D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) joins Kojo, Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis in the studio.
Virginia Republicans set their official roster of candidates in this fall’s races. Another D.C. Council member goes all in for next year’s race for mayor. And Maryland opens a casino it hopes will breathe new life into the Western part of the state. 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
- Michael Pope Northern Virginia reporter, WAMU; political reporter, Connection Newspapers; Author, "Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C." (The History Press)
- Jamin Raskin Member, Maryland State Senate (D- Dist. 20 Montgomery County); and Professor of Law, American University's Washington College of Law
- Tommy Wells Democratic Mayoral Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Video From Inside The Studio
Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Council member and D.C. mayoral candidate, said he’s hoping to raise $1 million for his campaign, but that he won’t accept anonymous contributions. “If there’s not a name on the check…I don’t want that donation,” he said. Wells said he thinks D.C. citizens will donate to his campaign because they agree with his agenda to “clean up politics in D.C., to clean up the pay-to-play that’s currently going on in our government.” He added that while money can garner influence, it can’t buy a legislative seat.
Politics Hour News Quiz
Test your knowledge of D.C., Virginia and Maryland headlines and happenings.
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. He is also a veteran, but veterans are not whom we support on Memorial Day. Veterans are who we support on Veterans Day.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWho we remember on Memorial Day is those people, those people who have fought for their country and who lost their lives during the course of that fight. And I was, I guess, I learned something and was impressed to know that there are members of the Sherwood family who are in that group. Tell us about Peyton Sherwood.
MR. TOM SHERWOODLeslie Peyton...
NNAMDIPeyton -- Leslie Peyton.
SHERWOOD...he was my uncle who I never met, who died. He was a bombardier in World War II. My brother Ed Sherwood who was a -- who embraced the military -- and I didn't -- has researched it, and now, in a little household back Germany, this summer, there's going to be a little award for the seven crewmembers who died when the bomber went down. And it's just kind of nice feeling.
SHERWOODMy own son's name is Peyton in honor of him. I have his flag from World War II, and I have some mementos that were sent back from the battlefield, which I will give to my son when he has a child. So it's a very nice thing -- it's a personal touch. My brother is very big in the military. His sons and his grandsons are all military people. There are some serving in Afghanistan.
NNAMDIAnd your brother is retired military.
SHERWOODHe is retired military, and so there's a huge military background. And I was an Army brat myself with my stepfather. So I appreciate the military, and I appreciate the freedom. You know, I go on these rants about security and people blocking the freedoms we have as ordinary citizens. Well, part of that is from my military background that we fight to be free. We shouldn't casually give them up.
SHERWOODBut thank you for asking about it, and I just wrote about it in the Northwest Current.
NNAMDIAnd it's important, I think, to use the personal touch in order to remind people about exactly why we have Memorial Day in the first place. It's not merely the beginning of our summer weekend holiday.
SHERWOODNo. It's not a Memorial Day sale, and that's fine with me if the American commerce celebrates Memorial Day and puts American flags out. But it was -- it is a time to respect the fact that people have died for the freedoms that we should not take lightly.
NNAMDITom himself was a not-so-enthusiastic reservist who served here at the U.S. Navy Yard.
SHERWOODYou know, I'm one of those baby boomers who joined the Navy reserves, so I wouldn't be drafted in the Army. I'll just say that straight-up.
NNAMDIAnd he served here at the U.S. Navy Yard, and it's one of the reasons why he fell in love with Washington, D.C., both its cultural side and its political side. He covers much of its serious side. And during the course of this past week, in the D.C. school system, how do you like that for...
SHERWOODVery good transition.
NNAMDIYes, good transition.
NNAMDID.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson decided to reconstitute two schools, more than 100 teachers and other staff members at Cardozo High and Patterson Elementary Schools, that have been struggling for years. They now have to reapply for their jobs after her decision to reconstitute those schools. What's going on here, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, ever since Michelle Rhee was a chancellor, there -- the process has been that if schools don't meet certain standards because the chancellor has the authority to reconstitute the school, that essentially means blow it up. Now, Cardozo has had this before. This is like the second time for Cardozo. I know less about Patterson, but Kaya Henderson has decided working, she says, with the principal there and talking to some community people that she needs to take affirmative action to shake up the staff in those two schools. One is a high school.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, schools are always a central factor in any mayoral campaign in the District of Columbia. How do you like that transition?
SHERWOODYou are, you know, you are the transition ace today.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio right now is Tommy Wells. He's a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. He's currently a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat from Ward 6 who chairs the Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. Tommy Wells, thank you for joining us.
MR. TOMMY WELLSThank you for having me on, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou have been openly pondering a mayoral run for some time now, taking your of promoting livable walkable neighborhoods from your time as Ward 6 councilmember to a citywide campaign. You made that candidacy official last weekend. You also, as Tom noted in his column last week, added affordable to livable, walkable. And a lot of people are indeed concerned about whether they'll be able to continue to afford to live in a city where neighborhoods are changing.
NNAMDIEvery day, you undertook a three-month walking tour of the city. Is that one of the reasons you added affordable? What did you learn during that walking tour, and did it change your mind about anything?
WELLSWell, absolutely. That I ran a kickoff to the exploratory committee. I started in Anacostia and met with about 20 or 30 people there at Big Chair Coffee and Grill, which I highly recommend to anybody down there, that there's not a lot of places to sit down and have a cup of coffee and eat something. But Big Chair Coffee and Grill is a great place to go.
WELLSSo I started there, and then I also -- then in Ward 7, I went the Denny's, and they have a side room, which is a great place for people to gather. And Denny's makes it available for meetings. And so then, of course, I went to Wards 5, 7 -- I mean, yeah, to 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1. So I've been to all...
SHERWOODKind of a blast-off.
WELLSSo I've been to all the -- absolutely, Tom.
SHERWOODIt's like a rocket.
WELLSSo I've been to all the wards, and you're right, Kojo, is that people -- everybody wants the same thing. They want neighborhoods where they can walk to fresh groceries, a great neighborhood elementary school that they have a right to attend as a matter of right and boundary. They want to be safe when they walk there.
WELLSEverybody wants the same thing, but people are also very concerned about being able to maintain a diverse city, and that this not just be a way that you raise the cost of living. And so affordability is extremely important. Certainly, everyone wants the same thing that it needs to be affordable as well.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, if you'd like to join the conversation, if you have questions or comments for Tommy Wells. He is now a candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. Get your question or comment in and get it in early in. 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com.
SHERWOODYou did do your kick-off. It was a rainy Saturday. It was at the Starburst intersection. It's Benning Road, H Street, Florida, Maryland...
SHERWOODMaryland Avenue coming to -- it's really -- it was really a -- it was a very nice location. I'm not giving you any praise for that. But, you know, I did mention in the column that you didn't mention your wife, who was sitting there. She was huddled in -- with an umbrella. She was in the rain. She was looking up admiringly at you and smiling to the people, waiting for you to acknowledge her.
NNAMDISecond chances. Second chances. You can apologize now.
SHERWOODDid she -- did Barbara forgive you for not -- of course, I haven't. But has Barbara forgiven you for not mentioning her name?
WELLSWell, certainly Barbara has to go through a whole lot to have a politician for a husband and how late I get at home -- I get home and all. But Barbara is an incredible partner that -- she is the most literate one, as you know, in my household, and she really makes me look smarter with the things that -- you know, often, when I write something, op-ed or whatever, that Barbara is very much a part of that.
WELLSAnd then Barbara also is -- you know, she's very involved in the arts and has really kind of civilized me in many ways in terms of this being the greatest city there is, really, for the arts, especially theater. And Barbara has been assured that I'm a little bit more sophisticated than when I first arrived in town.
SHERWOODGood. And you will never forget her name again probably because I have hammered you on it.
WELLSYou are exactly right. Then let me -- everybody out there with a spouse in politics. You know, we have to always remember how important it is because we're a team, and I'm a much better candidate with her than without her.
SHERWOODThere you go.
NNAMDIYou said in an email to supporters that you're running to clean up city government. What's dirty about city government?
WELLSWell, you know, we've just seen an amazing series here in WAMU by Patrick Madden and Ms. Patel about the influence of corporate money in D.C. government, and I think that a lot of people are often suspicious of that kind of influence. But I know that in terms of giving to campaigns, we don't require limited liability corporations, which we heard a lot about corporate bundling, even saying who owns them.
WELLSAnd then it was tied to the votes that we take on who gets a tax break, who gets land disposition from the government, how much do they pay. I think that in the minds of the residents, it shows that there's a nexus between the money that's awash in our campaigns and certainly in the decisions that we make. And that's why I've decided I'm just going to not take corporate contributions at all.
WELLSInstead of trying to parse it here and parse it there and say, well, the money came in at this time, and I was voting on this, and it has no influence on me, to say that it has no influence is really to say to the folks that are giving you money -- really, do they believe that when they give you money for your campaign that there's no influence behind it or why would they give? These are developers. These are business folks. They're not used to making investments with no return.
SHERWOODDoesn't everyone who gives money -- I mean, if the -- a city -- civic or association in the neighborhood wants to bring something to their neighborhood, they'd give you money 'cause they want to get your ear because they want something new, build a rec center or something? Now, I realize that's community people and not corporations making money. But isn't it -- would not disclosure be better?
SHERWOODIf some real estate guy had -- or person, woman, whoever, has 10, 12 different limited -- LLEs or whatever they're called, and all 10 of them are listed by name and address. And you can see that this person with 10 corporations gave you 10 contributions. Would that not be enough, or is that just tweaking the playing field too much?
WELLSWell, think about what you just asked. One person can give the maximum amount to your campaign 10 times...
WELLS...and the regular person can give once.
WELLSSo who gets the attention, the one that gives you $20,000, or the one that gives you $2,000? To say that it's the same...
SHERWOODSo just, full disclosure -- you complained about disclosure -- and I have, too -- which is horrendous.
WELLSWell, 23 states, including West Virginia and Texas, do not allow corporate contributions. And...
SHERWOODWhy don't you frown when you said West Virginia?
WELLSWell, West Virginia is the main source of a lot of that -- the -- you know, main source of our pollution in D.C.
SHERWOODIt is a very serious thing 'cause the money -- it does feel -- how are you going to raise -- you've raised about $150,000...
SHERWOOD...outset. And do you think about $1 million, I think you told me, maybe a little more you think you'll raise only from individuals who have a name on the check, as you like to say?
WELLSThat's right. If there's not a name on the check so reporters like you, Tom, can't see who's giving to my campaign, I don't want that donation. I have to really trust the citizens of D.C. What do they want from my government? I think, especially for my listening tour, that people are very upset about the loss of integrity in government. One of my colleagues is in prison. Another one had to step down for a felony.
WELLSThe mayor -- what Patrick Madden's investigation didn't talk about is the $650,000 that went in as a shadow campaign in order to support the current mayor. And what we do know is that it seems like it was primarily provided, funded, raised by someone who had the largest contract with the city. To believe that there's no nexus between corporate investment and politicians -- why would they've run a shadow campaign? Now, that was not investigated. All we know is we've turned that over to the U.S. attorney. But we have learned nothing more about that since it occurred.
NNAMDILet me ask a philosophical question and a practical question. The philosophical naive question is are you expecting that people who give you money, individual donations from citizens are people who simply would like Tommy Wells to be mayor of the city and that they are people who don't want anything from you?
WELLSWell, I believe that the people giving to my campaign are supporting an agenda, and the agenda is to clean up politics in D.C., to clean up the pay-to-play that's currently going on in our government. I believe that they're giving me money to do that. And I'm asking folks: Fund this campaign, and we will stop pay-to-play politics in D.C. That's why I put out a pledge. You know, take a pledge that you wanted to end pay-to-pay -- pay-to-play politics in D.C., and I expect that's why there's money in.
NNAMDIWell, my second question is about that pledge, the practical question. What happens if halfway into this campaign, you have only been able to raise half of the million dollars that you say you need, and one or two of your opponents have raised $3 million? They're able to do a lot more buying of television time, a lot more buying of broadcast time, a lot more advertising of their campaigns than you do. Is it possible that you might change your mind?
WELLSI don't believe you can buy -- I don't think you can buy an office in D.C. I believe that we've got sophisticated voters.
SHERWOODWell, do you think you shouldn't be able to buy an office?
WELLSWell, I think that you can influence, but let's look at the last campaign. Adrian Fenty rose -- raised over $5 million, and, you know, the guy with the most money didn't win. Go back to John Ray. The guy with the most money didn't win. When Jack Evans ran, look how much he ran -- how much he raised for mayor and how little of the support that he got.
WELLSI don't think there's a direct correlation in our city. I think we have a sophisticated vote in our city. This is a great city, but its informed electorate. And that's what I'm counting on, is an informed electorate that wants to have an honest government.
SHERWOODYou talked about affordable housing and making sure people are not forced out by gentrification, that everyone benefits. But one of your most, to me, startling proposals that you said that within two years you would cut juvenile crime in half. That's a heck of a marker.
WELLSWell, I believe that if we, you know, I have a long background of social services working with youth, but also working with how can you change a city in a way that you can bring about results. And I know that what would have to happen in the city in a youth engagement initiative to where all the government agencies along with private partners through after-school jobs, internships, that if we all pull together, that we can -- I think we can change the outcomes of what happens to teenagers in D.C.
SHERWOODNot just -- excuse me -- I think details are important -- not just summer jobs, but maybe year-round jobs after school, everything to keep kids fully engaged from the morning till evening.
WELLSFully engaged, but also they don't have to knock you over the head and steal your iPhone in order to get some money, that they can get an after-school job in the same way that we do summer jobs that we do partnerships with the private sector. But if we all pull together and really own the teenage years of all the teenagers in D.C. that we all have a stake in this safe, you know, passage to adulthood, I think it can be transformative. I really do.
WELLSBut it's just as important in Ward 3 that teenagers are engaged and have something to do as it is in Ward 8 and Ward 7. This is for all of us. And I think that one of the first byproducts is that, I believe, we can cut the number of crimes committed by teenagers in D.C. in half in two years.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Don your headphones, gentlemen, because Melissa in Ward 7 in the District has a question for you. Melissa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MELISSAHi, Councilmember Wells. I have a question regarding business practices in the city. I'm still a little upset that behind closed doors in Las Vegas. Members of Council and Mayor Fenty ironed out an ironclad deal with Walmart won't you be able to enter the District without any inputs from citizens, especially knowing that the majority of the votes in D.C. opposed their union busting and oppose the tax bailout sweatshops to happen overseas and exploit that.
MELISSAWhat will you do to prevent that kind of situation from happening again, so that way, you guys don't just make deals with businesses that go against the interest of citizens in the District of Columbia?
WELLSWell, the first thing is, is that we have had previous administrations that have been focused on large-scale development on bringing in big-box stores like Target, Costco and such. Well, I think that that idea was to try to prevent the leakage of the amount of retail that goes to Virginia and elsewhere. What I have found that really makes a difference is when we invest on -- in local businesses.
WELLSOn H Street, we added 70 new businesses, over 700 new jobs, locally owned businesses during the deepest recession of our country. My investment and my time will be focused on economic development at a local level, the local businesses and not the big-box stores.
NNAMDIGlad you mentioned H Street because -- thank you, Melissa, for your call. That's what David in Washington wants to talk to you about. David, your turn.
DAVIDHello, Kojo, and Tom and Councilmember Wells. How are you?
DAVIDGreat. Just calling -- I know you're doing some program on H Street. Can you talk a bit about that? There are some programs there I saw -- I was in one of the local businesses on H. This was the pie shop, I think. And talk about how H Street is kind of this model for affordable live, work, play type of community in the city. And where else can we begin to see that model replicated in other parts of the city, particularly in Ward 7 and 8?
WELLSWell, let me first say that H Street has been amazing. But I like to tell folks that I started off a social worker, not a developer. So when we designed -- I mean, I designed a plan of how we can take H Street and repopulate with businesses, bring order to the disorder, I had no idea that it would take off like it did. I believe that when we organize and bring economic development in Ward 7 and 8 and needs to be more inclusionary planning, I, you know, this stuff is really powerful in terms of how you bring in, you know, very targeted tax breaks.
WELLSLike to be sure that there's fresh groceries -- to be sure that we put in the infrastructure. It's simple as streetlights on a light sidewalks and not just light cars, you know, that -- so you feel safe when you walk around -- down the sidewalk. There are ways that the government can partner with private businesses and with neighbors, and that's exactly right. That's what we can do in Ward 7 and 8.
WELLSBut I did learn that we need to do inclusionary planning so that the people that live in 7 and 8 on the impacted corridors are part of saying this is what we want and this is what we want to look -- what we want it to look like. Ward -- you have to admit -- you're right. H Street has just been awarded America's best new great street in the country.
WELLSIt is an extraordinary street. What we did worked amazingly. But I think these are lessons that we can take in Ward 7 and 8, Ward 5 and elsewhere, including Georgia Avenue. You know, it's not just, you know, one side of the city or the other. It's something we can do to keep our city going forward.
NNAMDIDavid, thank you for your call.
SHERWOODThe caller brings up -- The Wall Street Journal today has a two-page spread on the Boomtown of Washington, D.C., and it includes the suburbs. And there is -- and you felt this, I'm sure, going around when you're walking to it. While all this great development is occurring, private and public-private, but there is a fear that people are being pushed out of the city and the mayor's proposed $60 million in the coming year for affordable housing.
SHERWOODCan you save affordable housing for middle class? I'm not talking about poor people only. I'm talking about middle-class people and lower-income people in this city and still have a booming city that we see all around us.
WELLSWell, the first most fundamental thing is people need jobs, and you need jobs that will, you know, give you a pathway to making more money and more money so that you can afford whatever you want, whether you live in D.C. or outside of D.C. So focus on jobs. And frankly, it doesn't matter if you have a job if you can't get to it. We really do need the next generation of public transportation.
WELLSThat's why I'm supporting the street car going East before it goes West so that we've got the worst public transit in the city is east to the river where we want to connect people to jobs. So that's one way to make the city more affordable is to create the infrastructure so people can get to the job centers. Georgetown University, Georgetown Hospital, number one private employer in the city, there's no Metro stop in Georgetown. So we need to connect people to jobs, that's one thing.
WELLSThe other thing is I want to be sure we have a legacy of affordable housing that lasts generations. Look at Ellen Wilson on Capitol Hill. That's great housing in its 30 percent of median income and below, 60 percent of median income and below and 60 -- and 80 percent. So you've got workforce housing along with people at very low means. But that's housing that will be there for hundreds of years.
NNAMDII'm glad you talked about jobs and affordable housing because one of the links between both of those issues and the series that Patrick Madden and Julie Patel just did is that these tax subsidies that many of these developers get come with strings requiring that developers who receive them provide jobs to local residents and build affordable housing. However, in the same reporting, it's pointed out that the city doesn't have very effective mechanisms for tracking whether these things actually happen or not.
NNAMDIIt would seem a lot of people are getting tax breaks to build apartments for young people who can afford to pay $2,000 a month. They're getting tax paid for developments in which they're supposed to hire 51 percent of District residents for jobs. They're not doing that. If you are elected mayor, what tracking mechanisms you will put in place to make sure that these promises are kept?
WELLSYou make a good point, Kojo. Where that's been tracked in the past is in the same offices that cut the deals that's it's -- on the tracking responsibility had been over, generally, in economic development under there. So the folks that, you know, you look good for making these deals and making the next deal and folks that had to monitor it in the executive branch, we're in the same part of the government. And so you're right, there's a conflict of interest.
WELLSNow, one thing I want to give the former Chair Kwame Brown credit for is that he created a greater capacity in the DC Auditor, which is under the Council, to audit these projects, to be sure that the legislator branch is auditoring (sic) the executive branch. But as mayor, you won't even need to do that. I will put that function in a different part of government that doesn't have the self-interest of saying, oh, yeah, they did it, and then gone to the next deal.
SHERWOODSo public-private partnerships and tax income at financing where the city puts up money and then the tax is earned by the project pays off the bonds, all that, all that is good. But what you're saying it needs to be clear above board and not influenced. I'll start saying another word, influenced by politics and political giving.
WELLSWell, especially where it goes to that we've asked or the developers agreed to provide a certain number of jobs to D.C. residents. We have to be able to see during the project, not afterwards, that they actually did it.
SHERWOODI have the most pressing -- this could be the linchpin issue of the mayoral campaign. It's just really started to bubble up today. And bubble up, I use it on purpose. Will you, Mr. Wells, if you are elected mayor, bring back the cannonball...
NNAMDIHold on a second.
SHERWOODWill you bring back the cannonball? Tony Williams started reforming the recreation centers and put water in the pools, and he jumped into the pools to kick it off. Now, I've been asking around other people and, Tom, asking you on the record, will you commit, no matter what shape you're in, when you get elected mayor, whatever, that you'll jump into the pool?
WELLSTom, don't you think we should poll this first? I mean...
SHERWOODWe can't run by this and that.
WELLS...I'm not sure people want to see me do a cannonball. You may want to see that for news purposes.
SHERWOODOh, boy, do I. I want to see that for sure on my paper.
WELLSBut I'm not so sure that the public would feel any better about their government watching me do a cannonball.
SHERWOODI think, you know, we know what -- you can wear a 1890s swimsuit, if you'd like. But we need a yes or no on this critical issue here. I'm asking Muriel Bowser, you know, that other person running for mayor. I'm asking Jack Evans, and I'm asking Mayor Gray.
WELLSAnd let me say, Tony Williams is one of the best mayors we've ever had, and he has...
SHERWOODHis filibustering -- let the...
WELLS...many things to emulate.
NNAMDIThe election is resting on this issue.
WELLSI'm not sure. When I...
SHERWOODYou're not willing to commit on this.
WELLSIt's cold that time of year. It's...
SHERWOODWell, you can do it anytime you want to. After all, you would be mayor.
NNAMDIIt's this weekend, isn't it? Here is Willis in Washington, D.C.
SHERWOODHe's not going to answer it. This is -- could be on TV tonight.
NNAMDIObviously, he's not going to answer it. But, obviously, Tom feels that the election may hinge on this issue.
SHERWOODIt is my story tonight.
NNAMDIHere is Willis.
WELLSI hope we don't have to audition that cannonball, then things may take a turn for the worse.
NNAMDIWillis, your turn.
WILLISYes, I would like to know -- first off, good afternoon to everyone. I would like to know what does affordable housing -- what that does mean? If you are poor and you work at a local grocery store, bagging groceries, you cannot afford to live in D.C. And one of the reasons why Adrian Fenty was only a one-term mayor is because he did not have a connection with the poor in D.C. What does affordable housing mean? You cannot apply...
WELLSWell, I think it means exactly what it says, that it's affordable to the person that needs it. I know that, for example, my mom lived for a long time on fixed income, a little bit of pension but mostly Social Security. She lived in a building that had set aside of units for affordable housing. And she was only required to pay 30 percent of her income to do that, and she could do that.
WELLSAnd so, really, it's affordable to, you know, you qualify in terms of, you know, we generally say it's 30 percent of your income. And I know that one of the best examples of having affordable housing that doesn't go away, again, is the Ellen Wilson dwellings over on Capitol Hill, expensive neighborhood but affordable housing right in the middle of it. And that's something that we can do across the city.
SHERWOODOne thing is there are some federal guidelines about how -- what's affordable for a family of four and all of that, but sometimes, just -- I've asked around, have you applied for -- to be on the list to get the housing? They say, oh, you can't imagine the paperwork. Sometimes the bureaucracy gets in the way of people who would try to be in there too.
WELLSWell, when I first got on the Council, that I required that the city put together a website to just get a catalog of all affordable housing that was being created by these projects that say, OK, you're going to go up a little bit in height or your going to take more density. You've got to provide a certain number of units for affordable housing, and they're required to go to the website and do that. And so, Tom, I think that of qualifying and even knowing where it is, let alone how you get into it, it's a major problem in the city. And that is something that has to be addressed and owned by the government.
NNAMDIHere's Melvin in Northeast, Wash. Melvin, your turn.
MELVINYes. Well, good afternoon, and good afternoon to you, guest. Two quick questions. One, education is very important. And you talk in terms of getting people into these jobs that will pay wages in which they can actually purchase homes. If you're elected mayor, would you maintain and keep Kaya Henderson as chancellor?
WELLSWell, as you probably know that in Ward 6, we've had a remarkable renaissance of our elementary schools -- public elementary schools. There's waiting list at all 10, and now we're going to probably add two more. So that has occurred under Kaya Henderson and -- it started with Dr. Janey and then Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson. I believe that with an entrepreneurial leadership, we can, you know, we can create neighborhood schools. We certainly have done that in Ward 6. We can do that across the city. And I believe we can do that with Kaya Henderson.
MELVINHowever, Kaya Henderson's record has been dismal. No improvement has occurred west of Rock Creek Park. How could you say, if you're going to run a first-class educational system, that you can...
NNAMDIYou mean no improvement has occurred east of Rock Creek -- you mean west of Rock Creek Park? OK.
MELVINWest of Rock -- I'm sorry. East and West Rock Creek Park. If you even look at the data, there's been no, under Rhee and continuing under Kaya Henderson, very little -- hold on -- very little academic achievement, and you can just look at the data. How can you say you would keep Kaya Henderson...
NNAMDII think he means east of the park, but go ahead.
WELLSWell, let me say that the number one measure of a school system is where the parents want to send their children to school. Nobody knows the test scores at Sidwell Friends, but people would love for their kids to go to school with the president's children. So the number one measure is, do the parents trust the school system or a charter school or a private school to educate their children?
WELLSYou've got to look at Ward 6. In Ward 6, we've done it. We still have more work to do on middle school and high school, but we've done it. And we can do that in Wards 5, 6 and 7. I have no question in my mind that we can't create a quality elementary school in walking distance that parents can attend as a matter of right in every part of the city. I know it because we've done it.
NNAMDIMelvin, thank you very much for your call.
SHERWOODOne quick comment.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time. Go ahead.
SHERWOODChief Ellerbe, the fire chief -- this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, there's a concern that all the fire stations are not properly staffed, that there's some concern that the union is either reporting this shortage or making the shortage happen, whatever had happened. It seems to me that within the mayor's administration, there are some concerns about Chief Ellerbe, but he's in the job. What is you doing as the judiciary chairman -- public safety chairman of the Council? Should Chief Ellerbe call it a day?
WELLSWell, let me first say that you're right, Tom. I took over oversight of public safety in January. And I have -- I took a first cut of all the agencies, and the one that really came up that gave me the greatest concern was the fire department and emergency medical services. I found out that the list of all the equipment and the vehicles that they gave me was wrong, and so I made them go back and do an inventory. And now they brought in consultants because we have to know that we had the equipment we need to respond to emergencies.
WELLSThe second thing is is that I'm very concerned about maintaining, hiring and having the personnel that we need to be staffed. This is not just my responses to the union. This is my own investigation. I'm going to keep pulling this -- pulling the pages back until -- or the covers back until I fully see what's going on with fire department and EMS. I'm very concerned. And obviously, what I hold out is performance.
WELLSOne of the things that shocked all of us was the fact we did not have an ambulance to transport Officer Hickman who had been, you know, run down by a car. And he laid out there way too long. It's not just that he's one of our policemen. Every D.C. resident deserves a fast response and expects it. But that's the one that got all our attention.
WELLSAnd I will not stop until this agency has the trust of the people that fund it, that it will be able to respond to whether it be fire, emergencies, whatever it is. We fully funded the fire department, EMS in this last budget. There is no excuses. No more recession. We funded this agency, and I will hold them accountable.
NNAMDITommy Wells, he's a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia who refuses to reveal whether he's going to do the cannonballs, open the pools in the District of Columbia.
WELLSWell, Kojo, if you -- at tommywells.org, were running a poll, and we should have, by the end of the day, the answer to that question. So anybody that wants to know…
NNAMDIWait a minute.
SHERWOODYou're going to govern by a poll?
WELLSWell, when it has to do...
SHERWOODI'm calling your wife, Barbara...
NNAMDIHere's another issue.
SHERWOOD...and make sure you'll jump in the water.
NNAMDII've been tracking the demographic of the city, and the people in the city fall into three categories. I saw that you took a photo with Chris Teskey here of our Bluegrass Country. People in the city fall into three categories: Bluegrass Country, go-go and punk. Which one of those crews will you be rolling with?
WELLSAs Tom knows, at my kickoff, I had a go-go song that's just for Tommy Wells for mayor. And what I've decided to do to bring the city together, I'm inventing blue-go.
SHERWOODBlue-go, I like that. You say that when you jump into the pool.
NNAMDII'm not so sure. He's a candidate for mayor. He's currently a...
NNAMDI...member of the D.C. Council, a Democrat from Ward 6 who chairs the Council's Committee on Pubic Safety and the Judiciary. Tommy Wells, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
WELLSAll right. Tommywells.org, tell me whether you want me to do the cannonball.
SHERWOODGet that swimsuit.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, you were on hand yesterday, covering the parking garage collapse in Montgomery County in which one individual was killed and another seriously injured. What happened?
SHERWOODWell, you know, that garage is part of the, you know, what is a Westfield shopping town...
NNAMDIWestfield. Westfield, Montgomery.
SHERWOOD...you know, it's Montgomery Mall to any human being that's breathing. So all the people who go there call it Montgomery Mall, but it's over on the Macy's side, on the west side. There's a garage. It's been closed. Fortunately, there was -- it was not open to the public. There were not cars in there. There were workers in there, though.
SHERWOODAnd some of the -- on the -- from the first and second floor area gave way. And at least two, three people were injured, one just slightly. One was killed, and the other one person was badly injured. And they had to extricate him from the concrete. And they flew him up to Baltimore where I think he's -- I don't know the latest on his condition.
NNAMDIPeople are already nervous about cracks in the concrete at the Transit Center, and now this happens. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, I think they are two separate things, I mean, because one is a private development, and they were in fact trying to do something to improve the garage, I mean, 'cause it's an old one. And it's separate from this Silver Spring Transit Center, which is an embarrassment of extreme proportions. But it does -- people were standing around in the parking lot yesterday near Macy's, and they were talking about, are we going to continue to have this kind of infrastructure problems?
NNAMDIAnd speaking of Montgomery County, we are joined by phone right now from a member of the Maryland Senate, who is a Democrat from Montgomery County. But today, he joins us in his capacity as a constitutional law professor here at the Washington College of Law at American University and as an attorney. We're talking with Jamie Raskin. Jamie Raskin, thank you for joining us.
SEN. JAMIN RASKINKojo and Tom, I'm delighted to be with you guys.
SHERWOODYou're not with us. You're on the phone.
RASKINWell, I was supposed to be there. They called me and told me just do it on the phone so...
NNAMDIWell, you know...
RASKINI think I got squeezed up by mayoral ambition.
NNAMDIPrincipal Sherwood is very hard on the kids. Recently, you helped to represent a group of D.C. activists who were seeking to stop the planned closure of more than a dozen public schools. A federal judge decided against blocking those closures. But what was this case about to you? You said in court that neighborhood schools are something that should not be distributed along the lines of race and class.
RASKINSo, you know, this is part of a national trend. It's taking place in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia now, where part of the school reform movement is closing down schools, and the burden falls overwhelmingly on poor minority communities. And that's certainly the pattern in D.C. There were 23 schools closed in 2008, and the current roster of school closings is 15. And 99 percent-plus of the kids affected will be African-American or Hispanic. There are two white kids affected in the school closings.
RASKINAnd everybody agrees here that it's got a radically desperate impact based on race, and residents and geography and income and wealth. So the question is -- from a constitutional perspective is whether this is enough to violate equal protection. And, you know, the Supreme Court's position is that you generally need to see a purpose, that the purpose is a racially discriminatory one.
RASKINAnd that was the position that the judge in this case took, that there was no purpose and no discriminatory purpose evident. And how could the city, you know, an African-American governed city essentially be charged with racism? But, you know, it reminds me, to a certain extent, of what we dealt with on the death penalty in Maryland where we -- 10 people were given the death penalty since the death penalty was reinstated in 1970s, and all of their victims were white despite the fact that 80 percent of the victims of homicide in this state are African-American or Hispanic.
RASKINSo it's not that any particular person had a racist motivation. But if you look at the operation of the whole system, it places the burden on people based on rate. And I think that's exactly what's going on with the school closings across the country. They're saying we need to save money and redistribute the resources to other schools, but it's always certain neighborhoods and certain communities that have to pay the price.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of the judge's argument that it's not as much about the neighborhood as it is about the children and that, in this case, most of the children affected by these closures will be attending schools with higher test scores and more racial diversity than the schools that they're leaving behind?
RASKINWell, first of all, that's not uniformly the case, as we understand it. But in any event, the real issue is the interest of the kids who are affected. And we submitted a number of affidavits from experts who studied this around the country, demonstrating that school closings are very harmful to the kids who are involved. Some of the kids involved in this case have already had one, two or even three schools close on them before. It's an enormously disruptive thing.
RASKINAnd so we're trying to get people to think about what it would mean if the government told you that your elementary school in your neighborhood was closing down and your middle school and your neighborhood was closing down. And now your kids are going to have to go to school a mile away or something like that because -- I mean, it's a profoundly dislocating event for the student, for the family and for the community.
SHERWOODJamie, Tom Sherwood. Obviously, you're talking about the effect of the closings, not the intent. I don't think you or anyone is saying that Kaya Henderson or other officials are trying to do this damage to these students, but you're saying the effect of their policies, in fact, does this damage. What is the remedy? We've heard Kaya Henderson and the other officials to talk about what their trying to do to improve the schools that remain open. But what is the remedy that you would seek if a court agreed with you that there was a damage done?
RASKINWell, look. Nobody is more interested in educational progress and welfare of these kids than their parents, the ones who came the court. And there hundreds of people who came to court that day. They want to see the same kind of improvements that Councilman Wells was just talking about in Ward 6. I mean -- so they want to put in the finest principals and the finest teachers and the finest academic programs in their school.
RASKINThey're not saying, don't improve our schools. But you don't improve a school by closing it down. And so they're looking for exactly the same kind of educational results that are being seen across town at John Eaton or Murch or Lafayette. They don't understand why closing their school is the solution to the problems taking place within the school.
SHERWOODWhat is this -- what is the role here of the charter school's in many neighborhoods? The charter schools are doing better than the public schools.
RASKINIn some cases, they are, and in some cases, they're not. But, you know, one of the questions that we face in court was, were we saying basically that if you close one all-African-American school that violated equal protection or the D.C. Human Rights Act? And we're certainly not saying that. What the Supreme Court doctrine requires us to do is to look at the pattern and the totality of the circumstances which we think does demonstrate a very strong discriminatory impact and a purpose than can be inferred from it.
RASKINBut if you push that question to the other extreme, you could ask the question, well, could you close all of the neighborhood public schools east of Rock Creek Park and then just reopen charter schools there and have no charter schools west of Rock Creek Park because that's kind of the direction things are moving in now. And, you know, our point is that if it's got this profound discriminatory impact on people, and we can agree to that, then the city's got to think of another way to proceed so you don't develop, you know, a system that's so split.
SHERWOODWhat is the next step? The judge denied, what is it, the temporary injunction? What do you call it?
RASKINThe preliminary injunction.
SHERWOODPreliminary injunction, excuse me, to -- so the schools are going forward to close. Where do you stand now on the next level of court action? What happens next?
RASKINWell, the court will presumably proceed with this batch to consider the case on the MERA. It's -- obviously, it's getting very late in terms of making anything happen before the new school year in the fall. So, you know, we're hoping to be able to demonstrate enough through the facts and legal analysis that there will be at least some modification of the plans that are going forward.
NNAMDIJamin Raskin, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIJimmy Raskin is a member of the Maryland Senate. But he joined us today in his capacity as a constitutional law professor and an attorney for Empower DC in that case involving the schools. We move on now because we are joined in studio by Michael Pope, who covers Virginia politics for WAMU 88.5 and for the Connection Newspapers. He's also the author of "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington." Michael, thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL POPEIt's great to be here. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou were on the scene last weekend at the Virginia Republican convention in Richmond. Most everyone knew Ken Cuccinelli would come out of that event as the gubernatorial nominee. Not many people knew that the African-American Pastor E.W. Jackson would be selected as the nominee for lieutenant governor. Who is E.W. Jackson, and why does he have conservatives and -- well, progressives, frankly -- so excited about his nomination?
POPEWell, as you pointed out, very few people had heard of this guy before the convention. There were seven candidates who were vying for attention. And so that's unprecedented, that number of candidates. You know, going into the convention, I asked a lot of people, who do you think are the frontrunners in this race? And sometimes you would hear three names. Sometimes you would hear four names. Never once did I hear the name E.W. Jackson raised as a potential frontrunner.
POPEHe raised about $141,000. And he was going up against one candidate who raised more than $1 million. So he was not a frontrunner, but he delivered a barn burner of a speech that really electrified the crowd there at the coliseum. And you could really feel that there's something visceral that was going on.
NNAMDIAllow us to hear a little bit about how E.W. Jackson sounded in the coliseum last week. Remember, this is a convention, and so there's going to be a lot of background noise, but still, he stands up.
MR. E.W. JACKSONWe stand up for the lives of unborn children because there is no liberty without freedom. And we stand up for the traditional family because there is no liberty when government tries to violate our conscience. And we stand up for parental choice in a dictation because there is no liberty where children are indoctrinated instead of educated. There's no liberty where a mad man can go into our schools and slaughter our children, and we don't have the ability to stop them.
NNAMDIThey're clearly fired up, Michael Pope.
POPEYou can kind of hear it in the audio there one thing just to set the scene for you, the visuals were also kind of stunning because his supporters were holding electric candles, the kind that you might see in the, you know, Christmas windows. And so there was the sea of people holding electric candles with the Jackson shirts.
POPEAnd it really sort of had the feeling of a religious revival. It really electrified the air. And I know in the media area where I was, when people maybe had left to get something to drink or whatever -- this was an all day event. So people would sort of leave and...
NNAMDIAnd well into the night. Yeah.
POPE...would leave and come back. And when they came back, people would say, hey, did you hear that Jackson speech? Did you hear this guy's speech? And, really, it sort of made an impression on everybody there not just the Republicans but the media and people that were just there in the coliseum.
SHERWOODThey did that spectacular -- it sounds like the speech is guiding the nomination and stunned all the regular -- even some conservatives. But what has he done his week? I mean, I've seen the stories. He seems to have been muffled by the Republican. I mean, has he been talking? Maybe I've missed it 'cause I've been so busy with other stories in the city. Has he -- he sounds like he has pulled back a little.
SHERWOODIs the gubernatorial candidate Cuccinelli going to try to rein him in?
POPEWell, you just heard that audio. Would you say that sounds like someone who can be muffled?
SHERWOODI don't think so. That's why I'm worried about...
SHERWOOD...in their campaign.
NNAMDI...who reminds us of another politician named Jackson. But go ahead please.
SHERWOODI mean, I don't know if he's a team player or not. I did -- I read the full story about him moving to a colonial -- Norfolk area in 1998 and all of that and calling himself bishop. I'm not sure where that comes from and all those things. But he just sounds like a lightning rod.
POPEWell, as you heard in the audio, he definitely is a lightning rod. He has a very captivating way of speaking. Whether or not he'll be muffled, I guess, is a question that has yet to be answered...
NNAMDIWhat are people telling you about his...
NNAMDI...how his nomination is going to affect...
SHERWOODIs -- Cuccinelli, is he worried? I mean, he's not going to say anything publicly. We know that. But what does he going to do to tilt his own campaign so he doesn't get bothered by this?
POPEWell, the ticket has been touring Virginia this week. And you've seen many appearances of the candidates out and about. And everyone wants to know why did Jackson say this and why did Jackson say that. And it's very clear the Republicans are trying to steer this whole campaign towards jobs and the economy, territory they feel comfortable on.
POPEAnd, by the way, in Cuccinelli's speech, while he mentioned abortion, he put it in the context of protecting people at the end of life as well as the beginning of life because he was really trying to focus his convention speech on jobs and the economy.
SHERWOODHere's one prediction. They're going to go through this, they've done this fly around this table, which is traditional in Virginia politics. Cuccinelli is getting this loyalty we're-all-one-team-together out of the way, and then you're going to -- he's going to cut him loose.
POPEWhat does that mean when you say cut him loose?
SHERWOODCut him loose, he's going to campaign -- he's going to do a campaign that doesn't really intersect with the lieutenant governor.
NNAMDIBecause he thinks that the lieutenant governor...
SHERWOODThey're going to be on him.
NNAMDI...is such a lighting rod.
SHERWOODYes. I think he is.
NNAMDIWhat have Democrats been telling you about their strategy for attacking this Republican ticket up and down the whole ballot?
POPEThey're very happy. I was just chatting with a Democrat as I was driving here, and she was overjoyed at the prospect of talking about E.W. Jackson and his comments. You know, the -- and the Republicans on the other hand are quite worried that some of this guy's past statements are going to dominate the campaign, drag Cuccinelli down, sort of distract from the things that they want to be talking about.
SHERWOODAnd, you know, this is what Tom Davis, the long-time congressman for Northern Virginia who did not run for the Senate, that seat that Allen tried to reclaim in part because he said he could not go to a convention and expect to get a good healthy section of Republicans to go to the convention. He's -- and he would -- since they didn't do a primary, he didn't run.
NNAMDIThe evidence of that was among the candidates for...
SHERWOODAnd I think this is an example of what Tom Davis, the Republican, was talking about.
NNAMDIAmong the candidates for lieutenant governor was Jeannemarie Davis, who happens to be the wife of Tom Davis, but she didn't make it past the first ballot.
POPEShe was eliminated in the first ballot. So they did four ballots. And the rules of this were once the ballot results were announced, then the bottom two candidates were eliminated. So you eliminated two, you eliminate two more, then you eliminated one, you get the final round. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis was eliminated in that first round.
POPEIt's interesting to note, though, in terms of the difference between the convention versus the primary that the Davis supporters were handing out signs that had the yellow background and the coiled snake and what's known as the Gadsden flag. This is the emblem of the Tea Party. And this was Jeannemarie Devolites Davis' campaign stuff, which I was surprised to see because people don't associate her with the Tea Party. But I guess the Davis campaign knew the crowd they were walking into and were...
NNAMDIThis is our only shot.
SHERWOODWas anyone more stunned than Pete Schneider?
NNAMDIWho's Pete Schneider?
SHERWOODHe's one of the candidates.
POPEPete Schneider is a Northern Virginia guy. He lives in Belhaven in Fairfax County. He was one of the candidates. He raised more money. He was considered a frontrunner going into the convention. When you asked people who are the frontrunners, his name would invariably come up. He was the last man standing among the seven against E.W. Jackson.
POPEAnd I would imagine -- he also, it's important to say, had lots of support in Northern Virginia. And Northern Virginia was kind of his base. And so I think Pete Schneider and his supporters were very surprised to see this guy come -- give the great speech and come out of nowhere and win the nomination.
SHERWOODIsn't -- aren't the winners of this nomination, the -- I mean, the reporters who'll be covering this campaign?
NNAMDIThey are the winners of this nomination.
SHERWOODThey are the winners of the nomination.
NNAMDIWhat kind of competitor...
SHERWOODHe's not answering that question.
SHERWOODWill you jump in the swimming pool if Tommy Wells won?
NNAMDIBut he is smiling like a winner, isn't he?
SHERWOODMy questions are not being answered today.
POPEI will jump in the swimming pool.
NNAMDIWhat kind of competitor is Jackson likely to be up against on the Democratic side?
POPESo on the Democratic side, the race for lieutenant governor is quite competitive. The -- let me see. I should have had those names here in front of me. Ralph Northam is one of the candidates, and he is going up against the guy Aneesh Chopra. Aneesh Chopra has lots of support in Northern Virginia. He worked in the Kaine administration doing IT. He then worked for Obama doing sort of similar work. Ralph Northam is a state senator from the Tidewater and Norfolk area.
POPEAnd so one Democrat I was speaking with recently was a Northam supporter. And she felt like it was really important to get Northam on the ticket, so it's not a totally Northern Virginia Democratic ticket. McAuliffe is from Fairfax County, and the AG candidate may well be -- actually both of the AG candidates are from Northern Virginia. So on the LG race, they feel like Northam is important because he would give some geographic diversity.
NNAMDII just wanted to see if you could do it without notes, you did. The other big contest that was decided last weekend was the Republican nomination for attorney general. Tell our listeners who Mark Obenshain is and what he is likely bring to the Republican ticket in the fall.
POPEHe is a state senator and gave a speech at the convention that was nothing at all like the E.W. Jackson speech. It was sort of your more traditional speech in terms of delivery and style. Although it's important to note, he talked about many of the same issues protecting life, that sort of thing, protecting the Second Amendment.
POPEAnd so from an issue standpoint, they're all sort of closely aligned. I did get the sense that Obenshain was not the choice of the Tea Party crowd, that there was a different candidate they were supporting. So this is -- at the end of the day here, we don't necessarily have a completely 100 percent Tea Party ticket.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have.
SHERWOODThe Democrat -- excuse me -- the Democrat primary is June 11. When is the primary for the -- outside the lieutenant general?
POPEEarly June, yeah.
NNAMDIMichael Pope, he covers Virginia for WAMU 88.5 and for the Connection Newspapers. He's also the author of "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington." Michael, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, big plans for Memorial Day?
SHERWOODI'm going to honor those who died in our wars.
POPEYou're going to jump in the pool?
NNAMDIHow do you plan on participating?
SHERWOODJust a moment of reflection on top of my roof in Southwest.
NNAMDIThat's Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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