D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen joins us to discuss his "sneaker subsidy" for those who dont drive to work. And At-Large Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich will be in studio to talk about the fate of the Purple Line, the county budget, and his candidacy for County Executive.
Half a dozen candidates are up for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council in a special election scheduled for April 23. Few issues are shaping the race more than concerns of voters about ethics in local government. Join Kojo and WAMU 88.5 News for a forum with all the candidates in the race as we focus on ethics in D.C. government.
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Anita Bonds Member, D.C. Council (D-At-Large); Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large); Chairman, D.C. Democratic State Committee
- Matthew Frumin Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
- Patrick Mara Republican Candidate for D.C. Council (At-Large)
- Perry Redd Statehood Green Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
- Elissa Silverman Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At Large)
- Paul Zukerberg Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
Watch The Full Broadcast
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the special edition of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," the at-large candidates forum. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday, we're joined in studio by six candidates running for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council in a special election two weeks from tomorrow on April 23. But before we meet the candidates, we should take note for a moment of why they're running in the first place and why we're gathered here for a special WAMU 88.5 forum.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILast year, Kwame Brown, the chairman of the D.C. Council, stepped down from his position after pleading guilty to a federal crime. Brown left office only months after one of his colleagues on the Council, Harry Thomas Jr., left his seat after pleading guilty to federal charges. Brown's departure set off a string of events that eventually left open an at-large seat on the Council, hence the special election on April 23.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe turnover also opened up a flood of new concerns about whether local government in the nation's capital is an ethical enterprise and the degree to which voters in every neighborhood of the city can trust lawmakers are doing their jobs for the benefit of their constituents and not themselves. As such, the first hour of today's conversation will focus completely on issues related to ethics. Joining me to direct traffic and ask questions is Patrick Madden, a WAMU 88.5 news reporter who covers politics. Patrick, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. PATRICK MADDENGood afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou can participate starting now by calling 800-433-8850 or by emailing your questions to email@example.com. You can tweet us, @kojoshow, or post questions to our Facebook page. While we will not be keeping an official clock on the answers of the candidates, we will ask each of them to respect each other's time and to keep their answers brief.
NNAMDIAnd we will remind you that speaking the longest, speaking the loudest for that matter does not translate into winning or performing best in this forum. So allow me to start by introducing each of the candidates in the order in which they're seated around the table. Anita Bonds is a member of the D.C. Council, one of the candidates for the at-large seat up for election. She currently holds the seat. Anita Bonds, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANITA BONDSThank you very much for inviting me.
NNAMDISitting next to Anita Bonds is Paul Zukerberg. He is an, of course, an at-large candidate. Paul Zukerberg, thank you for joining us.
MR. PAUL ZUKERBERGThank you, Kojo. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us, former "Loose Lips" Elissa Silverman running for this seat. Elissa, thank you for joining us.
MS. ELISSA SILVERMANA pleasure to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIPerry Redd, he is the Statehood Green Party candidate. Perry Redd, thank you.
MR. PERRY REDDAnd thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIPatrick Mara is the Republican candidate for the D.C. Council in this race. Good to see you, Patrick Mara.
MR. PATRICK MARAGood to see you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, Matthew Frumin, last but not least, is a Democratic candidate for this seat. Matthew Frumin, thank you for joining us.
MR. MATTHEW FRUMINThank you for having me and thank you for having the forum.
NNAMDIAs I said, we'll take your calls at 800-433-8850. We'll pretend that Bruce Johnson is not in the studio with us, even though he's standing right there. A few weeks ago, councilmembers reprimanded one of their one, Jim Graham, over concerns that he improperly mixed his Council duties with those of his former position on the Metro board. Graham has not been charged with a crime, and he has said repeatedly that he was only guilty of horse-trading, something everyone does.
NNAMDIWithout getting too far into the weeds of Graham's case, where do you draw the line between horse-trading and unethical behavior? And as a councilmember, what standard do you think you and your colleagues should aspire to when it comes to ethics? Did they meet it in the Jim Graham case? Starting with you, Elissa Silverman?
SILVERMANWell, Kojo, I've been very clear on the record about this which is that I think the Council should have censured Councilmember Graham. I think reading the investigative reports is very clear that there was that Mr. Graham used his position to meddle in contracts. I think that's wrong. I think that ethics is a platform that I have in this Council. It's one of my three principles: ethics, accountability and making good investments in our city.
NNAMDIDo you think the punishment should have been -- could have been more severe?
SILVERMANI think it should have been stronger, yes. I think that the Council should have censured Mr. Graham, and I think that we need to take a strong position because I think the public trust has been broken. I think that's one of the biggest issues that we're facing in our city is that the public trust has been broken, and we need to restore it.
SILVERMANWe need to have confidence that when councilmembers are making decisions, they're making them on behalf of the people and not special interests, not developers who might have contributed to a councilmember's campaign or to others who, you know, who have special interests down at the Wilson Building. The pay-to-play culture I think has to stop.
NNAMDII'm not going to be necessarily asking each candidate to answer each question if a candidate feels particularly strongly about an issue about which you have been not asked, please raise your hand and I'll try to recognize. Also, Patrick Madden, you can jump in at any time. But same question to you, Anita Bonds. Since you have been sitting on the Council for a little while, have you experienced any of this yet?
BONDSIn fact, I was one of the councilmembers that voted to...
NNAMDIVoted for censure.
BONDSYes. That is correct. We voted because we felt that Councilmember Graham went a bit too far. There is something called horse-trading, but when you get into the weeds and you actually indicate to one party that if you do this, then I'll do that, then we think that's going too far. And that's where we took issue with Councilmember Graham and his behavior.
MADDENAnita, if I can just follow up because part of this is also contributions from developers. I know I think it was March 8th, your campaign or your Council office put out a newsletter where you talked about how you co-introduced a bill that would ban contributions made by limited liability companies. These are sort of the subsidiary companies that business folks, developers can often use to make multiple donations.
MADDENTwo days later, though, your campaign finance report came out, and it showed thousands of dollars in campaign cash, including at least half a dozen of these LLCs. So on this question, which position do you take on these limited liability companies, do you take the one in your newsletter or the one in your campaign finance report?
BONDSWell, you know, limited liability companies are entities. The problem is that we currently do -- are not required to disclose the ownership of these liabilities. And I'm comfortable as long as the ownership of these liability companies is disclosed. And so I'm very happy to provide that information because it's not currently required by law, but I think we need a law that does require that.
MARAYes, thank you. With regard to Councilmember Graham, I represent Ward 1 on the D.C. State Board of Education, so we have the same constituency. I did send out...
NNAMDIGet closer to your microphone.
MARAOh, pardon me. I did send out -- I was the first candidate in this race to send out a release stating my strong concerns. I believe what should have happened I believe we should have had a hearing. We missed an opportunity to really to test ethics reform. I think as happened I think probably he also he should have been censured, but I also believe that he should have been stripped from his committee chair but then all his committees. And then he would have -- we would have set a precedent for ethics reform because it seems to me to a certain extent we swept it under the rug.
NNAMDIHe is your councilmember. Would you, could you vote for him again for re-election?
MARAI did not vote for him last time.
NNAMDIWell, you are -- there are several people who want to respond to this.
NNAMDIPerry Redd has not yet a chance yet.
NNAMDIHe's the Statehood Green candidate.
REDDIndeed, indeed. Thank you very much, Kojo. You know, this whole thing I don't do dancing. I'm a songwriter. And so this whole thing about LLCs, it sounds like Mitt Romney. You know, corporations are people, my friend. And we can not allow that, and that's one of the reasons why as a party principle, D.C. Statehood Green do not take corporate donations, nor do we take donations in a bundle of those kind that come from corporations disguised as people.
REDDSo what we wanted to do about that is if indeed we elect on April 23 to implement what we call an open source solution where you're able to see every phone call we make, every meeting that we have, every dealing that we have as Council and is transparent and accessible to the people, either online or they can go down to 441 to view it and apply for them there, something different, something right.
NNAMDII don't do dancing. I'm a songwriter. What's that?
NNAMDIStart with that.
REDDWell, yeah, yeah, Councilmember Bonds talked about the position or Patrick alluded to the position on one side and then we're seeing something different. And so we have to be consistent on the Council, and that's one of the things I look to do is to gain the confidence of the people and not dance around the issue.
NNAMDIOK. Here's Matthew Frumin.
FRUMINYeah. The kind of horse-trading that was at issue here we can't talk tolerate that both as a protecting against corruption and protecting against the perception of corruption. We really need to build people's confidence in our city government, and it is way down. And this is an episode that keeps pushing it down. Now, one of the things about this is the Council approves contracts over a certain size, and that is a kind of attractive nuisance.
FRUMINIt invites the kind of horse-trading that you had here. It invites a tendency to favor political contributors. I think we need to move away from that. I think we need to pass the pay-to-play legislation that Atty. Gen. Irv Nathan has come forward with. Let's take bold steps to show that we're not going to tolerate this kind of thinking.
NNAMDIYou want to get the Council out of the business of approving contracts completely?
FRUMINI like oversight over the contract process but not the approval of the large contracts.
NNAMDIJust in case you're just joining us, this is a special WAMU 88.5 production of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" in which we're talking to all of the candidates for the at-large seat on the D.C. Council in the election later this month. And our co-moderator is Patrick Madden. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We haven't heard your voice yet, Paul Zukerberg.
ZUKERBERGThank you. I'm Paul Zukerberg, and I find that Councilman Graham's explanation that this is just business as usual in the Council is more telling than anything else because it is business as usual. We have lobbyists outside the Council. We have lobbyists inside the Council. And we have money from lobbyists and developers controlling the agenda at the Council. I believe if you are a lobbyist or if you represent someone who transacts business with the District of Columbia, you're not qualified to sit on the Council.
ZUKERBERGI am the only candidate who's actually running on a platform that's against his own personal interests. My livelihood is defending people on marijuana cases. And if elected, I want to decriminalize marijuana. I want to put myself out of business. I'm not running on my own personal interests but for what's good for the citizens.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the telephones. Here is in Washington, D.C. Jared, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAREDYes. Hi. I just have a question with regard, well, to all the candidates, open to all the candidates. What I wanted to know was where each candidate thought of (unintelligible) between pay-to-play politics and crossing the ethical barrier because it seems to me that a fundamental element of the political game and political game theory is having clout.
JAREDAnd part of that is participating in the favors game. I'm not a politician, but I am a graduate of G.W. and have a degree in political science. And I'm from Chicago, Ill. So, you know, that may be just where from I'm coming from. But where does that distinction lie?
NNAMDIElissa Silverman, where does that distinction lie for you? Jim Graham said that, look, I didn't do anything illegal. Where do you draw the line between plain politics and outright unethical behavior?
SILVERMANSo, Kojo, I think that this LLC issue is a clear distinction between the candidates. You know, I'm sure listeners are wondering, where are the differences. You know, we are looking for people to lead reform efforts in our city and to restore confidence in our government. Now, I have taken a pledge not to accept -- I was one of the leaders of Initiative 70, the grassroots effort to ban corporate contributions in our local politics.
SILVERMANBoth you and Patrick covered that issue very thoroughly, and I thank you for it. And I think it demonstrates my efforts to be a leader in reform and that I was involved with Initiative 70. I feel very strongly that money is part of our problem in local politics, the role of money in politics. And I've applied to my own campaign. So I'm not taking corporate money. I'm not taking PAC money either. And I think that says something about someone's leadership skills.
MADDENAnd just a follow-up on that, Elissa, what about donations directly from the developers themselves, the individuals? I know Neil Albert has given money to you, Sinclair Skinner, who's done contracting work. Is that then a double standard? Do you draw a line there?
SILVERMANNo, I don't think it's a double standard. I think we have very polarizing debates in our city that we need to get beyond to move forward. You know, there's debates about the war on cars versus the war on cyclists and about developers and anti-development. I don't think those constructed debates. I think we need to move forward as a city with sensible, reasonable policies. I've received, you know, my deep-pocketed contributors are of many stripes. They're from all over the city. They're from every ward.
SILVERMANThere are people on Ward 5 from Miriam's Kitchen. There are lawyers from the Washington Legal Clinic. And yes, there are people like Neil Albert, our former city administrator. And you know what I think is interesting, Patrick, and, of course, what's odd for me to be in this race is that many of the folks who've contributed to me I've covered as a reporter. And even my chairman, Kathy Patterson, a former Ward 3 councilmember, said that sometimes I didn't write the most flattening things even about her. But I was always fair and accurate and honest.
NNAMDIBut what if somebody like Sinclair Skinner who makes a contribution to you is coming as the head of a company after if you were to get elected to the Council? He's coming and he does business with the city. He has a contract with the city. How would you act in that in that situation?
SILVERMANSo here's what I think is really interesting about the Sinclair Skinner contribution, Kojo, is that I was the first reporter to write about Sinclair and to write not flattering things about Sinclair either. And when I received that contribution from him 'cause I get a little indication on my email, I wrote to Sinclair and I said, Sinclair, why did you give me a contribution?
SILVERMANAnd he said, look, I want district government to move forward, and you have always been fair and accurate and honest. And your agenda has been a reform agenda to improve district government, and that's my agenda, too, and that's why I'm giving to you.
MADDENIf I could...
NNAMDIBut you didn't answer my question.
SILVERMANI think I answered your question...
NNAMDIIf Sinclair Skinner's company applies for a contract that the Council has to approve, how would you act in that situation, given that he is a campaign contributor? It would be...
SILVERMANOn the merits, Kojo. I mean, I have been a data-driven person, an information-driven person, I think. I've been on your program as an analyst before, and I've always approached everything through information and data, and that's how I would be as a councilmember.
NNAMDIThe Council did move last year to pass a so-called ethics reform bill. Since you're getting to speak, Paul Zukerberg, what did you think of it? What do you think it says about the Council's ability to police itself?
ZUKERBERGWell, the reform bill was totally toothless, and it's irrelevant because it doesn't get real reform. But I just want to say because this has come up several times, you know, my signatures were challenged by Ms. Silverman, across the table from me, at four hearings was one of the largest corporate law firms, an LLC, which must have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Ms. Silverman's campaign. That's not on any of her financial disclosure forms.
ZUKERBERGThat's probably the single largest corporate contribution or LLC contribution in this campaign was accepted by Ms. Silverman from this law firm. And I wonder -- and this law firm's a firm which transacts business and lobbies with the District of Columbia on behalf of its clients. So, really, it's disingenuous to say you don't accept corporate contributions when you have accepted more.
NNAMDII'm going to have to ask Ms. Silverman to keep her answer brief because she's already dominating too much of the conversation.
SILVERMANSo, Kojo, let me address...
FRUMINThank you, Kojo.
SILVERMAN...this challenge issue, which is that the challenge was actually made by a supporter of mine. And I checked with the Office of Campaign Finance and campaign actually could not, under our rules, under our campaign finance rules, pay for that -- any of the legal services.
ZUKERBERGHow much legal work did you do for -- how much -- give me dollar amount of the legal work that that LLC did for you and that you accepted and never disclosed.
NNAMDIIn 10 words or less.
FRUMINIt's not in OCF.
SILVERMANAnd if you check with OCF, Paul, and my campaign did, we were not allowed to pay for it. I was happy to do so.
ZUKERBERGDid you disclose it?
NNAMDIAllow me to move on.
ZUKERBERGDid you tell anyone? No.
NNAMDIHere is Neil in Washington, D.C. Neil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NEILHi there. Thank you very much for taking my call. My question is directed towards Councilmember Bonds. You work full-time for Fort Myer Construction. They're one of the largest contractors to the city. My question is do you recuse yourself from votes, budget issues and lobbying fellow councilmembers on every single thing concerning Fort Myer's Construction?
BONDSFirstly, I am on a leave of absence from Fort Myer. But since I have been on the Council, anytime anything has come before me related to Fort Myer, I have recused myself. And the votes of the Council will indicate such.
NNAMDIThe question, of course, is likely to come up later. So I might as well ask it now. If you are elected to the Council, will you quit your job?
NNAMDIWithout a shadow of a doubt.
BONDSAll of that and more.
NNAMDILet the record show.
BONDSPlease let the record show I have said it a number of times, and it just doesn't seem to resonate. You know, in fact...
NNAMDIYou seem to have a question, Patrick Madden.
MADDENOh, I do want to post the same one to Matt over there because I know you've been asked that before, and I think you self described the answer as murky. So can you describe your outside employment situation...
NNAMDIThis question for Matthew Frumin.
MADDEN...and what you will do if elected?
FRUMINYeah. When I started this campaign, first and foremost, I'm a dad, and I was trying to think how do I make sure that I have maintained all of my relationships. And I thought, well, I want to be able to look to see, after the election, how it can operate. I would never tolerate a conflict. I would never tolerate being in a position where I couldn't give my all to this job. Since that has happened, I've gone back. I've talked to my colleagues.
FRUMINI told them I will unequivocally not go back to my work, not have any association with my law firm should I win this election. So I will not have any kind of outside affiliation. I do, though, want to go back to the question that was asked before about where's the line that you're talking about, and others have commented. And the line is, what is the public good?
FRUMINIf you get yourself into a situation where you may be favoring someone, either because their LLC gave you a contribution or they, as individuals or groups of individuals, gave you a contribution, then you're over the line if you're favoring those people. And if you get yourself into a position where you're compromised like that and you're describing it in the press as horse trading, you're way over the line. So we need to get at this, but just banning LLC contributions doesn't do it for the kinds of reasons that you raised.
FRUMINYou need to have an eye on what is happening with the individuals as well which is why the bill proposed by the attorney general, which gets at contributions from contractors and potential contractors, does a better job of protecting us going forward from the kind of pay-to-play culture that we've suffered from.
NNAMDINeil, thank you very much for your call. Patrick Mara, I have said in the past that there seem to be some former members of the Council who joined the Council because the salary provider will provide them an upgrade in lifestyle because they couldn't really do any, or they didn't really have any other jobs. And now we're involved in a debate of whether or not people should have outside jobs at all. What's wrong with having an outside job if you're on the Council?
MARASure. I mean, I've always said that being on the Council, it should be your full-time job.
MARAAnd I would treat it as that. It's a citywide -- first of all, particularly when you're an at-large member, it's a citywide position. You need to get around to all eight wards just about every day of the week, if not every day of the week. And I do not know how an individual would have time to do some type of other employment opportunity.
MARAOne of the things that's deeply concerned me about those other employment opportunities has been when they are with contractors that do business with the District of Columbia. I've also seen issues where, you know, even now, everyone is now saying that they're not doing outside employment, but at the beginning of the campaign, they were saying they were participating in outside employment.
MARASo we see this over and over again where a group of people who are running for an office say, I'm not doing -- I'm not taking outside employment, and then it comes time for their job on the Council. And what do you know? They're taking outside employment.
MADDENAnd, Pat, just to follow up on that, what is the status of -- I know you have a consulting firm, a law firm.
MARAYes. So I have not done any government affairs since 2008, but then I was a consultant to some small businesses outside the District of Columbia.
MADDENAnd can you -- and before that, you were a lobbyist on Capitol Hill.
MARAFrom -- I did government affairs on Capitol Hill from 2001 through Sept. 30, 2008.
NNAMDIPerry Redd, why would you not keep a separate job if you were allowed to serve on the Council? Allow me to underscore the point I made earlier. If this is your only job, your only source of income, some people will say you'll do whatever is necessary to protect it, including taking money under the table and anything else to protect it because you don't have any other way of making a living.
REDDFirst of all, let me say this, that since the beginning of the campaign, and Patrick Mara made a great point that at the beginning of the campaign, there were different positions. This is why I alluded to earlier about dancing because that's what we're doing. And you, obviously, are -- you have some power to cleanse the spirit here because a lot of positions are changing right here at this table. So obviously, since the beginning of the campaign, that Washington D.C. has a second highest paid city council in the country.
REDDAnd if, indeed, we won't pay our city workers a living wage, then why would we even consider allowing city council people to hold a second job making, well, in excess of $125,000 a year, OK? The median household income in the city is $61,000. The poverty line is $22,000. We won't even pass a living wage in the city, and we're proposing to the Large Retailer Accountability Act living wage orders -- a living wage of 1,175. Seventy-five, that's just -- so that it reaches the poverty level.
REDDSo like President Obama did last week, he say he give back 5 percent of his salary to stand in solidarity with those who' have been suffering from the sequester. I am the only candidate who committed from the beginning of the campaign to take a part-time salary for this part-time job.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. In case you missed it earlier, you can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or you can join us on our Facebook page. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, to ask a question or make a comment. Patrick Mara, last week, Washington City Paper, Loose Lips columnist Alan Suderman wrote that in 2008, business interests were eager to get rid of former councilmember Carol Schwartz and threw their weight behind you in the primary when you defeated her. What would you say to that? Is that a correct statement?
MARAWell, I would say the correct statement is, you know, I was focused on education reform and school choice. I went around, I knocked on 8,000 doors in the primary. No one had ever done that before from just about three o'clock every weekday afternoon to about eight o'clock in the evening and then on the weekends from 11 to seven o'clock. And I had a conversation with voters.
MARABasically, the only other person who had visited these folks previously would be former Mayor Adrian Fenty, and we talked about education reform. We talked about D.C. public charter schools, and we also spoke about the opportunity scholarship program. And that is what put me over in that primary in 2008.
NNAMDIThe perception that follows from the assertion that I made earlier that -- the assertion that others made is that you should be seen as the business candidate in this race. Are you?
MARAI don't think so. Obviously, I'm very pro-small business because entrepreneurship is something we should be encouraging in the District. As you know, we're number 51 according to some indexes, which is not good when we have 50 states in the union. But, you know, I'm, you know, I'm endorsed by the D.C. Sierra Club, The Current Newspapers, The Washington Post, so I have a wide range of organizations and individuals who support me.
MADDENAnd, Pat, obviously, you've earned a slew of endorsements, but you've -- you're obviously -- you've been criticized because of the R next to your name, right, because you're the Republican in this race. So question for you: How are you different from the National Republican Party? What -- where are the specific differences that you have with them?
MARAThank you for that question. Well, as you know, I am socially progressive, fiscally responsible, moderate. I came to D.C. to work for the late Senator John Chafee who's of that Rockefeller Republican breed. And, you know, I was leading the fight on marriage equality on the Republican side several years ago. I was the only one in this entire room right now who testified before the D.C. Council. And I was the only one advocating for Congress to leave marriage equality through to people who are among probably the most conservative members of Congress in America.
MARAI have also been up on the Hill, you know, voting for -- fighting for voting right statehood, budget autonomy. And I've been meeting with the key players that nobody else is meeting with. And I think for our purposes of really making ourselves not second, third class citizens in the District of Columbia, we need to have some form of engagement that isn't necessarily a protest because you'd be amazed at how on either side of the aisle, there's just a complete lack of awareness of what our situation is in the District.
MARAAnd we've actually, in the D.C., in the local party, we now have marriage equality in the party platform. We have faux voting representation in the party platform. So we are really creating an urban model for the nation. And, you know, we're the type of, you know, more of a progressive Republican Party.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, this is a special edition of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," talking to all of the candidates for the at-large seat on the D.C. Council. We're talking with Anita Bonds who currently holds the seat. She's running as a Democrat. Matthew Frumin is running as a Democrat. Patrick Mara is a Republican candidate.
NNAMDIPerry Redd is a Statehood Green Party candidate. Elissa Silverman is a Democratic candidate, as is Paul Zukerberg, all running for the at-large seat on the D.C. Council. You can call us at 800-433-8850. It's not like the Council or the D.C. government is playing with Monopoly money, and not all of the ways the city distributes that money on programs are easy to follow.
NNAMDIHarry Thomas Jr. was caught embezzling money earmarked for youth sports programs that went through the public-private Children's Youth Investment Trust. This is an organization that's been responsible over time for more than $100 million of public money. As a councilmember, what do you think will be the most important aspects of your job when it comes to oversight of the money, and what policies do you think could be put in place to guard against the creation, well, of slush funds, Elissa Silverman?
SILVERMANOh, I think the major role of the Council is oversight. And, you know, I have, I'd say, of the candidates sitting here, I have been the one to drill down into the budget and take a look at how we're spending our money. You know, before me right now, as I'm showing to you and Patrick, is something that I worked on that I think Patrick reported on, which was workforce development map. This is a map of where we spend all of our dollars on job training.
SILVERMANAnd, you know, what do we know where we spend a lot of money, and we don't have good outcomes. And I think the role of the councilmember is really to press the agencies on why are we not getting better outcomes. How come we shift our dollars to get better outcomes and repeat and pull information and data to improve those outcomes?
NNAMDIAnita Bonds, same questions.
BONDSI'd like to add to Elissa's opinion here because it's more than just doing the due diligence and looking at the budget and looking at numbers and talking to the administrators. It's also about talking to the recipients of the services and talking to the community. You'd be surprised at what community thinks we ought to be doing with the budget and how we should spend the money. And it's not always the way it is perceived. For instance, when you talk to senior citizens, they want relief. They want relief.
BONDSThose who are taxpayers, they want to pay less, or not at all, particularly if you're 80 years or older and you're still, you know, having to complete your so-called personal income tax. And it is also a situation where you have our young people who really feel that they've become the throwaway persons in our society. And when you talk to their parents, they're wondering how we're really going to improve things. Well, talk to me and get some opinions from me, a parent, who is here every day.
BONDSIt's our pocketbooks that make a difference. And so I just think we have to look at this role of a councilperson a little differently. In modern society, it's more than just the numbers. It's more than just the data. It is also about the human side of the equation. We represent people. We're elected people. We're not elected by the numbers. We're elected by the human beings.
MADDENAnd just to quickly follow up, Anita, would you bring back the earmarking system that the Council used to have and that caused a lot of controversy?
BONDSIt caused a lot of controversy, and, no, I would not bring that back. I think that there are some new systems that we can put in place. I think when citizens talk, when citizens speak at forums, et cetera, I think we have to listen more. For instance, we'll always get a -- be besieged with, you know, lobbying by community on any particular issue. But I really think when you go around to the community and you started talking about a subject that you may want to discuss, suddenly you'll discover, well, everyone is concerned about speed cameras.
NNAMDIMatthew Frumin, what do you see for -- what use do you see for -- and you can add whatever you wanted to say before -- but what use do you see for constituent service funds?
FRUMINOK. But I do -- I did want to chime in to this debate...
NNAMDIChime, chime away.
FRUMIN...because oversight is the absolute key. And, frankly, I think I've been involved in both sides of the coin that Elissa Silverman and Councilmember Bonds are talking about. In my world of advocacy around schools, we did the Wilson modernization. We dug into every aspect of that modernization: looking at the plans, looking at the cost, working with the teachers, working with the students to try to figure out how we could do this best, how it could work best for the school, the city and the community.
FRUMINSame thing on school budgets citywide. Mary Levy is a bigger expert on school budgets than I, but I would posit there aren't that many other ones who are that much more of an expert. You need to dig in. You need to be talking with people on all sides of it. Constituent service funds can play a role in meeting the needs of people in the greatest need.
FRUMINBut to the extent that they become or appear to become slush funds, we shouldn't have them. If we're going to have them, every donation needs to be transparent, every use of the money needs to be transparent, and the money needs to be limited just to things like paying utility bills for seniors that are having trouble, never tickets and things like that for athletic events.
NNAMDIPerry Redd, you wanted to say?
REDDHmm. You know, I propose, when indeed we're elected on April 23, an open-source solution. And that would make transparent and accessible all of our -- the Council's work, whether it comes to contracts and grants, whether it comes to constituent service allocations -- 'cause I'd like to bring that back, you know, I think as a moratorium owner or something like that.
REDDBut the chief mechanism for ensuring that the council people do the right thing for the right reasons is this, is that what we plan on doing is having citizen lay a legislative drafting because your original question was about the Council's role in money. And so we have to legislate. We'll be lawmakers. And we talk about oversight quite often.
REDDAnd that's totally necessary. But we have to have citizens included in the process and writing laws that they want to see passed. So I would say the chief role in terms of money is legislating, allocating responsibly and such, and, of course, with the oversight, allowing the people to tell the story as well.
NNAMDIPatrick Mara, you, and then Elissa Silverman, specifically on the use you see for constituent service funds.
MARASure. They are, as somebody has noted in the past or we've all noted in the past, these are really their big slush funds. I think to use the excuse to use these funds to pay for utility bills, it's very difficult to means-test a situation, paying for utility bills. These are the types of activities that should be handled in the executive through specific programs so that we can identify true need. And I think, right now, constituent services funds are primarily more for political purposes. It's...
NNAMDIYou'd get rid of them altogether?
MARAOh, I'd like to get rid of them altogether.
SILVERMANSo I think this is where oversight plays a role, because when you look at how constituent service funds have been used, they haven't largely been used for helping people with funeral assistance and rent assistance and utility assistance. They've been used for other things. Now, when Councilmember Grasso was elected in November, he appointed me or asked me to lead a task force for him on ethics.
SILVERMANAnd one of the things we suggested is getting rid of privately raised constituent service funds because it's just a means to buy access to the Council. What we alternatively suggested -- and this was part of a group exercise -- is that there will be a line item in the budget for the Council that all council members can access to use for those real emergency needs like rent assistance, like utility assistance, and that there be parameters put on the use of those funds.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden? Oh, wait a minute.
SILVERMANOh, but -- Kojo, actually, let me address what Anita talked about, which is, you know, one of the first things that I did when I got to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute was opened up the budget negotiations to the public. You know, I do -- one of the -- my main aims as a reporter and as a budget analyst has been getting the public more involved in the most important decisions that we make.
SILVERMANSo, before, as you both know, when we got down to the last weeks of the budget, those key decisions, those key decisions about our priorities as a city were made behind closed doors. And I led a coalition of groups to actually open that up to the public so the public can see how decisions are made. I think the public -- getting the public involved is very important because part of the problem down at the Wilson Building is it's sort of a 13-member exclusive club.
MADDENAnd then just to follow up with that, do you think that your work with the Fiscal Policy Institute, that that organization should be registered as a lobbyist with the city, considering all the advocacy work that it does?
SILVERMANWell, you know, this is -- I actually agree with that, and I do think we should be registered as a lobbyist. Yes.
MADDENAnd just another lobbyist question, lobbyists as fundraisers. Now, I know -- I was, you know, was checking out your schedule later this week. You're meeting with David Wilmot, who is one of the...
MADDEN...one of the top lobbyists in D.C., represents Wal-Mart, pharmaceutical, beverage industry, and you're -- and this happens every campaign. Candidates...
BONDSAnd DNC, everyone, yes.
MADDENCandidates have fundraisers with lobbyists. Do you think that is a problem, and do you think that contributes to any of the problems we're seeing today?
NNAMDIThe problem of perception, particularly.
FRUMINHow about the reality of it? Let's talk to the reality of it. Forget perception.
BONDSAll right. Thanks a lot. OK. The reality of it is it probably is -- perceptionally, it is a issue because we've been talking this afternoon a lot about, you know, corruption and this whole arena of what is ethical, what is not. But the reality is that lobbyists are individuals who, like anyone else who is a voter in the District of Columbia, expresses their opinion.
BONDSThe side of the coin, I think, we have to be concerned with is what does the elected official do with that lobbyist and with the funds that come in through a lobbyist effort? And the funds that come in through the lobbyist effort go for everything that you usually use on a campaign, nothing extraordinary, for the mailings, et cetera, et cetera. The input that you get from a lobbyist is the financial wherewithal in order to do a campaign. Campaigns are expensive. Consultants cost.
BONDSPaper is expensive, as we all know. So I'm really saying that because a lobbyist contributes to your campaign does not mean that you're where the lobbyist is, and the lobbyist is not necessarily trying to buy you. The lobbyist is saying, hey, you know, I like what I see, and I think that you look like a winner. You know, in the District of Columbia, everyone wants to be with a winner, you know, first and foremost. And so that has a lot to do with the perception that you're getting out there.
NNAMDIThe perception of David Wilmot is that he is an -- he is the ultimate insider in Washington. He is not only a lobbyist. He does contracts with the city. He's been known to be friendly with former mayors of the city. When you are going to an event that is sponsored by somebody like David Wilmot, it only increases the perception that he is, indeed, the ultimate insider. Don't you have to take some extra steps to prove that this is not going to influence what you do? Because, frankly, everybody around this table knows that name because everybody says, that's the go-to guy in this city.
BONDSMost definitely David Wilmot is the go-to guy in many circles. You're correct about that. That's a fair perception. But also David Wilmot, whatever his enterprises are will require seven votes on the Council. I would be one of seven votes if I were voting on any measure that related to his enterprises. And so that's -- that would be my consideration. I think as a member of the Council, you are -- you have to always remember that you're under the glass dome and that what you do certainly gives the impression to people as to what your thinking is about the community.
NNAMDII'm hearing mumbled responses of shock…
NNAMDI...and horror on this side of the table...
NNAMDI...coming from, it looks like, Patrick Mara.
MARAWell, I was just...
MARA...a little surprised that you said you would be one of seven votes for David Wilmot, and that just -- that surprised me.
BONDSOh, no, I'm not saying that. I said in order for David Wilmot to get anything through the Council, he needs seven votes, you know, majority of the vote.
ZUKERBERGSo he just has to buy seven councilmembers and 7-1.
ZUKERBERGSo -- and I'm sure he can afford to do that. Listen, I've been asked to met with lobbyists. I was...
NNAMDIDo you quote again a contribution as buying a councilmembers?
ZUKERBERGWell, I've told developers and lobbyists that they are free to contribute to my campaign, but in exchange, they're going to get bupkis. And they looked up that word, a Yiddish word in the dictionary, and it means beans or nothing. And after...
NNAMDISo have they been contributing heavily to your campaign?
ZUKERBERGWell, you can look at my sheet. You're going to see I haven't received one contribution from either a lobbyist or a developer. It's pay to play. They're not giving -- I'm not so vain to think that they would give to me because they like the way I look or like any of my programs. They're buying influence. And once I told them that I'm not selling influence, they've gone elsewhere, so I have none. As far as oversight...
NNAMDILet me ask somebody who's raised a lot of money.
NNAMDIMatthew Frumin, what is your position this? People feel that you've raised a significant amount of money from people who might be in a position to influence you.
FRUMINWell, I've raised a fair amount of money from many, many people from different perspectives. And I think I've raised the money that I've raised because people believe I do a good job, and I'm fair. I've raised money from people who have supported different projects and people who have opposed different projects.
FRUMINI think our main thing on the Council is you need to go on and raise money from people who believe in you not because you're going to do something for them but because they see you -- see a record of accomplishment. And then you need to behave honorably going forward. One other things that we can do in this area, though, is the kind of campaign finance reform that has been proposed to try to make it so that lower dollar donations are more important. You can include matching of low-dollar donations.
FRUMINThe idea that people are bought for the kinds of donations that are made now, I don't think that's the case. I think it is the case when you get into bundling, when you get into the kind of multiple LLCs, but we can protect our system from the perception of corruption by making lower dollar donations more important so people do not believe that people are being brought.
MADDENAnd just on the issue of lobbyists, I know, Pat, I mentioned this to you before. You used to work on the Hill as a lobbyist, and I know you dispute the House lobbying report that says you worked for Exxon.
MADDENAnd in a Las Vegas casino?
MARAYes. Yes, I do.
MADDENCan you talk about sort of what your experience on the Hill as a lobbyist in regards to this whole discussion and sort of what experience that has given you to become a councilmember.
MARASure. It's given me a very unique perspective because I was able to observed the whole Abraham Hoff situation and what that did, and you could kind of see how he was seriously influencing people. And I do believe, you know, right now, we really don't do a good job in the Wilson Building of monitoring things like gifts, lunches, dinners. I mean, how of things -- how many of these things are undisclosed by councilmembers?
MARAI think that we probably do need something like almost a law that would limit it to not even a cup of coffee because it seems to me there are people who are receiving gifts and other forms of contributions, you know, free legal work as that came up before. I mean, these are the types of things that we have to be taking a harder look. But we are so far back in where we should be, we need to be -- we need to evolve in a way where we're a much more cleaner, open -- more open D.C. government.
MARAAnd some of these -- oddly enough, we can almost -- I was talking to a member of Congress, and they were asking me, why do -- I don't understand why people have outside jobs. And this was so foreign. And so we have a long ways to go in terms of what we do not only from the contributor standpoint but on the lobbying side as well.
NNAMDIWe only have a few minutes left in this first hour, and I'd like to use it in a slightly different way. If I were to ask you, Elissa Silverman, one question that you would most like to ask another panelists in this discussion, who would that question be addressed to, and what would it be?
SILVERMANI would ask Mr. Mara, you know, why he remains in the Republican Party if he is and says that he's a progressive and that he's independent-minded, why he remains in the Republican Party when someone else in our city who was Republican, who felt like the party didn't no longer represented him on social issues and...
SILVERMANExactly -- decided to actually leave the party.
NNAMDIRespond to the former Loose Lips.
MARAAbsolutely, you know, there's two things you can do. You can either just drop out or you can change things. And what I've done is completely started to change things 'cause I said before, we now have marriage equality in our platform, we have full voting representation in our party platform, you know, and I have done things that have upset people, you know? For example, I endorsed Sekou Biddle in the Democratic primary a year ago because I saw these votes thing happening.
MARAI am not -- well, I am a socially progressive, fiscally responsible moderate Republican. I don't have a problem with being bipartisan. I don't have a problem with working with others. And, look, I am that socially progressive urban Republican, and we're starting something new here. We're kind of setting an example for the rest of the nation.
NNAMDIAnita Bonds, what question would you like to put to another panelist in this discussion, and who would that be?
BONDSI think I like to ask Ms. Silverman a question about her progressiveness. She has made it very clear to voters that she is the progressive candidate. And I like to know what definition is she using to be the progressive candidate. I mean, they're -- Democrats have traditionally been progressives.
SILVERMANSo I think it's -- thanks for the question, Anita. I think its supporting things like paid sick leave, being very clear that I believe that workers in our city deserve to have a day off when they feel sick. And that's a difference, I think, between many of the folks at this table. This came up before, and as you mentioned, Kojo, the Republican primary in 2008 was largely revolved around this issue of paid sick days. And Mr. Mara won that primary over Carol Schwartz who supported the paid sick day's law.
SILVERMANNow, there is an exemption in that law which exempted tipped restaurant workers. And I support amending that law to include tipped restaurant workers because I believe people who serve our food deserved to have a day off when they're not feeling sick and that they shouldn't be fired for it. And also I think it's a public health issue. I also support the living wage bill that Perry Redd talked about earlier, which is requiring big-box stores to pay a living wage that can support their families. That's what I believe is in progressive.
NNAMDIThe implication, Anita Bonds, that you don't support paid sick leave and that you don't support the living wage.
BONDSI'm listening. I'm listening. And I have gone on record in support of living wage and sick leave. Yes. So that's why I was a little confused.
SILVERMAN(unintelligible) paid restaurant workers?
NNAMDIMatthew Frumin, ask somebody a question.
FRUMINWell, mine is a little more specific. I thought a saw a reference, Pat, to Pat Mara that you'd contributed $999 to the Romney campaign, and it puzzled me. Why $999, and why Mitt Romney over Barack Obama? But most important, the $999.
MARAOh, everyone is engaging me in the discussion today. Well, I mean, this is kind of what's getting like for the last few weeks because, you know, I just been focused on talking with voters, focusing on my message of education reform, being that fiscal and ethical watchdog on the Council and...
NNAMDIYou're not going to answer the question, are you?
MARAI mean, everyone is...
MARA...everyone is sending out emails, fundraising on my behalf. I mean, it's absolutely amazing. They just want to make me out to be this monster, but I'm not. I'm always going to do what's in the interest of the District of Columbia. Now, look, I supported the guy who lost. I don't know that there's any one in the District who believed that President Obama would fall short in D.C. And like I said before, we're trying to really make this an urban model.
MARAYou know, I've always admired folks like Cory Booker and Michael Bloomberg, and we're doing something different in the District of Columbia. And I've been, you know, I've been -- like I said before, I've been a leading advocate on the board of D.C. vote to make sure that, you know, we change the things here on the District and that we're not second, third-class citizens.
NNAMDIGot to take a break. They're all here, and they will be back next hour. Anita Bonds, Matthew Frumin, Patrick Mara, Perry Redd, Elissa Silverman, Paul Zukerberg, my co-moderator Patrick Madden of WAMU 88.5 News and yours truly. We'll continue this debate next hour for the at-large seat on the D.C. City Council on the D.C. Council. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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