D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joins Kojo and Tom Sherwood in studio.
D.C. mayoral candidates begin a mad dash to the Democratic primary on April 1. Virginia prepares to swear in a new governor. And Maryland’s gubernatorial hopefuls dig in for a long year of campaigning. 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
- Muriel Bowser Democratic Candidate, Mayor of the District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 4); Chair, Committee on Economic Development
- Chris Van Hollen U.S. House of Representatives (D-Maryland, 8th District)
Muriel Bowser talks about whether she would keep Kaya Henderson on as Chancellor of DC Public Schools.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at the American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. Happy New Year, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, yes. I hope I know where I am.
NNAMDIYeah. Apparently, I am not exactly sure where I am on this New Year. It's a very confusing time for me.
SHERWOODHappy New Year to you, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt's not a confusing time for Tom, because he makes no New Year's resolutions, because even though he may not be perfect, he is perfect for you, as a certain campaign slogan used to say. Do you remember that campaign slogan? I may not be perfect, but I am perfect for you.
SHERWOODFor you -- that was Barry. Which campaign was that?
NNAMDIProbably back in the '80s at some point. But there was a record that had that refrain to it.
SHERWOODSlogan, you know -- Mr. de Blasio, the new mayor of New York, in his campaign speech, inaugural speech, said we are one city. You know, I looked on the video tape to see if Mayor Gray was...
NNAMDII wonder where he got that from?
SHERWOOD...was sitting out there in the audience.
SHERWOODYou know, there are not that many slogans that, you know, are around. You have to just repeat them.
NNAMDIWell, we are joined in studio by Muriel Bowser. She's the democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. She's also a member of the D.C. Council, who represents Ward 4. Councilmember Bowser, thank you so much for joining us. Happy New Year to you.
MS. MURIEL BOWSERWell, it's my pleasure. And Happy New Year to you. And it's not new to you, but these digs are new to me. Congratulations. It's a beautiful new studio.
NNAMDIThank you very much for that. As you know, Tom and I discuss a few topics before we get to the issue at hand. But, if you feel like jumping in at any time, feel free to do so. Tom, I want to start in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where you once had a journalistic career.
NNAMDIThe new governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, has decided that his education secretary should be Anne Holten, particularly significant because not only is she the wife of former governor and now Senator Tim Kaine, she is the daughter of former Governor Linwood Holton, who made national news -- maybe international news -- by the desegregation of the public schools in Virginia and taking his two daughters to public school, holding them by the hand. Anne Holton is one of those daughters. She's now the education secretary for the Commonwealth.
SHERWOODIt's certainly symbolic for all those reasons. But also it shows that Terry McAuliffe, who has been a national player in national democratic politics, is continuing what he tried to do since he lost the governor's race four years ago. He is putting himself deeply into the Virginia that people like and respect. And by appointing her, it's another sign that he is focused on Virginia, not any national campaign effort for Hilary Clinton or any of the other things that might occur going forward. He's trying to establish a firm establishment base and that's what he's done.
NNAMDIOkay. We'll swing from Virginia to Maryland, where the school superintendent in Maryland was one of the candidates for school superintendent in New York, Joshua Starr. It's been reported during the course of this week that Education Secretary Arne Duncan and, according to the Washington Post, at least one other education department official urged New York Mayor Bill de Blasio -- he of the one city of a slogan -- not to appoint Joshua Starr.
NNAMDIJoshua Starr gained some publicity, some would say notoriety, by being critical of the education reforms that are espoused by the Obama administration.
SHERWOODOh, I think the superintendent said, Stop the insanity. So I think that would be interpreted as critical. But, you know, I didn't really understand the story, because in the Post story, it talks about how he was discouraged -- that Duncan discouraged de Blasio from appointing him. But it also says in the same story that he was offered the number two in command of the school system. And that he would be assured he could move up to be the chancellor of the schools after Carmen Farina, who's 70-something years old, was going to be just there a short time.
NNAMDITurned that down, though.
SHERWOODBut you know that Kaya Henderson was one of the people approached about that job?
NNAMDIYeah, I knew she was consulted. Do you think she was approached?
SHERWOODYes, she acknowledged that she spoke to -- I can't remember who she spoke to -- but, yes, she acknowledged. And she put out a whole letter saying, Thank you, but I'm not going.
NNAMDIWell, that would indicate...
SHERWOODStarr also put out a very nice note.
NNAMDI...that would indicate that she is staying, unless a new mayor happens to think differently. How would a Mayor Bowser deal with School's Chancellor Kaya Henderson? Does she stay or does she go?
BOWSERWell, the schools, as you know, Kojo, remains the number one issue on people's minds. And, as we get across the city -- and I don't say one city, I say across all eight Wards of the District of Columbia -- that's what people want to know. How are we going to speed up school reform? How are we going to close the achievement gap? And what's the chancellor's plan? So I think we do have a good chancellor with good ideas. But, like all the departments, I want to make sure that we have a leader that will move urgently and really close the gap for neighborhoods across the District.
SHERWOODCertainly in your Ward 4 -- on all sides of your Ward, the schools, the middle-school concerns are just like off the charts. I know that ethics -- an issue in ethics because of the federal investigation and the corruption that we've had is right there. They're almost tied as number one issues. But, clearly, the parents want to know about the school boundaries that are going to be changing, about where their kids, who might be very happy in the elementary schools, but the parents are just frankly concerned about middle schools where discipline starts to break down.
BOWSERRight. People have to have confidence in the feeders. And so all the families that we're attracting to the District of Columbia will know -- they will only stay as long as they're confident in that feeder. So you're right. Our elementary schools were getting it right. But they want to know what's next. And so it's going to be very important that our D.C. public schools, our D.C. public charter schools and our entire system be able to demonstrate to parents that we can get the job done in middle and high school as well.
SHERWOODDo you have any...
NNAMDII guess I should start giving out the phone number now. 800-433-8850 is the number to call, because we have apparently now started our interview.
SHERWOODOh, I thought you had started it.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. You can send email to email@example.com. Fire away.
SHERWOODI was confused. I thought for a moment I was at Howard. But it...
NNAMDIWell, see, I started off confused and now apparently you've caught it too.
SHERWOODTry to remember my question.
SHERWOODDavid Catania, who's openly exploring a run for mayor, is focusing on education. Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Councilmember, who says he wants a walk-able school for every neighborhood. Jack Evans has said he's helped fund the reform of the school system, all of that. Do you have any specific ideas that you would direct Kaya Henderson to do? Or are you just going to just give her more encouragement, should you become mayor?
BOWSEROur chief approach to this is replicating our number one performing middle school, and that's Alice Stelle. And how -- when we go to Alice Stelle, to me it's really no silver bullet as to why it works. We have a great building. We have great staff and teachers. We have the parents, who are working hard to make sure the school is working. It's safe and has a lot of extracurricular activities and the types of offerings that people want. How do we replicate that? And so what we will set out to do is form a five- to seven-year plan that allows us to replicate Alice Stelle across the city.
BOWSERI think we'll need at least an additional five locations.
NNAMDINow I'd like to get to the fundamental question and that is, who is Muriel Bowser. Just this morning I was at an event and I ran into a fellow Ward 4 resident. And he said to me, I would like to vote for Muriel Bowser for mayor, but I'm looking for a reason why other than that I'd like Adrian Fenty. She replaced Adrian Fenty. A lot of the people who chaired Fenty's campaign and advised Fenty when he was campaigning are in here campaign. But I'm looking for a reason. What accomplishments has Muriel Bowser had would cause me to want to vote for her. Who is Muriel Bowser?
BOWSERWell, I think that -- and I'm glad you asked that question, and because I would really love to spend time today just explaining exactly that. And we have had huge accomplishments across our Ward. And we've gone down to the council and passed commonsense legislation. But, more than that, I'm really a person who is committed to the city, a child of the city. And I think that a councilmember and a candidate who speaks to all eight wards across the District of Columbia.
BOWSERPeople sometimes ask me what's one of the things I'm most proud of, having been elected in Ward 4 for the last six and a half years, in three elections, and that's how we brought the ward together. So unlike a lot of members of the council, I represent a ward that straddles Rock Creek Park, that is a perfect microcosm of the city. And we've been able in six and a half years to have the residents of Chevy Chase just as interested in what happens on Georgia Avenue as they are in what happens in Chevy Chase.
BOWSERWhen I was first elected, I had residents who live on the east side, like I do in Riggs Park, who didn't know how to get to Lafayette School in Chevy Chase. And we've managed to close that gap. I've been very proud of my work on ethics reform in the District of Columbia. We had one of the most contentious issues at a contentious time when you had three councilmembers who are under investigation. And you had a mayor who had all kinds of problems. And the public was looking at...
BOWSERYes. But we're going to change that. And we're still -- we're looking to some leadership from the council, and so a very difficult time. A lot have said -- and maybe even you, Tom -- Well, Bowser, you got to do this. Or, Bowser, you got to do that. But we really held a course that put together a Board of Ethics and Government Accountability that's independent, has great people serving on it. And we charge them. And we gave them the powers that they needed to get the job done. And we actually see that Board working.
BOWSERAnd I think, over the course of time, we're going to see a real difference in how officials and public employees act and respond to have a more open government.
SHERWOODWell, on that particular issue of campaign reform, one of the big issues is -- continues to be -- whether there should be corporate donations. And you came down the side of continuing corporate donations. You have some in your current campaign. You've had them in other campaigns. There was a very strong effort to ban corporate donations. Tommy Wells in Ward 6, he's not accepting them. His fundraising totals show it compared to you and Jack Evans and others. What about corporate donations? Why aren't those considered too powerful in city politics?
BOWSERWell, what I think, Tom, is that there's going to be corporate money in all elections. Now whether it comes in the form of a corporate check or individual who's giving, what I think is important is that the people know who your contributors are. And I have supported and continue to support strong disclosure laws. I have supported and actually put government and the taxpayer money behind making sure the Office of Campaign Finance has the auditors and investigators that they need to make sure everybody is following the rules. And that's what we're going to continue to do.
NNAMDIMayor Gray had made it clear that he believed that for all the trouble with his campaign in 2010, that the city is doing very well and that he's offering voters a candidate who has proven that he can lead the city well. What would you be doing that you would say is significantly different as mayor, right now? How would you say your vision of the city is different from what he has pursued these past four years?
BOWSERWell, I think what people across the city are telling us is that they don't see a mayor that's focused or has offered a vision. What they've seen is kind of the continuation of the status quo. We have a mayor who inherited basically a steaming engine. And so what is different about what has happened in the last three years? So people want to know that we're getting our city ready for the future. And they, frankly, don't see that in the mayor and in a lot of department heads.
BOWSERHow are we going to prepare for the 200,000 people that will move here in terms of our public transportation, our affordable housing, our schools. And so that's the plan that people want to see.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Pam who says, I live in Takoma, D.C. You have expressed support for a very large and tall building project at the Takoma Metro Center. In fact, the proposed height of the building is way above zoning limits for that area and would dwarf the garden apartments and single-family homes that surround it. How do you justify your support for this proposed development?
BOWSERWell, actually, that proposal is at the Metro Board. And there has been no final action on it. My efforts to this point have been to make sure that the development would be more in keeping with the surrounding community. In fact, some of the proposal started out much taller with many more units than what's currently on the table. And so there's been no final vote there. What the...
NNAMDIWell, that said, the Metro Board, you have a say, don't you?
BOWSERI do have a say.
NNAMDIBecause you're a representative on the board.
SHERWOODAnd your say is that you want to see changes in what's being proposed at this point?
BOWSERThere already have been changes on what has been proposed.
SHERWOODSo it's smaller than...
BOWSERIt's smaller. There is a floor that's -- there's one less floor than what the original proposal was. I think there are 60 fewer units. And what's also significant about this is that there are two jurisdictions of all. While that's a common Metro center is entirely in the District of Columbia, directly across the street from Maryland, we've kind of been down the road with this project before. Many, many years ago there was a different proposal made.
BOWSERAnd so now we're confronting this one. But let me just tell you what my approach to development project is.
NNAMDIAllow me to interpret for a second.
NNAMDIBecause if you're just joining us, that's the voice of Muriel Bowser. She is a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. She also a member of D.C. Council who represents Ward 4. Also with us, of course, is Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst, a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Our number is 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Yes, ma'am.
BOWSERYeah. So we're just talking about development. I've had the honor of serving as the economic development chair just a year now actually. And so our approach in our ward, so people ask you, you know, why Muriel Bowser? We set out really an economic development agenda for Georgia Avenue. And you know how long people have been working on developing Georgia Avenue.
SHERWOODI was there with Bill Clinton in 1992.
BOWSERYes. So it was, you know, I was never more happy I was able to send a text to Adrian Fenty and to Charlene Jarvis just to say thank you for all the hard work that you've done to get us to the point where we have development over Metro. We have shopping at Georgia and Missouri. We're going to turnover at Walter Reed. And I just call out these projects because we live in an area where it's not easy to develop.
BOWSERPeople have been trying for a long time. And as we get across the city in Ward 8, you ask, why haven't we seen the type of leadership and why haven't we seen a progress in a lot of areas. So that's one reason why I announced that, you know, some weeks ago that I would appoint a deputy mayor for the east of the river to really have -- to coordinate for economic development, education and jobs.
BOWSERA real plan about how we change this trajectory for opportunity for a lot of people in our city. And that's going to be a big difference between the type of agenda that we're moving, what we see now with some other people we're talking about.
SHERWOODSome many people criticize it as pandering to that part of town where you're less well known that you are. But when this overall development issue, some people are -- the discussion of the height limit which have been before Congress, that's kind of have been derailed to what by the National Capital Planning Commission for right now. But do you support bigger buildings in the city in designated areas or where are you in the height act?
BOWSERWell, I support Phil Mendelson's position. Now, write that down. I told him to write it down.
SHERWOODOh, my goodness. That was the anti-home rule position.
BOWSERWell, you know, when we talk about autonomy and things that we need, it would be great if the Congress would talk about legislative autonomy and budget autonomy, the things that we've actually asked for. Nobody went to the Congress and said, well, maybe this administration did and said give us tall buildings. The fact of the matter is, and I couldn't agree with Phil more when he says that our skyline is in itself historic and is a treasure for the whole nation.
BOWSERAnd I think it's important that we protect that. And it should be...
SHERWOODEven in the outer reaches of Benning Road, New York Avenue?
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) development overlooking the city? I don't -- I'm not proposing Rosslyn or Crystal City, lord help us.
BOWSERWell, maybe you are.
SHERWOODNo, I'm not.
BOWSERIf you change the height act, maybe that's exactly what you'll get. And I haven't heard anybody in Benning Road say that they want tall buildings. And, in fact, let's not confuse ourselves and think that the fact that we don't have development in those areas is because people can't build tall buildings. And, you know, that's not the reason. So let's really deal with the reasons and give people the type of development they want in their neighborhoods.
SHERWOODWhen it can all be including a Washington football team, finance football stadium at RFK?
BOWSERWho's going to finance it?
SHERWOODThe team itself.
BOWSERWell, we love our Washington football team, as you say. We will especially love a winning Washington football team in Washington.
SHERWOODWhat about RFK? Would you at least -- I know Mayor Williams, Mayor Fenty, Mayor Gray, all have expressed interest with the Red Skins Organization, I'll say it since you didn't, that maybe in the future something would be worked out with...
BOWSERThat would be an ideal sight. Their neighbors, as you know, and I've talked to a lot of them that surround that site...
SHERWOODWould have to fit.
BOWSERRight. If we're not going to have the team pack, then we need to start making some decisions. That's been a lot of frustration in Ward 6.
SHERWOODA lot of land being developed there.
BOWSERThat nothing has happened.
NNAMDIHere is Oscar in Washington, D.C. Oscar, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
OSCARGood afternoon. Quick question, I don't believe I heard whether or not, Muriel Bowser, if you get elected mayor you will continue and keep Kaya Henderson as chancellor? And the second question I want to ask...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to interrupt, Oscar. How important is that to you?
OSCARWell, it's very important because I'm a parent and I have a child right now who's going to be matriculating to middle school next year and I'm concerned about education.
NNAMDISo would like Chancellor Henderson to stay?
OSCARNo, she needs to go. And the second thing that I was about to say, whether she would like to replicate Alice Deal. But Alice Deal is a neighborhood school and they only allow successful kids who are not within the neighborhood to come. Secondly -- thirdly, since you've been councilwoman, what middle school have you used your influence as representative? What middle school in the Ward 4 do we have that you used your influence to improve so it would look like Alice Deal? Right now, I can't find...
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have her respond to that.
OSCAR…in Ward 4.
BOWSERWell, Oscar, my experience with Ward 4 middle schools is exactly why I've arrived at this position. We have, and I don't know how long you've lived in Ward 4, but basically the Ward 4 and the Ward 3 schools serve Ward 4. So we have a lot of students that are in Ward 3 schools. So -- and I don't know the number off the top, but I would be willing to guess that a lot of the Alice Deal students are actually live and reside in Ward 4.
BOWSERWe had the opportunity to combine our middle -- our D.C. public middle school, D.C. Public Schools Middle School with the new Roosevelt High School, which is what I proposed. Our D.C. public middle school, many parents just wouldn't choose it. And they hadn't been choosing it for many, many years. And I believe that it needed a fresh start and it needed to be rebuilt in with the $100 million Roosevelt renovation.
BOWSERThe chancellor decided not to do that. And I think it was a big mistake to not do that. We could have gotten a new high school and also a new middle school all at the same time. So what I have arrived at is that we're going to have to reopen MacFarland and have a D.C. public school that is a bi-right school right in the community. More than that, I think, Oscar, that we have to explore some partnerships with our very successful public charter schools.
BOWSERAnd I think you know it's my position that the public's charter schools need to admit neighborhood kids as well. So neighborhood kids can go to their neighborhood public charter school. We have some very successful public charter middle schools in our ward, including Washington Latin, which we fought very hard to make sure that they had an appropriate facility right in Ward 4.
SHERWOODThe feeling from some people, though, is accept who ever lives in the neighborhood then they become public schools, not charter schools where they…
BOWSERWell, they are public schools. They are funded just like the public schools with our taxpayers. And now, they are also in public school buildings.
SHERWOODSo what would be -- what's the attraction of charter schools? They don't have union teachers? Or what? I mean, why are charter schools any better than the public -- just funding public education?
BOWSERYeah. Well, the charter schools are funding public education. And many of them are very good and some of them are working to be better. And so, we want to -- I don't think that the charter schools would say you should choose us because we don't have to take Johnny from across the street. That certainly isn't their -- I hope that wouldn't be their argument. I think that their mission, just like D.C. public schools is to provide a quality education for children and families in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODSpeaking of that, I wasn't sure that you say -- no, as in if you were to be elected mayor you wouldn't want to be pigeonholed right now on every appointee, every person who's serving in the position now like police chief or fire chief or whatever.
NNAMDIBut to answer Oscar's question...
SHERWOODYes, would answer Oscar's question about Kaya Henderson?
BOWSERI have made no commitments to keep Kaya Henderson and I certainly have made no commitments to get rid of Kaya Henderson. I will tell you, I have some principles that are important to me that we have a chancellor who has a plan for each section of the city, that we have a chancellor who will act urgently and be visible in the community and be the face of school change. And I do value consistency.
NNAMDIOn now to Liz in Silver Spring, MD. Liz, your turn with Muriel Bowser.
LIZHi. I recently left Ward 4 for sunny Maryland. And before leaving voted in favor of a referendum that would have given us, given Washington, D.C. an independent elected attorney general. And I know that many of the would-be mayors do not support, did not support, have not supported the actual election of that presumably because there aren't any good attorneys to run for the place in Washington, D.C. I'd like to know what Councilwoman Bowser's position on that would be as mayor.
NNAMDIFirst, I'd like to know why the heck did you leave?
NNAMDIYou left because of...
SHERWOODDid you move closer to a Wal-Mart?
BOWSERYeah, because there are a lot of Wal-marts in Montgomery County.
LIZYeah, I was four blocks from the new one on Georgia Avenue.
NNAMDIAnd you didn't want to be that close to a Wal-mart?
LIZWell, you weren't there so because it's not -- it wasn't the traffic I wanted. So anyhow, I'm in Maryland now, but nevertheless.
NNAMDIOkay, well, I just wanted to know why you moved.
SHERWOODJust the attorney general.
SHERWOODHow did you vote on that? Did you vote to postpone the election? I can't remember.
BOWSERI did. I did. I also voted to have an elected attorney general. And I will say that I think there's still a lot of that we have to do at the council to make sure everybody understands what the roles of the independent attorney general will be. We have to be clear about what the -- what legal representation the mayor of the District of Columbia will have. And we will have an election for independent AG.
SHERWOODWhy is it that 42 states or whatever it is can have an elected attorney general? We'd like to think of ourselves as a state but we can't have one? It took all this time. It's going to take four more years to have an elected attorney general?
BOWSERI think it will. And because you know how the charter change said and I agree with this very wholeheartedly that the AG and the mayor can't be elected in the same election. That is definitely not something that we want to happen.
SHERWOODOkay, speaking -- not even very quickly speaking of, you mentioned Phil Mendelson and the opposition to the change to the height act and home rule issues and attorney general. What about, I got to -- I don't want to say his name because he didn't say I could use his name -- begged me to ask you about statehood and about what you would do as mayor or have you ever done to push statehood for the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWe have a lot of ceremonial things that every mayor seems to have done at one point and the mayor certainly talks about it now. But is it a realistic thing that the mayor of the city can pursue?
BOWSERIt drives nuts, and it should everybody else for us to kind of do the same thing over and over again. And this was never more clear to me than when we were all arrested at protest of these writers that's been added to our appropriations bill. And I just -- a hundred of us there where we could have hours and hours and hours down with the Capitol Police to talk about how we ended up here and what was going to be next.
BOWSERAnd I realized that the strategy was the same. And I do think that we've had some good approaches. A lot of good people have been working long and hard. I know D.C. Vote has been out there nationally talking about how we can advance our statehood position. I do think that we can advance in an incremental way. We have been never more clearer than now that we have to be separated from the federal budget.
BOWSERWe're not a federal agency. So we need budget autonomy. We need legislative autonomy. And I think we just need to change our approach on the Hill. I've said that anytime, you know, a big entity wants something from the Congress, what do they do? They make sure that their voices are heard every day. And we have a lot of federal issues. We have funding that we need for Metro.
BOWSERWe need Congress to give us parity. Let me throw this in. For transit benefits where they lower the transit benefit at what they have kept the parking benefit the same. We have bridges and roads. We have all of these issues with the federal government, including our need for legislative budget autonomy and statehood. So I would make sure we had great lobbyist up there on the Hill for us that's talking about our issues every day with the Congress.
NNAMDIWould you first would be visiting the members of the Congress who are heads of the committees?
NNAMDIAnd pushing the kinds of legislation that you feel you need?
SHERWOODMayor Gray seems to have a pretty good relationship with Darrell Issa, the congressman from California who overseas the plantation of the District of Columbia. Do you have any close relationships with any members of Congress now who are powerful?
BOWSERWell, I have...
SHERWOODDo you have support of the members of Congress?
BOWSERAbsolutely. I stay in close contact with our friends from the jurisdictions. I serve on the Metro board and it's been -- and I served on the Transportation Planning Board. So having those regional connections has been very important.
SHERWOODYou -- and very quickly. So Mayor Sharon Pratt-Kelly was arrested, Mayor Gray was arrested, Adrian Fenty lead a march down Pennsylvania Avenue. I can't remember if Tony Williams did. So you're thinking that kind of symbolic thing, you would be less likely to do, I suppose more grinding work inside the Congress itself? If I hear it right. You're not going to be arrested again.
BOWSERWell, I had -- I didn't have the intention of being arrested the first time. But I had -- my blood was literally boiling for, you know, our own party basically served us up. So I can't promise that I don't get to the boiling point again, but I can promise that we're going to work strategically about coming up with a real strategy to make a difference in four years.
NNAMDIAnd here is McConan (sp?) in Washington, D.C. McConan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MCCONANYes, I would like to ask the, you know, the council, are you going to be a better mayor or is transportation better than the current mayor, in terms of taxi driving and of cab drivers, we are taxpayers. We have been carrying for a lot of change, but they're taking over. I did not -- taking over by Uber -- whatever private cars who don't pay tax who are so expensive.
MCCONANAnd we are being -- taking all our business. We can't believe we are able to, you know, respond to that.
NNAMDIMcConan would you like -- McConan would you like the next mayor to just give Uber the boot?
NNAMDIOkay. Let's hear her. You were bowing on that.
BOWSERWell, if I could tell you the number of times that I hear this information from cab drivers, you'd be surprised. Well, every day across the city, we're out this morning on the corner of Martin Luther King and Good Hope Road where taxi drivers are honking at us. They are not happy and mostly I think they're not happy with what they feel is being over-regulated. Now, we're a city that's strong.
BOWSERWe have all kinds of transportation needs. And so we want to make sure that residents have options. Where we live in Ward 4, it's hard to get a cab. They don't come there. And so there have been other car-sharing services and Uber, as you've mentioned, who have been able to fill that void. But they're also very expensive. As the government, what our policies have to do is make sure that we have taxi service all over the city.
BOWSERThat it's affordable and that it's safe. And so that's going to be important. So what I would tell McConan is I want to make sure that while we have very little regulation on Uber or Lift or these other services, we have overregulation on our cabs. I think that...
SHERWOODWe have overregulation?
BOWSERI think that we have put a lot of burdens on our cabs that the other services just don't have. So we have to figure out what's absolutely necessary to keep residents safe and have taxi service all over the city.
SHERWOODWell, that sounds...
NNAMDIIf you were involved in deregulating the taxicab industry you think that would cause more taxicab service in areas that now are bereft of taxicab service like some places in Ward 4 and a lot of places in Ward 7 and 8?
BOWSERNo, I don't -- I think the answer to getting cabs all over the city is not necessarily to do what some of the regulations that had been recently passed.
SHERWOODWell, let's be specific there. The cab drivers, some of them, many don't care, object to being required to take credit cards. Do you think cab drivers should have a way to take plastic of some type rather than cash?
BOWSEROf course. And it shouldn't have taken two and a half years to happen.
SHERWOODWell, that's true.
BOWSERAnd then once they...
SHERWOODWell, that's one of the major complaints is because they say they take the credit cards and they don't get paid right away.
BOWSERWell, you would be upset if you didn't get paid either.
SHERWOODI know. But I'm just suggesting, what changes have been made. Would you change uniform color that the city now has just like the circulator? Would you change the uniform color? Let them be any kind of car? Would you change the seven-year limit on how old the cab can be before it has to be retired? I mean, where is the overregulation? Look, the hotel industry loves these changes because they say all these people come from out of town can't make sense of our crazy cab system.
BOWSERSure. What we have fought for certainly is that cabs be able to take credit cards, you know, for I think just as long as I've been on the city council.
SHERWOODSo where is the overregulation?
BOWSERI think that if you look at what we have for cabs compared to what we have for the other car services, you will see that we require the cabs to do a lot of reporting. We require the cabs to have their monies collect essentially. We require the cabs to show us all the trips. So we require a lot of the cabs to...
SHERWOODThat's what Uber does anyways, though.
BOWSERSo what we want for them, we want to be balanced.
SHERWOODBut that's what Uber does as a business policy.
BOWSERThey don't, they don't. But they do not show one ride from point to point. And I frankly don't think the government needs to know that.
NNAMDIOn to Gideon in Washington, D.C. Hi, Gideon. Gideon is not hearing me or I'm not hearing Gideon. . Gideon, are you there?
GIDEONHey, hey, hi. Hi.
SHERWOODThere he is.
GIDEONHey. How's it going?
NNAMDIIt's going well.
GIDEONI am a D.C. native, and I am also blue collar. I'm currently talking to you, walking in the snow, doing my job. And it seems to me that all the development is really focused on this kind of transient crowd that comes into the city, which has always been the case for Washington, D.C. But my question is, how -- what are you going to do to preserve community and not just build all these condos?
GIDEON'Cause it seems like all the neighborhoods that I've lived in in the past, the lower-income, blue collar people have been forced out for, like, higher rent and, you know, more of a crowd that appeals to bars with flat-screen TVs. So I'd like to know what you do to preserve community in the city.
BOWSERWell, we've heard, if there is -- you talked about corruption in schools. Another big thing that we hear across the city is how do we have very intentional policies to grow our middle class? And people are very concerned that, yes, we love to see the new development. Yes, we love new restaurants. But if this city becomes so expensive but...
NNAMDII can't raise a family here.
BOWSER...I can't afford to live here, what's the point? And that -- and we heard from Gideon, but we can hear that in every ward across the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODSo what's the answer?
BOWSERAnd so the answer is, yes, we continue to develop. But we do have to be more intentional about our affordable housing policies. There's no mayor that's going to be able to tell you that he can lower the rent or she can lower the rent. But what we have to be able to do is look at our affordable housing policies. Create more, of course, is one bucket. How do we preserve more? So this is part of, I think, what Gideon is talking about when we go...
NNAMDIDo you have specific proposals about how we preserve affordable housing and how we expand...
SHERWOODWe talked to Mayor Gray, he says there's $187 million to leverage to improve or create more affordable housing.
BOWSERAbsolutely. And a lot of that money, of course, has been in account -- has been budgeted for many, many years. And so, in my ward, for example -- and this is the case across the city where we have units that are affordable. They're privately owned, but they're falling down often. So we have to make sure that part of that $100 million commitment, which I will maintain, is going to preserve affordable units. Now, nobody likes to talk about the third bucket that goes...
NNAMDIAnd you only have a minute to talk about it.
BOWSER...that goes into the affordable housing policies is that is we have to work with our residents to afford more of the housing that's being created. And so that's why we have to have real job training and get people in jobs, good middle-income jobs, so that we can continue to afford a ever-expensive city.
SHERWOODBack to keeping the middle class.
NNAMDIMuriel Bowser, she is a Democratic candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. She's also a member of the D.C. Council, and she represents Ward 4. And if, after these last 40 minutes or so, you still don't know who she is, then blame Tom Sherwood. Muriel Bowser, thank you very much for joining us.
BOWSERThank you. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIThis is The Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. And I should mention that since Nikita Stewart is leaving The Washington Post for The New York Times, there's an entire event, Hacks & Flacks, that's going to kind of honor Nikita Stewart.
SHERWOODYes. It's January the -- today is her last day at The Washington Post, Nikita Stewart who has been the lead reporter on most of the scandal reporting involving Mayor Vincent Gray.
NNAMDILook out, Bill de Blasio.
SHERWOODAnd she's going to be on the investigative metro staff of The New York Times. And when this first happened, I got several phone calls from people, and they said to me, Nikita Stewart's leaving The Washington Post. That means the Gray investigation must be going nowhere. The U.S. attorney must have nothing to do. She wouldn't leave that and...
NNAMDIHer career is tied to it.
SHERWOODSo I called her up, and I said, Nikita, all these people are telling me that the Gray investigation is over because you're going to New York Times. Her response? She burst out laughing.
SHERWOODAnd she said, I don't know why people say that. She can still -- she can break that news out of the New York newspapers.
NNAMDIYes. Nikita keeps her cards close to her vest or something. Joining us now by telephone is Chris Van Hollen. He is a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Maryland and the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. Congressman Van Hollen, thank you for joining us.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLENHappy New Year to you, Kojo, and Tom. Good to be with you.
NNAMDIWe did not barrel down the end of the year 2013 like we did in 2012 worrying about whether the country was about to go off the so-called fiscal cliff. But a lot of Americans are starting off this year worrying about whether they're going to remain cut off from unemployment benefits that expired at the end of 2013. What do you see as being at stake here? And what are the short-term plans Democrats are going to be pursuing on the Hill?
HOLLENWell, this should be the first order of business. In fact, this is something that should have been done before Congress left town. It's shameful that it wasn't done. I should say that, in the House of Representatives, Congressman Sandy Levin and I put forward a very specific proposal to extend these emergency unemployment benefits for a three-month period. We actually had a way to pay for it, but we were denied an opportunity to vote.
HOLLENSo I hope that, starting Monday, this is the first action Congress takes. The good news is in the Senate. The Democratic leader Harry Reid has said that he's going to bring this up to a vote. And if we can get it out of the Senate, it should provide some momentum that will make it harder for Speaker Boehner to duck the issue in the House. That's our hope, and we need to keep the pressure on.
SHERWOODLabor Secretary Tom Perez is holding a conference call with reporters at three o'clock today to make this very point that the three-month extension has bipartisan support and ought to be done.
HOLLENWell, that's right. In the Senate, there's a bipartisan bill. Sen. Reid, Democratic from Rhode Island, Sen. Heller, a Republican from Nevada, are going to be pushing this legislation in the Senate. I hope they'll overcome a filibuster. There may be Republicans who filibuster it. I'm confident there are a majority of votes are there, you know, 51 votes in the Senate. But it may have to overcome a filibuster effort. And if it does, if it gets out of the Senate, it really needs to be taken up by the speaker.
HOLLENWe could have dealt with this -- and should have dealt with this -- before we left, as I said. But we were denied the opportunity to have a vote. So, hopefully, people will now recognize the damage that's being done right now to 1.3 million of our fellow Americans. And, as time goes on, even more Americans will be hit by the lapse of the long-term unemployment compensation.
SHERWOODDespite the recent budget agreement that kind of moved things along to 2015, it seems to me we're still going to just have a very contentious 2014 midterm election over economic issues such as this one.
HOLLENTom, I think you're right. I mean, the jury's still a little bit out about whether or not Speaker Boehner will really open up the House and allow a democracy to work its will. We had a glimmer of hope with the bipartisan agreement we reached in December. Now, as you indicated, it was a very small agreement, but it does at least help us reduce the negative drag and impact from those very deep across-the-board sequester cuts. It will still be a very tight budget. But it will not be as harmful as it would have been otherwise.
HOLLENBut a lot of us are asking ourselves whether or not the speaker's willingness to take on the Tea Party at the end of December was a one-off event. Was it a one-time event, or is it a sign of things to come? If it's a sign of things to come, we could get a whole lot done. I mean, we could get immigration reform done.
SHERWOODDid one of those...
HOLLENWe could get minimum wage passed. But, look, I'm -- we're going to give him time to let us know where he stands on these issues. Again, I think you're right that those are going to be the big issues for 2014, trying to make the economy work for more Americans.
SHERWOODThe immigration issue, the speaker did indicate that he would be ready to move some type of bill -- not the Senate bill necessarily -- but that's a very important issue for your congressional district, across the country even, but in urban areas where people are anxious to see what happens with immigration.
NNAMDIWhat are your expectations specifically in the coming weeks on immigration?
HOLLENWell, it's difficult to handicap that right now because, again, the votes are in the House to pass the bipartisan Senate bill, and I do want to make that clear at the outset. In other words, if we had a vote today in the House of Representatives, there are enough Democrats and Republicans combined to pass the Senate's comprehensive bill and put it on the president's desk today. Now, the speaker has said he will not allow that to come to a vote.
HOLLENBut he has said, as you indicated, he may be willing to do smaller bills in pieces. And then the question would be, first, can you get them out of the House? And question number two is, if you do, what happens when the Senate and the House conference committee meets, when the representatives of those two bodies meet? Can we hammer out an agreement that accomplishes the kind of immigration reform we need in this country? And, look, I want to be hopeful because the speaker said he was going to make an effort.
HOLLENBut until we really see these bills moving with a determination to get it done, I have to, you know, hold my powder on that. I've been very disappointed we didn't get it done last year. This is something, as you know, that's not only important to, you know, millions of families, but it's really important to the economy. And economists have told us that if we can deal with immigration reform, it will help spur economic growth and, you know, get rid of an underground economy, bring it, you know, into the light and really be a boost for jobs.
NNAMDIOur guest is Congressman Chris Van Hollen. He's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat from Maryland, ranking member of the House Budget Committee. If you have comments or questions for Congressman Van Hollen, call us at 800-433-8850. Or send email to email@example.com. To what degree do you think the struggles rolling out the healthcare law have eroded some of the trust people might have for taking on a topic as big as immigration, Congressman Van Hollen?
HOLLENWell, there's no doubt that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act was met with a big number of problems. I mean, we all know that. We've been working our way through those issues. There has been more progress recently. There was, of course, some good news in the recent numbers that came out. But I still think we've got a lot of catch-up to do to implement that law fully in the way it's supposed to work. One of the problems we've got, of course, is that, while many of us are willing to work to fix it, our Republican colleagues are more fixated on undoing the entire thing.
HOLLENAnd that's made it difficult to move forward. As you indicated, Kojo, it's also at least created an excuse for some people not to move forward on other issues. I think for, you know, those who point to the Affordable Care Act rollout as a reason not to support immigration reform are really creating a pretext for not moving forward on something that they didn't want to move on anyway. I mean, after all...
HOLLENAfter all, the immigration reform bill has been pending for long before the fall rollout of the Affordable Care Act. It passed the Senate over the summer. So I think some people want to use that as an excuse for not moving forward on something we should.
SHERWOODIn your home state of Maryland, are you concerned about the rollout of the Affordable Care Act with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and the state's mishandling of that?
HOLLENWell, putting aside personalities -- because, you know, this is obviously a state function...
HOLLEN...I have been very concerned about the rollout in Maryland. We've had lots of problems. And we have continuing problems and concerns. We have lots of constituents that we've been trying to help calling into our office, and it has been frustrating, in many cases, the ability to resolve these matters in a timely manner. So...
NNAMDIWhat do you think are the most basic thing that needs to be done to keep things on track with healthcare in states like Maryland in the weeks and months ahead?
HOLLENWell, Kojo, with respect to Maryland, the problems with the website were even deeper than in the federal exchanges, actually. I mean, at this point in time, the federal exchanges are operating more smoothly than the Maryland exchange. It was -- the Maryland system was plagued with even more computer problems, and it's taken longer to resolve them. And I don't know. The state legislature may need to get in on the action here to make sure that people who made an effort to sign up in December but who were unable to can still access health insurance if they need it in the early months of 2014.
SHERWOODCan -- let's go -- all right. Let's go back quickly if we could to national politics. Who is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leader this year? I don't know who that is.
HOLLENSure. That's Steve Israel from New York who's doing a great job recruiting a lot of terrific candidates.
SHERWOODDo you have -- what are the chances that Democrats -- how many seats do you have to capture to capture the House? Is that even realistic to talk about?
HOLLENWell, we would need 17 seats to capture the House. And it all depends, Tom, on, you know, where the country is politically in November. Obviously, the polls have swung back and forth. If the election had been held at the end of last October after the, you know, shameful and unnecessary government shutdown, there's a strong possibility Democrats would have won the House at that point in time. Obviously, you know, complications over the Affordable Care Act implementation have created other sort of countervailing winds.
SHERWOODPlus the historic...
HOLLENBut I would say at this point in time, the issues -- I think the public wants the Congress to be able to work together. If, for example, the House Republicans, once again, you know, threaten to shut down the economy when it gets to raising the debt ceiling, it's going to be an issue that, you know, is in front of us by February, by the end of February, early March, if we see a kind of repeat of that obstructionism and, you know, people who are actually trying to hold up the full faith and credit of the United States, prevent us from paying our bills on time, unless they enact the House Republican agen...
HOLLEN...then I think, you know, people aren't going to respond well to that, so...
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt because Joe in Poolesville, Md., I think, wants to assign blame. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEWell, good afternoon and Happy New Year. I know all of you gentlemen. I will remain incognito.
JOEMy question is the lack of a public option vote in the Senate when it only required 50 votes, plus a tiebreaker, has put the Democratic Party in this position of appeasement to the Wall Street bankers and the insurance company crowds. Do you foresee maybe some Democrats coming back to the fold and exiting the Clinton wing of the party and going back to what should be the proper Roosevelt-Truman-Kennedy wing? And that is my question.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Congressman Van Hollen.
HOLLENWell, let me start with the specifics and then get to the general. I...
NNAMDIYou only have about a minute left. Yes.
HOLLENAll right. Well, I believe the caller was referring to the public option as far as the Affordable Care Act, which is something that I've supported. I thought we should have a public option. And I hope one day we can get to that. In the meantime, we're going to have to do our best to implement the Affordable Care Act as it's written because our Republican colleagues are not going to be willing to cooperate even in fixing what we've got. In terms of the larger agenda, look, I think the president's agenda going into 2014 is very much focused on trying to make sure that we strengthen the middle class and give more people the opportunity to get into the middle class. And that's why the immediate focus needs to be helping folks who are out of work through no fault of their own, number two, raising the minimum wage. Number three, we need a massive new investment in our national infrastructure to...
HOLLEN...help modernize our economy and really kick things into high gear...
HOLLEN...and a number of other things that we haven't had a chance to talk about.
NNAMDIIn other words, Joe, stay tuned. Congressman Van Hollen...
SHERWOODMaybe when Van Hollen is speaker of the House, you'll get all that stuff done.
NNAMDICongressman Van Hollen, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
HOLLENAll right. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIChris Van Hollen is a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Maryland, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst, reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHave a good weekend.
NNAMDIAs we send out Happy New Year wishes to all of you, you have a good weekend, too. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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