Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
On April 1st, Democratic voters in the District of Columbia will choose their party’s nominee for mayor. All eight candidates on the ballot, including the incumbent, join us to make their cases to voters and to share their visions for the city.
- Carlos Allen Democratic Candidate, Mayor, District of Columbia
- Reta Jo Lewis Democratic Candidate, Mayor, District of Columbia
- Vincent Orange Member, D.C. Council (D-At Large)
- Jack Evans D.C. Council member (D-Ward 2); Chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue
- Tommy Wells Democratic Mayoral Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
- Muriel Bowser Democratic Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 4); Chair, Committee on Economic Development
- Andy Shallal Owner of Busboys and Poets, Iraqi American, peace activist, artist, and co-founder of The Peace Cafe.
- Vincent Gray Mayor, District of Columbia (D)
Watch The Full Debate
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back to WAMU 88.5's D.C. Democratic Mayoral Forum broadcasting live before a studio audience at our media center at 4401 Connecticut Avenue Northwest. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. We're joined by all eight Democratic candidates appearing on the ballot April 1. They are Carlos Allen, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, Reta Jo Lewis, Vincent Orange, Andy Shallal and Tommy Wells. And now to pick up where we left off, Kavitha Cardoza of WAMU 88.5 has a question.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZAI'm going to repeat my previous question. I'd like Mayor Gray to answer it. Forty-eight percent of the families asking for shelter this winter were headed by parents who were 18 to 24 years old. Why do we have so many young adults in crisis in the city and what would you do to help them?
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYWell, a couple of things, Kavitha. In terms of why I think this is the case -- there are multiple reasons of course, but one of them is, you know, we have young women who are having children who have been living in the home that they grew up in. And this is where the (unintelligible) situation comes. When -- for whatever reason and any number of reasons problems exist, they have been showing up at the city seeking our assistance.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYOne of the things that we are trying to do, we have all -- we put money into what's called rapid re-housing, and that is to be able to get young people, the folks that you're talking about, get them housed for which we will provide rental support and other services like Medicaid and food stamps so those basic needs are taken care of. And over the longer term, that's why I'm putting $187 million into affordable housing to create housing that will allow people then to be able to afford -- to continue to afford to live in the District of Columbia. And some of those, of course, will be -- are families who otherwise would become homeless.
CARDOZAThere have been many people who have said that is just a drop in the bucket of what we need. How many people do you think that amount of money will help?
GRAYWell, our commitment is to create 10,000 -- or preserve 10,000 units of housing over the next several years, which is a substantial commitment. I intend to put more money in this budget that will be forthcoming. I intend to put even more money on top of that. And I think the other thing that we need to recognize is it's not just a housing capacity issue. It's also a capacity issue for the people themselves. That's why education is so important. That's why adult education is so important, to be able to equip people with skills that allow them to be able to work and increase their earning capacity.
GRAYIf we really want to solve this problem, we not only have to create affordable housing. We have to create opportunities for people to be able to qualify for jobs that they wouldn’t qualify for now. That's why I talked at length about a workforce development system which in substantial part would be aimed at people who may not even have a high school diploma at this stage.
NNAMDITen seconds. Tom Sherwood.
MR. TOM SHERWOODQuick question, starting down on this end with Mr. Wells. Do you support the city's right to shelter law, which means you have a right to shelter any time the temperature drops below freezing?
MR. TOMMY WELLSAbsolutely.
SHERWOODJust a yes or a no.
WELLSAbsolutely. I don't think the answer to this is kicking people out of the shelter.
MR. ANDY SHALLALAbsolutely yes.
MR. VINCENT ORANGEYes, but I would like to elaborate.
ORANGEI mean, it was just a question and answer...
SHERWOODWell, you do or you don't with this one.
ORANGE...between WAMU and the mayor. I mean, do the rest of us get an opportunity to weigh in? We have lots that's taking place...
SHERWOODWell, I have a follow-up question if you would just follow the direction of the reporter.
ORANGEI am following directions.
ORANGEThe direction is (unintelligible) and be silent while...
SHERWOODYou can come back. Ms. Lewis. Yes or no on the 22 or 32.
MS. RETA JO LEWISYes, I do.
SHERWOODYes or no in the right to shelter, Mr. Mayor.
GRAYPeople shouldn't be outside when they have to freeze.
SHERWOODYes. Mr. Evans?
MR. JACK EVANSYes.
MS. MURIEL BOWSERYes.
MR. CARLOS ALLENYes.
SHERWOODNow the follow-up question is, some people believe the suburbs contribute to homelessness by sending families into the city, which has a much better policy than anywhere in the suburb. Do you think A. that that's true and why not some kind of regional pact on homelessness so the region can work together? And we'll go to Mr. Orange, since he's anxious to speak.
ORANGEWell -- thank you. Well, first of all, this issue of 48 percent of the people in the homeless shelters are 18 and 24, that's exactly the problem. That shows that we're not training them, we're not educating them. And we want to give them $8.25 an hour. On $8.25 an hour, $17,000 on an annual basis, they'll still be in the shelter but they'll go apply for food stamps. They'll go and get the energy assistance voucher. They'll have to get the housing voucher. Their children will have to go to the breakfast and lunch program.
ORANGELook. We're a $12 billion organization. We have $1.75 billion in the bank. We're coming off of $321 million surplus where projected surplus is for the next five years.
NNAMDIIn other words, Mr. Orange, we should not care what the suburbs are doing. We should not care what other jurisdictions are doing.
ORANGEWhat about that -- in other words, we should be building affordable housing. We should be...
SHERWOODFor suburban people?
ORANGE...and we should be executing the plan that was put in place by Alice (unintelligible) Jarvis, Mayor Williams, is the economic research, it's the Washington, D.C. citizens plan for prosperity. That's the only reason why we're here today because we executed those 40 action items but we did not build the 55,000 housing units as required. And of that, 19,000 would've been for apartment for our young people. We're not following the plan.
ORANGEJack Evans is going to talk about 1991. No, this was executed in 2000. And that's what took us out of that hole of a $518 million deficit, (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDII guess what Mr. Orange is saying is that nobody from the suburbs is running for election here tonight.
SHERWOODI realize you're going to give a long speech. Am I right? So I'd appreciate it, but I ask you specifically about do you think there's a concern about suburban people coming into the city or is that not true?
LEWISTom, let me answer your question.
ORANGEAnd what I'm telling you, no...
SHERWOODAnd the answer is yes or no.
ORANGEThat is not the question. The answer is we don't...
NNAMDIYou asked the wrong question.
ORANGE...we don't have leadership that's utilizing the resources that are available to address the issues of the day.
SHERWOODOkay. Ms. Lewis. Well, I was going to go down the line but -- I'm just trying to get farther away from Mr. Orange so he'll stop talking. Ms. Lewis, very quickly, do you think it's a suburban problem that the suburbs are pushing in onto the city or not?
LEWISWell, they used to think it was the other way around. It is an approach that we must do from a regional perspective. But going to Kavitha's question...
SHERWOODOkay, thank you. A regional perspective.
LEWISNo, going to Kavitha's question about the 18- to 24-year-olds, the reason is they have no jobs but they do want to work. And they want us to be a compassionate city.
NNAMDII have heard, ever since I've been in this city when we have these problems, public official say especially privately that one of the reasons we're having these problems is that the surrounding jurisdictions do not have laws like ours. And therefore people are coming from those jurisdictions. Should there be some level of regional cooperation on this issue?
GRAYThat's a different question than I was trying to answer, Kojo. The answer is yes. We have regional cooperation on lots of things. I met today with Governor McAuliffe and Governor O'Malley about regional cooperation on a number of things. We actually have 11 percent of the population in the District of Columbia but we have 54 percent of the affordable housing. We have to keep in mind that we are the nation's capitol and we attract a lot of people because we are the nation's capitol.
GRAYAt the same time, there are our own folks in the District of Columbia who become homeless. And those are the folks for whom we ought to be responsible. We provide shelter for lots of people in the District of Columbia. And we want to be a -- and we are, we are a compassionate city even when -- let's take it out of the realm of homeless families for a second.
NNAMDIYou only have 15 seconds.
GRAYLet's put it on singles. We even, on very cold nights, people with mental health problems and substance abuse problems who wouldn't come into the shelters, we put buses out on the street so that people would be able to go on those buses who are afraid to go in shelters. We had over 400 people on buses on some of those nights when we had 6 degrees, 8 degrees, 10 degree weather. This is a compassionate city and I think we need to continue to try to figure out how we find permanent shelter for people.
GRAYAnd I don't think -- Kojo, I don't think we should spend our time worrying about whether 10 percent or 15 percent of the people actually came from the suburbs.
NNAMDIOkay. We have at least one member of our audience who raised questions about this compassion that you speak of, Mr. Mayor. Carl Bergman contacted us through the Public Insight Network. He wanted to ask about the issue of homelessness, and more specifically about evictions. He said that the council and the mayor are not enforcing a law that helps to protect the belongings of D.C. residents facing eviction. Here's what he had to say.
CARL BERGMANThe mayor and council when it was Mayor Fenty voted for a law. It's the Evictions of Dignity Act. However, the mayor and council have never bothered to fund it. As a result, the law is not in effect. Even though it's on the books and it's a matter of public policy, the law is not there and people still are evicted on the street and their things are stolen. So the city made a commitment but has done nothing to fulfill that commitment.
NNAMDIMayor Gray, as briefly as you can. This is directed at you. He said the city has a commitment, refuses to fund it so people are being evicted.
GRAYCommitment has a -- the city has a commitment to house people, to try to find shelter for folks. I had reservations about that law. I was on the council when it was passed and I had reservations about it then. Frankly, if we work to keep people housed, which is exactly what we've been trying to do, or get people housed as quickly as we possibly can, you don't have to worry about people's belongings being on the street.
GRAYAnd, by the way, I know that firsthand because my brother was evicted from an apartment in D.C. at one point. And I had to go get his stuff off the street. But it was a matter of his family rallying around him and getting him housed once again.
NNAMDIMuriel Bowser, how do you feel about the Evictions with Dignity Act?
BOWSERWell, I supported it and I support it now. And I think that it certainly -- that in a city that has $12 billion, that when we see people evicted on the street, it not only makes it more difficult for that person to get back on their feet, it also makes it very difficult for the neighborhood. But let me say this about homelessness, because I think Kavitha raised a very important issue.
NNAMDIPlease make it quick.
BOWSERYes, but there have been others who've talked for five minutes on homelessness...
NNAMDIBut now we're running out of time.
BOWSER...so this is the single biggest issue that we hear across the city. Residents of the District of Columbia don't want to see children living on the street or people living in recreation centers. The 18- to 24-year-old are young women. This homelessness issue is largely a women and children's issue. And this government has turned a cold shoulder to them. What we're telling them is that no, you can't have safe shelter at night. You have to be doubled up and possibly doubled up in a home that wasn't safe for you. No, you can't have safe shelter at night. You have to be sent back to someplace maybe you can stay for two days. Maybe you can stay for seven days.
BOWSERAnd so what we need to focus on with those women is good jobs but also child care that they believe in and that they trust.
NNAMDIJack Evans and then Carlos Allen.
EVANSThat’s a bill that we passed in the council and it hasn't been implemented because it's very difficult to implement. And the further caller the issue became -- what he's talking about is when someone's evicted, all of their belongings are put out in front of their place and they're all out there and people are picking over them and they're blowing away. So is it -- what -- is it the city's responsibility to take all those belongings and store them someplace? And if it is, who pays for the storage? Well, the city does. How long do they pay to store them?
EVANSThere are a whole host of issues that surround the legislation. And the reason it hasn't been implemented is because none of those issue have been addressed. And it leads to the bigger problem -- I listened to all of the talk going on up here and it leaves me puzzled in many ways. And give me a minute since everybody's had so much time to talk about this.
NNAMDIYou have 30 seconds.
EVANSNo, I need a minute. I've been here a long time. And one of the things that almost sank this city back in the '90s were two laws, the Right to Shelter law and something called the Tenants' Assistance Program. As the city began to struggle financially, the two programs ballooned and had to be curtailed at a cost to a lot of people. A lot of people were hurt by that. Those programs are back. The Tenants' Assistance Program is now called the Rent Supplement Program. And the Right to Shelter law is back.
EVANSAnd as they continue to grow and become expensive and more expensive, the question is, how do we administer them in a way that it doesn't negatively affect the city? I almost feel like the skunk at the picnic at these things because everybody is promising everything to everybody…
EVANS...without the ability to understand the finances of this city and how we're going to pay for it. And frankly, I have to tell everyone, the next mayor of the District of Columbia has to understand how the finances of this city work and how all these programs are interrelated and how they're paid for. Otherwise, we are going to find ourselves back in a jam again. And the people hurt the most when the city finds itself in trouble are the people who can least afford to be hurt.
NNAMDICarlos Allen and then Tom Sherwood has a question. Carlos.
ALLENThe eviction (unintelligible) would be funded with -- under (unintelligible) administration, mayor. And the reason why I'm saying that is because I was homeless at one point in the city. And my property was put out and it was all gone. So I understand the plighted homeless and I understand what it takes to actually get yourself back on your feet. And that's basically compassion from other people to help you.
ALLENThe thing about the problem that we have right now, there's no communication and there's nothing out there that's letting folks know that there's issues out -- I mean, there's things out there to help them for them to move forward in their lives. So the key things is getting it out there to the people who are in need to let them know that we're here to help them. It's all about bringing compassion and humanity back to the city.
ALLENAnd like everyone's saying, this is a billion dollar organization. There's more than enough money here to help as many people out here to get them back on their feet. But the key thing is basically economics. Economics is what drives everything. And if we're not giving folks -- either educating them to get a better job or educating them to start their own businesses, nothing changes. So the key thing for myself is the next mayor of Washington, D.C. is to make sure that people are getting on their feet and moving forward in life.
NNAMDIYou're listening to WAMU 88.5's D.C. Democratic Mayoral Forum featuring all eight candidates on the primary ballot April 1. We're going to take a quick break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. You're listening to WAMU 88.5's D.C. Democratic Mayoral Forum broadcasting live from our media center at 4401 Connecticut Avenue Northwest. We're joined by all eight Democratic candidates on the ballot April 1. Carlos Allen, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, Reta Jo Lewis, Vincent Orange, Andy Shallal and Tommy Wells with panelists Kavitha Cardoza of WAMU 88.5, Patrick Madden of WAMU 88.5 News and Tom Sherwood of NBC.
NNAMDIFor Muriel Bowser, our poll results show that voters are deeply concerned about ethics. In the wake of the recent corruption scandals in the Wilson building, you were the point person on the ethics legislation passed by the council. That bill left a lot of people wanting, well, more. Former City Paper Loose Lips columnists went so far as to say that for you ethics reform seems mostly limited to Vincent Gray no longer being in office. What would you say?
BOWSERWell, I think that that would be somebody who doesn't understand what happened who would say such a thing. Because actually what this council did on a bill I authored created for the first time in the District of Columbia, an independent board of ethics and government accountability. They are charged with enforcing a strengthened code of conduct that holds all public officials accountable, whether you're the mayor or you're council or you work at a front desk at one of our recreation centers.
BOWSERThe standard has been set and has been set high. And the message has been sent across the government that there is a sheriff in town, that you will be investigated and punished if you break our code of conduct or you break trust with the residents of the District of Columbia. And guess what? It's working. In its short life, already three members of the council have been sanctioned. In its short life, employees of the District of Columbia who have a question, who want to do the right thing are calling the ethics board for advice so that they can act in a way that is trustworthy.
BOWSERSo we're very proud of what we've been able to do with ethics reform. Now, you asked another question.
BOWSERYes. I think what you said is, am I focused, that I think the problem with ethics in the District of Columbia is that we have a mayor that's under investigation. And I've said...
NNAMDIOh, I said something about that, yes.
BOWSER...I've said yes, that is a problem for the residents of the District of Columbia because that's what they tell me. That's what they told you. They want to trust their government. They want a mayor that's going to level with them. If a U.S. attorney is asking you for questions, if the U.S. attorney is asking you for documents related to a multimillion dollar government contract and you have your attorney general refuse, that's a problem for the residents of the District of Columbia.
BOWSERListen, this is my hometown, born and raised here. And I want to see our city move forward. Jack is right. This is not the D.C. that I grew up in. The D.C. that I grew up in was dangerous, our politics were in shambles, our schools were spiraling out of control. Now we're on the right path but our politics are still in shambles. This is our opportunity to turn that around.
SHERWOODMs. Bowser, I'm going to follow that up. I'll ask you, you have opposed -- Mr. Wells has wanted to ban corporate donations and you have voted against that. You want -- you are receiving corporate donations. But also I'm told, and I don't know -- I apologize for asking without checking -- have you received money in your campaigns from Jeffrey Thompson in the past?
BOWSERYes. I think a lot of people have in this city...
SHERWOODHave you returned the money or have you done something with it or you just...
BOWSERNo. And, as you know, Tom, a lot of...
NNAMDIMr. Allen would like the record to show that he has not received contributions from Jeffery Thompson. Please go ahead.
SHERWOODWell, maybe not yet.
BOWSERIs it my turn to answer, because I'd like to answer.
NNAMDIMuriel Bowser, keep going ahead.
BOWSERYes, what about it?
SHERWOOD...do you think they're okay?
BOWSERI think that for campaign finance reform issues -- and I've said this and I've said this a lot and my friend -- well, I'll just say this. I think for campaign finance issues that is important that all campaigns disclose what they have collected and do it in a way that all of the residents of the District of Columbia can understand. I think that it's important that our office of campaign finance enforces all of the violations.
BOWSERSo we're talking about accepting corporate contributions when we have a U.S. attorney that is investigating a shadow campaign where all sorts of money was put under the table.
BOWSERThose are the issues. That issue has to be enforced.
NNAMDILet's face it, every one of our panelists has something to say about this and you will each get that opportunity. It comes first in the form of a question from Patrick Madden.
MR. PATRICK MADDENJust a quick follow up on this issue of campaign finance reform, council member Bowser. You were head -- as head of the chair government ops, you had the ability to push campaign finance reform when it was under your committee but it didn't happen. And as a result the ban on LLC bundling, the corporation bundling that we're talking about, it was delayed and it will not be enacted until 2015, which means that your campaign and some of the other campaigns up here are raising LLC donations right now.
MR. PATRICK MADDENWhy were you not able to get campaign finance reform passed when you had the chance as head of government operations?
BOWSERActually what we did was we focused on what's the matter at hand. And that was how do we get a code of conduct and get an official body that can enforce these allegations? So the issue was not whether people were collecting from LLCs. The issues at hand for the council were council members breaking the law. The issues at hand and still in this mayoral investigation are things that are already against the law. So...
MADDENBut if you look at the laws that are being broken, they're all campaign finance violations.
BOWSERAnd they're already against the law. So what we need moving forward is if you're asking me do we need more transparency, do we need to make sure people disclose and do we need to make sure the office of campaign finance is doing its job, yes. What we did was give the office of campaign finance 1 million additional dollars so that they can hire investigators and auditors. And guess what? That's working too.
BOWSERSo this is my fourth campaign and I'll tell you, for the first time in four campaigns...
BOWSER...the office of campaign finance is making field visits to campaign offices to make sure that campaigns are following the law. That's what works.
NNAMDII know Tom Sherwood has another question and a follow-up question but let me go to Tommy Wells before he blows his top.
SHERWOODYou're next, Mr. Mayor.
WELLSThis is a -- there is not any daylight between Muriel Bowser and Vince Gray on this issue. Both are taking bundled dollars from super lobbyist David Wilmot in this campaign, who's the chief lobbyist for Wal-Mart, Pharma and almost everything else big that comes to the council. So when Muriel Bowser said last night there's no difference between a business individual or a business, that's the line of Citizens United. That's the line of the Republican Party. That's the line of the Koch Brothers. If you're a Democrat and a progressive Democrat in D.C. you should not be supporting that. Neither one should. It's corrupting our government and that's what's in front of us.
NNAMDILadies and gentlemen, we're getting to the best part. It's heating up. We only have half an hour left. You all know that each candidate thinks that he or she who gets the most time wins the debate, so we're in that competition right now. We're going to have to ask all of you to keep your answers as brief as possible from this point on.
SHERWOODMr. Mayor, I'm going to ask you a question which you maybe can -- you can get into this if you'd like. And I've written this one down so -- because it's the heart of this ethics issue because of the investigation into your 2010 campaign. You've apologized for how that campaign was run and you've declared your innocence of wrongdoing in public. But -- excuse me, but have you met with prosecutors to help them find the wrongdoers? If not, why have you not cooperated with federal authorities if you are innocent?
GRAYIn point of fact, you know, I want to go back to a comment that Ms. Bowser made about we haven't -- you know, that the attorney general wouldn't give up the documents. The documents that were requested have been given. The cooperation that was asked of us has either come through me or has come through my attorney. I will assert, once again, that I did nothing wrong. We have done -- we did nothing wrong in that campaign, Tom. I also offered a campaign finance reform bill that did not get through the council. That bill...
SHERWOODI'm sorry, Mr. Mayor, the question was, but have you met with prosecutors to help them find the wrongdoers who sabotaged your campaign...
GRAYI think -- I think I answered that, Tom, and that is...
GRAY...we have provided information or my attorney has provided information.
SHERWOODBut you not personally have met with them.
SHERWOODHave they asked you?
GRAYThey -- I -- my attorney has been the one who has been relating to this issue.
SHERWOODOkay. All right.
NNAMDIJack Evans, you have been wanting to say something for a while.
GRAYHe's going to talk about (unintelligible) do I get a chance to do that?
NNAMDIOh well, please finish your statement then. I thought you were finished, Mr. Mayor.
GRAYWell, he was finished.
SHERWOODNo. I have more, but you go ahead.
EVANSI just wanted to talk about the campaign finance reform but, Mr. Mayor, go ahead and I'll follow you.
GRAYThe bill that we offered was designed to sabotage -- it was anti-bundling bill that did not get through the council. It was a bill that was -- would stop lobbyists from being able to bundle contributions and give them two candidates. It also said that anybody who was a recipient of a grand of $250,000 -- or a recipient of a contractor $250,000 or more would be prohibited from being able to contribute to someone's campaign. None of that got through the council. We put that on the table.
WELLSIf that's the right thing to do, why don't you follow it?
GRAYWhat do you mean I want to follow it?
WELLSYou're not following it now.
GRAYWell, the fact of the matter is we're following a law, Mr. Wells, and it is the law.
WELLSBut what you proposed-- why didn't you follow what you proposed?
GRAYYou choose -- wait a minute -- you choose to do what you choose to do but there's nobody breaking the law who does that. If the law had changed I would've followed the law.
MADDENBut if you just suggested banning these LLC donations or accepting donations from registered lobbyists, why are you accepting them right now if you think there's a problem?
GRAYWe're following the law, Patrick.
GRAYThat is the law.
MADDEN...it's essentially an outdated law, right, because by 2015 it's gonna be...
GRAYWell, as long as it's the law, it's the law. We following the law. If the law changes we'll follow that law.
MADDENBut do you think there's a problem with accepting LLC donations from registered lobbyists like you just said?
GRAYWe've offered legislation and the legislation was not moved out of the council.
EVANSAnd I think I was next, Kojo.
NNAMDIYes, you were.
SHALLALI was involved in that...
NNAMDIHold on for a second because Jack is...
EVANSBecause I think, you know, for those listening, you have to be cognitive -- and this is Jack Evans speaking -- of the ramifications of the actions we are now taking. Whenever campaign finance reform comes up it's to limit the ability of candidates to raise money. In this city, up to this point in time, we've been very fortunate to not have outside expenditures, pacts, spending money on behalf of candidates, because candidates can raise enough money to run campaigns. I actually ran in a campaign in 1996 where the limits were $50 and $100. None of us could raise any money. And for the first time ever you had independent expenditures.
EVANSIf you pursue the course of action you're taking, eliminating the ability of candidates to raise money, you will have two things happen. You will have independent expenditures being made as you see on the federal level on behalf of candidates or you will have candidates who are very wealthy -- we have one here tonight -- who can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money on campaigns. Those are the two things we have never had in this city. It's creeped into the mayor's race. And if we pursue what we're doing, that's what's going to happen.
EVANSPatrick, you made a statement that campaign -- everyone was violating the campaign finance laws. Actually, the three council members who had to resign and are going to jail, none of them violated campaign finance laws. Bobby Brown cheated on his mortgage, number two Michael Brown was taking bribes and Harry Thomas stole money from a youth investment trust...
WELLSKwame Brown pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation.
EVANSBut what they got him on was his mortgage, and you know that. And so no one was convicted of violating campaign finance.
NNAMDIWealthy candidates who...
EVANSBut I just wanted to correct the statement.
NNAMDIWealthy candidates who can finance their own campaign, cue you, Andy Shallal.
SHALLALKojo, I think it's really important to know...
EVANSI think (word?) candidates should not contribute their own money.
SHALLALIt's really important to understand that everybody in this room, everybody that's listening understands a corrosive impact of money on campaigns and on politics. Very few people would even question that. It's a problem -- it's been a problem for a long time. I worked on a campaign here in this city back in 1991, '92 which passed overwhelmingly by the electorate. We had over 70 percent of the people voted in favor of it to limit campaign contributions to $100 for citywide races. And guess what? The next day the council overturned it. They overturned it.
SHALLALUnless we have campaign finance reform...
EVANSAndy, we ran an election in 1996 for that law. We didn't overturn it the next day. It wasn't overturned for ten years.
SHALLALIt was overturned the next election that was there. But...
EVANSIt wasn't. We ran the election.
SHALLAL...but the reason -- well, you were the one who overturned it, Mr. Evans. But...
EVANSWere I had that power.
SHALLAL...we need to have campaign finance reform in this city and we need to have public funding of our campaigns. That's the only way we can have clean elections and people will be proud of our elections and we don't have to run shadow campaigns and unknown campaigns and behind-the-scene campaigns. That's the only way we could do it.
NNAMDIReta Jo Lewis.
LEWISKojo, let's just be serious with the listeners. This is Reta Jo Lewis speaking. Number one, no one can ever intimate or even acknowledge at all that I've ever taken a dime from Jeffrey Thompson. So I want to make sure that whatever Mrs. Bowser is talking about, it does not pertain to me. Secondly, let's be clear, no one in this city from Ward 1 to Ward 8 believes that the current political establishment is going to put in any rules or any laws that are going to be actually enforced. That's where we are in this city. It is about enforcement.
LEWISBut it is really about the business of in 2010 when the electorate went to the polls and voted to have an attorney general put on the ballot. An independent party who was going to be the one that was going to answer to the citizens of the District of Columbia. And the current political establishment has said repeatedly time and time again, no we're not going to put it on the ballot. And I guess we wonder why. Because the attorney general would be running on a platform of what, law and order.
LEWISWe have no laws and we have no order in the District of Columbia. And until we get an independent attorney general that we elect, a strong inspected general and make sure that a code of conduct does absolutely nothing if we don't have someone that's going to be there to enforce it. And as the next mayor of this city, the only one who is not elected on the city council, other than Carlos and Andy, it will take an outsider, it will take someone who is not a part of the political establishment to be able to make sure that these laws are upheld. And the citizens of the District of Columbia get what they finally deserve, which is a strong, clean and ethical government led by a leader from the top who sets the right example.
NNAMDIIf no member on this panel is going to do anything that seems to be against his or her self political interest and you see yourself as an outsider, you're sitting among Democrats in the Democratic primary saying you're an outsider, would you be for open primaries that would allow -- would you be for open primaries that would allow Republicans and independents and members of...
LEWISNo. I am a Democrat through and through. With -- I am an outsider it's outside of the current political establishment that have not sat here in Washington, D.C. and city hall and have a collective voices of 68 years...
NNAMDISo you're not for open primaries.
LEWIS...and have not taken the time this year...
NNAMDISo you're not for open primaries.
LEWIS...to start talking about -- no. I am for -- I'm a Democrat through and through and will always...
NNAMDIBack to ethics, Patrick Madden with WAMU.
MADDENMr. Mayor, Tom mentioned before the 2010 campaign and the investigation into it. You know, it's obviously -- it's an issue that's not just the media or your opponents care a lot about. Voters care a lot about it. I want to read you one of the penned responses we got. And it says, "Why should we trust the mayor for four more years when we still don't know anything about his involvement in the last campaign?" And it seems like there is still a lot of outstanding questions about what happened, what you knew, when you knew.
MADDENDo you think voters deserve not just an apology for what happened, but a detailed accounting of what happened in 2010 with your campaign?
GRAYI think, first of all, that, you know, I've indicated I tried to provide what information I know, Patrick. You know, one of the things that I've tried to do is help people understand who Vince Gray is in the first place. I was born and raised in the District of Columbia. I was raised in a one-bedroom apartment where I grew up sleeping on a roll-away bed next to my brother in the living room. I never slept in a bedroom in my life until I was an adult.
GRAYI've spent my whole life after college working in service to the people of this city. I worked on behalf of people with mental retardation. Then I went to work for the Department of Human Services as a director, again in service to people. I have done the best job that I could, Patrick, providing information. And I don't know what else to do.
NNAMDIWe're going to have to take a short break. You're listening to WAMU 88.5's D.C. Democratic Mayoral Forum, featuring all eight candidates on the primary ballot, April 1. We're going to take a quick break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. You're listening to a special D.C. Democratic Mayoral Candidate Forum, broadcasting live from our media center at 4401 Connecticut Avenue Northwest. We're joined by all eight Democratic candidates on the ballot April 1, along with WAMU reporters Kavitha Cardoza, Patrick Madden and NBC4 reporter Tom Sherwood. Tom Sherwood just shared with me some news that, of course, is news right now. When this airs again on Thursday, it won't be, but go ahead.
SHERWOODYes, the court has -- Superior Court Judge Laura Cordero has dismissed the lawsuit filed by Mr. Zukerberg to challenge the Council's delay of the attorney general election from 2014 to 2018. The judge says the Council was within its legal authority to do so. So that's news. Does anybody object to the fact that the Council attorney general race was delayed?
SHERWOODI mean, I'm sorry, you just did. That's why -- anyone else?
WELLSAs the only councilmember up here that said -- that voted not to delay it, 70 percent of the voters of you guys said, we want an elected attorney general. City Council did exactly what Andy just talked about and said: No, you're not going to get an elected attorney general at this time. And the reason that is a problem is right now the U.S. attorney's asking for information from the mayor. And the attorney general seems to be functioning as the mayor's defense attorney. We have to have confidence that the attorney general is representing all of us, representing the city, and not the defense attorney for the mayor.
WELLSSo it does undercut -- it's just the whole point of why you voted for an independent attorney general. And if there was ever a time, now is the time that we need an independent attorney general. I voted for it. These guys said, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALEI'd like to speak to the other side of that. The law did pass and we were moving forward with having an elected attorney general. And it became clear immediately that we had not defined even what the functions of the attorney general would be, who the lawyers would answer to -- whether it would be to the lawyer in the mayor's office or to the attorney general. And the Council had to pass legislation to correct that. We also had no one who was running for the office. So we made a determination. The attorney general is an extremely important job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALEAnd we've had -- I didn't support it because we've had tremendous success, Chuck Ruff, John Ferrin (sp?), John Payton (sp?), legendary individuals in this city have been our attorney general and have functioned fabulously. We were not ready for this election. And had we gone forward, we would have elected someone who did not even know what the job was. So we made a decision to postpone it. Now, why it had to be postponed four years is because of the federal law that established it in the first place in our charter, that it is elected concurrently with the mayor's election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALEWhat we would have preferred to do is postpone it for two years and then get our act together and be able to move forward. And that's why we did it. I think it was a responsible decision on behalf of the Council. Now, it's not a politically popular decision. And that differentiates myself from the people who didn't support it. Because what I try to do is responsible, not what's politically popular.
NNAMDIThe election of the attorney general is just one part of the fabric that people in the District of Columbia are trying to put together that would represent an assertion of our rights and of our dignity. Muriel Bowser, voting rights and statehood are an integral part of that. It has to do with whether or not people are full citizens. And when Jesse Jackson was a statehood Senator, he said that it won't happen in D.C. until it rises to the level of an insult, until we are outraged by it.
NNAMDIJust how passionate are you about this issue that would cause you to do anything differently than it has been done in the past -- that would cause you to approach the House and Senate committees that have to do with this issue, differently than others have done in the past? Where is your passions on this issue?
BOWSERWell, I'm already committed to that, because when our budget was threatened and the rights of women to make their own reproductive health decisions was threatened, I stood up with a lot of Washingtonians, some on this day and said enough's enough. And I spent like 17 hours in jail. And what I learned from that experience was that we had been doing the same thing over and over and over again in the District. This is how we've approached statehood: There's some kind of crisis and then everybody's mad and then it goes away. Then there's another crisis, and everybody's mad and it goes away.
BOWSERI've known and Washington Post called me when they endorsed me pragmatic. And it's true. So I think we have to step back from this issue and do what big companies do when they want for the congress. They have a strategic approach where they're targeting members of the congress every day, about all of the issues that are important to the District of Columbia. We have a lot of federal issues. We have Walter Reed, we have Saint Elizabeths, we have all of our national parks. And we have the need for budget autonomy.
BOWSERWe have the need for legislative autonomy and statehood.
NNAMDIHow would you go about targeting members of congress every day?
BOWSERWell, we're going to make sure we have a presence on the Hill. In addition to our wonderful congresswoman who works hard for us, but she needs a vote. And so we're going to follow all of our federal issues daily to make sure that we are getting to know those members. And so that when we have issues, we know where to go and they're going to speak up for us. This is one thing that I'm so convinced of. We have seen sea changes in thought in our country, in our city, in a relatively short period of time.
NNAMDIYou've only got 10 seconds.
BOWSERI never thought that we would see marriage equality in our city at this point, but we did. We even are talking about liberalizing our marijuana laws. Several years ago, it would have never happened. So we can see quick changes in how we think across the country about D.C. statehood, too. But we have to be ready.
MALEBut, Kojo, the problem here is we're not putting our money where our mouth is. Yeah, this all sounds good. I introduced a bill to support our statehood movement and the statehood delegation, $1 million, but the Council won't vote for it. So how can we say we're going to do all these things, when you won't even support your own statehood delegation, your shallow senator, your shallow representatives. If you want to put an organized campaign together, you have to pay for it.
NNAMDIIs that something you're willing to do, Vincent Gray? That million dollars?
GRAYWhat was that, Kojo?
NNAMDIPutting together $1 million to lobby the Congress of the United States and statehood.
MALEPass the bill that's on the table to do that.
GRAYI think that's fine. But I think you need citizens involved in this, Kojo. We have -- we've had rallies, we've had all kinds of efforts. I was up on the Hill myself and we -- when there was a shutdown. And by the way, we refused to shut down this city because we use our reserves to keep our city...
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt Mr. Gray. Frankly, there are those who say the passion and the outrage isn't there. It needs organization and organization needs money. That unless the city puts money and skilled organizers into it, it won't get there. Is that something you're prepared to do?
BOWSERLet me just say this, Kojo. Outside of the mayor, I am probably the only -- I know that I'm the only one on this stage that does not have to introduce myself to the members of Congress and the people in this administration in a bipartisan way. And so let's go to Tom's news about the -- about what the court did. When you think about it, we sit here and wanting -- calling ourselves and wanting to be a state. We are a state. We have the city, the state and the county function. Forty-three states elect their attorney general, and then we won't do it. We won't put it on the ballot.
BOWSERWe won't do what the people of the District of Columbia tell us -- have told us that they want us to do. We sit here, right here in Washington, where the National Association of State Attorney Generals, they sit there in Washington as the trade association for all attorney generals. They can tell us, they can work with us, they can partner with our leadership to talk about how we define the role of the attorney general and move us forward as to where -- how the citizens have said that they want us to do, and we -- repeatedly time and time again -- and we won't do it.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden or Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODI have an election.
SHERWOODThe NBC4-WAMU-Washington Informer poll said that Mayor Gray's got 28 percent of the vote, Muriel Bowser has 20 percent, Jack Evans 13, Mr. Wells 12, and everybody else under 10. What are you guys going to do to catch Mayor Gray? I haven't heard much tonight that I haven't heard for the last three, six months.
BOWSERYou know what, Tom? We're going to keep -- we're going to keep...
GRAYYou want me to answer that question?
SHERWOODNo. This is a horse race. Give the political reporters the horse race quote of the night.
NNAMDIMuriel Bowser, what are you going to do to catch Vincent Gray in the polls? (all talking at once)
BOWSERYou know what? Well, let me -- let me just...
NNAMDIOne at a time. Muriel Bowser first.
BOWSERWell, I just -- and I thank you for that question. I was actually very pleased to see those numbers, because from the last time there was a poll in the city, our campaign has gained the most ground, including the mayor. And so, what we also know from that poll is that two out of three people don't want Vince Gray to be reelected. And so they're looking at our campaign very closely, as the campaign that can make sure we get a fresh start in the mayor's office.
SHERWOODMr. Evans, what about that. You were in there.
EVANSNo, exactly. And what my campaign is going to be doing in the next 34 days is reaching out to the thousands and thousands of voters across this city who are undecided in this election. Right now, it looks like about 75 percent of the electorate is unsure about who they're going to vote for. And through these forums, through direct mail, through knocking on doors, through all the things I've been doing over the last eight months, I am going to make sure that the citizens of this district understand who Jack Evans is and what he can do for the District of Columbia.
EVANSThis election is all about, for the next mayor, someone who is experienced enough to run this city.
SHERWOODMr. Wells, you're next in the line of votes in the polls.
WELLSWell, except for Andy, I'm the only...
SHERWOODCan you do more than ethics on this? You're mainly doing ethics.
WELLSWell, except for -- you know, there's a time when you get elected by context. And we have not had this much corruption in our government since home rule. And it's also a progressive platform to say that we need to get corporate contributions out of this race. I'm the only progressive other than Andy that's running for election for mayor. And I think, as people do pay attention, as we do muddle through and wonder, do we really want the status quo in D.C.? I'm not running for the status quo. There's no question about that. And so we've got 35 days to make our case.
SHERWOODAnd Mr. Gray? You seem to be kind of stuck in the 28, 30 range there.
GRAYWell, I went up a little bit from the last poll. You know, and just to follow on what Ms. Bowser said, I guess, eight out of ten apparently don't want her either, if only 20 percent of the people supported her. I look at my job approval rating from the poll. Fifty-one percent of the people approve of the job that I'm doing. Sixty-eight percent of the people approve of the efforts to attract new business to the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWhat about the two-thirds that don't want you?
GRAYSixty-six percent approve of what's being done to reduce crime. We're going to continue to stay out there the next 35 days, Tom, and talk about what we've been able to do for this city. For those people who don't know me very well, I'm going to continue to introduce myself to them. I believe that I am the best person for the job. I think that's been demonstrated by the results over the last three years and two months. And I will continue to work to be able to make that happen.
CARDOZAThere are approximately 60,000 people with criminal records living in D.C. That's about 10 percent of the District's population. And after they serve their time in jail, they find it very difficult to get jobs, making it more likely they'll end up back in jail. If there was a vote today, would you support a ban-the-box measure so employers could not ask applicants about criminal records during the initial stage of hiring for a job? I'd like to start with Jack Evans. But I would like a yes or no answer from everyone because we don't have a lot of time.
EVANSIt's impossible to give a yes or no. Yes, I would support the legislation. But you also have to be cognizant of the flip side of this issue, that businesses in certain areas have a right and have a responsibility to know who they're hiring. So the legislation that's before the Council, I would support.
WELLSAbsolutely. It's my bill. But let me tell you, the restaurant -- or the hotel association and the other folks that are funding their campaigns have finally weighed in and said, we don't like this bill. So we're going to have to see. We've tried for 10 years to get this through. And so it really has a lot to do whether everybody, you know, is ready to pass this. It's the right bill.
SHALLALAs a business person who's been doing business in this city, we actually have banned the box in our hiring process. So a lot of these issues that we talk about here at this table, we've actually done. We've done the sick-leave act, we've done the minimum wage, and we've banned the box for returning citizens.
CARDOZAVincent Orange. Yes or no, please.
NNAMDIYou're talking to Vincent Orange, you know.
CARDOZAI don't want to go back to middle schools.
ORANGEJust let me say this, yes, I do. But also, we also have to look at this issue of marijuana -- decriminalizing marijuana -- Tommy Wells' bill, because we're going to say we're going to let everyone smoke marijuana. But the next day you go apply for a job, you can't the job because you got marijuana in your system. So we need to have an amendment to the bill that says, we will ban employment testing for marijuana. And I continue to ask Councilmember Wells, will he accept my amendment. So this is something...
CARDOZAWe're moving on. Reta Lewis, please. Excuse me. No.
ORANGE...that will certainly help our returning citizens, as well as my bill that creates a $10 million fund for returning citizens to get training, to get help and so -- also help them start their own businesses.
NNAMDIReta Jo Lewis.
CARDOZAReta -- Reta Lewis, please.
LEWISYes, I would. And really the issue around returning citizens is not only about a job, but how it affects the entire family, especially the kids, that these parents are trying to come back and become productive citizens. And that's where I think a lot of resources need to be placed. 60,000 is a lot of people in our community.
GRAYI would because we know that at that first -- very first level, there is discrimination that takes place. As soon as you say you are a returning citizen or an ex-offender, that shapes the thinking of some of the people who are conducting the interviews. What we need to recognize, also, that as you get further into this process, people need to understand what the factors were that led you to be convicted and incarcerated, because it could have an impact. You know, let's take an example, for example, somebody was involved in an offense involving children. You obviously wouldn't want them working in a early childhood education program.
GRAYBut as far as ban the box, yes.
BOWSERYes, I would support it. And I would also add that the returning citizen population in our city is indeed at about 60 -- at about 10 percent of our population. And they are among the most disappointed in our current administration. So when we hear about unemployment numbers going down, they're not going down for them. They're not going down for our hardest to employ citizens...
CARDOZAI would like to move on, please.
ALLENYes. And I personally feel that your past is not equal to your future. And that's the problem that we have right now is that we have citizens that are coming home and they can't get a job and they can't get housing because of the, basically, because of the ban the box. Well, that has to stop. So I propose that we focus on making sure that those individuals, when they come home, that they get a job or we get them to start a business, because...
NNAMDILadies and gentlemen, we only have two minutes left in this mayoral forum. And Tom Sherwood has a question that requires, I think, a pretty short answer...
SHERWOODShort answer. Just, Kaya Henderson we started with, I'm going to ask you. Fortunately we didn't need a fire truck tonight or an ambulance. Just down the line here, would you keep Fire Chief Ellerbe, if you were mayor? Mr. Wells.
SHALLALI think this is an example of a much bigger story. I would probably say no.
SHERWOODNo. Mr. Orange.
ORANGEAll people that served the present mayor will actually have to resign and reapply for the job.
SHERWOODYeah, but that's a -- that doesn't answer, but thank you.
ORANGENo. He won't keep anybody.
SHERWOODMs. Lewis, a yes or no, please.
SHERWOODMr. Mayor, you said today you have full confidence in him and that (unintelligible) Yes or no, you'll keep him...
GRAYAllow me to answer the question.
GRAYYou started to...
SHERWOODYes or no, sir.
GRAYThe answer is that I think that Chief Ellerbe has done some good things in that job. And that is an issue that he and I will talk about as we move to a second administration.
SHERWOODAnd Mr. Allen.
ALLENMorale's low. No.
NNAMDIThat's it? Does anyone else have another question? We have one minute left.
MADDENI have a very complicated question about contracts worth $1 million or more, but we don't have time to answer it.
NNAMDIIn that case, then you won't be getting the opportunity to ask that question. That gives me the opportunity to...
GRAYI have a question for you, Kojo. Will you keep Tom Sherwood on as the analyst on your show?
NNAMDIThat's a very difficult question.
GRAYYes or no.
NNAMDITommy Wells, thank you for joining us.
WELLSMy pleasure, Kojo. You did a great job.
NNAMDIGood luck to you, Andy Shallal. Thank you.
SHALLALThank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you. Good luck to you, Vincent Orange.
NNAMDIReta Jo Lewis, thank you. Good luck to you. Vincent Gray, thank you. Good luck to you. Jack Evans, thank you. Good luck to you. Muriel Bowser, thank you. Good luck to you. And, Carlos Allen, thank you and good luck to you. This has been a special...
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