We talk with a long-time mental health service provider who works with vulnerable citizens about the state of mental health care, progress made in recent years and the way forward.
D.C. lawmakers pass a living wage bill to the city’s mayor, who now faces a deadline on whether to veto or sign the measure. A revived debate about the minimum wage begins in Maryland. And reports surface about tension between the Virginia GOP’s candidate for lieutenant governor and party leadership. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Bobby Scott Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Va., 3rd District)
- Muriel Bowser Democratic Candidate, Mayor of the District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 4); Chair, Committee on Economic Development
- Mike DeBonis Reporter, The Washington Post
Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council member and candidate for mayor, explains why she opposes a living wage bill that would require large retailers like Wal-Mart to pay higher wages. “I made very clear at the time that I voted on this bill that I just thought it was a policy that actually would have a perverse impact,” she said. If Mayor Vincent Gray signs the bill, Bowser says retailers and retail spending will leave D.C. for the suburbs.
Play The Politics Hour News Quiz
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, guest starring Mike DeBonis. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Mike DeBonis is our guest star resident analyst today. He's a reporter for The Washington Post. Tom Sherwood is on vacation. He will presumably be back next week. Mike DeBonis, good to see you.
MR. MIKE DEBONISHey, thanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDILet's begin the conversation by talking about our guest who was on this broadcast last week -- Councilmember Jack Evans. I was not here, but I do not know whether they discussed some of the issues having to do with constituent funds that Councilmember Jack Evans is facing that you reported on this week.
DEBONISNo, that did not come up. That did not come up till this week, although I believe during the program, the Associated Press moved in another story that involved Councilmember Evans, which I'll mention Ben Nuckols reported that the ethics board had asked a couple of questions about allegations by an ANC member that said that he had improperly intervened in an alley closing because of his -- he made some deal with George Washington University about his mayoral campaign.
DEBONISWell, I talked to somebody else involved in that conversation who said that that never happened, that it's not clear that the ethics board is really pursuing this. But at the board of elections meeting this week, the top lawyer for the Office of Campaign Finance gave a status report, and one of the things he mentioned was that they had -- are looking into some donations that his constituent service fund accepted. The councilmember told me he hadn't heard anything about it, and he said if they find anything wrong, we'd be happy to send the check back.
NNAMDIConstituent funds is an issue that we'll be discussing when we get to our conversation with our first guest. But before we go there, I'd like to go to the decision that has been made by D.C. activist Adam Eidinger, who apparently had legislation that he was proposing, a decriminalization proposal for marijuana. But apparently D.C. Atty. Gen. Irvin Nathan objected to it, and so Adam has decided to withdraw that, and what he's going to propose will be legislation to legalize marijuana.
DEBONISRight. You know, right now in the District of Columbia, for the first time in, I believe, over 70 years, you can legally buy marijuana, but you have to be suffering from a disease, and you have to get a recommendation from a doctor under the District's medical marijuana program. And there are activists like Adam Eidinger and a lot of other folks who believe that marijuana laws in the city should be liberalized further for people who wanna use it recreationally.
DEBONISAnd one thing that they're looking at is to decriminalize marijuana, which a lot of cities have done in some states where you basically turn the possession of a small amount of marijuana into a civil infraction akin to a traffic ticket rather than a misdemeanor crime.
NNAMDIBut the attorney general had some problems with that.
DEBONISYeah. Now, the attorney general didn't have a problem necessarily with the concept of decriminalizing marijuana. What he had a problem with is did it follow the laws for a ballot initiative? And there are certain things you can do with a ballot initiative and certain things you can't do with a ballot initiative. One of the things you can't do is spend taxpayer money. You can't obligate funds.
DEBONISAnd the attorney general said that the way it was written, it obligated funds, and he couldn't sign off on it. He also raised concerns that, you know, it is still illegal, a federal crime to possess marijuana. And, you know, he's not aware of any other law or initiative that basically directs the police not to enforce federal law. So...
NNAMDIWell, in the states of Colorado and Washington...
NNAMDI...the attorney general's office has indicated that they will not be pursuing that federal law in those states, so presumably they wouldn't in the District of Columbia either. But then, of course, this is the District of Columbia.
DEBONISRight. That's right. So with that new guidance from the Justice Department, I think people are feeling a little more comfortable with the fact that, you know, the feds are, for the time being, not going to intervene in a heavy-handed way into local marijuana laws. So, now, Mr. Eidinger is gonna go back to the drawing board, rewrite his initiative to make it more acceptable for the elections board.
NNAMDIAnd if he rewrites it as a -- so that it can become legalized in the District of Columbia, that would be, in a way, stepping up his game. But I'd like to move on to the Red Line because it's been reported in The Washington Post this week that there is consideration at Metro in order to try to stop leaks that have been plaguing the Red Line for a while, that a long-term fix may require some closure for weeks of the Red Line between Friendship Heights and Medical Center.
NNAMDIThe mere mention of that will drive a lot of Red Line riders crazy as it is. But if they intend to do this in the long term, it looks as if at some point, they're going to have to do this.
DEBONISRight. Basically the situation is you have a section of tunnel on the Red Line, the busiest part of the busiest line in the Metro system that is leaking. It's not a -- an immediate problem. There's no danger, the engineers say, that the tunnel is gonna collapse and -- at any moment, but it requires ongoing maintenance. It requires removing mud and muck and water on a regular basis, and it's expensive, and it's time-consuming and inefficient.
DEBONISAnd they believe the final, the best fix is to shut down the line for several weeks, put in a new liner and go from there. But shutting down the most -- the busiest line, the busiest part of the busiest line for several weeks is just -- people just can't seem to process how the region would deal with that.
NNAMDIYou know any Metro board member that we might be able to ask about that?
DEBONISHmm. Oh, oh. A D.C. councilmember I know who is on the Metro Board, Muriel Bowser.
DEBONISOh, here she is.
COUNCILMEMBER MURIEL BOWSERKojo Nnamdi...
NNAMDILet's see if we can find Muriel Bowser.
BOWSER...good to see you.
NNAMDIOh, she's here, sitting in the room with us. Muriel Bowser is a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. She's a member of the D.C. Council. She represents Ward 4. She chairs the Council's Committee on Economic Development, and as Mike DeBonis mentioned, she's a member of the Metro Board. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
BOWSEROh, thank you, Kojo, and thank you for -- thank you all. And I wanna thank the Post for the coverage they have of a very complicated issue.
DEBONISI wanna -- let me just say -- I have to -- because Tom isn't here, I have to, you know, note that one of his colleagues, Adam Tuss at Channel 4, did first report on this story. Dana Hedgpeth did a really nice comprehensive piece on it today.
NNAMDIWhat is your thinking about it, Councilmember Bowser?
BOWSERWell, our thinking is, I think you -- this situation with the Red Line, not only the busiest section on the busiest line, but also the oldest line, and it speaks to a problem that the board has been trying to grapple with, certainly over the last year-and-a-half that I've been serving on the board. And that is how are we dealing with some decisions that have been put off for many years that are now ripe to be dealt with?
BOWSERI think it was reported -- and certainly we've been briefed -- that this -- the board was confronted with this issue 10 years ago. Ten years ago, there was -- you know, it was a punt. We'll just come up with Band-Aid solutions to the issue. We send a crew down there to pull mud and muck out of the system. We know that the mud and muck that collects in the system is gonna have long-term damage.
BOWSERSo I think it's also true that there are a lot of possible solutions on the table. What the board's focus is is safety first, of course. How are we gonna make sure that the rail is safe for our crew and our passengers? But also, how are we gonna get to the best, most cost-effective and least disruptive solutions? So I won't tell you that it's not uncomplicated. We have a lot of people who are talking to us about the geology that surrounds this question and the engineers around how the railroad can get through with it. And we expect the staff to come to the board with some recommendations in the next five to six months.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation with Councilmember Bowser, give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike, I interrupted you.
DEBONISNo. No problem. You mentioned you're looking for the best, the most cost-effective and least disruptive solution. Can you, in your own mind, rank those three things, what you're gonna be looking for?
BOWSERWell, I want the solution that's gonna be the most long-lasting and we can get to the fastest. Now, we've grapple with, quite frankly, the weekend closure question. And our staff has pushed hard on saying that if we close down for the weekend, we're gonna be able to get to the state of good repairs sooner than if we only do it in the time that the railroad is out of service on a daily basis.
BOWSERSo it's the same kind of question. This question may be different for the Red Line because -- on the section that we're talking about because you may not be able to even get to the repairs during the nighttime hours when the rail is not running. Keep in mind that we have to mobilize staff so that they can approach these rails safely. They have to do the work, and then they have to have the railroad back up and running for the next day's commute.
BOWSERSo all of those things are factored in, but this is what we've learned from closing down on weekends. It has dramatically affected the ability for our passengers to rely on the system. Some of them have opted out of the system entirely, and that's not a good thing long term for Metro. It's not a good thing long term for the region. So I -- and I think the staff and all of the board -- approach this with great gravity.
BOWSERShutting down that portion of the system is tremendous. We even noticed when we shut down one of the escalators at Dupont Circle that had to be repaired, there was an impact on the surrounding businesses. So these are big questions. But keep in mind that this story -- and I was pleased to read, the time that was devoted to this story for all to read -- that delaying a decision for 10 years has put us in this position. Delaying it for 10 more would be unacceptable.
NNAMDIWe're talking with D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser. She's a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. She represents Ward 4. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Democratic congressman Bobby Scott. So if you have Syria on your mind, you might wanna join us when that conversation comes along. For the time being, if you wanna talk with Councilmember Bowser, the number is 800-433-8850, or you can send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
NNAMDICouncilmember Bowser, all eyes are on the mayor this week, who's on deadline to -- as to whether or not to sign legislation the Council passed earlier this year that would require large retailers like Wal-Mart to pay higher wages. This is a bill that you voted against when it was before the Council. Why did you vote that way, and what would you now encourage Mayor Vincent Gray to do?
BOWSERWell, first, I think we all, as residents of the District of Columbia, deserve a decision. This has been kind of swinging in the breeze for far too long, kind of a footsie, if you will, between the Council and the mayor. I made very clear at the time that I voted on this bill that I just thought it was a policy that actually would have a perverse impact. The idea that the proponents raise is that it's gonna raise incomes for a substantial number of D.C. residents when, in fact, I'm very concerned that what it will do is drive retailers out of the District of Columbia and drive all of our retail spending along with it.
BOWSERAlready we leak $1 billion, I think is the number, of our retail spending to our Maryland and Virginia suburbs. You know that, Kojo. You drive up to Silver Spring. You see your neighbors spending money in Silver Spring. What is important for us is that we are able to offer and fill that retail void in the District of Columbia while creating jobs in the District of Columbia. So I haven't been able to support this effort to really a substantial increase in our minimum wage that will put us dramatically far apart from our neighbors in Maryland and Virginia.
NNAMDIWill you stop stalking me when I go to Silver Spring? Mike DeBonis reported this summer -- I did run into her in Silver Spring -- Mike DeBonis reported this summer that you met with representatives from Wegmans earlier this year who brought up concerns about the bill. Wegmans has been looking at the Walter Reed site, which is practically adjoining my property, as a potential D.C. location. What were the specific concerns that Wegmans mentioned or talked about with you?
BOWSERWell, Wegmans was interested largely in, you know -- I participate in the large -- the retailers conference that's held annually in Las Vegas. And I hadn't been in a couple of years, but I had -- was able to go to the most recent one, and they want to know how fast is Walter Reed gonna be ready and what's going on with this large retailer bill. And it speaks to the point that when we talk about changing our business rules to get at Wal-Mart, it also affects our ability to attract other retailers like Wegmans, like Lowe's.
BOWSERAnd in four years, if this bill is to stay in effect, we're gonna hear from a lot of current large retailers like Macy's and like Lord & Taylors. You don't hear from them now because it doesn't affect them now. But I promise you, in four years, they will be down at the Council trying to make sure that they can stay competitive and stay in the District of Columbia. Do you know how hard it is for us to keep a department store in downtown?
DEBONISLet me ask you, did Wegmans give you a categorical if this bill becomes law, we are not going to come to Walter Reed, we're not going to come to D.C.?
BOWSERI'm not aware of anybody making that statement except Wal-Mart.
DEBONISOK. Can you -- tell me what you think of where -- what position the mayor is in right now. You know, he's been aware of this debate, going back months. The Council passed this bill on second reading on July 10. He received the bill 50 days later, which was last Friday, and now he's had it in his possession now for a week. Do you think that it's proper and prudent of him to take all -- take this time to weigh the various sides and, you know, come to a decision and be very deliberative about it?
DEBONISOr do you think that that's been a disservice, that he should have figured out what this bill was about many weeks or months ago and announced then and there what his intentions were?
BOWSERIf it were me, if I was in that position, I think I would have used every avenue that I had to prevent this bill from becoming law in the first place, from being approved by the Council on two votes. Here's the problem, Mike. I think a lot of damage has already been done. What we've done is sent the message to the business community that we have a very unpredictable business environment in the District of Columbia.
BOWSERWhat we've done is said, this may be the law and we're gonna pass this today, but what else might the City Council and mayor do? I think when you have an 8-5 vote and you're the mayor of the District of Columbia, if you don't want a law to pass, you should use every resource available to you to prevent it. Now, let's talk about this gap over the summer and why we haven't heard anything. What people tell me around the city is that nobody is saying anything. Who's talking about this? Where's the leadership?
BOWSERSo if the chairman of the Council wants to hold the bill back, there's nothing stopping the mayor from saying, this is what I believe. This is what should happen. And this is the impact that I think that this policy will have on my constituents. Now, certainly, I think that the residents of Ward 7 are gonna be in particularly impacted if the development at Skyland doesn't move forward.
BOWSERWe have, certainly in our ward, big concerns as well about a development at Georgia Avenue that's virtually complete. And the store might even be ready to open by the Holidays.
DEBONISYou -- go ahead, Kojo.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt for a second because if your concern is about whether this bill could dampen development in retail-starved neighborhoods like where Skyland is proposed to be, what do you say to people who say, well, don't people in those neighborhoods also need decent-paying jobs? Do you think that nothing at all should be done to improve wages in the District of Columbia? We'd just simply go along with the minimum wage and that's it?
BOWSERI do think something needs to be done about improving wages all across our country. Our national minimum wage is only 7.25. Our wage in the District is already $1 over the national wage. I encourage that conversation not only in our city but in our surrounding jurisdictions as well. Here's the thing, Kojo. When we are -- when we have a business climate -- and so wages and any other things -- that are so different from our counterparts in the surrounding jurisdictions, we put our city -- we're just a little city.
BOWSERIt's very easy four our residents to go across the border to shop, and it's very easy for Maryland and Virginia residents to come across the lines to work in the District of Columbia, such that two-thirds of our population doesn't live here that works here. So it's important that as we think about all of our business rules, we should think about how we should be more competitive.
DEBONISTalk a little bit more about your feelings on the minimum wage generally. Now, are you saying that you -- I understand you to say that the federal nationwide minimum wage should be higher. But do you think that if we can't get action on that at the federal level that at the District level we should look at raising the minimum wage for our workers here?
BOWSERI think we have room to do that, Mike, for sure. But I don't think any of us should be fooled to think that if we raise our minimum wage by $1 or $2 that we've solved the problem of closing the income gap in the District of Columbia. We have a larger problem than that.
BOWSERIf we want people to be able to afford to live and work here and raise their families here in the District of Columbia, we need to refocus our attention or how we're going to increase skills, how we're gonna increase our public schools, how we're gonna increase our workforce training in our university and our community college, how were gonna help people who have offended and are returning to the District of Columbia get jobs, how we're gonna help people that are on our public assistance programs get better-paying jobs and opportunities. That's the answer to the question. I don't want anybody to think that...
NNAMDIAnd so while you're prepared to have a conversation about raising the minimum wage and maybe even have a conversation about a living wage that does not, in the view of some people, isolate Wal-Mart, you're saying that that would not be your priority.
BOWSERNo. What I'm saying is that would not be the answer. If the solution that we're trying to solve is to make it easier for more people to be able to afford to pay rent, to buy homes and to raise their families in the District of Columbia, it's bigger than a one or two or even a $4 increase in the minimum wage at Wal-Mart.
DEBONISWell, I think it's fair to say that it's very rare that the D.C. Council gets to take a vote on something that we can consider the final answer on anything. But it's quite likely that at some point in the coming months, the Council might take up a minimum wage bill. And would you support particularly a proposal that's already in the Council hopper that would put the city's minimum wage over $10?
BOWSERI would certainly be a active part of the conversation, and we will hear from all of our stakeholders, and I will vote accordingly, just as how I decide on how I vote on almost every bill. Well...
NNAMDIAllow me to go -- go ahead.
BOWSERWell, what is impact and how will it help the most people in D.C.? And if I fall down on the side of this is gonna help the most people, that's the way I'm gonna vote.
NNAMDILet's start with Anne in Bethesda, Md. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Please put on your headphones, Councilmember Bowser. Anne, go ahead, please.
ANNEI'd like to say two things to the councilmember. One is hundreds of residents of Ward 7 have signed petitions saying to the mayor, sign the living wage bill. So whoever was out there talking to the residents got their view and it doesn't match the council members.
NNAMDIWell, you seem to be implying, Anne, that the hundreds of petitions represent a majority of the residents of Ward 7. Is that what, in fact, you're saying?
ANNENo. What I'm saying is those who have spoken have said, sign the bill. If the mayor should've been out there or Councilmember Bowser should've been out there getting them to sign petitions saying, veto the bill, they weren't and they didn't. So those residents we've heard from has said, sign the bill.
BOWSERWell, I actually talked one-on-one with the residents of Ward 7 on several days a week on their front doors. And what I hear from the residents is that they are tired of having to leave their neighborhood to have access to goods. What I hear from the residents is that they're tired of talking about the redevelopment of Skyland. Let's pause on Skyland for a second. It has been a economic development priority for D.C. for almost two decades.
BOWSERWe have spent nearly $30 million and used the power of eminent domain to secure that parcel for the purpose of economic development. And, yes, we in the District can decide we don't want to move forward with that. The developer is saying they need a large credit retail tenant to move forward with that. But let's be reminded, we will be left with a $30 million parcel and the need to find something to do with it.
BOWSERSo I appreciate Anne's question, and I invite her to continue to talk to us about it. But be assured that I talked to residents directly on a daily basis at their doorsteps.
NNAMDIAnne, thank you for your call. Another listener on this issue is Peter in Washington, D.C. Peter, your turn.
PETERHi, councilwoman. With all due respect, I just wanted to counter some points that you echoed from Wal-Mart's PR guy Steven Restivo. First, in Santa Fe, there are two Wal-Marts. They just built a Wal-Mart, and they pay 10.50. Wal-Mart promised the reverend $13, and we're just trying to ensure that promise.
PETERAnd finally, we've heard from -- at our office from Safeway owners and other owners of small businesses that say Wal-Mart's actually hurt jobs because they drive wages down and that means either they have to give less -- a lower wage than other business when Wal-Mart comes to town or they have to shut down. So how do you respond to the fact that Wal-Mart can pay a living wage in Santa Fe in San Francisco but not D.C., that they're going to act on a promise to reverend?
PETERAnd that Wal-Mart is actually hurting wages and other businesses and driving other businesses out of the neighborhood if you don't ensure that they get good wages?
BOWSERWell, actually, I represent an area where the businesses that are adjacent to where the Wal-Mart would be built are anxious for it to open. They see the biggest threat to their business is not having customers and not having investment on the corridor. What I have seen actually since it was even announced that that Wal-Mart would open there is that the other businesses like Safeway -- and let me just tell you, not everybody is happy with the way Safeway has operated in our neighborhoods.
BOWSERThey've been slow to rebuild their stores. They've had poor customer service. They've had poor selection. But since we knew that the store was coming, lo and behold, they decided to rebuild their store that was the oldest in our region, and they're investing millions of dollars in the one that's coming to it. I can't speak to any promises that were made to -- I don't know who the reverend is that you're referring to on your statement.
BOWSERBut these have been the conversations that I'm aware of, and what the mayor secured in an agreement with them is that they would offer competitive wages, and they cited the wages that they were offering nearby in their Alexandria store, which I think were north of $9 and averaged -- average, not started -- at $12.
NNAMDIPeter, thank you very much for your call. Our guest is Muriel Bowser, Democratic candidate for mayor of the District and member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 4. She chairs the Council's committee on economic development. Our guest analyst -- resident analyst is Mike DeBonis. He's a reporter for The Washington Post. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Councilmember Bowser, the city is about to begin in earnest a debate about a proposal for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point.
NNAMDIThat deal would involve public investment and infrastructure and a complicated series of land swaps to obtain the land. To build the stadium, including the transfer of the Reeves Center at 14th and U Street's Northwest to a commercial developer. You've had some time now to study this proposal. Do you think looking at the original blueprint that it's a good deal for D.C. residents?
BOWSEROne of my -- first, let me say this. We at big cities have big sports teams and we go after the Olympics, and we do all of the things that we expect to have in a major city and a certainly a major metropolitan area. So that's why I say that we've had D.C. United. They've been good neighbors. They've been a good team. And I think that keeping D.C. United in the District of Columbia warrants a very thoughtful conversation.
BOWSERFor me, however, it doesn't mean that it has to be fast. I understand that the terms of this deal means that the council would vote by the end of the year or the beginning of the year, which I have some concerns about. I want to make sure that if we are to sell the Reeves Center or any other public buildings, that we're getting the best price for them. And one might argue that you get the best price by putting it out on the open market and see what its worth to everybody else.
BOWSERWhat this deal says is, you own some land over here. I have a really, really whopping beautiful piece of land at 14th and U Street. Let's trade. Well, that doesn't tell me that we've got the most that we could get out of the Reeves Center. And also, people have some sentimental attachment to that building, and I think as part of our public property debate, that we should make sure that we are using that space if we are to sell the building for the best public good.
BOWSERLastly and most importantly, I think that we have to have a conversation about priorities. People like sports teams. We know that this team will have 17 games a year. We know that there's always the age-old debate about what do public funded stadiums really reap in terms of economic benefits. We've learned from the Nationals that, you know, those economic benefits might be long in coming, but the psychic -- the feel-good benefits when you have a winning team are fantastic.
BOWSERSo it is incumbent upon us as legislators and as people who would commit $150 million of tax, at least, of taxpayer funds to make sure we know what those economic benefits are. Who's gonna bear the costs? And have an honest conversation with our taxpayers.
BOWSERBut let me say, before I move there, my major concern is how are we dealing with our other priorities?
BOWSERAnd so you can't say to people, we're gonna build -- we're gonna give $150 million, yet we -- where are we with our affordable housing goals? Or where are we with our public education goals, which is still the number one item on people's minds? We still have a lot of capital investment to do all across the city. And so we're gonna have to stay focused on that question as well.
DEBONISWell, let me ask you, councilmember, as chair of the economic development committee, from the economic development perspective, you're familiar with Buzzard Point?
DEBONISBuzzard Point is a pretty godforsaken sort of not very activated, not very high -- it is not at its highest and best use (unintelligible)
BOWSERMy God has forsaken no part of the District of Columbia.
DEBONISOK. Excuse me. I'm sorry. But I would say that -- you would agree that a scrap yard or a...
BOWSERYes. It needs to be improved.
DEBONISOr a substation. And, you know, this is the land that is in very close proximity as the crow flies to the Capitol, to very, you know, places where people wanna be and people are. And do you believe that the soccer stadium could be used? And there is that possibility that it could kick start and start some of the private development that we've seen in other parts of the city? Or do you do not believe that that is necessarily the case?
BOWSERNo. I generally believe when you invest $150 million or $300 million that you should expect some spinoff from it. It's not necessarily the case that it will be immediate. I do -- I would agree if your argument is but for that investment, we might not see anything at Buzzard Point for years to come. I do think it's gonna require a lot of investment to kick start that area. Now, you talk about some of the uses that are there currently. Don't poo-poo that because that's significant...
BOWSER...because every city has to have electricity.
BOWSEREvery city needs water and sewer treatment. Every city needs bus garages.
DEBONISAnd scrap yards, recycling.
BOWSERAnd scrap yards. And they have to go somewhere, OK?
BOWSERAnd so -- and I got...
DEBONISAnd not in Ward 4?
BOWSERWell, we have our share of what it needs to take for the city, but, you know, I'm trying to represent all the wards. And so this is why it's important that when we have these discussions -- because it's good when you talk about a nice, shiny stadium and then leave it to two years from now to talk about who's gonna take the substation or who's gonna take the water treatment facility or who's gonna take the clubs that nobody wants.
BOWSERSo it's important that we keep in mind -- that's not to say that they're impossible hurdles, but we have to be thoughtful about how those things get moved...
BOWSER...and where they're gonna go.
DEBONISAnd then on the side of the city investment, the $150 million. We've already seen the sort of the outlines of the opposition of the objections to what this could look like. Earlier this week, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute put up a blog post where they made a suggestion that, you know, if the city is going to engage in this deal, that we need a hard cost cap in a way that we didn't see with the ballpark. The ballpark, as you recall, there was a cost cap on the actual construction cost of the stadium.
DEBONISBut the cost of the land acquisition weren't capped, and they ended up being, you know, I believe twice what they were originally estimated. So is that something you're gonna look for in a final deal that there is some certainty?
BOWSERWell, that's what happens when a government says they're gonna come around and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. All of a sudden, everybody thinks that they, you know, they own the Taj Mahal or the vacant land where the Taj Mahal would be. And so that's, you know, with these things happen.
BOWSERSo I do think it's important to have guardrails, but don't lose the question about what we're gonna do about our existing priorities because I assure you that the voters and taxpayers of the District of Columbia are gonna wanna know -- how can they make sure that their children's education is ensured and not whether we're building a new stadium.
DEBONISBut do you accept the proposition that if you build a soccer stadium, you create economic development down there? That throws off continuing funds in terms of tax revenues, in terms of new residents perhaps in residential development down there that fund all of those other priorities.
DEBONISI mean, is that something that you accept?
BOWSERDo you accept that it's never really been shown the economic impact of a publicly funded stadium that would, say, charge ahead Bowser, charge ahead D.C. taxpayers?
NNAMDIThat's an ongoing debate around...
NNAMDI...the nation even as we speak.
BOWSERSo show me the hard numbers or even the estimates that we can believe in, and I think that makes you argument very strong.
NNAMDIWe do have to move on...
NNAMDI...to the issues of ethics. We'll go to Clinton in Washington, D.C. Clinton, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLINTON YATESWhat's going on, Kojo? Mike, Muriel, how are you?
NNAMDIOh, wait a minute. This is Clinton Yates of The Washington Post.
NNAMDII have to check our regulations to see if we allow...
DEBONISTwo Posties at the same time?
NNAMDI...two reporters from the same paper on the same show. Well, the regulation say, oh, only if it's Clinton Yates. Go ahead, please.
YATESVery well. Thank you. Muriel, the cloud of corruption is something that is still the A1 issue for most people that are running for mayor or any sort of elected office in the District. On the campaign trail, how have you been dealing with winning people's trust back on a basic level of telling them that you are not going to steal from them?
BOWSERWell, I just ask them to look at my record, Clinton. I've been on the City Council for -- I know people don't like it when I say City Council, but you know what I mean. I've been on the Council of the District of Columbia...
BOWSER...for six years, and I promised the residents of Ward 4 that we do certain things. We focus on schools, development jobs, public safety in their neighborhoods, and that we will go down to the Council and pass laws that makes sense for D.C. So I'm actually very proud, and we've talked about it on your show that I crafted a robust ethics reform legislation. We created a board of ethics and government accountability, and everybody said to me, Muriel, it's not enough. They won't do anything. Well, in fact, they're doing a lot.
BOWSERWe have changed, with the creation of apolitical board, the expectation that the board would act fairly, openly and swiftly, and that everybody, whether they are employees or they're public officials, would be held accountable. So I talk to the voters also, Clinton, about my open government initiatives and how we've made sure that we've open meetings, and there are still more to do to make the government more open and transparent.
BOWSERBut mostly, I tell them this, we have a lot of great things going on in our city and a lot of things that we should be proud of. And now, we owe it to them to regain their trust and make them proud of their city.
NNAMDISpecifically, Mike DeBonis reported yesterday that donations to the constituent service fund of your colleague Jack Evans are under investigation. We talked about it earlier. Regardless of how this particular probe plays out, a lot of people feel these funds are basically slush funds for council members and should be done away with anyway. What do you say to that?
BOWSERWell, we've had a long conversation about that, and we -- what I did was tighten the roles around the constituent services fund to make it clear. Before our ethics reform legislation was passed, there were very few, even recommended uses for constituent funds. So we made that very clear. Unfortunately, on the dais when we were making those laws, there was an amendment and an exception made that would continue to allow for the purchase of sports tickets.
BOWSERBut here's what I think, Kojo. I represent 75,000 people. I've been elected three times, and I think that they trust me to make decisions about how to support emergency needs of constituents or community building events that I host throughout the year for our ward. So I've been supportive of maintaining the fund but very focused on making sure that all of the donations are reported and that the use of the funds is more strictly delineated by law.
DEBONISWell, councilmember, you mentioned that your role in crafting the ethics bill they passed about a year and a half ago, and I think you're right about the -- it established an ethics board that I think in the last few months has certainly proven itself capable of being up to the task. They've been very active. But you took some criticism. You continue to take some criticism, that there were some unfinished business left in that bill in terms of campaign finance regulations.
DEBONISYour colleague Councilmember McDuffie, who now has the committee you used to chair, says he's gonna have a bill ready for a Council vote this fall on campaign finance reforms. Perhaps part of that will be public financing of campaigns. Are you ready to vote for a campaign finance reform bill? Are you ready to support public financing of campaigns? And if so, perhaps as soon as this election cycle.
BOWSERYou know, those were a lot of questions. So...
NNAMDIAnd we only have about a minute and a half.
BOWSEROK. Well, let me say this. Well, first of all, I always said that the issue of campaign finance should be separated from the larger ethics reform discussion 'cause the issues are very complicated. You can see even -- since there is a new committee that is just takes time to go through all of those issues. So I'm very pleased, and I wanna be supportive of Councilmember McDuffie's efforts. He hasn't shared it with me his latest draft, so I'll be looking forward to hearing from him.
BOWSEROn the issue of public financing, I'm not convinced that public financing is the answer either. I don't know how much it would cost in the long run to publicly finance the campaigns we have, what the thresholds will be. I think largely residents probably aren't that comfortable with using taxpayer dollars that can be used from other -- for other priorities on yard signs and campaign stickers and campaign fundraisers. I think there's a whole lot of, you know, that goes on in running a campaign that many people probably don't wanna use their tax dollars to pay for.
DEBONISCan you name one or two common sense campaign finance reforms that you -- you're excited to seen in this bill and vote for?
NNAMDIOne, one, one.
BOWSERI want to make sure that the oversized influence is out. For example, for many years, LLCs in our system have been able to contribute despite the fact that they're owned by the same person or controlled by the same person. I introduced a bill to just outlaw the -- even the contributions of LLCs entirely. So that, you know, that poses some concern. Some people think it may be challenged constitutionally.
BOWSERSo -- but we have to figure out a way that if LLCs are to give, they should only give once. And so I think that our system works best when everybody knows what's happening. So you know who's contributing to a political campaign that's associated with me, and they are living up to the existing, very stringent movements here in the District of Columbia. Only $500 per ward or $2,000, for example, in the race I'm in.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're just about of time. Muriel Bowser is a Democratic candidate for mayor. She's a member of the D.C. Council, representing Ward 4. She chairs the Council's Committee on Economic Development. Councilmember Bowser, thank you for joining us.
BOWSERKojo, it's always a pleasure.
NNAMDIGot to move ahead because joining us by phone now is Congressman Bobby Scott. He is a member of United States House of Representatives. He is a Democrat from Virginia. Congressman Scott, thank you for joining us.
REP. BOBBY SCOTTKojo, it's good to join you.
NNAMDIThe president is making the case to you, Mr. Congressman, and to your colleagues on the Hill that intervention is necessary in Syria to respond to an alleged chemical attack that took place there last month. You've said it would set a problematic precedent if the United States were to launch a punitive strike against Syria without the support of the United Nations. First, what have you been hearing from your constituents?
SCOTTWell, (unintelligible) have been running about at least five, 10, sometimes, 20-to-1 against. One of my staff persons has said he took calls this morning, had about half a dozen calls, not one in favor. But as you indicated, I think we're not -- maybe not the United Nations, but at least we need a credible international coalition if -- behind us before we can credibly do anything. I mean, if this is an international violation, there ought to be an international response.
SCOTTWe have some fact finding to do. We assume that the facts are -- have been outlined that Assad, in fact, used chemical weapons against the rebels. You have to rule out the possibility that the rebels gassed themselves in order to provoke an attack on Assad by the United States. But I think with the United States intelligence and the U.N. investigation, by the time we vote, we'll pretty much know that.
SCOTTBut we have to check on the legality. If we don't have a good international coalition, a U.N. resolution or international criminal court, and we have to establish the legality of our attack. We don't wanna be violating international -- creating an international war crime situation.
SCOTTBut if we get an international coalition, then we have to find out what kind of precedents we're setting. I mean, how many deaths are needed before there's an international intervention? And how many people do we attack, how many people are we gonna kill in response to what's going on?
NNAMDII got to say...
SCOTTIt doesn't make -- go ahead. I'm sorry.
NNAMDII got to say, Mr. Congressman, you sound a bit skeptical here, so what would you be willing to vote for if it were put in front of you today? And what you feel you have to say no to?
SCOTTWell, first of all -- well, what kind of precedents are we setting? I mean, are we gonna intervene any time there's an international violation, genocide? What about torture? I mean, you know, United States has been guilty of what everybody else in the world considers torture. Should people be able to bomb us if we're guilty of that? Now, who gets to decide?
SCOTTCan you do it unilaterally?
SCOTTOr do you need an international permission?
DEBONISYeah. Congressman, Mike DeBonis here from The Washington Post. One of the arguments that's been made is that, you know, chemical weapons are different from any of, you know, different from torture, different from a lot of different other acts of crazy dictators. The chemicals weapons require the international community to summon the will to enforce the norm that, you know, these -- the use of these weapons, these horrible weapons of mass destruction, cannot be tolerated. Do you agree with that? Do you agree that chemical weapons are in a separate category?
SCOTTI think they are in a so what separate category. But if you're gonna suggest that's a violation of international norms, I don't see how you can take genocide out, I don't see how you can take torture out right as a weapon of war. And, you know, we're still doing some research. We have to ascertain whether the United States has clean hands on chemical weapons over the last 20 or 30 years should somebody say, you know, let's get all the facts on the table.
SCOTTBut if we go through all of these and conclude that an attack, is the right thing to do, the next question is, what does the attack looked like? If it is the right thing to do, why do we rule out boots on the ground?
SCOTT(unintelligible) by doing that?
SCOTTIf it is the right thing to do, if attacking to make sure that they get the message, why do we rule out boots on the ground? And if we attack, you've got to assume that they'll be some kind of response by somebody. And then what will be our response to the response after the response to the response? I mean, at that point, any suggestion that any limitation of boots on the ground will be meaningless. We'll do what we need to do at that point.
SCOTTBut what consequence -- you could have terrorist attacks, you could have allies being attacked. There's no telling what the response would be. And then the question is what is -- what our response will be.
DEBONISYup. Congressman, I forgot to ask you another question. And this is more from a political perspective. You're someone who has always deeply supported the president. You used the word credibility and credible several times when you were talking about this earlier. Do you -- are you concerned about the impact it might have on the president's credibility as a leader in the foreign sphere to have him proposed this action and then to have this Congress vote him down and say sorry, Mr. President, we don't agree with you?
SCOTTWell, I think that he's indicated that the international community cannot tolerate the use of chemical weapons in there. He said he didn't draw the red line, the international community drew the red line. And therefore, the international community should respond. If the international community isn't responding, you have a difficult situation. Now, he's asked Congress to make an independent judgment. You know, a lot of people are making a political judgment.
SCOTTWhat's good for the president, what's good for this party, what's good for that party. I think members of Congress need to make an independent judgment what's good for United States. The credibility of the president is one factor. But the quagmire we may be getting ourselves into is another factor. Now, by the time we vote, we'll know what kind of international coalition we have behind us.
SCOTTRight now, it is kind of puny.
SCOTTBut by the time we vote, we may have a robust international coalition behind us to suggest that the international community has an interest in holding Assad accountable. But we don't have that now.
NNAMDIWhat is your sense of what would happen if some kind of vote were held in the House today, Congressman Scott?
SCOTTWell, as I think today, we don't have an adequate international community in support of us, so I think it probably wouldn't be -- wouldn't look good. But there are other things that will happen between now and the time we vote. One of which is the U.N. probably would have released its separate independent analysis of the facts, so we can have not only rely on our own intelligence, which failed us in the last but the basis of an international ascertainment. It will also know what the international community looks like.
SCOTTThe case for the legality of this would've also been made. So I think there are lot of things that'll happen between now, and we don't even know what we're voting on. The president's initial resolution wasn't nearly -- what's passed out of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee wasn't anything like what the president has proposed. And Sen. McCain says he was supporting what the president proposed but could not support what was adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee. So we don't even know what we're voting on.
NNAMDICongressman Scott, how do you think your constituents and the rest of the public should feel about the intelligence that's being used to justify intervention? There is a sense among some people that this is all too similar to happen 10 years ago with Iraq even if the mission is smaller, even if what's being called for is not full-scale war.
SCOTTYeah. Well, let me back up. What we're talking about attacking and then coming right back home is what I thought we're gonna do in Afghanistan that, you know, fooled me. We're still there. So, I mean, I think if you -- once you get into a war, you really don't know what you're into. I mean, you can't say, well, we just have to limit attack. They'll just sit there and take it. They won't respond. And so we don't have anything to respond hereafter that.
NNAMDIBut how about the intelligent -- from what you have seen so far, are you absolutely convinced?
SCOTTI think -- well, right now, you know, I'm pretty, pretty well convinced that the intelligence is valid. By the time I vote, we'll also have the U.N. analysis. But the benefit is it appears to be independent information as concurrent in times to times concurrent Facebook postings of things, the doctors saying what they found. I think the intelligence is fairly solid, but we'll have more information by the time we vote so that that should not be a problem. But I think in terms of 1,400 people dying, if we bomb, how many people will be killed?
DEBONISCongressman, if I could turn to another subject briefly, you know, we are less than two months away from the governor's election. One of the things that, you know, I think there's a lot of eyes on is, you know, what will the turnout look like for this race when you have a Democrat Terry McAuliffe against Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Can you talk about, in your district, in the -- particularly in the African-American community, are you seeing people excited about Terry McAuliffe? Do you believe that people are gonna show up in a way that they've shown up in the past in gubernatorial elections?
NNAMDIYou only have about a minute left. But go ahead, Congressman Scott.
SCOTTI think people are learning about the candidates. The turnout traditionally is woefully much lower. Four years ago, we had about less than two-thirds of the people voting four years ago than we had five years ago when President Obama carried the state for the first Democrat in 47 years. The turnout is gonna be the key. I think people are coming together. I think people recognized the difference. There's one major issue, and that's whether we expand Medicaid.
SCOTTFour hundred thousand Virginians will get health insurance if Terry McAuliffe is elected. They will not get insurance if he's not elected. And everybody else will be paying on a cost-shifted basis. People wouldn't buy Medicaid, go to the hospital -- they're gonna get sick and go to the hospital, where we gotta pay a little extra on each policy. Thank God for that.
NNAMDIWell, you think that may be enough to bring people out in large numbers? Apparently you do, but...
SCOTTI think 400,000 people. And people in that socio-economic demographic are usually the ones that mostly likely to vote at the presidential elections (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIAfraid we're out of time. Congressman Scott, thank you so much for joining us.
SCOTTAnd so they have something at risk.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you so much for joining us, Congressman Scott.
NNAMDIMike DeBonis, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
One of Washington's toughest reporters - a seasoned foreign correspondent who now gets in and out of jams while covering local D.C. - is the fictional brainchild of one of D.C.'s most versatile reporters.
Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
An independent investigation determined that Montgomery County Police's taser policies are a model for police department's across the nation — but some in the county question the report's thoroughness and its timing.