D.C. Public Schools is abandoning longtime school food provider Chartwells in the wake of allegations of poor food quality and fraud, and it's moving forward with new vendors for 2016. But questions remain about the selection process and future oversight.
Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates lock horns in a televised debate. Primary candidates in Virginia slug it out for hotly contested congressional seats. And a D.C. lawmaker wants more “Scandal” in the nation’s capital. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Heather Mizeur Maryland House of Delegates (D-20th Dist); Maryland gubernatorial candidate; (former Member, Takoma Park Council, now represents Montgomery County)
- Mary Cheh Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 3); Chair, Committee on Transportation and the Environment
- Tom Sherwood Co-author "Dream City: Race, Power and the Decline of Washington, D.C." (Simon & Schuster, 1994); Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Watch A Featured Clip
Since Maryland decided to rebuild its failed online health insurance marketplace, some officials have called for the state to adopt the federal government’s system instead.
But Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-20th), one of three Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, says she remains optimistic about the state’s options moving forward in light of the issues that have become a focus of debates leading up to the June 24 Democratic primary.
“I have remained open minded,” Mizeur said Friday on Kojo Nnamdi’s weekly Politics Hour, “but it’s probably more likely … that the Connecticut model is a good option for us.”
Watch the full discussion:
Watch Full Video
Watch the full video of our May 9 Politics Hour.
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 for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. Hi, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDII will be seeing you again on Monday. I'm seeing way too much of you recently. You'll be coming in here again on Monday to talk about "Dream City."
SHERWOODYes. Today I'm the analyst and on Monday I'll be the target.
NNAMDIOh, I see.
SHERWOODSo you can ask me any questions you like about the book.
SHERWOODWe're very proud of -- Harry Jaffe and I are very proud of the fact that we've done an update of the 20-year-old "Dream City" book.
NNAMDIAnd that will be on Monday afternoon. So tune in for that. Joining us in studio is Heather Mizeur, Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland. She's a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, whose district is located in Montgomery County. Heather Mizeur, thank you so much for joining us.
REP. HEATHER MIZEURThank you, Kojo and Tom. Always great to be with you.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Heather Mizeur you can start calling now, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Tom, what is the deal with the Silver Spring Transit Center? Now, apparently there's been a new agreement. There have been so many agreements one loses track.
SHERWOODYou know, I was looking at this and I went back. I think the -- I have a timeline for the Transit Center.
SHERWOODAnd it starts in October of 1993.
NNAMDII thought it was 1893, but go ahead.
SHERWOODWell, it could be. I think they had horses planned for a barn in the back. You know what? This is, you know, if you were buying a house that was under construction, and there were so many problems, you would probably have some legal ability just to walk away. Or you just -- or you would have an inspection and say, this doesn't meet my standards. I'm walking away. The county can't do that.
SHERWOODAnd this is -- the bad thing is this is such a needed facility, transportation in the suburb is just getting to be horrific. It's already a lost cause, almost, in Northern Virginia. And it's just really sad that they still cannot get -- make sure that the concrete won't fall on the people coming through, the commuters.
NNAMDIThe new agreement…
SHERWOODSo maybe by the end of the year.
NNAMDIThe new agreement is between Montgomery County and Metro. That Metro has agreed that there are safety concerns and that it will work with Montgomery County on the repair plan to strengthen interior beams and girders prior to opening the facility. I said, half-jokingly, in our billboard, that they need somebody like the woman from "Scandal," a fixer who can make this thing look good in the final analysis.
NNAMDIBecause, Heather Mizeur, there's been so much bad information -- well, good information about bad things about the Silver Spring Center that I am sure that they're going to have a public relations problem when they open, with people going in there scared.
MIZEURIt's been a real challenge and concern. That particular facility is in my legislative district. And the new announcement that there'll be about $7 million more that will be pumped into the project, but we don't yet have agreement on who will pay for it. This is a project that's already $30 million over budget. And we're expecting the opening to be pushed back until 2015. And it's a real concern.
NNAMDIIt definitely is a real concern. A concern for Delegate Jon Cardin is the Baltimore Sun reporting that this candidate for Maryland attorney general -- you remember that we had one of his rivals on last week, Delegate Aisha Braveboy. His other rival for that position is Senator Brian Frosh. The Baltimore Sun reporting that Jon Cardin missed 121 out of 164 committee votes, nearly 75 percent. And apparently in the House of Delegates, committees are where the real work is done. So first you, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, the committee is where the real work is done, whether it's in Congress or a city councils or anywhere. And it's embarrassing that they would have so many absences. Now, he did -- he put out a statement after the story. Initially he didn't want to respond to it. But then put out a statement that, you know, he had family obligations with his wife and children -- child or children.
SHERWOODAnd he unfortunately made the comment that we are not professional politicians, suggesting -- but, you know, he is a professional politician. I mean that's part of his job. And I understand the pulls between family concerns and doing your job. But, you know, other people do that, too. And they didn't miss 75 percent of the vote. So it's kind of a problem. Here's -- and he said that he was -- here's his problem -- if it is a problem. He has said he was spending the time with his family. Can't criticize him for that.
SHERWOODBut if someone, somewhere pulls up a message that he was on a boat on the Chesapeake Bay or he was in Philadelphia or in New York, or he was somewhere where he's missing vote because he wasn't with is family, that would be devastating for him.
NNAMDIAnd that someone somewhere is likely to be someone in your profession. Heather Mizeur, I don't know, have you endorsed anyone in that race at all?
MIZEURI have not. I'm a Democratic National Committee woman. And I am encouraged by the Party not to pick sides in contested primaries.
NNAMDIBut how important is committed work, in general, and as Tom has characterized it, is that where the work really gets done?
MIZEURCommittee work is where a majority of the work gets done. And those can be…
SHERWOODThank you for supporting me.
MIZEURAnd those committee votes are important. It's part of the reason why I push for transparency in voting records for a long time…
NNAMDIBut how difficult is…
MIZEUR…voters only could see how we voted on the floor. And now they have a chance to see what our voting record is in committee because that's how important it is.
NNAMDIHow difficult it is to do your committee work appropriately while campaigning for office.
MIZEURWell, I think that is probably the other side to the story here. It is challenging. I know that I missed more committee votes this year than ever before. I had to make a decision on certain days. We tended, in my committee, to have votes stacked up on Friday afternoons, which were the one days that most of the rest of the General Assembly is off. And there were times where I had already agreed to do a tour through Southern Maryland and I was in three different counties in one afternoon and had to miss some votes.
MIZEURBut I tried to be very careful about never missing a vote where my vote mattered in the outcome of an issue, or on any of the big budget issues that I was in charge of overseeing. It would be, like, votes on other members bills that we were likely killing in committee, I would sometimes make a decision that my time was better spent doing work elsewhere. But it's a challenging balance, although that percentage that you suggested sounds pretty high.
SHERWOODPeople and journalists can kind of be fairly flippant about criticizing people in public life. But in fact, it's a very difficult balancing job for any number of things that you do, not just your personal life and your work there, but it's an extraordinary job with demands on your time.
MIZEURIt is. It's -- but it's such a blessing. It's a real honor to have the voters select you to represent them and be their voice in trying to make a difference in your community. And it's something I've been very honored to do for eight years as a member of the Maryland General Assembly and for two years before that serving on the city council in Takoma Park. And hopefully, as the next governor of Maryland.
NNAMDIWell, Tom and I can assure that when we run for office that we will never miss doing this show. And we unethically use it to ceaselessly promote our candidacy. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. Our guest is Heather Mizeur. She's a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland. She's a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Her district is located in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Heather Mizeur, please call us at 800-433-8850. You and the other two candidates running for the Democratic nomination debated on television on Wednesday night. You made it clear that you don't think this race should be about personal bickering, but it should be about leadership. Well, your two opponents both hold statewide offices. They have long resumes, but you said -- and I'm quoting here, "Our ideas and our vision matter in this election, but our records of management matter even more."
NNAMDI"You want a governor with a successful track record of implementing health reforms, then I am that leader." What can you say about why you are better qualified to be a leader than they are?
MIZEURWell, specifically on the examples I was suggesting in that answer on healthcare, one of the first bills I passed as a legislator was a bill to allow young adults to remain on their family health plans through age 25. It was first a provision that I had written in John Kerry's health reform plan. I spent a decade working on Capitol Hill and for a four years was with Senator John Kerry as a domestic policy director before, during and after his presidential run.
MIZEURAnd had the opportunity to help craft his presidential health reform plan. We put in that package the idea of covering young adults on their family plans. And when I left his office to go run for and win a seat in the General Assembly, it was in part because I wanted to take these ideas of things that weren't getting done on Capitol Hill and show how we could get them done in Maryland. That's the first piece of legislation I pushed through, but I didn't just check the box and say, okay, I passed that one. Let's go move to the next bill I want to pass.
MIZEURWe have to focus on the unglamorous side of governing, and actually making sure that the intended benefits of our work are connected with the people who we're trying to serve. I worked with college presidents across the state and sent package of materials asking them to share with their incoming cohered of students so that they knew about this new reform and opportunity. I reached out and talked to some large corporations who our state laws couldn't require them to do this because they were large self-funded plans, but we could encourage them to do it.
MIZEURDiscovery Communications in downtown Silver Spring was one of the businesses that agreed to make that be one of their company policies. I worked with the state to take up the option for our state plan, knowing that county employees and their health plans are often pegged to the coverage that the state provides. So I worked really hard to make sure that this got implemented across the board in a successful way. Let's talk about our Kids First plan. There were 100,000 children…
NNAMDIPlease make it as brief as possible because Tom Sherwood is about to interrupt you.
MIZEURI found a unique way to enroll more children in health insurance in our state. And when we did that successfully we got $120 million over the last three years in federal performance bonus grants because we hit our implementation targets. And this and a range of other experiences that I've had in actually -- not just passing legislation, but making sure…
NNAMDIBut following through.
MIZEUR…that we follow through.
NNAMDIYou rightly said in the debate on Wednesday night, that was on NBC 4 and other places, that you didn't want -- when asked about the failure of the Affordable Care Act in Maryland -- that you didn't want to spend time placing blame, but wanted to go forward and make -- but before you can forward you have to understand what happened. Anthony Brown has acknowledged he didn't do what he was supposed to do.
SHERWOODBut what happened? Why did this -- why was this -- he was in charge. Why didn't this go forward? Doug Gansler, the other candidate for governor, has said Anthony Brown, as lieutenant governor, this is his biggest job in state government life and he failed. Do you think Lt. Gov. Brown failed or was he just part of a group of people who failed? And then, I know you want to go forward, but I just want to make sure we understand where we are with this badly done law.
MIZEURWhen we were heading into the legislative session this year, I came up with a list of things that I thought we could do to address the underlying problem. Some of my analysis of what had gone wrong was that there was a lack of transparency and accountability for the decisions that were being made. And working with the legislature and an oversight committee to keep us informed of progress, we were continually being told very minimal updates leading up to the flipping on the switch in October.
MIZEURAnd we were told as a general legislative body to expect Maryland to be the best state in the nation. We were going to implement this better than any other state. And unfortunately, we failed…
SHERWOODAnd the lieutenant governor was in charge of that.
MIZEURAnd we, unfortunately, failed that first test. And so I wanted to make sure that we came in and looked for the underlying problems of what went wrong so that we could fix it moving forward. And also along the way I proposed additional opportunities for how we could get even more people enrolled. Maryland isn't taking up some options other states have used to make sure even more people get coverage. Like, allowing someone who enrolls in food stamps to automatically get enrolled in Medicaid.
MIZEURWhen you show that your income level qualifies you for food stamps, let's just go ahead and get you enrolled in Medicaid. And instead of making those families, every four months, re-certify their income eligibility and kick them off coverage if their income goes up too high for a particular quarter, give them a year of coverage like everyone else.
MIZEURWe look at our income over a year. If someone's a seasonal worker and they make more money in a few months, why should they lose healthcare for a few months? There's a lot we can do to be even better at getting more people healthcare and that's what I'm focused on.
SHERWOODIncome inequality is a huge problem in the country. The president has talked about it. It's certainly true. But I'm just trying to get -- because you are running, not against other people. You're running for -- to be governor. But Anthony Brown wants to be governor. So when I ask about what's the difference between your management and his, do you not at least acknowledge that's a demerit for him, the way he handled it? And I know you're trying to avoid criticizing him and I'm trying to get you to do it. If you think he deserves…
SHERWOOD…some criticism, without wasting all of your time about it. Then maybe we could move on if you would just acknowledge that I'm right.
MIZEURI thought that we'd start the show with that premise on everything, Tom.
SHERWOODYou know, it is a big deal. I mean, Barbara Mikulski, who's a well-respected senator, senior senator, she endorsed Anthony Brown by praising the heck out of the healthcare.
MIZEURI think that the voters, journalists and others deserve to ask questions of accountability, but I think my personal opinion about this, as another candidate in the race, no matter what I say will be viewed through a political lens. And I just want to stay focused on how we fix the problem.
NNAMDICongressman John Delaney has publicly called for the state to move to the federal exchange, rather than give it another go with technology adopted from Connecticut. What are your thoughts about that?
MIZEURMy concern about going to the federal exchange is that it's worked well, and they got their kinks fixed for the commercial product. People who were enrolling in our state, the four commercial plans are Kaiser, Evergreen, United and -- oh, I'm having a Rick Perry moment. There's a fourth plan. And those plans are -- and when we hear about the failings of the exchange, it's often been with people trying to enroll in those plans. The federal government has done a good job of fixing that.
MIZEURBut we have to keep in mind that this is an exchange platform and our efforts here are also about having Medicaid be eligible to a lot more low income people. And the federal exchange has not worked so well in getting people with Medicaid coverage enrolled. And some of the advances that we have made in Maryland, really have been on the Medicaid side and we want to keep that going.
MIZEURI have remained open-minded to switching to the federal exchange, but I think that it's probably more likely, having looked at the analysis and sat in on some of the oversight committees that the Connecticut model is a good opportunity for us. But we have to make sure that, moving forward, that we put some of these controls in place so that we don't have a repeat of the previous problems.
NNAMDII want to go to the phones now. So Tom, don your headsets, because Judy, in Silver Spring, Md., in a way, wants to contextualize what Tom Sherwood has been asking about. Judy, your turn.
JUDYYes. Thank you very much. I listened to the debate the other night. And I'm very impressed with you, Ms. Mizeur. And I think I'm definitely going to vote for you.
MIZEURThank you, Judy.
JUDYI think I'm in the minority, however, because all the research tells us that people -- the electorate tells you they want you to be positive. But they tend to listen only to the negative. And I think that making constructive criticism is different than you attacking your opponents. And I would like to see you make some constructive criticisms about your opponents, because otherwise, I'm not sure you're going to get the attention of other people who appreciate your positive way of campaigning and giving us (unintelligible) …
NNAMDIJudy, as I said, you contextualized Tom's remarks. Constructive criticism is all we're looking for, Heather Mizeur.
MIZEURWell, when it comes to the issues, I have no problem drawing a contrast and a distinction on where our policies are very different priorities for our state. I came out with a plan to address the gender pay gap in our state.
NNAMDIAnd we have a caller who wants to know about that, too.
MIZEURAnd my proposal is to make sure that where the federal government has stalled, we pass a Paycheck Fairness Act in our state because women are making 85 cents on the dollar on average to their male counterparts for the same jobs. If you're an African American or a Latino woman the disparity is even more drastic. And it's really important for us to address this with urgency. After I put that…
SHERWOODAnd, excuse me…
MIZEUR…plan -- if I could just finish real quick. After I put that plan out, the lieutenant governor came out with his own remark, saying, you know what? We've done a pretty good job here in Maryland of addressing this. And by comparison to the national average of 77 cents that is, I guess, in one way, a fair statement, but it fails to address the urgency that we're not done with this until there is no discrepancy, until we're at a 100 percent of the same wages.
MIZEURAnd I was willing to make a very strong public statement in response to that on a range of issues of where we differ on standing up for income inequality, environmental issues. I will draw distinctions on policies.
NNAMDISo you make a distinction between that and attacking or criticizing the lieutenant governor's performance…
NNAMDI…on the roll out of healthcare?
SHERWOODWell, another subject, talk about the minimum wage. The state passed a minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2018. The District of Columbia passed 11.50 by 2016. Prince George's and Montgomery County passed the -- I think it's 10.10 by 2017.
SHERWOODEleven-fifty? Okay, great. But that's a lot -- your view -- what is your view on the minimum wage? You've talked about an even higher, fair, a living wage. What would you do as governor to address the income inequality when it comes to minimum wage? And I know you've talked also about tip workers. Tip workers who still don't get very much money.
MIZEURI made it very clear during this legislative session that while I was proud to support the final bill that we put through on the minimum wage increase, that I had a lot of frustration. That we waited until an election year to address wage stagnation. And that we did nothing to make sure that ongoing crisis is averted. First of all, the next governor is going to be running for reelection before we even get to 10.10 an hour. I'm calling for, not just increasing the minimum wage, but getting us to a living wage of 16.70 an hour by 2022.
MIZEURNumber two, we should be indexing the wage for inflation so that the cost of living doesn't eat away at that wage increase. And the third point is that we have way too many people who are tipped-wage workers that are still stuck at $3.63 an hour. I've said that at a minimum we should raise that to have their wage be 70 percent of whatever minimum or living wage that we put in place.
NNAMDIOur guest is Heather Mizeur. She's a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland. She's a member of the House of Delegates. Her district is located in Montgomery County, Md. You should know that we are live-streaming this conversation with Heather Mizeur so you can watch it on kojoshow.org. But if you'd actually like to talk with her, give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Here is Wendy, in Bethesda, Md. Wendy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WENDYHello, Delegate Mizeur. Thank you for doing such a great job on the debate Tuesday night. While you were speaking I heard you talk about tax cuts for 90 percent of the families in the state. And you're the only candidate that did that and mentioned that for the middle class. So thank you. I was wondering if you can give us a little bit more detail about your plan to do that.
MIZEURAbsolutely. Thank you for the call, Wendy. And by reference on all the issues that I talk about, you can find all the details on my website at my name, heathermizeur-M-I-Z-E-U-R.com. The tax policy is in our jobs and economic development plan. We, in this administration, allowed the millionaire's tax to expire. And simultaneously raised taxes on middle class. And I'm trying to turn that around, Wendy. I want to bring back the millionaire's tax. It would generate about $112 million of additional income. And I would invest that in tax cuts for 90 percent of the rest of us.
MIZEURIt's not a lot of money to start, but we know that every few hundred dollars in the hands of middle class families gets reinvested in our economy. We go to more restaurants, we buy school supplies for our kids or shoes and clothes. It gets immediately reinvested in our economy, as an economic boost. And I couple my middle tax relief, with some meaningful tax relief for our small businesses, as well, who are the job creators of our economy.
MIZEURAnd I have an economic vision that doesn't pit workers against small businesses. I have something for them both. Yes, we're going to ask you to pay higher wages, but we're also going to close a corporate tax loophole to put meaningful relief in the hands of small businesses who are creating these jobs.
SHERWOODMay I ask about…
NNAMDIPlease go ahead.
SHERWOODYou have proposed and you support the legalization of marijuana, saying it could be like alcohol, taxed, benefit to the state. Other states, the District of Columbia, there's hearing on Capitol Hill -- there was this morning, on the city's law simply to decriminalize it.
MIZEURWhich we just did in Maryland.
SHERWOODRight, you've just done in Maryland. And it won't take effect until what, June 1 or something? Is that -- something like that.
MIZEURYes. I believe it was emergency legislation. If not June, October.
SHERWOODThe NBC 4 I-Team looked at the substance records in Maryland, said that since 2011, 50,000 people who have sought some type of medical treatment for substance abuse, have cited marijuana and possibly other drugs at the same time. What do you expect to do since Colorado is new, we don't really know what's happening there in -- in terms of substance abuse, how do you balance that if you make this drug available? How do you balance the money the state will get and what you'll spend on substance abuse treatment and prevention?
MIZEURWhen I came out with my marijuana legalization proposal in November, I also made it very clear that while it will take an election and a mandate from voters to create a change of thinking in Annapolis for legalization, we could get decriminalization done this year and stop entangling people's lives in the criminal justice system because of our failed policies on this war on drugs. Just by decriminalizing marijuana, we will save an estimated $280 million a year in the reduced incarceration, detention and court costs associated with marijuana possession charges.
MIZEURWe've been doing 23,000 of the -- I'm sorry -- yeah, 23,000 of those a year. And that is a significant amount of revenue that I think we could start to rededicate towards substance abuse treatment. Now, if I indicate -- underline the question, as sort of the gateway drug question about marijuana.
SHERWOODRight. Which Angela Alsobrooks has said. She said it was a gateway drug.
MIZEURThere's a very interesting Institute of Medicine report that I read, because I didn't start out on the side of legalization when I first did my due diligence on this. I was open-minded, but I wanted to learn more. And as I did research on this, I found an Institute of Medicine report that discussed how it's actually marijuana's illegal status that makes it a gateway drug because what -- when people have to go to a drug dealer to get their marijuana, they're often, what they call in the industry, they try to upsell you. Right?
MIZEURHey, I've got this other product I think you'd like better. Let me get you hooked on heroin, cocaine. I'm not sure what else they might be discussing, but it's -- part of the problem is its illegal nature. And that you can actually have a chance at improving access and keeping it out of the hands of youth, if you have…
SHERWOODBring it out of the shadows.
MIZEURBring it out of the shadows. Take that underground economy, bring it into the light of day and have the state be in charge of regulating it.
SHERWOODUp on the Hill, I would say, at this hearing this morning, there were some concerns expressed by members of Congress that, well, we have a lot of federal land in the District, and I believe there's some significant federal land in Maryland. And that -- what will the police do? I mean, a person who thinks he or she can be under the influence of marijuana and get very small penalties in Maryland, but if they happen to wander onto federal property they'll still face criminal charges. I'm not sure how the police are going to handle that.
MIZEURWell, there is what's called the Cole Memo that the Obama administration has produced for states who are going down this road of legalization to recognize that while the federal laws aren't changing, they're working to be collaborative with the states making their own choice for a different pathway on this.
SHERWOODRight. I think the police said they would have to arrest people and it would be up to the prosecutors whether to go forward.
NNAMDIHere's another aspect of that from Alex, in Washington, D.C. Alex, your turn.
ALEXYes. Hi. I called in because the statistics supplied by the Centers for Disease Control in their 2010 survey, said that of all the people who use illegal drugs in this country, the annual death rate was 28,000 something. The death rate from people using alcohol was 100,000. And the death rate of those people using cigarettes was 400,000. And the death rate from marijuana use was zero. So I think we need to restore a little bit of sanity and get some perspective on the use of…
NNAMDIHeather Mizeur, what do you say?
MIZEURAlex makes a very great point that I often am making in living rooms across the state, as I'm explaining this policy and winning new support for this approach. It is -- on top of the differences in death, we know that in terms of its addictive nature cigarettes are 32 percent addictive, alcohol is 14 percent, marijuana is 9 percent. And it's just become this cultural thing that we've made it into something to fear and question. Well, shouldn't we wait and see how those other states do it first?
MIZEURI just don't buy into the fear. I think that it's time for us to evolve on this issue and to get drug dealers out of this business and for the state to get the revenue to invest in important things, like a universal pre-K program, which I'm focused on, eliminating the achievement gap in our schools. It still matters in Maryland what your socioeconomic status is and what your race is to determine whether or not you're going to be successful in school. And we know it doesn't have to be that way if we invest in early childhood initiatives from zero to five we can eliminate the disparities.
NNAMDIFinal question, Tom.
SHERWOODAnd I know that you also -- I don't think you said it now, but you've said it before. And same has been said in the District. There is a racial discrimination pattern in the arrests for marijuana also, that African Americans I think in the District are five or nine times more likely -- young people to be arrested for…
MIZEURAnd in Maryland that's -- it's three times. So it is -- it's very much…
SHERWOODIt's civil rights, it's health, it's money, it's everything.
MIZEURYes. It has been absolutely enforced with racial bias. And it's one of the reasons why we have to change the law.
SHERWOODSo you want to end pot prohibition?
NNAMDIHeather Mizeur is a Democratic candidate for the governor of Maryland. She's a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Her district is located in Montgomery County. Delegate Mizeur, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
MIZEURAlways a pleasure Kojo, Tom, thank you.
SHERWOODCan I -- when is the next debate? Do we know? When is the next televised debate? It's in Baltimore.
MIZEURWell, the next agreed upon televised debate is June 2, with Maryland Public Television. There was a question of whether or not there'll be a third televised debate that potentially is going to be on May 27.
SHERWOODOn the radio, at least.
MIZEURAnd then there will be another one on the radio, yes.
NNAMDIWe'll be following them all. This is "The Politics Hour." Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. Tom, what should Union Station be called? Should it be called Harry Truman Station? Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton seems to agree with the people who want to do that in the Senate.
NNAMDITwo senators have introduced legislation or they're planning on introducing legislation to have -- no. It's timed to Truman's 130th birthday, which was this past week. So they have introduced such legislation. Senators McCaskill and Blunt. And they say that, you know, this station once housed the car that -- the presidential rail car, which Truman used on his whistle-stop campaign.
NNAMDIAnd that when he left Washington from Union Station 5,000 people showed up to say goodbye. There's a connection there between Truman and Union Station and so we should name it. We've named the airport after former President Ronald Reagan. Of course, that's in Virginia.
SHERWOODYes, it is. Well, you know, I really love Union Station. And people aren't aware that it's about -- in the next years it has to undergo an extraordinary makeover in the back. I've forgotten. I was talking to the Downtown Business Improvement District. They were telling me that something like 20 million people or so pass through there now. And they expect, in a very short period of time it's going to be up to 40 million. And so the train tracks are going to have to be changed, the busses, the Metro service there.
SHERWOODThere's just an extraordinary rebuilding of Union Station. Not the front façade or any of that historic part. So what should it be called? I love Union Station. I think that's a great name.
NNAMDICan't they keep Union in the name, even if they…
SHERWOODWell, yes, you can call it, you know…
NNAMDI…include the former president's name?
SHERWOODIt's like the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
SHERWOODIt's the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
SHERWOODAnd we could just name it the phonebook, because it has everyone's name on it. It's -- Harry Truman's a great -- was a great president. It's a nice thing. It doesn't really affect the local Washington, what it's called. It'll just be one more name that we'll just say Union Station, like most people just National Airport.
NNAMDILet's ask Mary Cheh what she thinks.
MS. MARY CHEHUnion Truman, how does that sound?
NNAMDIUnion Truman? That's sounds pretty good.
CHEHNot so good?
SHERWOODIt sounds like somebody that's already doing decriminalized marijuana.
NNAMDIMary Cheh joins in studio. She's a member of the D.C. Council. She's a Democrat who represents Ward 3. She chairs the Council's committee on transportation and the environment. If you have questions or comments for Mary Cheh, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Before we go to Mary Cheh directly, Tom, there was something else I wanted to ask you about. And that I think has to do with the -- oh, with the departure of the head of the Department of Human Services in the wake of all of the controversy.
SHERWOODDavid Burns, yeah.
NNAMDIWe had him on a few weeks ago in the wake of all the controversy we've had over the homelessness in the District.
SHERWOODWell, this is part of this horrible situation that the councilmembers brought us where we had an election on...
SHERWOOD...April 1, where we have a lame duck mayor for nine months. Well, see...
NNAMDII see Mary Cheh shrinking under the table.
SHERWOODYes. And I'm staring at her as I say this.
SHERWOODBut here's the problem. The appointees, the cabinet members, the higher ranking folks, the very people who actually run the government, they are leaving. They have to find other jobs, you know. Terry Bellamy of DDOT has left now, Nick Majett of the Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Other...
NNAMDI'Cause we know we're going to have a new mayor.
SHERWOODSo we're going to -- this is a one-way door out. They know that the new mayor, whether it's David Catania or Muriel Bowser, will be appointing his or her own people. And so they had to start looking for jobs. There are a lot of nervous people. And so this is just one more. And the problem for this one is, of course, the mayor announced this grand plan to place 500 families in more permanent housing within 100 days. And this is the person who was supposed to do it.
NNAMDIYou know, Mary Cheh, I've been reading about how Philadelphia has been reducing its homeless population with the help of private donors. But we're getting into that time of year when we stop talking about homeless people, when it starts getting warm and the summer comes around. And all of a sudden, winter shows up, and it's a crisis again.
CHEHWell, it's precisely now that we should be talking about it. And, in fact, we are talking about it because it's precisely now that it's the budget season. And there is a plan among councilmembers to get together and to see what we can do in our handling of the budget to enhance whatever the mayor has done. The key thing, I think, first is to focus on preventing homelessness, of course, with emergency rent supplement and other actions, but then to address chronic homelessness.
CHEHI'm quite convinced that we could address chronic homelessness. We have people who, if they were placed in permanent supportive housing, could actually do very well. And our families, you know, in D.C. General, that's a travesty, too. There's a way through this, and we can do it. And it's money, but it's also leveraging private funds. But we can do it, and I think there's a commitment to do it.
SHERWOODWhat -- how do you address -- this is probably one of the largest not in my backyard, NIMBY, issues in the world. I think if you -- you know, somebody in The Washington Times, several years ago, wrote a column saying we should build subsidized public housing in Rock Creek Park. And people would just -- you know, their heads blew off.
SHERWOODIf you -- where are you going to find the permanent housing or at least semi-permanent housing to get families stabilized by putting them in semi-stable places to live? Where are those going to be? What part of the city will those be?
CHEHWell, you know, I don't think that we -- that that's the problem. I think the problem is the resources and the commitment. I think -- and...
SHERWOODI don't -- excuse me. I don't know of any in your Ward 3. You have the most wealthy ward in the city. I mean, I don't know how many home -- houses are in Ward 3 for the homeless people.
CHEHWell, what we do is we -- the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place is very active and involved. And...
SHERWOODBut that's their office. They don't have any facilities there.
CHEHNo. That's their -- no, that's true. But they are actively involved with churches and other groups in Ward 3 and elsewhere. But what I wanted to say is, I think maybe that's a kind of a false problem, you know, this idea of huge housing projects where people are unhappy about them. I mean, the idea is -- and you can see some of this beginning to take shape in New York -- to identify vacant properties, to identify places where we could put up permanent supportive housing.
CHEHIt doesn't have to be ghettoized. And indeed, people do better when they are integrated in a community. So I don't see that as the problem. I see the problem more a matter of dedicating the resources and having the commitment to do this. And I think we can. And particularly with veterans, there's a great deal of federal money now to do that, and so I think if we marshal our forces, so to speak, that we could make -- we could have a significant result.
NNAMDIThe other problem you've been seeing is how the city deals with transportation issues. You proposed...
CHEHThis is a segue, I take it. Yes.
NNAMDIYeah. You noticed that? Last -- A month ago, you proposed completely restructuring the way we deal with transportation issues in D.C. What exactly are you proposing to be done? And why do you feel it's necessary?
CHEHWell, you know, I've been the chair of the Transportation Committee for couple years now. And I've seen how things have been working. And it occurred to me that, you know, not that restructuring is a solution to many of the problems that I've seen, but it may enhance our ability to find solutions. There a number of features of what I'm thinking of. And, by the way, this is a proposal. It's not a final product.
CHEHIt's the beginning of the conversation. It's not the end of the conversation. We are going to have a hearing in June. Then we're going to have a whole bunch of working groups over the summer, and then another hearing in the fall. We're going to try to bring together experts and activists and all the rest of it to see, you know, what makes sense. But the idea at the moment is, first of all, to give you some background, all of DDOT and the Department of the Environment, all of that was under the Department of Public Works about 12 years ago.
CHEHAnd then there was an effort to separate it out. But it was all under that one umbrella. In any event, what I've seen from looking at this from the committee, one thing that we have as a problem is parking. One of the things I'd like to do is create an office or a department of parking management. Right now, we have three different agencies involved in parking issues. The Department of Transportation creates parking policy. The Department of -- DPW primarily does the tickets, not entirely but primarily. And...
CHEHThe ticket writing, right. And then the DMV, the Department of Motor Vehicles, does the adjudication. That is a very unsatisfactory situation.
NNAMDIYeah, people can be running around. So you have created -- you are proposing to create a new department of parking management that would deal with all of that.
CHEHThat's right. And they would take all of that under their wing. In terms of DDOT itself, we have expanded in the District of Columbia in an amazing way in terms of our transportation options. We're going to have, hopefully -- I have my fingers crossed, case people are just listening -- get streetcar underway soon. But we have streetcar. We have the circulator. We have other forms of transit, buses. We have...
SHERWOODNew bike lanes.
CHEH...pedestrians. We have bike lanes. You know, it's just really quite an amazing situation. So what I'd like to do is I'd like to take from DDOT and create a Transit Authority, who's...
NNAMDISo you would leave DDOT in place? You're not abolishing DDOT?
CHEHYes, leave -- no, no, no, no. No, no.
NNAMDIYou'd leave DDOT in place, and you would create a new District Transit Authority.
CHEHAuthority, right, that...
NNAMDIThat would do what?
CHEHThat would have this umbrella overview of all of our transit options and be responsible for creating transit policy. DDOT would do what DDOT does best, which is actually pave the roads, put in the sidewalks, build the bridges, and take care of the infrastructure. And the ultimate goal here is to have a coordinated comprehensive transit policy.
SHERWOODWould you be -- would we have more government employees or fewer government employees under this scheme?
CHEHWell, that's an interesting question. You know, just moving the chairs around might mean that you're just moving people in those chairs around.
CHEHBut you might have reductions in some places but increases in others.
NNAMDII should mention that this proposal would also dissolve the city's Taxicab Commission.
CHEHYes. That was my next point.
CHEHThe Taxi Commission is kind of this archaic creature that doesn't make a whole lot of sense now. What I'd like to do with the Taxicab Commission is to take all of the registration and licensing that we do of taxicabs and put that in the DMV. That's what the DMV does. We're going to take away ticket adjudication from them and let the DMV be the DMV and do motor vehicles, including taxis.
SHERWOODYou -- do...
CHEHBut taxis -- excuse me. I'm sorry.
SHERWOODGo ahead. Go ahead.
CHEHI just want to make that final point about this. Taxis are a form of transit, taxis, Uber, Sidecar, all the rest of that. So that ought to come under the heading of the Transit Authority.
SHERWOODSo do we have a war on cars in this city or not?
CHEHI know that's often spoken about. What we have is...
SHERWOODEveryone says it. They say it to you that you may get in the...
CHEHNo, no. I hear it. I hear it a lot.
SHERWOODWe'll have Middle East peace before we have peace between cyclists and cars.
CHEHNo, no. That's -- I don't think that that's so. I think that, you know, we're in a period of transition. First of all, 40 percent of the people in the District don't even have a car. And, second of all, more and more people want to have the option of not using their car, even if they have it. As the former director of planning used to say, most of the other people are car light. They have one car, which probably sits, you know, outside of their house when they walk to work or take the subway, or whatever it is they do.
CHEHWhat we need to do, again, is to have education, cultural change, and experience with maybe this fancy word, but multimodal transportation.
SHERWOODWell, you -- the city has, the council and the mayor -- you have reduced the -- or you're about to, or you have reduced the requirement to have garages sufficient to hold all the cars for the people who are working in the buildings? Has that been reduced yet? Or it's part of their zoning plan?
CHEHThat's part of the rezoning plan. It's not finalized yet. But it's not garages. It would be parking spaces. They could be outside. They don't have to be inside.
SHERWOODOkay. There was a tremendous -- I think Mike DeBonis of The Post put it up, and I think down -- there's a nice, great big map of Washington, D.C. from, like, 20-something years ago. And it shows all the surface parking, just oodles of surface parking. And now you look at the map today. There's virtually none. Even the building around the Wilson Building where the Reagan Building is, that was a parking lot for a 100, 600,000 cars. We're losing parking space.
SHERWOODAnd people -- and then other people say, why don't you synchronize the lights so we can speed through town? And I'll tell them, well, the city's policy is, we're not going to synchronize the lights so you can speed out to Maryland or Virginia. Here, these are people who live in these neighborhoods, and more and more people are living downtown in places. We're not going to make one-way streets for you to go out to the 'burbs.
NNAMDIIs this the bicyclist argument you're making here?
SHERWOODNo. This is a commuters who -- everyone says...
NNAMDIThe car-unfriendly town.
SHERWOOD...why don't they synchronize these lights so I can go down K Street at 40 miles an hour? I said, we don't want you to go...
NNAMDIBut when you conflate that with the disappearance of parking, you seem to be making the -- continuing to make the argument that this is a car-unfriendly environment.
SHERWOODYes. This -- that's -- I'm saying this is the basis for why people think there's a war on cars. But we have all these people coming to town. We don't have room if they all bring their car.
CHEHWell, but, happily, they're not all bringing their cars. And you're right. They're saying -- I have heard different projections, between a thousand and 1,200 net new people, and I think that...
CHEHYeah, a month. And the demographic is largely young people who have so much education debt that they don't want to carry a car. They don't want to have a car to deal with. But in terms of parking, one of the statistics that I think is quite interesting is that 30 percent of the traffic downtown are people looking for a parking space. So we need to deal with that a little bit there with our idea about parking and sensors in parking spaces. You know how you go to these garages at BWI, and they say there are two on the second level and six on the...
CHEH...that we could have sensors that could tell you where there are parking spaces. You know, we could do things that would ameliorate, to some extent, the parking issues.
NNAMDIThe site, Greater Greater Washington that David Alpert runs asked the question that -- about this -- "Under this proposed system, who's going to define the city's priorities and plans for its transportation networks, which projects are prioritized on which streets?" Would that be DDOT or the new...
CHEHThat would be the Transit Authority.
NNAMDIThat would be the District Transit Authority.
CHEHIn other words, that's the conception at the moment. We'll have to see how this all unfolds. But I do think it's worth looking at how we've structured things and how we can make it better.
NNAMDIOn taxicab, what are the specific deficiencies in taxi regulation that you're aiming to solve with this reorganization proposal?
CHEHWell, first of all, it's the basic idea that taxis are not a thing apart. Taxis are a form of transport, and so they -- how they function in the District should come under, you know, a comprehensive transit policy. We've had issues with the Taxicab Commission in terms of their willingness to accept different forms of transit that are like taxis, but different, for example, the app services, like Uber and...
NNAMDISpeaking of Uber, we got a tweet from Martin DiCaro, our transportation reporter here who's asking, "Why has Uber taxi been allowed to operate outside D.C. Taxicab regulations while its competitors must follow those regulations?"
CHEHWell, that -- wonderful question. In...
NNAMDIThank you, Martin.
CHEHThank you. In looking at the whole issue about taxis, when I inherited this committee, it became very clear to me that there's a reason why we regulate taxis to the extent that we do. And the basic dividing line with this kind of transit should be between street hails -- people who hail the taxi on the street -- and people who order through an application process. With street hails, you have to have a regulated fare. You have to have other regulations because it's -- whoever comes by and picks you up, you can't haggle on the way to the airport, well, I'll pay you $20, $25.
CHEHYou have to -- it has to be set, and it has to be regulated. It has to have a minimum level of service. In terms of the app services, you register with them. They do have regulation. It's not to the same extent because you are ordering them up, and so that is your choice. If you don't want to order them up or if you don't want to accept what they say is the anticipated fare, you don't have to take it.
SHERWOODCan I -- I want to -- can I ask about traffic downtown?
SHERWOODI've been in the downtown traffic more times than I want to discuss. And I've talked again to the business leaders downtown. They say the city downtown is choking. And I don't understand why this city -- something that could be done now without -- well, why don't we have traffic control officers? When I drive through town in rush hour, I see occasionally one here or one there. There are no police officers now who are the friendly police officer helping to direct traffic. But we have major intersections downtown. And it is gridlock every day.
SHERWOODAnd it -- you know, somehow another we can clear the streets for the president of the United States, and we can have a cop on every corner for two miles. Somehow another, that all gets worked out. But just for the hundreds of thousands of people who are our economy and they're trying to get home, whether it's in the city or in the suburbs, they can't get through because the lights -- there's no traffic control. We have all these don't block the box, don't do this, don't do that, but there's no enforcement. There's zero enforcement.
CHEHNo. I -- Tom. Yeah.
SHERWOODWhy can't we have traffic control officers control traffic?
CHEHI think you're overstating the case.
SHERWOODNo. I've been in it.
CHEHNo, no. I've been in it, too. You know, and I -- when I leave the District Building, I see traffic control officers at Pennsylvania and 14th. When I'm in the downtown area, I see them at various intersections on K Street. It's not that they are absent. Do we need more? Yes, we do. And I think that they would be very helpful. But I just want to say that I think your statement is too broad.
SHERWOODMay -- Okay. May I ask a question? I'll make it (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWell, no, you got to let Bill in Washington get a question in because we only have two minutes left.
NNAMDIAnd Bill has been waiting. Bill, your turn. We only have two minutes left.
BILLOkay. Thanks. Councilman Cheh, I appreciate your pressure on DDOT to protect pocket parks. DDOT has a new open space preservation enhancement policy. Will you keep the pressure on them to reopen the pocket park at Tennessee and Constitution Northeast?
NNAMDIOh, I know that park.
CHEHWell, I am absolutely committed to looking at this policy. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. If we have parkland and DDOT doesn't want to handle it, I don't think the answer is to close it off to the public. I think the answer may be to transfer to the Department of Parks and Recreation so that the public can use it. So, yes, I'll be watching that.
SHERWOODI want to go back to the traffic. You know...
CHEHTom has trouble in traffic apparently.
SHERWOODNo, but -- no, I'll say that Marion Barry, in the '80s, I think it was, he went to Logan Circle where 13th Street was one-way in and one-way out, depending on the rush hour. And he says, why don't we have these extra lanes carved through Logan Circle, like there are in Dupont Circle? And he closed them and put the parks back. That makes the city more -- and people have to go around Logan Circle. There are ways that things can be done. And 13th Street now is two-way all day long.
NNAMDIOnly got 50 seconds left.
SHERWOODSo can't we just be more aggressive in trying to stop the bottlenecks while you do all these hearings to change the policy?
NNAMDIMary Cheh, she's a member of the D.C. Council. She's a Democrat who represents Ward 3 and chairs the council's committee on transportation and the environment.
NNAMDICouncilmember Cheh, unopposed.
SHERWOODOh, you have a candidate?
CHEHYes. There's someone on the Libertarian ticket.
NNAMDIWell, in that case, good luck to you. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers, who apparently is really bothered by traffic downtown in Washington.
SHERWOODWe can fix some things and make it better for everybody. And I'll be on your show Monday. I'll bring it up again.
CHEHWe're -- no, we're going to get Tom his personal zip line.
NNAMDIThat'll work. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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