Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson joins Kojo to discuss her new memoir and explore how her experiences growing up in Chicago frame her perspectives about race and opportunity in the United States.
A longtime D.C. Council member announces reelection plans. Delays to the Silver Line project prompt questions about when the Northern Virginia rail extension will finally open. And hiccups with Maryland’s health exchange disrupt a leading candidate for governor. 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
- Jim Graham Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 1); Chairman, Committee on Human Services
- Valerie Ervin Member, Montgomery County Council (D)
D.C. Council Member Jim Graham addressed claims that he’s skirted responsibility for ethics concerns. Graham was reprimanded in February for his role in lottery contract scandal. He said if someone attempted to bribe him today, he would know what to do and would report it to D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier. “I regret that moment in time,” he said.
Play The Politics Hour Local 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 a reporter at NBC4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. I don't know what I was starting to say there, the politics power, maybe I've got power on my mind. Do you think?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI don't know. You know, you're so smooth on the radio. I don't know. That may be the first mistake you've made this year.
NNAMDII'm losing my grip, but is the metropolitan police department of the District of Columbia also possibly losing its grip? During the course of the past week, two police officers involved, one of them allegedly, in underage prostitution, another one allegedly in child pornography. The second officer apparently committing suicide by drowning himself, essentially. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, those are horrific stories, but in no way does this, I think, reflect on the District of Columbia Police Department.
NNAMDIBecause we're not talking about widespread corruption in the police department.
SHERWOODWell, we don't know to the extent there are anyone else, police officer or otherwise, involved in this child pornography stuff. But I do know that the police department itself, after many difficult years about how it handled the demonstrations, about whether it did proper police patrolling in Ward 1 and other places, it has been out of the news -- as in terms of bad news. Periodically there are issues, but, you know, a police officer shooting a dog or being too rough with people they've arrested, but in general, for a force of over 4,000 police officers I'd say that this is an aberration.
NNAMDIAnd when one thinks of it, for people who have been covering these matters as long as you and I have, as I said, we're not, A, talking about widespread corruption, and, B, on average if you have a force of 4,000 officers they're going to be three or four, maybe ten people who are, well, committing crimes.
SHERWOODYes. And any organization, I think we could look at any organization and see what is classically called the bad apple. But I think what's important is how aggressive you are in addressing the issues when they come up.
NNAMDIThere was a mayoral candidates' debate here in Washington during the course of this past week. It was sponsored by the Washington Teachers' Union. And predictably those mayoral candidates who were supporting the school reform that is currently taking place in Washington, were not greeted very warmly. One of them being the incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, who is now running for reelection who, during the course of the last election campaign, indicated that he was not a big fan of reform, but seems to have changed his mind about that. And that was not very pleasing to many of the people in attendance at this debate.
SHERWOODWell, I will say, I've written about it and I've said and I tweeted it that night. I think the behavior at that forum, with the teachers yelling and screaming and disrupting the candidates was -- not one of those teachers would have allowed that type of behavior in his or her classroom. It was not good. Mayor Gray, you know, never turned his back on school reform. He thought that Michelle Rhee was too removed and too isolated from parents and other groups. And so he supported Kaya Henderson as the chancellor. A chancellor who has done many of the same things Michelle Rhee was doing, but simply does it with a little more human scale. But that forum was poorly run, poorly organized, poorly attended given the number of teachers we have and poorly behaved. I would give it a D minus.
NNAMDISo that is not necessarily a reflection of how future debates in the mayoral campaign are likely to go.
SHERWOODNo. I know one of the candidates -- I think it was Jack Evans -- said, well, this probably won't be the worst debate we go to. So for example, Evans got up and one of the first questions was, do you support the mayoral control of the schools? And most of the candidates, including the mayor, didn’t really answer that question. But Jack Evans got up and said, the schools were in terrible condition.
SHERWOODI supported mayoral control and I still do. He was booed and jeered and wasn't allowed really to explain why, and so he sat back down after trying to keep control of the microphone. I have participated in many forums as the moderator, panelist, I've attended many forums, and that was one of the worst I've ever been to.
NNAMDISitting in the room with us is one of the, I think, few council members who is not actually running for mayor of the District of Columbia. Jim Graham is a member of the council. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 1. He announced this week plans to run for that seat again in 2014. How come you're -- Jim Graham, welcome -- how come you're not running for mayor?
MR. JIM GRAHAMThank you so much. Thank you very much, Kojo. Well, I'm very satisfied with the job that I have.
NNAMDIDo you care to weigh in on the issue we were just discussing, and that is whether you are for school reform and for mayoral control of schools.
GRAHAMWell, you know, that was…
NNAMDIWatch you lose the union vote right now. (laugh)
GRAHAMThat was a very difficult issue. I mean I was in favor of an elected school board, you know, that be involved in all of this, but with that said, you know, I voted for mayoral control for the reason that -- the conditions that we were in at that time. And it was just, you know, I'm on the record, but I'm also on the record for an elected school board. And I think that somehow or another we've lost that path and we end up with a situation where we don't have enough citizen and community engagement in the schools.
SHERWOODWould you, at this moment, eliminate the mayor appointing the chancellor and go back to an elected school board that would appoint the chancellor?
GRAHAMNo. But I would like to see an elected school board that did more than our current elected school board does. And, you know, I think we've really shelved them. It's wallpaper, in a way that I mean they've got important responsibilities, but I think it should be expanded.
NNAMDIWe haven't started the specific questioning of Jim Graham yet, about his reelection campaign, but if you have questions for him, call us now at 800-433-8850. Tom, before I begin the specific questions, I omitted last week to mention the passing of Joe Grano. And I wanted to make sure that we got that in early this week because I'm sure Jim Graham, like everybody else in this town, who was active, knew Joe Grano. He kind of made his name in this city at a time when they were trying to get rid of the old Rhodes Tavern building.
NNAMDIYes. Where Metropolitan Square is on 15th and Pennsylvania.
NNAMDI15th and Pennsylvania. He worked very hard to preserve that. He ultimately did not prevail, but he did get a preservation law passed. And then he spent a great deal of time supporting -- well, tirelessly campaigning for voting rights for the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODYou know, he could have been named after one of the Eveready batteries (laughter) only because he was so persistent. I mean he was annoyingly persistent. I would say, Joe, please stop. I mean and he'd walk up to you and just constantly, Tom, you ought to do this, Tom, you ought to do that, you know if we're going to do this we're gonna do that, we need to get some people -- And I said, Joe, Joe, Joe -- so an eternal optimist that something would happen, I think that, and give him credit. Now, I often say, Washington is only good as the people active in it -- local Washington. But he was one of the good guys.
NNAMDII'm assuming …
GRAHAMShort people are dynamos.
SHERWOODWell, I wouldn't want to characterize him based on height. (laughter)
NNAMDIHe was a dynamo.
GRAHAMI remember seeing him eye-to-eye, though.
SHERWOODYes, you are at eye-to-eye then. But, you know…
GRAHAMYeah, you know, we're eye-to-eye guys.
SHERWOODIt is the kind of citizen activist you want…
SHERWOOD…even if you shudder when you have to take that one-millionth phone call.
GRAHAMYeah, and I don’t think he was ever very proud of that little bronze tablet, where the Rhodes Tavern should have been standing.
NNAMDINever was, no. He wanted the tavern itself to be there. Joe Grano
GRAHAMYes. And it should have been.
NNAMDIJoe Grano will be missed. Our guest is Jim Graham. He's a member of the council of the District of Columbia. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 1. He announced this week plans to run for that seat again in 2014. So let's to go to the hard stuff. It wasn't more than a year ago that you were reprimanded by your colleagues on the council for what they considered to be improperly intervening in a dispute about the city's lottery contract. You have said this is old business, it's time to move on. The mayor is facing questions about his 2010 campaign, saying essentially the same thing, that he's running for reelection, judge me on my record of the past four years, this is old business.
NNAMDIA lot of voters may not feel that way. They may see what happened as an example about whether you feel that rules and the spirit of the rules apply to you. What would you say to them?
GRAHAMWell, I think the starting point on this discussion is always, there's no suggestion of any crime being committed in my case, no suggestion of any money exchanging hands, no suggestion of any law being broken. And that's the starting point.
NNAMDIBut is there a suggestion that you should be doing things differently?
GRAHAMWhere there's a suggestion that in one conversation -- in one conversation -- what the Post recently as this Tuesday called a lapse. They called it an ethical lapse. I think that's a good way of putting it. There was a single conversation. The council's reprimand, which, you know, it is what it is, was on the basis of an appearance of a conflict of interest. But no money, no crime, no law broken. So I'm saying to the voters of Ward 1, take that situation, that incident, that lapse, if you will, and compare it to 15 years of service. Compare it to 15 years of accomplishments because I'm a very tangible guy.
GRAHAMI like to see things come out of the ground. I like to see things improve. I like to see things happen. And Ward 1 has been transferred in the best way because we have kept our diversities, while also making it a very prosperous place.
NNAMDIYou've heard the somewhat embittered point of view that you've been able to skirt responsibility. Whether it's in these cases, between Metro and lottery board contracts, whether it was your chief of staff who was convicted of crime -- I guess he plead guilty to a crime and went to jail, that somehow you've been on the edge of wrongdoing, even if you have not crossed that line, but you've heard that. You'll hear it in your campaign with the other candidates who'll say that you know where the ethical line is. You haven't crossed it, but maybe your shadow has gone over it because of the things you've encountered.
SHERWOODAnd so people call you a deal maker, that you're too -- I'll do this, if you do that. And I try to tell people a lot of councilmembers have to take that position. There's not king at the council who can decree things. So you have to make deals, I think. Again, mention Jack Evans. He voted for the Walmart bill even though he wasn't really for it. He made a deal to vote for it, he said publicly. So I'm just wondering, at some point, do you think there was enough ethics concern that you should apologize for that one lapse that you say in your career? I don't know if you've ever apologized for maybe getting too close to the line if not crossing it, as the findings said.
GRAHAMWell, you know, I want to be separated from all this talk of corruption and criminal activity and illegal efforts of one kind or another, 'cause none of that happened. Now, you can say, you know, that you're driving 35 miles an hour in a 30-mile zone. You know, you say, well, I really should be at 30, but I don't, you know, it's very hard for me to suggest that my shadow or to embrace my shadow was over the line, but I'm not over the line. You know, when it comes to crimes, money changing hands, laws being broken, it's not about shadows. It's about what an individual does.
GRAHAMAnd I take responsibility for what happened in that particular situation. There was consequence to it, by the way. No consequence whatsoever.
SHERWOODBut again, just so I--
GRAHAMOh, there were consequences for me.
NNAMDIReprimand by (unintelligible).
GRAHAMBut there were no consequences for the people involved.
SHERWOODAnd when Mr. Loza, in the alleged, you know, the offering a bribe, which you signed your name and you gave them money back, you didn't want it. And people said, well, you…
NNAMDISigned your name because he saw it on "Law and Order," says the Harvard law school graduate.
GRAHAMWell, I scotch-taped the envelope, too.
SHERWOODRight. But maybe--
GRAHAMMichigan, Michigan law school.
SHERWOODMaybe you should have reported your staff member yourself, on something like that.
GRAHAMRight. Well, I would report it today. You know, and I would report it today…
SHERWOODThat's what I'm saying, just some apology for…
GRAHAMNo. I've said that.
SHERWOOD…even creating the suspicion.
GRAHAMI regret that moment in time. I should have picked up the phone and called Chief Lanier and said, you know, I've got somebody here handing me money and I don't want it. I don't like the looks of this. And in fact, just a few months after that I was the one who documented the problems with Keely Thompson. Now he's on his way to the federal penitentiary. But in a detailed letter to the inspector. general, which was shared with the U.S. Attorney, I gave him all the information which I had gotten. And so, you know, you learn as you go. I mean, obviously today if such a thing happened again, there would be no question what I would do.
NNAMDIThe lead of the Washington Post article about your decision to run again, said you felt the job is too rewarding to give up.
NNAMDIWhat do you mean by that?
GRAHAMWell, you know, I've went through a good faith deliberative process that was really genuine. Because there were times when I thought, well, maybe I shouldn't run, and times when I thought I should run. And what the turning point was, quite honestly, was we brought 500 seniors to the Prince Hall Masonic temple on U Street, the Monday before Thanksgiving. And these are people I know they know me, they care, I care about them. And there was such a rich and satisfying experience being there that when it was over, I said to myself, Jim, do you want to leave this? And my answer to my question was, no, I don't want to leave, this is too satisfying.
NNAMDIAnd the Friday before, before, even though there was some muted criticism of them, once again, we gave away 650 turkeys to people in various public housing centers in Ward 1. And I had the same experience. I mean, I'm chairman of the Human Services Committee. I'm involved in issues of poverty. I'm involved in working with people so they can become less dependent, more independent. And these are important callings for me that predated by council service.
NNAMDIYou may be satisfied, but what are the indications you have that your constituents are satisfied?
SHERWOODWhat were the results of the polls?
GRAHAMRight. Well, you know, there's -- Kojo, Kojo…
GRAHAM…there are no guarantees in an election. And I don't underestimate any of the people who are already in this race, you know. And it could be, Jim, the voters -- but I don't think that's going to happen. The polls showed a 54 percent approval rating, which most elected officials in the country would be very happy with. It showed me with 37 percent in a four-way race. My three opponents were all in the single digits. And it was a very encouraging poll. But I have also spoken to dozens and dozens and dozens of people about this.
SHERWOODIt's an automated poll. How much did it cost? Because didn't you have to file a report on that?
GRAHAMI can check on that for you.
SHERWOODDid you have to file a report?
GRAHAMIt was done under the exploratory committee.
NNAMDIBefore we go to the phones, what would you say is your vision for another term or put another way, what are the most important issues confronting the ward that you feel you can make a difference on at this point/
GRAHAMWell, they're very much neighborhood specific in terms of the ward. In terms of the council, of course the issues relating to poverty, TANF, homelessness are very important issues to me, CCNV, but in terms of the ward they're very neighborhood specific. For example, I think Adams Morgan needs a particular redirection at this point. And I don't know exactly what it is. I want to work with others to determine this, but after we put in the brand new streetscape on 18th Street, the businesses there have gone into a malaise. And there's been problems there. I'm terribly concerned about U Street because I know there are not enough police there on the weekends. I know there are not.
SHERWOODIt's like Adams Morgan.
GRAHAMFive, six, eight years ago. And I'm just concerned because all of the ingredients for potential violence are there and it worries me and so I want to beef up the police there. I want to work harder on that with the neighborhood. And Georgia Avenue, we've got a solid start, but Park Morton has got to be redone. I introduced that original resolution to make it a special center. And so there's lots to be done that calls for my attention.
NNAMDIPlease put on your headphones, gentlemen, because…
GRAHAMAnd there's something -- may I say? There's something about -- people talk about 15 years, but 15 years are 15 years of experience, let me say. Experience.
SHERWOODWith one lapse.
GRAHAMWith one lapse.
NNAMDILet's hear what the callers have to say. We'll start with Franklin, in Washington, D.C. Franklin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Franklin, are you there? Franklin?
FRANKLINYes. I'm here. Thank you so much, Kojo, for your show. And thank you, Councilmember, for your service.
GRAHAMThank you, Franklin.
FRANKLINI am the president of the Latino Caucus. And the councilmember has been an ally to the Latino community, a good ally. And I was just wondering, you know, we're hoping that Ward 1, with the numbers it's had traditionally, that we can get a councilmember elected, eventually from Ward 1, but we are concerned that we're seeing fading numbers of Latinos all over the city, not just in Ward 4, but really everywhere. And so I'm wondering, Councilmember, what is your agenda to keep Latinos in your ward so that we can continue to keep that strong base of Latinos in Ward 1?
GRAHAMFranklin, thank you very much for the question, because that all, as you well know -- I mean you're a strong advocate for affordable housing. I don’t really like the term affordable housing so much anymore. I like housing for lower income, you know, because some of our--some of our housing subsidies are going to people making $80,000 a year.
GRAHAMI'm not saying they don't need it, but that's not my highest priority. And I think the more we do with that type of housing, the better. Latinos are underrepresented in so many different areas. I had a meeting of the CCNV task force yesterday. And we're going over the demographics -- there are hardly any Latinos in that 1350-member homeless shelter. You know, Mitch Snyder.
SHERWOODRight. What is that -- well…
GRAHAMAnd I said what is this about? I mean why are we not serving -- and public housing has this little teeny, teeny number of Latinos. There's something going on here that we really have got to get…
NNAMDIBut there's a lot of growth and development taking place in your ward.
NNAMDIWhat Franklin seems to be saying is that Latinos are being, in large measure…
NNAMDI…left out of it or pushed out of the ward.
GRAHAMRight. But let's…
NNAMDIWhat can you do about that?
GRAHAMWell, let me make the point that we have, I think, 12 major public housing centers in Ward 1. And we have a situation where there's almost no Latino residents in those centers. You know, that's part of the solution and it's not working. And so I want to know, and I've asked Adrianne Todman any number of times, you know, how do you explain the fact that there's such a low Latino population within public housing.
SHERWOODWell, part of it, as I understand from people I've talked to, is that families stick together, but they're in rental housing, which is fast becoming unaffordable. And it's fast becoming converted to private homes, people are buying homes. And Columbia Heights, particularly, I mean, just look at (unintelligible) disclosure and my son's co-owner of a small restaurant up there…
GRAHAMIn Columbia Heights.
SHERWOODIn Columbia Heights. And I have seen the transition as I've gone up there for the last year and a half. And Latino people are just -- where they've gone, I do not know, but they are not there.
GRAHAMWell, Kojo did a whole show on this issue.
NNAMDIWe certainly did.
GRAHAMAnd I listened to it with great interest. You know, some of them are going to Georgia Avenue in Ward 1. And so we still have the largest number of Latinos in this city in a single ward. Ward 4 has certainly come right up there, edged right up against it, but we have more and more Latinos living on Georgia Avenue.
SHERWOODIs your Spanish any better?
GRAHAM(speaks foreign language)
NNAMDIYou mean Jamie Graham?
SHERWOODHe can say anything he wants to because he knows I don't know what he says.
NNAMDIFranklin, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIWe move onto Elizabeth in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth, you're on the air, go ahead, please. Elizabeth, your turn.
ELIZABETHThank you. This is Elizabeth Fox. And I am in Ward 1 with 100 plus seniors who gathered for three hours today to talk about the problems with housing. Not just the lowest income, although primarily that. Also, the homeowners who can't get what they need from D.C. government and also renters of senior housing that's changing their rent structure. So our question for Mr. Graham -- whose staff suggested this. We're so glad they're here and they told us why you weren't -- is what are your ideas about more and better run housing for seniors?
GRAHAMWell, thank you, very much, Elizabeth. First I want to congratulate you on the session that was held at NCBA Estates today. One of our great senior centers in Ward 1. A historic one at that. And I'm sorry I wasn't there, but I found out about that meeting just at 10:00 o'clock this morning and I would have been there. I think what we've got to do is we've got to continue to expand upon, you know, the set asides for low income housing within existing buildings. And so we've got to be much more aggressive about that then what we have been.
GRAHAMI'm very proud of the fact that we have rehabilitated and renovated and preserved 3,000 units of extremely low-income apartments on the 14th Street corridor. But we've got to continue this work in terms of making sure that our buildings have mixed income to the extent to which they have government benefits that make them happen.
NNAMDIElizabeth, thank you very much for your call. The City Paper reported yesterday that your war on pop-up additions to row homes has only just begun. You've written that the community and the government need to restrain the construction of these "often monstrous add-ons." Why do you feel compelled to do something and what legislative measures would you consider to do something?
SHERWOODAnd I've also heard some complaints that when these first started you were not active enough when citizens were trying to do more historic preservation to prevent them, that you weren't opposed to it.
GRAHAMWell, historic preservation is not the answer per se. This gets complicated, but let me just make it as simple as possible, if you have a property within a historic district, which the Belmont Tower was not, on Belmont Street -- at the time. Then you go before the HPRB to get a permission to build and the plans are examined and so forth. But it goes through design review, and the fact of the matter is that HPRB, Historic Preservation Review Board, has been approving these pop-ups. And in fact, I have one at 2012 Kalorama Road, just around the corner from Connecticut, which they're in the process of approving right now.
GRAHAMSo when I had three nominees before me the other day, at the council for their confirmation hearings, I asked each of them, pointedly, whether they would consider changes in the design review criteria and we discussed the issue thoroughly. Prince of Petworth has really underscored the problem with this example at 11th and V Street. That building has produced $800,000 condos. Hello? And it goes up five stories. It's monstrous. But $800,000 and this is on V Street. You know, ten years, five years, eight years ago you could have bought on V Street -- these are just very little houses, two story. And all of a sudden you've got this tower on V Street.
SHERWOODIsn't that the big issue?
GRAHAMBut that's what driving this.
SHERWOODThe economic force. I remember when Bill Regardie -- he used to run Regardie's Magazine -- stood with me on Wisconsin Avenue -- I think it was Wisconsin -- and he said -- and this was the '80s -- "Look south to Richmond, look all the way to Philadelphia." He says, "The economic force that's going to come through the Washington region is going to transform the city," and it has. Are you fighting a losing battle if you're preserving 3,000 senior citizens homes here or public housing in Ward 6?
SHERWOODAre you losing the battle? Is there more that the city can actually do? The mayor has $100 million he wants to help fund for more public housing, Mayor Gray does. It seems to me that it's nibbling around the edges, in some respects, against the economic forces that overtaking the city.
GRAHAMWell, we've had a red hot real estate market in Ward 1 for most of the time I've been in office. So everything we've done in terms of affordable housing, I want to cite Victory housing right there at 14th and Irving, we're rebuilding La Casa at 14th and Irving. We have a commitment to those who would otherwise be homeless. And so, you know, we've done it in a red-hot real estate market. Let me just say one other thing. You know, I don’t think I began this, you know, I mean I've testified before the HPRB twice, I've been before the zoning commission, which has the comprehensive zoning review before it right now and I'm waiting to hear from Chairman Hood who is very carefully considering the pop-up issue as part of that. And I'm going back before the HPRB on an Oakwood Terrace issue very similar. You know, later in this month. So we're (unintelligible) fight up.
NNAMDISpeaking of 14th Street, Matt, in Washington, D.C., wants to talk more specifically about 14th and U Streets. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTHello. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
MATTGood afternoon. This is community service leader Matt Abbruzzese, the U Street corridors next ANC Commissioner 1B12. Thank you for having me, Mr. Kojo.
NNAMDIWell, you're welcome. You called, but go ahead.
MATTMr. Sherwood and it's a pleasure to ask this question, Councilmember Graham. First of all you're hands down the only viable candidate in every aspect. So thank you for your service.
NNAMDIOh, here's a shill calling.
SHERWOODWhat's the question? (laughter)
MATTAll right. The question…
MATTReeds Center, Buzzards Point, land swap deal. I'm aware of your stance on keeping 14th and U's prime real estate commercial or mostly commercial, hopefully, in the future. This is great to hear, continuously improving the housing affordability and daytime foot traffic.
MATTThat is key to a livable place for all.
NNAMDIWhat exactly do you want to do or you want to happen at 14th and U?
SHERWOODYou have to ask a question.
NNAMDII just asked it, Councilmember Graham?
MATTCouncilmember Graham, what can you -- are you going to keep your word? And what is your general approach early to making (unintelligible)…
NNAMDIThere you go. Councilmember Graham?
GRAHAMWell, it just so happens that in today's Washington Blade, I have a column on this subject. And you know we have this very complex adagio involving a new soccer stadium. And I know my constituents, by and large, want a new soccer stadium, but we have a situation where the Reeve Center gets in the middle of this. And I just want to be absolutely clear about my position, that if the Reeve Center is going to be another residential condo, luxury apartment, count me out. I want the Reeve Center to be an office building. I want it to be providing further opportunities for daytime commerce in our city and our neighborhood.
SHERWOODCan it be all of those things?
GRAHAMNo, it can't.
SHERWOODCouldn't be mixed-used development?
SHERWOODIt's certainly huge enough. You take the garage and the entire space.
GRAHAMNo. Because why can't there be a Microsoft or something that comes in and says, we're going to take over this building. Why can't we have a major tenant who brings in a whole office set to that area? That's what we need. I think we've got the luxury condo thing now covered on that part of 14th Street.
SHERWOODBut could you not have a planned mix-use development that would have offices, a living space for market rate and subsidized and retail? It seems to me the space is huge.
GRAHAMIt's huge and you know one of the reasons it's huge? Have you been in the back of it?
SHERWOODYes. I've been all over that building.
GRAHAMBecause there's a terrace patio. It is huge and I don't want to write that off…
SHERWOODAnd a parking garage.
GRAHAM…but I think with commitment to commercial space has got to be very high. I want to keep the Gay Center there. I want to keep the Post Office there. I worked very hard to keep both of them.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Except that, as usual…
SHERWOODOne last question.
NNAMDI…Tom Sherwood has one last question.
SHERWOODI apologize. Very quickly. You talked about the turkeys. Every councilmember passes out turkeys. You get…
GRAHAMNo, they don't.
GRAHAMNo, they don't.
SHERWOODLet me rephrase it. You know, I hate talking to lawyers. Every councilmember that does it -- passes out turkeys -- will Barry, Yvette Alexander, you -- these turkeys are donated or given by corporate interests. I think JBG gave yours this year. Who gave your turkeys this year?
GRAHAMWell, it was a combination of Harris…
NNAMDIWhat a long last question.
SHERWOODI apologize. Here's the deal, don't…
GRAHAMWell, what is the deal? Why are you opposed to people getting turkeys?
SHERWOODI want to know the source of the turkey.
GRAHAMI'll tell you the source of the turkey because I announced it at every single…
GRAHAM…every single stop.
SHERWOODIt sounds like a fuzzing of the line.
GRAHAMYou don't want to hear? You don't want to…
GRAHAMThis is another shadow going -- no. I don't think so.
SHERWOODIt's another shadow going over the ethics line.
GRAHAMNo. No, I don't think so at all. And this all…
SHERWOODJB earns nothing by…
NNAMDIWho is the source of the turkey so that our listeners can be clear?
GRAHAMI'm going to say what it is.
GRAHAMIt's a combination of Harris Teeter and JBG, through a non-profit called Career Path D.C.
SHERWOODThat's called a pass-through.
GRAHAMExcuse me. This has all been examined by…
SHERWOODI'm not saying it's illegal or I'm not even saying it's unethical. I'm just saying it is ads…
SHERWOOD…for every councilmember who does, Mayor Barry does it, he got turkeys one year, he didn't even -- there was no charge for them.
GRAHAMWell, I don't know. I can only speak of my own situation.
GRAHAMAnd my own situation is I've got -- 25 percent of the people who live in Ward 1 live below the federal poverty level. Live below the federal poverty level. And believe you me, they appreciate the fact that there's a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.
SHERWOODI think you should do it every week.
NNAMDIYou don't see this as inappropriate corporate influence on Jim Graham?
GRAHAMNo. Because I'm not, you know, Harris Teeter's in Ward 1.
NNAMDIThat was the inference side driven question.
GRAHAMHarris Teeter's in Ward 1.
SHERWOODWhy don't they just do it and leave out the elected official?
GRAHAMThat'd be fine.
NNAMDIJim Graham, is a member…
SHERWOODAround the city. Not just you, but around the city.
GRAHAMI don't know around the city. I know only Ward 1.
NNAMDIHe's a Democrat. He represents Ward 1.
GRAHAMThere's got to be bigger issues than this…
NNAMDIHe announced this week…
SHERWOODErosion starts with the first pebble.
NNAMDI…that he plans to run for…
GRAHAMOh, my God, did you say that?
NNAMDI…his Ward 1 seat again, in 2014. Jim Graham, so good to see you again.
GRAHAMThank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you so much.
GRAHAMAlways a pleasure. Always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHe didn't hear you telling him goodbye because he was still talking.
NNAMDIThis is the Politics Hour, Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Let's talk about a few more issues occurring in Maryland…
SHERWOODWe've got to get Mr. Graham out of here.
NNAMDI…before our next guest comes along. Tom, the Maryland Health Exchange, the point person has resigned from the Maryland Health Exchange. The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange has accepted the resignation of Rebecca Pierce, its executive director. There have been severe problems with the rollout with the Maryland Health Exchange. And it appears that this could be a problem for at least one of the candidates in the upcoming gubernatorial election.
SHERWOODWell, you're talking about Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who was put in charge of the Affordable Care Act rollout. And he presided over it. He wasn't the day-to-day person, but he presided over it. So he has to share in the blame that -- like in other places, the rollout …
NNAMDIAnd the final analysis, is it the governor's responsibility? Is that…
SHERWOODWell, of course it's the governor. The governor appointed the lieutenant governor. And back with the one-billionth endorsement of Anthony Brown was being made someone was saying, well, you know, the only thing he's really identified with other than presiding, is this healthcare rollout and it's not working very well. So I think it is at least a bump in the road for him. Some people are saying this is not going to interfere with his sweep to election, but I think this election is far from decided. And this doesn't help Anthony Brown or for that matter, the people who are trying to get insurance in the state.
NNAMDINot that she's here to defend the lieutenant governor, but she has endorsed his campaign. Joining us in studio is Valerie Ervin. She's a member of the Montgomery County council. She's a Democrat who represents the county's 5th District. She has announced plans this week to resign from her seat and become the executive director of the non-profit organization, The Center for Working Families. Councilmember Ervin, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. VALERIE ERVINThank you for having me.
SHERWOODAre you moving to Atlanta?
ERVINI am not. It's actually based in Brooklyn.
NNAMDIShe's in New York.
SHERWOODIt's in New York? Well, there's an Atlanta office, too, isn't there?
ERVINIt's a different organization.
SHERWOODThat's a different organization.
NNAMDIIt's affiliated with the Working Families Party, to my understanding.
ERVINYes, it is.
NNAMDIWhich is based in New York, which was given a lot of credit for the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York. But before we get to that, how about the -- put on your political analyst hat and talk about the effect you think the problems with the healthcare rollout are likely to have on the candidate who you are supporting for governor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
ERVINWell, I feel a lot of empathy for what Anthony Brown's going through right now because he, as the lieutenant governor, I don't think is completely responsible for the rollout. He plays a role in the rollout. I think that goes right back to Governor O'Malley. And I just believe that Anthony, who has really done great work on behalf of lots of residents in the state of Maryland who are not insured, I feel real bad for him that he's getting this bad rap for this poor rollout. So I think that he's working really hard right now to try to explain his role in it. But I think this goes back to the person who's in charge, and that would be Gov. O'Malley.
NNAMDIWe'll get back to that later in the discussion. But for a couple of years, a lot of people pondered whether you'd be leaving your post in the Montgomery County Council in order to run for higher office. Instead, you announced this week you're stepping down and becoming the executive director of the Center for Working Families. Why did you decide the time was right to walk away?
ERVINI just think that the folks from the Working Family Party and the Working Families organization came to me at the right moment in time. Why...
NNAMDIWhy was it the right moment in time?
ERVINI was pondering whether or not to run for reelection...
SHERWOODHe's asking -- let me be clear.
SHERWOODIke Leggett is not going to run again, maybe, and you were going to run for county executive. But you didn't want to run against Ike.
ERVINWell, I considered a run...
ERVIN...for county executive. I very seriously considered running for county executive. But I, in the final analysis, decided it would not be a great idea for Ike and I to be running against each other. So I support Ike in his run for reelection.
NNAMDIWell, despite the fact that you've been freely critical of him in the past.
ERVINAbsolutely. He joined me at the press conference on Tuesday, and he was just so gracious. And he actually said that. He said, you know, Valerie's the type of politician, when she agrees with you, she praises you, but when she doesn't agree, she doesn't let you get away with it, though.
SHERWOODDid he help that organization find you?
ERVINNo, I don't think so.
ERVINYeah, that's too -- he's not that Machiavellian, I don't think.
NNAMDIWhy did you not want to continue your tenure on the council?
ERVINI think that the Working Families organization is poised to move into this area, into Washington, D.C. and Maryland, and they have an agenda that I will play a pretty large role in. And, as you know, they have been working on raising the minimum wage for a long time. And I was able to -- before I left the council -- co-sponsor the minimum wage bill that the council passed. So my work is going to be on the c3 side, the nonprofit side of this organization, so...
NNAMDIExactly what are you going to be doing?
ERVINI will be doing a lot of their policy work, sort of laying out the issues that we want to work on across the country that affect working families, just like I've been doing for the last seven years on the council issues, like childcare subsidies and minimum wage and food and hunger, all those kinds of...
SHERWOODIs it big picture, though? I mean, it's going to be like influencing the Congress for national federal policy? Or will you be getting into New York State government and Maryland state government?
ERVINNo. We're going to be doing local. What's really fascinating is how the minimum wage fight across the country is really becoming a local fight. The federal government looks like it's going to drag its feet. And some of the state legislatures have to be pushed very, very hard from the bottom up. And so I think the strategy here in Maryland and D.C. is to work closely with members of the city councils and the county councils and to see what we can do to -- what we just did here in the region.
NNAMDIThe Working Families Party has proven to be very effective in New York. And you say now they're coming here in this direction with their operations. I find it interesting that, even though you'll be working out of New York, you will continue to maintain your Maryland residence. And this work that you are doing in a way is political, which suggests to me that you don't see the end of your political career in the state of Maryland.
ERVINI do not necessarily -- I have not shut the door on what might come in the future. I think this is a really great opportunity for me to step outside electoral politics and learn how things are outside of that milieu. And so I'm very excited about it.
SHERWOODAnd when does this happen?
ERVINI will be tendering my resignation the first week of January, and the council will have 30 days to appoint my predecessor.
SHERWOODDo you have a recommendation for someone to do that? I know there was a little discussion about the council ought to appoint someone who will not run, so that person does not have a leg up. But do you have any views on that? Or...
ERVINI do. I mean, the code actually -- there is a code that determines what happens if a council member leaves before the end of their term. And it's not written in the code that the person has to be a placeholder, but I think many of my colleagues think that that's what should happen, that the person will just serve for 10 months and not run for the office.
NNAMDIOur guest is Valerie Ervin. She's a member of the Montgomery County Council, a Democrat representing the Fifth District. She has announced plans to resign from her seat. She's becoming the executive director of the nonprofit organization, the Center for Working Families.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Valerie Ervin, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. As you prepare to leave the council, how would you describe the dynamics of political power in Montgomery County, particularly as they apply to organized labor? You used to be, well, organized...
SHERWOODShe's very close to Josh Williams.
NNAMDIShe was a labor organizer herself. But you found yourself on the other side of labor groups in the county when the positions you later staked out on collective bargaining, they were not exactly enthusiastic about it.
SHERWOODSo that's the police?
ERVINWell, the issue really wasn't about collective bargaining. It was -- the issue was about the budget itself. When the recession hit us hard, I happened to be the council president at the time.
ERVINAnd I think what some of my brothers and sisters in labor figured out finally after all these years have gone by is that I didn't belong to them. I was part of them. And so when you become an elected official, in Montgomery County especially, you belong to the people who elected you. And so I had a responsibility to the taxpaying citizens of Montgomery County to make decisions that were made, by the way, unanimously when I was a chair at the council. It was not contentious on the council.
SHERWOODAnd so it's not -- have you heard from your friend Donna Edwards?
ERVINI have. I've spoken to her many times. She's very thrilled about the decision that I've made. I think a lot of people are excited that I didn't leave, to move away to New York, that I will be here, you know, participating as a private citizen.
SHERWOODYou were the first African-American woman on the Montgomery County Council. What year was that, the first year?
SHERWOODOK. There's a lot of -- before the tremendous change, Montgomery County Council, generally speaking, if you ask anybody about Montgomery County, people picture white, well-to-do -- they picked basically Chevy Chase. It's a much bigger place than that. The diversity is -- it's been a big change in the last 10, 15 years, just as it has been in the city and other places.
ERVINI think it's...
SHERWOODHow big has it been in your mind? And how has that changed what that county council does? And I know that the minimum wages was one of the things that you addressed (unintelligible) change.
ERVINWell, I think Montgomery County would surprise a lot of people who aren't from there. And I tell people all the time, go into any school in Montgomery County, and you would not know if you were in D.C. or Baltimore. The school system is now majority minority, and we have seen this trend line happening for the last 10, 15 years. And so to be the only African-American woman to ever be elected to county council's such a surprise to me.
ERVINAnd my concern is that as I leave, it's the one thing that worries me. Like, who's coming behind me? So I am hoping that the council will choose the placeholder of my choice. There is somebody that I am looking at that I think would be a tremendous asset to the council.
NNAMDIWho is that?
ERVINI'm not going to say his name because he has to get...
NNAMDIAt least we know it's a male.
ERVINIt's a man who is actually very well known, and I think it will become very clear soon who it is.
SHERWOODBut what -- but the problem with that is, assuming that person is a minority person, well, then he is precluded from running under this idea that just a placeholder when, in fact, the person should maybe have the right to win the job himself.
ERVINWell, that's not up to me right now. That's up to my colleagues. I know there's a big debate going on right now about whether this individual should have the opportunity to run if he chooses to.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Please don your headphones because Jason in Columbia, Md. would like to have words with you. Jason, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JASONThanks very much for taking my call. Councilmember Ervin, I want to really thank you -- congratulate you for being a champion for so many children in particular in Montgomery County where the narrative is often that the schools are the greatest in the country, but we know a lot of children are being left out of that.
JASONI wanted to ask you, you know, just down the street in Washington, you've got some very high-quality public schools -- obviously you have some struggling ones -- but high-quality public schools serving children, African-American children, Hispanic children, children from low-income households very effectively -- DC Prep, Thurgood Marshall, the (word?) school.
JASONAnd I wanted to know if you had thoughts of about how we can recruit and make some policy changes to allow schools like that to operate schools in Montgomery County for children who are not being served well by the school system.
ERVINWell, I really appreciate your question because I think that Montgomery County needs to do all it can to expand this notion of charter schools. We have one charter school in Montgomery County right now. It's been chartered for about a year. And there are many, many parents who would like to have options and opportunities for their children to go to some of these schools that we are hearing a lot about in D.C.
ERVINSo I'm a big proponent of expanding the idea of charter schools in Montgomery County. And I hope that, at some point down the road, I'll be able to weigh in heavily on that.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to people who say that, look, the whole charter school system is a way of hijacking the public school system. What it essentially is is the first step towards privatizing the entire public school system.
ERVINWell, we have seen that in some places in the country, but what I do like about charters is that they're laboratories. And we in the public school system, as large as Montgomery County Public School system, there is not a lot of room for innovation. And we would like to have some of the best ideas coming out of the charter school movement come to Montgomery County because we want to see what the best practices are and how well these children are actually doing inside these charter schools.
ERVINWell, you'd be surprised to know that I think that there is some movement there inside the teacher's union. They, I think, supported the first charter that we have. And I see that there's room for more of that kind of collaboration with the teacher's union as we move forward. I believe that what's happened in places like Washington, D.C. and New Orleans and other cities across the country is that this has turned into a movement to sort of, you know, tear apart unions.
ERVINAnd I don't agree that that's the right approach. I think there's a lot of collaboration that we could use.
SHERWOODAnd the union...
NNAMDILet's talk about unions.
SHERWOODMay I say -- I was going to say, the unions themselves have been sometimes, at best, reluctant partners or have stood in the way rather than working in the new reality of this.
ERVINWell, it's clear there's some...
SHERWOODPublic policy unions or most union people are public policy people, not in the private sector.
ERVINWell, you know, I hate to say this. But sometimes the status quo isn't exactly the right approach either. I think that people have to get together and try to be as innovative as possible because the future of a public school system really is at stake right now. And it can't be a black-and-white, either-or situation. It's got to be a combination of a lot of things.
SHERWOODKaya Henderson -- I'm sorry. Go ahead, Kojo.
NNAMDIWell, unions tried to make a statement earlier this year in Montgomery County when they tried to organize a boycott at the County Democratic Party's annual fundraiser. Where do you feel that Montgomery County Democrats and labor groups can most naturally begin fixing some of the fractured pieces of that relationship?
ERVINWell, let's just correct something for a second. They weren't unions writ large. There were two unions in particular...
ERVIN...the MCGEO, the public sector union...
ERVIN...in Montgomery County, and the FOP, the Fraternal Order of Police.
ERVINNo other unions were participating in that. And I think that they have had a beef with the Democratic Party as of late. But some of that is their own fault as they've fallen out of favor with some of the leadership. So I think that it's not fair to say all unions because the private sector unions, SEIU, the building trades unions, they were not participating. So there were two unions participating in that boycott.
SHERWOODMayor Jeffrey Slavin, who you know, of a little town of some ill consequence in Montgomery County...
NNAMDIOK. Jeffrey, you don't have to call in yet.
SHERWOODIt says he worries that he would like for you to still stay involved. And you've said your door's still open. But can you -- how long do you see yourself in this national role? Or do you know where that takes you? Maybe you don't know where that path takes you.
ERVINI don't know where that path takes me, but I do know that my heart is always in politics and public policy, which is why this Center for Working Families job really intrigued me because the public policy side of my brain really -- it spoke to me. And so I will be doing a lot of work here in Maryland and D.C. And I just want my constituents to know that I'm not going far. I'm going to remain at...
NNAMDII see the whole Working Families Party and the Center for Working Families as a kind of a new paradigm for essentially political involvement and for launching and furthering political careers (unintelligible).
SHERWOODBut hers is -- yours is the nonprofit wing, right?
ERVINYeah. So we have to be...
SHERWOODSo you have to be careful.
ERVINWe have to be very careful because the c4 side that is run by...
NNAMDIHe has to be careful. I don't.
SHERWOODNo, she has to be careful.
ERVIN...that's run by Dan Cantor, who many people know has been heading the organization for 15 years, he will continue to be very politically active, especially in the New York City area. They're bringing me on as Dan Cantor's partner to run the c3 operation. And because I love public policy so much, we think it's a great marriage.
SHERWOODBest politics is good policy.
ERVINAbsolutely. Absolutely. And we both agree that's true.
NNAMDIBack to the governor's race in the state of Maryland, two of the three leading candidates in the Democratic primary for governor, Doug Gansler and Heather Mizeur are from Montgomery County. You're supporting Anthony Brown who's from Prince George's County. Why do you feel he's the best candidate?
ERVINThere are so many things about Anthony Brown that I like. First of all, he is a good solid person who believes with his whole heart in public service. And here's a young guy who could go anywhere and do anything he wanted. He graduated from Harvard Law School. He could be making a lot of money working in government in other ways.
ERVINBut he's chosen to give his life to public service. He, like my father, is a military veteran. And I really believe that he is the kind of young leadership that we need in the state of Maryland. And he's bringing with him Ken Uhlmann who is a dynamic brilliant public policy elected official who's done amazing work in Howard County. So the two of them together, I thought made the best team.
ERVINAnd as far as Heather and Doug go, I know them both very well. But I have never been one -- if you've followed my record -- to support Montgomery County politicians. I didn't support Doug Duncan when he ran against Martin O'Malley. And /89I didn't endorse certain other people who ran for Congress from my county. So that's not new to me. I don't care where the people are from. I just want them to be the best that they can be for the state of Maryland.
SHERWOODIt's where they're going. Let me ask you, though, in the Brown campaign, there's been this almost embarrassment of riches for endorsements. I'm just wondering at some point if voters might see this as kind of he's simply (unintelligible) status quo. People...
NNAMDIThe machine (word?).
SHERWOOD...that he becomes the machine...
ERVINWell, that's what Doug is calling him.
SHERWOODWell, I know we have -- well, I haven't used that phrase.
NNAMDIThen I happened to, and then I will -- I retract that phrase.
SHERWOODWell, let's say it's not -- it's a perfect word for a candidate to use because it goes to the issue that he is propped up by all these endorsements in that a candidate who wants change and voters, as you know, always look to the future when they're voting. They really do want to look -- who's going to go forward with me or who I'm going to go forward with? Brown runs the risk of being O'Malley three, whether you liked O'Malley or not.
ERVINSee, I don't believe that's true. If Doug Gansler was able to get any of these endorsements, which he tried to get...
SHERWOODHe would have taken them.
ERVIN...he would have taken them. So I don't really necessarily believe this is a status quo kind of situation or that Anthony's being, you know, he's got an easy road. I think Anthony's clearly the best candidate. He will make history as the first African-American governor in the state of Maryland. I think on the ground, when you talk to people, Doug Gansler has some issues that he created himself, especially most recently.
SHERWOODWell, he -- it hasn't been the most polished rollout...
SHERWOOD...of a campaign. But he does have some substance in the state, though.
ERVINHe -- it depends on who you ask, who you talk to.
SHERWOODAll right. OK.
NNAMDII'm afraid we're running out of time very quickly. But before we end, Tom, we talked about Joe Grano earlier. Mac McGarry is no longer with us. Five decades of broadcasting here in the Washington area as the host of "It's Academic" coming from NBC 4.
SHERWOODYes. And, oh, a delightful guy, right up until the time he retired a couple years ago in the cafeteria and just always cheerful, always neatly dressed, always excited about what are you doing and just a terrific guy and a great program. And there are thousands of parents and thousands of students (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWe had him on the broadcast here a few years ago. And on Monday, if you're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," you will be hearing a segment of that conversation that we had with Mac McGarry who, after five decades of broadcasting in Washington, has passed.
SHERWOODA true gentleman.
NNAMDIValerie Ervin, thank you for joining us.
ERVINThank you for having me.
NNAMDIValerie Ervin is a member of the Montgomery County Council. She's a Democrat representing the county's fifth district. She has announced plans to resign from her seat and become the executive director of the nonprofit organization, the Center for Working Families. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, have a good weekend.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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