Federal officials inject themselves in the debate over Metro safety. Maryland state lawmakers spar over early voting sites in Montgomery County. And Pope Francis' representatives in D.C. make a last-minute plea for a death row inmate in Virginia.
A D.C. Council member rolls out a legislative package aimed at improving the city’s schools. Virginia Democrats hit the home stretch of their primary races. And the Supreme Court lets stand a controversial DNA collection law in Maryland. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Jack Evans D.C. Council member (D-Ward 2); Chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Michael Pope Northern Virginia reporter, WAMU; political reporter, Connection Newspapers; author, "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington"
- Deborah Hersman Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
Inside The Studio
Jack Evans, D.C. Council member and mayoral hopeful, said the District’s campaign finance laws have been amended repeatedly to a point where they work as intended. “The laws that we have in place right now are the laws that we should have,” he said. Kojo asked Evans why someone who owns 15 properties or 15 LLCs should be allowed to donate up to the $2,000 contribution cap 15 different times. “Because the law allows you to do that right now and that’s why we have the law in place to enable that to happen,” he replied.
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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. Tom, before I forget because we're doing a lot today, put Wednesday, June 19th on your calendar. That's a day to celebrate. It's the day that they'll be unveiling the first D.C. statue in the Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center, the statue of Frederick Douglass.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's a major victory for the city, one you may be wanting to plan a celebration of your own around even if you're not invited to the formal unveiling. More about that in about a week or so. Are you hearing me, D.C. vote, celebrate, celebrate, celebrate. It should be a big day, shouldn't it?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, it will be a big day. Every state has two ceremonial statues in statuary hall in the Congress, and Norton to her credit has said, "Well, the nation's capital ought to be represented there." And so she and others went ahead and had two statues commissioned and done, one of Frederick Douglass, the other one -- I knew I'd blank on his name.
NNAMDIPierre L'Enfant. Pierre L'Enfant.
SHERWOODNo, no. The assistant.
SHERWOODBenjamin Banneker. I can't remember. Well, let's just stick with the facts. Anyway, it is a big thing. Any identity to this city, this little city of people who are cut out of so many national issues, any identity we can have on Capitol Hill that's not scandal would be great.
NNAMDIJune 19th, be there or be square if you can wangle an invitation.
SHERWOODWhat time is it?
NNAMDII'll find out the time for you. I think it's 11 a.m. on Wednesday, June 19th.
SHERWOODThat might help people plan it.
NNAMDIYes, you can plan around it, of course. The invitations come...
SHERWOODThere might be a cocktail party afterwards.
NNAMDIThe invitations come from the speaker of the House, but you can have your own celebration or call his office, try to get into that celebration. Of course, the big news of the day has to do with former at-large D.C. Councilmember Michael Brown, who it is our understanding is going to plead guilty to charges filed against him today for accepting $55,000 in bribes from FBI undercover agents posing as business persons who wanted certified business enterprise status to do business with the District of Columbia.
NNAMDISome people don't find this entirely surprising given the past ethical problems that the councilmember has had and given the fact that he was clearly in dire financial straits.
SHERWOODYes, he was. It's sad, disappointing and embarrassing for him but certainly not surprising. And his attorney, Brian Heberlig, I think -- how do you pronounce it -- Steptoe & Johnson -- has put out a statement on his behalf, saying that Michael Brown accepts responsibility for what he's done, apologizes to his family, friends and constituents. He asked forgiveness and most important to me he's cooperating with authorities, always wants to know what else they do know.
SHERWOODThey worked out this plea agreement all through last week, last night. Michael Brown had a conference call with friends and various folks to let them know that this was happening today, and that's how we got it into the news late last night. But Michael Brown -- Ron Brown, his father, famous in the Democratic Party...
NNAMDIFormer commerce secretary.
SHERWOOD...former commerce secretary, died in 1997, I think, plane crash...
SHERWOOD...in Eastern Europe. Michael Brown had a clear path to a distinguish career. He didn't take it.
NNAMDIAnd as I said, he is expected to plead guilty to the charge.
SHERWOODHe will. The attorney says he will.
NNAMDIAnd we'll be talking later with Councilmember Jack Evans who is also a mayoral candidate, at least he'll be one officially in about 24 hours, to talk about exactly what he thinks the city can do to make sure that these kinds of ethical violations and criminal violations do not occur in the future.
SHERWOODAs I've said before, we have not -- we don't have a wet blanket of ethics hanging -- unethical behavior hanging over the city. We have a wet mattress.
SHERWOODAnd we -- and that this will be a crucial -- even more now -- with possibly even more legal actions this summer coming. The U.S. attorney, Ronald Machen, it's clear cut on what's he's doing. He said the voters of the District have been deceived, and he's moving aggressively on all on these issues.
NNAMDIA lot of Washingtonians got to know our next guest in the aftermath of the 2009 crash on Metro's Red Line, a crash that started a long running conversation about the safety of public transit in the Washington region, and that conversation brings us to Deborah Hersman. She is the chairperson of the National Transportation Safety Board. She joins us in studio. Deborah Hersman, thank you for joining us.
MS. DEBORAH HERSMANHello, Kojo. Nice to be here.
NNAMDINice to have you here. By the way, if you'd like to join this conversation, if you have questions or comments for Deborah Hersman, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. How would you measure the steps that Metro has taken since that tragic crash of 2009 to make its rail service safer, and what remaining concerns do you have about the safety of Metro rail?
HERSMANWell, you know, with an operation like Metro where they have to provide service in three different jurisdictions every day, they're moving lots and lots of people. It really does require that discipline, that focus from the management team, from the board of directors down to every employee who works on the frontlines, and that is tough. You have to keep that up day after day after day.
HERSMANI will say that since that accident in 2009, we've seen a new board of directors. We've seen a new general manager, and we've seen a group of people who are trying very hard to work together, efforts with their union to try to come up with arrangements so that rank and file employees have an opportunity to speak up, and we wanna see those things move forward. But more than that, the Metro crash actually resulted in nationwide changes, and so what we saw, as Congress passing legislation after that crash, last year, giving the federal government safety oversight authority over transit properties that they had never had before. And so that's another way of safety that we have now.
NNAMDIYou know, the complaints that we hear mostly about Metro every day have to do with delays, have to do with escalators or elevators not working. But at a 2010 hearing into that 2009 crash, you said, quoting here, "When safety is more important than schedules, their lessons would be learned." Do you feel that that is, in fact, the case now?
HERSMANI think they're working very hard, you know? Some examples of improving safety culture is being able to get employees to tell them what's going on, what they're seeing on the front lines, without fear of punishment. And we've made recommendations about a non-punitive reporting system so that employees would talk to their managers about what they're seeing in those safety deficiencies.
HERSMANWe know today that Metro's working with their union to try to come up with an agreement on a close call reporting system. Those are good things. We wanna see those things move forward, but we know that they still have to deal with those scheduling issues that -- with those outages that occur. They have to work very hard to make sure that safety continues to be their primary focus.
SHERWOODAnd it undermines the willingness -- I mean, I have to say I personally have not taken Metro sometimes on the weekend when I feel like it's not serving me. I don't wanna go walk to the Metro -- I live near one -- and then wait an undetermined amount of time, anywhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes, as people often tweet, waiting for a train. But when the National Transportation Safety Board gets involved, can you direct changes, or can you only recommend and then monitor what they do? What is the power of you -- your board to say, you must do this?
HERSMANWell, Tom, that's a great question because I think a lot of times that's confusing for people. We don't have the authority to force anyone to do anything. We can't require them to do it. And we actually don't even have money to incentivize people to make investments or changes. We make recommendations. It's up to other people to implement them. We made dozens of recommendations to Metro directly, and I will tell you that they've closed many of those recommendations.
HERSMANWe investigated many accidents in the 2000s on Metro property, and I'll tell you some of those infrastructure problems are things that they're probably working through on the weekend when people are having slow service. It's a challenge. It's an old system, and it requires constant maintenance.
SHERWOODYeah. People do talk about the infrastructure problem in this country. We can get to bridges if you like in a moment, bridges, railways, Metro system. Our system is pretty old, and I think people don't -- still think, I mean, it's this gleaming, new thing that zips around town when, in fact, it's really wheezing. It's really difficult.
HERSMANIt is. And actually, thank you for bringing up that infrastructure issue because we have a top 10 list, a most wanted list of transportation safety improvements, and infrastructure, maintaining the integrity of our nation's infrastructure, is on that list this year. I know people have read and seen in the news we've been investigating bridge collapses and other train derailments and things going on around the country.
HERSMANBut it does get back to things like in our own backyard here in the Metro system. This system dates back to the 1970s. And when we identified that parasitic oscillation, that -- the cause of that signal failure...
SHERWOODI'm sorry. Say that again.
NNAMDII can say that. Parasitic oscillation. Don't ask me what it means. I have no idea.
SHERWOODNo, but she sounds so much better when she says it.
NNAMDIAnd then what does it mean?
HERSMANWell, what we had is a rogue signal where it was piggybacking onto a good signal, and it made the train perceive that the signal block was clear, that it could proceed, that there wasn't a train in that block when, in fact, there was. And so looking at the signaling system, looking at the components. They couldn't even replace some of the components because they didn't make them anymore.
HERSMANAnd so we really do have an infrastructure crisis where we've got to take care of these systems. We've got to maintain them. Look, this is our -- this is like our house. This is the nation's house. It spent -- we spent a lot of money to invest in it. We have to maintain it to keep it working.
SHERWOODDo we need a Marshall Plan, just not -- really where we're just really -- I don't wanna throw money out of projects, but -- or any projects. But a Marshall Plan in safety to help Metro even do more of what it's done. Some people even suggested that whole section should be shut down to get work done rather than these piecemeal weekend, three- and four-day outages where people can't figure out what to do.
SHERWOODBut if you just shut down one significant section for a day, for a week or two, whatever it took, you might -- and then have a bus system to replace it -- you might get more of it done and not undermine the passenger. I think that's what worries me the most. As a passenger, I can't feel like I can count on Metro, and I want to.
HERSMANSure ain't it. You know, Metro has a tough job, and so I'll definitely defer that question that you're asking certainly to their management team because they have to make those decisions about how to continue to maintain service and how to do the work that they've done. But I'll just go back to that investigation that we did at Woodley Park in 2004 where we identified some concerns about the crash worthiness of those cars.
HERSMANMetro had old cars. They needed to replace the cars. They knew they needed to replace the cars. They couldn't get the money to do it. And we closed those recommendations about those old cars unacceptable.
SHERWOODThe 2000-series or whatever they were.
HERSMANAnd, you know, that was -- compromised about a third of their fleet, almost, and it wasn't until the crash in 2009 where there was a lot of focus, a lot of attention and a lot of political will to get something done. Those 7000-series cars that they ordered after that crash, they will be delivered in the next year. And so that is that infrastructure that needs to be updated and replaced.
NNAMDIGlad you brought that up. We're talking with Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board because that's what Daniel in Northeast Washington, D.C., apparently wants to talk about. But, Daniel, it's your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELThank you so much. The Metro system has just, you know, allocated money for so much wasteful things. And when those employees reported, the track inspectors reported the anomaly on that signaling system, it was supervisors who didn't follow up, and then the crash occurred right after that. So it wasn't just equipment failure. It was the supervisors in that system. And they have spent money on things. They changed the door announcement to such an obnoxious, irritating thing for no reason.
NNAMDIOK. I know you have a lot of complaints, Daniel...
DANIELYes. OK. And let me finish, Kojo.
NNAMDI...but I thought you wanted to talk about the crash worthiness of the cars.
DANIELRight. And then replacing hundreds of cars, thousands of -- millions and millions of dollars when we shouldn't be on a system at all if the car itself is supposed to protect us in a crash. Nobody should be on a system like that. They should have those safety systems functioning, supervisors reporting any inspector's reports that are logged in.
NNAMDISo you don't think the crashworthiness of the car should be of primary importance? Allow me to have Deborah Hersman respond to that. What Daniel seems to be saying is that we should have a safe system and not be relying on crashworthy cars to protect us.
HERSMANWell, Daniel makes a great point because, really, the goal of all of this is to prevent that crash from occurring in the first place, and nobody wants to see that happen because frankly, when you're relying on the car to protect you, things have really gone too far. We've made recommendations about all aspects. It's about preventing that event from occurring in the first place, how to survive it if it happens and what needs to change.
HERSMANThe good news is since that crash in 2009, we haven't had any other fatal accidents on Metro. But we have had some incidents. Those are precursor events. They're small things, but you have to pay attention to all of those, and I do think that Metro is working harder to pay attention to the small things now before they turn into something big.
SHERWOODYou know, not everyone rides the Metro. What is the million people...
NNAMDIDaniel, thank you for your call.
SHERWOODBut I think -- since you cover so many issues with the Transportation Safety Board, drunk driving and distracted driving, I'd like to hear from you on this. There is a proposal -- was it your proposal, your board's proposal -- that we lower the drunk driving measure from .08 to .05, which I'm told is actually used in Europe more so than here. Why is that? Will that really make a significant difference?
HERSMANWell, Tom, that is an issue that has certainly plagued us as a country for a long time. And I think we've all heard about drunk driving and designated drivers for decades. And so many people think the drunk driving problem has been solved. But when we talk about sheer numbers -- and I know we're just talking about Metro when we lost nine people in 2009. But in drunk driving, we lose 10,000 people every year on our nation's highways year after year after year.
HERSMANWe have 173,000 people that are injured. And of those 27,000 are life-altering debilitating injuries. And so this drunk driving issue is a huge problem for us. We issued 19 recommendations to try to address this, lowering the BAC from .08 to .05 or lower was one of them. And we lagged the rest of the world on this. When we talk about the U.S. as a transportation leader, it's not in impaired driving.
HERSMANThere are 100 countries that are at .05 or lower, some of them at .03, .02 and some at zero. The U.S. is still at .08, and we've recommended that we drop that level down to save lives.
NNAMDIThere are some countries at zero? That means in those countries, someone cannot drink a beer and drive a vehicle?
HERSMANThat's right. There are some countries that are zero tolerance. And if you have any alcohol in your system...
SHERWOODWhat -- well, I'd like to know what country.
NNAMDITom is trying to write a list of countries to avoid.
SHERWOODWell, I'm planning my vacation. Well, I'm planning my vacation. Could you just pass me a note of which countries those are?
HERSMANWell, you know, the Scandinavian countries have had great success with dropping their BACs for decades. But what we know is when you're at a .05, you've got 38 percent higher risk of being in a crash. We know that your judgment, your vision, your response time, all of those things are affected. And so if we could reduce that BAC level as we've done in the past, we could bring down those fatalities.
NNAMDIThe NTSB also aims to increase safer driving conditions by looking at distracted driving. April was National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. What improvements have made to decrease distracted driving, and where do you feel there needs to be more progress?
HERSMANThis is an issue that everyone raises when we talk to them about what we need to do as far as improving safety on the roadways because most people think that other people around them are dangerous, particularly the people talking on the phone or texting. And so we made recommendations back in 2011 to ban portable electronic devices behind the wheel.
HERSMANNow, since 2011, we haven't had any states that have banned all hand-held or hands-free, portable electronic devices behind the wheel. But we do have 40 states who banned texting behind the wheel, and we have about a dozen who are hands-free only. D.C. being one of those places.
NNAMDII'm thinking of banning texting and tweeting behind the microphone. But let's not talk about present company in this situation.
SHERWOODYou know, I do find it astonishing, and I have to say when I'm at a stoplight, I don't wanna look down and do a little quick text or something like that and try not -- and to keep one eye on the light and all that. I am astonished that the number of people who are on the freeways who are going anywhere from 50 and above are one hand on the wheel, one hand on the phone, and the thumb is texting. And I'm thinking, I would truly want to know what the emergency message is.
HERSMANWell, the emergency message might be the ambulance that you're calling for them afterwards...
HERSMAN...because when you're looking down to text, it's about the length of a football field on average when people are texting that they are looking down at their phone that they're traveling at highway speeds. Extremely dangerous.
NNAMDIRunning out time very quickly. But what other measures other than texting bans do you feel could improve driver safety? How do you feel about speed cameras?
HERSMANYou know, the NTSB hasn't spoken on speed cameras. We don't have any recommendations on those. But it may be an area that we'll take a look at.
SHERWOODIt's a big deal in this city. Can we ask her one quick question before we let her go?
NNAMDISure do. Bring Michael Pope in while you're asking her this question.
SHERWOODWe're bringing Michael Pope in. Charlie Bregali, (sp?) our assignment desk editor, said I have got to mention that you have a commercial driver's license for 18 wheelers, and you have a motorcycle license. Do you actually spend you off-hours away from this intense job you have at the Transportation Safety Board really driving 18 wheelers for fun or riding the motorcycle?
HERSMANI don't. But I will tell you I did take my family on an RV vacation having that CDL really came in handy.
SHERWOODOh, it's like big -- that big thing.
NNAMDICDL being commercial driving?
SHERWOODIt's a big wheel. Is this RV went across the country, you're saying?
HERSMANWell, no, we took a week vacation in spring break, and we visited some national state parks out in Northern California. And I'll tell you, driving on Highway 1 out in California, I was glad I had some experience behind a big rig.
NNAMDIHow about the motorcycle thing? Do you actually own a bike?
HERSMANI do not own a bike, but I will tell you, some of these things that it's very important as we make recommendations to people about training and about licensing and things like that that I think it's very important to get that experience myself before I say something to someone else about it.
NNAMDIDeborah Hersman, she is the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Thank you so much for joining us.
HERSMANThank you. So nice to be with you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers who always wear a helmet when he rides his bicycle.
SHERWOODI always have it with me.
NNAMDIAs opposed to always wearing it. Joining in studio now is Michael Pope. He 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 Pope, thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL POPEIt's great to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIElection season, full swing in Virginia, got a primary coming up on Tuesday when Virginia Democrats are scheduled to elect nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general. Terry McAuliffe has the nomination locked up for governor. But what should we know about the other two races, starting with the race for lieutenant governor?
POPEWell, one of the most significant things about the statewide candidates is that three out of the four are from Northern Virginia. There's really only one of the four candidates that's not a Northern Virginia candidate.
NNAMDIWhy do you think that is?
SHERWOODIt's where the votes are.
POPEWell, if you think about where the votes are, but also, the sort of the strength of the Democratic Party is in Northern Virginia.
NNAMDITalk -- what have you've been hearing from people about the potential for a split ticket? Whoever wins the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor will be up against E.W. Jackson, the controversial Republican candidate. And that's a race the Democrats may feel more confident about winning right now than they are in the main event for governor. So is there a possibility of a split ticket there?
POPEWell, the Democrats are really eager to go up against this very conservative black pastor, E.W. Jackson. They feel like they've got a very strong shot at winning that ticket -- winning that race. And so the dynamics of the race, in fact, changed just a little bit when Jackson got the nomination because if you're one of the candidate that was going to win in more conservative parts of the state, you have sort of a general election strategy.
POPEThe victory of E.W. Jackson at the convention sort of changes that a little bit, and some Democrats feel like they have the latitude if they want to go with a more liberal candidate.
SHERWOODWho is the thumbnail of the two candidates of the Democrats, so we'll know who we're talking about, who are thirsting after running against E.W. Jackson?
POPESo the -- there's -- I would call the establishment candidate is State Senator Ralph Northam of Norfolk. He is the one non-Northern Virginia guy. He is a pediatric neurologist, the only doctor in the state Senate, first elected to the state Senate in 2006. He has been sort of focusing his campaign on social issues, abortion, gays, that sort of thing. He's running...
SHERWOODFor or against? (1) 12:30:02 MR. MICHAEL POPE
SHERWOODWell, he's, you know, taking the democratic line. So...
SHERWOODOK. All right.
POPE...on the campaign trail, he's been talking about his opposition to new standards for abortion clinics, for example.
POPESo his Democratic opponent in the race is an Arlington guy, Aneesh Chopra, who is -- was the first ever secretary of technology for Gov. Kaine, and then he became the first chief technology officer for President Obama. And unlike Northam, he's kind of been trying to focus his message on economic issues and, you know, innovations, sort of underscoring his professional experience as a, you know, big IT guy.
NNAMDIThis is his first ever run for elected office?
POPEIt is. And that's one thing that interesting about these four candidates is that you've got the two sort of establishment people, state, you know, sitting state senators versus first-time candidates. Aneesh Chopra is a first-time candidate. And if you look at the AG race, it's sort of a similar dynamic where you've got the establishment state senator versus the first-time candidate.
NNAMDIWhat's going on the Democratic race for attorney general?
POPESo that's State Senator Mark Herring of Loudoun. He an -- yet another Northern Virginia guy. He was first elected to the state Senate back in 2005, but he has a long background in Northern Virginia politics. He was on the Loudoun County board of supervisors from 2000 to 2003. Before that, he was the town attorney in Lovettsville. And so he's sort of the, you know, favorite of the insider establishment folks. And he's going up against Justin Fairfax of Fairfax County who is a former federal prosecutor.
NNAMDIHe says, don't use my age against me.
POPEWell, I'm sure that helps him with a lot of people. He's sort of seen...
NNAMDIHe's 34 years old.
POPEHe's seen as sort of the young, vigorous guy going after the, you know, the entrenched establishment figure.
NNAMDIBut you know, when he first said, I don't use my age against me, I said, what is he, a very aging kind of person? No, he's 34 years old. He said, don't use my youth against me.
SHERWOODIs there polling or any party polling or any polling that give us a hint of what we might expect on Tuesday?
POPEThere is. There was a poll last week by Public Policy Polling that had Chopra ahead of Northam in the LG race and Herring ahead of Fairfax in the AG race. However, I think there was a straw poll recently that might have had Fairfax ahead of Herring or maybe it was in the other race. In any event, the public policy polling was very close in both of those races. And so it sort of, you know, a toss-p, especially when you consider the turnout projections are very low in this race, like 1 percent to 4 percent.
POPEI mean, you're looking at essentially 50,000 voters to 200,000 voters. That's a very small universe. And so it's difficult to do polling on, you know, that kind of a race.
SHERWOODOne last question on this?
SHERWOODE.W. Jackson, the Republican nominee, has been very quiet, given his rip-roaring speech, he hasn't given many, to my knowledge, rip-roaring speeches since he got nominated. Sounds like to me the party is trying to get him to calm his presentation down so he can focus on education issues. But then somebody who was tweeting this week or saying in his book, he writes about how yoga is a bad thing. I'm sure there are a lot of yoga people in Northern Virginia, and they seem to be everywhere. But in the event...
POPEThe issue on yoga, by the way, is in yoga, you empty your mind...
SHERWOODIt opens your mind, so your mind allows Satan.
POPE...and so that allows Satan. Right. Exactly.
SHERWOODNow, I'm thinking, that just seem to me -- if I were gonna run for office or something, I'd love to run against someone who makes these statements even if there's some kind of thread of understanding to it. It's just gonna be a remarkable race, will it just overshadow the governor's race?
POPEIt already has, I think, at least temporarily. I mean, E.W. Jackson is still sort of new onto the scene.
SHERWOODBut he has been quieter than I expect him to be. I thought he'd come out...
POPEWell, you know, he gave the rip-roaring speech. That was before he had the nomination.
POPEAnd that got him the nomination. So now that he's got, you know, the gig, it's sort of a different strategy from here to the general election.
NNAMDIWell, we'll see what happens this coming Tuesday. Michael Pope, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIMichael Pope covers Virginia politics for WAMU 88.5 and for the Connection Newspapers. He's author of the book "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington." You're listening to The Politics Hour where Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Let me give you a heads up.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Jack Evans, call us now, 800-433-8850, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org because he joins us in studio now. Jack Evans is a member of the D.C. Council, a Democrat. He chairs the Council's Committee on Finance and Revenue. He will be launching a Democratic campaign for mayor of the District of Columbia tomorrow. Jack Evans, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
COUNCILMEMBER JACK EVANSOh, thank you. I haven't been here a long time. What's going on? I should've seen you here more often.
SHERWOODIt seems like it's just yesterday to me.
NNAMDIYou haven't been making news like some of your colleagues and former colleagues indeed. That's one of the stories we want to begin with. One of your former colleagues -- we're learning about former Councilmember Michael Brown pleading guilty to a bribery charge, apparently pleading guilty to taking a bribe from undercover agents posing as businessmen who wanted to become a certified business enterprise so they could be eligible for city contracts set aside for small, local, women-owned or minority-owned businesses.
NNAMDIThere's a lot of reporting that's been done lately about how the so-called CBE program is rife with abuse. First, what do you think of what happened to the former -- your former colleague, and then, what do you think is broken with the CBE system?
EVANSWell, you know, I'm very sad for Michael Brown, but I'm also very outraged that he engaged in behavior that, again, is very embarrassing to the District of Columbia and embarrassing to the City Council. I've known Michael a long time. I feel very badly for his family, and this is the type of behavior that is inexcusable. He knows better. He should not have done this. He is going to pay the price. The system in many ways worked.
EVANSThe FBI caught him. He's going to plead guilty and, in all likelihood, will be going to jail. And to the voter's credit who elected Michael, they unelected him in his last race and threw him out of office. And so we are where we are on that, but I think we are going to have to -- again, those of us in office are gonna have to redouble our efforts now to ensure the public that we are an ethical government, that we are ethical members of the Council of the District of Columbia and other city workers the same thing.
NNAMDIWell, it's gonna take a lot of ensuring. Allow me to play a clip. We had Michael Brown...
NNAMDI...on this show last year some time and...
NNAMDI...of course, we've been reading that this investigation started in July of 2012. I think it was in July of 2012 when we had Michael Brown -- June of 2012 when we had former Councilmember Michael Brown on the broadcast asking him about issues having to do with ethics, and here's what he had to say.
COUNCILMEMBER MICHAEL BROWNBut I don't know if -- we've seen it, a lot of evidence of pay-to-play politics though. Have you seen that? I haven't seen any evidence or charges of folks that have been paid by a particular campaign person, and then there was some quid pro quo. I haven't seen that.
NNAMDIHe said that in June. Maybe he was trying to create evidence of his own a month later.
SHERWOODWell, if that was June on our show, the count of the bribery says beginning on July 11, 2012. He was just warming up then. I mean...
EVANSI mean, it was right after. It's unbelievable. Unbelievable.
SHERWOODMr. Evans, you're running for mayor. You're announcing tomorrow at 14th and Q. Tommy Wells is already in the race, Muriel Bowser's in the race. I talked to my editors. I've talked to people who just don't really know the city that well. But what they do know is that we have had this culture of corruption, that the city has done some things to fix campaign finance things, but this is not a campaign finance matter.
SHERWOODBut how is it -- and you've been criticized for being too close to developers, although you say, look, what the city is built, and you've helped build things, not anything worse. But how do you -- as a candidate, how are you going to say to people, I can take the city to a different level where this won't be this pay-to-play politics, where people can trust me that I will make decisions, you may not like some of them, but there's not gonna be any backroom deals?
EVANSWell, Tom, you know, I have a 22-year record on the D.C. Council that is one of complete ethical behavior and above board operating. And in Evans administration, I withhold everyone to that same standard. We would have a no tolerance policy for violations of ethics, and if you do, you're gone. And it's the same standard that I would expect from every elected official in the city.
EVANSAnd anyone who violates that won't be working in the administration, and if there -- another elected official, they should be voted out of office or taken out of office if it's an activity that requires a resignation.
NNAMDIBefore Tom follows up on that, I think you've answered Noah's question in Washington, D.C., but let me just check with Noah to make sure. Please, don your headphones, Jack Evans, so you can hear Noah in Washington, D.C. Noah, did Jack Evans answer your question?
NOAHYes, I think to a certain extent. But I would like you to speak specifically, you know, Councilmember Evans, you and 11 other of your colleagues voted against amendments to the 2011 Ethics Reform that would have limited money in local politics. So I wanted to ask you, if you don't support those amendments, then what specific action would you take? What provisions would you support to help restore integrity to his political process in D.C.?
SHERWOODThis is the issue of accepting corporate donations in particular.
EVANSMy position is the laws we have in place right now are the laws that we should have. We have worked long and hard over the years to put in place some of the strongest campaign finance laws in the country. And I will contrast to immediately with our neighbor to the South. It was just reported that one of the candidates for governor took three checks: a $250,000 check, a $250,000 check, and a $150,000 check from three different individuals. In the District of Columbia, you're limited to a $2,000 donation.
EVANSIn the District of Columbia, disclosure has been and is the mantra. So you can -- anything you accept as a donation, you must disclose. People have a complete record of what's going on. Again...
NNAMDIExcept that if I happen to have 15 properties in the District of Columbia, I have 15 LLCs, that allows me 15 $2,000 donations. Should there be changed or not?
EVANSIt should not be changed. And I believe, again, that we are at a point where we have amended our laws repeatedly in the campaign finance area to a point where these laws have worked, and they allow candidates to raise money which you need to do to run campaigns but also restrict where the money is coming from and require disclosure of where the money is coming from.
NNAMDIThen why shouldn't I'd be allowed to make 15 different contributions because I have 15 different LLCs?
EVANSBecause the law allows you to do that right now and that's why we have the law in place, you know, to enable that to happen.
SHERWOODShould there be better disclosure of this? I mean, it's nice when a person with 10 LLCs, 10 properties does it all at once, and then they show up on the campaign finance report right. Oh, this is good, I can see it. But often, they're filtered, they're -- isn't there -- could we have better disclosure that if a person gives from one company and wants to get from another, that somehow another has to be reconciled in the public record so we can see it?
EVANSTom, there's probably ways of doing it. Although, I think those who have looked at this loss have not been able to come up with the methods you're talking about to be able to disclose that. And frankly, again, the laws that we have in place are very restrictive compared to other jurisdictions. They've worked for the District of Columbia.
EVANSAnd I think it's much more important that we talked about in the mayor's race, you know, what are we going to do to fix our education system, to get people employed instead of constantly going over the same ground.
SHERWOODWell, the reason I think is because people don't feel confident that their government is clean. The mayor has been under investigation for two years. Rather than saying, I'm innocent and I did nothing wrong, well, here's what I think happened. He shut up. He hasn't said anything because his lawyer says, it's too risky to talk. So you have a mayor who's trying to do the best job he can do, and in many ways, people say he's done a good job on a number of things, even the budget you mentioned.
SHERWOODBut we have a mayor who's been under criminal investigation for two years. We have the chairman resigned because of some financial irregularities in his private life. We had Harry Thomas Jr. steal money from children's sports program. Now, we've got Michael Brown who took money to influence minority business contracting in the city. It seems to me that overwhelms the feeling that you want to talk about fixing the schools, fixing all the roadways, talking about the economic...
NNAMDIWhich we'll know before this broadcast is over.
SHERWOODThe economic development that I know that you -- you're proud of it, the things -- I'll say it before you do. Now, without the convention center, without the Verizon Center, without the baseball ball park, we'd be Detroit. There's a lot of good going on, but people outside the city -- and it's all I hear from people -- are a bunch of crooks.
EVANSAnd, Tom, it goes back to this. We have...
SHERWOODAnd the people elected these people, too.
EVANSWell, and you make a good point. People elected people who turned out to be crooks. We have the best laws in place, the laws have worked. The chairman of the Council has had to resign. Tommy Thomas had to resign and went to jail. Michael Brown is gone, voted out by the voters and, in all likelihood, will be in jail. And the other investigations that are taking place regarding the other elected officials are ongoing with laws in place that will deal with these transgressions when they come to fruition.
EVANSThere weren’t a lot more laws that we can pass. Take Michael Brown. You know, you can't take a bribe. It's illegal, but that's already the law. And so if you are an elected official in his situation and he took a bribe, what more can be done to prevent somebody from doing that? And again, as I pointed out, the voters unvoted Michael Brown and threw him out of Washington.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about the CBE program for a second because former city paper "Loose Lips..."
EVANSSure. Tell the people what that CBE is.
NNAMDIThe Certified Business Enterprise.
SHERWOODCertified business. Thank you.
NNAMDIFormer "Loose Lips" columnist Alan Suderman wrote last fall that the CBE process was a relic of what he called the Barry era, a program that morphed from one that helped minority businesses compete and feels dominated by politically connected white-owned firms to a mess that gives special treatment to businesses of any size that know how to manipulate the system instead of businesses owned by minorities and women. How do you see it?
EVANSI think the program still has a lot of merit. I think that a CBE program, however it's structured, its intent is to help individuals and businesses who otherwise are unable to compete, to be able to compete and operate in the city. The whole goal...
NNAMDIBut is the system easily gameable?
EVANSI don't think it's easily gameable. But I think it is gameable. I think like anything, if people want to lie, cheat and steal, they can figure out a way of doing that. And -- but I think overall that the program does work and does benefit individuals and businesses who, otherwise, couldn't compete in our city.
EVANSThe only that we could do this -- we are doing better than we are is to make sure that the program is monitored and make sure that those who apply do go through the process are certified. And then when they do, get a contract that they complete the contract again, and that all comes back to enforcement and monitoring.
NNAMDIOur guest is Councilmember Jack Evans. He chairs the Council's committee on finance and revenue. He's here in part because tomorrow, he'll be launching a Democratic campaign for mayor of the District of Columbia. So if you have questions or comments for him about the future of the city or anything else, call us at 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODSomeone just tweeted me that if the campaign finance laws were in a -- legal laws were working, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But they do work...
EVANSWell, they are working.
SHERWOODBut they do work right.
EVANSNo, but, I mean that's the point I'm making. People would violate them, they get caught, they get prosecuted and put to jail. So the laws do work.
SHERWOODIf the laws are good and the campaign finance laws are good, it seems to me that there is a -- in the inspector general's office, in the attorney general's office, we're gonna have elected one next year, should there be -- and then the D.C. Auditor, it seems to me those three offices are could be powerful tools. But they don't seem to have the vigor, the intensity, the staff, the resources to do -- to enforce the very laws that you're saying are adequate if they're enforced.
SHERWOODShould there be a beefing up of those three?
EVANSActually, they have been beefed up. They have more resources than they've ever had. They have more staff than they ever had. And they're being led by, what I believe, are very capable people. The inspector general just did some report with regard to the CFO. Our D.C. Auditor, we've added resources in that office. And then, of course, U.S. attorney is doing what U.S. attorney does.
SHERWOODSpagnoletti -- Mr. Spagnoletti is there.
SHERWOODAhead of the new -- the BEGA, the Bureau of Ethics or whatever it's called.
EVANSAnd that was just formed as you know, and in response to some of the other problems. And some of the laws were just changed in because of the way it was set up, they were unable to act in one of those circumstances where they found a violation.
NNAMDIYou are launching your mayoral campaign tomorrow from an establishment that Tom likes to pronounce the name. What's the name of the establishment, Tom?
NNAMDILe Diplomate, a new restaurant on 14th Street Northwest in the middle of a neighborhood that seen a lot of demographic changes in the past two decades. Why that location?
EVANSWell, I wanted to launch it on 14th Street -- 14th and Q, it's on the corner outside the restaurant because it has a big sidewalk, to be honest with you. We can get a lot of people there and set up a podium, you know, balloon signs, the whole shebang. And 14th Street represents to me, you know, the real change that we've seen in this city. When I came on the Council 22 years ago, as you all -- both of you know, 14th Street was known for prostitution. I mean, it was the prostitution and drug dealing capital of the city.
EVANSOver that time, we've managed to not only rid the area of prostitution and drug dealing but it has taken off as a vibrant strip in the city, 22 new restaurants there. But it represents the whole city in the sense you have young people, old people, all diversity converging on this part of the city. And I think that represents to me, you know, an achievement that has happened while I've been a councilmember but also the future of our city.
NNAMDIThat underscores the changes that have been made in the city. How do you plan on appealing to the people in the city who feel they have not benefitted from those changes?
EVANSYou know, what my mantra is, I bring the leadership, experience and knowledge to take what we have done in many parts of the city to the rest of the city. And you just start out with the many accomplishments in the financial area, in the economic development area. And we're not just talking about 14th Street.
EVANSYou know, in the 10 years that I've been here, we've rebuilt our downtown. We've reshaped 17th Street, 14th Street, 9th Street, 7th Street, U Street, and it goes on and on and on, with being able to bring the various economic development tools. And I've had conversations with individuals in all the wards about how we can do the same type of approach and really improve the quality of life for everyone in the city.
SHERWOODYou know, we're talking in some parts here about gentrification, people who feel like they've been left out. You go to North Capital Street where the National Public Radio is now, and you go -- you see the Harris Theater, you see all the beautiful buildings on one side, and on the other side is senior citizen homes, poverty and young children there. You said you wanted to talk about education.
SHERWOODOne of the ministers over there, Rev. Edmund, said to me, "Tom, the people who come to this church or who come by the church and don't come in anymore look across the street and see a golden city. And they know in their heart and soul and their mind that they're not part of that golden city." How does that change?
EVANSAnd what my challenge is as mayor is to ensure that everyone in the city benefits from the prosperity we have. And that you have to break it down into very specific approaches. What is it that the neighborhoods that you're describing lack that other neighborhoods have? And you start out with safety, in cleanliness, that the streets are safer, that the streets are taken care of by the city, that you have a mix of retail that people can go to, that people have the opportunity to be in their neighborhood and enjoy a safe, clean environment.
EVANSJobs are critical. And again, that's something I've focused on in my 22 years again on the Council. Just recently with a convention center hotel. By constructing that hotel, we are now in a process of having training programs for 600 district residents who will work in that hotel and another 100 in the management area. And what our challenges as we go forward is to make sure that we train our residents in the jobs that are in the District of Columbia are gonna be created here.
SHERWOODCan we blow up Department of Employment Services like Michelle Rhee blew up the school system? And people will criticize what she did. But it certainly changed the system. Whether it's better or not, we can debate. But it seems to me there's a lot of job training that's just not being done in the city.
EVANSOr it's training -- job training for the jobs that don't exist or never will exist. You have all of that in the compendium. And so DOES -- I wouldn't blow it up. But there is -- there are reforms, and I believe that the leadership down there are making those reforms that needed to be made in order to, again, match the residents of our city with the jobs that we have.
SHERWOODIs there an urgent...
NNAMDINo, I was gonna say, I think your contributions to development of the city are well known. In my view, the challenge for you in this mayoral campaign will be to talk about the other issues. How do you plan to campaign on issues like public safety or education? Would you, for example, support a plan like the one the mayor offered this week to give the schools' chancellor chartering authority?
EVANSYes, I would support that. So on the school system, again, the biggest issues I see as we go forward are reconciling the charter school system which is now home to 45 percent of our children with the traditional DCPS system and how do we bring those two systems together so they benefit the children in our city. And one of the biggest, as you know, with charter schools is you can go to -- the charter schools draw children from all over the city. They make that their approach.
EVANSThey don't have an obligation to admit neighborhood children. And so how are we gonna reconcile that with the traditional DCPS model as we go forward? And secondly, as a parent who puts a child in a school, particularly a DCPS school, what is the path towards graduation? What are the feeder schools? How does this all work for me? These are the problems that I see and that I'm hearing from parents all across the city. And you mentioned on public safety.
EVANSAgain, in the quick time period I've been here -- and as you know, I used to chair the judiciary committee. And one of the things we did -- councilmember was Mayor Barry at the time, Steve Harlan has hired Chuck Ramsey, who was a police chief, who completely revolutionized our police department, bringing it from a department in freefall to a department that was one of the finest in the country. And then one of his proteges, obviously Cathy Lanier, is doing a good job there.
EVANSWe have made the city far safer than it used to be, but there are still too many neighborhoods. As we know, two months ago, three months, you had 12 people shot at -- over on North Capitol Street. We have to continue to bring in the most advanced police training and additionally add more officers, something I've been talking about forever. We are now -- have now convinced everyone in this government, we need at least 4,000 police officers to make our city safer everywhere.
NNAMDIHere is Tom in Washington, D.C. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMHi, Councilman Evans.
TOMCould you please talk about your local hiring bill for District residents, which you introduced this week? These are related to jobs on D.C. Water infrastructure projects that are happening over the next decade. You know, we're about to spend at least 2.6 billion in green jobs, and that doesn't come along every day. And, you know, it'd be a shame to miss this opportunity. So I'd like to hear more about your bill and where it's going.
EVANSYeah. Thank you very much for bringing that up. It's a bill I worked closely with the Washington Interfaith Network. You mentioned Rev. Lionel Edmonds who was very -- key in making this come to pass. The city is gonna spend -- the D.C. Water -- and I say D.C. Water is going to spend $2.5 billion in our city, putting in the combined sewer and water treatment system. And what my bill does is mandate that the D.C. Water hire -- train, first of all, and hire District residents to do all of the work that is being completed.
NNAMDIAnd this is all very good. But in the series that Julie Patel and Patrick Madden did, they found out that when developers are forced into these situations or make these promises that they get the contracts to do the work, and then there is no oversight about whether or not they're actually hiring D.C. residents. How do you intend to make that...
EVANSWell, that falls back on us then. If indeed this isn't being done, the oversight that if you get a contract and you don't fulfill it, then you have -- what you have are clawback provisions so that you have to give the money back that you were paid because you didn't comply with the terms of the contract. But again, this is D.C. Water that's going to be running this.
SHERWOODRight. And George...
EVANSAnd D.C. Water -- what were you saying?
SHERWOODI was gonna say George Hawkins, the head of it...
SHERWOODHe told me at the C&O Canal this week when we're talking about the improving aromas over there, he said we can do better on hiring. So he says he's gonna work hard on that. I don't know if that's gonna happen, but he said so.
EVANSWell, we're gonna be working with him to make sure that that happens.
SHERWOODI wanna go to another public safety issue. It's the fire department. There is problems with ambulances and problem with fire equipment, then we had this huge horrible fire on Capitol Hill this week at the...
SHERWOODThe Frager's. Right.
EVANSFrager's. Yeah, yeah. The fire (unintelligible).
SHERWOODI've just been that week -- talking to them about renting some stuff and fixing something.
SHERWOODBut the fire department, there seems to be enough issues -- often the fire union is not very happy with whoever the chief is, I'll give them that. But it just seems to me that a lot of people think Chief Ellerbe's time has come. What do you think about the fire chief there? I know you'd have your own if you got elected mayor. But should the mayor, this mayor, change the fire chief to bring that place under control?
EVANSWell, what I would do is take the same approach we did, you know, a number of years ago. It's somewhat disheartening to me because we faced this issue back in the 1997 when I was chairman of the judiciary committee. And what we did is revamped the fire department, brought in a new chief -- I can't remember who it was at the time -- and put a whole schedule in place. You talked about the equipment, the ambulances.
EVANSAnd it was a replacement schedule that, frankly, they had been sticking too very well into the early part of the century. And what has happened that they fell off of that replacement schedule so that we have fire trucks that don't work and then are parked in the yards and ambulances? It's puzzling.
SHERWOODIt's not a question of money.
EVANSNo. It's not a question of money. It's a question of management style. And so what I would do if I became mayor is to have a thorough analysis of what happened here, and put people in place who can run this department, and make sure that it runs in an efficient fashion.
NNAMDIWe're just about...
EVANSWe've done it before. We can do it again.
NNAMDI...out of time, and I would remiss if I did not mention that Jacob Fenston of WAMU 88.5 did a piece on John Wilson, the 20th anniversary of John Wilson's suicide, that really captured the essence of John Wilson. You replaced him as the councilmember for Ward 2. But I think...
NNAMDI...what John Wilson tends to be remembered most for is his plain spokenness if you would hear...
NNAMDIYes, yes, yes.
EVANSYes, John was -- he used a lot of words, yes.
NNAMDIVery colorful language.
EVANSVery colorful language.
NNAMDIHe said what was on his mind.
EVANSHe did indeed.
NNAMDIJack Evans is a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat. He chairs the Council's Committee on Finance and Revenue. He's launching a Democratic campaign for mayor of the District of Columbia tomorrow. And obviously, he's doing that because he wants to run for mayor, but also because he thinks it'll get him on this show a lot more during the course of the coming months.
EVANSI hope so. I'll be back again next week.
NNAMDIExactly. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Jack Evans, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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