We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
D.C. voters headed to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots in a critical Democratic primary. The results are likely to affect every neighborhood in the nation’s capital. A panel of experts join Kojo to examine what the primary means for the District’s race for mayor and the future of the city.
- Charles Allen Democratic Nominee, D.C. Council (Ward-6)
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Mark Plotkin Political Analyst
- Brianne Nadeau Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (Ward 1)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The District of Columbia will have a new mayor. Muriel Bowser, the member of the D.C. council who represents the city's Ward 4 won D.C.'s Democratic nomination for its highest office last night. She defeated Vincent Gray, an incumbent mayor who's largely received good marks for his management of the city, but who ultimately proved incapable of escaping the cloud of a federal corruption investigation into the campaign that put him in office four years ago.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBowser beat Gray and six other challengers seeking the office, most of whom argued change was necessary to keep the city moving in a positive direction. But before she can begin thinking about how she'll bring about those changes as mayor, she must first face what may or may not be a formidable challenge in the general election in November. This hour, we'll be exploring what the results of last night's primary mean for the future of the city and we'll be chatting with the winners of other primaries on the ballot yesterday, one of whom may have ended the political career of one of the District's longest serving lawmakers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me in studio is WAMU 88.5 reporter, Patrick Madden, suffering from a lack of sleep. I shouldn't say suffering because, Patrick, you seem to be doing very well without sleep.
MR. PATRICK MADDENRight. I'm in the delusional part of the sleep deprivation cycle.
NNAMDINow, I think if we deprive you of sleep every night, you'll be a much better reporter. You're doing a lot better as a result of being sleep deprived. Our guest analyst is Mark Plotkin, long time radio journalist, analyst, commentator, hosting radio programs at WAMU 88.5, WTOP and as an analyst for Fox News and as an analyst for the BBC. Have they asked you to report about this election yet?
MR. MARK PLOTKINNo. And I really pitched them on this. I think maybe they were waiting for the November election and the unlikely possibility of a non-Democrat winning for mayor. But I know we'll get to that subject. I'm just very happy to be back with you, Kojo, and Patrick and back to back, last night and tonight. Thank you for the opportunity.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, if you have questions or comments about last night's or yesterday's primary and the results we got last night, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet @KojoShow or go to our website, KojoShow.org and join the conversation there. Patrick, all polls indicated that Muriel Bowser was in a good position to win this primary, particularly those taken in the past several weeks in the wake of a guilty plea into the investigation of Gray's 2010 campaign when a major donor admitted in federal court to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an illegal scheme to help put Vincent Gray in office.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of this result and what do you feel ultimately pushed Bowser over the top and helped her secure this nomination?
MADDENI think one of things that the polls couldn't show us at the time, but what we now know is true, is that Bowser was able to really string together a broad coalition, both in terms of demographic lines and geographic lines. She really did well across the city, which every ward you look at, and she had crossover appeal. She really was able to capitalize on what happened to Mayor Gray when the Thompson indictment came down.
MADDENAnd not only did she position herself as the sort of "okay, I'm the other candidate, I'm where all these votes should go," but she really was able to get her message out to everyone and to bring everyone together to be the anti-Gray candidate.
NNAMDIThis brings me to this, Mark. To what degree is Bowser emerging as the victor in this primary, as an alternative to Gray or, as Patrick put it, the anti-Gray candidate? How much of this vote seems to be a reaction to him rather than an embrace of her?
PLOTKINExcellent question. And I mean no disrespect and I'm not trying to be Washington-ese about this, but people did not, maybe with the exception of her own ward, Ward 4 -- and I want to give some figures because I think they'll be illuminating about the ward breakdown. This was the anti-Gray candidate. This was not the pro-Muriel Bowser candidate, except maybe in her own ward, which were friends and neighbors.
PLOTKINIn Ward 1, she got 45 percent, Gray got 24 percent. In Ward 2, she got 50 percent, Gray got 14 percent. In Ward 3 -- reminds me of 1978. You're old enough to remember the Barry election. She got 64 percent. Gray got 11 percent. In Ward 4, her home ward, she got 50 percent. Gray got 35 percent, which was better than I actually thought he would do.
PLOTKINIn Ward 5, Gray actually won. He got 47 percent. She got 34 percent. In Ward 6, Bowser won with 37 percent. Gray got 23 percent. And Wells, the council member from that ward, got 31 percent. She beat Wells in her own ward and I should also...
NNAMDIIn his own ward.
PLOTKINIn his own ward, thank you. And in Ward 2, Jack Evans, obviously very disappointed, his ward, the longest serving council member, he got 1,190 votes, 17 percent. She, as I said, got 50 percent. In Ward 7, she got 28 percent. Gray won that with 60 percent. Patrick has the figures from 2010, which will show the difference. And in Ward 8, Gray got 58 percent. She got 31 percent. Having said this, turnout citywide was 22.5 percent. There were 1682 absentee ballots that haven't been counted.
PLOTKINAltogether, 83,040 Democrats voted, the lowest turnout in the history -- in current that they have numbers for. But there were two things. I said them last night, but I think it bears repeating and then I'll be quiet for a change. Two things happened. Thompson was indicted and then Gray was put into the mix, even though he, himself, was not indicted. But for all purposes indicted, but not by name.
PLOTKINSecond, the poll came out, The Washington Post poll, the WAMU city paper poll and that said to the voters -- and I think very much this is what they do. Gene McCarthy, my old friend, said it's like blackboards on the telephone line. They all go in a pack and both polls showed Bowser is the alternative. If you want to stop Gray, vote for Bowser. So she really doesn't have a mandate.
PLOTKINIronically, she is the recipient of the same feeling that elected Vincent Gray four years ago. Then it was anti-Fenty. This time it was anti-Gray.
NNAMDIAs always, I have to add to Mark's institutional memory by pointing out that Gene McCarthy is, in fact, Eugene McCarthy, the democratic presidential candidate in 1968. Patrick Madden, by most accounts, Vincent Gray was going to have to rack up huge margins east of the Anacostia River, among African American voters in particular, if he was going to have a chance yesterday.
NNAMDIHe did win in those wards, but what do you see when you look at that compared to how he did in those wards four years ago?
MADDENI mean, he just, as you said, he won the wards, but he didn't win by the margins he needed to and the turnout wasn't there. I think if you count just the east side neighborhoods, his totals drop by almost 28,000 votes, comparing 2014 and 2010.
PLOTKINThat is the operative figure. Where was Vernon Hawkins? And if I can just interject, I know Patrick was just saying, you now understand what the shadow campaign was about. It was not just to get great numbers. They knew they had great numbers. It was to turn people out. Give the figures which Patrick researched about turnout. Compare turnout in 7 and 8 in 2014 to turnout in 2010, please.
MADDENRight. So in 2010, Gray won Wards 7 and 8, 84 percent of the vote in both wards, 84 percent to 16 percent. This time around, Gray won, but it was 59 percent in Ward 7 to 28 percent for Bowser, 57 percent in Ward 8 to 30 percent in Bowser. So the...
PLOTKINNo, but also do aggregate turnout numbers.
MADDENYeah, and exactly, the numbers...
NNAMDIWhy am I even here?
MADDEN...weren't there. And I think, as Mark says, that tells the story right there.
PLOTKINGive the numbers -- oh, you don't have -- I think I saw that one was the turnout in Ward 8 was 57 percent. You know what turnout was this time, Kojo? Eleven percent.
NNAMDIHow would you explain the small turnout in this race?
PLOTKINMaybe they didn’t have the shadow campaign money. Look, it's the hardest thing in the world in an election to change the dynamic and that was really Obama's key in both his elections. He got people who were potential Obama supporters by crunching the numbers to enlarge the universe and that is what Gray was able to do in 2010. This time, I thought that the lightness of the sentence, you know, six months, maybe home detention for Jeff Thompson, couple with the timing of the indictment of Thompson would enrage people.
PLOTKINBut it didn't enrage people as much to show you the hostility to Adrian Fenty was so great...
NNAMDIIndeed. Of course, that was a presidential election year, was that, in 2010? No, it was not.
NNAMDIWhen the turnout was so much higher. Was there, in this election, four years later, in another off-presidential election, just a kind of turn-off factor, you think, among voters by the whole tenor and tone of the campaign and everything else that's been happening since that 2010 election?
MADDENI think that's part of it. I think the other thing, we need to talk about here, is that the primary was moved up to April and so that means that, A, people weren't necessarily used to voting at this time...
NNAMDISnowing Sunday night.
MADDENIt's snowing. The candidates couldn't canvass the way they used to because it's dark outside. It just was really difficult to have the same sort of voter contacts that campaigns are used to.
PLOTKINBut Patrick, let me be the civics teacher. And Kojo and I -- god, I'm getting to be such an old man. I keep on saying this. We remember -- and I'm being very serious and this is not a polemic or civics class. I remember people in the South died, Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, for the right to vote. The Post had an interesting figure that 500,000 people, 500,000 people, are age-eligible to vote and we get a turnout of 22 percent.
PLOTKINThis is -- and more than anywhere, we who were denied the vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the Senate, it would seem to me, would seize -- why people line up -- I've been waiting to say this -- line up -- I said it last night. I'll say it again. Waiting to vote for president, yes, voting for president is important, but it's taxes, death and D.C. will go democratic are certitudes of life. Why aren't they banging down the doors to vote in the local election where they'll really have an impact?
PLOTKINShame, shame on the D.C. electorate.
NNAMDIAnd as he said, this is not a polemic, when he began by saying that. Didn't he begin by -- this is absolutely not a polemic. Well, I've never heard more of a polemic before. But for those of you who feel that this is simply an anti-Gray vote, Barbara in Washington D.C. begs to differ. Barbara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BARBARAHi, Kojo. I listened to you last night and again, I've been listening to you today and I love to hear Mark Plotkin, glad to hear him back on your show.
BARBARABut I have to say, I could not possibly disagree with you more.
PLOTKINWhere do you live, Barbara?
BARBARAI live in Ward 6.
BARBARAOkay. And I voted for Muriel Bowser. I didn't vote against Mayor Gray. I voted for Muriel Bowser.
NNAMDIWhat is it about Muriel Bowser that appeals to you?
PLOTKINAnd why didn't you vote for your home council member, Tommy Wells, seriously?
BARBARAI'm extremely fond of Tommy Wells personally. I like him as a person, but I would not vote for him for pretty much anything. He was a great school board member. I think he's been, I hate to say, an enormous disappointment as council member. From get-go, from the beginning, from when he voted, you know, what he had said as school board member and went with the mayoral takeover of the school.
NNAMDIWhat is it about Muriel Bowser that appeals to you?
BARBARAOkay. Here's what appeals to me about Muriel Bowser. Muriel Bowser, you know, for months, people on Capitol Hill heard all about Tommy Wells eastern market legislation which was going to just save the day and make the market self-sustaining and terrific and it was, you know, it took a long time for him to deliver the bill. It came. It was almost completely unintelligible. And ANC and EMCAC and a lot of regular citizens…
NNAMDIWe're going to get to Muriel Bowser on this, aren't we?
BARBARASure, I am -- worked like dogs to clean it up and missed in just doing the work…
PLOTKINBut what did Bowser do for the bill?
BARBARAHere we go. They missed all the flaws in the bill. Okay. Muriel Bowser -- it came before Muriel Bowser's committee and immediately she recognized that it was a disaster. It was a total -- it would have ruined the Market. And she just put the brakes on it and she said, no way.
PLOTKINWell, this the first time -- Barbara, I don't take away from your expertise on this issue, but believe me -- maybe Patrick can dispute that. This is the first time I have ever heard, besides the supposed lame ethics bill, her being cited for legislative acumen. And I don't think voters actually vote based on somebody's legislative record.
NNAMDIBut apparently it's the reason that Barbara voted.
NNAMDIIs that correct, Barbara?
BARBARAIt's absolutely the reason I voted for her.
BARBARAI think Muriel Bowser is smart as she can be.
BARBARAGets right to the point of things, understands what's going on in neighborhoods.
NNAMDIAbsolutely, terrifically fabulous, as far as you are concerned, Barbara.
BARBARAThe only thing I don't know about her is what she thinks about school issues, which I really care about.
BARBARABut I think she's a…
NNAMDIWe've got a lot of time to find out about all of those issues. Barbara, thank you so much for your call, but we do have to move on because a lot of people across town and we, here last night, spent a great deal of time waiting impatiently for the votes to be tallied by the Board of Elections, where your colleague, Patrick, Martin Austermuhle, was reporting for WAMU 88.5 News. For a long time that was the story of the night. What sense do we have yet for what went wrong there and why this process took so long?
MADDENI mean, apparently it has to do with these -- the electronic machines that they're using now. And I guess they had to have two of them at each precinct. And people weren't spun off on how to use them. And just it created a sort of cascade of problems and that's why we didn't get -- even though the polls closed at 8:00 p.m., we didn't have final results until 2:00 in the morning, which is astounding, if you think about it.
NNAMDIIf you want to hear a polemic, you should have heard Plotkin last night on this issue, but…
MADDENWell, he didn't have…
NNAMDI…Martin Austermuhle spoke late last night with the director of the Board of Elections, Clifford Tatum. This was the explanation he offered for why the Board was slow to report many of the results we finally received.
MR. CLIFFORD TATUMAnd in this election we doubled the equipment that we had out in the field. We had -- in both of those 2012 elections, we had 48 iVotronics for early voting.
TATUMFor this election we had 130 iVotronics. On Election Day we had -- in the 2012 elections 143 iVotronics. And in this election we had 306 iVotronics. So just by the numbers of the machines that we had out there, and the fact that our poll workers were, for the first time, some of them, closing two iVos and three iVos, as opposed to the one iVo, it took a little longer than what we're used to.
TATUMBut what we are confident of is that the results are accurate and -- which is what we're always concerned about, is accuracy over speed. We did have a few technical issues as it related to some of the captains not closing the machines properly. And that's not to place the blame on our captains, but when that happens there's other steps that we have to take to make sure that we're able to get the votes off of the machine. So that's what we encountered tonight.
NNAMDIWe're fairly sure that this is the first time that both Mark and I have heard the word iVo and iVotronics, but apart from that…
PLOTKINWell, come on. This is your job. He failed in his job. They were supposed to train these workers. Tamara Robinson, who is the spokesperson, and was nice enough to research these figures for me, which I gave before, gave the same explanation that Patrick said. But that's his job. It's a one-day operation. And they were supposed to train these people.
PLOTKINPay them more. Hire better people. It's inexcusable and indefensible to wait two and a half hours to get the first returns from the election, having nothing to say to wait until 2:00 o'clock.
MADDENAnd, but not only that, it's not like this is the first time this has happened. I remember…
MADDEN…in 2008 same exact issue where the first results didn't come in until two and a half hours after the polls. They did -- the D.C. Council did an investigation. There was an aftermath report. You know, all promises were made about how we're going to do this, that and the other.
PLOTKINI'll tell you where the responsibility lays, Kojo, with Nichols. What's her first name?
PLOTKINDeborah Nichols -- I blanked, the chairman of the Board of Elections. There's -- it's a three-member board. She's supposed to have oversight over that. Her -- she should be hauled before the committee, along with Clifford Tatum. And how do we know this won't happen in November? This is Groundhog Day. It's every election.
MADDENApril Fool's Day.
PLOTKINYeah, it's the same thing. It's inexcusable and for our people who don't like the District and are always looking for an excuse not to give us the rights that everybody else has, this is a ready-made -- oh, they can't even conduct an election.
NNAMDIPatrick, back to the conversation that Barbara, who was on the phone, and Mark was having earlier, right up until the final days of this campaign there was a fair amount of talk about Muriel Bowser's record, or lack thereof, as a council member about whether she's done little to distinguish herself in office and whether she had a vision for the city at all outside of providing a plausible way to move on from the scandal of Gray's administration. What do we know about what we can expect from Muriel Bowser as a mayor, if she wins the general election and the kinds of plans she would like to pursue?
MADDENI mean I think that's the question and I don't even think, I mean, I don't even have the answer. I can tell you that as a council member Muriel Bowser has been focused on economic development, particularly among projects in Ward 4.
MADDENWalter Reed being the chief one, but I think her focus -- and rightly so, as the Ward 4 council member -- has been on issues that were in Ward 4. Now she's in charge of projects all over the city. And it's going to be interesting to see…
PLOTKINI'll be less diplomatic. She's a tabula rasa. She's a blank slate.
NNAMDIWhat did we know about Adrian Fenty before he became mayor? One of her primary challengers, Jack Evans -- your friend, Mark -- said in one of the final debates that Bowser's election would be the equivalent of a sequel to the Adrian Fenty days. You remember Fenty, who held Bowser's Ward 4 seat before becoming mayor was seen as very aggressive, to the point of alienating many long-time residents. What do you think people looking for Adrian Fenty in Muriel Bowser are going to find? What do you see as the difference between them?
PLOTKINI think she's much…
NNAMDIFenty did not have a stellar legislative record when he became…
NNAMDIHe did have a record for constituent service.
PLOTKINYes. I think Bowser, to her credit, although it isn't saying much by virtue of comparison, is much more informed about issues and much more inquisitive and curious. Adrian Fenty had no curiosity about public policy. Nat Gandhi, who's no longer in office so I can now tell the story, used to tell me -- the chief financial officer -- that he would brief him on the financial situation in the District of Columbia.
PLOTKINNot only did Fenty have no interest, he would be playing with his Blackberry and wanting to go bicycle and swim. No, he was a dilettante as a mayor in terms of -- I took him out to lunch after he won the election trying to kind of find out -- I knew him when he was a staff member for Kevin Chavous. And…
NNAMDIFormer Ward 7 council member.
PLOTKINThank you. And all he said as sort of a platitude is, "I want to be a big-city mayor." I don't remember anything. He wouldn't -- Patrick knows this -- he wouldn't have press conferences.
NNAMDIYet, there are people who give him a great deal of credit for the changes in the city. However, there's another mayor to whom they give credit. So please listen to what Ann, in Washington has to say. Ann, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNWhat are we hearing about a draft Anthony Williams…
PLOTKINHe doesn't want it. He's making too much money as the executive director of the federal city council.
ANNAny other alternatives?
PLOTKINHow about Eric Holder? The only person in the Obama administration who gives a damn about this city, who's actually visited the Wilson Building and wanted to run, by the way, in 1998, was very close to it, and his wife wouldn't let him. Maybe he doesn't want to be attorney general anymore. And I think he would be a great prospect. Is this the…
NNAMDIHave you talked to him about this? Have you spoken with him about this since he's been attorney general?
PLOTKINI will not report private conversations. Is this…
NNAMDISuffice it to say that Mark has not had a great deal of success in this endeavor.
PLOTKINI wrote a legal Times piece when I was a columnist. And I thought -- when he was the U.S. attorney -- and I thought I would have trouble speaking to him. It's the largest U.S. attorney's office in the nation. And he called back within one minute. So I don't think it's out of his mind, but I don't think he's going to do it. Is this the segue into Catania? Because I am chomping…
NNAMDINo. We're going to take a short break, very shortly, but you did mention Catania and we do have a caller who wants to address that issue. That would be Keith, in Washington, D.C. Keith, your turn.
KEITHGood afternoon, guys. And I want to start by saying I really believe the low turnout was because a lot of people who are Democrats will vote for Catania. Muriel is definitely the people's choice, but I don't see it. You have so many people moving here to D.C. with children and their biggest concerns are with the school system and Catania has had his sleeves up on this for a long time. And I really think he will…
NNAMDIPatrick, I'll -- Patrick Madden, I'll allow you to respond to this first.
MADDENI mean, it's going to be interesting with Catania running as an Independent. Just remember the polls that we had leading up to the primary day. Against Vincent Gray, Catania was in a dead heat. Against Bowser, it's something like 60 - 30. So I…
PLOTKINFifty-three to twenty-three, thirty points.
MADDENSo I know that last night's result was not the one that the Catania folks were hoping for. I mean, I think Catania will be really strong because he has good name recognition, he's one of the smartest people you'll ever meet in the Wilson Building. But he's, again, he's a former Republican. I mean there's a lot of challenges, hurdles, that he's going to have to overcome.
PLOTKINAll right. Let me quote Rufus "Catfish" Mayfield to really go way back.
NNAMDIRufus "Catfish" Mayfield was the co-founder with Marion Barry of an organization known as Pride, Incorporated in the 1960s. Proceed.
PLOTKINAnd a very perceptive observer of the D.C. political scene, and of African American voting behavior. He said to me at the endorsement, "I know what Catania's doing," because I'm addressing the caller's statement about education. "Reminds of what Fox News used to do when they were first trying to be a major network. They appealed. They did segmentation.
PLOTKIN"They appealed to the African American community in America with shows like, 'In Living Color,' which -- and once they got that group of people and then went mainstream, they abandoned that constituency." David Catania is going to do the following. This is prediction. Patrick, Kojo, Michael Martinez, save this clip. This is going -- this is what's going to happen.
PLOTKINHe's going to have a meeting with Muriel Bowser because he's going to look at the polls. And he's going to see that he is going to get beaten by more than 30 points. He can't stand the thought that he doesn't have a venue and an elective office, because he would have to give up his office to run. And after this summit conference, he will announce for the benefit of the city, in some self-righteous pleading, that he was going to forego in the name of unity, forego his candidacy and, in fact, back Muriel Bowser.
PLOTKINHe is the most crass -- don't interrupt, Kojo -- crass, opportunistic, conniving, manipulative politician in the city council. The education thing was just a gambit to get African American votes. And now that Gray is not the nominee, there is no rationale for his candidacy.
NNAMDITwo things, one, I'm willing to wager you that the does not do that. And…
PLOTKINWhat do you want to wager? Let's do the wager.
NNAMDI…two, I get the impression that you don't like Mr. Catania.
PLOTKINI think all politicians, including this one -- I think -- I know this takes really nerve to say. He's temperamentally unsuited. I know he's gone through some behavior modification, in terms of his temperament, to be mayor. Second, he is so blindly, so transparently manipulative…
NNAMDIYou know you (unintelligible) in fighting David Catania back onto this broadcast…
PLOTKINWell, that's fine. That's his opportunity.
NNAMDI…to respond to everything that you're saying.
PLOTKINAnd I will use the substantive thing, which really irks him, and which always motivates him.
NNAMDINo. We don't have time for that. We don't have time for that, I'm afraid.
PLOTKINBut I'm just saying, let's say…
NNAMDIPatrick, where are you in this bet? I am saying that Mark is wrong. That David Catania is not going to sit down with Muriel Bowser and then decide…
PLOTKINBecause he'd have to give up his seat, Kojo.
NNAMDI…not to run.
MADDENI'm on your side, Kojo. I've spoken to some of Catania's folks who said before the primary that they felt strong no matter what happens.
PLOTKINOh, come on.
MADDENThat they like their chances against Bowser or Gray.
NNAMDIAnd, frankly, even if he intended to do that, after listening to Plotkin say what he just said…
PLOTKINThat's my purpose.
NNAMDI…he's not going to do that.
PLOTKINAll right. Let me be a little more clinical and strategic.
NNAMDIWe got to take a quick break because we have candidates waiting to join us.
PLOTKINAfrican American voters who are Democrats have no rhyme or reason to abandon Muriel Bowser and vote for this guy.
NNAMDIYou say that as a Democrat or you say that because of who you feel David Catania is?
PLOTKINNo. I'm trying to be a political analyst.
PLOTKINI'm saying their loyalties are with the Democratic nominee. That's a strong bond. 76 percent of the registered voters are Democrats. This is a Democratic city.
NNAMDIYou said that you came here to see our engineer Tobey Schreiner. Well, Tobey Schreiner is about to cause a break to occur in this show because you just won't stop talking at all. Take it away, Tobey. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we will continue this conversation with Mark Plotkin and Patrick Madden, and the person who won the primary in Ward 1 last night. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our post-primary conversation with alleged analyst Mark Plotkin. He's our guest today. He's a longtime journalist who's hosted radio programs at WAMU 88.5 and WTOP and who is the analyst for Fox News. Patrick Madden is a reporter at WAMU 88.5. And joining us now in studio is the Democratic nominee for the Ward 1 seat on the D.C. Council. And just so that Mark Plotkin can get it right, could you pronounce your name correctly for us?
MS. BRIANNE NADEAUYes. And everybody -- now you're going to really have to learn this. It's Brianne Nadeau.
NNAMDIThank you. That's what I said the first time she was on the show.
MADDENThere we go.
PLOTKINI didn't want to mispronounce it last night. So I didn't pronounce it all. So I apologize.
NNAMDIBrianne Nadeau, congratulations to you.
NNAMDIJim Graham was one of the longest tenured members of this D.C. Council. You ran a very aggressive campaign, predicated on the idea that he's been serving for too long. Why did you feel that it was time for him to go? And why do you think the voters ultimately agreed with you?
NADEAUWell, it wasn't just about what I felt, because I was out there talking to voters every weekend, knocking on those doors. And they were telling me that it was time for a change and time for a new energy. So I really took that to heart. And, you know, we built the campaign so that we could bring all those voices with us to the Wilson Building. And that's what it's been about all along.
MADDENSo full disclosure. I live in Ward 1.
MADDENAnd one of the things I enjoyed just a political reporter was this was a pretty rough and tumble primary. Some of the mailers that were going out, both from your side and then at the very end when Councilmember Graham brought up this loan issue from his emails, I mean, this…
NNAMDIFull disclosure. I got my first house on a HPAP loan, too.
NADEAUOh, excellent. So you know what a great program it is.
MADDENDid you expect this race to get that nasty?
NADEAUWell, all right. First of all, let's talk about the mailers because I was a relative unknown. Remember, we started out this race and I was an ANC on U Street and that was it. I mean that was how people knew me, but I worked real hard to get my name recognition up. And one of the ways we knew we'd have to do that would be through the mail because that gets right into people's homes.
NADEAUSo we budgeted and crafted a strategy around the mail. But we also knew that with a four-term incumbent time for change is not the message that's going to resonate the best. And what we felt was that we also had an incumbent who had been reprimanded by his peers.
NADEAUAnd that the public needed to know that and needed to understand what that meant for his leadership ability and for the way he was serving us in the community. And so what we did was we used the facts and we went out with the facts and told the truth about our council member.
PLOTKINBrianne, did Jim Graham call you to congratulate you?
PLOTKINI bring that up because -- before Kojo would -- because I lost to an incumbent and I went over and I said I was waiting for the farm vote to come in. The second time I lost to a non-incumbent I said, "The people have spoken," to quote Dick Tuck, "the bastards." There's a certain graciousness in conceding, and you have to do it. And I'm glad you provided that answer. I think anybody owes that to the winner. And that you haven't heard from him, I think is unfortunate and sad. The turnout was 23.5 percent.
PLOTKINDid you expect it to be more? How much money did you raise? And what did you think was a breakthrough moment for you where you said, my god, you know, that great another dated reference in "The Candidate." Remember where Redford and says -- his wife says, now what -- you won. And he says, now what do we do. At what moment did you think, wait, I think I've got a shot?
NADEAUOkay, so those were -- let me unpack those questions. The turnout was lower than we expected, I think.
PLOTKINWhat did you expect it to be?
NADEAUWe expected it to be pretty typical. We thought there'd be about 15,000 people voting in our primary.
PLOTKINWhich would be about 40 percent.
NADEAUYeah. Yes, and it would have been closer to 2010 really.
PLOTKINOkay. And then how much money did you raise?
NADEAUWe raised $188,000.
PLOTKINThat's very good for a ward race.
PLOTKINAnd then when was the tipping?
NADEAUYou know, we got to 2014, there were few major moments. First, Jim actually announcing December 9th. That helped, because it made people realized that if they wanted to see new energy, they would have to get behind me. They were -- you know, they were waiting to see if he would even get in the race. But then when we started rolling in 2014, you know, getting Beverly Wheeler behind me and out of our race. Bryan dropping out. And finally, David Grosso and Tommy Wells coming...
PLOTKINSo it's one-on-one. It was one-on-one. That was very important, yeah.
NADEAUYes. So the race becoming one-on-one was the turning point.
NNAMDIDavid Grosso, independent councilmember put his support behind Brianne Nadeau, which has been a unique opponent, a sitting member of the council supporting an opponent of his colleague.
MADDENI think when you look at all the races that we've watched over the years and it's really hard, I think, for a challenger to knock off an incumbent councilmember. And one of -- I think two of the reasons, you've mentioned, one, it's usually a split field. And you were able to clear the deck. And, two, you started running really early and raising money really early. So when did you know you wanted to be a councilmember?
NADEAUIn August of 2011 we had been really coming off this special election last spring, April in 2011. And I had been thinking, you know, what do we want the composition of the council to really be, right? And 2010, of course, we had tried to take on Jim and not succeeded. I was sitting down with a few friends and we were just talking about. And I didn't necessarily think it was going to be me, we just knew it was possible. And they encouraged me. They said, we think that you can do it but you have to start now. That was August 2011.
NNAMDIYou may have cleared the field for the time being, because it looks like the aforementioned Bryan Weaver, a well-known neighborhood advisory commissioner is going to be waiting for you as an independent opponent. What case are you going to make to voters for what you stand for as a candidate? And what can they expect from you as a councilmember? Are you expecting him to be waiting for you?
NADEAUWell, you know, we'll wait and see what Bryan decides to do. It's April 2nd and frankly I just woke up. So it's -- we have built an incredibly strong campaign. It started off as a few people. It became hundreds and eventually thousands of people joined out movement. And we've got this wonderful momentum. It's very grassroots. And that will carry us through to November.
NADEAUAnd I don't mean that in a passive sense. We're going to keep working at it and keep bringing people along. And we're going to go out and get the folks who weren't with us this time in the primary and bring them on board as well.
PLOTKINLet's assume you win in November. What I've been very critical and Patrick and Kojo have listened to this ad nauseam is the city council members not doing anything to change our status as third class citizens. No vote in the House and Senate.
NNAMDIIf you win, you'll be hearing a lot more of this.
PLOTKINAnd also, no, really, lip service to statehood. Not working the Hill, there's a bill out that Senator Carper has introduced which goes to his committee which all the mayor candidates didn't even know about the bill. What will you be doing as a councilmember to make us American citizens?
NADEAUWell, as part of this campaign, I worked closely with the folks working for statehood, the D.C. Statehood Coalition. But, you know, I -- and I think that's the direction we need to be moving, absolutely. So I will be a fierce advocate for all of that. We've always said that we need better participation. If we want full representation, we have to go out and engage voters in this process, register new people and get them fired up and angry.
PLOTKINHow about going up to Capitol Hill and actually seeing council members lobbying United States senators.
PLOTKINAnd House members. Well, it's a Republican House, but in the Senate there are three senators, Tammy Baldwin, probably the most liberal senator, is not on the bill. Mark Pryor is endangered. We don't know where McCaskill is. That is councilmember en masse. Mary Cheh once did this with Harry Reid, going up and being really jumping over Eleanor Holmes Norton, let's talk about what it is and as a separate institutional entity and lobby for full citizenship.
NADEAUYeah, I think I'd be willing to do that. I mean, you know, you're just -- you know, I spent five and half years on...
PLOTKINYou're going to get me a (all talking at once) .
NADEAUYeah, I guess -- I don't know. Yes, that's right. I was -- I guess it wasn't a question, was it? You know, I worked on Capitol Hill for five and a half years, so I'm familiar with how all these works and I like that process. So, you know, I think we need to fight. So...
NNAMDIBefore you go, what would you say are the two or three most fundamental issues where Ward 1 is going to need an effective advocate on the D.C. Council?
NADEAUWell, schools is the biggest issue for us in Ward 1. We've got a lot of young families and people even without kids really do care about this issue. So I'm going to be doing a community engagement role around this and really focusing on strengthening our neighborhood schools. We've also still got the housing crisis in Ward 1. It's expensive to live there and people are being pushed out, young and old, longtime residents, new residents. So we need to focus on that. And, frankly, I think we still need to work on cleaning up our government, our ethics.
NNAMDIWe're going to take another break, but stick around. After the break, we'll be talking with another winner in yesterday's primary and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. It's an analysis of the primary held yesterday in the District of Columbia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our post-election analysis with Patrick Madden, WAMU 88.5 reporter who covers District politics. Mark Plotkin is our guest analyst. He's a journalist who's hosted radio programs at WAMU and WTOP, and been an analyst for Fox News. Also with us is Brianne Nadeau. She is the Democratic nominee for the Ward 1 seat on the D.C. Council. And joining us now by phone is Charles Allen.
NNAMDIHe won the Democratic primary and so is the nominee for the Ward 6 seat on the D.C. Council. Charles Allen, thanks so much for joining us. Congratulations.
MR. CHARLES ALLENWell, thank you very much and good afternoon. And congratulations, Brianne.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden, I'll start with you. Tommy Wells ran for mayor and in his own ward, Ward 6, Muriel Bowser beat him. Yet, his former chief of staff Charles Allen managed to prevail in Ward 6. What was going on there?
MADDENWell, the race was between Charles and a former Harry Reid staffer named Darrel Thompson. I mean, Charles can tell you this, but Charles has been Tommy Wells' right hand man for a long time. So Tommy knows -- I mean, Charles knows Ward 6 better than most people. And obviously that helped him. I guess, Charles, if I could ask you a question. Looking at the mayor's race -- were you surprised at Wells' figures? And did you think he would do better? And why didn't he do better actually?
ALLENWell, I certainly -- obviously, you know, having spent seven years working as Tommy's chief of staff, he's a good friend of mine. He's somebody that I certainly think incredibly highly of and somebody I've been proud to work with. I would've liked to have seen his numbers be higher, but he ran a great campaign. He put the issues of ethics and accountability and integrity front and center. And so I know -- I talked to him last night. I know he feels very proud. The team around him feels very proud and they ran a really great, hard race.
ALLENThank you, Mark.
PLOTKINI remember you from the Howard Dean...
PLOTKIN...who never came to D.C. to participate in a debate. Now, we won't dwell on that.
ALLENHe also won the D.C. primary.
PLOTKINYes, even without coming to D.C. to campaign.
PLOTKINAll right. Now, you have -- I want to act in character. You have the unique role that many senators and House members live in your ward. Obviously, they don't vote in your ward but they do live on Capitol Hill. What are you going to do as the Ward 6 representative to get them more involved in D.C. and especially voting rights and statehood?
ALLENWell, I'm actually going to work with them as well as their staff. You know, and I do think in the District we've got a group of young activists that are coming to the table. You know, I think that folks like Josh Burch who is really putting a lot of energy. He lives in Ward 5.
ALLENAnd he spends a lot of new energy, a lot of creative energy into the actions that are needed. And I, you know, I agree with the comment Brianne made, we've got to get folks there also fired up. You know, people need to be fire up. When the federal government was threatening to shut District down, you know, that really was -- I think the city was prepared to do it. There really was a crop of this new energy that really kind of put their foot down and said absolutely not.
ALLENAnd you saw it roll up on Twitter and every other place. And then, you saw the city leaders really say, you know what, we're not going to stand for this. And that was a source of pride. And so I think we better get folks fired up. And I really feel a lot of leadership coming from a lot of our young activists as well. First, like Josh Burch and a lot of others.
NNAMDICharles, despite the low turnout yesterday, what do you feel are the one or two issues that were most important to your Ward 6 voters?
ALLENWell, in Ward 6, without question, is our neighborhood schools, without question. That is something that, you know, as somebody who's got a little girl myself, I wake up in the morning thinking about affordable child care. I think about her school. I think about where she's going to go. I can't tell you, working the polls, going door to door over the last six months, it doesn't matter if I'm talking to somebody with little kids, with grown kids, or with no kids, it is all about our neighborhood schools.
ALLENAnd in Ward 6, we got a great story ourselves. We've started to really grow a lot more confident and a lot more successes in our elementary school and we've made huge investments at the high school level with Eastern and with Dunbar. But we really have got to tackle middle schools more. And that's a big part of what I ran on. And it's a big part of the vision that I put forward in Ward 6 and I think that's also what really resonated across the board in Ward 6.
NNAMDICharles Allen is the Democratic nominee for the Ward 6 seat on the D.C. Council. Let's go to Barbara in Washington, D.C. Barbara, you're on the air, go ahead please.
BARBARAGood afternoon, guys. And congratulations to both Brianne and Charles. I wanted to talk about something that I think is really exciting, a possibility this fall that our city council could finally represent the full demographics of our city, that -- assuming that Bowser and Bonds and Brianne win in November and if Elissa Silverman could win the Catania seat.
NNAMDII never heard of her.
BARBARAAnd I don't know who else is running in Ward 4. But if a woman took that seat, we could have seven out of, counting the mayor, 15 citywide elected officials, almost 50 percent be women. Something that's long overdue. And I thought your all-male panelist there, Kojo, might want to (unintelligible).
NNAMDIBrianne Nadeau, for your information, is still in the room. For those of our listeners who are unaware of it, Elissa Silverman is the former Loose Lips columnist and former candidate for office. But, Brianne Nadeau, you may want to comment on Barbara's comment.
NADEAUYeah, right on, Barbara. Right on. We saw women victorious at the polls last night. And, you know, women's organizations were involved in D.C. in this election in an unprecedented level. Emily's List got involved for the first time in, I don't know, ever. But they very rarely get involved in local elections in D.C. And so that was huge.
NNAMDIPatrick and then Mark.
MADDENI wanted to ask Charles if he's still on the line.
MADDENA question. Charles, obviously ethics was a big issue in this campaign in the mayor's race. What can you do as councilmember to tackle this issue?
PLOTKINAnd are you in favor of doing away with corporate fundraising, corporate contributions, which are really going federal elections?
ALLENWell, first, I want to make sure Barbara knows that I was endorsed by the National Organization for Women. I was very proud of that as well. You know, I am -- I believe I might be the first council candidate that has won an election without taking a single corporate contribution. I made it a part of my campaign. And that's the way you had to do it the harder way but it is the right way.
ALLENSo every contribution that we took was from an individual. I believe very strongly that if we're going to help restore and rebuild this public trust that I think has been broken over the last several years. I think that you need to have elected officials and candidates that hold themselves to a higher standard. And for me that means that you don't take a corporate contribution. That you got to have a name and a face that goes with every single contribution.
ALLENSo I'm very proud that I had a lot of business support, a lot of small businesses, but I wanted to make sure that they wrote that check as an individual, because I think the way that I help guarantee that accountability and transparency back to the public and to you guys, to the media, is you have a right and a duty to question every decision that we make. And the way that I guarantee that is that you've got to be able to look at those contributions and see exactly who it was that gave to your campaign. So...
NNAMDIWe only have about two minutes left. We got an email from Eric who says, "Given yesterday's electoral outcome, what does the rejection of Gray and Graham combined with Gandhi's recent departure say about the appetite for ethical government and reform in Washington? Do you believe the D.C. voters are ready to clean up local corruption. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, 'The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.'"
NNAMDI"For me, yesterday's election reaffirm my faith in an informed electorate and restored, to some degree, my confidence in local government." Well, for the next nine months, Mark Plotkin, that local government will continue to be led by Vincent Gray because this primary was held so early. What does he do for the next nine months?
PLOTKINWell, obviously his lawyer has said that he's going to be indicted. And I think can be...
NNAMDIExpects him, yes.
PLOTKIN...expects to be indicted, thank you. And I think that is what's going to happen. And so we'll have an indicted mayor. Now, I think the mayor has some leverage, and I don't want this to happen. He's a friend of many, many years and I don't want this to happen to the city. But I can see this possible scenario by which he doesn't -- they do a plea bargain even though they said they won't.
PLOTKINAnd the mayor leaves office early. That that is the price he has to, unfortunately, pay for the public humiliation. He leaves early and in return they do not ask afore. Or he fights it out and he goes to trial and he does the Mary and Barry thing and hopes that one juror holds out. Whatever it is, it's not going to be a pleasant situation.
NNAMDIIf indeed he decides to stay in office under any circumstances until next year, Patrick, what are the difficulties he's likely to encounter in a council on which his likely opponent, either Bowser or Catania, sits.
NNAMDII mean, his likely replacement.
MADDENYeah, here's the thing, I think it's always been -- the D.C. Council and its relationship with the mayor has always been very political. I mean, just this past season with four council members running to become mayor and what's that meant in terms of legislation that's been introduced. And it's just it's always hyper-political. So I think we're just going to see more of the same. And there are a lot of big, important issues coming up. Affordable housing, D.C. United Stadium. So there's just -- there's a lot of issues that Gray would have to deal with as mayor over the next nine months.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden, he's a reporter at WAMU 88.5. Always a pleasure, Patrick. Mark Plotkin is a journalist who's hosted radio programs here and at WTOP and was an analyst for Fox News and works as an analyst for the BBC. Mark, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIBrianne Nadeau, congratulations to you.
NADEAUThank you so much.
NNAMDIGood luck. And Charles Allen, congratulations to you and good luck.
ALLENThank you all very much.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," the longevity gap. Life expectancy and wealthy areas keeps rising but it's decades behind in the poorest. New York Times reporter Annie Lowrey on the long-term consequences of income inequality. Then at 1:00, it's your turn to set the agenda whether it's the D.C. mayoral race, the health care signup's apparent success or the General Motors recall. Let us know what's on your mind.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" noon until 2:00 tomorrow on WAMU 88.5 and streaming at kojoshow.org.
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