change are people excited about? I just pointed out that from an administrative stand point, Gray seems to be not getting a great deal of criticism for how he's running the city. But what do people want changed?
BOWSERWhat I know that people want is that they want to be a part of how the city grows. And that's what -- when you go around in all of the neighborhoods across the city, that's what they're telling me. Bowser, we like that our city...
NNAMDIThey call you Bowser?
BOWSERAll the time.
BOWSERWe like that our city is just growing. But we want our voice in it, and we want to sit at the table. We want to make sure that we get to participate in all that is happening in the District of Columbia. People...
NNAMDIWhy do they feel they're not participating now?
BOWSERI think there's a real concern in the city that growth is proceeding at a pace where they're being left behind, for senior citizens with property taxes, in many cases, going up. They want to make sure that we have policies in place that will help protect them. Young families want the opportunity to be able to buy in the District of Columbia. And they see themselves being priced out. We people, in many parts of our city, can't find employment. And so they're very concerned that they won't be able to live and raise their families in the District.
SHERWOODThe mayor, I'm sure, would say, well, you know, we're -- our budget was put together. We had 100 different organizations in different kinds of -- 30 different community meetings around the city. So I've got $100 million in subsidized housing. One City One Hire has been trying to hire people, getting companies to hire. He would say, whether he's been successful or not, he's trying to do all the things you just mentioned.
SHERWOODI would just ask, when the investigation began, you were one of three councilmembers who said that Mayor Gray should resign for having not been honest, I believe, in his 2010 campaign, given the fact it's been put in court so far, let alone what we don't know. Do you still feel that he should resign, or is that now water under the bridge and would just go forward?
BOWSERNo, I stand behind my comments, but I think that, you know, all of that -- what happens with that investigation is out of my hands. So my focus is on what we need to do in the city -- and we certainly have been concentrating on what we need to get done in Ward 4 -- and how we move beyond this distraction into having a focused leadership on the issues affecting the District of Columbia.
BOWSERWhat we're doing with school reform and how we're advancing our schools requires focused attention at every level: from the mayor, the chancellor and everybody involved. And so I think that's what folks are concerned about. They want our attention to be focused on their issues.
SHERWOODWe go day by -- I know the reporters do. I suspect people in politics do. We go day by day, waiting to see if the trapdoor is going to open on this mayor with the prosecutor's action. And that's got to interfere with the ability to get things done. And although I would give credit to the mayor, I have to say, having watched him for these two years, he has said, in fact, that his job is he's going to be the best mayor he can be. He can't change whatever happened in the past, but he's not going to be said that he laid down on the job as mayor because of the investigation.
NNAMDIWell, he spent a lot of years of his life as an administrator, and that's what he's doing when it comes to the management, the administration of the city. Tell us about a couple of things, maybe three, that Mayor Gray has done that you would have done differently purely as matters of public policy.
BOWSERWell, as matters of policy, for example, in our ward, we're very concerned about moving our schools along. And I have been very concerned that the investments in Ward 4 schools is lacking, and that's what we're going to spend a lot of time in this budget, for example, making sure that these schools are getting their fair share. When we go across the city, Kojo, what people are concerned about is that there's been unequal investment in our schools, and they're right.
BOWSERAnd so we want to make sure that moving forward that we continue to have the investments that every neighborhood deserves. I'm very concerned, for example, it looks like the mayor is backtracking on his commitment to Roosevelt High School and Coolidge High School, while at the same time talking about changing the boundaries for how children can enter high schools that have already received hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. So it's very important that we stay focused on these issues.
NNAMDIYou told The Post that the city has lost heat and urgency when it comes to education. We've heard from a lot of people who say that Kaya Henderson, who was Michelle Rhee's deputy, is working hard to continue what Rhee started, just in a less confrontational way. You're sounding a little bit like you miss Michelle Rhee. Would you rehire her?
BOWSERI like Kaya Henderson quite a lot, and we want her attention, and we want to understand her plan for Ward 4, and we want to understand her plan for the entire city. The residents of Ward 7, the councilmember for Ward 7 has expressed quite a bit of frustration at what exactly is the plan for these schools. It's not good enough to only invest in one side of the city. It's not good enough only to have a plan to close schools without having a plan to reinvigorate programs at the other schools. We all have to be very concerned about that. We are...
NNAMDIIf you were mayor, what kind of guidance would you give to someone like Kaya Henderson right now?
BOWSERI would tell her that D.C. public schools has -- have to be more like the charter schools. There's a reason why the charter schools are attracting more and more of our children. We see those schools. They act in a more autonomous way, not laden with the bureaucracy of the D.C. government central office. We see them trying more entrepreneurial types of management, which is important.
BOWSERAnd we see them thinking out of the box and operating out of the box: longer school days, day -- school during the summer, attracting different types of leaders in the school. So those are the types of things that we have to see. We also want to see our schools more connected to the other areas of our school system, our entire system, the private universities, UDC, the community college and our workforce training programs.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Muriel Bowser. She's a Democrat from Ward 4. She chairs the Council's Economic Development Committee. She's also a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. If you'd like to talk with her, call us at 800-433-8850. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODLawyer Johnny Barnes, who used to work for the ACLU, went into court this morning with some plaintiffs, contending that the -- trying to get a court to stop any of the school closings, saying that the school closings disproportionately affect African-Americans and Hispanics, particularly lower income, and that these -- none of the schools should be allowed to be closed until there's a more thorough vetting of why each school is -- was chosen.
SHERWOODNow, Kaya Henderson, of course, says she has a detailed look at enrollment, the prospect for growth and all those other things. Do you think the suit is overreaching, or would you support a suit at this point? I realize you would have to read the suit, but...
BOWSERAbsolutely. I do want to take a look at it, but I think underlying that complaint is that there hasn't been equity in how we're approaching our reforms. And so if the only plan is to close schools and not improve the options for children, well, that's not good enough. I mean, I think in the first round of school closures, we made some tough decisions, and I think in most cases, the children went to a better situation.
BOWSERI know that that's the case that we insisted on for the schools that closed in Ward 4. But there is going to come a crucial point where we have to say, if we're closing all of the neighborhood schools, or if there is -- if there are only public charter schools available, it's going to take us rethinking how we conceive of our public and public charter school balance and opportunities to go to those schools.
NNAMDIHeather in Northwest, Wash. -- or Heather in Washington, D.C. has a school question or a school-related opinion. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HEATHERHi, Ms. Bowser. I have a question. You talked admirably about the charter schools. Well, the charter schools can select the kids. They don't -- they're not obligated to take all the kids in the neighborhood, and they can also get rid of kids if they don't like them. What do you say to that?
BOWSERI say that -- and especially -- and this is a conversation that somebody engaged me in yesterday about the public charter schools and their enrollment criteria. And frankly, as they grow, and there's more public money being invested in them, I do think that we have to have -- broach the conversation about if the charter schools need to admit the children from the neighborhood.
BOWSERAnd frankly, we have been -- in our ward, we have very high-quality charter schools. We have some D.C. -- our D.C. public schools. Many are performing well, and frankly many need to perform better. So, yes, that has to be a question, as I see it, moving forward. And I don't think that charter schools or public schools should be threatened by that conversation. There's been some initial discussion at the Council about it. And it may be that in some areas, it's more and more important question than others.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I think the idea of the charter schools do get to select who comes to their -- to the school and can...
BOWSERActually, there's a lottery. There's a lottery.
SHERWOODBut then they can also dismiss a person from the school if he or she doesn't do well. But David Catania, the chairman of the Education Committee, who's come out of the box pretty fast in getting this committee this year, was telling me just yesterday that there were 5,300 -- I think that was the number he gave me -- 5,300 students in the public school system who missed more than a month of school.
SHERWOODYou know, he tried to pass a law to have the parents or guardians arrested if they didn't get their kids to school. That's been taken out of the bill. But it seems to me that truancy, getting the kids to get into the school so they don't go in the front door and out the backdoor when the parents or the guardians drive off, that it is a significant issue, not as nearly the issue in charter schools.
BOWSERTruancy is a issue, but I would say it's a symptom. It's a symptom of a school system that's not working well and, in some cases, human services that aren't working well. We want to make sure that the kids have an engaging program when they go to the school. One thing, and if somebody...
SHERWOODSo they'll want to stay.
BOWSERSo they'll want to stay. Someone relayed a story to me recently where, you know, a child who was chronically truant somehow managed to show up at 8:30 for this one class. And he showed up 8:30 for this one class 'cause that class had grabbed him, and he was just -- it grabbed him. But after 8:30, he was out the door.
NNAMDIWell, some people would say that that's exception that does not prove the rule because it seems to me that the whole point, the whole orientation of Catania's proposal on truancy, which now says that if you are out with 15 unexcused absences in high school, that you, the parents, will receive a warning from the city's attorney general, is that we keep blaming the schools for the truancy when we're not, in fact, looking at the home situations of some of these kids and that they probably need to be looking there more. How do you feel about his bill?
BOWSERI am concerned about criminalizing parents. I want to make sure that we're providing all the resources that we possibly can. And I can't say that we've done everything that we can. I really can't. But I do see accountability with the family, and I don't think it's one or the other. I think schools have to do more in terms of engaging programming, having the right adults in the building to make sure that the children are being held accountable while they're at school. And we need to do all that we can to give the parents the resources that we need. We don't -- yeah?
SHERWOODExcuse me. Catania also said that he thought that there's not nearly enough money -- looking at the budget that just came out yesterday that there's not nearly enough money for technology. He says, young people, particularly young people, are learning and experiencing the world through technology and that we're not -- and if you had better technology supporting the schools, children, in fact, would be more motivated to come because they are part -- that would be part of the school. Do you agree that that would be something the schools ought to do more of?
BOWSERI think they ought to do more, and I think it is a question again of equity. We know in some of our higher income neighborhoods where the PTAs have big auctions, they buy iPads. They have a iPad cart that goes around where the children can take advantage of it. I think it would be great for all of our children to have that opportunity.
NNAMDIWell, one of the most important responsibilities you will have as a mayor is choosing who does some of the most critical jobs in the city -- police chiefs, schools chancellor. Yesterday, the chief of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Ken Ellerbe, came before the Council to answer questions about whether his department is falling down on the job when it comes to responding to emergencies. If you were mayor, would you keep Chief Ellerbe on board?
BOWSERWell, there's no more important job that the government has, that the mayor has and -- to keep residents safe. So that's police and fire, number one. And I think it speaks loudly that the chief came to the Council and didn't quite have an understanding of the tools, of the vehicles and the fleet availability that he has. And that's troubling. That's troubling.
SHERWOODWell, it's natural that a new mayor would put his or her own people in, so it's not like you would automatically keep people. Although Mayor Gray has kept a lot of the people from the Fenty administration, would you say -- would you agree with Tommy Wells that the chief's job is on the line if he doesn't clarify what he knows and what he can do about the problems?
BOWSERIf the -- FEMS, you know, it's a real simple test. You have to be able to put out fires, and you have to be able to respond to emergencies. So if there is a situation where somebody is not getting an ambulance and they're having a heart attack, that's a problem. You have to be able to put out fires, and you have to be able to respond to emergencies. So if you -- if your department is having difficulty with that because of personnel issues or because of vehicle maintenance issues, you yourself should think your job is on the line.
NNAMDIHere is Oscar in Northeast Washington on that issue. Oscar, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OSCAROh, yes. Well, first of all, I kind of thought that Ellerbe was having a Chuck Hagel moment on yesterday in that he seemed to be poorly prepared. But my question is to --- and Councilman Bowser can answer that later in terms of whether or not she would keep Kaya Henderson. But my question is this. The issue of the firefighters, one of the shifts, it's my understanding that the Councilman Tommy Wells can do more to address that issue.
OSCARThe chief wants the shift, which the current firefighters maintain, changed in a way that would allow more firefighters to be on the street at the right time. Why can't he? And I thought he was grandstanding yesterday. Grass -- the real issue, which is whether or not the true duty of the firefighters works against public safety in Washington, D.C.?
NNAMDIOscar thinks that Tommy Wells was grandstanding.
BOWSERWell, I think that he raises a great question that this chief has made it a point to look at the schedules and try to figure out if there would be a more efficient scheduling of regime at the fire department. We know one of the biggest issues that has been plaguing the fire department is that overtime cost at the fire department. We, you know, it's my view that this issue is best negotiated. So the Firefighters Union sitting down with the District government in the making the work schedules part of their contract agreement.
SHERWOODThey talked about it, but as I understand it, the firefighter works -- comes to the station and works a 24-hour shift, and then it's all five days. And then those -- during those five days, they may hold another job. And then they come back and work 24 hours, spend the night at the fire station, then are off five more days. And the chief says that's not an efficient way to staff fire houses.
BOWSERThat's his argument. It's also his argument that more local people would be hired if there were a different schedule.
NNAMDIWhat are the fundamental lessons that you've taken out of the last mayoral campaign in 2010? Adrian Fenty represented a lot of what you support.
BOWSERI think one of the fundamental lessons is to stay connected to the people that you represent and really listen and even when they're tough decisions. So I won't represent that as mayor of the District of Columbia, I won't be faced with tough decisions. And I'm going to be willing to make them. I also, well, in committing and pledging that I'm going to go out to the people and explain those tough decisions and work with them so that they can understand all of the information that I have and why I might be making such a decision.
SHERWOODI wrote at my newspaper -- Current column this week about talking to people for 2014 and how Adrian Fenty -- whatever good things people say about him, he's stopped talking to everybody -- labor unions, business people, community people.
NNAMDITom bought a bicycle to try to keep up with him but couldn't.
SHERWOODAnd he just -- he wouldn't talk to anyone. And you said you were asked about this by Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post last Saturday, and you said you won't find anybody saying I won't talk to them.
BOWSERI really don't think that you will. Now, you know, my background. I am -- once a ANC commissioner, always a ANC commissioner. And sometimes people still slip and call me Commissioner Bowser, and it never offends me because I think that you make a great city from the grassroots. And that's my background.
BOWSERAnd so how I approach decisions with my ANC commissioners and my civic associations and just everybody on the block as I explain to them what I know. And I could explain to them what I think is best moving forward. And you will understand that we disagree sometimes but we usually come together.
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) without ethics.
NNAMDIWhether you choose to call her ANC Bowser, Councilmember Bowser or just plain Bowser, Muriel Bowser is running for mayor of the District of Columbia as a Democratic candidate. She is currently a member of the Council. She is a Democrat from Ward 4. She chairs the council's Economic Development Committee. Thank you for joining us. Good luck.
BOWSERThank you, Kojo. Thanks, Tom.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. How are you planning on spending your weekend?
SHERWOODQuietly, but I'll wish Easter greetings to all. I'm actually going to my first Seder on Saturday night, the first ever.
NNAMDISomebody actually invited you to a Seder?
SHERWOODYes. I think that they're -- I'm in need.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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