Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
Federal prosecutors push a massive corruption case in the District that implicates the mayor in campaign crimes. Virginia’s legislature officially heads into overtime. And a federal inspector is enlisted to review Maryland’s troubled online health exchange. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- David Albo Member, Virginia House of Delegates (R-Springfield)
- David Catania Member, D.C. Council (I-At Large), Chairman, Committee on Education
David Catania On Launching His Mayoral Race
D.C. Council member David Catania threw his hat into the mayoral race this week. The announcement came two days after federal prosecutors said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray knew that his 2010 campaign received illegal donations. Kojo asked Catania how he responded to critics who say Catania is an opportunist because of the timing of his election bid. “I’d like to believe I had some degree of clairvoyance…this was simply a coincidence,” Catania said.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, U.S. Attorney Ron Machen was very busy this week talking about the guilty plea of D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson. We had his guilty plea. We have had a mayoral debate or two since then. We're going to be talking about the mayor's State of the District Address.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut allow me to stay with the U.S. attorney for one second, because the point he made is not only that Mayor Vincent Gray knew of the $668,000 shadow campaign, ran by -- or financed by businessman Jeffrey Thompson, he also indicated that as far as he is concerned, this is far from over.
MR. RON MACHENWe will now enter a new phase of this investigation, seeking to hold accountable all of those who conspired with them to hide the truth from the public. So I want to be very clear in our message, our collective message, this afternoon. If you participated in backroom, under-the-table deals with Jeff Thompson, I urge you to come forward now and own up to your conduct. I promise you we are not going away.
NNAMDIU.S. Attorney Ron Machen. Tom, he said he is not going away. And that is why a lot of people believe that there are others, including Mayor Vincent Gray, who are likely to be the ongoing subject of scrutiny.
MR. TOM SHERWOODAnd let's be clear. He wasn't -- the prosecutor just wasn't talking. He filed extraordinary paperwork, even for those of us who have been following this scandal, had jaw-dropping detail of the mayor's involvement. Now, the mayor has, that day, in an immediate interview with me and others, called it all lies. Everyone's lying. Jeffrey Thompson is lying about everything. I guess that means that Vernon Hawkins, who's already pled guilty to orchestrating the scandal, is lying -- his long-time friend.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI guess that means Jeanne Clark Harris, who's pled guilty to orchestrating the scandal, that she's lying. It's a very difficult position for the mayor to be in if everyone seems to be lying but him.
NNAMDIThe mayor says that it's all about his credibility and his reputation.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYI ask you, who do you believe? A gritty man attempting to save himself or me, a public servant who has dedicated my entire career and my entire life to giving back to our communities in the District of Columbia?
NNAMDITom Sherwood, Mayor Gray seems to be implying or at least I am inferring that if it comes down to his word against the word of Jeffrey Thompson and other people who have been convicted, who had it in their interest to strike plea deals in order to avoid significant jail time, then his word should prevail. Which suggests to me that U.S. Attorney Ron Machen has to have some, well, other stuff.
SHERWOODWell, yes. It's unfortunately saying, who do you believe? Jeffrey Thompson, who's now admitted to the scheme, as lying, or me -- and I, you know, let's give Mayor Gray credit. He has -- since I first met him in the early '90s. He has done any number of things, both in the community and in government, of yeoman work and for which he should get great praise. But the question is not do you believe Jeffrey Thompson or Mayor Gray.
SHERWOODWe don't know what Mayor Gray did from his point of view. I mean, I thought Bruce DuPuyt -- I don't know if we were going to get into this quickly -- but News Channel 8 had a forum last night.
SHERWOODAnd Bruce DuPuyt asked, I think, a similar question. He said, "Mr. Mayor, if you are innocent, as you claim, why have you not run down to the U.S. attorney's office and said you are a victim of this lying weasel Jeffrey Thompson, and helped the prosecutors get more on him?" And literally the mayor's face twitched. And he just -- and I thought, goodness, that's not a good answer, of having your face get contorted. And then he gave some kind of, "My attorney tells me not to do anything."
SHERWOODBut I'm telling you, if you're innocent -- as innocent as the mayor says he is -- he's allowed these years of scandal to pile up on him like crust and barnacles on his ship. And I think it's slowing him down. It may well stop him.
NNAMDIWe have been waiting for a long time for the other shoe to drop, and that is Jeffrey Thompson's guilty plea. But this is a case in which we're not talking about two shoes, we're talking about several shoes here because we're now…
SHERWOODWe're talking about a centipede of shoes.
NNAMDIExactly. We're talking about several other shoes to drop in this situation. And we'll have to see exactly what happens. But in the short term, what effect do you see this having on the mayoral primary schedule for April 1st?
SHERWOODIt's having an effect. I mean people who were preparing maybe to give the mayor money may slow down their decision making. Immediately this week, The Northwest Current -- The Current Newspapers has about 50,000 papers printed every week. And let me disclose, of course I write a newspaper column for the Current. But the…
NNAMDIWhich was quoted in the -- well, which was referred to in the editorial in which the Current Newspapers said, "We are no longer supporting Vincent Gray."
SHERWOODRight. Davis Kennedy, the owner of the newspaper, who had endorsed the mayor, pulled back an endorsement. I'm not aware of that ever happening in city politics. And they said we are not now sure of Mayor Gray's innocence. That's an extraordinary thing. Now the mayor doesn't have that much support in Ward 3, in Dupont Circle and other parts of where this newspaper is distributed. But it's kind of -- the mayor's in a bad position.
NNAMDIIt has also fueled the aggression, if you will, of some of the mayor's rivals in this mayoral primary, correct?
SHERWOODWell, yes. Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Tommy Wells -- particularly Tommy Wells who's made ethics kind of the center of his campaign -- you know were all just jumped over the mayor last night. That's another thing about that debate on News Channel 8, with Bruce being the moderator. All four of them talked without the other candidates, the ones who are not anywhere close in the polls and were not there. So it was really remarkable.
NNAMDIThey were interviewed by Bruce on his morning show on News Channel 8, two days ago. I saw that.
SHERWOODYes. But these -- we're down, again, early voting starts Monday in this race. Candidates will be getting their voters to the polls starting Monday. Then we have the Election Day, primary day, on April 1st. And the mayor just had a deluge of bad news. And we'll just see what happens. I mean he's ahead in the polls and some people may rise to his defense, saying he's being mistreated and prejudged before a court of law and all that stuff.
SHERWOODBut you've got to remember, there's a court of law, which is where Ron Machen is. And then there's a court of public opinion, which doesn't have the same rules and restrictions that the court does. And the mayor's having this bad situation at this moment.
NNAMDIAnd there is also a new candidate in the race for mayor in the November election. If you'd like to talk with that candidate, if you have questions or comments for him, you can start calling us now at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. David Catania joins us in studio. He is now a candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. He's an independent member of the D.C. council. He holds an at-large seat. And he chairs the council's committee on education. Councilmember Catania, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID CATANIAThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAgain, the number is 800-433-8850. You have been maneuvering to run for several months. You told us earlier this year you'd have your mind made up before the April primary. But your entrance into the race, according to the Washington Post report, came just two days after federal prosecutors allege that Mayor Vincent Gray knew of a broad conspiracy by Jeffrey Thompson to use illicit funds to help elect Gray as mayor. What do you say to people who say, that Catania guy, what an opportunist? As soon as…
NNAMDI…as soon as the mayor gets accused of this by the U.S. attorney, he suddenly decides he wants into the race.
CATANIAWell, you know, Kojo, as I discussed with Tom, actually, at my announcement on Wednesday, last Wednesday, a week ago Wednesday I actually opened my campaign account. And under law, we are required within five business days to file papers. And so, you know, strangely, just two days before we had the inkling that something would happen we filed our papers with our bank account. And, you know, and the rest is history. I'd like to believe I had some degree of clairvoyance. We did not talk to Ms. Cleo (sp?). This was simply…
NNAMDINobody's talking to Ms. Cleo.
CATANIA…a coincidence. Right. This was a coincidence. But, you know, I had been planning for weeks to announce on this particular day. And it just so happens that it coincided with the work of the U.S. attorney.
SHERWOODAnd let's remind the listeners that on this very program you told us -- and I was surprised that you did so, that you committed that you would make a yes or no decision about running…
SHERWOOD…before April 1st.
NNAMDIBefore April 1st.
SHERWOODSo that's also in your favor.
CATANIAWell, can I just speak be clear? I mean there are a lot in the media who are trying to make this a race with me against the mayor. And I want to be clear. My decision to run for mayor has little, if anything, to do with Vince Gray. It is a decision that I have made where I believe that I have the vision, the values and the tenacity to tackle the city's problems.
NNAMDIIndeed. You said this week that we need to be talking about something other than Jeff Thompson…
CATANIAIt would be nice.
NNAMDI…and Vince Gray for the city to move forward, that you want to be talking about your vision for the city. So let's go there. What is…
SHERWOODCan we wait -- one more little scandal?
NNAMDIYou are like a former president of the United States of America. You don't like the vision thing?
SHERWOODWell, it is -- I actually, as a citizen of the city, I'm worried about the ethics thing.
NNAMDIThe ethics thing.
NNAMDIOkay. Let's go there.
SHERWOODAnd, Mr. Catania, you know the media. You've been in office, elected since 1998, '97?
SHERWOODFive times you've been elected citywide.
SHERWOODYou know that scandal issues do -- when I go talk to civic groups all over town, I say do you want me to talk about the budget or do you want me to talk about what I've heard about the scandal. And they always…
NNAMDIWhy don't you just talk about what you've heard about the scandal.
SHERWOODPeople know, as a professional and a good citizen, you want to talk about issues like education, the work you've done in the last year on education. People want to know what you did about saving Greater Southeast Hospital or continuing a bad decision there, whatever it is. But everywhere I go around town as a reporter, people don't ask me about these things. They want to know is the mayor guilty of crimes, is the council going to toughen ethics rules?
SHERWOODAre we going to be so embarrassed that Congress will put in some kind of receiver over the city again, even though the city is financially in great shape? So before we get to the issues that you want to talk about, how do you anticipate playing the ethics card as you go forward? You'll just have to wait to see what other shoes in this centipede drop from Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney?
SHERWOODWhy does it fit? It seems to me it's the boulder that's in the path of all the issues you want to talk about.
CATANIABut there's nothing that any of the individual candidates can do about this issue. This is in the hands of the U.S. attorney. And so, you know, we could have an entire election that amounts to serial finger pointing for the next seven or eight months, or we can talk about the issues and let the U.S. attorney do his job. You know, I was on the record -- I was the first to be on the record -- when the revelation came out that Jeanne Clark Harris was going to plead guilty to the shadow campaign.
CATANIAAt that point in time I thought there was no way in the world that the mayor could not have known that nearly $700,000 in illegal contributions was taking place in the office literally next door to his legitimate office. I thought that was implausible. And so I said it then and I continue to believe that he should resign. But I don't think, you know, it's not my job, as I said on Wednesday, to play human lie detector. I don't know who's lying and who's telling the truth. That's for the U.S. attorney to sort out. I'm trying to put forward a vision for mayor for the city and I think that's at least where I'm going to spend my time (unintelligible).
NNAMDIAnd we're going to give you the opportunity to put forward that vision, but since ethics come up and you're probably going to be in a fairly bruising campaign. Whoever it is who emerges from this April 1st primary, they're going to bring up ethics issues applying to you.
NNAMDIThey're going to say you worked as corporate vice president for corporate strategy for M.C. Dean, a company that was doing hundreds of millions of dollars or was aspiring to do hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with the D.C. government, had millions of dollars in contracts with the D.C. government, yet, while you were a sitting councilmember working for that company, you also voted on contracts or business that that city (sic) had with the city.
CATANIAWell, that's absolutely not true. So I realize…
NNAMDIBut that's what they'll say.
CATANIANo. I realize people will say a lot of things. So let me put this into perspective. I worked for a subsidiary from M.C. Dean for quite a number of years. And then I ultimately worked for the corporate -- in the corporate offices as a vice president for corporate strategy. M.C. Dean, as people might like to suggest, is a city contractor, but this -- the contracts that M.C. Dean has with the city amount to less than two percent of the companies contracts.
NNAMDIThey do a lot of federal contracts.
CATANIAWell, it's a worldwide company. We have 35 offices around the world. Less than two percent of the contracts deal with the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIYou said, "we," are you still doing…
CATANIAAnd so less than two percent of the contracts are with the city. They are competitively bid. They predated my participation with the company.
SHERWOODI'm sorry. What percent of the contracts?
CATANIALess than two percent.
CATANIAMy work was on -- it's again, 35 offices around the world. Nearly a billion dollar company. And when I left the company I had a top secret security clearance. I did work for the company around the world. I certainly was not going to risk my future by engaging in any shenanigans. And I've said I never participated in any votes before the council involving the company. Nor, while I was in the company, did I participate in issues involving city contracts. There was plenty of other work for me to do and that's what I did.
CATANIANow, that's not going to stop people from finger pointing, but I sleep with a clean conscious knowing I never used my city position to advance M.C. Dean, not once, not ever.
SHERWOODAnd maybe finally your -- Jeffrey Thompson, the bag man, the money man, the big bucks, Daddy Warbucks, whoever he was in this scandal, made it a point to get to know and help a variety of people. And I believe you got some number of checks. What could -- just what was your connection to him? So we'll be clear.
CATANIASo in 2006, the bulk of the money that I received from contributions from Jeff Thompson and his associates happened in 2006, right after I had become chairman of the Committee on Health. Obviously, I had the largest contracts in the city, which happened to be the three-managed Medicaid contracts. He had one of them. When I became the chairman of the Committee on Health in 2005, the first thing I did was insert money in the budget to conduct an audit of these three large contracts, because we had never audited them before.
CATANIAAnd that audit ultimately led, a couple years later, to the finding that Jeff Thompson, among others, had engaged in false claims. He organized a fundraiser for me in 2006. But if he was investing money in me with the notion it was going to help him, it actually led to his undoing. Because I was the one who put the money in the budget and insisted on going forward with the audits, which ultimately led to the false claim charges.
CATANIAAnd the fact that in September of 2008, when he had to engage in $17 million settlement with the city, those settlement dollars came because of my work. So, again, if he thought he was advantaging himself by helping me he was mistaken.
SHERWOODAnd you never had any secret meetings with him…
SHERWOOD…where he offered to raise you money, all those kind of things that are alleged against Mayor Gray?
NNAMDICouncilmember Vincent Orange says that members of the D.C. Council should not have any other jobs besides their jobs on the council. And of course, adding to that, they should definitely not work for people who have contracts with the city. You no longer have that job, when you took over the Committee for Education you resigned from that job. But what is your position in general on second jobs and second jobs with contractors.
CATANIAWell, it's interesting that Mr. Orange would have that position because his first term on the council he actually worked for a contractor where 100 percent of the contractor's money came from the city. So he's had a bit of a road to Damascus journey himself.
SHERWOODPepco? Which (unintelligible)
CATANIAIt was a…
SHERWOODSo he also worked for Pepco.
CATANIAIt was an organization that dealt with…
CATANIA…behavioral health issues and mental health issues for children.
CATANIABut, look, I think having outside employment is indispensable to the job of being a good council member. If you do nothing but live in the bubble of the Wilson Building, if you don't know what it's like to live by the rules that people like us make, there is a certain detachment and a disconnect that happens. What I learned through my role as the vice president of corporate strategy for M.C. Dean will help me immeasurably when I assume the responsibilities as mayor.
CATANIAI was responsible for -- among other things -- organizational development for the company, which meant I was in charge of recruiting and education, evaluations, promotion. I was in charge of compliance issues. So I know how difficult it is when governments like ours make needless rules, what it adds in terms of expense and how it acts as a barrier for people to try to employ others. I personally think, when you look at Mary Cheh, who's a constitutional law professor, I mean, we as a city benefit incredibly from experience.
CATANIAI don't think that simply -- again, I come from a citizen legislator perspective. I don't think having professional politicians is in the best interest of any jurisdiction.
NNAMDIOur guest is David Catania. He's a candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. He's an independent member of the D.C. Council. He has an at-large seat. He chairs the Council's committee on education. Our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. If you have questions or comments for Mr. Catania, call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Now, can we move on to the vision thing, yet?
SHERWOODYes. I apologize for delaying the issues of the day.
NNAMDIWhat is your vision for the city?
CATANIAWell, you know, it's really, Kojo, there are a number of issues. First and foremost, you know, I'm committed to at long last a sense of urgency with respect to our public education system. You know, cities, as I often say, are one of the best inventions. One of the most incredible inventions of mankind. It's right. It's where people come together, where there's a clash of ideas, where innovation occurs, wealth is created, etcetera. Where civilization takes shape.
CATANIANo city can survive in the absence of a highly-qualified workforce. We are continuing to live with the casualties of our past mistakes with respect to public education in our city. While I will acknowledge that there have been improvements in our public schools over the last seven years since we embarked in school reform. We have not had the sense of urgency around a couple of issues that I think are critical.
CATANIANumber one, the achievement gap that continues to exist between the races in our city, the graduation gaps that continue to exist between genders and race in our city. We are not setting this present generation up to succeed. And so it perhaps goes beyond conversation on radio, but how you do that. And Tom is always on me to be shorter in my answers, but you have to identify the issues that you want to address and you have to reverse engineer the solution. And we've not done that. We've been making it up as we go along.
NNAMDICan you be shorter in your questions, please?
SHERWOODI can be shorter than that. You've had some legislation that's either passed or is nearing the final vote in the council to speed things up. I think you said in the past that Chancellor Kaya Henderson has her heart in the right place, but you want to give her, essentially, more rocket fuel to get things done faster. Apparently, the mayor's going to put a lot more money in the school budget, which you'll be looking at in the coming weeks.
CATANIAThanks to the Committee on Education.
SHERWOODWhich you've been pushing for, right. But what can be done to speed up the schools? What do you think can be done, more than what Michelle Rhee started doing and what Kaya Henderson has been trying to do to make sure the middle schools…
NNAMDIMore than you can do in the Committee on Education, if you were mayor and had control of schools?
CATANIAAgain, this is complex subject that doesn't really reduce itself to a five-second soundbite. We have a system that is not built to succeed. Right? We talk about how we aren't vertically integrated. Our elementary, middle and high schools are not vertically aligned. We have a supply-chain issue where failure cascades up. People want to have instantly better middle schools, without realizing you're not going to have an instantly better middle school, when many of your middle schools, the children are coming to 6th grade, reading on a 3rd grade level and doing math on a 2nd grade level.
CATANIAYou're not going to have success there. In order to have successful middle schools, you have to have successful elementary schools. That means making sure that children are on grade level. As they progress it means making sure that we have the resources to meet the challenges that at-risk students face, etcetera. The final analysis is in the last year the Committee on Education, which I chair, we moved through measures on testing integrity, on truancy, on fair funding, on parent empowerment, on facilities, on D.C. promise and on others.
CATANIAWe probably have a half a dozen seminal pieces of legislation in the last week on improving educational outcomes, getting rid of social promotion, for instance, is an important ingredient in making sure children are on grade level as they move up. You know, we have got -- if I could finish, Tom -- we have many people running for mayor who have been running for mayor almost as a vocation.
CATANIAAnd so I'll put those measures, in terms of school improvement, against any of my colleagues who are seeking this position, because not one of them -- not one, at least in my estimation -- has put together a plan or has any evidence of a plan. It's simply talking in flowery, rosy terms that we're going to have every middle school be a Deal. It's just not an add-water phenomenon.
SHERWOODAlice Deal, the middle school.
CATANIARight. It's not an add…
SHERWOODThe Muriel Bowser site says…
CATANIAAnd of course that's what we want, but you have to have a deeper understanding of the situation. So, when in many of our schools, you've got high concentrations of poverty and kids are not achieving, we're not requiring them to be on grade level, we're not requiring summer school. We have these low expectations without the resources to help them achieve. And the failure cascades up. You can't simply go to Johnson tomorrow and say we're going to make you Alice Deal. It's just not going to happen.
NNAMDII've got to get to the phones, but there's the matter of style and temperament. When you took over the Committee on Education your critics feared that because of your, shall we say, aggressive approach to oversight, that you would be interfering in the school system and causing problems for the schools' chancellor. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, former publisher Donald Graham implied -- or virtually said -- the same thing.
NNAMDIIf you happen to be mayor of the city in control of schools, your critics, again, fear that your aggressive style and that your sometimes-unwieldy temperament could get in the way.
CATANIAWell, Kojo, in 17 years I've never once seen Don Graham in the Wilson Building. In 17 years I've never once seen him in the council chamber. And, look, I'm not going to…
SHERWOODHe called you a bully, which I thought was kind of an odd thing for somebody to…
CATANIARight. And I'm not going to engage in name calling with anyone. I respect all of our citizens. And everyone has a right to their own opinion. But if anyone thinks I'm going to apologize for a sense of outrage about the outcomes that we are confronted in our city, I'm not going to do that. I think a lot of regular rank and file citizen are outraged that less than half of our African-American males are graduating within four years with DCPS. I think a lot of people are outraged of the fact that we have a homeless housing strategy that includes rec-centers.
CATANIAI think a lot of people are outraged at the fact that half of our ex-offenders or returning offenders are rearrested within three years. I mean I think there's a lot of outrage in the city. And so I've tempered myself for sure. But I'm not going to lose the outrage that I have and the impatience I have for results.
NNAMDIPlease don your headphones because Bob, in Washington, D.C., would like to speak with you. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBCouncilmember Catania, how are you?
CATANIAFine, thank you.
BOBGood. Say, a while ago, I don't know, six months ago, you released some suggestions. I wouldn't say it was an education plan, but it was seven or eight or nine pretty in-depth discussions about school issues. And I wanted to offer what I hope is constructive criticism of that. They're really in depth. They're great. I really appreciated you doing it. They are clearly lawyers involved. I'm a very satisfied customer of D.C. Public Schools. Some of the people I admire most are my kids' teachers and principals over the years in D.C. Public Schools. Great experience.
BOBQuestion is, so I'm still involved with schools. Councilmember Catania listed the seven or eight or nine topics. I went to look at them so I could inform myself. Here's the form they were written in, they said we'd make the following changes in these public laws, at Paragraph 13 we would drop these sentences and add these sentences. You had to be a lawyer and know how to look up the public law to even begin to understand what the proposals were.
NNAMDIYou think he's micro-managing?
BOBYou know, I'm a frustrated friend of the D.C. Public Schools. Really appreciative that Councilmember Catania took this on, but boy…
NNAMDIBut what is your specific question for him?
BOBThe question is why present it in a form that's not accessible to, you know…
BOB…people that want to help.
NNAMDIHere's Councilmember Catania.
CATANIAThank you, Bob. I think that's an excellent question. Unfortunately, legislative drafting and working through the general counsel's office, the way things are constructed for purposes of legislation, are not always user friendly. And that's why also on our website we try to have -- and I think we go pretty far in doing this -- having summaries that describe exactly what we intend to do. And so I apologize, but that's simply the way legislative drafting occurs.
SHERWOODIs there additional material this citizen could get from your office…
SHERWOOD…that explains some of that?
CATANIAAbsolutely. You know, feel free to contact the office directly at 724-7772. And we'll connect you to the education committee to get you information that (unintelligible).
NNAMDIBob, thank you for your call. We got an email from Don in D.C., who said, "I wanted to ask Mr. Catania, with its evolving position similar to President Obama on same-sex marriage, could he see a return to the Republican Party? As one of the handful of Republicans in D.C., it was great being represented in local politics."
CATANIAYou know, I actually…
SHERWOODThat sounds like a trick question.
CATANIAYou know, I was thinking about this because I knew I was going to get asked a question about, you know, how can you win if you're not a Democrat, etcetera. I really like this Independent suit. It really fits me. I like being able to get up every day thinking about what's in the best interest of our citizens, without a predetermined set of ideas or constituencies that I have to pay attention or defer to.
CATANIAI like being an Independent and I just don't see any time in the future of changing that. It doesn't mean that I don't have respect for members of the various political parties. I respect Democrats. I respect Republicans. But I really like getting up every day and getting to do what I think is in the best interest of our citizens.
SHERWOODWhy can't we have non-partisan elections? I mean, why -- I look at the ballot and the District citizens pay for the D.C. Democratic state committee to have their elections on the ballot, Committee men, National Committee woman, all those other jobs. Why do pay for that for the Party? Why can't they have their own little caucuses like they do in Virginia? Why can't we have all Independent elected officials? Not party related.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Andy, who says, "As an Independent, does David Catania support David Grosso's proposals for election reform, specifically open primaries?"
SHERWOODThat's what I was talking about.
CATANIAAbsolutely. And just by coincidence I actually introduced the first open primaries measure two years ago. And Tommy Wells supported it, as did Mary Cheh. But there's a kind of institutional interest among the majority of the members to keep things the way they are. I absolutely support an open primary. But before we go, can we make a shout out to thank the legislature in New Hampshire for their actions yesterday?
CATANIAYesterday, for the first time in 30 years, a state legislature has voted a resolution in support of full Congressional voting rights for the District of Columbia. And that was the House of Representatives in New Hampshire. A good friend of mine, Cindy Rosenwald, has championed this effort on our behalf for the last four or five years. This was our third go at it. And it passed 145 to 133, had bipartisan support. And I really appreciate her work on our behalf.
NNAMDIWhich brings up something else from the past that people are likely to bring up. When you were fundraising for George W. Bush, in the year 2000, he had an interview here in town where he was asked about D.C. voting rights. And he said that he's against home rule. Yet, you continued to support him and raise money for him. And you finally decided to leave the Party after he supported the Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage. Didn't you feel as strongly about voting rights then as you do now?
CATANIAAbsolutely, Kojo. And one of the reasons you work within a system is to -- and one of the reasons you fundraise is to get a place at the table so that you can advance your interests. I didn't sign on for a 100 percent of the Republican agenda when I was a Republican. But what I was signing up for was a chance to get to the table where we can talk about urban issues, LGBT issues, statehood issues and others. And by the way, the Republican Party today doesn't look anything like it did in 2000.
CATANIAAnd I think we're all a product of our history. I came from a small town in Kansas, called Osawatomie. One of four communities founded by the New England Immigrant Society that sent folks from New England to Kansas to try to vote against the slavery (unintelligible). So I mean those traditions of Kansas and Free Soilers and abolitionists as the foundation of the Republican Party (unintelligible)…
SHERWOODLet's come -- just very quickly, let's come back to the District of Columbia.
CATANIA…was different than they are today.
SHERWOODOn your education issue, I've heard good things. That one, you've been to -- how many schools have you visited as chairman of education, 120 some?
CATANIAI think it's 125.
SHERWOODI've heard from several people, teachers and parents who've attended those, that those are really good, that they're non-political, that you really are making an effort to understand the school system on the ground level. On the others, I've heard people say, oh, he's known he's going to run for mayor. He's just getting mailing lists together.
CATANIAWell, I think these school visits are perhaps the best part of the job. There's no substitute for being able to sit across a table from a school leader, to determine whether it's a career or a calling. And to figure out how we can set a school up to succeed. There's no substitute for being able to interact kids in our schools, whether it's elementary, middle or high schools. I use this as a way to judge the strength of the feeder system.
CATANIAWhen you go to a middle school and you ask the 8th graders where they want to go to high school and they say whether they want to go to the natural feeder or not tells you the strength of the feeder. And I do want to say, since when did running for higher office, actually putting points on the board, accomplishing things, when did we start viewing that as a negative? Again, I've just mentioned a half a dozen plus successful education measures in the last year.
CATANIAOf the members who are running for mayor now, can anyone tell me what they have done in the last year to materially improve the lives of District citizens? You know, I'll mention this. The at-risk wait for kids who are homeless, who are in the foster care system, who are TANF eligible, who are one year or more above grade average in high school, we're looking at transferring tens of millions of dollars in additional investments in our schools to narrow the achievement gap. That is something real. And so people can criticize all they want, but I'm pretty pleased with the work of the committee.
NNAMDIA preview of the arguments David Catania will be making against whomever he debates after the April 1st Democratic Primary here in the District of Columbia, because he is a candidate for mayor. He's an Independent member of the D.C. Council. He holds an at-large seat and chairs the Council's Committee on Education. David Catania, thank you so much joining us.
CATANIAThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIOur resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. You know, Tom Sherwood, one can say almost as usual when there are problems in the District of Columbia having to do with ethics, it draws the attention of people from jurisdictions around the world. In this case, from a nearby jurisdiction. Senator Richard Saslaw, Fairfax, is the Senate majority leader in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
NNAMDIHe was talking about an ethics bill that was watered down and then passed in Virginia's recently concluded legislative session. And in order to emphasize the point that he was making, that laws cannot help people change behavior, here's what he had to say.
SEN. RICHARD SASLAWIf you look at this bill, you would swear up and down that lobbyists, campaign contributions and gifts are the problem in Virginia. And they're not. Some of the tightest campaign restrictions that you have in this country are in D.C. and in Maryland.
SEN. RICHARD SASLAWHell, in D.C., there's got to be a shuttle bus between the penitentiary and that city council chambers. Okay? I mean, they got three. Three since the last election have gone to jail or resigned. And the mayor's up to his ass in alligators. Okay? In Maryland, just go across the river here, Prince George's County. You had a -- the county executive had taken hundreds of thousand dollars' worth of bribes. His wife -- and that must have been some bra.
SEN. RICHARD SASLAWBecause when the FBI broke in and entered the house, she had $77,000 in 100-dollar bills in there. Plus, she had just flushed $100,000 check down the toilet. Their laws on reporting campaign contributions and everything are far stricter than ours. If you elect people who somehow or other have a computer chip in their head that's not working telling them the difference between right and wrong, you're going to have a problem. And there's no laws that you could pass -- there's no laws that you could pass that would fix that.
NNAMDIVirginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, he is a Democrat. Tom Sherwood, D.C., once again the whipping post for people in other jurisdictions, adding Prince George's County this time. What is your comment?
SHERWOODWell, I've known Sen. Saslaw since the early '80s when I covered the Virginia legislature for The Washington Post. I mean, the truth is a defense in his case. I mean, he's a colorful, well -- there's good reason why he's the Senate majority leader. He's an experienced politician. And you can't deny that thee councilmembers have gone to jail or have resigned.
SHERWOODWe got a mayor who is somewhere up near his neck in alligators. And, you know, that's a problem. That's one of the issues that irritates me so much as a citizen of the city is that these crimes on their face -- I mean, Michael Brown -- we haven't even talked about Michael Brown who's -- we thought he'd taken enough money. We find out he's taken even more, $200,000, to drop out of the 2006 mayor's race.
NNAMDIAnd his campaign manager's now allegedly...
SHERWOODI mean, these are the things for which people -- when people talk about statehood and voting rights and Congress, this is the boot on the neck of the people that these -- it should not be that we should be squeaky clean in order to have constitutional rights in Congress.
NNAMDIWe'll leave it...
SHERWOODBut certainly the excuse people can give -- look at those fools in the District. And so, as a citizen, it outrages me that we have this kind of corruption in the city which gives -- hands over to the city's enemies that kind of chance to bash us.
NNAMDIJoining us now in studio is David Albo. He's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican. He represents the Commonwealth's 42nd District which is located in Fairfax County. Delegate Albo, good to see you again.
MR. DAVID ALBOHey, good to see you guys. I enjoyed staying here at your new place. I haven't been here since you moved.
SHERWOODDid you bring any alligators with you?
NNAMDIWe got a new spot just for you, Dave Albo.
NNAMDIIf things went according to plan, you'd be back to your law practice with a legislative session behind you. As it is, a dispute over expanding Medicaid prevented the chambers of Virginia's General Assembly from agreeing to a budget, forced the legislature into an overtime session that'll take place later this month. Now there's the possibility of a government shutdown in the Commonwealth. You said earlier this month, this is not the Virginia way. What, in your view, got us here? And what do you see as the way out?
ALBOWell, I mean, a government shutdown is far away. I mean, we're still kind of working this thing out. The problem is that the Senate Democrats want to include the Obamacare Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion into the budget. A bill did not pass to do that. They want it included in the budget even though they couldn't get a bill through.
ALBOAnd what we want is to finish our budget. In fact, it's -- we're all, I think, less than one-half of one percent away from each other on negotiating the budget. So it's pretty much done. We want to pass the budget and then come back and talk about Medicaid expansion separately. But the Senate Democrats want to combine the two. Of course, you know, they have a better bargaining position if they can force a budget shutdown or a budget showdown in order to get the Medicaid expansion.
NNAMDIThey may argue that that's the only leverage they have because what you really want to do is not talk about Obamacare at all. What you really want to do is not expand Medicaid. So once you get a budget passed, there's no way of bringing up that conversation again, and you know that.
ALBOWell, that's exactly right. I mean, I don't want to expand Medicaid. But, I mean, I had a bunch of bills get killed this year. And I didn't, like, you know, take my bat and ball and go home like a baby. I mean to say I'm not going to vote for the budget 'cause my bills didn't get passed. The way you get a law passed is it passes the House and the Senate, is signed by the governor. They can get a bill passed by the House and the Senate, signed by the governor. That's the way they need to do it.
SHERWOODDo you not want the federal funds? I mean, I was trying to read -- and I don't want to get too deep in the weeds in this 'cause I couldn't discuss it this in-depth. But there was a, you know, 15 years ago or something or 10 years ago, there was a move to get children covered. And rather than just expanding some kind of Medicaid coverage, the -- Virginia created a medical device in order to get the federal dollars. I mean, the Democrats are saying you're losing hundreds of millions of dollars if you don't expand Medicaid. It'll be federal money to pay for it. It won't come out of Virginians' pockets.
ALBOWell, I mean, that -- they're right. I mean, there -- you know, there's good arguments on both sides of this issue. I mean, here's the basic situation. Right now, Medicaid is 23 percent of our entire budget. In fact, it's tripled in just 10 years. So this year, when we walked into the session, we had to find $330 million more just to fund existing Medicaid.
ALBOThe federal government wants to expand Medicaid. They say they're going to pay 90 percent of it. Just our 10 percent share is going to be $240 million. So what we're worried about is this. If you take the $330 million we had to find this year, add $240 million, you know, then you have a mass amount of money. But, in 10 years, that triples, and now it's almost $2 billion.
ALBOAnd if we're obligating ourselves to spend $2 billion, guess what, say good-bye to environmental protection, say good-bye to expanded services for poor people, like, even Meals on Wheels, say good-bye to increasing money for higher education. It's all gone. (unintelligible).
SHERWOODIt's -- can I mention the...
NNAMDIOur guest is David Albo. He's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. If you have questions or comments for him, call us at 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODSome Democrats and some observers are saying the Republicans across the country, both nationally and in state legislatures, don't want to do anything on healthcare issues because the albatross of the Affordable Care Act is going to help all the Republicans through this fall, maybe take back the Senate, U.S. Senate, and help Republicans win elections this fall. Is it a situation where we're in a political year where you don't -- where Republicans don't want to meet and compromise? I mean, it's not -- you don't want to give away a great issue for yourself.
ALBOYeah. I mean, you're talking to the wrong guy about...
SHERWOODWas it a Florida Congressional race that just this past week that -- in which the Republican won and there was just a deluge of -- that your Democrat wants to do more Obamacare.
ALBOYeah, I mean, I was going to say you're talking to the wrong guy about, you know, politics. I'm just a -- I mean, really a delegate is not a really big deal, right? And I'm just a guy...
SHERWOODYou're a citizen legislator.
ALBOCitizen legislator. But, I mean, for us, we're really seriously worried about the financial implications of expanding Medicaid. I mean, already, it's 23 percent of the budget. When I was a kid, 1974, it was only 5 percent of the budget. Now it's 23, and they want to expand it?
SHERWOODBut it didn't cover very much then. It was just initially.
ALBOYeah. Well, you know, I mean, I just don't have the money.
NNAMDIWhere do you feel Republicans are more open to a compromise on Medicaid? Arkansas has had a very contentious fight over a so-called private Medicaid option that steers low-income patients to private plans. Is that something that you could work with?
ALBOI'm always interested in trying to find a solution. But I don't think there's a single -- well, there is one Republican, but there's 67 Republicans who are not going to obligate or state to pay $240 million in two years when it's going to triple in three. If there's a compromise, it might be, federal government, if you want to expand Medicaid, come on in, do it, but don't ask us to pay anymore because we don't have any more money.
NNAMDIHere is Lee in Arlington, Va. He wants to talk about that. Lee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEEHi. Thanks for having me. I want to correct the comments just made. The initial period of Medicaid expansion is 100 percent covered, not 90 percent. It is afterwards that it's 90 percent. So comments about you can easily pass a bill that covers only through the years of 100 percent coverage. After that, you can decided what you want to do.
ALBOWell, I mean, he's correct. I was kind of trying to shorten up the explanation. But one of the things is that you would have to have -- 'cause it's not in the law -- the ability to be able to drop out. And so...
SHERWOODAnd also politically, that would be difficult, wouldn't it?
ALBOYeah. I mean, you know, you can't give something to somebody and then yank it away. But one of the things that would be required...
SHERWOODTry that with Social Security.
ALBOYeah, right, and almost everything else.
NNAMDIDavid Albo, we talked about Sen. Saslaw earlier, and that comment got a lot of attention in D.C. We heard the clip. But that comment was brought up in the context of our conversation having to do with legislation in Virginia. After all, the former governor and his wife are now facing federal charges related to gifts that they accepted from a business man. A lot of people are upset by the results of the recent legislative session.
NNAMDIThey say the proposals that moved forward have, well, loopholes, that they're like Swiss cheese. What do you make of where the general assembly went this session on ethics? And where do you feel it still needs to go?
ALBOWell, I mean, I know that impression's out there, and I think the reason the impression's out there is 'cause people don't realize that it's already against the law to take one penny of anything in exchange for government service. There is a delegate right now serving 9-1/2 years in federal prison for that. And, unfortunately, our governor is facing a pretty serious trial on that exact issue. So people, they think that it's legal to take gifts, and it's not.
ALBOYou cannot take anything in exchange for government service, or you go to prison. But we're talking about -- what our ethics bill dealt with is things that people will give you not in exchange for government service, you know, like a dinner, trips, and so we were looking originally at banning all gifts. And then we thought, well, wait a minute, if we ban all gifts, you can't go to a Rotary Club breakfast, you can't go to the -- I know of a honors dinner where we honor police officers.
ALBOYou can't go to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, try to figure out how to save the bay 'cause all those things are technically gifts. We were never able to be able to figure out some kind of language that would say some gifts are good and some gifts are not.
SHERWOODHow about better disclosure? Here in the District, I've written and talked about that I want more disclosure. If you're going to take a golf trip to the Outer Banks and spend a weekend on the corporate dime of any corporation, why not have that fully disclosed, how much was spent, who went, who was there, what was -- I mean, if you're going to take corporate kinds of gifts like that, why not just at least disclose all of that rather than these, you know, one-line answers that we often see?
ALBOWell, your wish is our command because that's exactly what we did.
SHERWOODIs that what it does?
ALBOYeah. We increased the disclosure. We -- instead of having disclosure happen once a year, we had it -- we're going to have it twice a year, and we're creating an online database so constituents can get online and see it almost immediately. And so what we opted for was the disclosure route as opposed to the loophole route.
SHERWOODSo it's unlimited what you can -- so what you can accept from travels, meals, tickets, and all those things will be unlimited as long as you disclose them?
ALBOThat's correct. What we decided to do was to separate gifts into two categories. One category is tangible, which would be gold bars, you know, cash, you know, maybe somebody gave a gift rifle or something like that, and we ban those -- any gift over $250 -- absolutely banned it. So that is completely illegal now. Anything else, intangible, things that do not make a delegate or senator more wealthy after he's digested the food or gone to the event are reportable, and they're going to be all in the Internet soon as we can get that thing up and running.
NNAMDIOn to Edward in Washington, D.C. Edward, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDWARDHi. I wanted to suggest that, instead of restricting the gifts and trying to show that there was a quid pro quo and so forth, why not just tax them like we tax hotel rooms and dining out? Say, if you're going to give any money for any reason to any (unintelligible) or member of their family, there's a straight 10 percent across-the-board tax. And it must be disclosed at the end of the month.
ALBOWell, I mean, we had plenty of ideas when we were discussing this, and that one did not come up.
SHERWOODKind of like more paperwork.
ALBOBut, you know, I mean, the gentleman's comment, I wanted to say is what we did was we put this bill out there, and we listened. We changed the bill dramatically from where it first started because intelligent people, like the gentleman who called and suggested things that could be changed on the bill, is a result of a lot of public input.
SHERWOODSo if you get a thousand-dollar trip, you have to report that as some kind of income benefit? Or (unintelligible) ...
ALBONo. You'd have to report a thousand-dollar trip as a gift.
SHERWOODTaxable income to you?
ALBOYou're not -- I almost failed tax law, so...
SHERWOODI'm getting you too deep, aren't I?
SHERWOODYou want to go back to Medicaid?
ALBOYou can come to my law office and ask me a lot of questions, but don't ask me any tax questions.
NNAMDIEdward, thank you very much for your call. You were called an intelligent man, something that Tom and I have never had the privilege of being called. A few months ago, a lot of your colleagues, Delegate Albo, made big promises to move significant reforms to the Commonwealth's mental health system, promises that were made in the wake of a tragedy this past fall involving State Sen. Creigh Deeds and his late son Gus.
NNAMDIThe assembly passed a few modest reforms that left a lot of people upset that more was not -- you said future sessions might be a better avenue for more to be done. What exactly did the assembly do in this session? And what do you feel still needs to be done?
ALBOAll that stuff comes through my committee the Courts of Justice Committee where I'm chairman, so I know maybe too much about it. But following the Virginia Tech tragedy, we dramatically changed mental health laws. We changed the definition. We changed the responsibilities. We changed the timing. It was a very massive overhaul. This issue is not as uncontroversial as you might think because people with mental health illness are not criminals.
ALBOAnd it's very touchy situation when you're taking somebody who is not a criminal and you're taking their liberty away. So all the timeframes that are in...
SHERWOODExcuse me. We've had this problem with homeless people. You can't just go pick them up off the street if they can show some reason they're out there.
ALBOExactly. It's a free country, right? You know, so all the timeframes and everything that are in our existing law are carefully negotiated between the consumers which is the -- which are the people with mental health conditions and the families which are people who want to give them more services than the patient may want. What we decided to do this year is only deal with situations that we found regarding the Creigh Deeds son situation. And that was the availability of beds.
ALBOSo what we did was three things. What happens is when a person gets -- they have a problem, and the police coming, and get the person, they're taken to a mental health judge, and that mental health judge determines whether you are -- you have a problem. They determine you have a problem, they have to find you a bed. Our current system's crazy because of people who are getting on the phone and just calling a series of hospitals to find a bed.
ALBOWe think that situation or that system is kind of ludicrous, actually, tell you the truth. So what we did is we said we're going to create an online registry of all the beds, real time, number one. Number two, if you can't find a bed, the absolute last resort is the state hospital has to take the person. So in the Creigh Deeds situation, his son, if that law was in place, they couldn't find a bed. They would have taken him right to the state hospital, and the state hospital could not have said no.
SHERWOODWho's going to run that registry?
ALBOThe registry is going to be run by the Department of Behavioral Health Services, I think is the proper name. It's a little bit more difficult than you think though because having a registry is worse if it's not accurate.
NNAMDIWhat message did it send to you when the inspector investigating the death of Gus Deeds resigned? He says that some of his findings were censored, including that state officials could have prevented Deeds' death if they acted on recommendations that he had given some years ago.
ALBOWell, you're absolutely right. And, you know, I mean, we're a little bit angry this year that we did not get the report that we wanted during session. And we're expecting to have a full report next session. But, you know, it's possible that the problem was not with the law, that somebody dropped the ball and didn't do their job. And that would be really a shame, but we're waiting to find out.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. David Albo is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican who represents the Commonwealth's 42nd District which is located in Fairfax County. Delegate Albo, thank you for joining us.
SHERWOODThanks for coming into the District with all our troubles.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, I mention very briefly, speaking of troubles in the District, that the campaign treasurer for former D.C. Councilmember Michael Brown, Hakim Sutton, has been indicted on charges of stealing $115,000 from a campaign account. A 14-count indictment against him was unsealed on Wednesday. When Michael Brown foresaid that, a lot of people, given that his credibility was shot (unintelligible) ...
SHERWOODWell, this apparently's the only money that Michael Brown didn't take.
NNAMDIYeah. Well, apparently his campaign manager took that money and has been indicted, so we'll be seeing...
SHERWOODIt's unbelievable. And also they can't find Sutton. Yeah, they're looking for him. Anybody knows, call the police.
NNAMDIYes. Apparently he's -- Tom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Always a pleasure, Tom.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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