Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
The D.C. Council sparks a new debate with a move to decriminalize possession of marijuana. Maryland’s botched health exchange rollout burns Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and other top officials. And Virgina’s new governor, Terry McAuliffe, gets blowback over a liquor board appointment. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Angela Alsobrooks Maryland State's Attorney, Prince George's County
- Tommy Wells Democratic Mayoral Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Tommy Wells says if elected D.C. mayor, he will lead education reforms in the district, one of the factors distinguishing him from incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray. Comparing himself to Gray, who he says “sits on the sidelines” or hands issues off to Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Wells said he will take the lead. He said he would keep Henderson on in his administration and would provide a mix of traditional and charter schools at the middle school level.
MR. TOM SHERWOODFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour." I'm Tom Sherwood, from NBC 4, sitting in for Kojo. And welcome to the show. Patrick Madden, from WAMU news room, is sitting in for me.
MR. PATRICK MADDENI'm sitting in for you today.
SHERWOODKojo would kill me on this, but I've got a question for you right off. It has nothing to do with city politics.
SHERWOODWhat do you think about instant replay for baseball?
MADDENI think it's a fine idea. I mean baseball is slow enough as it is. So I can't imagine that it's going to…
SHERWOODIt's a very thoughtful game. It's like calling chess slow.
MADDENRight, right. You know, sometimes it can take minutes between pitches. So -- but I'm trying to think, are there that many plays where it's really needed?
MADDENI mean other than with a homerun, where you can't tell if it's actually a homerun or not.
SHERWOODYou get one. And if you are successful with that one, you get one more. It's just worth a try, isn't it?
MADDENYeah, or maybe make it in the later innings. So you're not -- so at least it's a little more important.
SHERWOODNo instant replay in politics. Let's get Virginia out of the way. Big doings there. Jim Moran's out, following Frank Wolfe.
MADDENI think what you're going to see is just so many people just jumping into the field for this seat, especially in the Democratic primary side of the things because, as we know, that's probably a safe seat for Democrats, although we'll see. But I imagine that there are going to be a lot of interested candidates, especially so close…
SHERWOODSo there must be a dozen who are credible, possible candidates.
MADDENExactly. People know the federal government. It's obviously a very enviable seat.
SHERWOODAnd Frank Wolfe left. I mean this is a big change for Virginia politics because the people -- not only their power in the Congress, but, you know, the power to work with legislators down in Richmond. This is a loss of a lot years of experience with Frank Wolfe and Jim Moran both bowing out.
MADDENYeah, I think for Virginia, and its ability to work with Richmond and to work with Washington, there are going to be some big shoes to fill.
SHERWOODAnd the Senate race there, Mark Warner everyone said cake walk. Sixty plus percent approval ratings. Just moseying right along to reelection and out comes Ed Gillespie.
MADDENRight. Well, we'll have to see because, as you know, Tom, the nominating process in Virginia, with the convention and not the primary, means that, obviously, it's a primary that you have to be far to the right to win. So we'll see, because obviously Gillespie is known more as a Washington lobbyist.
SHERWOODAnd he'll have to win -- the convention's in June, I believe, in Roanoke. And he has to get the party activist, which you just said are mostly conservative, to go along with him. But you can look back and say, look, every statewide leader in Virginia is now a Democrat.
MADDENRight. And I think that's the first time that's happened in a long time.
SHERWOODFor something like 40 years or some huge time. Well, let's change. Let's go to the studio because we have a guest sitting here in studio, Tommy Wells. You came hobbling in, Mr. Councilmember. What's happened here?
MR. TOMMY WELLSWell, most Friday mornings…
SHERWOODYou can't be running for mayor if you're hobbling for mayor.
WELLSWell, most Friday mornings I play some hoops. This morning we had an NBA guy out there.
SHERWOODI don't want to hear a long story.
WELLSMark Davis. And so I had to work extra hard. You know, he played for Chicago. And he's not -- he's close to my age. He's a little bit younger. But -- so I worked pretty hard on the basketball court and I have an injury.
MADDENDoes this put a dent in your livable-walkable theme, if you're going to be hobbling around?
WELLSWell, let's see how the (unintelligible) does.
SHERWOODYou can join the conversation today by calling 1-800-433-8850. You can email us at email@example.com. Or give us a tweet @kojoshow. Well, Mr. Wells, you've been running for mayor. The poll this week, the Washington Post poll came out. It basically said 76 percent of the people who didn't choose incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, 20 percent or so undecided. Everybody else divided among you, a gaggle of people running for mayor. Gray got 24 percent, you're around 11 percent. That's a lot. How you going to make all that up?
WELLSWell, it's clear that the race is wide open. That for an incumbent mayor that's run citywide twice to only have 24 percent of the vote that tells you that, you know, he's well known. And 75 percent of the city won't vote for him. So I believe that someone will break out of the pack. You know I expect it to be me.
WELLSAnd I think the way you make it up, almost 60 percent of the city really don't know who I am. And so there's a lot of room to grow on this. And I feel confident that -- especially in an election that's about integrity, an election about confidence in our government. I'm the only one not taking corporate dollars. I have a reputation or a brand for being an honest legislator. So…
SHERWOODOn that point, 54 percent of the poll said that Mayor Gray -- they did not think Mayor Gray was either honest or trustworthy. That's down from 61 percent, so he's making progress as he said, but that's a significant thing.
WELLSWell, and I think there's a lot more that will be coming out. A lot of other people were involved in the chartered healthcare scandal that cost us about $40 million, that was run by Jeffrey Thompson, who funded the shadow campaign. I think that a lot of other things -- I don't think anybody's pushing the pause button over at the U.S. Attorney's office.
MADDENAnd, Councilmember, you talked about perhaps your biggest issue is getting your name out there. And obviously the easiest way to do that in politics is with money, with campaign donations. And when you look at the filing records, you are well behind your rivals when you talk about Muriel Bowser and Jack Evans. And you've mentioned the fact that you're not taking corporate contributions, but when you just look at the cash on hand, you know, Muriel Bowser has $750,000. You have, I believe, $130,000 according to the latest filings. Are you going to have enough money to compete with your rivals?
WELLSWell, Patrick, I appreciate this because you did a story on NPR of the corrupting influence of corporate donations to the council, how it affects votes and undermines confidence in our government. So the fact that both Muriel and Jack have raised around a million dollars and I've raised about a half million and I'm dead even with them, tells you that, yes, I can run a campaign. And then, you know, the other thing is, is that -- and Tom, you know, is the historian here -- but almost everybody that raises the most money…
SHERWOODTranslation -- he's older. He's much older.
WELLSAlmost every candidate that raises the most money, from John Ray to the most recently Adrian Fenty, loses. So I don't think this is a city where the voters can be bought.
MADDENBut you are well behind your -- this isn't -- I mean, you admit that it takes money to run a campaign and that if you look at your burn rate, how much you're bringing in versus how much you're spending, the last quarter, for example, you spent more than you raised. I mean, will you actually just have enough money to run a citywide campaign?
WELLSI've got more money than what the winner of Minneapolis, you know, raised. I think that…
SHERWOODOnly Tommy Wells would know that.
WELLSSo I've got enough money to win this race. I've got all my overhead paid for. Every dollar I raise now goes to better contact. And let me tell you, this is not going to be a race -- and it almost never is in D.C. -- on who raises the most money. Other people focus on that. I've got volunteers. I've got over 400 volunteers that have called in to do work. And if you come by the campaign office, it is abuzz. And it really is about, you know, certainly running a race that is motivated by what people want to do. It's a race of ideas. It's not a race of money.
SHERWOODOkay. Let's talk about some of those ideas. Some of the Mayor's people tell me that all of you talk about the ethics stuff, which is unresolved, with the U.S. Attorney still investigating. But because you can't really criticize the mayor and separate yourself from the things he's done in continuing the reforms that first began with Tony Williams and then Adrian Fenty. So if you could, in the most distilled way possible, what's the difference for you, in terms of one big public policy issue that would be different for you if you were mayor and Vincent Gray were not?
WELLSWell, I think one of the biggest differences is that I'd be the leader of education reform. Vince Gray sits on the sidelines and says -- and it's all focused on Kaya Henderson and other folks. That what I…
SHERWOODBut didn't he do early childhood, as a council chairman and…
WELLSWell, frankly, when I was on the school board is when we started programs for three-year-olds in our schools all day.
WELLSSo that started with me on the school board with Dr. Janey. And then Vince Gray came in with pre-K for all, but I started that. And so, you know, in terms of school reform, I've shown in Ward 6, where we have a waiting list at every elementary school and we're adding three new public elementary schools by working with parents, where this administration is closing elementary schools across the river and elsewhere -- that, you know, I can do this. Now, let me tell you, I'm inclined to keep Kaya Henderson as the, you know, the chancellor to the school system because education reform will be led by me.
WELLSIt won't be, you know, say, that's, you know, under Kaya Henderson. I know that I can change the school system. I've done it in Ward 6. We've got a waiting list of families to get into our schools. We're adding public elementary schools. And under this administration, they're putting children on busses to schools for the first time in years, over at River Terrace, where they closed the school. The gold standard of a neighborhood is having a school in walking distance to every family that they can get there in, say, 10 minutes. It's a reason to live here. Not a reason to leave there. I know I can do it because I've done.
SHERWOODWell, certainly for elementary schools that would be true, but many of the parents around town who have talked to me and people I've talked to, including the chancellor, is what is the city going to do for the bridge time of the middle schools?
SHERWOODEverybody comes to the D.C. schools and then many parents take their kids and run to the suburbs for the middle schools.
WELLSAnd that is…
SHERWOODDo you have a plan for that?
WELLSAnd that is exactly where I'll provide the leadership. We would have a mix between the traditional public and the charters that parents will have a choice, but they'll also be able to get first preference. That parents need predictability. First, they need to know where their child's going to elementary schools is a matter of right and it's a good school, but for moving forward they need to predictability. And the fact that this administration has not been able to blend the resources of the charter schools in an accountable way with the traditional public schools -- there's a lack of leadership at the top. That will be different.
WELLSI'll be in charge of the schools. And I know that, you know, I've certainly reformed the schools at the elementary school level no matter who's in charge. And that's why I'll keep Kaya Henderson, if she wants to stay. And she can work under my program.
MADDENSo are you 100 percent behind neighborhood preference when it comes to charter schools?
WELLSActually, I was the one that originated that. Of course I am. You don't want to consign neighborhoods to not have families where they have a choice to live somewhere else. You consign neighborhoods, you know, but I think it's not just geographic, but we need to have an integration knitting together the charter -- middle schools along -- where they're doing a lot of innovation. Middle school's hard, in the sense that almost no urban area has figured out middle schools very well. We only have two or three middle schools that are really middle schools of first choice in DCPS.
WELLSBut we've got a number of charter schools, like Kip, where they're first-choice charter schools, they're doing great job. But they're not integrated with traditional public schools. So taxpayers don't expect -- say, you're in one camp or the other camp. They expect that their dollars go together to create education choices for families to stay here. And that's where this administration has failed and that's the difference. I'll be in charge of education for D.C. I've got a plan to do it. And I know that I can because I've done it.
SHERWOODMuriel Bowser, who's one of the opponents in Ward 4, Councilmember, says she would like to see middle schools, like Alice Deal, which is there in Ward 3, all over the city. Do you have any substantive difference with Muriel Bowser?
WELLSWell, I would like to see Banneker all over the city. I'd like to see Wilson. I mean it's easy to say, well, this school has done well, but it takes the hard work of getting there with the parents, working together to say what will create a school of first choice for you?
WELLSAnd that's how you do it.
SHERWOOD...that's Councilmember Tommy Wells, from Ward 6. He's a candidate for mayor here in the District of Columbia. You can join the conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850, email kojo@w -- excuse me, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or just send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Let's see if we've got some callers for you. We've got a caller. Let me see if I can work this system here. All right. We're going to talk to Philip.
PHILIPYeah, hi, Tom.
SHERWOODPhilip, you're on the air. Do you have a question for the councilmember, candidate for mayor and hobbling candidate? Do you play basketball?
PHILIPHi, Tom. This is Philip Pannell from Ward 8.
SHERWOODOkay. I'm going to put the clock on you, Philip.
PHILIPOkay. I'm just calling to say that tomorrow Ward 8 will be the place to be because it will be -- the Ward 8 Democrats will be the first official Democratic Party organization to hold an endorsement forum and vote for mayor.
SHERWOODWhere's it going to be?
PHILIPIt's going to be at Turner Elementary School, at 3264 Stanton Road Southeast.
SHERWOODAre the candidates going to be allowed to speak first? Are they going to have a moment before you vote?
PHILIPThe voting will be from 12:00 to 2:00 and the forum will start at noon.
SHERWOODAll right. Well, Councilmember, in the Washington Post poll you didn't do very well among African American voters. You acknowledged that yourself. Across the river -- you should speak to Philip Pannell and the people who live across the river.
WELLSWell, the first thing is, is that you're right, I'm leading among white voters and I'm not doing as well as I should and could with black voters. And Phil Pannell is a friend. And Phil and I've talked a bit. And what is not out there is my story. You know, I started off as a social worker for D.C. for six years. I've worked in every neighborhood of this city. I've worked with all types of families in this city. And a lot of people just don't know that story. And Phil Pannell has been very helpful to me. And, you know, Phil Pannell is one of the leaders to help transform neighborhoods and he's been a leader for our city.
SHERWOODAll right. Good. Well, thanks for calling, Phil. We're going to go to Norma. Norma, are you there?
NORMAYes. I'm here. Thank you, Tom. Mr. Wells, you were not at the CSX Virginia Tunnel community meeting with Mayor Gray last night. So your Ward 6 constituents, such as myself, were unable to ask you this simple question. Would you allow CSX to dig a trench on Virginia Avenue with running trains as mayor of Washington, D.C.?
SHERWOODWell, we should just tell people who don't know what this is, CSX is looking to replace, I think, a late 1800s tunnel near the Capitol, by digging up the Virginia Avenue for then a mile or so and then putting in a double-decker type tunnel. And the people who live around there, hundreds of people turned out last night. A, why weren't you there in your ward and B, what do you think?
WELLSWell, first off, it seems like Vince Gray just discovered this issue. This has been going on for a long time. I've had meetings with neighbors and I met with Eleanor Holmes Norton. We had a big public meeting just a few weeks ago. And what I've done is I've, first of all, put in a letter asking for them to reroute the trains. And we've got a letter back from the federal highway folks saying that they're not going to do that. The other thing I did is I got the council, where we're passing a resolution asking for a Congressional oversight hearing.
WELLSI've been actively involved in this issue. I'm trying to really mitigate what CSX is looking to do there. I'm very concerned about it. I didn't discover this issue last night. I've been working on it and that's why the council already has a resolution going to the Congress saying, you need to an oversight hearing. Congress can get the answers that the council's been unable to get.
SHERWOODWhat power does the city have to do anything, other than to lobby?
WELLSThe city has almost none, except for some powers around permitting, things like that. And so we can frustrate it for a while, and that's what I'm trying to do, so that -- I really believe that there is an alternative. At least, I've worked with a community who had done a lot of research. We thought that they could reroute the trains at least through construction. Now, I've got back from the federal highway transit folks, saying no, we can't do that, or federal transit folks. But I think we pursue it and that's why I've asked Congress to have an oversight hearing.
SHERWOODAnd did you not go to the…
WELLSAnd that's why I'm working with Eleanor Holmes Norton.
SHERWOODAnd just to be political, did you not go to the meeting last night because it was the mayor's chance to be there?
WELLSWell, you know, the mayor is just coming to this issue in the middle of a political season. And so…
SHERWOODAnd so why did you not go?
WELLSSo he just discovered the issue. Because it was the mayor's show.
WELLSYou know, I've been working on this with the neighbors and I don't want to be part of that show.
SHERWOODThat's a big -- that will be a big impact on Capitol Hill.
SHERWOODFor people who work there and live there. So lets, well, lets take another caller, though, because I like the callers asking the questions. This is Oscar. Are you there, Oscar?
OSCARYes. Good afternoon. Parent of a middle school student. Two -- three quick questions. One, too much testing. If you're elected mayor would you cut back on the amount of testing that is done in D.C. Public Schools? Two, do you plan to keep Kaya Henderson? And three, do you believe in giving more local control to principals to run their schools in a way that is not necessarily so tied to central administration?
SHERWOODThank you very much. He did say he would keep Kaya Henderson, unless something -- unless she didn't want to stay.
WELLSSo the first thing is you're exactly right. The emphasis on testing is undermining our schools. Nobody knows the test scores of Sidwell Friends, where the president sends his children. The most important measure of a school is where do parents want to send their children and who do they trust to educate their children. That's the first thing. Second thing is, absolutely, it's not just local control, but it's hiring leaders that are entrepreneurial with the neighborhood. They'll get out of their school. They will meet with parents and say, "Are we providing a school that you want to send your children to?"
WELLSIt's about entrepreneurial leadership and giving them the power to do that. It means local control. You're exactly, Oscar, on the right track. In terms of Kaya Henderson, of course. I'm inclined to keep her. We've been churning through, you know, different people running the school system. It undermines reform, it undermines continuity, but the difference will be is that I'll be in charge of the schools. And if she -- and I believe we can be entrepreneurial with here there.
SHERWOODThank you, Oscar.
MADDENAnd, Councilmember, to switch gears here. One of the most contentious votes that I can remember covering the council was the Wal-Mart Living Wage bill that came before earlier this year. And you voted against this bill. And I mean, this was one of the biggest votes we've had in a long time. And that would have insured that workers working for these retailers, and it was a specific criteria that would have essentially targeted Wal-Mart and other big retailers for a $12.50 an hour wage. You voted against this bill. Now, you've positioned yourself as a fighter for working-class families. Why did you vote against this?
WELLSYou know, I appreciate that question because sometimes we have to just not do the political choice, we have to do what's right. Writing legislation specifically for one corporation is not a good way to legislate. And frankly, this bill was symbolic. Would not have helped anybody for at least four years. So what I told the advocates and I told the city, I will get through, I will come back with raising the minimum wage for everyone in the city. So after the Wal-Mart bill died, I went back and I got nine co-introducers for raising the minimum wage, indexing it, so that people don't have to come back, hat in hand.
WELLSAnd so I brought it back. And initially it was $12.50. When I saw that we had nine that we could sustain a veto -- because the mayor said we need a study. Let's not do it now.
SHERWOODWell, the mayor said raise it to $10.00 immediately and then do a study.
WELLSOh, he came in afterwards.
SHERWOODAll right. That's true.
WELLSYou know, first it was the study.
SHERWOODBut he signed the bill on this week. He signed the bill. Right.
WELLSAbsolutely. But this was done by the council. And so I did exactly what I said I'd do. And we're raising the minimum wage now, for everyone. And instead of waiting…
MADDENBut this was a symbolic vote. Why did you vote against it?
WELLSWell, because it was a symbolic gesture. It didn't help anybody. And so…
MADDENIt wouldn't have helped the workers?
WELLSNo. It would take any new store -- any store that was already opening -- and frankly, the CFO -- the -- opening the new stores were going to open before the bill into place so they'd be grand-fathered in and for four years. Wal-Mart has said they won't open another store. Target said they wouldn't do anything else. Wegman's said they weren't coming in. And so the fact that nothing would happen for four years did not help the residents of the city. So this minimum wage bill that I championed, along with the other council members -- give credit to everyone -- that we're going to have a much higher minimum wage.
WELLSAnd Wal-Mart opened the stores and they're paying the higher minimum wage. And that they'll pay -- it helped about 30,000 if not 40,000 residents, where the Wal-Mart bill would have helped 3,000.
SHERWOODThe council -- clearly all the council members were for raising the minimum wage. It was just how to do it. It's now been done. It'll go up to 11.50 by 2016, which is one of the highest in the nation. And the federal wage is 7.25 where Virginia is staying.
WELLSIt's better to be smart than just political sometimes.
SHERWOODLet me ask you another wage issue. You know there has not been a police raise. You're the chairman of the judiciary committee. The police officers go out every day on the streets of the city, have not had raises. They've had incremental raises that they get through their union contract, but they have not had raises. And the chief was here last week. And she said, well, you know, I want my officers to have a raises. It's up to the city. We've got a few more issues, compensation issues. Why is it so hard for the elected leaders of this city to say, "We're not going to give you this raise, guys. We're going to fight you over it for year, after year, after year."
WELLSIt's not the elected leaders. It's Vince Gray and then Adrian Fenty before him. When I took over the chairmanship of this committee I said the number one threat to public safety is the fact that we have not given our officers a raise. That we want to be able to attract the best employees, the best officers and we want to retain them. They've not had a raise in seven years. And so a year ago, at the awards dinner, Vince Gray said, "You'll get a raise in a couple of weeks." And it didn't happen. So what I did is I introduced…
SHERWOODDo you know what the issue is? The chief said it was compensation, but is…
WELLSThe issue goes back to how -- does the city want to pay a pay increase based on what they would have made -- pay increases over the past seven years.
SHERWOODRetroactive and all? Okay.
WELLSAnd so finally I said, you know, "I don't want to mess around anymore." I introduced a bill that said if they can't come to an agreement on a new contract, the city will pay cost of living going back seven years, each year. And so that our officers will know that they're going to get a raise one way or the other. Don't go to Montgomery County, don't go to Prince George's County. Stay here in the District of Columbia. We need you here. And the elected officials -- the majority of us -- do want you to get a raise and we'll make it happen.
SHERWOODOkay. Let's take another caller. We're going to talk to Liz. Liz, are you there?
LIZYeah. Thank you, gentlemen. My question for Mr. Wells has to do with neighborhood preference for charter schools. And my concern as a parent is that if there is students in the neighborhood who are looking at charters because of the convenience and because of the level of education, etcetera, that there are some schools in our city that also offer language specific programs.
LIZAnd if there are people who are very interested in being in that school for that one reason, versus somebody in the neighborhood, who isn't as committed to the specialty of that school, what does that do for those students that, you know, they're being taught in a language that isn't' of interest to them for two and a half days of the week, or something like that?
SHERWOODMr. Wells? Go ahead. Let him answer the question.
WELLSLiz, I like that question because that gets to really the point, is that we shouldn't have anything be monolithic. We are moving into an era of choice and flexibility. For the charter schools to say, no, we will never give neighborhood preference, that's it, I think that's wrong. I think there's some charter schools that should be giving that option, that they -- if they want to offer neighborhood preference, you know, if you close the elementary school, where there's no other elementary school in walking distance, and you bring in a high-performing charter school and then tell the parents, but no, you can no longer go to this school as a matter of right, I think that's infuriating.
WELLSAnd so we do have great alternative charter schools like Yu Ying and some others that are language specific, where it does not make sense to do neighborhood preference. You're exactly right, but just the one size fits all is not the way to go.
SHERWOODThat's Tommy Wells, candidate for mayor, Ward 6 councilmember. I'm Tom Sherwood, from NBC 4, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, who's on assignment. And Patrick Madden is here as the guest analyst and has the question we've all been waiting to ask.
MADDENYes. I think if we can talk about the marijuana legislation. Obviously that's been one of the big…
SHERWOODEvery baby boomer in America is now listening.
MADDENRight. One of the high-profile issues. One point that's been raised -- and I've watched some of the hearings -- is obviously the issue of making it a civic fine, $25, as opposed to a criminal penalty that obviously carries much stricter penalties. But the police are concerned about this issue of when you actually issue the fine and you ask the person for their ID, they're not required to show it to you. They're just require to give you a name. And it can be pretty much any name you want.
SHERWOODPatrick Madden, Tommy Wells.
MADDENYeah, I could say -- right.
MADDENAnd as long as it's not blatantly fake or obvious that's it, essentially. And the notice will go out. And they say, according to their statistics -- and again, this is coming from the police -- that, you know, 85 percent or 90 percent default rate on these citations. So it almost seems like it's a backdoor way to legalizing marijuana when you have this sort of loophole in place.
WELLSWell, the first thing is, Patrick, is that you're exactly right. We've taken something that was a criminal charge and made it a civil penalty, like a parking ticket. The minute you give false information to the police, it is not a criminal charge. So there's no reason, you know, to take that kind of risk. The second thing is, you know, that argument is no reason to stop doing something that has just been a social injustice for our city. Ninety-one percent of everyone arrested for small amounts of marijuana, African American.
WELLSWe've got six major universities here. You cannot tell me -- not to stereotype -- that the only people smoking pot are African Americans predominately across the river. This is a social justice. I don't care what argument you put up there, we're going to address it. I know that I've got the council with me to do this, as well. And that's why I'm doing it -- is that we're going to undue this social injustice. Once you get a criminal charge for drugs, you've got it the rest of your life.
MADDENSo why not just legalize it?
WELLSWell, what I'm worried about -- you know, that's something that we may do, but if the argument of legalization prevents us from taking this first step because Congress steps in or something else happens, then we'll have missed an opportunity. I'm going to get this through. I've got it this far. I've got it out of committee, unanimous vote. We're going to decriminalize marijuana in the District. It's not going to get caught up in the argument about legalization. The argument of legalization will not derail this bill.
SHERWOODWe've done medical marijuana and now we're going to do decriminalization and then ultimately maybe legalization, but Benjamin, in Bethesda wants to talk about the subject. But, Benjamin, are you there?
BENJAMINYeah. I just -- I don't know. This all seems kind of ticky-tac to me. The poll came out this week showing more than 60 percent support for legalizing marijuana in D.C. Nobody in the field supports it. I just don't understand why nobody does. I mean, it's just seems to make sense.
WELLSWell, you know, one of the injustices is that we are a federal district. And so Congress puts things in our laws that stop us -- you know, we legalized or voted for legalizing medical marijuana 10 years ago. And Congress jammed us up. So…
BENJAMINAnd Congress is completely paralyzed, though. I mean, I just can't see them passing a bill that's going to reverse (unintelligible) …
WELLSWe are not going to lose this opportunity to correct this injustice of what's going on in our city. I will fully support legalization, but it should go through -- I like the referendum. It should go through a citywide discussion. I trust the poll. It's going to pass.
BENJAMINThe referendum is only for home grows, though. It wont -- they can't put it in liquor stores or open up dispensaries. That has to come from the city council.
WELLSAnd I think the city -- you know, what we're doing does not prevent that from happening. But just to put together the taxation and regulation scheme will delay implementation for a year or two, while we're still arresting people at a very high rate. You know, to say that…
BENJAMINNo question. We need to pass the decrim. bill now and we'd love to see you do it. Thank you very much.
WELLSThen we're on the same page. Got it.
SHERWOODWell, you know the Congress did not intervene with -- a lot of people thought the Congress would intervene with the same-sex marriage. And people said, well, we're just going to do it because it's the right thing to do. And people went ahead and did it. And Congress didn't intervene to the surprise of many people. So it possible that Congress would be so -- as this caller suggested -- so entangled among itself that it wouldn't interfere?
WELLSI support doing that, but I don't support not doing decriminalization in the meantime. I support that we should take the step towards providing legalization. Let's also look at what happens in Colorado, Washington State, so we can get it right. But, yeah, I think that's a good idea. I think the caller's on the right track. I don't think he wants to slow down decriminalization.
WELLSLet's talk about soccer, like your injury. Do you play soccer? You ride a bike and you play basketball. Is that it for you?
WELLSThat's about it, Tom.
SHERWOODOkay. Councilmember Tommy Wells. There's the soccer deal for southwest Washington was supposed to be wrapped up -- at least the initial parts of it -- by the first of the year. It's not. The plan is to give a developer, the Akridge Corporation, the 14th and U, Reeves Center Project in exchange for some land.
SHERWOODAll those things the city administration, Allen Lew's still trying to wrap up. What's your own thought about what should happen at 14th and U? There's a dispute. Some people want more places to live. Some people want an office building. I think the councilmember from Ward 1 wants offices there, not more restaurants. And some people want subsidized housing there. What about the soccer stadium deal itself?
WELLSI -- In principle, as you know, I support the soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. But the issue of -- whenever we use a public asset, public land, it should be used to leverage in workforce housing that we still, you know, Ward 6 has more public housing than any other ward in the city. And we are protecting and upgrading that public housing. But we've lost workforce housing through the city.
WELLSSo when we take the Reeves Center, we need to help leverage in some, you know, we need to help leverage in workforce housing. Now, the mayor said that's laughable and absurd. What I didn't -- what he didn't say was that they took my idea to Akridge to say how do we leverage in workforce housing?
WELLSSo in terms of our revenue sources, the three-legged stool is income tax, property tax and sales tax. And that's what -- if we bring in workforce housing at the Reeves Center site that we'll get. It's best for the city. The city is actually looking at empty or smaller office buildings. Office buildings -- there's not new financing for office buildings. It's -- you know, what's best for the city is going to be more housing and more affordable housing.
SHERWOODThat's Tommy Wells, Ward 6 councilmember and a candidate for mayor. Mr. Wells, a proponent of decriminalization of marijuana and seems to be leaning towards legalization someday in the future. I'd like for you to turn to your right and introduce yourself to Angela Alsobrooks, who is the prosecutor from Prince George's County. She's opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I'm going to have to find out more about decriminalization. But she's going to be our next guest when you stop talking.
WELLSWell, welcome, Angela.
MS. ANGELA ALSOBROOKSThank you.
WELLSAnd I know that you don't like wasting too much of the cities -- of your jurisdiction's resources on prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. And really…
ALSOBROOKSYeah, well, you know that.
SHERWOODWelcome to the program. Do you have any guidance…
SHERWOOD…for him before we kick him out of here?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I hate to watch the young people ruin their lives, who I see every single day. Destroy families, destroy communities. And so it really isn't as harmful as people think. And I have an opportunity, unfortunately, to watch the young people, one after another, and many, many of them start with marijuana and graduate to more dangerous drugs.
SHERWOODWhat about -- and I know Mr. Wells can do it, but I say it faster. The concern that 90 percent of the arrests are African Americans and who are charged with possession of marijuana and it ruins their ability to get into schools, to get jobs? What about that -- the harshness of that kind of penalties? Did I do it right, Mr. Wells?
WELLSThey can't get a commercial driver's license, they can't work on a construction site, and it begins the disenfranchisement of African American youth right off the bat, that they'll have the rest of their lives.
ALSOBROOKSWell, two points. Diversion is what we usually use for first time offenders. We have opportunities to serve community service, pay a fine and not be strapped with this conviction. And the other thing is that I sure don't think that the way to help our children succeed is to make drugs more accessible to them. I think providing training, being concerned about education and some other things make them succeed. But certainly not decriminalizing marijuana.
SHERWOODThat's Prince George's County's State Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. And, Mr. Wells, as you're taking off your headphones, your parting words?
WELLSTom, a lot of people…
SHERWOODAs the producer's coming to get you.
WELLS...a lot of people are joining my campaign. It's an exciting movement. It's a change election. And you can be a part of it by going to TommyWells.org. To everybody, that's TommyWells.org. Not dot com -- he's a square dance caller in North Carolina.
SHERWOODAll right. Good. Thank you very much for coming in.
WELLSYou bet. Thank you, gentlemen.
SHERWOODI'm sorry I had to subject you to city politics. I know you have enough in Prince George's County.
ALSOBROOKSOh, no worries whatsoever, no worries. It's great to be here.
SHERWOODWell, thank you very much for coming in. And thank you, Mr. Wells. There he goes hobbling out. Any more on marijuana? Because it's clear -- I mean, there are -- legislators in Maryland yesterday introduced legislation to legalize, just as in Colorado, to, what they say, treat it like alcohol. Tax it, regulate it, get it out of the black market, put it where we know what's being sold, how it' being sold, and make money off of it. And clearly your face just says that isn't persuasive at all.
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know what? I think for something this serious, we ought to give ourselves more time to study the impact of it. We haven't had an opportunity yet to see how things play out in Colorado. We don't know yet what the mass effect of it is. And when we talk about alcohol, I think that's the perfect example as to why we ought to be careful with the driving-related offenses.
ALSOBROOKSWe talk about the health implications. And just there are so many concerns, I think, that we ought to, at the very least, be intelligent about and give ourselves the opportunity to study what the true impact of this would be before we rush to do something that nobody has been able to say is in the best interest of our community there.
ALSOBROOKSI've heard it said that, like you said, it's taxable. Maybe it makes money for us. Or it's convenient because we can focus on violent crimes. So convenience and making money are never reasons, in my mind, to do something that I believe would be harmful to our community.
SHERWOODAnd if I may, we got an email from Marie who was saying to us, "Aren't there much bigger law enforcement issues in Prince George's County rather than marijuana?"
ALSOBROOKSWell, thank -- well, you know, thank you, Marie. First, I think you're absolutely right, that there are a number of concerns. But we're proud to say that if you read The Washington Post today, they say crime is headed in the right direction, and it absolutely is. We have seen a decrease in crime of 27 percent over the last three years, 38 percent decline in homicides, so we are doing, I believe, a really effective job in Prince George's County of combating crime, violent crime.
ALSOBROOKSWe've taken a holistic approach to combating quality-of-life crimes. And so we are not taking our eyes off the ball. It's not that we are ignoring violent crimes. In fact, we've been very effective there. But we want to make sure that those declines continue and that our community's quality of life continues to increase.
MADDENWhat do you think the biggest reason is when you look at the drop in violent crime? I mean, this has been one of these stories that people are talking about all over the country trying to figure out different -- 'cause it's not just happening in D.C. or Prince George's County. It's happening in a lot of urban areas around the country, drop in homicides. What do you think are the reasons for that?
ALSOBROOKSI think the reason in Prince George's most especially is the collaborative approach to crime. I think, for a very long time, we've approached -- we've really used the same strategies, which is, you know, just arresting. And Prince George's County, we have not only focused on arresting violent repeat offenders, focusing our efforts on that, but we've used a holistic approach as well, which means that we have gotten really involved in intervention and prevention, community prosecution, as well as community policing.
ALSOBROOKSOur county executive really honored his promise to us in terms of increasing resources so that we are now able to keep our eye on the number of prosecutors because the truth is, every person we arrest will go free without a prosecutor, and with that we've seen a conviction rate in homicide cases increase from 76 to 93 percent. We've seen all of our prosecution rates increase. But it's because of the collaborative effort, working all of the agencies together.
SHERWOODChief Cathy Lanier was here last week, and she was talking about the cross-border crimes between Maryland and Virginia -- I mean, excuse me, between Maryland and the District of Columbia. She says you were working much -- 'cause there's been a zillion programs announced to make that work better. But she says there really are some personal relationships now that make it work pretty well.
ALSOBROOKSI believe that's absolutely true. I know that our chief of police speaks almost daily, depending on what is happening, maybe even hourly, with the District of Columbia regarding crimes. We have worked with the District as well. I enjoy really a good relationship with Ron Machen. And so we have really made it our business to develop relationships throughout government, and I think they really have been beneficial.
SHERWOODAnd on the downside of that, Mark Seagraves from our station wanted me to ask you, how many police -- D.C. police officers have you prosecuted in Prince George's County? We have a lot of people who live there, including police officers. There's been several cases that were D.C. police officers have been confronted with crimes in your county.
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know what? We have had an unfortunate number of D.C. police officers -- I prosecuted one last year in the murder of an 11-month-old baby and her mother, who was 20 years old. We most recently had the case of an officer who beat his wife and caused severe injury to her in a domestic violence case. And the truth of it is, especially with respect to domestic violence, it doesn't escape us. It doesn't escape any particular population. I think these officers just happened to reside in Prince George's, and the crimes occurred there.
ALSOBROOKSI don't think we should start feeling that this particular population's being targeted for any reason. It's just that, especially with respect to domestic violence, we can't take our eyes off of it for a moment because it doesn't have a socioeconomic barrier. It's not racial. It's every segment not only of our community but across the country.
MADDENWhat does this do when you talk about -- probably one of your challenges is sort of the level of distrust between sort of police and authorities in the community and the effects that can have on policing, reporting crimes, and otherwise. I mean, you've mentioned there have been a number of these cases. How does that -- you know, also there was the case involving the officers -- I believe it was University of Maryland where there was the beating of a student. What has that done in terms of affecting your job, as trying to get people to come forward, and just the level of trust?
ALSOBROOKSWell, in Prince George's, we've actually had a 14 percent increase in tips that we've received last year from the community. And I think that's in large part to the growing trust that our community has for us. Our relationship with the police department as well, we believe has been the best we've seen in about 20 years or more with Chief McGaw, who was absolutely phenomenal.
ALSOBROOKSAnd part of that is that we've said, when mistakes occur, we won't run from it. We'll come out and tell the community that the mistake has occurred, and we'll correct it. And that's what we -- the police have said to us. We don't like bad cops either. And where we find them, we will help you investigate them and arrest them, and we will prosecute. But the vast majority, that's the one percent versus 99. Ninety-nine percent of our officers do a phenomenal job.
SHERWOODYou announced your fundraiser. Last June, you had a nice dance. Is that you? Did I get that right?
ALSOBROOKSI love to dance. I love to dance.
SHERWOODThat's right. And our mayor likes to hand dance.
ALSOBROOKSWell, I'm still learning to hand dance. But I do enjoy dancing.
SHERWOODYou -- now, look, I didn't see any opponents signed up against you. Are there opponents against you? You don't have to say their names?
ALSOBROOKSI don't know of any at this point. The filing deadline is Feb. 25. But we're focused on, you know, doing the work.
SHERWOODYou -- when you first ran, there were several people running for state's attorney, and you won. You were endorsed by The Post back in 2010. And now it looks like, at this point, you don't have anyone running against you. What does that say about what you're going to do and how people are now starting talking about, well, what's she -- or what are you going to do next after you're the prosecutor again, that you might run for statewide office?
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know what I've said -- and I mean it -- is that I am trying to honor the job that I've been given, the trust that I've been given. I hope the people see every day I go to work, I love this work. I am -- don't let them know that I'm having the time of my life. I have had a wonderful time working to protect the people of Prince George's and, you know, and just go to work every day trying to do the job that I promised to do.
SHERWOODOn politics -- excuse me, Patrick. I'll let you get in here in a moment. It's great being in this seat. You can just keep talking.
SHERWOODNo, it's funny. You are the co-chair in Prince George's County for Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman.
SHERWOODYou didn't endorse Doug Gansler, attorney general -- who was attorney in Montgomery County? I know he's the home county guy. But what's the reason? I read the statement down here. But it's just too much civics class praise.
SHERWOODWhy Anthony Brown? I saw him talking about that healthcare rollout, which has been pretty much a disaster, according to most people. And he just seemed to be reading his answers. I mean, what's the fire that you see in him that some people don't?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, Anthony Brown is a person whose whole life says service, from working not only in the legislature, working as a lieutenant governor, but he's a person who served our country as a veteran. And so every time he's been called upon to serve, he has. I think he's done so with distinction. He's worked with us in Prince George's especially well with respect to domestic violence. He also was...
SHERWOODSay some things that he specifically kind of done because healthcare hasn't turned out so well.
ALSOBROOKSSo there is a unit in our office now called Strategic Investigations. This is a unit that is funded, thanks to the help of Anthony Brown who came to me along with the governor when I was running and said, what can we do to help you? That unit did not exist, and we believe that it's really a tribute -- we attribute that to being able to more effectively prosecute violent repeat offenders. But we went to the governor, and the lieutenant governor gave us $1.5 million again in his budget this year. And so we've seen an increase from them of $1.5 million to help us prosecute violent offenders, and so we...
MADDENWas that a tough endorsement to make, also considering that your...
MADDEN...yeah, Jolene Ivey and her husband obviously endorsed you when you ran?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I really like Jolene Ivey. I do. I've been able to sit down and talk to her. And this is not, of course, that I don't support Jolene as a person, but we would love to see Anthony Brown as a -- from Prince Georgian, who we believe has just served with distinction. We want a governor from Prince George's County, and we believe that that is going to happen.
SHERWOODYou know, we're going to do something unusual. President today -- President Obama talked about the National Security Agency and the listening in on Americans. You're a prosecutor, and you have to deal with -- I'm going to play one clip from the president, his press conference speech this afternoon, and then have you react to it.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAI believe critics are right to point out that, without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future. They're also right to point out that, although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the foreign intelligence surveillance court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAFor all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach. I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.
SHERWOODAnd I realize you're just hearing this probably 'cause you were coming in, but it's a real concern among people that they're being listened and watched. And people say, well, we've got to fight those terrorists by giving up freedoms. It was Benjamin Franklin that said that you give up freedom for security to serve neither. What are your thoughts about what the president just said?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I think the president had a tough balancing act to strike to protect civil liberties, to be respectful of civil liberties, and to uphold a very tough job he has of protecting our country. I don't think that we have to choose one of the other. I think he's taken an intelligent approach. I know he said he would take 60 days. He would welcome feedback. He would allow Congress to weigh in. And so I think that he's taking a thoughtful approach to something that is very important.
ALSOBROOKSProtecting this country after what we experienced on 9/11, I think is an awesome responsibility. I think it is likewise his responsibility to do with it in a way that is respectful of people's civil liberties.
SHERWOODAnd over in Virginia, there's a new controversy. I don't want to get into a lot of details now, but the state police have been checking tags and then keeping the information.
ALSOBROOKSAnd, again, civil liberties, I don't think we can ever be dismissive or disrespectful, but we do have an awesome responsibility to protect people and to protect lives. And sometimes it's -- you know, it -- but I think it requires a thoughtful approach. And I think that's what the president has done.
MADDENAnd it seems some of the bills...
MADDEN...that you've been advocating for -- obviously, you're talking about violence. One of them is about removing the statute of limitations on the charge of -- for a handgun charge. Why is that so important? And how much pushback are you getting from the gun lobby?
ALSOBROOKSWe haven't, believe it or not, gotten any -- or very much pushback so far. But we believe it's important. We have a statute of limitations of one year. And in these cases where we charge use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of a violence, the reason this makes no sense whatsoever to have this statute of limitations is because we have cases -- cold cases, many cold cases that we have been able to solve, involving homicides and rapes, that don't come to light until years later.
ALSOBROOKSAnd we've been prosecuting those cases, and we've been unable to charge the handgun that was used to commit the offense. And so to us it seems like a common sense fix. And we're going to the legislature to ask them to fix what we believe is a common sense sort of problem.
SHERWOODAnd very quickly, what other issues -- and you have a long list of things that you'd like at the legislature. Want to mention a couple of them?
ALSOBROOKSWell, one, domestic violence. As we've said, the numbers have come down in Prince George's in every crime, except violence in the family. That's the one area where we're really seeing a lot of difficulty, and so...
SHERWOODIs it growing or just not going -- it's just kind of persistent?
ALSOBROOKSWe saw a minimal decrease in it last year, but we would like to see -- we had, for example, the first two homicides of this year were domestic. We had nine domestic homicides out of the 57 we had last year. It's too many. And so...
SHERWOODIs it stress in lives? Is there any reason for it, stress of the economy, people feeling desperate, or just disrespect?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what? You...
SHERWOODI don't know what it is.
ALSOBROOKSYou used all the words that we seem to be seeing actually because the people that we saw involved in these cases last year had never been on our radar before. So these are not people who had long histories. These were incidents where people just snapped, where there was a stress involved, and we've seen a lot of that. And so what we wanted to do in the legislature, though, was to make it a crime to commit these acts of violence in the presence of children because what we've learned is that children are many times the invisible victims of domestic violence.
ALSOBROOKSThey end up repeating these crimes, of course, as they had witnessed them, and it destroys so many lives. And so that's one of the pieces of legislation that we are really supporting, is making and adding time to the sentence of a person who knowingly commits an act of violence in the presence of a child.
MADDENBut what about before it gets to that point? When we're talking about after the fact, what can be done specifically to address this issue before it gets to the point where there is violence?
ALSOBROOKSOne of the things we did in Prince George's last year in conjunction with the county executive was to roll out 2-1-1, which is a whole new number that our residents can call, or anybody can call it.
SHERWOOD2-1-1? We have 3-1-1, 4-1-1, 9-1-1?
SHERWOODAnd now we have 2-1-1?
ALSOBROOKSHey, oh, yeah, I know.
SHERWOODI'm going to play those numbers.
ALSOBROOKSExactly. 2-1-1 is where you can access all of our resources relating to domestic violence, but what's interesting is we want the offenders, the abusers to call the number as well and say, you know what, I'm stressed out. I need help. And that's the difference, is that we want to be able to make resources available not just to the victims of crime but to those who -- offenders or potential offenders who need help as well, who are saying, I don't know what to do about what I'm feeling. I'm about to do something awful. So we want them to call as well.
SHERWOODState's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks.
SHERWOODI have a question. I have not talked to you since MGM got the right to build the big casino in Prince George's County. What are your concerns of what your office will do in terms of what that can do in terms of people want to prey on people who go to casinos, the crimes that could occur? What are your concerns and hopes for it? And we're in our final two minutes.
ALSOBROOKSWe're always concerned about the quality of life for Prince Georgians, and we'll work very closely with our police department to make sure those crimes do not occur, that the increase doesn't occur, that they don't spill out into our neighborhoods. We'll be active as well in making sure that our seniors are not victimized. What we've seen is a lot of elder abuse where seniors have been exploited in various ways. So we'll be really vigilant in working together with our police department and our executive, as well as with the folks at National Harbor. I spoke with Milt Peterson over the holidays.
ALSOBROOKSYes, over the holidays. And he expressed an interest in having a no-tolerance policy there, which we believe is appropriate so that people feel comfortable patronizing not only National Harbor and those businesses, but all businesses in Prince George's. We want them to know Prince George's -- I heard our chair say, the whole world is coming to Prince George's.
SHERWOODMaybe the FBI.
ALSOBROOKSMaybe the FBI headquarters. We welcome it. We know that our housing department's coming from the state. All of it's headed to Prince George's because the environment is safer, and we want that message to continue to get out, that we are really taking safety seriously.
SHERWOODAll right. Good. Well, thank you very much for coming in today.
ALSOBROOKSThank you for having me.
SHERWOODAnd the -- you're going over to the legislature and to appear for anything, or you're just...
ALSOBROOKSOh, absolutely. I'll be there testifying. I was there last year. And we won't give up. We have some bills that are very important to us. And we'll be there.
SHERWOODAngela Alsobrooks, state's attorney, Prince George's County, thanks for coming in. And thanks for talking to Tommy Wells, trying to talk some sense into him.
ALSOBROOKSLook, you know, it sounds like it takes a longer conversation, but we'll try. Thank you. Thank you.
SHERWOODPatrick Madden, thanks for sitting in for Tom Sherwood. I don't know where he is today.
MADDENI -- exactly. I'm keeping the seat warm.
SHERWOODAll right. Good. I'm going to go over and see the panda. I'm Tom Sherwood from NBC 4 sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Have a great day.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo and guests explore what you can learn about D.C. by riding its bus system.
T.C. Boyle's latest novel explores the darker side of the American ideal of freedom, from a woman who follows the extreme libertarian "sovereign citizen" movement to a disturbed young man who models himself on the pioneer John Colter.
It's your turn to discuss these topics or whatever is on your mind.