Whether the decor is faux '50s silver and neon or authentic greasy spoon, diners are classic Americana, down to the familiar menu items. Rich, poor, black, white--all rub shoulders in the vinyl booths and at formica counters. We explore the enduring appeal and nostalgia of the diner.
A massive water outage is avoided narrowly in Maryland. A steady trickle of embarrassing reports hounds Virginia’s governor. And D.C. lawmakers face a flood of proponents and critics of living wage legislation. 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
- Phil Mendelson Chairman, D.C. Council (D)
- Donna Edwards Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-MD, 4th Congressional District)
The D.C. Council voted last week to postpone the scheduled election of an attorney general from 2014 to 2018. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson opposed the delay. “I think the council is being very glib,” Mendelson said.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring, featuring and with a cameo appearance from Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers who wrote in his current column a few weeks ago about the U.S. attorney's drip, drip investigation into corruption in the District of Columbia.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd WAMU 88.5's Michael Pope this week wrote about the drip, drop of negative news in Virginia concerning Gov. Bob McDonnell. Tom, we seem to have investigations going on both in the District of Columbia and in Virginia. But, of course, in the case of Virginia, most of the news we're getting is out of The Washington Post. Drip, drip, drip, drip.
MR. TOM SHERWOODYeah, what's wrong with Maryland?
NNAMDII don't know. They don't have a drip, drip investigation.
SHERWOODYou know, they think they were finished with Jack Johnson? They need to step up.
NNAMDIYes. They need a drip, drip investigation.
SHERWOODBut I have to tell you, every answer today is I don't know, it's too hot.
NNAMDIYes, it's really very hot today, but...
SHERWOODI don't know. It's just too hot.
NNAMDII saw you interviewing people who were going to have hot meals in the heat two days ago.
SHERWOODAt the food trucks.
NNAMDIAt the food truck two days ago.
SHERWOODExtra spicy. It was kind -- I went to the frozen yogurt place.
NNAMDIYes, I observed that. But getting back to what's going on in Virginia, I guess what people have to wonder is what will this all mean if the drip, drip of investigations about the gifts from Jonnie Williams, the owner of the Star Scientific Corporation that produced a nutritional supplement, the gifts he has been giving to the governor and his wife, if this investigation keeps going on?
NNAMDIThere is no talk right now about the future of Gov. McDonnell's own presidential or vice presidential ambitions. But this is likely more to have an effect on the governor's race coming up, is it not?
SHERWOODWell, it certainly is, you know, with the debate tomorrow between Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe.
SHERWOODI mean, you cannot run a campaign for governor in kind of a vacuum and certainly McDonnell continuing embarrassments. Now, he like -- the governor's staff pointed out, look, the -- if, in fact, the first lady of Virginia got dental work done and that was a gift, well, there's no law that requires him to report the gifts to the family members, only if the governor were to get it.
SHERWOODBut, you know, that's just a little bit too technical for what's occurring. I mean, when I was coming in here, someone stopped me and said, I live in Virginia, and I'm embarrassed by all this. And I think that's where we are. We've gone from embarrassment, though, to this is probably gonna kill any public career for McDonnell. I could see him leaving the governor's office and going into business. He's well liked, and he can be very successful. But if he has any other political plans, I can't imagine what they'd be at this point.
NNAMDIPeople seem to be less concerned about the finer legal points here than how it all appears. And in the case of Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, a state prosecutor found no evidence that he broke the law when he failed to disclose substantial stock holdings in Star Scientific and some gifts from the company's chief executive, who would be the aforementioned Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
NNAMDIBut I am pretty sure that in tomorrow's debate, if you ask Terry McAuliffe about foreign policy, he's gonna find a way to mention the name Jonnie Williams.
SHERWOODAbsolutely. And I think we should point out, in fairness to this, Anthony Troy, who's a -- who was a Democratic attorney general in Virginia in the 1970s, was signed by the attorney general's office to look into this, and he issued a report yesterday that no -- he could find no evidence where McDonnell had improperly or even, in fact, given any kind of consideration to the owners of Scientific in terms of contracts or appointments. Again, it's almost...
NNAMDIAgain, it's all about appearances.
SHERWOOD...the tackiness of him. The gentlemen and gentle ladies of the commonwealth of Virginia are not used to this kind of a lowball, sleazy behavior, legal or not...
NNAMDIAnd McAuliffe is slightly ahead...
SHERWOOD...at least that we're not -- publicly know about. It's all over the place.
NNAMDIExactly. We're slight -- McAuliffe is slightly ahead of Cuccinelli in the polls, a gap that Cuccinelli obviously hopes to make up. But once this investigation and these revelations continue, it will probably be difficult for him to do that. Of course, the District of Columbia has its own problems with corporate donations. Former Mayor, now Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry was fined and censured last week in a settlement with the District's ethics board over his accepting illegal gifts from city contractors.
NNAMDINow, a five-member special committee of the Council is going to have to make recommendations, and they can make recommendations for everything from, oh, censure to expulsion.
SHERWOODAnd I think you can probably take the last one off the table.
SHERWOODBut, you know, the five councilmembers have to look at it. This has been the consistent pattern of behavior by the mayor. Some people just shake their heads and say, you know, the mayor has just been through too many of these things, whether it's paying his income federal taxes on time, whether it's, you know, getting mixed up with a woman who had a city contract, and he got some of the money because she owed him some money.
SHERWOODI mean, it's all just kind of soap opera-ish. So I don't know -- I'm not looking for this committee to come back and have a really hardcore punishment for Barry 'cause I'm not sure that any kind of punishment is gonna deter him from what he's gonna do the last days on the Council.
NNAMDIHe has said, of course, that he feels that his integrity and his ethics are intact because he is the one who reported it. It should be mentioned that he reported it on the advice of his attorney, Fred Cooke.
SHERWOODYeah, so he did follow the advice of his attorney, Fred Cooke, and I think that's a pretty smart thing to have done. You know, it's -- in many cases, this is -- you can reflect back on the troubles Mayor Gray has had since the Sulaimon Brown payment.
SHERWOODPeople are saying had the mayor's -- had Vincent Gray's campaign at that point, when that became knowledge, just acknowledged, yeah, we paid him some money 'cause he was whacking the heck out of Fenty, we should have reported the money as gifts to him. We're now still reporting. They were taking a political heat. But all this stuff about Jeffery Thompson never would have happened.
NNAMDIWe have a guest in studio who may have an opinion on this. We'll certainly ask him if he does. He is the chairman of the D.C. Council. Phil Mendelson joins us in studio. He is a Democrat. Council Chair Mendelson, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. PHIL MENDELSONThank you for having me here.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Phil Mendelson, please call us at 800-433-8850. That number again, 800-433-8850. Call early, call often, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. It's no stretch, Mr. Council Chairman, to say that the world has been watching the District's debate over big-box retailers and living wages. Why am I going astray when I wanted to ask you first about what do you think is the appropriate penalty for Councilmember Marion Barry?
MENDELSONAnd the question is large retailer kind of build the act, Kojo? Or is the...
SHERWOODWho are the five members you appointed to...
MENDELSONOr is the answer, I don't know, it's too hot?
NNAMDIYeah, that's the...
SHERWOODThat's -- you may use that answer at any time today.
MENDELSONThe five members are Yvette Alexander, Anita Bonds, Mary Cheh, Kenyan McDuffie, who is the -- chairing the committee, and David Grosso.
SHERWOODAnd when do they have to -- they've already had one secret or closed-door meeting. When do they report back?
MENDELSONThey are to report back before the Council next meet, which is Sept. 17.
NNAMDIAnd the process is they make a recommendation, and the Council votes on that recommendation?
MENDELSONYes. Now, we've not gone through this before. But -- so we'll see if there any wrinkles to the rules. But that's what I expect.
NNAMDIWhere are you tilting right now? Towards censure, towards reprimand, towards...
MENDELSONI don't wanna get out in front of the committee. There's -- I can see arguments on both sides that Mr. Barry's behavior was clearly a violation of the code of conduct, and he should be sanctioned in some way. On the other hand, he's already been sanctioned by the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, and it was not a light sanction. Not only did they censure him, but they fined him, and they fined him in an amount that's double the gifts that he reported.
MENDELSONAnd from what I know of his finances, that's a very stiff penalty. So does he get further sanction or not? And that's the question for the committee to look at.
SHERWOODAnd maybe we'll see if there's maybe some toughening or tweaking of the rules if there's some gap there. So...
SHERWOODRight. Will they wait until September to report, or will they make this report during the recess?
MENDELSONI don't know. That's up to them. I'm hopeful that they will not wait to the last minute to make the report. I think there's some value to everybody knowing what the report is before the Council acts on it.
SHERWOODWhile we're talking about the great behavior of the councilmembers, former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. still in prison for his staff's -- his former chief of staff this week signed some legal papers that appear she's pleading guilty to misstating some financial documents. She's the sixth person to plead guilty in the Harry Thomas case. It just seems like it won't go away.
MENDELSONYeah, well, it's a very unfortunate affair, and by that I don't mean to excuse anybody who is now pleading guilty or will be prosecuted. It speaks to how widespread that -- I'm, you know, not in a legal way I'm gonna say that conspiracy was in stealing the government funds.
NNAMDIBack to the issue of what the world is watching about what the D.C. Council is doing, just this past week, The Economist published an article about the legislation the Council recently passed to require large retailers to pay a higher hourly wage, even quoting Councilmember Vincent Orange. You supported this proposal. The mayor just may veto it. Why do you believe he'd be wrong to do so?
MENDELSONWell, I authored the bill, and I support the bill. You know, there are two sides to the argument here. One of them is that we need jobs. The District has a high unemployment rate, and there are people who are looking for work, and this is an opportunity for job creation, with new retailers coming into the city. The other argument is that jobs should be a decent -- pay a decent wage.
MENDELSONAnd let me be clear 'cause there's some misunderstanding, I think. The bill calls for a wage of $12.50 or a combination of benefits and wage that total $12.50. So if the benefits are 250 -- let's say health insurance and other benefits -- then the wage need only be $10, just as an example. At $12.50 with no benefits, that equates to $26,000 a year pre-tax, and that's not -- that's below the poverty level for a family of four and a little above poverty level for a smaller household. People who earn such little money, you know, they're not -- they're struggling, and...
SHERWOODWhy not then the federal minimum wage is 7.25 -- the District of Columbia minimum wage is 8.25 -- or adjust to a dollar from whatever the federal wage is? If that's the case, there are many businesses in town. Safeway and Giant immediately leap to mind. Why not just change the law and say the D.C. minimum wage is 12.50, counting benefits? Why pick on big-box stores just because they have the finances to pay?
SHERWOODDoesn't Safeway have the finances to pay? Doesn't Giant, doesn't anybody else? I don't know what the -- Wal-Mart...
NNAMDICostco, Home Depot.
MENDELSONYes. Well, Costco, I'm told, their entry pay is 12.50 or greater, and their average pay is something...
SHERWOODBut why not everyone?
MENDELSON...half again what Wal-Mart's average pay is. The -- you make a good point, but, you know, anybody who's been through a minimum wage argument knows that it's a very difficult argument. And what you're saying is, oh, a 50 percent increase in the minimum wage. Even raising it 25 cents or 50 cents is a huge fight. It also affects every business in the city, whereas the living wage bill targets the very, very large retailers -- that is, a retailer whose income, total income, national income is $1 billion or more and who has retail space, a single store in the District, of 75,000 square feet or larger.
MENDELSONSo we're not talking about very many businesses. We're talking about businesses who have the economic ability to pay this wage, and that's not necessarily...
SHERWOODWell, then why don't we have a wage -- I speak as a former two-term president of the union at The Washington Post, so -- and not as a business person. But why not then, if you're going to assess the minimum wage based on the ability to pay, why not have a floating minimum wage for all the corporations? I don't know what The Washington Post -- does it still make -- I think it makes money.
SHERWOODWhy not have their minimum wage set based on what they do? Why not have other corporations, you know, based on what money they make? If it's going to be based on how much money you have, well then it seems to me, it's still unfair. People keep telling me, and the mayor says to pick on the people you've been begging for a decade to come to town?
MENDELSONWhat you're really getting at is it's unfair to just pick on Wal-Mart. And the interesting thing there is Wal-Mart did not participate at the public hearing and was largely quiet, not entirely, but until the last week. And then just a couple of days before the Council's final vote, Wal-Mart steps up and says we're gonna pull out all of our stores. Wal-Mart may be...
SHERWOODWell, their political tactics weren't very good. I mean, it irritated people.
MENDELSONWal-Mart -- but Wal-Mart made this a bill about Wal-Mart, and the bill was about large retailers. And again, the argument is they have the economic power not only to pay, but they also have the economic power to depress wages. If it's too -- some of the stories, and I don't know, but certainly are the allegations that Wal-Mart goes into a city and pay such low wages, it forces its competitors to drop their wages to try to compete.
MENDELSONThen we have a race to the bottom, and that's not helpful either.
NNAMDIThere are people.
MENDELSONAnd remember, 12.50 is meet poverty level.
MENDELSONAnd so the minimum wage, which in the District is 8.25, is worse.
NNAMDIThere are people...
SHERWOODWell, then why not Safeway and Giant? Two major...
MENDELSONThey have collective bargaining...
SHERWOODOr McDonald's even? Why can't we make -- McDonald's is one of the biggest employers in the region.
MENDELSONFair point. But with regard to Giant and Safeway, they have collective bargaining agreements, which specifically address wages and address wages in a way because there's an agreement that's been agreed to by the workers.
SHERWOODSo if people agreed to pay -- to be paid less, it's OK?
MENDELSONI'm not so sure that Safeway and Giant's wages are that bad. I think they're -- what I hear, they're pretty good.
NNAMDIThere are people, some of whom are calling the show right now, who will say, look, Wal-Mart was trying to bully the city. You stood up to Wal-Mart. But a lot of people also will say you are not defined by what you are against, but what you are for. Wal-Mart has said, look, we're pulling out of Skyland. We're pulling out of the store. We were going to build in far Northeast.
NNAMDIWhat are you and the other councilmembers who supported this legislation proposing for the development of retail in those areas in the event that Wal-Mart pulls out -- 'cause Wal-Mart would've simply been the anchor for a number of other stores, which also would not be coming to those areas, what do you now say to the people in those areas who have been craving retail?
MENDELSONI recognize that Wal-Mart has made this stretch, and I wanna see development at Skyland as much as anybody does. I don't think, though, that we legislate based on threats. That's one thing. And a second point that I've made over and over again, to simplify what I said earlier, is that public policy shouldn't be about jobs. It should be about quality jobs. It doesn't do us any good. And this is statistic from Wisconsin.
MENDELSONIn 2012, between -- I think 3,000 and 4,000, Wal-Mart employers were on Medicaid. And in Ohio, the number, if I remember correctly was somewhere over 10,000 of Wal-Mart employees were on some sort of government assistance program. What good does that, you know, that means (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWell, I was not only asking about jobs. I was asking about retail that those areas do not have at this point.
SHERWOODDesert, food deserts, retail.
NNAMDIAnd so do you say those people, look, we stood up to Wal-Mart. Too bad. Well, maybe something else will come along someday. Is that what you're saying?
MENDELSONNo, we don't say that. We look to how we can backfill if Wal-Mart goes through with pulling out of Skyland.
NNAMDIWhich is what my question is: how -- what are your plans for backfilling in the event that Wal-Mart doesn't do this?
MENDELSONWell, let's get to that point first, and then we'll look on what it takes to attract a large retailer there as an anchor to the Skyland development.
SHERWOODAt the -- I'm trying to think of something positive to say, but...
MENDELSONI wanna say something about food desert, though, since you mentioned this.
MENDELSONNow, you know, there are six locations. I can't speak to every one of them. But one of them that's been talked about as a food desert is Skyland...
SHERWOODHey, right across the street is...
MENDELSON...which has the Good Hope Safeway right across street.
SHERWOODRight. That's true.
MENDELSONAnd it has a Giant. On Alabama Avenue, I think it's about half a mile away. But some people are saying that's a food desert. It just speaks to the rhetoric here, which I think the rhetoric has kinda gotten a little...
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the phones. We'll go to Peter in Washington, D.C. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERHello, Councilman Mendelson.
PETERI just have this to say. Given that Wal-Mart promised wages when they came in at $12 and promised the Skyland site, and given that they pay 10.25 in Ontario, Canada, and they're doing just fine, given the Costco pays $11, given that the study show that if Wal-Mart move their starting salary to $12, it would only add if they passed it all to their customers 46 cents to each customer's trip.
PETERAnd given that the CEO makes more during the show that workers do in a year, why don't you tell your -- why don't we just stop being bullied, especially given -- and this was a recommendation to you, Councilman Mendelson -- given the fact that we have a national cooperative bank on Pennsylvania Avenue in town that the Council could work with to help fund local worker co-ops in Skyland and other areas around the District to show Wal-Mart that we have an alternative?
PETERAnd those local worker co-ops funded by the national cooperative bank here in town could guarantee local interest are met and provide good living wage jobs with for workers in town. And so...
NNAMDIHere's Council Chair Mendelson.
MENDELSONWell, I think that the caller makes a lot of good points. And remember, I support the bill.
SHERWOODWell, but again, it's based on everything he said without getting to the speech about whether it's really -- did Wal-Mart promised to pay 12 or $13 an hour when it came here or any of that. Again, it's basing it on ability to pay. You're not basing the law on other companies' ability to pay. The seven -- 8.25 is based on a -- what we have decided in this city is a minimum wage. But this is a singling out of a retail segment.
MENDELSONIf you're question, Tom, is why -- do I have a problem with singling out or it's wrong to single out. I don't have a problem with separating billion dollar corporations from other businesses. You know, basically, what you're arguing is that the minimum wage should be means-tested. And the minimum wage in every state and the federal minimum wage since the 1930s has not means-tested.
SHERWOODThat you're means-testing big box stores?
SHERWOODOK. OK, OK.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of Wal-Mart's argument that, look, you came after us, you wooed us and you gave us no indication that this was going to be happening. You're changing the rules in the middle of the game.
MENDELSONWell, you now, I mean...
NNAMDIYou've said before we do that all the time.
MENDELSONYeah. I made that point in the debate and then I got criticized for it on the editorial page. The point...
SHERWOODBy The Post.
MENDELSONYeah. I didn't mean to be glib about changing the rules. We should always be circumspectrum when changing the rules. But at the same time, we do it all the time. Are we never to change taxes? We just lowered the sales task, effective Oct. 1. That's changing the rules. Of course, nobody would complain 'cause nobody wants to pay...
NNAMDIWell, you're just changing...
MENDELSON...a higher sales tax. We're lowering the sales tax, but we change the rules all the time. Are we never to raise the minimum wage?
NNAMDIWe're going to get to the issue of the attorney general election, a rule changed that you didn't much like.
SHERWOODLet me correct you.
SHERWOODI know this is part of the campaign to get the mayor to veto the bill, and I've already reported he is going to do it, and that the council doesn't have the votes to override. But, you know, the development -- we talked about the economic development, what happens if Wal-Mart is not bluffing and they're gonna stop the construction of three stores, Skyline in particular, will go away?
SHERWOODThe developers of -- 20 different developers, all of whom, I guess, have interest. But six different major box stores like Home Depot, Walgreen, all these places have written and said the mayor must veto this bill or we'll change. These companies approach to dealing with the city. It seems like that's a really big risk. It's not just Wal-Mart threatening -- I'm not sure that was good politics in their part. But apart from that, it's not just Wal-Mart but it is a business industry that has full-page ad in The Post today by the D.C. Chamber. Is this a big people versus big business fight or is...
MENDELSONWell, to some extent, it is a people versus big business fight. I certainly don't wanna be dismissive of that letter, which, by the way, they never send to the council. But more importantly...
SHERWOODPuts it into grading, yes.
MENDELSONBut more importantly, most, if not all, of these retailers were absent during the discussion before the...
SHERWOODThose are the developers, that list there?
MENDELSONYes. Most of them were absent during the discussion before the council. We had a hearing. Now, they're -- I don't want be dismissed above their point, but on the other hand, if the implication in the question is, well, why we did ignore them? They didn't speak out.
SHERWOODNo. They didn't say they ignored it. They just said that this will hurt their ability to play on an expansion.
MENDELSONYes. There is a huge campaign right now, focused on the mayor to get the mayor to veto.
MENDELSONSo the business community is uniting in a way that they haven't prior to this.
SHERWOODBefore we go to our next caller, can have I have one more question on this? I told -- I spoke to Mayor Gray this morning, and he said, nine days have passed since this bill was passed. He said, bring me the bill. He says he has a 10-day period to sign it. He says, why is it being held up? Why don't they say he's a former chairman of the council? He knows the process. It can be cumber somebody else who knows you can send the bill in a heartbeat if you want to.
SHERWOODWhen is the bill gonna be sent to the mayor so he can be forced to decide whether to veto it or not so we can move forward? There's some suggestion you guys are trying to wait so they'll run out of clock, so everyone will be back in September. And that doesn't make any sense to me, but I'm just -- what is -- you told me there's a lot of processes that go forward, but why not get this bill to the mayor and clear this out?
MENDELSONWell, I'm a little intrigued that -- you're not the first to ask that question. There are -- there's a lot that goes on with legislation that the public does not see.
SHERWOODCan you explain all those details to me?
MENDELSONThat's an enrollment process that the general council goes through, and there's a lot of record-keeping...
MENDELSON...and transmittals. And the -- I expected the bill will get to the mayor within the next several weeks.
SHERWOODNext several weeks?
MENDELSONThat's what I've just said.
SHERWOODWait, why would it take that long? I mean, if this were an emergency, it could...
MENDELSONIt's not unusual.
MENDELSONAnd actually, it's to the benefit of all the opponents because it gives them time to lobby more.
SHERWOODSo we -- the mayor may not get it in time during July. So it gets in August. So the people who are alleging your delayingness so that you can have a full council of 13 members to vote on it in September might be correct.
MENDELSONAnd according to your vote count, Mr. Sherwood, the votes aren't there.
MENDELSONWe might get the -- pull out my, I don't know, it's too hot (word?)
SHERWOODAnytime you want it.
NNAMDIIt's coming. You may have gotten away on the living wage bill in the Wilson building last week, but you certainly were not smiling when the council voted to delay the election of the city's attorney general until 2018, a vote that when counted to the 2014 Election, voters said they wanted in a referendum they passed a few years ago. You called this episode an embarrassment for the council. Why do you feel this strongly?
MENDELSONI felt that strongly because I think the council was being very glib. When I say the council, I mean a majority of the council. The prevailing side was too glib about postponing the election.
NNAMDIYou hear that, Jack? Go ahead, please.
MENDELSONAnd he heard it. The council was very clear in 2009, 2010 when the legislation went through to make the attorney general more independent and to have an amendment to the Home Rule Act that allowed for the election of the attorney general. And it was very clear that that election will be in 2014, not in 2010 because at the time, we thought Congress would have to amend the Home Rule Act and also because we didn't want it to look as just being a referendum all about the then attorney general.
MENDELSONSo four years, that's 2014, very clear. But now what we're hearing is that, well, the law says after Jan. 1, 2014, and therefore we can have it anytime. Anytime. Does anytime mean we'll do it in 2018, almost a decade after we passed the law? No. And I think that that was just a little bit too obnoxious clearing odors.
NNAMDIWell, clearly, the problem is that you cannot agree on exactly what powers this individual should have as a result of what's maybe...
MENDELSONThere is a disagreement over that, but that's not the problem.
MENDELSONIt is not the problem. The attorney general...
NNAMDICould it be the problem because there are no candidates for this position as...
NNAMDIIf I were thinking of running for this position, I would want to know exactly what my powers are going to be before I throw my hat in the ring if that is, as yet, undecided.
MENDELSONNot necessarily. That doesn't follow. That's kind of a self-generated argument, Kojo, with all due respect to you. You know, the attorney general is going to be the attorney general. And the attorney general is gonna be in charge...
NNAMDIWell, is he gonna have those 350 lawyers that the current attorney general have or are the individual departments of the government gonna have their own attorneys, and he'll have a different body of attorneys?
MENDELSONThis is Irv Nathan, the current attorney general's recommendation that the agency council, that is the attorneys who are in the agencies, should be separated from the attorney general's office and in the individual agencies reporting to the agency directors, and that the election should go forward in 2014.
NNAMDIThat would be a reduction of power for the attorney general.
MENDELSONBut some councilmembers have said, oh, that creates such uncertainties that how could anybody be attorney general until that's resolved? Well, Irv Nathan, the current attorney general, doesn't see a problem with having the election in 2014, and removing some agency council. And why would that matter? I don't get why that matters. Because, you know, the issue is whether the attorney general who's the chief legal officer is gonna be elected in 2014 or not. Not whether the attorney general has agency council under his or her jurisdiction.
SHERWOODOr will significantly affect the powers of the attorney general to act if the attorney general -- assistant attorney generals in the various -- attorneys general in the various agencies don't report to him or her, but report to the mayor.
MENDELSONI don't know that it's significantly.
SHERWOODWell, it is...
MENDELSONI mean, I think it's an important issue but the person...
NNAMDIIt sounds like a self-generated argument, Tom.
SHERWOODBut the CFO, for example, we have CFO officials in the agencies and they report to the CFO if...
SHERWOODAnd they work with the director.
MENDELSONYes. And that's the model we currently have with the agency council. But we are the agency council, which is just a portion of the business of the attorney general. As you know, Tom...
MENDELSON...the attorney general handles all defense of litigation for the city. That would continue. That's not an issue. Handles all proactive or affirmative litigation for the city, that would not change. Provides the legal guidance to the city, that would not change. Those are fundamental powers. Those are not an issue. So somebody puts in a bill that says, I wanna move the agency council and Department of Human Services from the attorney general to the mayor.
MENDELSONAnd now, all of a sudden, we can't -- nobody can run for the office 'cause there's huge uncertainty? That's a gross exaggeration. And that in turn -- and that could be resolved. But instead, what we're gonna do is we're gonna say we have to put off the election for four years?
MENDELSONThat doesn't make sense.
NNAMDIWill putting off the election for a few months is a rule change that you would favor and...
NNAMDI...candidate Muriel Bowser for mayor says that amounts to changing the rules in the middle of the game because you've bet the idea of pushing back D.C.'s primary elections from April to June of next year. Why do you feel it's necessary to move the date back? What chance do you think you have of making it happen? And what do you say to Muriel Bowser who says, look, there you go, changing the rules in the middle of the game?
MENDELSONWell, let me deal with the...
NNAMDIThat was not a self-generated argument, by the way.
MENDELSONOh, so close. What's the answer again? I don't know it's -- actually, I do have some -- I have a strong opinion on this. And I'll lead with this point, and that is the longer that people have to campaign, the less favorable it is to incumbents. And if listeners are out there thinking, well, gosh, the logical, you know, logical conclusion to what I'm just saying is that the incumbents would be against extending the primary because it's not in their interest, well, yeah, I think that's part of what's going on here. Also, very important in my view is that we are a one-party town. The person who wins the primary is the presumed winner of the general election.
MENDELSONAnd to have that presumption, a person who's been defeated or a person who has won on April 1st for nine months is that this is -- I think is gonna be very awkward.
SHERWOODIt sounds extraordinarily awkward because let's assume the mayor doesn't run again or he runs and he loses in the primary, and then he's the mayor from April 1st until January 2, 2014, right?
MENDELSONYes, exactly. I mean, I remember the discussion...
SHERWOODI mean, 2015.
MENDELSON...when in 2007, when there was no councilmember in wards 4 and 7, and people were saying, we shouldn't vote on the budget, we shouldn't vote on restructuring the schools until those seats were filled. Well, this is a variation of that argument. And that is, you know, Mr. Smith has just won the election, is representing ward whatever and -- but, we're gonna make decisions for nine months without Mr. Smith.
SHERWOODI just say a lot of (word?) there, but...
SHERWOODBut just the very fact that it's April 1st was a mistake. It was supposed to be the first Tuesday after the first Monday which would've been like April 8th. And I just -- if just as a body of officials who were some have gone to prison, and a city that gets on fairly in many cases who rang about how incompetent it is...
NNAMDIYou can't have an election on April Fools' Day.
SHERWOODI mean, it is self-defeating to have an April Fools election. It just sounds...
MENDELSONWell, also, it means I'm gonna be knocking on your door during Christmas dinner asking for you to sign my petition because the campaigns...
SHERWOODYes, starts after Thanksgiving, but I'm...
NNAMDIIt's not just the early part that Tom is objecting to. Tom is objecting to having it on that particular day, April Fools' Day.
SHERWOODYes. Not just...
MENDELSONThere are multiple reasons why this is a bad idea to have the primary...
SHERWOODBeing April -- I just -- April Fools and I'll just -- it makes it easy for me to write my newspaper column.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson is the chairman of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat. He joins us in studio.
NNAMDIAllow me to go back to the phones. There is Lee...
MENDELSONI don't know. It's too hot.
NNAMDI...in Washington, D.C. Lee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEEYes. First of all, I'd like to congratulate the council on their eight votes and hopes at least one other person will support the living wage. I really would urge the mayor to support the living wage. As Mendelson has pointed out, it's barely a living wage. And furthermore, people need to look at this Wal-Mart situation as well as the other major corporations. If you Google CEO compensation for a business, you would be amazed. I mean, I did that a couple of years ago with Rite-Aid and CVS, and I saw that the CVS CEO was getting about three or four times as much...
NNAMDIWell, Lee, you are talking to the chairperson of a council that has not been able or willing to pass legislation, not to accept contributions -- campaign contributions from said corporations. How do you, under one hand, say we are standing up to the corporations, and then on the other hand, councilmembers who are campaigning for office still are able to accept contributions from these same corporations?
MENDELSONWell, I think we're gonna do more this year -- this calendar year with regard to campaign finance. My approach towards the living wage bill was not about campaign contributions or hating corporations, not at all. So I don't link the two issues together at all. But I would add this, which is my own view. And that is that trying to control money in politics is very difficult. And if the control becomes too great, people go underground and that's nobody's interest. What is in everybody's interest is to encourage disclosure.
NNAMDITransparency, that Tom Sherwood mentioned.
MENDELSONSo, yes, we should regulate -- we should regulate contributions absolutely. and we do need to look more closely at conflicts with regard to contributions. But to simply prohibit contributions doesn't mean they will go away. It means...
MENDELSON...they are likely to go underground.
SHERWOODIt's like water, it just diverts. Let me ask -- I've got to ask this because Chicago -- we're replaying Chicago. In 2006, the 50-member council there voted 34 to 13 or something like that to have a $10-an-hour wage for big-box retailers. Richard M. Daley, the mayor, vetoed it. The Council was unable to override the veto. This past week, Chicago opened its ninth Wal-Mart store.
SHERWOODI went back and looked at the video, and Richard Daley said to the crowd who assembled as this was playing out, he said, why is it in the suburbs of Chicago when a Wal-Mart is open, the unions aren't standing there, the community leaders aren't standing there and you in the media aren't standing there saying what a horrible company it is, let's fight them to the tooth and nail and make them pay higher wages?
SHERWOODBut they'll let this big-box company come in to a city that needs the shopping experience, needs the jobs, needs to have pay, you yell and scream like we violated some horrible, moral law. What -- and I'm just wondering, there are Wal-Marts that surround us, and people go out in D.C. license tags and they've shopped in those stores and we're going to risk -- the city is going to a risk not making these developments in Skyland, in far out East Capitol Street and other places because of a battle of singling out Wal-Mart or big-box stores. What do you say to Mayor Daley?
MENDELSONWell, I don't know because I didn't see it.
SHERWOODI accurately reported it.
MENDELSONI know you very accurately reported it. Again, this is not about Wal-Mart. This is about Costcos...
MENDELSON...big box, yes, a Home Depot, Costco, Target, Whole Foods. Many of these companies were silent. I think some of them still are silent with regard to this. The issue, again, is is it about job creation, or is it about jobs that have a decent wage? And at 12.50 an hour, excluding benefits, that's barely a decent wage. And again, remember, that the -- what the legislation calls for is that 12.50 either is a wage or a combination of wage and benefits.
MENDELSONThat's what it's about. It's whether these jobs are jobs that pay enough or whether we're gonna support these employees through Medicaid and through food stamps and through other government assistance programs.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Phil Mendelson is the chairman of the D.C. Council. He is a Democrat. Chairman Mendelson, thank you so much for joining us.
MENDELSONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIBe safe and cool out there when you step back out into the above-90-degree temperatures.
SHERWOODAnd the mayor wants you to work on that bill and get it to him. So we could have a clash and another story for the summer.
NNAMDIYou're listening to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for the current newspapers. Tom Sherwood, going over to Maryland where there is a governor's race coming up, Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, has endorsed Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. Heather Mizeur, the delegate has launched her campaign.
NNAMDIWhere is Doug Gansler, the attorney general? We know he's going to enter the race. He's making all of the moves to formally announce. But he's not announced it yet. Apparently, he's expected to formally announce or he's planning to formally announce in September. But I think Anthony Brown has said, by then, buddy, I'll be long out of the gate and down the road.
SHERWOODWell, because people know the attorney general is running for governor and he has, well, I think the last time we checked, $5 million in the bank, he's prepared to run. I have not spoken directly to him. I've spoken to some people who support him, and they say there's no need to -- this is not summer stock theater.
SHERWOODI mean, this, you know, this is a specific campaign going into next year. People know he's running for governor. He's doing his job as attorney general. I guess he goes all around the state without being overtly political. And he can wait his time. Anthony Brown is doing exactly what you suggested. He's trying to make it appear that he's an inevitable candidate.
NNAMDIYup. I'm the frontrunner down the road and I'm...
SHERWOODAnd that, you know, there's some checkered history on whether that's a successful approach or not. So it's very interesting. You know, Heather Mizeur, did I say her name right, correct?
NNAMDIMizeur is how you pronounce it.
SHERWOODMizeur. You know, she's so little-known. She'll, I think, provide some interest in the campaign, but people who I've talked to in Maryland don't give her a big chance. But, you know, she'll liven up the race in some ways. And of course, there are some Republican candidates too.
NNAMDIAnother -- our next guest is one who has already endorsed Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. I'm saying that's a Prince George's County kind of thing. But Donna Edwards joins us by phone. She is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a Democrat from Maryland. Congresswoman Edwards, thank you for joining us.
REP. DONNA EDWARDSThank you very much. I was so intrigued by your other conversation. You all like conflict.
NNAMDIYes, we do indeed like conflict.
SHERWOODThe media -- no, the media abhors conflicts.
NNAMDISo tell us why you're supporting Anthony Brown as opposed to any of the other candidates.
EDWARDSWell, I have to tell you, I mean, I've been working really closely with the lieutenant governor over the last several years. I mean, we worked on a number of things together from health care to the BRAC re-organizing over around our defense installations and to issues like domestic violence and violence against women. And I really value his leadership. And I think that he is the right person for the state. And I'm just pleased to say I was, I think, the first of our elected officials to endorse him, and I'm glad everybody else is coming along. And I think we have an...
NNAMDIAnd if he wins, I'm sure you'll remind him about that.
EDWARDSWell, you know, the thing is we have an embarrassment of riches in Maryland, people who are incredibly talented, our lieutenant governor certainly, our Attorney General Gansler and Delegate Mizeur and others. But I think that Anthony Brown is the right person at the right time to carry the state forward.
EDWARDSI mean, he really has a vision about all of Marylanders doing better, not just some of us but all of us, make sure that this...
NNAMDIWell, he and you both were almost out of water this week because a lot of your constituents got a big scare when they were given news that their water was going to be turned off because a water main was on the verge of exploding. Crisis was averted and those residents are not going to have their water service shut down. But what does this episode reveal to you about the help of the public infrastructure in our region, and what, as a federal lawmaker, can you do to address any of those concerns?
EDWARDSWell, you're certainly talking my favorite subject, which is infrastructure and infrastructure investment. And I'm one of those residents. I live over in Oxon Hill, and I had two tubs full of water just waiting. And so I think that the fact is we've known this for a long time that both in Prince George's County in Maryland and across the country, we have an infrastructure investment deficit.
EDWARDSWe haven't spent on infrastructure. We're living on infrastructure from the early 20th century, and now it's falling apart. And if we don't make these investments both above ground and underground that really could put a lot of people back to work, we're gonna find ourselves behind other nations. And it's gonna impact our competitiveness, and it's certainly gonna impact our quality of life.
SHERWOODCounty Executive Rushern Baker has said that once this immediate concern -- initially a crisis but concern is over, he wants to look at the very thing you just said, how much infrastructure needs to be done. You know, the District of Columbia is spending $3 billion on its water system, and it handles sewage all the way out to Dulles airport. And it's working on replacing some bridges, two or three bridges, not just one.
SHERWOODIt just seems to be as an overwhelming thing that as far above the county executive or mayor or district level, this is really got to be a national re-investment thing. And I know there were some stimulus funds that were sent around the country to do a variety of projects, but it seemed to be a drop in the bucket.
EDWARDSWell, it is. I mean, it has been a drop in a bucket, and it's one of the complaints I have, frankly, about the Republican majority that just doesn't seem to understand that we have to make these investments because otherwise our nation is crumbling. And the fact is that we have to rewrite the Water Resources Development Act, which is the major way that we fund water infrastructure project around the country. And we have to do that not at sequester levels, not at flat funding levels but an investment levels.
EDWARDSEven in the region that covers WSSC in Prince George's and Montgomery County, we have a couple of billion dollars of infrastructure deficit. That is stuff that's gonna get us to a place where we then should start spending for the future. And so it's a real problem, all of these aging water main systems all across it. And it impacts our ground water, which means that it affects our water quality. It affects that the health of Chesapeake Bay. And so I think that we have to rewrite that act. We have to make major investment...
NNAMDIWhat do you think it will take to get your colleagues in Congress who are opposed to doing this at this point, who seems to value austerity over investment? What do you take -- what do you think it will take to convince them about that. One hates to say it, but a disaster?
EDWARDSWell, you know, I'm a pragmatist, and I believe -- and I also believe in politics. And frankly, I think that when Democrats were in control of the Congress, we actually started making this infrastructure investments. We did that in part through the Stimulus Act. Even at a time when, you know, we are under, you know, through a great constraint financially in the economy, when you make investments like that, it's about the future. And so can we convince our colleagues about that?
EDWARDSI'm not so sure about that, given the debates that we've been having these days. But I do know that it takes 18 more Democrats to be in the Congress to make sure that I can really convince them.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODCan I bring her into our Wal-Mart discussion?
SHERWOODDo you have -- I believe you have Wal-Marts in your District, don't you, Congresswoman?
EDWARDSThat is a really good question. I think so.
SHERWOODI don't know. Well, we know they're in the suburbs.
NNAMDIThere's a Wall-Mart on Annapolis Road.
SHERWOODWell, what do you think of the fight in the city about having one wage for big-box retailers compared to the minimum wage in the city, $4.25 less? I think I understand the need to have living wages and -- but is this singling out business? Or how do you -- how would you go about this? I don't see any effort for a living wage for big-box retailers in the suburbs.
EDWARDSNo. I mean, I wouldn't necessarily single out a particular retailer, but I will tell you that when people are making a minimum wage that requires them to work two and three jobs to take care of themselves and their families, or they're making a minimum wage working in a Wal-Mart or wherever it is that they're working and then they have to depend on federal and state subsidy and Medicaid for health care because they don't receive benefits or they can't pay for child care or they can't be for transportation to their job, the rest of us are paying for that anyway.
EDWARDSAnd so I think that, you know, employers really should be paying a living wage. And at a minimum, in the Congress, I know that I have been -- I'm on a bill already to raise the minimum wage...
NNAMDIToday. You're joining the -- yeah.
EDWARDS...to include tip wages in that because tip wages haven't been raised in 30 years and to tie it to inflation so that we don't have to keep having this debate.
NNAMDIToday, you're joining Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and several others to launch an economic agenda for American women and families. Talk about that. Why is this a necessary move for you, and what are the fundamental things that this agenda is calling for?
EDWARDSWell, in my District and across the country, women make up more than half of the workforce. And in many cases, 40 percent of women are the primary breadwinners for their families. And so we need an economic agenda that recognizes the economic fight that women face. When we're still being paid only 77 cents on a dollar, it means that for a family, it's depriving you a quarter of your income because you're not being paid fairly. You can't save for your retirement in the same way.
EDWARDSAnd so we've launched a Women's Economic Agenda because we believe that when women succeed, America succeeds, families succeed. And that includes fair wages in the workplace. I mean, why should I work alongside somebody who has the same skill level, same education and be paid less than them? Making sure that there's a work-family balance, that were investing in women-owned businesses, things like child care. Child care still constraints families because it's not available, it's not affordable, it's not accessible. And we need to change that dynamic.
SHERWOODOn the same economic issues, bring us up to date on what's happening with attracting the FBI to Prince George's County.
EDWARDSWell, we're still working on it, and we're still in the hunt. And so that's a good thing. I think that Prince George's County -- collectively, those of us who are in the Congress, Mr. Hoyer, myself, our two senators, our county executives, our county council, we have -- and our business community, all on the same page about this. I think already they've made a response to the General Services Administration initially that it's going to be incredibly competitive.
EDWARDSAnd when the perspective comes out, I think Prince George's County is going to put its best foot forward, do what we need to do as a county to ensure that we get the FBI. And we've never been in a better position than we are now.
SHERWOODAnd the FBI pays good wages, right?
EDWARDSWell, they do, and they're gonna bring about 11,000 employees out to Prince George's County. And we will be able to have a real economic development engine at that location. In addition to that, though, Tom, the General Services Administration and WMATA have entered into an agreement about transit-oriented development, which is actually gonna expand development opportunities around all those Metro stops at Prince George's County.
SHERWOODWell, I'll just say I hope that whatever building they build, if they build it in your district and your county, that is not as ugly or as inaccessible as the ATF building in the city of Washington, which is...
NNAMDIThat is not possible.
SHERWOODIt's the Waffle House, hideous.
NNAMDIIt's not possible.
EDWARDSWell, what we do know is that they're looking for a campus-like setting. And so that spilled good news, I think, for all of us. But I'm excited about this. I spend a lot of time on my transportation committee just job owning the GSA, and now the FBI, to try to ensure that we put ourselves in a good position.
SHERWOODOK. Well, just -- if they don't wall themselves off like building an Air Force base in other places, you'll be in good shape.
NNAMDIHere is Perry in Brunswick, Md. Perry, you're on the air. We're running out of time, though. Go ahead, please.
PERRYI'll keep it brief, Kojo. The congresswoman -- thank you, Congresswoman, for your -- thank you for her comments. She's absolutely correct about her colleagues in the Congress. All I wanna do, Kojo, is quote to you from the commerce clause of the Confederate Constitution. The -- it's clause three. To regulate commerce -- Congress still have the power, of course, to regulate commerce.
PERRY"But neither this, nor any other clause contained in the constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce." Semicolon.
NNAMDINo infrastructure improvement. That's the Congress you have today. Among your colleagues is what Perry seems to be saying, Congresswoman Edwards.
SHERWOODWhat about -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
EDWARDSWell, I would -- I mean, I would just say to you, I mean, if you -- we have 55,000 bridges that are about to fall apart today. We -- our roads are in disrepair. We haven't made investments in our rail system. Our water infrastructure, we know, is falling apart. All the stuff that we built in the late 19th and early 20th century, falling apart in the 21st century because we're not holding up our end of the bargain.
NNAMDII was not here last week, but it is my understanding that while I was gone, Tom Sherwood and WAMU 88.5's Patrick Madden brought up your proposal to put a national park on the moon. So now that you're here, we thought it would be only fair to have you explain what you'd like to do. What do you say to the person who hears this idea and thinks it, well, crazy?
SHERWOODAnd also, there's an international treaty. It says no one can claim the moon.
EDWARDSWell, I wished you would have asked me about it because let me tell you what it is. It is true, there are international treaties that govern what it is that we can do in space. But we are asking actually UNESCO to designate the sites of like five Apollo landing as world heritage sites within the constraints of international treaties. But more than that, there is equipment and there are items that have been left on the moon from our Apollo missions. And now we have a robust commercial space industry, and other nations are deciding that they are gonna go to the moon.
EDWARDSWhat we want to make sure is that there isn't really a gap. And this is a recommendation that actually came from NASA and from our space researchers. We wanna make sure that there's not a gap that would allow those material to be disturbed. And the reason is because there's no atmosphere on the moon. And so, for example, he landed at the Apollo site, it would just go out into the ether. We actually still have equipment on the moon that's transmitting longitudinal data for us in terms that...
NNAMDIAnd we want to see that equipment replaced there. If you see them replaced by a bunch of vodka bottles, it won't make anybody very healthy.
EDWARDSWell, so it's not as crazy as it sounds...
SHERWOODOh, we didn't think it was crazy. We thought it was kind of fun.
NNAMDIDonna Edwards is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She's a Democrat from Maryland. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Always a pleasure.
SHERWOODIt's too hot.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. Try to stay cool. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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