The rise of the American space program overlapped with the dawn of the civil rights movement in the United States. Many of NASA's first African-American employees worked to send humans into space while at the same time finding their place in the struggle for racial equality. Kojo explores this intersection in history with two authors who chronicled the stories of some of the earliest African-American space workers - and an astronaut who followed them to become the first African-American in to lead NASA on a permanent basis.
Democrats take back the governor’s mansion in Virginia, and the spotlight shifts to Maryland’s gubernatorial contest in 2014. Plus, D.C.’s taxi drivers sue over requirements for credit card readers and rooftop lights. 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
- Andy Shallal Owner of Busboys and Poets, Iraqi American, peace activist, artist, and co-founder of The Peace Cafe.
- Charniele Herring Chair, Virginia Democratic Party; Member, Virginia House of Delegates (D-Alexandria)
Andy Shallal said he is not officially a candidate for D.C. mayor, but plans to pick up the petitions required to run for mayor today. The Busboys and Poets owner said he will formally launch his campaign Tuesday at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Calling himself the “possible candidate-to-be,” Shallal explained why he’s running for mayor and what he thinks he can accomplish.
The Politics Hour Weekly 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 NBC4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. It seems like he was just in here hours ago, doing the Virginia election.
MR. TOM SHERWOODAnd not that, wearing the same clothes.
NNAMDIBut that was Tuesday night. We were here from 7:00 to about 10:00 going over those elections. We'll get an opportunity to go over them some more today because we'll soon be talking with Charniele Herring, the chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, and then later with Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal, who may have some news for quite a few of you who don't know about his political interests. But just going over, Tom, what we did on Tuesday evening -- did I mention that you're an NBC4 reporter and a columnist of the Current Newspapers?
SHERWOODWell, you can always mention that.
NNAMDIWell, I just did.
NNAMDIWhen we went over on Tuesday night, the only race that was not certain was race for attorney general between the two Marks, Obenshain and Herring, both state senators. That race is still up in the air.
SHERWOODRight. Two million votes, a couple hundred difference. It's a remarkable fix. And it just confirms what we were saying on Tuesday night and leading up to the race, that Mark Obenshain had the establishment, family record of being in the commonwealth of Virginia. He did not run a hard right campaign. His opponent had accused him of some hard right issues, but he didn't run a hard right campaign that Ken Cuccinelli did or E. W. Jackson did in the other two races. And I think it showed in the polling. And now of course we still don't know who wins and there may have to be a runoff -- I mean, not a runoff, a recount.
NNAMDIThis one is definitely headed for a recount. As I said, we'll discuss that and other results in the Virginia election just a little bit later. But the latest news in the ongoing probe into Governor Robert McDonnell is that up comes not just Jonnie Williams, Jr, who is stepping down from Star Scientific, but his brother, Donnie Williams, who according to today's edition of the Washington Post -- apparently did some renovation work on the home of the governor that Donnie Williams thought he was doing for free because his brother asked him to do it and then somehow later, maybe mysteriously, he got paid for doing that work. But the plot does thicken.
SHERWOODIt's called backfilling.
NNAMDIThe plot thickens, doesn't it?
SHERWOODWell, actually, I think maybe the plot is not thickening. I think we're coming to the dramatic conclusion of this. I think the -- I just have to give credit to the Washington Post -- my former employer of many years ago -- and the reporters, Rosalind Helderman and Carol Leonnig, who have done a spectacular job of covering this from last spring. Once again, we now see where money was used to benefit the Bob McDonnell family. And it was done in a questionable way.
SHERWOODBefore the election, though, the federal prosecutors, who have been looking at these gifts to McDonnell and his family, pretty much went into a silent mode while the campaign was playing out in the last few weeks, particularly because they didn't want to interfere with the Virginia elections. Now that those elections are over I think we'll be seeing relatively soon -- sooner rather than later -- what's going to happen to Bob McDonnell.
NNAMDIAnd now Jonnie Williams has announced that he is stepping down as chief executive of Star Scientific. He will remain involved with the company for a year after he resigns in a "non-executive role." He is going to be resigning, it would seem, at the shareholders meeting in December. They're saying that it's time for them to move ahead. Obviously, the Star Scientific is interested in a stronger relationship, if you will, with the government and they can't do that at this point.
SHERWOODWell, Star Scientific, whatever the value merits of its products and the way it tried to sell them in the state of Virginia and elsewhere, with the support of the governor's wife, that company -- if it's going to proceed -- has got to reorder its house. And that's what it's doing. And that's exactly what we'll expect in the Virginia politics. Terry McAuliffe, the winning Democratic governor, said that he would make ethics reform part of his goal, to tougher laws on disclosure of gifts, so that maybe the governor's wife or governor's children cannot receive tens of thousands of dollars from people or organizations and companies that want some kind of benefit.
NNAMDIAnd a lot more to come about the District of Columbia, but while we're dealing in the commonwealth of Virginia, this would be an opportune time to introduce our guest. She joins us by phone. Charniele Herring is the chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. She's also a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. She represents the commonwealth's 46th District. Charniele Herring, thank you very much for joining us.
MS. CHARNIELE HERRINGThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation. If you have questions or comments for Charniele Herring, call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. You've got to be happy with the results from Tuesday, confirmed wins in the top two races on the ticket, governor and lieutenant governor. A recount may be looming in the races for attorney general. Allow me to clarify that you are not related to Senator Mark Herring.
HERRINGThat is correct. I am not related. He's a good friend, but we're not related. And you're right, I'm very pleased of all our candidates, from the governor to our governor elect Terry McAuliffe -- that sounds good to me -- all the way, you know, to our local races. Our candidates ran pragmatic campaigns, focused on jobs, economy and the education and we're very pleased with the outcome, but, yeah, like you say, the picture is not complete. We are still waiting for the final vote count and canvas, which is happening with Mark Herring.
NNAMDIBut I look at the pictures of you and Senator Herring and you could be cousins, but that's another story. (laugh)
HERRINGWell, you know (laugh).
HERRINGYes. Go ahead.
SHERWOODLet's move on from that. (laugh) What is, for the people who are listening, knowing that the race was so close, what is your understanding is the latest vote total difference between the two candidates in the attorney general race?
HERRINGRight, and I -- and you can speculate -- You know, the last number I heard was in the 700s, but let me say this is ongoing. And the canvas is still happening, you know, as we speak. As you probably know, provisional ballots, voters who voted provisionally had to bring in their ID. Just a few minutes ago the deadline ended at noon. So we still have votes to count and this is a process. And I'm proud of our attorneys, they've been in the rooms across the commonwealth regarding this canvas. And so we need to make sure we move the process, you know…
NNAMDIEspecially giving that there are reports today about potential irregularities in the absentee voting in Fairfax. And we don't know how that's going to turn out.
HERRINGNo, we don't. I mean, it…
SHERWOODWhat do we mean by potential irregularities?
HERRINGWell, I mean, for example, it could be transcribing numbers wrong, you know the numbers for Obenshain should have been Herring, things like that. And then the absentee ballots that was reported in the Post. Our attorneys knew about it, but, again, we're careful. We just don't want to disturb the process and let it play out. So right now, of course, the absentee votes are being taken a look at. So we're still in the canvas process right now.
NNAMDIJust to mention what the Post reported today because it was flagged in Fairfax County by Congressman Gerry Connolly's political team pointing out that in the 10th District 88 percent of voters who requested a ballot actually voted. Eighty-six percent did so in the 11th District, but in the 8th District only 50 percent of those who requested ballots voted, lower than any Congressional district in the state, according to the Gerry Connolly team, and that was considered to be fairly unusual.
NNAMDIBut back to you, Charniele Herring, what lessons do you take moving forward about where you need to go? A win is a win, but some would say that you were facing a controversial candidate who did as much to beat himself as you did to beat him, who was not getting the support or full support of his party institutionally, that the Republican governor was under federal investigation and that you still barely won. What can you learn from that aspect of the result about where the party needs to go?
HERRINGWell, let me say first, we knew that the race would be close. And I've always said that we've got to run a race like we're 20 points behind. And that's what happened. I mean, our candidates, our volunteers, we worked really hard, the party worked hard and made sure that we're running strong and like we're running behind. This is unprecedented. You know, it's been since the '80s that, you know, the party that's opposite the office, you know, the party in the White House wins in Virginia. So we knew that we were facing a challenge of history.
HERRINGSo what we take is that we still have to have a strong grounding. The grassroots method of campaigning works, commercials are great, but the door-to-door contact is what works. And our party in Virginia has been working to build a strong voter file, and that's our focus, is to continue to do that and still engage people. We are strengthening our local Democratic committees and we are actually building benches of candidates that will, you know, more than likely run for local office. So we take from this is that we can never let up and that we've got to continue to build.
SHERWOODA lot of people were thinking -- some Republicans were thinking, many Democrats were thinking that this election would turn back the most conservative aspects of the Republican Party, the Tea Party people who have been aligning themselves with the Republicans. But the Tea Party people are not disappointed in their loss to the extent that they're going to rethink what they're doing. They think that the Republican Party, itself, the mainstream party, turned against Ken Cuccinelli, which helped a lot. I know you're a Democrat, but how much of that do you see? That he didn't get the -- Terry McAuliffe had people across the board for his side.
HERRINGYou know they're free to think that. That's true. And you know what? They're free to think that. You know what? We're going to still focus on job creation, education. That seems to work. That's what middle America is interested in. It's what Virginians are interested in. And we're going to continue to work for the best interest of Virginians. If they want to go on their (laugh) -- that's fine. I’m not concerned about their strategy. I'm only concerned about our Democratic…
NNAMDICharniele Herring is chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. If you'd like to join the conversation with her, if you have questions or comments for her, call at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com.
SHERWOODWho is going to keep the reins on Terry McAuliffe so he doesn't revert to the personality of 2009?
HERRING(laugh) You know what? Terry has got a great amount of energy. And I was with him the last day of the campaign, on Tuesday all day. And you're not going to prevent him from being energetic and that's what's good. And in the end, Virginia voters selected a candidate, Terry McAuliffe, who is better suited to bring folks together across the aisle in creating jobs and education. So, you know…
SHERWOODAre you reading that? No...
HERRINGNo. (laugh) No, sir, I am not.
SHERWOODIt sounds like you were reading that. No. But, you know, Terry McAuliffe's personality in 2009 was bad for him. He toned it down. He spent the last four years traveling around the state, going to fundraisers, helping out in communities, doing all types of things to run. Do you think he's matured or he's just realized that that, again, the used-car salesman approach did not work and he changed?
HERRINGCan I say something about this human nature for all of us? He took me in 2009, I’m different today. I mean it's just -- we're just -- I'm sure when you started out reporting you were -- you are different today than you were when you started out. That's just normal.
SHERWOODI was just as grumpy. (laughter)
HERRINGI mean, you know, people of Virginia saw that he was gubernatorial and they elected him. And so I hope he doesn't lose his enthusiasm. He has great ideas. And as you see, there was bipartisan support. The Virginia Beach mayor endorsed him. And you know what? Part of that is that he is enthusiastic. He's not about criticizing people for their sexual orientation, their religious values. He is about making Virginia better.
NNAMDIIt's pretty informative to look at a map of the red counties and the blue counties from this most recent election. There are still huge geographic areas in Virginia where the Democrats are not winning. How do you go about getting traction with more of those voters?
HERRINGWe have to continue to work. We are, as I said earlier, building benches of individuals who are interested in running for office. I think, you know, if we can certainly start people off and running in local offices -- there are people who ran in the House races who are still interested in continuing to run for office. So it's going to take time, but it is doable. And I can say from traveling the state over this past year, there are a lot of Democrats out there and every vote's counted in those areas. And so there are Democrats out there. It's just that we've got to continue to work the ground.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to Angela, in Arlington, Va. Angela, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi..
ANGELAGreat show, great topic.
ANGELAI appreciate the opportunity to tell you that I’m a moderate Republican and my husband is and many of our friends are, but we voted against Cuccinelli. We would have voted for any Democrat running against Cuccinelli, basically. We're furious with the Republican Party, with the Tea Partiers. I'm a defense contractor and I'm just livid with Congress and the government shutdown. And I'm prepared to vote for any Democrat right now. (laugh)
NNAMDIAngela, thank you very much for your call. Charniele Herring, what do you have to do to hold onto voters like Angela, because her initial orientation is not to vote Democratic. She voted against a Republican candidate that she didn't like. That could conceivably change in the future.
HERRINGIt can. You know, we will be reaching out to people who see that the Republican Party has gone too far. We've always prided ourselves as Democrats that we're a big tent party and that, you know, what she values is probably what more Democrats value and that her alignment is more with our party. And that's, you know, as I said, we have to continue building. We're happy about our results, but we've got a lot of work ahead of us.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODLet's look ahead to the elections coming up, the 2014 -- well, no. Let me stay in Virginia just one moment. From election night Tuesday in the general assembly, what is the -- how many Republicans are there, how many Democrats are there now? I think it was 68-32. What is it now?
HERRINGI believe it's going to be, sorry, 67-33. We had a net gain…
SHERWOODOkay, there's been no major pick up. No major pick up.
HERRINGYeah, we had a net gain. Well, actually what major happened is that now Governor Elect Terry McAuliffe will not be veto proof. So there is a measure that he needs to veto, we will now have enough Democrats to support his veto and protect it. So there is a shift. We will likely, hopefully get additional seats on committees, as well.
SHERWOODAll right. Good. Can I ask you, in a northern Virginia question, how often -- I get all the D Triple C, the Democratic campaign, Congressional campaign committee press releases, and those national campaign press releases just hammer the heck out of Frank Wolf, the long-term Republican 10th District in northern Virginia. Do the Democrats have a candidate to run against him this time?
HERRINGActually, we -- there is a candidate out there, but they are likely to be others. So I can just keep it at that. I mean, we're honestly always on candidate recruitment and people are enquiring about running in that space.
SHERWOODDo you lump Frank Wolf into the Tea Party world? I mean, his record seems to be more moderate than that. And he's been long serving. Is he a type of Republican you want to defeat just because he's a Republican?
HERRINGWell, as chair of the party I will say we will always try to be, you know, to defeat a Republican. I mean, that's my job, is to make sure we're recruiting candidates to run. Yes. True that he is seen as a more moderate, but I don't think his voting record reflects that of a Democrat. So…
SHERWOODWhat about -- do you think he might retire? Certainly there's been an effort to push a rumor he's going to retire. His campaign manager says that is absolutely wrong.
HERRINGRight. You know, it's up to him whether or not he's going to retire. But we will always, you know, try to fill the candidate. And if I can just make a correction, we did actually pick up two seats. I apologize. Because I wanted to make sure I get this right. We do have two new delegates, Mike Futrell and Monty Mason who did defeat two Republicans.
NNAMDIOur guest is Charniele Herring, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. She's also a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. She represents the commonwealth's 46th District. Getting back to our previous caller, Angela, who voted against Cuccinelli, she said, rather than for McAuliffe. What are the issues that you think you can leverage in the general assembly to make inroads with voters like Angela? Are there bread and butter kinds of bills you think Terry McAuliffe and the Democrats in Richmond can work on that can help you on that front?
HERRINGOh, absolutely. And, you know, the difficulty is when you're in a minority in the legislature. Often times your bread and butter bills get killed, but I'm sure with Governor McAuliffe he will continue to do the things that Democrats have been doing, focusing on transportation, especially here in the Northern Virginia area. I think that was a major factor in this gubernatorial election. Terry supported the transportation bill, bipartisan bill that Governor McDonnell actually put forth -- at least something, a plan that we could work with.
HERRINGHis opponent tried to fight against it and defeat it. And I think that that certainly played out in the Northern Virginia area. So we will continue to focus on transportation, education and worker retraining at our community colleges, is, again, something that are bread and butter issues that affect families and it affects, you know, people who are trying to get their children into school. So we will continue to focus on those things.
NNAMDIHere is Jack, in McLean, Va. Jack, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACKGood afternoon. One question I have for the three of you, before any comment, is unless something's come out in the press today, the last I read was that the Cuccinelli camp would not -- proactively decided not to call and either concede or congratulate McAuliffe on his victory. And I'd like to get the reaction from each of you on that because that seems to be kind of (unintelligible) …
NNAMDIFirst and foremost, I'm not sure about that. Are you sure about that, Delegate Herring?
HERRINGMy understanding is that -- the last I heard that there was intent to call Terry. And that's fine. You know, Terry is focused on (laugh) moving Virginia forward, not on whether Ken Cuccinelli is going to give him a phone call. That's just the way -- it just actually speaks volumes about Ken Cuccinelli and his attitude.
SHERWOODWell, Bruce DePuyt of News Channel 8 has reported, again, that he has not yet called. I don't know -- in the long time of American politics, you know, you can be opponents, you don't have to be enemies. So it does seem to be just…
SHERWOOD…that it's somewhat odd not to -- and traditionally, to call the person who wins the campaign. So maybe Mr. Cuccinelli has a reason that we're not aware of, but if it's just because he's angry that he didn't win, that seems somewhat odd in American politics.
JACKDoesn't it also speak to Cuccinelli's basic character, so much for the concept of any type of bipartisanship.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know if it's his character.
JACKThis is how he reacts over such a small matter, how would he act in larger one?
NNAMDIAs Tom said, I don't know if it's his character, as much as whether it speaks to the notion of the partisanship that currently exists in the state of political affairs in the commonwealth. Do you think, Charniele?
HERRINGNo. See, I have to say no.
HERRINGI can say this, that as a member of the legislature, you know, we fight hard as Democrats and Republicans, but we come together. I mean there are reasons maybe I'll vote against a bill, but a Republican may vote against it for other reasons. And we do work together. And as I say, like you saw last session, that transportation bill, we worked together. And Democrats can't get a bill passed without the help of Republicans now. I mean that's just the reality.
HERRINGAnd I can say that working with the members, you know, we put on our jerseys, we fight during the election, but afterwards, serving in that legislature, there's still an aura of genteelism and respect for each other and getting the job done for Virginians because we all know that we represent not only people of our party, but people of the other party and independents or whatever the persuasion. And that's our duty, is to serve.
NNAMDIHere is Honor, in Arlington, Va. Honor, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HONORHi. I belong to a group called Moms Demand Action. And we actively support candidates that work for sane gun legislation. And I would like to know from Ms. Herring, if she sees a change in the Democratic Party in Virginia? In addition to supporting transportation and jobs issues, are they now going to more support and promote sane gun legislation? Because the candidate Terry McAuliffe, that came out strongly in favor of our positions, won a lot more cleanly than did the struggle that Mr. Herring, who declined to support our positions, is undergoing right now.
NNAMDISane gun legislation, Charniele Herring?
HERRINGYes. Well, I mean, again, our party's a big tent party, so, yeah, you do. You saw Terry McAuliffe very strong on that issue about gun safety. So we -- I mean it's something that I'm sure -- and I should say this and you should know -- legislators have constantly put forth bills regarding gun safety and they do get defeated, at least in the House. So you're likely to see it again. It's not that it's not being promoted. It's just that the measures, at least legislatively are getting defeated.
SHERWOODWomen voted overwhelmingly for Terry McAuliffe. How big of the role did the abortion issues in the general assembly play in this election?
HERRINGIt played a big role. I mean starting with the 2012 legislature, when we had the ultrasound bill, personhood, and it was not, you know, unfortunately Virginia got national attention because of that. And I think it played a big role. Family planning and (laugh) interfering with a woman and her doctor is something that is not apparently liked by Virginia women. And then Virginia women did certainly have a higher percentage of support for Terry McAuliffe because he respects women to make their own healthcare decisions. And so you certainly did see that.
NNAMDICharniele Herring, thank you for joining us.
HERRINGThank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
NNAMDICharniele Herring is the chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. She's also a member of the Virginia House of Delegates who represents the commonwealth's 46th District. You're listening to "The Politics Hour." Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. The relationship between the taxi drivers of the District of Columbia and the Teamsters, that alliance seems to be getting stronger, Tom Sherwood.
NNAMDIThe two together have filed a lawsuit calling for the District to stop impounding cabs that do not meet the new modernization requirements until the city can prove the credit card system is reliable and there are enough dome lights available for installation. That from the city paper. The cab drivers decided to team with the Teamsters Union over the rollout of new cabs in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWell, it's certainly true that for the last 30 years there's only been a couple of organizations of cab drivers that have had any kind of skill to get the cab drivers in the same room to talk about what they want and what they should be doing in response to any city policies. Because there's been such an aggressive mood since Adrian Fenty, to make the cabs have the same colors, to have credit card machines, to have working lights on top of the cabs, all those things, some of the cab drivers have dropped out of the business. Some are finding it very difficult to pay the cost to make these transitions.
SHERWOODAnd so the Teamsters -- and I'm not sure exactly, were they invited in or were they volunteered to step in, but they've at least tried to come in now to organize. First filing the suit -- I mean there's been plenty of time for the cab drivers to adjust to the new rules. I'm not sure what the basis of the suit's going to be, but the Teamsters certainly can give the cab drivers a voice.
SHERWOODAnd one thing they did, Pedro Ribeiro, the mayor's press secretary, had made a disparaging remark that the cab system in this city was like a third world country. And the Teamsters immediately put out a press release demanding that Pedro apologize. And Pedro has apologized to anyone who was offended, which sounds like a qualified apology.
NNAMDIThe District's 4th and 8th graders making gains in math and reading tests this year. They got increases that were some of the biggest increases in the history of the exam. Is there any rain that can fall on that parade?
SHERWOODWell, only because they have so far to go that they have so much to catch up.
NNAMDIThat's right. They're still among -- they're still trailing much of the nation.
SHERWOODBut, you know, it is good. Even David Catania, who's been very critical of the pace of reform and narrowing the achievement gap, it was said, you know, yesterday was the day to celebrate the good news that people are doing better. But even as Arnie Duncan, the U.S. Secretary said and Mayor Gray said and Catania said, the achievement gap between whites, blacks and Hispanics is just woeful and that more needs to be done to close that gap. The mayor says we're closing it, but it certainly is a slow close.
NNAMDIOnto electoral politics. We have a candidate in the 2014 race for attorney general, lawyer Paul Zuckerberg has announced that he'll file candidacy papers at the Board of Elections. He's also suing the D.C. government to stop a bill that would move the election to 2018. A hearing on that is scheduled for Thursday.
SHERWOODNo, it was held yesterday. And the judge says…
NNAMDIThat was yesterday. That was Thursday, correct?
SHERWOODYes. This is Friday. It's almost the weekend, Kojo.
NNAMDISee, that's what happens when we work Tuesday night. I lost track.
SHERWOODApparently we need to get you to the weekend.
SHERWOODYes, the hearing was yesterday. And I apologize, the judge's name doesn't come to my mind now, but he had said he would hope to rule within a week. Paul Zuckerberg, an attorney, has already filed papers to run as a candidate for attorney general in the April 1, 2014 election. The council put it off to 2018 and there are people, including the council's own lawyer, that said it's illegal to do so. So we'll see what the judge says about it.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of elections, one candidate for mayor, Reta Lewis, is emphasizing her status as an outsider in this race. She's really not very well known among voters in the city, at this point.
SHERWOODReta Lewis has a reputation and a career of national and international politics.
SHERWOODAnd I think people find her big challenge, rather, is to find that national and international politics doesn't play as well when people are talking about the corner building, whether it should be four stories or three, and things like that. And so she's going to have to get her feet well grounded in local issues to make a real impact.
SHERWOODBut she seems to have the energy to do it. I saw her this morning at the Board of Elections, when she was signing papers down with -- Tommy Wells showed up, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans was supposed to be there this afternoon. It's a big league race and her first outing on next Wednesday -- we'll have a mayoral debate with the D.C. Bar and she'll be there, maybe among others.
NNAMDIWell, among others may be one well known name in the city, Andy Shallal. He is a business owner and an activist. He's the owner of the Busboys and Poets Restaurant. And he joins us in studio now. Andy Shallal, good to see you.
MR. ANDY SHALLALIt's good to see you. Thank you.
NNAMDIMost people in the District know you as a businessman and a restorator who takes politics very seriously. Questions have been swirling lately about just how seriously and whether you're thinking about engaging in the District politics in, well, a different way. You told the Washington City paper that you'd pick up petitions today at the District Board of Elections to begin work on a campaign for mayor. Have you officially decided that this is something you're going to do? Are you a candidate for mayor?
SHALLALI'm not a candidate yet, I’m going to be picking up the petitions this afternoon. And I'm going to be making an announcement on Tuesday.
SHERWOODSo picking up the petitions is the official move to become a candidate and then the informal announcement will be on Tuesday. Will it be at one of your fabulous restaurants?
SHALLALIt'll be actually at another fabulous restaurant, Ben's Chili Bowl.
NNAMDITom Sherwood has been obsessed with restaurants of late. He couldn't get it off his mind when we discussed the (unintelligible) …
SHERWOODThat's going to be a cool county music bar. And I invite you there.
NNAMDIThere we go again. (laugh) To those…
SHERWOODCulturally deprived of country music.
NNAMDIAndy Shallal, to those who do not know you, how would you describe your politics? Where do you see yourself fitting in among the other announced candidates, in terms of your political philosophy?
SHALLALWell, first of all, let me say I love your new digs here.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
SHALLALOkay. And I'm hearing your voice. I went to the restroom and I'm hearing you there, as well. That was very interesting.
NNAMDIWhere, Tom, doesn't like that part.
SHERWOODI do not.
SHALLALRight, right. And then I heard that the mayor was here -- was it last week?
SHALLALIt was last Friday. And he gave a proclamation as Kojo Nnamdi Day.
SHALLALI would like to give a proclamation…
SHERWOODSee, he's already -- oh, go ahead.
SHALLAL…of Kojo Nnamdi Week as the candidate-to-be, the possible candidate-to-be. So here you go. You got a week.
NNAMDIThat will never happen as we (laughter)…
SHERWOODWas that the answer to what type of politics he is?
NNAMDINo. That was called schmoozing the host.
SHERWOODIt doesn't work. You're a progressive. You are a progressive Democrat.
SHERWOODYou're proud of the word progressive.
SHALLALYes, I am.
SHERWOODI don't think there's anyone more progressive in the race than you, I would think, on national and international and local issues.
SHALLALI like progress.
SHERWOODAnd unlike Reta, I mean, you do have a lot of local experience.
SHALLALYes. I like progress. I (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWhy do you plan on running and why do you think this is something you can do?
SHALLALI'm interested in seeing how this whole race is shaping out. I was sitting back looking and, let's see, what is this city in need of. And these days of budget surplus we feel like we have a leadership deficit. I think we really need to see how we can turn this around. We're living in extraordinary times when we have more condos and apartments, more beer gardens, more bike lanes, more of so many things and we rate it at the top of everything. And yet we also have 20 percent poverty, a third of our kids are under some kind of assistance. A third of adult black males have been to jail in this city.
SHALLALSo there's a lot of issues that have not been addressed. So when I hear politicians speaking that we are on the right track, I'm thinking, where are we heading? That's a serious problem. And I want to be able to (unintelligible).
NNAMDIIf you have comments or questions for Andy Shallal, call us now at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
SHERWOODMayor Gray's budget has $100 million for affordable housing this time around they hope to spread out. There have been various efforts to certainly improve the schools where it's something like 70 percent or so of the students get subsidized food services. What specifically do you think would be an example of what the city's not doing that it should be doing?
SHALLALWell, we talked about the scores that we just got, the fourth and eighth graders that they've improved.
SHALLALThe one score that you're not going to see in that report is that over 50 percent of our kids drop out of school. Now, 50 percent...
SHERWOODWhich has been consistent for several decades.
SHALLALBut it's not improving. And that's a crisis. To me, that's a crisis. If we don't address those very issues, if we don't get kids excited about school, if we don't get kids to stay in school, if we don't educate them for the next century, for the next decade, we're going to be failing all along. For me, you have to make school exciting for kids. You have to bring them in.
SHERWOODAnd how do you do that?
SHALLALWell, I mean, one simple list is...
SHERWOODI mean, has Chancellor Rhee -- Henderson not doing a good job?
SHALLALWell, you know, let's not talk about individuals here. But, like one simple example would be to lower the voting age to 17, for instance. You lower the voting age to 17, you turn the last year of high school into civics year where you align the curriculum with that age.
SHALLALAnd you get them to really get engaged, to really focus on what it means to be a citizen of the District of Columbia, to have them care about the fact that we don't have voting rights in this city, to have them be engaged and ask the politicians the tough questions that they'd -- the politicians just sort of skate through with the same usual questions, same usual answers, and get elected over and over again.
SHALLALWe keep seeing -- you know, we keep seeing that. And I feel like there's a better way to bring kids into the mix. And I think if you bring them into the mix, make them part of the decision-making process, I think you can go a long way. We have over...
NNAMDIIn Takoma Park, Md., they lowered it to 16. Why'd you choose 17?
SHALLALYeah. But here's the thing, there's 7,000 17 year olds in this city. That's a hell of a voting bloc. I mean, if 16 makes more sense, let's go to 16. I'm all for engaging young people and trying to get them so that they feel that they're part of the solution, not just being handed answers to questions that they know they have the answers to.
SHERWOODWhat can you -- I was at the Board of Elections today when Muriel Bowser signed her papers. And Tommy Wells and Rita-Jo Lewis signed the papers. And Jack Evans had not gotten there before I left. But I asked them all about the issues of ethics. The current mayor is under a long investigation, a criminal investigation of whether his campaign -- he violated the law along with his campaign.
SHERWOODThree council members have had to resign, facing felonies -- one of them's in prison now, one's going. Where does ethics fit in? What new ideas do you have about making sure this city is ethically run no matter what it does?
SHALLALI think that's really one of the key issues. I think people see politics as being dirty, filthy. It's not something that a decent person would get into. That's not a good place to be, to start. When I told people I'm interested in possibly running for mayor, the first thing they said, why do you want to be in this messy, filthy business? And that's not very reassuring. These are the people that make decisions that affect my life. I want them to have integrity. I want them to care about me. I don't want them to do the pay-to-play type of stuff and be able to raise money under the table and do all those things.
SHALLALThat's not good for anybody. And, you know, what's, I think, the most fascinating thing is -- and politicians oftentimes ignore this -- is the way people how their dissatisfaction is by not going to the polls. There are 65 percent of the people that don't even vote at all. That's...
SHALLALIf that was in any other country, it'd be a crisis. We would say, the elections are a sham. We would be -- it'd be headline CNN news. But in this city, in this country, for whatever reason, it's OK to only have 11 percent of the people show up to vote in some elections.
SHERWOODThe reason I ask the ethics question -- not only is it a principal issue in the campaign, but you were the chairman of Michael Brown's 2012 campaign where -- and the audit of the campaign showed missing money, confusion about whether the treasurer took the money or whether it went to Michael or whatever. Since then, Michael was caught on criminal tape taking money. He shared your liberal progressive politics, but he ended up being a crook. So what are your thoughts about that?
SHALLALIt's one of the saddest chapters. I really -- you know, he did have some great ideas there. He increased the safety net for people that are in need. He did a lot of great progressive things. Unfortunately, he succumbed to greed, something that many politicians seem to do in this city, and he ended up falling under. And I was -- I tell you, nobody was more disappointed than I am.
SHALLALThat's for sure. My sister had worked for his father, Ron Brown. You know, I had a lot of respect for the family, and I was very disappointed. I have to tell you -- I haven't talked to him since, by the way. He never called me back.
NNAMDIYou've said in the past that you would only get into this race if Vincent Gray, who you had supported in the past, decided not to. Why are you done waiting on Vincent Gray?
SHALLALWell, I've called. I've tweeted. I have texted. I have tried many different ways to reach the mayor. His chief of staff called me, and I spoke with him. And I spoke to the mayor himself. I told him once I'm in, I'm going to stay in. Once I start getting money, I'm going to continue to be in the race. So I think I've given enough smoke signals there to let him know that he wants to get in now, let's do it.
SHERWOODAnd some people think he's not going to run, but it's clear we don't know actually whether he's going to run or not. But, you know, there is still this criminal investigation over his campaign in 20 -- I mean, his close buddies, his -- people he's known very well, people who ran his campaign have pleaded guilty. This is not some suspicion. This is just guilt, so...
SHALLALWell, it's, you know...
SHERWOOD...some people think it disqualifies the mayor from running again despite the fact they say he's done many good things as mayor.
SHALLALI hear you, but I think, you know, he's stuck, like you said, between a rock and a hard place. If he runs, it would send a signal that maybe he's cleared at some level. If he doesn't run, it may send a signal that he may be guilty and that's why he's getting out. So he's kind of stuck. I really I have to say I don't want to be in his shoes. That's for sure.
SHERWOODNow can I ask...
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Andy Shallal. He is a business owner and activist here in Washington. He's -- in the Washington area, really. He's the owner of the Busboys and Poets restaurants. He'll be picking up...
SHERWOODAlmost as big as McDonald's.
NNAMDIHe'll be picking up petitions later today in the rear for mayor in this city.
SHALLALOh, boy. We have grass-fed burgers. They don't.
NNAMDII'm glad Tom mentioned almost as large as McDonald's 'cause I wanted to go to businesses and other issues like that. But I don't know, Tom, where do you want to go?
SHERWOODI just want to -- one last question. There is a rumor that Rock Newman, the boxing promoter and longtime business guy, an African-American (word?)...
NNAMDIWhose show is broadcast every Saturday from Busboys and Poets.
SHERWOOD...is going to be your campaign chairman or be the head of your campaign or do something. What's he going to do?
SHALLALYeah. I think once the campaign is off the ground, he will be the chairman of the campaign.
SHERWOODNow he has a lot of ties with Marion Barry which, you know, people -- and that's a mix -- Marion Barry is a mixed name in the city, intensive feelings one way or the other. How's that going to affect your campaign?
SHALLALI've had ties with Marion Barry.
SHERWOODRock Newman is his own person.
SHALLALI think everyone in this city has had ties with Marion Barry at one point or another. You know, it's really...
SHERWOODWell, I wrote a book about...
SHALLALI know you did, and I just reread it.
SHERWOODRock -- you know, Rock Newman is an established business person with his own world. I'm not suggesting it's a Barry tie, but he was very close to Barry which I think some people will use against you.
SHALLALHe was also close to Anthony Williams. He was close to me.
SHERWOODCo-chairman of his campaign.
SHALLALExactly. I think Rock is a...
NNAMDIHe's close to the prime minister of Bermuda.
SHALLALExactly. He's an important personality in this city.
SHERWOODWill you keep his radio show in your restaurant?
SHALLALThat's up to him.
NNAMDIOne issue that shaped the last mayoral race was that a lot of people who have lived in this city feel that they're being left out of the city's economic success, that the new restaurants, the new apartments, the new great growth in places like the 14th Street corridor are doing as much to push people out as they're doing to revive those neighborhoods.
NNAMDIWhat kind of restaurant has your restaurant business given to you about these growing pains? And from a public policy perspective, what do you think you can do as mayor to make sure as many people as possible benefit from this growth that the city is experiencing? Clearly, a lot of people are being left out and pushed out.
SHALLALI wholeheartedly agree with you. I think there's a serious problem. There's a cultural divide also in this city that's growing. I think we could use a lot more racial and cultural uplifting. It has to be done consciously. We have to bring people together in different venues so that they can talk about these issues at the very least and be able to exchange ideas in how we could do it better. I don't think having 72 restaurants along a stretch of 10 blocks on 14th Street is helping anybody really.
SHALLALIn that sense, I think it's good and it's useful to have some great restaurants. I think competition's always great. But when I hear things like the Reeves Center is going to be, you know, pawned off to the next highest bidder, to me, that's a little alarming. This is not a way that I would move the city. That's for sure. I think a place like the Reeves Center can be turned into something other than more restaurants and more retail spaces.
NNAMDIBut you told Washington City Paper that you were in favor of the proposal to offer public support for the construction of a new soccer stadium for DC United at Buzzard Point. And that deal includes some land swaps that would include the Reeves Center.
SHALLALNo. What I said is I am in favor of having a soccer stadium. I love soccer. But if it's at the cost for taxpayers, of course not.
SHERWOODAre -- couple quick issues, had you been on the council -- 'course you're running for mayor. Would you have voted for -- would you have signed the bill to make Wal-Mart pay $15 an hour?
SHALLALI actually had the chance -- and it wasn't $15 an hour. It was $12.50.
SHERWOODI'm sorry (unintelligible).
SHALLALThat's all right. (unintelligible).
SHALLALBut, anyway, I actually had a chance to talk with the mayor about this very issue. And he was mentioning that, you know, that the bill was not a good bill. And I would agree with him. I would say, that bill was not a good bill. But what I don't agree with is once it got to his desk, he should have signed it. The problem, I think, that happened with that bill is the process. If there was an issue with that bill, that issue should have been brought up a long time ago in the process while the bill is being constructed and not wait till the end.
SHALLALThis is not a duel at noon. You know, high noon, it's like, OK, who's going to shoot first? It should be -- you know, politics is about having conversations with people they don't agree with and coming up with solutions.
SHERWOODThere are four bills, I think, to raise the minimum wage in the city and affect the way waiters are paid, which would affect your business. What is your view on what kind of minimum wage the city has? Right now, it's $8.25, a dollar more than the federal minimum wage. Some people want to raise it over a couple of years, much higher, $10, $11, $12 even.
SHALLALWell, we pay...
SHERWOODWhat's your view?
SHALLALWe pay a minimum wage of $10.25 an hour.
SHALLAL$10.25 an hour. And most of our staff actually makes more. Now, on the tip wage, that's a whole different issue. And I think the idea of tying some kind of an increase to a tip wage would not be a problem. But part of the problem is we have this sort of shadow world of tipping. And, you know, if you make a lot of money and that's cash, you're going to be against something like this, a possible bill that's going to raise minimum on that and maybe eventually make tipping obsolete, which I've been trying to do.
SHALLALI think tipping should be obsolete. I think it's denigrating to labor. I think it should be, you know -- we should just have an open economy instead of having the shadow economy that sits underneath everything else. That's not going to carry a lot of favors with waiters. And I know that -- I worked as a waiter.
SHERWOODSo did I.
SHALLALI worked as a waiter for many, many years, so I understand the challenges. I'd like to see a little bit of an increase in the tip wage because it's quite depressing to get at the end of the two weeks, you get a zero on your paycheck because you end up paying with taxes and maybe even owe money. So it's not a healthy way...
SHERWOODWhat's the tip wage? Is it $1.77 or $1...
SHALLALNo. It's actually $2.77 in the District...
SHALLAL...and something like $3.70 in Maryland.
NNAMDIHere is Lawrence in Washington, D.C. Lawrence, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAWRENCEHey, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. It's about the culture -- how can I say the cultural inequality and cultural -- lack of cultural acceptance? I had a situation where my sister went to the Takoma Park Pool, and the new crowd felt entitled to run in through her racing lane as she's exercising. You know, stuff like that -- it's the entitlement and this...
NNAMDIYou mean the Takoma Recreation Center here in Washington, D.C.?
LAWRENCEThat's 100 percent correct, sir.
NNAMDIOK. And you were saying that you think there's a certain lack of either racial or cultural tolerance in this city. Is that what you're saying?
LAWRENCEI'm not going to say racial. I'll say cultural because I think that's more important than racial.
LAWRENCEThat stirs up whole hornet's nest. But I think the cultural differences is so important, and we need to, like, (unintelligible) U Street Corridor, making sure people understand how important that was back in the day. And Georgetown used to be, what, 80 percent black, you know, because it was an industrial area. Now it's, what, 99 percent Caucasian. So it's (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWell, you said you were talking more cultural than racial, but now you're bringing up race. So allow me to have Andy Shallal respond because it's clearly a combination of the two that Lawrence is referring to.
SHALLALIt is absolutely a combination. I mean, one of the reasons why we opened Busboys and Poets is really to create those connections. And, you know, people say, oh, this is the most multicultural, multiracial type of space in D.C. And I agree. And they think it just happens. You just open the door and serve, you know, beer and wine and burgers, and everybody shows up. That's not true.
SHALLALIt's a conscious effort to make sure that people of different backgrounds feel comfortable. And that starts with the menu, with the art, with the way you hire people, who you promote, who the managers are, who the waiters are--all of those things--the programming that we do, the poetry that we do that has historic context to the area, the murals that I put on the walls that I do myself. All of those things, I think, make a huge difference.
SHALLALWhen people walked in, I remember at first when we opened Busboys and Poets, these two elderly black women walked in. And they looked at me from a distance, and they thought, hmm. They didn't know if I was black, white...
NNAMDIYeah, you're all over the map.
SHALLALI'm all over the place, right.
SHERWOODYou're actually Lebanese, aren't you?
SHALLALNo. I'm actually Iraqi.
NNAMDIBorn in Iraq (unintelligible).
SHALLALBut, anyway, so they're looking at me. They're trying to check me out. What is he? And I'm sure they thought I was some high yellow brother somewhere, you know. And they walked in, and they looked at the art. And they kind of sort of gave that sort of inquisitive smile. And I walked them to the back. I opened up the door, and they saw the mural. And they got very excited seeing the poet Langston Hughes and some of the icons of the Civil Rights movement and the history of U Street.
SHALLALAnd I turn around -- one of them had a tear coming down her eyes. I knew that I had created this place that really brought people together, that created that racial and cultural connection that is so important.
NNAMDIYou told City Paper that you want to devote one percent of each city agency's budget to art.
SHALLALArt is the connective tissue. Art and culture is what connects us as human beings. We need to figure this out. We need to start out with art and culture at every meeting, at every gathering. We need to have poetry. We need to have humor. We need to have levity. This is how human beings interact. They don't interact by just numbers and figures. They don't mean anything.
SHALLALIf you don't have the heart -- and I'd like to -- not only art, but heart as well. I like to think of leaders as people that lead with their heart, and their mind follows. We have too many leaders that lead with just their head. And that can take you in all different ways and starts to sort of dice and slice in ways that your heart doesn't understand.
SHERWOODHave you ever run for something before? Is this your first elective campaign?
SHALLALThis is my first campaign.
NNAMDIAndy Shallal, he's a business owner and activist in the Washington area. He's the owner of Busboys and Poets restaurants. He'll be picking up petitions this afternoon to run for mayor of the District of Columbia. I am sure that he, like everybody else in this town, knows Maudine Cooper. Maudine Cooper is retiring after 23 years at the Greater Urban League after 40 years of service here in the Washington area. There's an event being held for her tonight, Tom.
SHERWOODYes, a fine lady who worked hard in the fields.
NNAMDIAnd she's being honored tonight at the Marriott Wardman at 6 p.m. Congratulations, Maudine Cooper. Job well done. Andy Shallal, thank you for joining us.
SHALLALAnd actually the Wardman Park Hotel is where Langston Hughes was first discovered as a busboy poet.
NNAMDISee, he's a fount of information.
SHALLALAbsolutely. And can I tell people to visit andy4dc.org? Thank you.
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