In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
A mass shooting rattles the region and the country. Maryland’s governor feuds with his counterpart from Texas. And a chef at the center of the investigation of Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell accepts a plea deal in an embezzlement case. 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
- Robert Sarvis Libertarian Candidate, Governor of Virginia
- Tommy Wells Democratic Mayoral Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Tommy Wells, D.C. mayoral candidate and Ward 6 Council member, talked about the need for stronger gun control in the district after this week’s Navy Yard shootings. Wells said the abundance and easy availability of guns is “the number one health crisis in our city.” He noted that many of the guns used in D.C. crimes are purchased in neighboring Maryland and Virginia.
Play The Politics Hour News Quiz
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers, covering the big story in Washington this week, the tragedy that occurred at the Navy Yard this past Monday, when 13 people, including the alleged shooter were killed. Tom, good to see you.
MR. TOM SHERWOODOh, good afternoon and welcome to the last -- I’m happy to be here for the last show in this studio.
NNAMDIYes. Rumors have it that this is the last show we're doing in this studio.
SHERWOODAnd I've tweeted it out. I hope it's true.
NNAMDIOh, nobody's told me yet. I think they were planning to have me just stay here.
SHERWOODAs long as it's not your last show, I think that would be the thing. But, you know, actually we joke, but, you know, Monday was a horrific day. We've now moved into the hand-wringing, second-guessing, reform-pledging mood and mode of, you know, what did the security apparatus at the gates at the Navy Yard do or didn't do? How is it someone can buy a shotgun, saw off the barrel, walk into an allegedly super secret or super secure facility like the Navy Yard? We've been through this drill before. We have to go through this drill.
SHERWOODWe have to see what things can be done that can insure security, but not keep, in general, closing down freedoms all over the place.
NNAMDIOther issues have been raised here. Once again, we in media got a few things wrong during the course of covering this. That seems inevitable during these kinds of events because of the way media are organized today, everybody wants to be first with every bit of information they get and sometimes we do that without appropriately checking to make sure that information is correct.
SHERWOODWell, if I can brag on my own station for awhile, we were very careful of many things. I sat on the set for much of the mid-morning and afternoon, and our news director, Michael Goldrick, and Matt Glassman, our assistant news director and Catherine Snyder, our managing editor, all say, do we have it? Don't report this. We would get emails and messages from them, don't report this. We have not confirmed it. You know, the name of the shooter went out on several networks.
SHERWOODAnd we were on the verge within seconds of saying the name and then we decided we didn't have enough information and we pulled back. But in the 24/7, second-to-second media world you're going to get bad information. You just have to listen and we have to try, as best we can, to correct what we say that's wrong.
NNAMDIThe issue of the official response to this. It would appear, however, that all of the wide variety of law enforcement agencies in this area seemed to collaborate fairly well on this.
SHERWOODWell, they did. And, you know, there's some dispute or questions about why the Capitol Hill Police, the sharpshooter team…
NNAMDIWere called back.
SHERWOOD…was -- I mean, to me, it's a very simple answer. Chief Dine would say this, I'm sure, from the Capitol Hill Police, those officers are trained to protect the Congress and the Congressional grounds. If they freelance by heading to something at the Navy Yard -- well, what if there had been multiple shootings. There was, you know, a fake report -- not a fake, but a misinformed report that there was as shooting at Bolling Air Force Base at the same time.
SHERWOODHad something occurred on Capitol Hill, those officers would have been out of position. So we have so many police in this region, I think there's something like 29 or 30 different police forces, from the Supreme Court Police to whoever else, the D.C. Library Police. It's an amazing bureaucratic system we have and it's amazing that they actually can work as well as they do.
NNAMDIAnd given that early reports indicated that there may have been more than one shooter, one can see the head of the Capitol Police thinking we don't know where the other shooters are. Our primary responsibility is to protect the Capitol and maybe that’s where my force should be. But that will all be -- we'll all find out more about that later on. Then, of course, how officials in Washington responded. This was the first time people around the nation probably had the opportunity to see the Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier on national television.
NNAMDIAnd most of what they had heard about Mayor Vincent Gray before had to do with his ongoing troubles with his last campaign. This time they got to see a slightly different view of both of those individuals.
SHERWOODYes. Well, Cathy Lanier, I actually could see the strain in her face on this, because of the long hours and the severity of what she was trying to do. But also to the mayor's credit, he did not try to Bogart this thing and get ahead and to say a lot of things that he didn't know. He was cautious, he was calm, he was professional. And I thought that was a good thing for the city.
NNAMDIOne of the city officials who had to be primarily concerned about this because it occurred in his ward is council member Tommy Wells. He represents Ward 6, which is the Washington Navy Yard, is in the District of Columbia. He chairs the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, so he had a variety of reasons to be concerned about this. Tommy Wells joins us in studio. He's also a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. Councilmember Wells, thank you for joining us.
MR. TOMMY WELLSThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYour own thoughts? We did speak with you earlier in the week, but now we know a little bit more than we did then. What are your own thoughts about what occurred at the Navy Yard and the aftermath?
WELLSWell, I think a couple of things. One is, is that I'm so proud of our police department and how they responded. We have this team, as Tom mentioned, an active shooter team, in that they rush to the shooter as everybody obviously rushes away. And these are officers that have signed up for this special team. And they were there within seven minutes. And so we had an officer, Officer Williams, who got shot by the assailant that was there, and shot in his leg. And then our fire department, along with paramedics, were able to pull him out, treat him, get him to the hospital.
WELLSOur emergency response, along with the coordination with the other officers and law enforcement were there, I'm just very proud of them. And then the other side, of course, is how frustrating and angry it makes all of us that someone can just go buy a shotgun, saw off the barrel, walk over to the Navy Yard and kill 12 people.
NNAMDIThat has to do with my next question, as I invite you to join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or by sending email to email@example.com. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Yesterday you circulated a petition calling for stronger gun laws immediately, but this is also a city that's still reeling from a Supreme Court case that struck down the city's gun restrictions. Where do you see the room, the political room, if you will, to enact stronger gun laws that would pass muster before the Court?
WELLSWell, we also had a group here at the same time, serendipitously the Mothers Demand Action. And they were here to -- from Sandy Hook and the other places of moms across America together saying that there needs to be a national gun registry, that there needs to be universal background checks. And so I do believe there needs to be universal background checks, but I have to say that, you know, I think that email that went out from my campaign was a little bit hasty. But I will say that the amount of anger and frustration that we all feel here in D.C., I mean, not just this shooting, but we've had 10 shootings in D.C. this week, two people killed.
WELLSAnd the guns that come into the city that -- not one gun is sold in the city. The guns come from Maryland and Virginia, primarily Virginia. And they are used to kill our residents. And this is just another example. And it's infuriating, upsetting and if there's something we can do about it we need to do it.
SHERWOODWell, you can invade Virginia, maybe. But seriously speaking, Virginia has shown no inclination. I think back ages ago when Governor Wilder was the governor there was a one-gun -- you could buy one gun a month. And I think that was done away with by Virginia. Virginia has moved to open carry laws, totally different from the political attitude of the District. The mayor of New York City, Bloomberg, has publicly and around the world criticized Virginia, but Virginia's an independent state and it's just not going to agree with you. How do you work on that?
WELLSYou know it is the number one health crisis of our city -- or certainly in our country, around mass shootings and people, you know, with guns being able to use them in hold-ups and such. We've got certainly a higher rate of violence then almost any developed country in the world, but I was really heartened in meeting with the Mothers Demand Action, that when you look at Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- and they didn't even have social media at the time -- that I think that the country will rise up.
WELLSI do think that D.C. is on the right side of history and I'm proud of our citizens that do not tolerate and will not support even having guns sold in the city. And so I think we're on the right side of history and something needs to be done.
NNAMDISwitch to the Living Wage Bill? Ready yet?
SHERWOODWell, actually I was going to ask about marijuana.
NNAMDIOh, well, go ahead.
SHERWOODThe Living Wage Bill is important and we'll move to that. Every councilmember is now on board to raise the minimum wage. We'll just see how much and how fast. But I want to just go to the marijuana. David Grosso, the at-large member, has proposed legalizing marijuana. I believe you've talked about it. I don't know if you've had a bill yet, but is this something that you think the Congress will stay out of the way of, if this, the nation's capital, legalizes marijuana?
WELLSWell, the first thing is, is that…
SHERWOODSmall amounts for possession, I mean.
WELLS…I've introduced a bill with 10 supporters on the city council to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. That it's, you know, we all know that marijuana usage, especially among young people, college kids, is widespread, does not know any race or demographic. But yet 98 percent of the people that are criminally charged for marijuana possession are African Americans in D.C. And…
SHERWOODDo you know that is? Is it the police? It's easier to arrest a couple guys hanging out on the corner or do you think African Americans are targeted for such a huge number, they don't go after the college students at an American University or Georgetown?
WELLSI think there's residual leftovers from the war on drugs, and that a lot of that apparatus is still in the poorer parts of our city. But the reason that I introduced the bill -- again, with nine supporters on the council, so we're gonna pass this -- is to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana so it's more like a traffic ticket. The barrier to jobs, often for young folks, especially east of the river, is that they have a criminal drug charge, which is hard to get a job on a construction site, driving commercial trucks. things like that if you have a drug charge.
WELLSSo we need to stop that. It has a disproportionate impact on the poor and especially African Americans in the city. And I know this bill's going to pass. And I am sure, as the best I can tell, the federal government's not going to intervene on this at all.
SHERWOODSome of your labor supporters are really angry at you for not supporting the Wal-Mart, big box, large retailers bill that the mayor vetoed that would have required $12.50 an hour in wages and benefits. But you said on the diesis on Tuesday that you want an across-the-board minimum wage increase. What figure do you have in mind? It's now 8.25 in the city, one dollar more than the federal wage. Where do you see the minimum wage going for all persons who might be subject to it?
WELLSWell, first thing is, is that from President Obama, senators, people across the country -- including California -- recognize that the minimum wage is too low. The gap between people that make a little and people that make a lot is about as large as it's ever been. And in D.C., you know, we've got one of the highest costs of living. And what I'm proposing in my bill is that we raise it one dollar one year and another dollar the next year. It goes up to 10.25, but the other thing that it does is it increases the standard deduction.
WELLSSo D.C. residents that do not itemize on their taxes will keep more of their money, and that tends to be people on a lower wage. And let me say, Tom, that the activists, the unions, these guys did a great job to bring everyone's attention like a laser beam on this issue. While the large retailer bill probably would not have had an impact for four years to actually raise wages, and only on a small sliver of the city, it really helped provide the field to grow the possibility of raising the minimum wage for everyone.
WELLSThe mayor has now said he supports raising the minimum wage. And I believe every city council member now says they'll raise the minimum wage.
SHERWOODHow quickly? How quickly will this be done? I was talking to Jack Evans, the council financial revenue person, I was talking to the mayor's office. Is this something you see the council having a hearing and passing this fall? I mean the bills go to the workforce committee, which is, you know, chaired by Marion Barry. He's going to lose that committee by October the 1st because of the censor of him. So can this council get together and at before the end of the year?
WELLSWell, you know, the council came together on my bill. And the fact that there's nine co-introducers, these are no co-sponsors. These are people that put their name on the bill. So there's no reason why this cannot become law or essentially be on the mayor's desk by January. That really should be done, could be done, and I think that's the right thing in terms of economic justice for our city.
NNAMDIA lot of people still don't care that you've got your own plan. They just care that you rejected the one that the council passed. Two questions about that. There was talk earlier that you might be the council member who they might get to change his vote during this week's session. What kind of pressure was there on you to do that? And the people who only care that you rejected the bill that the council passed have posters in places with Wells-mart on it. What would you say to those people?
WELLSWell, they certainly did come to my campaign events and they, you know, postered all over my neighborhood, but I have always been independent and voted on what I believe is my duty and principle as an elected official. To take a bill just to target one corporation may feel good and it may be, you know, a blow for particular justice in one way, but in order to govern we need to help, really, all of our residents and not just, you know, target one corporation. So there was a lot of pressure.
WELLSBut I also had a lot of pressure from the seniors at Bible Way, that live in that neighborhood, that get on the bus and go to Wal-Mart, you know, because they can't, you know, they're being gentrified out of their neighborhood in terms of the costs of goods. I also was bullied and pressured by Pastor West of Mount Airy Baptist Church who had to be there twice, where we had 13 people shot over by Tyler House, and then we just had another person shot -- four people shot and one person killed over at Sursum Corda. As Pastor West says, we need jobs and we need jobs now.
WELLSWe need people to be actively involved and Wal-Mart will provide jobs. But in terms of getting a living wage for all in D.C., that's where we start with raising the minimum wage for everyone, not just for, you know, people, four years from now, at a particular retailer.
NNAMDIOur guest is D.C. Democratic Councilmember Tommy Wells. He represents Ward 6 on the council and chairs the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. If you have questions or comments for Councilmember Wells, you can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWal-Mart has announced that it's going to open two job sites on Monday.
SHERWOODWhat is the certainty that these jobs -- I know there's a law that says 50, 51 percent have to go to the local residents, things like that, but in this case what is the certainty that Wal-Mart will focus on hiring, and if necessary, extra training for people who need the jobs that the Pastor and you talk about?
NNAMDIWhere's the enforcement for that kind of law that Tom is referring to?
WELLSWell, the first thing is, is that the store that's opening up over by H Street…
SHERWOODNew Jersey and H.
WELLSNew Jersey and H is the store's matter of right. There's no government, you know…
WELLS…dime in this. And so, you know, I certainly have talked early on with Wal-Mart and they're going to hold the job fairs right there around Tyler House. And we're going to do it through Perry School. And, you know, they're certainly making the effort to give D.C. residents first shot at the jobs.
SHERWOODYeah, they're not government contractors. They're not getting government support. I think on Georgia Avenue -- I don't think there's any government support. So they do have matter of right to pay minimum wage, at least. Okay. Well, I just think it's going to be real interesting to see it. Because I went out to West Tyson's Corner where the Wal-Mart opened a couple of weeks ago, and I actually talked to D.C. citizens, you know, who drive out there to work.
SHERWOODAnd they say they're doing that because they're training themselves to get jobs in the city when the Wal-Mart's open in town. And they're making that long drive out. So people are working hard to find jobs.
NNAMDITom mentioned earlier the censor of Ward 8 councilmember and former mayor, Marion Barry. You were among the nine council members who voted to censor and strip him of his chairmanship duties after the city's ethics board issued a report that he accepted cash payments with a contractor doing business with the city. Why did you feel that was the right thing to do?
WELLSWell, Kenyan McDuffie, a new, young member on the council, really stepped up and did a great job with the task force that I did not serve on. And all of us -- any of us running for mayor were not on that task force. But Kenyan McDuffie did a great job, the council member from Ward 5, and then the people on that committee. And on the committee included Anita Bonds. Anita Bonds is the first person Marion Barry hired when he first ran for mayor. This is someone who's been close to him for many years and a friend. And she voted unanimously…
NNAMDIShe knows him almost as well as Sherwood does, but go ahead.
SHERWOODI might be at number two to Anita Bonds.
WELLSAnd so Anita Bonds, Councilmember Bonds, under the leadership of Councilmember McDuffie, they all voted unanimously to take this step.
SHERWOODWasn't Yvette Alexander on the committee also? Was she on the committee?
NNAMDIThere were five people on the committee.
SHERWOODI think she was on the committee.
WELLSI know David Grosso was on the committee.
NNAMDIWe'll look it up.
SHERWOODOkay. Look it up, but I think -- but Alexander is close to Marion Barry also.
WELLSWell, Anita Bonds is…
SHERWOODOkay. Bonds is…
WELLSAnyway about it, is that they unanimously voted to do this and so I supported them.
SHERWOODI've tried to tell people that, you know, who want to. The people who love Barry and the people who just hate him or just find him disgusting because of his personal behavior and his long record of things they don't like, I tell them that the council is not really driven by Marion Barry anymore. Yes, he's one of 13 members. Yes, he's fairly popular in the polls you take. But in terms of getting a lot of things done, the council and the city government kind of moves on without necessarily -- I don't want to diminish him, but he's just not Mayor-for-life Marion Barry.
NNAMDIThe power he used to be.
WELLSI agree, except I will say that on the marijuana decriminalization bill Marion co-introduced that with me, he worked on it with me, and we're going to hold the hearing on that bill in Anacostia.
SHERWOODBut this popular feeling among people -- at the National Journal somebody called me and asked me, now, what about Barry? And I said he's just not controlling the city. He still plays an important role, but I said, the Barry era is essentially over.
NNAMDIWatching the debate on this issue, one got the impression that what concerned the majority of council members more than anything else is the image of the city, in terms of ethics, having two council members having been convicted of committing crimes and then former mayor Barry being seen as, in some respects, a repeat offender.
WELLSThere's no question there's a crisis of ethics in our elected government. We've got three council members that had been convicted.
WELLSOne in prison, one on the way. The mayor's under investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney. We've got three council members that also have been admonished by the ethics board. And it's unprecedented. And I think that, you know, deservedly the elected officials of D.C. have a reputation problem with integrity.
NNAMDIYou mentioned decriminalizing marijuana. That's what Robert in Centreville, Va. wants to talk about. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBERTThank you for taking my call, Kojo.
ROBERTSo I mean this decriminalization, you know, the councilman mentioned how, as things stand now, it appears on people's driving records, it appears on their records, they don't get hired. Well, I'd rather it remain that way, speaking as a business owner. I'd like to be able to know that a potential employee has been using or is using those because if an accident occurs or something along those lines, then, you know, guess what, a blood test is done and it's found that the employee has been using and then, you know, the employer suffers.
ROBERTThe employer suffers in higher insurance, workman's comp, etcetera, etcetera. So, you know, in my opinion, rather than decriminalizing it I think, you know, we need to keep it that way, but was also need to have a push to educate our population not to use it.
NNAMDIHere's Tommy Wells.
WELLSThere's nothing to prevent employers from continuing to drug test. You know, you don't want your employee drunk on the job, but that's legal. Or you can legally obtain alcohol. You don’t want your employees stoned on the job. You can still drug test and you can also, you know, continue to act as an employer in that, but that degree to which we really marginalize people to the side because of a drug -- you know, there's been no evidence that, you know, making pot criminal has decreased its use.
WELLSBut it has indicated that people will use, you know, other substances like this K2 or these other things that we don't know what that stuff does, because it's legal and it's dangerous. And so I think we just need to face reality.
NNAMDIRobert, thank you for your call. I think on the other side of that discussion is Norman, in Washington, D.C. Norman, your turn.
NORMANHey, how's it going, Kojo? I listen to you every day.
NORMANThanks for taking my call. Yeah, I wanted to ask -- I’m for decriminalizing marijuana. I wanted to ask him a couple questions, the councilman. Does it relate -- because I have some friends that have some petty drug charges from the past, like, can you do anything with their past record on a small amount of marijuana, if it's, you know, it's keeping them from getting jobs now. Do you have anything on full legalization, like they did in Colorado and Washington? And are you working with Maryland at all? I mean, Virginia, I don't think you'd get any help over there, but are you working with anyone in Maryland to see if they'd do the same?
NORMANBecause, you know, our -- it goes hand in hand.
NNAMDIWell, I have to tell you, Norman, keep listening to the broadcast even after Councilmember Wells leaves because you may be able to get some help in Virginia from our next guest, but go ahead.
WELLSWell, let me say, Norman brings up a great question. What about those that have drug charges for small amounts of marijuana? We're working with the ACLU and we're working, you know, my committee's working right now to figure out how can we expunge, seal or have that removed from records so that, you know, people going forward, as Norman brought out, that if it's wrong today, it was wrong yesterday. And so we'll probably move that as separate bill.
WELLSI don’t want to slow down decriminalization. There'll be a cost involved to the city. I don't want that financial impact to slow down decriminalization, but I think he's exactly right. The other part, in terms of doing what Colorado and Washington have done, Washington state, the legalization went to a referendum, a vote by the citizens. I think that, you know, if we go that route in D.C. it should go to a vote. In fact, Eric Holder noted that they were not going to preempt states where the citizens had voted for legalization of marijuana.
SHERWOODOh, I’m sorry. Excuse me for stopping you. I didn't know this. Your proposal has always been to take this to a referendum?
WELLSNo. My bill is to decriminalize. The bill that was brought up earlier, Grosso's bill about legalization and what the caller asked about legalization like in Colorado, to take that next step I think it really should go to the citizens. And just like it did in referendum and Colorado and Washington, but my bill will decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
NNAMDINorman, thank you for your call. Tom?
SHERWOODWell, I want to be clear on that. If you decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, that means if a police officer stops you for any reason or smells the marijuana, determines that you have that -- whatever the small amount is, then he or she will not arrest you.
SHERWOODBut that's different from legalizing it?
WELLSAbsolutely. They'll write you at ticket.
SHERWOODSo you still can't sell it -- or write a ticket?
SHERWOODSo it becomes a traffic offense?
WELLSIt becomes a fine.
SHERWOODAnd, well, a lot of the people that smoke marijuana can't afford the fines. They'll be -- and then what happens if you can't pay the fine? Then you get…
WELLSWell, the same thing's true with a traffic ticket or any kind of fine in the city, but it doesn't necessarily...
SHERWOODOkay. But you're not ready to say legalized marijuana yet?
WELLSOh, I think a lot of us are not yet ready to do that, to say this substance should be legal. But we certainly are there on the social justice issue, of what criminalization of pot has done to our citizens is a matter of social justice. Being able to smoke pot legally, I'm not sure rises to the same level of a social justice issue. You know, that goes more to is it a common sense issue, but it's different.
SHERWOODCan I have a moment? Just a bald-faced mayoral race question. A lot of people think the race is next year and everybody is just gearing up to run, but in fact, people will pick up -- candidates will pick up petitions on November the 8th to qualify for the ballot. Those petitions have to be turned in on January the 2nd. So we are actually well into the race for mayor.
NNAMDIAnd the primary date is April 1st.
SHERWOODApril Fools, which is an idiocy to have it on that day, but the council members seem to be tone deaf to changing it. So the mayor has not…
NNAMDIThis is the closest he's ever come to calling people fools on the broadcast. You noticed that.
SHERWOODWell, wait until the spring gets closer to April Fool's Day and then all the national media and people will start, those jokers in Washington, they don't know what they're doing, they're having an election on April Fool's Day. They could have easily made it April 7th or a week later, April the 8th.
WELLSIt should be in June, is when it should be.
SHERWOODBut all of that -- the mayor hasn't announced. He's playing coy about not running. A lot of people think he's done a lot of good things, but that he cheated at the beginning by getting the illegal help to win, whether he knew about it or not. You complained the other day that the mayor has spent the last two and a half years or so refusing to discuss his 2010 campaign, and therefore, he shouldn't be planning a 2014 campaign. What did you say and what did you mean, more importantly?
WELLSWell, you know, I think that the public deserves to know what happened. Was there some quid pro quo with Sulaimon Brown? Was there collusion for running an illegal campaign? And the mayor has essentially said -- his attorney said he shouldn't talk about, which means the mayor's more concerned about his own personal liability, rather than what should the people that, you know, have voted for him and the city he leads, should we know. And so I think that it simply means that I guess the legal process is not done, but I think that it impacts someone's ability to lead the city if they have, you know, participated in a crooked campaign, if they broke laws of the city that we should know it.
SHERWOODThree council members called on him to resign. You did not.
WELLSInitially I thought he should have a chance to tell his story. There was no indictment. There was nothing yet out there. And I thought that the mayor deserved a chance to have the case be brought against him. And that's only being still built now, but I…
SHERWOODBut you're not calling on him to resign now?
WELLSWell, we're so close to the end. If the mayor resigned, does that kick it into a special election? Could we potentially have four mayors between now and next November, which would just have a terrible impact on the city. And I think it'd be self-serving if I called on the mayor to resign. I want the city to do well, but I want the legal process to work its way out.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time. You said that you think the primary date should be in June. What are the chances of that actually happening?
WELLSWell, you know, when the council passed that it was basically the incumbency protection act, so that if someone was going to mount a campaign against one of my colleagues they would have to do it during the winter, they'd have to do it quickly, even before people realized that, hey, there's a primary April 1st. I think it was a self-serving kind of incumbent protection act. It ought to be in June, A, to give everyone a full amount of time to be able to, you know, make their case. Then the second reason is, is that we're a one-party town.
WELLSEssentially, you're the Ward elect or the council elect or the mayor elect from April 1st for nine months, until January. And that seems awkward. It doesn't make sense and it should be changed to June.
SHERWOODYour praised Kenyan McDuffie, the Ward 5 council member, a few moments ago. It's going to be in his court whether to propose a change in the election date. Have you discussed it with him and what's he thinking?
WELLSWell, absolutely I've discussed it with him. I'm not sure -- I think he may support it, but I know that the chair supports it and we just got a letter from Eleanor Holmes Norton saying it needs to be changed. It should be changed to June.
SHERWOODShe's on the ballot, too.
NNAMDIAnd, by the way, the members of that ad hoc committee that made the decision about former mayor Marion Barry were Kenyan McDuffie, Anita Bonds, Yvette Alexander, Mary Cheh and David Grosso. So…
WELLSYou were right, Tom.
NNAMDI…Sherwood got it right…
SHERWOODOnce again, right.
NNAMDI…for a change. Tommy Wells, thank you so much for joining us.
WELLSI am honored, Kojo, to be with you and Tom on the last show.
SHERWOODYou haven't mentioned the H Street Festival today. I think you are going to lose support.
WELLSWe've got the H Street Festival this weekend. It's going to be fabulous. It's one of the best festivals in all of America.
SHERWOODAnd I'll be biking over there.
NNAMDITommy Wells is a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. He's a member of the D.C. Council. He represents Ward 6 on the council. He also chairs the council's Committed on Public Safety and the Judiciary. Tommy Wells, thank you so much for joining us.
WELLSThank you, Kojo, and thanks, Tom.
NNAMDIAnd, Tom, there is a statue coming to D.C. that people should really be aware of. The statute of -- a 10-foot-tall statute of Nelson Mandela.
SHERWOODYeah, you know, it's pretty cool. I went over there yesterday, to the South African embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, which has been under reconstruction for 50 years -- actually it's only been about three, but it seems like 50.
NNAMDISeems like 50.
SHERWOODAnd they've closed up the driveway in the middle. And they've got this terrific statute. It's a replica. And I spoke to a Jean, I think, Doyle, who is the sculptor. And it's a replica of the one that stands outside the prison where he spent 27 years. His fist is raised in the air and he's right across the street from Winston Churchill. And Churchill is holding up the V sign for victory and the ambassador from South Africa said, well, you know, a rock beats scissors all the time, you know. It's kind of funny.
SHERWOODBut it's really nice that they're juxtaposed there. There's a big ceremony on Saturday. Channel 4 has already put the statute up. If you go by there now it's got coverings on it, but it's going to be unveiled Saturday and I hope it doesn't rain.
NNAMDIOh, I hope it doesn't rain and the fact is that Nelson Mandela is still with us, despite…
SHERWOODAnd some of his family members -- I'm not sure who, but some of his family members will be there. And some of the original people. And I believe it's Walter Fauntroy and Eleanor Holmes Norton who are the first who were arrested…
NNAMDIThe first four demonstrators.
SHERWOOD…on November 21, 1984. They walked into the embassy and refused to leave and it created a massive campaign to help get rid of apartheid.
NNAMDIFormer D.C. delegate Walter Fauntroy; current D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton; Mary Frances Berry, former head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission; and Randall Robinson, head of TransAfrica.
SHERWOODRandall Robinson is coming up from St. Kitts. You know I said, is he retired or is he just down there on business?
NNAMDINo, he lives there.
SHERWOODYes, he lives there. So that means he's retired, but it would be great to see him again.
NNAMDIYes, indeed. Let's now turn to Virginia, where Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, himself a business person, somehow managed not to get the endorsement of the political arm of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, which voted instead to endorse his Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli. Apparently saying that in terms of the presentations of the two candidates, that Mr. McAuliffe's candidate seem to emphasize more his ability to schmooze people then a knowledge of the issues at hand.
SHERWOODWell, the Tech Council is important. It's got a lot of business leaders in Northern Virginia and they have an effect on what's happening in the state and in the region for that matter. And they take it quite seriously, the business. And the pack version interviewed them and I think I'll go with what the Washington Post said, that Ken Cuccinelli, for all the troubles he's having these days, came in and had almost a wonkish understanding of what they were talking about in terms of business and the technology issues for Virginia.
SHERWOODAnd that Terry McAuliffe, which is a common complaint about him, appeared to be flippant and uninformed are the words in the Post story. And, again, I think the salesman aspect of McAuliffe is that many people say he's much deeper than he appears, but he has this kind of sometimes irritating ease about his behavior and his personality that turns people off, and it apparently turned off the tech council.
NNAMDIWell, the polls are showing that the two major party candidates are coming even close together, but there's a third candidate who is polling well enough that his margin -- or the polling that he's getting is larger than the margin between those two major party candidates themselves. Know who I'm talking about?
SHERWOODI will in a moment.
SHERWOODI wonder if he would maybe make a dramatic move and endorse one of the other two since -- then maybe affect the race. But we'll see as you introduce him.
NNAMDIThat may be one of the questions that Robert Sarvis answers. He is the Libertarian candidate for governor of Virginia. He joins us in studio. Robert Sarvis, thank you for joining us.
MR. ROBERT SARVISThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd if you'd like to join the conversation with Robert Sarvis, give us a call at 800-433-8850 if you have any questions or comments for him or about him or about the race. You can also send email to email@example.com. People in the Washington region -- pretty familiar with the two major party candidates at this point.
NNAMDIThey're becoming pretty familiar at least with their television commercials. But they may be less familiar with who you are, what you stand for and why you feel you're the best candidate for the Commonwealth. So let's start from there. Why are you running? And why do you feel qualified for this job?
SARVISWell, I'm running to give Virginians a third and better option. Forty percent of the electorate in Virginia consistently says that they want another candidate.
SARVISAnd I'm trying to provide somebody that they can be proud to vote for, somebody who's focusing on creating a Virginia that's both open-minded and open for business, a Virginia that respects both economic and personal freedom, and a Virginia that returns to the rule of law, so we don't have so much corporate influence, lobbying, and, as a result of all of that, laws, tax policies and regulations that end up preserving private profits insulating market incumbents from competition. So if we can return to the rule of law, get our economy started, we can do a lot for Virginia.
NNAMDITwo years ago, you ran as a Republican against Dick Saslaw for his State Senate seat. Why did you leave the party? And why do you feel more at home as a Libertarian?
SARVISWell, I've always been a small L libertarian, and I ran specifically -- explicitly as a moderate Libertarian Republican two years ago. But I just kind of realized that, in Virginia at least, the GOP is not a friendly place for liberty candidates, true liberty candidates who believe in both personal and economic freedom. So the Libertarian Party is a party that stands on principle, is not going to put partisanship above policy principles, and it's just a natural home for me.
SHERWOODBut what is your reaction to the shootings in the Navy Yard on Monday given your, as I understand here reading your documents, very strong position that gun rights and ownership shouldn't be in the fringe? What's your reaction to Monday's shooting?
SARVISWell, I think there's still a lot of details coming out about the shooting, so I don't want to speak without knowing all the details. But, generally speaking, I think that our knee-jerk reaction in politics is to go back to the talking points, whether Republicans, Democrats, on gun control. And I think that, you know, we do need to take seriously the issues surrounding guns, the misuse of guns, and mental health issues. But...
SHERWOODBut this shooter -- alleged -- I mean, the reports haven't been -- he bought a shotgun in Virginia, sawed it off, and carried it in to his workspace. He bought a gun, even though there was significant issues in his background that maybe suggested he shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun. But I -- you know, your thoughts about that, should there not be background checks on guns?
SARVISWell, we do have a system in place with background checks. One of the issues with that is that a lot of mental health professionals are concerned that if you do things that dramatically increase the amount of recordkeeping that goes to the background check system that you disincentivize people from getting mental health treatment. So there are -- the issue is very complicated. And, you know, if we want to reduce gun violence, there are a lot of things that we can do...
NNAMDII'm going to get to that in a second because I know you have some interesting proposals about that. But before we leave gun control itself, how about the loophole for gun shows in the Commonwealth of Virginia? Would you close that loophole?
SARVISWell, the gun show loophole is sort of a misnomer. The same laws apply at gun shows as away from gun shows where licensed gun dealers have to do background checks. Private individual sales are not subject to them. You know, I don't -- so that's not a loophole in the sense that the law is the same in and out of gun shows.
SHERWOODIt means that people can go to a gun show and freely exchange guns. Do you own one?
SARVISI'm not going to comment on that.
SARVISThat's a -- that's none of your business.
SHERWOODI mean, it's none of my business that you're a candidate for governor and you won't tell me whether you have a gun? Would you -- do you have a open carry permit?
SARVISDo I do what?
SHERWOODDo you have a permit to carry a gun? I mean...
SARVISAgain, it -- so this is an issue where I don't, as governor -- and I don't think the government should be, you know, trying to determine who owns guns and things like that and keep track of all of that. And so I don't think it's any of your business whether I own it, and I don't think it's my...
SHERWOODSo you shouldn't have to have a license to own a gun?
SARVISTo defend your home and family, it's certainly the constitutional law that you don't.
NNAMDIRobert Sarvis is the Libertarian candidate for governor of Virginia. He joins us in studio. If you have questions or comments or him, call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You say that decriminalization of drugs is what you think is leading to a great deal of gun violence in America. What would you do about that?
SARVISWell, I've proposed ending the drug war, and I think that it's pretty clear that we've made a lot of the same mistakes that we did during the Prohibition era. By our criminal prohibitions, we've created a black market for drugs that creates a very well-armed, very well-funded criminal enterprise and a very violent criminal enterprise. So, just as happened in the decade after Prohibition was repealed, I think we would see a continued and even accelerated decline in gun violence. You know, that's a very substantial portion of gun violence.
NNAMDISo you are for legalizing not only marijuana but several of or all of the other so-called illicit drugs?
SARVISWell, I'm -- I think we should focus in Virginia on marijuana because I think that, you know, there's a lot of reasons, political and otherwise, why that's the right place to start, whether that's medical marijuana or full legalization. I prefer the latter, but, you know, it's about what's politically feasible in Virginia at the time.
SARVISBut I think that certainly is the case that, when over half of drug arrests are for marijuana, and over 80 percent of those marijuana arrests are for mere possession, and we're criminalizing people, giving them criminal records, making them unemployable, losing a lot of economic value by doing so, there are many reasons to legalize it, bring, you know, reform, rebuild families and communities, and regulate and tax it.
NNAMDIWe had a caller earlier in the broadcast who suggested to D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells that he might have some success with that in Maryland, but he shouldn't even think about Virginia because he would have no success there. How have people been responding to your proposals about legalizing marijuana in the Commonwealth?
SARVISWell, it varies by voter obviously. But especially young people see the damage it's doing, see the undermining of the rule of law, see friends who are being railroad into the criminal justice system. In Virginia, we have a state constitutional requirement that people who have felonies lose their voting rights. You know, this is a serious problem. And the other two candidates, you know, have been talking about felony re-enfranchisement. Well, I'm the only person talking about the other end of the pipeline where we're railroading people into the loss of their rights.
SHERWOODI like Libertarians. I actually like Libertarians 'cause I like -- personally, but the less government sometimes be better government. But do you think people should be made to wear seatbelts?
SARVISWell, I think people have a very strong incentive to want to wear seatbelts so that they're not, you know, dying in gruesome accidents. But one of the things that you see with seatbelt laws and things like that are -- I think it's called the Peltzman effect where people drive a little bit more -- it changes their incentives and changes how safe they feel. It changes how they behave.
SHERWOODThey drive more aggressively when they're wearing a seatbelt?
SARVISRight. So it's not really clear what influence the nanny state is having on us. I'm going to wear my seatbelt regardless of what the law says.
NNAMDICan you put on your headphones, please? Because Monica in Takoma Park, Md. has a question in relation to a statement you made earlier. Monica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MONICAYes. When you were just asked whether you owned a gun, you didn't want to answer. But then you also quoted the Constitution, saying that -- or implying that it's a right that we have and you have a right to your privacy. But I feel that if you feel so strongly about being able to own a gun, you should feel kind of proud and not ashamed to say, yes, I own a gun. So it's a comment that I want...
NNAMDIHe seems to feel equally strongly about his right to privacy, but go ahead.
SARVISI'll also say that if you put a badge on yourself that you own a gun, you can also induce people to come to your house to break in to steal a gun. And the last thing that you want is more illegal guns on the street.
NNAMDITo which you say what, Monica?
MONICAI'm not sure that people are going to track you down to try to steal your gun. I just feel that if you have one, you should just say you have one. And I feel...
SHERWOODDo you have one, Monica?
MONICAI do not.
SARVISAnother thing I would say is that, you know, when people don't know who has and who has not -- who does not have a gun, that creates a lot of uncertainty, and it makes it much less likely that you're going to get accosted on the street or someone's going to break into your home when they don't know who does and does not have guns.
SHERWOODLet me ask you...
NNAMDIMonica, thank you for your call.
SHERWOODLet me ask an overarching question about the politics of running and the prospect of winning. Many people have run independent campaigns in Virginia, other places. Almost -- I tried to think of anybody who's won an independent campaign statewide. It's just not doable in many respects. And you're often not included in the kind of the mainstream campaign debates and things like that.
SHERWOODYou have far less money than the other candidates, your reach and voter identification and getting the people out to vote. The prospects of your winning are -- if you're a betting person -- are quite long, the odds of your winning. What motivates you to run, knowing you probably -- under the logistics of everything -- probably will lose? What -- is there some additional goal besides winning?
SARVISWell, I think anytime you have somebody who's willing to go out and talk to people all across the state about freedom in the rule of law, getting corporatism out of government and all of these things, people really perk up their ears. People are elated to hear they have...
SHERWOODOh, I'm sorry, getting corporate -- so you would ban corporate contributions to...
SARVISNo, no, no. I'm not saying corporate contributions. I'm saying...
SHERWOODNo, that's corporate corporate.
SARVISNo. I'm saying the special treatment that corporations and industries get in our tax and regulatory policy. When you talk about these things, people are absolutely elated. They don't have to agree with me on every issue, but they're very happy to see someone stand up on principle, not playing the partisan games.
SHERWOODHow would you -- it's very hard for even a popular governor like McDonnell before his issues. I mean, several governors tried to get a major transportation plan through the General Assembly, 140 members, and they finally got it through. Everybody's kind of happy now. But those are a lot of personal relationships and working together. And independent has no allegiance for the Democrats or the Republicans. How would you get Speaker Howell to do something or Dick Saslaw, who you ran against, to pay any attention to you?
SARVISWell, they'll pay attention if I win. I mean, think about the changes in their incentives when a Libertarian wins against their candidates. It means that people rejected everything that their party was talking about in the election, and they know that, in 2015, every single one of them, if they don't take a turn towards freedom in the rule of law, every single one of them is going to have a well-funded Libertarian challenger. So I'm not trying to -- I'm going to -- the day after the election, if I win, you know, that's when I start to -- you know, that's day one on the job.
SHERWOODAnd if you don't win, what then -- which is the back half of my question. You have the long odds to win. I think you acknowledge you have long odds to win. But what happens -- what do you do next? Do...
SARVISWell, I can't speculate about what I'm going to do in that case. I'm just focusing on this -- I'm putting 100 percent into this race. And, you know, the voters really appreciate that.
NNAMDIAccording to Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia, Sabato's crystal ball, the last time an independent came very close to winning the governorship was in 1973 when the Democrat-turned-independent Henry Howell lost to Democrat-turned-Republican Mills Godwin by 1.5 percent. A certain Tom Sherwood was probably covering Virginia politics then.
SHERWOODYes. Mr. Howell had a substantial reputation and career in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
NNAMDIOne of the first issues listed on your website, Robert Sarvis, is your support for marriage equality. Your site actually features the symbol people see on so many Facebook pages and Twitter feeds supporting same-sex marriage in Virginia. Virginia's actually a state with a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which only passed a few years ago. What gives you reason to believe most people in the Commonwealth agree with you now that this should be changed?
SARVISWell, there's been a lot of changes in Virginia society and in Virginia polls, showing that the support for same-sex marriage has totally flipped and so that there is now a majority in many polls. You know, that's sufficient enough to say, let's have a vote. But I'm also talking about, you know, the principle of the matter, that if we're going to have government in the business of giving legal privileges based on personal relationships, we should make that equally accessible to same-sex couples.
SARVISAnd, you know, I go around the state, and I talk about -- it doesn't matter, liberal or conservative audiences, I talk about both gay rights and gun rights. And, you know, I meet people who don't even know that 50 years ago, interracial marriages were illegal in Virginia. So when you're ignorant of history, you're condemned to repeat it. So, you know, I think I'm in a unique position to actually talk about this issue.
NNAMDIBecause 50 years ago, you and wife couldn't get married in Virginia.
SARVISThat's correct. And my mom and dad couldn't have been married either because they're also of different races, although I'll say that it's quite likely that the laws weren't equally applied to white-Asian versus white-black relationships.
SHERWOODI always like to ask political candidates this question. How do you earn your living? How do you make money? I haven't looked at your financial disclosure reports. I assume Virginia has one worth looking at. But how do you make money?
SARVISWell, right now...
SHERWOODAre you a middle class person, a lower income person, a high income person? People who don't know you might want to just have some fuel. I mean, we know what Terry McAuliffe has done. We know what Ken Cuccinelli has done. But who are you in terms of how you earn -- care for your family?
SARVISRight. Well, right now, I'm focusing 100 percent on the campaign, so I'm not working.
SARVISBut previously I've had a few careers as a lawyer, a software developer, and studying economics, doing research.
SHERWOODWhat was your most recent last job before you devoted yourself full-time to the campaign?
SARVISWell, the last two years, I was a graduate student. And as part of that, I had a job at the Mercatus Center, which is a -- I was doing research for them as part of the graduate program.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now. Here is Marla in Arlington, Va. Marla, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARLAYes. Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. My question for the gubernatorial candidate is, you know, I'm African-American. I'm well-educated. I have a great job here in Virginia. My concern is about the Libertarian Party and the need for us to just have state's right and no federal oversight for many things, including things like the Department of Education.
MARLAIf there was no federal oversight, I mean, (word?) would still exist. So my concern is that, how do you protect people who are in the minority population if there's no federal oversight to make sure that what's right is done? And I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIYou only have about a minute left.
SARVISOkay. Sure. I'm going to say we do need federal oversight over protection of individual rights. The Fourteenth Amendment is a very Libertarian, classical liberal amendment, and it says that states cannot deny equal protection of the laws, can't deny due process. So I'm a very strong supporter of every level of government having a duty to protect individual rights.
NNAMDIAnd Ben in Silver Spring, go ahead, please.
BENHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I was just curious as to what exactly the guest's intentions are for gun laws concerning people with mental health issues.
NNAMDIAnd you only have about 20 seconds left.
SARVISWell, I think that, you know, gun rights are important thing. They're constitutional rights, and I think that if we're going to have better -- if we're going to worry about mental health issues and gun rights, we should make sure that we're having court determinations of loss of rights.
NNAMDIRobert Sarvis is the Libertarian candidate for governor of Virginia. Thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
SARVISThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Happy trails to you.
SHERWOODMandela statue on Saturday and H Street Festival. What better way to spend the day.
NNAMDIAnd next week, when we're coming to you, I've heard rumors that we'll be in another location. Thank you all for listening.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
We explore the lessons from cities that have boosted their minimum wage as D.C. activists try to get a minimum wage hike on the ballot next year.
Kojo sits down with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to talk about her first months on the job, how she's prioritizing public health needs, and how her personal story instructs her vision for health policy and progress in Baltimore.
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.