D.C. Council Member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) joins Kojo and Tom Sherwood to chat about her upcoming fight for re-election.
Guest Host: Christina Bellantoni
Rumors swirl about whether an indictment of Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell is imminent. One of the region’s longest-serving members of Congress announces plans to walk away from Capitol Hill. And problems with Maryland’s health exchange continue to hound Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who’s campaigning hard for the state’s top job next year. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Mark Herring Attorney General-Elect, Virginia (D)
- Christina Bellantoni Editor in Chief, Roll Call
- David Catania Member, D.C. Council (I-At Large), Chairman, Committee on Education
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
D.C. Council Member David Catania said he will make his decision whether to run for mayor sometime before the April 1 primary. He said his decision would be a personal one, not based on the outcome of the primary. “[It will be] based on the conversations I’m having about whether or not through an honest self reflection if I’m the person that I believe is best suited to tackle the enduring issue of our city, which is a failed public education system,” Catania said.
D.C. Council Member David Catania, a former Republican who now identifies as independent, talks about his relationship with the Republican party. “After years of being active in the Republican Party, and I have some friends on a personal level there, but I will have no organized assistance,” he said.
Play The Politics Hour News Quiz
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour. I'm Christina Bellantoni, incoming editor-in-chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And here we go. It is Friday. There's a lot to talk about in politics. And I am so excited to be here in studio hosting The Politics Hour for my very first time here with Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Hi, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODHi. Good afternoon. Can we talk first about you? I think you've got a terrific job there, editor-in-chief of Roll Call.
BELLANTONIOh, well, thank you so much.
SHERWOODThat's going to be really cool.
BELLANTONII'm very excited about it.
SHERWOODI'm a big fan of Roll Call.
BELLANTONII'm returning to Roll Call.
BELLANTONII had been a deputy editor there a long time ago and coming back to have fun with the newsroom.
SHERWOODI saw your good-bye (unintelligible) Wednesday, was it? Wednesday.
BELLANTONIThat's right. On the "PBS NewsHour."
SHERWOODWell, welcome to the show. And I'll try to give you time to talk.
BELLANTONIThank you very much. Well, I will say that, being a Virginia politics nerd, there's a lot of good Virginia political news. And we'll start off with Congressman Frank Wolf. Longtime Republican, he's been around. He's been on retirement rumor lists for a long time, announced he is not running for reelection in 2014.
SHERWOODYou know, last late summer, early fall, you know, when the rumors were bubbling up again because he hadn't raised much money, I called his staff. And his campaign manager said, oh no, these rumors are false. He hasn't raised much money in September because he was raising national money. He's going to get started. We're going to have a big kickoff thing first of the year. Well, I know that Frank Smith didn't make this decision last minute. And so I'm not sure exactly how truthful they were with me last fall.
SHERWOODBut Frank Wolf, I tell you, 17 years in the House. Actually it reminds me of what Congressman Tom Davis said. He retired after seven terms, not 17, and he said, seven terms, undefeated and unindicted. And now Frank Wolf beats him.
BELLANTONIAnd what's interesting about his district, this is sort of that growing outer suburbs we talk a lot about when you talk about statewide races. The Democrats have certainly thought that he was a far-flung potential pick-off long ago. Now that it's an open seat, it creates a lot of opportunity for them. They say that they're pretty excited and that they have a chance.
SHERWOODWell, the Republicans, in the redistricting in the state, stretched the district. It goes all the way from northern Virginia to West Virginia. I mean, it's just why redistricting should be reformed in this country. But it's just a ridiculous stretch of the thing. But they think they can win that. And it's certainly a purple state, as you know from covering it for the Washington Times.
BELLANTONIAbsolutely. And what about sort of the possible candidates who might run there? I mean, you've obviously got this Fairfax County Board of Supervisors member John Foust, who is a Democrat, who's saying he's going to run for the seat. But probably we could see a primary there.
SHERWOODI think so, although they may coalesce around him and try to avoid that. But, you know, I tried to talk to Mark Warner, the senator, on the day that Wolf announced his resignation -- retirement. And he wouldn't talk about -- he said, let's just praise Frank Wolf for now. We're getting to the hardcore Democratic politics later, but that's the key thing. The Republicans have to come up with someone who can thread that needle between the hardcore right and the regular Republicans in northern Virginia. It's going to be tough.
BELLANTONIAnd with sequestration being at the heart of this budget agreement that they just passed yesterday, you really -- or two days ago, you have a big question about what those cuts are going to mean for northern Virginia, all the defense contractors. That was something Wolf was really involved with as the senior member of the northern Virginia delegation at least.
SHERWOODWell, the whole shutdown, the sequestration shutdown, all that stuff has hurt the Republicans badly. Wolf managed to stay out of the line of fire, although I have been -- almost was going to quit getting the Democratic campaign committee press releases that would come out every week -- just savaging Wolf as if he were the leader of the Tea Party and all of that.
SHERWOODBut he managed to avoid some of that, but he knew he would say this shutdown, this sequestration is hurting my constituents. There were people who depend on the government, the people who work for the government, and for the economy in northern Virginia.
BELLANTONIAnd in his statement, which I think…
SHERWOODTheir only hope is that the Obamacare continues to flounder along.
BELLANTONIYeah. The national Republican Party definitely wants to keep running on healthcare. That would be the third straight Congressional election we are talking about it. In Wolf's statement, saying that he was going to leave, he talked a little bit about wanting to focus on his humanitarian work. He's obviously done a lot of work abroad. He's fought for many things. Would you be surprised to see him maybe get some sort diplomatic post or anything within the Obama administration?
SHERWOODWell, he certainly has done international work on human rights and food safety and refugees. And his statement -- I'm just going to read this brief sentence. "As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. I plan to focus my future work on human rights and religious freedom." So certainly he can play some role in the international world then. And he's 74 years old. I think he wants to spend some quality time. And being out of Congress probably gives him that real opportunity to do that.
BELLANTONIAnd, you know, Virginia in general is interesting. You don't always see that much turnover in the delegation. Obviously that seat where now Robert Hurt is representing and then the seat that Bobby…
BELLANTONINo, sorry. Down in -- the fight in 9th where it was the first loss in 2010, and Rick Boucher…
BELLANTONI…was able to lose there. Morgan Griffith holds it now. Those were, like, big turnovers for the state, and there's a lot of Democrats saying they might have a chance down in Virginia Beach now.
SHERWOODIs it 8-to-3? I always forget what the balance is. Is it eight Republicans and three Democrats?
BELLANTONIYeah, two from northern Virginia and then Bobby Scott.
SHERWOODRight, the Connolly.
BELLANTONIYeah, so it's an interesting…
SHERWOODIt just shows us again that Virginia, when you get your Crayolas out, you have to decide what color it's going to be. It can't be red. It can't be blue. It's pretty much purple.
BELLANTONIPurple, yeah. So you can join our conversation here in The Politics Hour. Again, I'm Christina Bellantoni sitting in for Kojo and joined by Tom Sherwood. Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Also, you can always comment on our Facebook page.
SHERWOODI've already been accused on Twitter here of sucking up to the new host, the stand-in host.
BELLANTONIFlattery will get you everywhere. It's the holidays. We're all feeling very…
SHERWOODAny flattery I do will be true.
BELLANTONIWell, we're going to be joined in a moment by the Democratic attorney general elect of Virginia. That's Mark Herring. And this is a race where it sort of seemed like he was about to win on election night when Terry McAuliffe won the governorship. And then it was so close that they pushed for a recount.
BELLANTONIAnd just this week, Mark Obenshain, who is also a state senator, the Republican, conceded and said, OK, the recount -- I'm not going to win this. Mark Herring is coming in as the attorney general. So we do have Mark Herring on the line. And we're going to join him and talk to him now. Congratulations, Attorney General elect. Thanks for joining us.
MR. MARK HERRINGWell, thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me. It's great to be here. And, Christina, congratulations on your new job as editor-in-chief of Roll Call.
BELLANTONIOh, that's very nice. Now, I'm sure you know you are the first Democratic attorney general to serve in Virginia in two decades since Doug Wilder was governor. How significant is that, given that the Democrats swept these three offices in November?
HERRINGYeah, well, you know, it's a great feeling to win. And it has been 24 years since a Democrat has won the office and 43 years since all five statewide officials -- two U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general -- first time in 43 years that all five are Democrats. And I think, to a certain extent, it shows that Virginia is more Democratic, but, you know, I heard Tom say it really shows that it's purple. And I don't think you can say it's the Democratic state. I think it is very competitive.
HERRINGAnd I think what it shows is that the Democratic statewide candidates have had the right focus. Focus on jobs, on strengthening a diverse economy and working for affordable and quality education, investing in our transportation system, these are the things that the statewide candidates have been running on. And I think those are the issues that Virginians care about. And it stands, really, in stark contrast to the opponents in all of those races. Really, Republicans haven't put forward a candidate other than, I think, Bob McDonnell recently who made those types of issues a priority.
HERRINGAnd so I think we're -- you know, not only are the Democratic candidates running on those issues that I think are the right priority, but I also think we're in a different state right now on some issues, like LGBT rights, immigration, and women's health issues. And there were clear differences up and down the ticket this year.
BELLANTONIAnd we're going to talk about all those. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODLet's do the numbers, as one of the programs says. Over 2 million votes casts -- 2.2. What is the latest victory number you have? It rose up from a couple hundred to about 800. What's the number? So everyone will know what a landslide you had.
HERRINGWell, I'm getting used to the nickname Landslide Herring.
HERRINGBut that's perfectly fine with me. Over 2.2 million ballots were cast. And when the State Board of Elections certified the result a few weeks ago, the margin of victory was 165 votes. The recount has been completed, and the three-judge panel has certified the result a little less than 48 hours ago. And the win total is a margin of 907 votes.
SHERWOODAnd where did those votes come from? I know there were some new ones in Fairfax. But were they spread around the state, or was it any pocket of votes that showed up?
HERRINGYeah, it was really spread around the state. And it came from -- you know, the biggest source were under-votes. Virginia has a machine recount. There are basically two types of voting machines in Virginia -- the touchscreen DRE machines where there is no paper ballot, so there's nothing to recount. Then there are the optical scan ballots. And the machines are programmed to kick out either over-vote or under-vote.
HERRINGAnd it's really the under-votes where a ballot did not register any mark or any vote for either candidate. That gets hand examined. And, invariably, there were people who might have checked the oval instead of filling it in or circled the name instead of filling in the dot. Those tend not to get picked up by the optical scan reader. And then, when they're hand examined, the voter's intent is clear.
SHERWOODI have to say one thing. As a former reporter in Virginia -- and I know Christina feels this way -- I mean, I thought it was really nice that Mark Obenshain -- I know there was discussion and possibilities this could go be thrown into the legislature when it was really, really close. But Mr. Obenshain releases a nice concession statement. Did he actually speak to you?
HERRINGHe did. He called me before the press conference. And, you know, I think a lot of the editorial writers around the state were fond of saying that we're both state senators, we both have the first name Mark, and there the similarities end. And, you know, based on our positions on the issues and approach to governance, those were probably true statements.
HERRINGBut we have served together in the Senate, and occasionally we have some dust-ups in the Senate. But overall it's a very collegial body in the Virginia Senate. We've served together for a number years. And it meant a lot to me personally that he reached out and called me before the press conference.
SHERWOODAnd, if I would, I'm going to let a Christina get a word in. Did you know whether Ken Cuccinelli ever called McAuliffe?
HERRINGYou know, I…
SHERWOODGovernor-elect McAuliffe. I'm sorry I interrupted. I'll be more polite.
HERRINGFrom reports that I have read, it doesn't appear that he has, but, you know, I don't know that for sure.
SHERWOODOK. Well, I think the civility is very admirable in Virginia. So I hope Mr. Cuccinelli finds his phone.
BELLANTONIWell, and I'm curious if he's called you at all because you are coming into a job that, as we mentioned, has been held by Republicans for a long time. And you're also inheriting a lot of the things he's been defending for the last four years with a very different philosophy from yours.
HERRINGYeah. Our staffs have been in touch and exchanging information. And I know that a meeting is in the process of being set up. So I feel very confident that the transition is off to a good start and that we're going to get a lot of good cooperation. And me and my team will be ready to hit the ground running on Jan. 11.
BELLANTONIAnd you mentioned LGBT issues. So that brings us to a very important question as we see New Mexico becoming the 17th state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage yesterday. Do you feel obligated to defend the state's constitutional ban on marriage? When I covered the legislature, this was -- they sort of triple-banned it then and have some of the more strict things that we've seen in the nation in Virginia. Where do you stand on this? And how much change can you affect?
HERRINGWell, let me be real clear. I support marriage equality. And I don't think, as a matter of policy, Virginia should be discriminating against any of our citizens. And I'm committed to using the office to eliminate discrimination where it exists.
HERRINGWhat I had said during the campaign and will follow through on is that, in light of the decisions that have come down from the Supreme Court, one striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, the other sending back a case in California that affectively nullified California's gay marriage ban, that that called into question the constitutionality of other state's gay marriage bans, including that one in Virginia.
HERRINGNow, what I'm going to do is get with the experts in the attorney general's office, review their legal analysis, think through very carefully, you know, whether I believe that the law is unconstitutional. Frankly, right now, I'm skeptical it will withstand constitutional scrutiny, but I believe that an attorney general should be defending and executing the law. And the Constitution is primary and foundational law. So I think, if an attorney general reaches a conclusion that a law is unconstitutional, they need to be very careful about defending a law they think is unconstitutional.
SHERWOODThis could also be a business decision in the state of Virginia as things change in the District and in Maryland and at Lockheed, major corporations that have fair treatment of LGBT couples and individuals and married couples. Lockheed, just this week, you know, stopped giving money to the Boy Scouts of America. And you can find corporations not wanting to be in Virginia. It could be anti-business decision if you're not careful.
BELLANTONINot to mention the federal government, which is changing its policies, and so many people live in Virginia.
SHERWOODMilitary benefits, yeah.
HERRINGYeah, well, first of all, fundamentally, I think it's a moral issue, but it is also, as you said, an economic issue. In Virginia, we need to make our state more open, more welcoming to all people.
BELLANTONIWell, if that statement sounded a little familiar to our listeners, that is similar to what you told Kojo in August during the campaign. And, you know, we'll definitely be keeping a close eye on how you all implement this once you take office next January and how you can work with Gov. McAuliffe who obviously feels similarly to you in this philosophy. So you do have a Republican legislature. It should be an interesting dynamic.
HERRINGYeah, and you know, I'm looking at some of the decisions that Governor-elect McAuliffe is making. I think he's making some very smart choices right now with individuals that he's bringing into the cabinet and ones that he's keeping in the cabinet. For example, Nancy Rodriguez, I think, brings a lot of experience.
HERRINGFormer mayor of Hampton, Molly Ward for natural resources, and keeping on someone from the McDonnell administration, Dr. Bill Hazel, secretary of health, I worked with him in my years in the Senate as he was in the McDonnell administration. He's someone who I always felt, you know, could work with everyone.
SHERWOODWhat about on transportation in northern Virginia? I know you know a lot about this. But what is it the attorney general will be able to do to implement the changes that'll come with the Gov. McDonnell's transportation bill? But just what, going forward, can we expect from the attorney general's office when it comes to the terrible issues of transportation in northern Virginia?
HERRINGWell, it's certainly an issue that I'm very familiar with. The 33rd Senate District, which I've been pleased to represent since 2006, is much of Loudoun county and a portion of western Fairfax. So I know how important this issue is and worked hard to get phase two of the Dulles rail extension moving. And what I intend to do is to work with the McAuliffe administration, with the Commonwealth Transportation Board now that there is a transportation bill that we passed, to help get that going and implemented.
HERRINGAnd maybe I can just take just a minute and also say something about the transportation bill last year. Certainly, I've had a number of differences with our current Gov. McDonnell, but I give him a lot of credit for coming forward with a transportation proposal. And an interesting thing happened this past session. Democrats and Republicans in the general assembly started working together, making reasonable compromises, and we passed it. I voted for it, and I think it's going to help begin to alleviate a lot of congestion around the state.
BELLANTONIWe are talking with Mark Herring. He's the Democratic attorney general-elect in Virginia. And if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Attorney General-elect, you won that seat in 2006 in a special election after Tim Kaine became governor and named somebody to his administration.
HERRINGThat's right. My predecessor was Bill Mims. And when Bob McDonnell won the attorney general's race eight years ago against Creigh Deeds, he asked then-Senator Mims to be his chief deputy. Then, when he resigned to run for governor, Bill Mims became the attorney general. And he is now a Supreme Court justice. So what I expect will happen is there will now be a special election called to filled the vacancy that's created by my election to the attorney general's office.
BELLANTONIAnd, of course, Democrats and Republicans love those special elections. It give them a lot of opportunities. I do want to ask you -- you mentioned Bill Hazel a moment ago. How will you handle the issue of these new regulations on abortion clinics? This is a pretty contentious issue. You've seen reproductive rights advocates protesting against a lot of action in Virginia.
BELLANTONIObviously the proposal about transvaginal ultrasounds earlier last year, or the year before that, and then these restrictions saying that clinics need to be regulated similar to hospitals, that's been a long fight in Virginia. How are you going to deal with that as somebody holding a lot of power?
HERRINGWell, it's an issue that I was opposed to the regulations being adopted. I was opposed to the legislation that led to their creation. And what I'm going to be doing as new attorney general is reviewing the process by which those regulations were enacted to see whether it fully complies with the Administrative Process Act. I think we need to do more to make healthcare and access to healthcare easier and more affordable for women and all Virginians, not making it harder and more expensive. And, you know, that's going to be one of the first issues that we work on.
BELLANTONIMark Herring, Democratic attorney general-elect of Virginia, thank you so much for joining us this hour on The Politics Hour.
HERRINGThank you very much for inviting me.
BELLANTONINow, of course, Mark Herring will be taking office Jan. 11 when Terry McAuliffe is sworn in as the next governor of Virginia. And that means Bob McDonnell, Republican governor, is going out. And he's going out on a very strange note. There have been reports over the last few days, Tom Sherwood, that he could be the first sitting governor in Virginia to face criminal charges over this ongoing corruption probe.
BELLANTONIBut it seems like maybe that will be delayed, maybe allow it to happen after he leaves office. This is a big deal -- someone that was really looked at as -- not just a star in Republican circles, but someone with a long political career.
SHERWOODYes. It's really sad. And the Rosalind Helderman and Carol Leonnig from The Post and, I think, Sari Horwitz in this most recent story, reported that McDonnell and his wife were informed that they would, in fact, have legal charges brought against them for whatever the influence, peddling, allegations there are, but that the McDonnell lawyers and his wife's lawyers came to the Justice Department and persuaded them at least to delay it.
SHERWOODMcDonnell does not, after all this horrible year, does not want to become the first sitting governor of Virginia to face criminal charges. And so, after January the 11th, something maybe will, in fact, happen. This is only a delay apparently for the charges being brought, not, you know, getting rid of them.
BELLANTONIWell, we are having The Politics Hour here on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Christina Bellantoni guesting for Kojo Nnamdi. And you can get in touch with us to join our discussion at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet to @kojoshow. And that was my little transition, seamlessly, to welcome D.C. Councilmember David Catania.
BELLANTONIThank you very much for joining us here. You are an at-large member of D.C. Council. You hold an independent seat and chair the committee on education. You've formed an exploratory committee for an independent campaign for mayor next year. Thanks for joining us.
MR. DAVID CATANIAThank you for having me, Christina.
BELLANTONISo why would you want to run for mayor?
CATANIAWell, I haven't…
SHERWOODThe short answer.
CATANIAI haven't made a decision yet. Yeah. Tom always criticizes me for talking too long. I haven't made a decision. I've decided to form an exploratory committee which has the effect of raising a profile and engaging in a conversation, but I'll be clear. This is not something someone enters into lightly. It takes a lot of reflection and thought and a conversation. And so that's why I formed an exploratory committee.
SHERWOODIt's been a couple weeks now, I think.
SHERWOODOnly two? It seems like a month ago. What have you done for that exploratory committee? Have you named a chairman? Have you named a treasurer? Have you raised any money? Any big fundraisers I've missed?
CATANIAWell, you know, I'm really pleased that former Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, who represented Capitol Hill for two-plus terms, has agreed to chair the campaign. And Randy Kelly, who's a partner at a law firm here in the city, who's treasured my last two campaigns, has agreed to be the treasurer once again.
CATANIAI've been talking with -- you know, not going to divulge, you know, all the confidences, but I've been talking with leaders from across the city about, you know, what they're looking for in their next mayor and what issues they believe are important for the city and, you know, how we might move the city forward. And so the emphasis has really been on the conversation around education, around the future of the city. It's not really been about the subject of fundraising. Once…
SHERWOODBut you have to have some monies to run the exploratory committee.
CATANIAThat's right. And I've started. You know, I've raised money in the past in my other elections, you know, where there's a different campaign limit. I've always raised about a half a million dollars in the course of those campaigns. There's a larger campaign limit here. I don't believe this election is going to be bought with campaign contributions.
CATANIAI think it's going to be fought over the issues that are important to our residents. And, at the moment, you know, from what I'm hearing there's a great deal of interest in continuing the improvement of our public education system. And they're looking for a candidate with ideas on how to do it.
SHERWOODYou have better attendance at schools than some of our students. You've gone to, what, 105, 107?
CATANIAOne hundred and eight.
SHERWOODOne hundred and eight schools.
SHERWOODAnd you've been to several of them since you announced the exploratory committee.
SHERWOODIs there any concern at all that people will now view what you say about education reform, trying, in your view, to speed it up as more political now that you are setting sights on maybe running for mayor? Does that undermine what you're saying as opposed to enhance what you're saying?
CATANIAI think there's always a risk that people who choose to can view actions through a lens that is colored with cynicism. You know, I started out with the -- you know, immediately upon becoming chairman of the committee in the January, with the idea visiting all of our public schools, both traditional and chartered -- and there are 220, and so we've almost made it to half this council period. And bringing my colleagues with me because I think it's important for us to know what's going on in our schools.
CATANIAThe most important, you know, aspect isn't going over, as I've talked with you before about, isn't the data or, you know, simply talking about truancy or test scores. The most important thing I've gathered from these experiences is sitting across the table from our school leaders and discussing, you know, what are the obstacles between them and their success and the success of their teachers and, most importantly, their students.
CATANIAYou know, people are going to make, you know, whatever accusations they want. I think this has been an invaluable exercise. It set the table for much of the legislation that I have authored and that has passed this year, including a bill on fair funding just Tuesday of this week, which I hope we can talk about.
BELLANTONIAnd could this be the next mayoral election that's fought on education again? I mean, four years ago, this was really a race about Michelle Rhee.
BELLANTONIAnd something that really highlighted a lot of tension within the city and its very rapid change over the last few decades. How much -- have you ever talked to her, you know, while you're considering this, just checking in? Or do you think that this is a similar battle?
CATANIAYou know, I have not spoken with Michelle Rhee since she left Washington after the last election. You know, look, what I see is progress being made both within our traditional public schools and also within our charter schools. But I also feel that there's a lack of urgency in addressing some of the issues that I hear every night when I'm talking with parents. And I think we need to do a better job of incorporating the views, concerns and aspirations and expectations of our community in the conversation.
CATANIAAnd so right away, you know, I'm looking at what remains an unacceptable achievement gap in our city, an unacceptable graduation rate in our city. And embedded in our unacceptable graduation rate, we have race and gender disparities that no one is talking about, issues related to middle schools and feeder patterns. And so, while we have made progress -- and I appreciate all the hard work of all those involved, most importantly, our teachers -- we have to set the system up to succeed. And I don't believe we have done that at the moment.
SHERWOODCan I ask, on this subject -- not get too much into the details because it can get complicated and complex -- fair funding, race and gender disparities, there's a student formula for schools. When you say fair funding, is that -- some people have complained to me that schools get a certain amount of money per pupil, but the wealthier neighborhoods or the more established neighborhoods can pour private monies into extracurricular activities and to getting the extra science teachers, something like that. And that's a disadvantage for the poorer neighborhoods. Is that one of the things you're talking about?
CATANIAExactly. And I'll try to be brief, Tom. Our funding formula gives the same amount of money for Stoddert Elementary as it does for Stanton Elementary.
SHERWOODIn Northwest Washington?
CATANIAOne school has a high percentage of transitional housing. The other does not. Now, with the exception of some Title I federal money, they are similarly funded. What the fair funding bill does, it acknowledges that certain of our children are at risk by virtue of poverty. Homelessness, foster care system, eligible for supplemental nutritional assistance program or TANF or those high school students who are one year on average older than their peers, these are students at risk.
CATANIAAnd we need the additional resources to give them the mental health interventions, the longer school days, the math and reading interventions that are necessary, the supplemental technology, et cetera. What's important is when we look at the progress we have made, the achievement gap in our city is driven by poverty. And even yesterday, or the day before, when we talked about our recent NAEP scores.
CATANIAOur NAEP scores. These are the National Assessment for Educational Progress scores, the national standardized test scores. Our free and reduced meal students are still at the bottom of the achievement levels. So, unless we start addressing this issue, we're going to narrow the achievement gap, and we're not going to do a lot to actually improve the outcomes of our poorer students.
CATANIAAnd so the council passed on final reading this measure on Tuesday. And I'll now be working with the mayor to make sure that it's funded. And, importantly, these resources, these at-risk resources are to be given to the principals to decide themselves which interventions are going to best meet the needs of their particular schools. And principals love this, by the way.
SHERWOODYes. Everyone knows about racial disparities because it's been talked about a great deal, but when you say race and gender disparities…
CATANIA…what is the gender disparity? That's something I don't think that many people know about.
CATANIALook at our high school graduation rates, for instance, within our DCPS, as opposed to our charter schools, 49.7 percent of our African American males are graduating in four years. So 50 percent, but 66 percent of our young African American girls are graduating. There's a 16 point graduation rate disparity for a Latinos and for African Americans.
BELLANTONIHow does that compare to other cities?
CATANIAWell, you know, candidly, I'm not focused on other cities, and perhaps I should. My focus though right now is looking at, you know, we don't have a gender gap among white students in terms of graduation. It's about 90 percent. But we have a massive gender gap between young boys of color and young girls of color.
CATANIAAnd so I think, you know, part of what I'm trying to do is raise the awareness and say now why is this? And what are the particular interventions we are going to do about it? We have the choice to continue to do business as we have done it, through the notion of be patient, incremental change, we'll get to it.
CATANIAThere needs to be a fierce sense of relentless urgency that this is not acceptable, that we are not going to be the city that reflects our values if we continue to allow this. And so we have to identify the problem and we have got to construct solutions to address it now for the graduation rate. The at-risk way that looks at kids who are, on average, one year older than their peers. This is disproportionally young men of color. And these additional resources could be used to get them on grade level.
CATANIAWhat we see often -- again, where these school visits are helpful -- when I'm talking to our high school principals and they tell us that our ninth graders are coming, reading at a fourth or a fifth grade level, and then we expect them to perform at ninth grade level. We have set them up to fail. And then they stop coming and they start dropping out.
SHERWOODAnd Kaya Henderson said this, and others have said it. The middle school is the linchpin area. The elementary schools, when children are smaller, more obedient, compliant, and easier to lead and to teach, but at the middle school, when family troubles and difficulties and behavioral problems that all teenagers might have, it just starts falling apart at the middle school. And so, therefore, there's almost no hope that things will be that much better in high school. Are you looking for a Marshall Plan for middle schools? What are you looking at?
CATANIAWell, that goes to the lack of vertical integration in our feeder pattern. Now, I know that sounds very wonkish.
SHERWOODOh, that sounds horrible.
CATANIAIt sounds wonkish, but…
SHERWOODVertical integration of the feeder?
CATANIABut I will use an example. I will use an example of the Woodson feeder pattern where there's one high school, one middle school, and eight elementary schools. What we need are these eight elementary principals in a room together talking with one another and talking with the middle school principal and the high school principal.
CATANIAWe need to have a bandwidth of expectation, so, when these students from these eight schools come into a middle school, they're all set up to succeed as opposed to wide differences in quality. So you have some of those eight schools that are higher performing, and parents are selecting out because they fear that, once the children get to middle school, they'll be in a middle school with underperforming kids, and their kids won't get the time and attention.
CATANIAAnd so that's why I've been really focusing on this vertical integration, having the principal of the high school have a greater role in serving on the hiring committee of underling principals. And having -- not only integration in terms of personnel, but also programming and curriculum. And we set the system up almost as a supply chain to succeed.
BELLANTONIWe're talking with D.C. Councilmember David Catania. He is an at-large member representing the whole city and an Independent. And there is an April 1 primary next year. That's really not that far away. We are here on December 20. When are you going to commit to running for mayor? And, of course, you could do that here on The Politics Hour. We would be ever grateful.
CATANIABetween now and then. Between now and April 1.
SHERWOODDoes it matter who wins the April primary…
BELLANTONIWhat kind of a timeline?
SHERWOODThat you enter the June general election?
SHERWOODSo you'll either run or won't, based on your decision not…
CATANIAThat's right. Based on the conversations I'm having about whether or not, you know, through an honest, self-reflection, if I'm the person that I believe is best suited to tackle the enduring issue of our city, which is a failed public education system.
SHERWOODYou've called on Mayor Gray to resign because of his being caught up in that scandal, the shadow campaign. This week, the Washington City Paper Loose Lips reported that there are now emails that suggest maybe the mayor may have known more about perhaps giving some money -- contract monies to Jeffrey Thompson the center of the -- financier for the shadow campaign. What do you make of all that? I know you don't have a big high opinion right this moment of Gray's politics. But what do you make of this latest disclosure?
CATANIAWell, you know, at the end of the day, the mayor of the District of Columbia needs to go to bed every night worried about how we're going to secure our future tomorrow, needs to get up every day with that thought in mind. And when a mayor's getting up every day wondering whether or not the attorney general is or isn't going to turn over documents and whether or not the U.S. attorney has a correspondence for him to respond to, it distracts from the job.
BELLANTONIThat sure sounds like a...
SHERWOODWhy can't they release the information? Why can't the D.C. Atty. Gen. Irv Nathan just release this information?
CATANIAWell, you know what the easiest thing to do -- the easiest thing is, you know, first of all, I think the attorney general's confused about who he works for. He works for the people of the District of Columbia. He does not work for the mayor of the District of Columbia. He is our chief lawyer. If he, you know, is -- but if he does wrongly believe that he works for the mayor, all the mayor has to do is simply say, I release the attorney-client privilege. The mayor -- if the attorney general thinks it's the mayor's to release, all the mayor has to do is say is, I release the privilege. And the documents can be...
SHERWOODAre you calling on the mayor to do that?
CATANIAWell, alternatively, of course. And, alternatively, you know, if the council were to choose, the council could move an emergency measure that strips the whole idea of attorney-client privilege in the issues of federal investigations, and it would be beyond the attorney general's power then to restrict the flow of documents. I think that the mayor continues to do a great disservice to our city by not being fully forthright and forthcoming on (unintelligible).
SHERWOODThe City Paper is looking for the best quotes of the year. I submitted the one from Arnold Machin, the U.S. attorney for the District who was -- and asked about the link to the investigation, said there's (word?) there. And I thought that was a pretty good quote.
BELLANTONIWhat questions do you have for Councilmember David Catania? You can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Christina Bellantoni sitting in for Kojo on The Politics Hour. We do have an email from Josh in Washington, D.C., asking, "What role do you believe the District government should play in the effort for statehood? And what have you done to forward the cause while on the council?"
CATANIAWell, I think we absolutely have to play a role. And, you know, by -- let me answer the last part of the question first. So the -- we have now our third resolution before the New Hampshire legislature. Let me back up. When I was chairman of the Committee on Health, I chaired a national legislative association on healthcare matters and met a number of state legislators while, you know, in that capacity. And I've encouraged them to introduce resolutions in their respected chambers on statehood, on voting rights.
CATANIAWe will have our third such hearing in the next year in New Hampshire on the issue of voting representation. It's a matter -- in my mind, it's a matter of what we can get and beginning that conversation. Hopefully, we'll be successful this time.
BELLANTONIAnd Monday on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," we'll actually be talking about D.C. budget autonomy and that important issue.
CATANIAAnd on the issue of statehood, look, I think, you know, as part of a mayoral discussion, should I choose to run, I think we need to talk about our governance generally about, you know, 40 years into home rule. You know, are we being well served by the institutions as currently configured? Or should we have a larger council or a less powerful mayor? But on the issue of statehood, I think one thing that's left out is we still rely on the federal government to pay a portion of our bills as relates to our criminal justice system, courts, et cetera.
CATANIAAny discussion of statehood has to contemplate us reassuming those responsibilities. And so as part of a broader discussion, I'm open to that broader discussion.
SHERWOODI'm seeing news reports that that MGM is (word?) the right to build a casino at National Harbor. That was a big decision of those three. If you were mayor, would you support a casino in the District? I ask only because Sharon Pratt Kelly, when she was mayor, suggested that the old convention center, which is now the CityCenterDC, she said, we could turn that into a London-style casino and make a fortune.
CATANIAUnder no condition would I support a casino in the District of Columbia, especially with the way in which our government's presently organized. And this is not to cast aspersions on any colleague or any council. But when you have 13 members of the council and a mayor where the 14 of us have all the authority of a city, a county, and a state, you can get seven people to do just about anything.
CATANIAWe had -- this was illustrated this week when we had a vote on a controversial contracting matter where one of the contractors had poured tens of thousands of dollars into three of the mayoral candidates. You know, I was actually joking, like...
BELLANTONIThis is the meter contract you're talking about?
CATANIAThat's right. You know, back to New Hampshire, when I was talking with Cindy Rosenwald, my friend who's a state rep there, about the size of the State House in New Hampshire, they have more than 400 members in their State House. You know, that's rather large. But I was joking -- I said it would be -- that's the best anecdote (sic) to corruption. There's no way that you can buy off a legislature of 400 people...
SHERWOODYou need 201.
CATANIARight. Right. That would exhaust even the most -- that would exhaust the Jeff Thompsons of the world and their inclination to try to shower the legislature with contributions. You just simply couldn't do it.
SHERWOODWould you support doubling the legislature or in slashing the pay in half?
CATANIAI would absolutely put everything on the table. But I think it has to be a citywide thoughtful conversation that comes from the grassroots up and not the top down. I would support absolutely discussing a larger council, readjusting salaries. I would support having, you know, an elected secretary of state, for instance, on the issues of electoral matters. I would support and have long supported and was the first to actually introduce the notion of an independent attorney general in 1998, if I'm not mistaken.
SHERWOODAnd the council killed that election this year. Is there any hope that court will overturn it?
CATANIAUnfortunately, seven of my colleagues decided that, you know, they knew better. And, you know, several of them are running for mayor.
BELLANTONIWe're going to take a couple calls. Chris is calling from Washington, D.C. Hi, Chris. Thanks for joining us.
CHRISHow you doing? Thanks for having me.
BELLANTONIGreat. You have a question.
CHRISLast -- yeah, my question concerns pay raise for the police. We haven't had a raise in years. And, like, we're constantly in (unintelligible) thanks for this. But it hasn't been shown as far as pay raises. Cost of living has increased over the years...
BELLANTONIAnd you're on the force?
CHRISYes, ma'am. Our leaders, they're getting pay raises, bonuses. Those of us that are sacrificing times with our families and that shit out there on the street, we're still waiting. There seems to be some logjam between the union and administrators. But I know if they want it to happen, it could happen.
SHERWOODAnd it's been, like, six years since the police have had a raise, Councilmember.
CATANIARight. This is an issue that I noticed both for fire as well as police, that, you know, there's been a, you know, an inability to move forward between the mayor and these two collective bargaining units on exactly what the terms and conditions are. And I think -- I've heard anecdotally that it sometimes has to do with retroactive pay increases. But regardless, I think it's untenable that our workforce goes that long without an increase. It's very hard to retain. It's very hard to keep morale up when there's not a predictability in these negotiations.
SHERWOODAnd certainly the fire department has been...
SHERWOOD...under employment of the emergency medical personnel, not just the firefighters.
CATANIAYou know, and we have the resources, by the way, you know. I mean, we have to...
SHERWOODIt's not the resource issue. And it's for almost anything. It seems like we have enough money now in the city to do what we need to do.
CATANIAYou -- and if I could just illustrate that for a point, from a -- in June of this -- June 30 this year, when we had our last revenue projection, between June 30 and Sept. 30, so in those few months, we looked at -- we had a revenue projections changed for the next five years. And in those next five years, in those three months, 320 million new dollars appeared that aren't part of any budget plan. And I think we have to have a conversation about how we spend those resources because they're not perhaps going to last forever. We can't take our prosperity for granted.
CATANIAI personally think that a portion of those dollars should go to fund the DC Promise Initiative, which 11 members of the council had signed on to build it. Eleven of us are in support of us -- moved through my committee last week which would give kids, on a sliding scale of income, but who graduate from D.C. Public Schools and private schools a chance for college scholarships so they can attend the colleges...
CATANIAIt's up to 60. For the lowest-income residents, it goes from 12,000 a year for up to five years down to 3,000 up to five years, depending on income. But it's critical if we are going to end the income inequality in the city to give our low- and middle-income residents the resources to go to college.
BELLANTONIYou can join our conversation by giving us a call at 1-800-433-8850. You're listening to The Politics Hour, and I'm Christina Bellantoni sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Natalie, thanks for joining us.
NATALIEGood morning. I'm delighted to be able to possibly look forward to David Catania in that big pot. I would love to have him as mayor of the District of Columbia.
NATALIEIt has grown into a sophisticated city since I moved here. And certainly since David Catania first got involved in politics, he has not only grown with it. He has helped us to grow, and I just think he would be a great mayor.
BELLANTONIWell, thanks for your call.
SHERWOODThere's one vote.
CATANIAThank you, Natalie. I appreciate that very much.
BELLANTONINow, you used to be a Republican, as I'm sure our listeners know. What is your relationship now with the Republican Party in D.C.? And what are they going to do if you do run as an Independent? Maybe they sit it out and throw some weight behind you?
CATANIAWell, you know, I haven't had any conversations with the party since I left in 2004. And you may recall I left after, you know, the decision to move forward with a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages. And I parted with then-president very harshly on that. To be honest, I endorsed John Kerry. I endorsed President Obama in the last two elections. I don't expect, you know, there to be any formal connection. But I will, you know, acknowledge that, you know, after years of being active in the Republican Party, I have some friends on a personal level there.
CATANIABut there will be no organized assistance. And, you know, I think what people should do is look at my record to see if my record is consistent with the values of the city, whether it be marriage equality or smoke-free or medical marijuana or the work that we've done to add, you know, insurance for low-income residents, you know, somewhere in the number of 30- to 40,000 people. So I think, you know, I've earned my Independent stripes, and I actually embrace them.
SHERWOODWell, get through the Democratic primary on April the 1st. There may or may not be a statehood party candidate for mayor. And the Republicans may or may not put someone up. But in the ideal situation, there will be someone for the Democrats -- the majority Democrats will nominate someone on April the 1st. And you'll make a decision within that month, I would guess. Are you -- you said earlier you would do it before April 1?
BELLANTONINo, you said before then. Yeah.
CATANIABefore April. Before April. Right.
SHERWOODBefore April 1. Why not wait to see who the person is?
CATANIAWell, you know, the decision will be one that I come to based on an honest conversation with myself and with others. It isn't dependent on who wins.
SHERWOODBut it still whether -- then you expect you would be the general election candidate as an Independent, and then it might be a one on one race with the Democrat.
SHERWOODAnd then you'll appeal to Republicans, Independents, Democrats, everybody, right?
CATANIAYou know, I -- can I -- I don't think this -- I don't think our problems are partisan problems. I think people look at the issues that are confronting our city, and they want solutions. I think this -- I think the country generally is trending more Independent. Our city is trending more Independent. It's not to diminish the importance of parties.
CATANIABut, you know, I'm not going to be making special appeals to any particular group. I'm going to run on my record and on what I will do. And if it appeals to Independents, Republicans, Statehood Party, and Democrats, it appeals to them. If it doesn't, then it won't.
BELLANTONIIt's worth pointing out that the last time someone coming even close to putting a dent in a non-Democratic mayoral candidate, that was Republican Carol Schwartz in 1994 when she lost to Marion Berry by 14 points. So Joel in Washington has a question for Councilmember Catania. Hi, Joel.
JOELHi. Mr. Catania, I'd like to know where you stand on allowing the continuation of councilmembers holding full-time jobs, like Councilman Cheh. It seems to me that in a city where you have a professional council of receiving six-figure salaries, substantial staff, that this really ought to be banned. This is not an amateur council like in small cities in the Midwest.
CATANIAWell, I thank you, Joel, for the question. Actually, while I no longer do -- I did for most of my tenure work outside -- have another position as well. And I have to tell you that it made me a better councilmember, that I think it's important that we live by the rules that we create. And it makes us consistent candidly with most state legislatures where they do work outside. They are -- this is the notion of a citizen legislature.
CATANIAI would want to defend Councilmember Cheh in particular because, while she is a constitutional law professor and does work outside of the council, what we have come to rely upon is her expertise in this area. And when you look at her list of accomplishments, I would stack them against, you know, some of our colleagues who don't have outside employment at all. And I'll -- you know, I'm not -- I think we can continue to talk about this, and we can have honest disagreements.
CATANIABut I think, you know, having people whose entire livelihoods and futures depend on this job makes them inclined to do just about anything to keep it. One of the things I liked about personally having outside employment was that I knew I could get up every day and do something else, that I didn't have to sacrifice my integrity or my ethics or my conscience for the position.
SHERWOODIt seems to me that that's what we get. If we get professional -- people have complained about government all the time in kind of a general broad sense. But then there -- and if you have people who can only do government, then you only have government people. And it seems to me that makes it more difficult for people. Citizen legislatures are what are the foundation of this country.
CATANIAAnd it's also under...
SHERWOODMore disclosure is what I think. As a journalist, I want to see much more disclosure about everything that's being done on a much more regular basis than once or twice a year.
CATANIABut, at the same time, I appreciate Joel's point, and there is a sentiment out there. These salaries, people could afford to live on them and should be able to. But I really do see the value of having outside perspectives come into the chamber because, you know, we -- you know, in the absence of it, we simply think that money just appears, that whatever we do will have no consequences or impact. And real life experiences help inform and shape, improve legislation.
SHERWOODYou're also running an $11 billion corporation, and so the money, while it seems like a lot in the Washington metro area, is not that much money in terms of what you're doing. Can I ask you one more scandal question before we run out of time?
SHERWOODMichael Brown, the former councilmember who was caught red-handed and is supposed to be going to jail, has been delayed now. He's not going to be sentenced. And there's -- because there's "new evidence" from the prosecutor's office. Do you have any sense about what's happening there, a third councilmember, of course, to face legal charges?
CATANIAYou know, what I want personally for Christmas is an end to the scandals. Honestly, I would like us to talk about how we're going to make this a great city and how we're going to tackle the challenges for us.
SHERWOODWell, if the -- if some of the councilmembers are corrupt, you can't do that.
CATANIARight. Well, Tom, I'm not criticizing the question. I'm just saying, you know, what do I think happened? I think that what was fascinating to me how in -- you know, whenever they would give money to Mr. Brown, it was always in some kind of sports memorabilia. And there have been many allegations around his work in the lottery and offline gambling. And I wondered if the FBI was trying to send some signal in the avenue they used.
CATANIALook, I am disgusted by Michael Brown's behavior. And this is, at its heart, a southern city that is polite. But, you know, you cannot sell the public trust and expect to have anything other than kind of a reaction of contempt.
BELLANTONIWell, that's a nice segue for us to note that Nikita Stewart of The Washington Post who has written quite a bit about scandal and corruption in our fair city just took a job with The New York Times to cover New York City Hall. So Bill de Blasio, incoming mayor there, look out. Any thoughts you guys would like to share about Nikita?
SHERWOODYou know, when I heard this, the first of the words I got from several people, some of whom worked with the mayor, I said, oh, this is a sign that Nikita, who's been the lead reporter on the mayoral scandal, that nothing's going on there, that it's come to a dead end. This is good news for the mayor. So, of course, I called up Nikita.
SHERWOODAnd I said, I'm hearing that you're, you know, you're leaving to go work for The New York Times because the Gray scandal investigation has come to a dead end. She burst out laughing. And I said, you know, Nikita may break that story in The New York Times should it come about to be broken.
BELLANTONIGood point. I'm sure they'd be interested. Tom Sherwood, you are our resident analyst, a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Thank you so much for being here.
BELLANTONIAnd thank you so much, Councilmember Catania, at-large member of the D.C. City Council. We will be keeping a close eye on you. We'll be sure you'll be making news here on The Politics Hour for many, many days to come. I am Christina Bellantoni. I've been sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi for this hour. Thank you so much for being with us.
BELLANTONIThe Politics Hour is produced by Michael Martinez. The managing producer of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is Brendan Sweeney. The engineer today is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Audio archives, CDs, and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org.
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