We talk with restaurateur Ashok Bajaj about how he keeps his customers coming back and what defines and distinguishes his native Indian cuisine.
D.C.’s trash can saga continues. A Virginia judge tosses out a request to separate the corruption trials of former Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. And the board overseeing Maryland’s troubled health exchange takes heat for skirting the state’s open meetings law. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Michael Pope Northern Virginia reporter, WAMU 88.5; political reporter, Connection Newspapers; Author, "Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C." (The History Press)
- Kenyan McDuffie Member, D.C. Council (D- Ward 5)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. Tom joins us, as usual, in studio. Hey, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODAnd welcome back.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Also joining us in studio is Kenyan McDuffie. He's a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 5. He chairs the Council's committee on government operations. Councilmember McDuffie, welcome.
MR. KENYAN MCDUFFIEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for the councilmember, call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Tom, Federal Judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled this past week that, well, the mayor and the attorney general and the chief financial officer were right, the Council was wrong, that the voters of the city cannot in fact simply amend the charter so that we can have budget autonomy so that we can spend our own tax dollars the way we want them to.
NNAMDIBut as a native Washingtonian he said, "You know, I really feel very strongly moved by the argument that was made here. Making his sentiments very clear on this issue.
NNAMDII love the part where he says, "The Court, as a native Washingtonian," because the Court can never say I.
SHERWOODThat's right. Well, his phrase was it tugs at the heart. But the fact is he's a judge. And the legal case, the city's attorney general, the city's mayor and the city's chief financial officer all waved red flags saying, as well meaning as this intention is, as to change the charter after 40 years, we just simply cannot do it. And I know -- I just got a phone call today -- I'm going to say his name, James Jones, from D.C. Vote, who…
NNAMDINever heard of him.
SHERWOOD…called and complained. He said, "Sherwood," you know, "you wrote this column and you're misrepresenting what happened here. And the mayor and the CFO and Irv Nathan should have fought for this law that was passed by the Council and the people of the city." But, like you say -- and Irv Nathan, the attorney general of the city says, "Look, I looked at it.
SHERWOOD"As much as I would like for us to have budget autonomy, we cannot change our relationship with the Congress. The Constitution is just too clear and so is the law." So it was a tough set back. I'd like to hear the reaction from maybe an elected official who might be nearby.
NNAMDIWell, it depends on whether he wants to speak as an elected official or a lawyer.
MCDUFFIEWell, I think I'll speak as an elected official, since, you know, I'm part of the Council which filed the lawsuit, to say that I'm extremely disappointed in the decision. It really does strike a blow at what we're trying to accomplish here in the District of Columbia, as far as budget autonomy is concerned. As you all know, we raise, locally -- not federal funds, but locally 6.9 billion dollars that we cannot spend unless it's appropriated by Congress.
MCDUFFIEAnd you also know that over the last 25 years, which Judge Sullivan documented in his opinion, over the last 25 years there's only been three occasions when the Congress has actually passed a budget and had an appropriation. So the dysfunction that occurs on the Hill shouldn't impact us in the city and sometimes it does. And that -- it's just disappointing that we weren't able to get a victory here.
SHERWOODI understand the politics -- as James kept telling me -- the politics of it. But just as a lawyer, I mean, if you're the attorney general, do you think the attorney general, Irv Nathan, is being more loyal to his former employer, the House of Representatives or do you think he genuinely felt like this -- he looked at the law and said that this is not legal. We can't get away with this.
MCDUFFIEWell, I think the attorney general looked at the law and his motivation was grounded in what he -- his legal (unintelligible)…
NNAMDII was about to ask who was Judge Sullivan being loyal to?
MCDUFFIEYou know, obviously I would have liked to see a different decision. Judge Sullivan, as a native Washingtonian, perhaps, personally would have liked to have ruled differently, but, you know, I think he was guided by his view of the law. I happen to think that it's a tough case. I mean, you know, it's one of those cases where it's a toss-up. You look at the rationality…
SHERWOODYou mean the -- you mean legally it's an issue? A toss-up?
MCDUFFIEThe issues. The legal issues. You know, I think that if you look at the fact that the District charter, which allows us a process to amend the charter, through the charter amendment process where the Council passes something, and it goes to the voters, as in a provision of the Home Rule Act, which essentially has changed. And instead you have an opportunity to change the Home Rule charter through this method and the mechanism. But that argument wasn't persuasive to Judge Sullivan (unintelligible) …
SHERWOODWell, why don't we just -- why don't we pass the amendment and say we're a state? Why don't we just pass something and say that we have total control of our budget? I mean, that's what, I think, where the law falls apart for the city. I'm a citizen of the city.
NNAMDII want full voting rights. I want statehood. But we've had three courts now, three different times on the commuter tax, on the budget autonomy, and voting rights. Where everyone's beat the drum loud and…
NNAMDIAll of those decisions say Congress is in control. The last (unintelligible) …
SHERWOODAnd it says we don't like…
NNAMDI…with the Congress.
MCDUFFIEWell, it's encouraging though…
MCDUFFIE…that we have 50 senators who signed on to a bill in the Senate that would give us budget autonomy. So I think there's some encouraging things happening. Obviously, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is still advocating for the 632,000 residents of the District of Columbia so that we would have the same rights as every other citizen in the United States to be able to spend the money that we raise locally.
SHERWOODMaybe we can get the 50 senators who signed the letter to…
NNAMDIWe'll get to that issue later. The 50 senators, 50 Democratic senators.
SHERWOODWho want the -- tell the NFL that the -- or the Washington Redskins should change their name. Maybe we can get those 50 senators to pay attention to the lack of voting rights of the 650,000 Americans in this city.
NNAMDIAnd a lot of the people in the United States Congress, which was just described by one of you as being dysfunctional, use as their reason, some would say excuse, for not granting full voting rights or statehood to the District of Columbia, every misstep in local government that is made here, every misstep that is made by a local government official is used as such an excuse. So you'll probably hear the trashcan fiasco used as the next excuse for why we should not get voting right in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIWe all -- those of us who live in this city -- got new trashcans, two new trash cars for each household, and I suspect we all assumed that the old trashcans would be carted away. Well, that was not to happen. And I guess some people thought, well, it'll happen pretty soon. And then it didn't happen pretty soon. And then what happened to some of the trashcans that were carted away, somehow, was that they were burned by mistake. And now I'm not, for one, sure what's going to happen next.
NNAMDIMayor Vincent -- the mayor has said that this was an imbroglio that should have been avoided, but what do you say, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWell, Mayor Gray said that he regrets the way this rolled out. But it all started -- and the mayor said it wasn't political, but of course it was -- when they decided to rush the -- when the mayor sent out a campaign-style brochure postcard saying you're all going to get new trashcans. And then they rushed them out and then they didn't pick up the old ones.
SHERWOODAnd they went to pick up the old ones, and they picked up some of the new ones. Some of the new ones, the lids didn't work. It was just done -- talk about something that should not be done in haste. This should not have been done. And now we still don't know how many trashcans are around, where they are. They're still some sitting around that weren't delivered. It's just quite the mess.
NNAMDII know I have four. Kenyan McDuffie, what you do you say about this?
MCDUFFIEI say that as a person who actually introduced the legislation that started this entire debate, last year I introduced a bill called Supercans for Seniors. And I had a hearing in Mary Cheh's committee on transportation, public works and environment. And Mary Cheh and I agreed to try to identify some funds that we could expand this beyond senior citizens to every resident of the District of Columbia, since we found out that the Supercans had not been replaced across the city in over a decade.
MCDUFFIEWe had an opportunity to speak with the mayor about this. He -- we initially -- there was a plan to rollout the Supercans over a matter of a few years. But then the mayor identified funds to do all of it this year. And so I was pleased that everybody was able to get a super can this year. Obviously, the pick-up part of that process was a littler -- perhaps didn't go as well as the mayor would have liked it to go.
SHERWOODIt was a disaster.
MCDUFFIEYou know, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we actually got Supercans to people who need them. We actually got Supercans across the city, which was very important. I think it was done in a manner -- at least the rollout to deliver them, in a manner where there were a few hiccups, but to be able to do that in the amount of time that it was done, I think there's some credit that goes to the administration.
NNAMDII have an arrangement to sell my old cans some people in Prince George's County. Is that legal, Tom? Can I sell…
SHERWOODI don't know that you -- can we? I don't know. Can we?
NNAMDIMy tax dollars paid for those cans.
MCDUFFIEI don't know, but I've got a couple extra cans myself that I'd like to get rid of.
NNAMDIAll right. We're going to put them on the market and then we'll get arrested ourselves.
SHERWOODWe'll -- there'll be more stories about these cans before it's over. I think there's…
NNAMDIThere's a lot of stuff about elections and government operations that we'd like to talk about. Let's get to the fractiousness in Ward 5, for a minute. Ward 5 is at ground zero. So many of the changes sweeping throughout the District, demographic changes, development. We've heard repeatedly during the past few months from a group of people opposed to proposed development of the McMillan Park and Sand Filtration site. Many of them feel they've been shut out from discussions the mayor has had with developers about the future of the site.
NNAMDIAs presented to you, what do you make about the -- of the proposal Vision McMillan Partners has offered for the McMillan site? What do you feel is the most reasonable way forward?
MCDUFFIEWell, I think that there's a proposal that the community has thoroughly, I think, vetted over a course of about six years or so. That is a mixed-use project that would bring, I think, sorely-needed amenities to the part of the city around Bloomingdale, Stronghold, Eckington, Edgewood that, quite frankly, residents throughout the city would be able to avail themselves of. It would bring, you know, a grocery store.
MCDUFFIEIt would bring a commercial component. It would bring offices to try to create some synergy with the National Children's Medical Center, as well as the hospital center, the Med Star Hospitals. There are a lot of opportunities there, Kojo, that I think are incorporated in the current proposal. But importantly, it would bring some affordable housing to the District of Columbia, in that area where we've seen housing prices skyrocket over the past few years.
MCDUFFIEIt would also bring thousands of jobs, both permanent and temporary. And I think it's important, as a legislator, and as a city to make sure that we are doing what's necessary to create these opportunities for the residents of the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIBut there are two groups at least that are passionately opposed to this plan. One of them is the group Friends of McMillan, which has another view of it. Friends of McMillan Park. They're focused on preserving the historic site. They oppose these redevelopment plans. And they have been given some standing in the hearings that are taking place.
NNAMDIThe other is the McMillan Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture, which wants to build an urban aquaponic farm in the caverns underneath the site. And there seems to be some division in the community over this. Is there a clear -- is there a way of identifying what a clear majority of residents would like here?
MCDUFFIEI don't know if there's a way of identifying what a clear majority is. I will tell you that the current proposal has been discussed and debated for quite some time, even before I was elected to the Council. I was a part of that discussion as a member of the McMillan advisory group, where we had hundreds of community meetings in neighborhoods that are adjacent to the property and beyond.
NNAMDITom Sherwood said (unintelligible)…
SHERWOODI was standing on that vacant land when Mayor Tony Williams talked about how the city is going to develop it.
MCDUFFIEAnd even before that. I mean, there's a records of Harry Thomas Senior attempting to get a police substation, a recreation center and other amenities on the site, going as far back as me being a kid. I remember conversations taking place in my living room with my parents to talk about the McMillan reservoir site. And so I think it's high time that we continue to move forward. I think this process has been thoughtful. It's included the community's input. It's really a balanced approach to development, which I support.
SHERWOODBloomingdale's folks have been telling me they haven't been included, but it's -- and it's still -- after all of this time, things are too fuzzy, that there won't -- now, I went back and listened to what you said at the -- I played the zoning commission, your appearance where you endorsed the current plan. But is that going to be a significant grocery store there? I live in Southwest and near me is Whole Foods, it was opening up. It was planning to do a store and a few blocks away Harris Teeters is going to open story, I think in September.
SHERWOODSafeway has a new 50,000 square foot redo of its store a couple years ago. But people say, we can't get a straight answer. That if all this great development, which is going to overrun some of the streets, like First Street, that there won't be a grocery store. That no one will say for certain there will be a high-quality grocery store. Is there?
MCDUFFIEI think the representative of the city, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, as well as the development team, will tell you that it's their hope that there's a grocery store. I know it's definitely my hope that there's a grocery store, Tom. But you know how the development process…
MCDUFFIE…works. How do you guarantee that there's going to be a grocery store there…
SHERWOODYou tell the developer you don’t go forward with the project unless -- it's like we've done in Skyland. You say, you've got to have a major tenant for the Skyland development.
MCDUFFIEI will tell you this, as a council member who's been a part of this process, a lot of the support that has been given to this proposal, I think, has been provided because of the amenities that are part of the development, like a grocery store, like a park, like a recreation facility with an indoor pool. Those are the types of things that people say that they wanted and have been wanting for decades.
NNAMDIAnd how about affordable housing? Mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser, she says she's not sure there's going to be sufficient affordable housing.
MCDUFFIEWell, I've talked quite extensively with Councilmember Bowser about the McMillan project. And I think we have a shared desire to see affordable housing on the site. Not only in the homes that'll be built, but also the rental, the multi-family units that'll be on the property, which would include a senior building. That is incredibly critical to the proposal, as far as I'm concerned.
MCDUFFIEAnd I don't want to speak for Councilmember Bowser, but we've had conversations about how important it is to make sure there's sufficient affordable housing on that site, to balance some of the skyrocketing prices that we see. I've got to tell you, the house that I live in right now has been in my family for over 60 years, when my grandparents bought it back in 1951. If my wife had to buy it today we probably couldn't afford it.
SHERWOODHow can you say senior citizen housing is critical, but then not say that you must have a grocery store for them to shops? I mean, I just -- that's -- are we clear on where this is? This is, what 25 acres, right?
NNAMDICan we establish whether or not the grocery store is as critical as the senior housing?
MCDUFFIEThe grocery store is critical, the senior housing is critical, obviously, trying to make sure that this gets through the entitlement process before the zoning commission. I think if you listen to the tapes you'll hear that the chair of the zoning commission, Anthony Hood, as well as other commissioners, indicate how important it is to make sure that things that are in this proposal stay in the proposal. If not, that the (unintelligible)…
MCDUFFIE…will have to come back before…
SHERWOODJust to be clear what we're talking what we're talking about. Twenty-five acres of what was a reservoir, with these sand structures underneath. How much of the 25 acres would be park land? Because some people want it to be an entire park, but it's clear you need more economic development there. How much of it would be -- 25 acres, how much of it would be park?
MCDUFFIEThere's about six acres of green space. But when you throw in some of the hardscape around it, it expands it beyond that. And so -- but, I will say this, there's only about 45 percent of the site that will actually have new buildings on it, which is important as well.
NNAMDIWell, gentlemen, please don your headphones because you're about to get an earful from Chris, in Washington, D.C. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISThank you, Kojo. Chris with the D.C. for Reasonable Development Team. Councilmember, you're saying this is bringing amenities. If you're referring to the hundreds of luxury units and 13-story commercial buildings as amenities versus an open-air public park, and a senior building for elders on fixed incomes making $40,000 to $60,000 a year. I just have to say what planet are you on? A lot of support -- you're saying there's a lot of support. Hundreds of people living around the area have actually taken the time to write letters in opposition to this terrible planned project, on the zoning commission.
CHRISWe'd like a low-rise library. We'd like a low-rise rec. center. Maybe a police station. But we don't want to see the underground vaults ripped out, in case of a terrorist attack. Or a drought where we can store fresh water for the city in the future. And since it's now a fact on the record, how can you support the deputy mayor's office and Victor Hoskins hiring a Baltimore firm to so-called neutralize the community opposition to this plan? Thank you.
NNAMDIKenyan -- Councilmember McDuffie?
MCDUFFIEChris, I'm on the same planet as you are, actually. And I support the project for the reasons that I articulated earlier, is that it is important to make sure that we have affordable housing on the site. You talk about the luxury housing that's going to be there and it's important to make sure that we have a balance so that we can have housing across income levels. Not only on the McMillan site, but across the city.
MCDUFFIEAnd it's important that we actually take down the fence to create an open space for people to actually be able to use. As far as I can remember, as long as I've been in the District of Columbia, no one's been able to go over to that site to enjoy it. I talked to my dad about it, who's been over there since the '50s, he's never been able to go over to that site to enjoy it. And I think the proposal that's before us right now gives us a unique opportunity to do something that's really first class, to really open it up so that we can have housing, so that we can have obviously an office component.
MCDUFFIEBut also an ability for me to be able to cross the street with my kids to enjoy a first class park. And so those are some of the reasons that I support it. And it's also going to create millions of dollars in revenue to the city over the course of some years. And so it's important that we balance the equities here between what residents want in the neighborhood, what residents across the city want, as well as the needs of the city and government to be able to generate revenues.
SHERWOODWould the streets be public?
SHERWOODI'm sorry. Would the streets in this project be public streets?
MCDUFFIEThe streets will be public streets. And it's important to make sure that people understand that we're going to be doing everything that we can to mitigate the impact on existing communities. In addition to being a council member, Kojo, I'm also a resident. And so I know that there will impact, in terms of traffic and other things. Storm water, environmental concerns we've been raising with the development team to make sure that they do a job, not too materially impact the folks who are already experiencing problems in Bloomingdale and other parts of the city.
NNAMDIOur guest is Kenyan McDuffie. He is a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 5. He chairs the Council's committee on government operations. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. We take your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. We got one from Erin Fairbanks, who says, "Please remind Councilmember McDuffie of the 2012 community door-to-door survey that did give us an idea of what the majority wants." Does that give us an idea of what the majority wants?
MCDUFFIEI mean, if you call an unscientific survey a majority of what people want. You know, I applaud the efforts of people who are really trying to go above and beyond in this. I've tried to go above and beyond to communicate with residents, not only as a council member, Kojo. I've been invested in this project well before I joined the Council of the District of Columbia, as a resident, as a homeowner, as a father, as a husband. And so I've got skin in the game, real skin in the game, as far as I'm concerned and this project is related to.
MCDUFFIEBut it's important that people try to take the passion out of this and look at this project objectively. What we've got is a project that the District acquired from the federal government back in September of 1987, with the intent to develop it. And over the course of all those years it has not been developed because there have been people on both sides of this issue. What I'm trying to do is reach a happy medium to bring people together to do something that benefits this area.
NNAMDII've got one more caller on development in general. And that is Melvin, in Washington, D.C. Melvin, your turn.
MELVINGood evening. My question to you, Councilmember McDuffie, is that there's been an absence of African Americans as part of the development team throughout the city and in particular at the McMillan site. Why is that? And what can you do to see to it that the (unintelligible) that African American developers are a part of this?
MCDUFFIEActually, I'm sorry, I didn't catch the caller's name.
MCDUFFIEMelvin. Thank you for the call, Melvin. And that's a very important point. It's important to make sure that we have residents and CBE participation in development projects where District land is being disposed of or District money is being used to create these projects. Actually, though, Melvin, on this project, which is composed of -- it's called VMP, Vision McMillan Partners, it's Trammell Crow, EYA and JAIR Lynch Company. So JAIR Lynch is a minority-owned firm here in the District of Columbia, which is a part of the development team. And he's going to be responsible for the multi-family.
NNAMDIOkay. Tom Sherwood, you want to move on to other issues?
SHERWOODWell, I do, but I'm just -- can you characterize…
NNAMDIHe does, but he doesn't.
SHERWOODWell, can you -- I've heard a lot about this. It hasn't been a TV story, but it -- I've heard a lot about it. Will you characterize the opposition? You just dismissed the survey as unscientific, but it was pretty exhaustive for, I mean, if I remember it. What -- how do you characterize the opposition? Is it people who just don't understand the big picture? Is it people who just have narrow views on -- they want to have a park and don't want the economic developments along -- I mean, characterize the opposition.
MCDUFFIEI don't know if there is a way to…
SHERWOODAre they fools?
MCDUFFIEI don't think they're fools by any stretch of the imagination. These are people who really care about their communities. I've had an opportunity to speak with a number of them. Some of whom live in a proximity of where I live. They're people like Tony Norman, who has been, you know, is probably the authority on McMillan, as far as it goes. And so, you know, I don't think they're foolish. I think they care deeply about this project. And they have some ideas about what they would like to see. I don't necessarily think their ideas represent the majority of the people in the District of Columbia.
MCDUFFIEPerhaps we know that when you have these types of controversial developments, generally the people who are opposed have the loudest voices in the room. And so I don't think it would wise, as a city, that we not contemplate what's in the best interest of all the 632,000 residents of the District of Columbia, not just those who sign a petition.
SHERWOODI think people should know, we talk about the space, it's -- for some who don't know where it is, it's right there near Children's Hospital.
SHERWOODIt's right near Catholic University, where over Monroe Street -- what is that?
MCDUFFIEMonroe Street market.
SHERWOODWhich is a major redevelopment over there. It's been long necessary over there. And people seem very happy about that.
NNAMDIAnd North Capitol Street on one side, 4th Street on the other side.
SHERWOODNorth Capitol Street. Howard University nearby.
MCDUFFIESo it's bounded by North Capitol Street to the east. It's bounded by First Street to the west. Michigan Avenue to the north. And Channing Street to the south. It's 25 acres acquired by the District in 1987.
SHERWOODAnd when is -- is it the zoning board has to fish or cut bait soon? What is…
MCDUFFIEI'm not sure what. You know what? They had their last -- I believe their last hearing about a week or so ago. And it's my hope that they will decide soon so we continue the process.
SHERWOODAnd I hope they have a grocery store.
MCDUFFIEOh, it's my -- my wife hopes that, as well, Tom.
NNAMDIYou chair the Council's committee that oversees the city's election system. The April 1st primary was not a smooth operation. The Board of Elections has changed its story about what went wrong. The glitches that delayed voting results for so long. What are you still looking to find out? What are you still looking to know about what went wrong on April 1st? And from what you know, what do you feel is necessary to fix it? So I won't be sitting up here late at night not knowing what's going on.
MCDUFFIEWell, I've got to tell you, it was a very frustrating experience. Both as a resident and as a candidate in the April 1st primary, not to have the official results, or at least the day-of results happen until early in the morning the following day. And through the roundtable that we had, we were able to find out that the story that the Board of Election gave on the night of the primary had changed by the time we had our roundtable. And it's unfortunate because you want to have faith as a voter in the District of Columbia, number one, that the votes are going to be counted accurately.
MCDUFFIEBut also that they're going to be reported in a timely matter. And that didn't happen on the night of April 1st. As a matter of fact, some of the numbers that they had given to the media the night of were inaccurate, as well as the timeliness in which they were given. And so what I'd like to see is an election that is -- happens more efficiently, where there's more confidence in the numbers when they report it. But there's also numbers are reported in a timely matter so that people don't have to stay up in the wee hours of the morning to figure out who's winning the election.
SHERWOODWell, you've described the problem, but you haven't described any of the solutions.
SHERWOODI mean, as the chairman of the committee, have you told the elections office to give you weekly reports on…
MCDUFFIEWhat we've done…
SHERWOOD…what's going to happen so we'll have a November 4th election that people can trust?
MCDUFFIEThe issue, ultimately, was one of technology. That the night of the primary they said there was an issue with about five of the electronic voting machines. But it turns out that there was a problem with the way that the votes were being counted, once the card was inserted. Literally, the officials waited around for the returns, not knowing that there was a technical glitch that had occurred.
SHERWOODHow are they fixing that?
MCDUFFIEThat was the problem…
NNAMDIHow can we make sure that won't happen November 4th?
MCDUFFIEWell, that's just it. We need to get -- update the software. The problem, though, is…
SHERWOODBut how -- are you making them up (unintelligible) ?
MCDUFFIESo here's the issue, Tom. The issue is this. You have the chair of the Board of Elections testify that they needed an additional 1.9 to 2.6 million dollars in order to upgrade the technology. Well, what we found out through our round of questioning was that if we were to give them that money now, they wouldn't be able to update it because the commission that is in charge with certifying the technology hasn't done so, so that they couldn't purchase it anyway. So that's a problem.
MCDUFFIEBut let's not pretend that the District of Columbia is the only city, only jurisdiction in the country that uses refurbished electronic voting machines. That's not the case. So whatever we're using, we should be able to have that operate in a manner that's efficient. So what we've asked them to do, obviously, is to finish -- we asked for a report. And they're going to do a report, which they do after every election, to determine what the glitches were to make sure that it doesn't happen…
SHERWOODThe election was almost two months ago. We had -- still waiting for a report on an April 1st election?
MCDUFFIETom, this is an issue of chain…
SHERWOODWhy don't we just pass out number two pencils to everybody and let them just write a little notebook?
MCDUFFIEWell, that apparently was an issue, as well.
SHERWOODI know, they didn't put out pencils.
MCDUFFIEBecause there were some folks who were at the polls who said they didn't have pencils.
SHERWOODI am more nervous than when this -- I thought this was being fixed. And we have -- we're still defining the problem
MCDUFFIEThe question is one -- and I think what the mayor said is pretty telling. We need to look closely at this, but this is a question of whether or not this is leadership issue, whether it's a personnel issue. And that's ultimately have to be decided by the folks who appoint these people in position and us, as a Council, who confirmed it.
SHERWOODBut we're six months from an election. And we're talk -- we're still defining the problem, waiting for a report?
MCDUFFIEWell, we know what the problem was, Tom.
SHERWOODWell -- okay. I'm, as a citizen, I'm very nervous about this.
NNAMDIOnto Brenna, in Washington, D.C. Brenna, your turn.
BRENNAThank you. Hi. I'm a D.C. resident. I'm with the D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club. And I'm just calling to thank Councilmember McDuffie for supporting efforts to make sure our Rate Payer Dollars support clean energy, with the renewable portfolio standard legislation. It's currently in his committee. So I'm just calling to say thanks and we're looking forward to the passage of this bill.
NNAMDIRenee (sic), thank you very much for your call. Councilmember McDuffie, would you like to acknowledge that thank you?
MCDUFFIEJust -- I will acknowledge the thank you. And I really appreciate it. We work really hard with Sierra Club and a number of other organizations to make that happen. So I'm really pleased by that.
NNAMDIWell, here's Sherry, in Washington, D.C. Sherry, your turn.
SHERRYHi. Good afternoon. I'd like to ask the council member -- I'm a resident of First Street. And I'm calling in reference to the First Street Tunnel project. D.C. Water is planning on removing the tree boxes in the 2000 block and 2100 block of First Street and a portion of our sidewalks.
NNAMDIWe get very specific on this show.
NNAMDIWe get very specific on this show. Go ahead, please.
SHERRYOkay. A portion of our sidewalk in order to route two-way traffic up and down First Street, which is a safety concern for the residents. Our question is the project is currently above Channing Street, the street was closed. There's no residential homes up there. There were no tree boxes removed. So we'd like to know why tree boxes are removed and traffic is being routed so closely to our homes. We need help with this issue because we're not going to stand by and just let, you know, D.C. Water come in and destroy our neighborhood.
NNAMDIWe're local and we are hyper local.
MCDUFFIEYeah, no. We're -- I'm not going to stand by and let D.C. Water come in and destroy your neighborhood either, Sherry. And actually there's a meeting next week to discuss the First Street Tunnel and I plan to participate. I may be a little late arriving at the meeting, but it's going to address those issues that you mentioned about the two-way traffic on First Street. There have been suggestions as to whether it should be one-way traffic during the duration of the construction. But we're going to cover all those issues. And it's my hope that you're able to attend that meeting next week.
SHERWOODAnd when that work is done on First Street, the people there are really worried about the development of course at the McMillan, but what will it be like. What will that neighborhood First Street be like once all the work is done?
MCDUFFIEWell, it's my hope that it won't flood. Let's remember why this work is being done.
SHERWOODWill it be still a resident -- I know.
MCDUFFIEThe work is being done because of the work that we have put in to raise the profile of an issue that has been happening for over 100 years in the Bloomingdale neighborhood where it's flooded consistently.
SHERWOODBut are neighborhoods going to be destroyed to so that other neighborhoods won't flood? I mean, First Street, is it going to be there?
SHERWOODThere are no sidewalks, no tree boxes, no trees?
MCDUFFIEAbsolutely not. As a matter of fact we've already had discussions with D.C. Water and others about replacing -- I'm working with people like Casey Trees, which is an awesome Ward 5 organization, to not only replace the trees once the work is done, but to perhaps plant new trees while the work is being done.
NNAMDIAnd we have Walter, in Washington, D.C. Walter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WALTERAll right. I want Sherwood to stop harassing the council member. But my question (unintelligible)…
SHERWOODWell, give me your phone number. I'll call you.
WALTER…outcast in the city who knows doggone well who's the council member that there is no affordable housing in this city anymore. And the new developments -- I'm right now sitting directly across from Eastern and New Hampshire Avenue where they're upwards to $1 million. I'm sure Tom will be buying one of those locations, but I can't afford it and neither can your senior citizens afford this so-called regentrification of D.C.
WALTERBut my question to you, Councilmember McDuffie, and I thank God that you replaced that crook who told me -- and this is off the cuff, but he told me that I bailed on the city. I just explained to him eight years ago that I couldn't afford the city anymore and now, as I look around and I hear you talking about affordable council, Mr. McDuffie, but there is none. And so I break you a new...
NNAMDIWhat do we mean by affordable these days is what Walter wants to know. What do we mean by affordable housing these days?
MCDUFFIEThat's a very important point. And Walter raised a concern that I hear almost on a daily basis when I walk through Ward 5 in the city, which is why I introduced a number of measures designed to address that. Number one, the question that you asked, Kojo, what do we mean when we say affordable housing?
MCDUFFIEThe first bill I introduced last year was designed to strike at that because affordable housing is designed under HUD standards, under the AMI, the Area Median Income, which doesn't simply take into account what people make here in the District of Columbia. It takes into account what people make in our neighboring jurisdictions like Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, which obviously puts upward pressure on those numbers.
MCDUFFIEAnd so that bill that I introduced was called the Transparency and Affordable Housing, would have the CFO, when they report what the AMI is in the region, also indicate what the D.C. median family income is so that people who are pursuing affordable housing who have opportunities when they see construction being built, actually know how much they need to make to afford a house in a development, which is important just as a threshold.
MCDUFFIEYou need to know how much you make. But I've also introduced a number of other bills, one which would set aside 25 percent of undedicated funds from surpluses that we get here in the District of Columbia to the Housing Production Trust Fund. I was able to work with Chairman Mendelson and Mayor Gray to include that in the BSA which would ultimately boost it to 50 percent. So 50 percent of all undedicated surplus funds would go into the Housing Production Trust Fund. And that's just a couple of the measures that I introduced that (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIRunning out of time, Tom, you next.
SHERWOODWell, I could talk about housing forever, but I'm still stuck on the grocery store and bad elections. But I want to go to the school boundary thing. We have a race for mayor. You're a Democrat. I presume you're supporting Muriel Bowser as a Democratic nominee for mayor. What is your position on the city's effort by September for the mayor's office to have a new school boundary plan. I don't think I've seen what you said about this. I know a lot of parents in Ward 5 and other places are worried about the change in the boundaries.
MCDUFFIEThey are very worried in Ward 5, Tom. I've had an opportunity to meet with a number of parents through small groups, as well as meeting with the Ward 5 council on education and our Ward 5 representative to the school board and people are actually worried. They think that this goal, as extremely ambitious, to try to achieve. I got to tell you. The three proposals that have been put forth are fairly dense for people to understand, first of all.
MCDUFFIEAnd so you've got to be able to break this down for people to understand what the implications are. We tried to do that in meetings and we've run out of time simply to try to answer all their questions. It's been a challenge. And so getting people to understand what the implications are -- if you're gonna tell people, A, that they can't move around the city or use a lottery system to put their kids in schools that they think are better than the ones that are in their neighborhood, that's a problem.
MCDUFFIEAnd then, you got to strike at the fundamental issue. What precisely is going to be done to fix the schools that are in the neighborhoods? And I think that will -- if you can figure that out, then you can, obviously, I think, address the issue, the overcrowding that we experience in the upper northwest at the schools that west of (unintelligible)
SHERWOODYour colleague, David Catania, who's running for mayor as an independent has suggested that this whole project should be delayed for a year while the focus is put on making sure all the schools, the middle schools particularly, are far better so that when you change the boundaries, people won't feel like they're being thrown out of a decent neighborhood to bad schools. And it's a long ways to go.
SHERWOODEven Muriel Bowser has calibrated back some of her initial suggestions. She had liked part of the REACH program. She's pulled back from that. So maybe you shouldn't go forward.
MCDUFFIEWell, I think both of them are focusing on the middle schools where the focus should be, but we've got to figure out how we inspire more confidence in our parents to make sure that they're sending their kids to a neighborhood school...
SHERWOODI did hear. You are for Bowser, is that right?
MCDUFFIEI didn't say that.
SHERWOODI didn't think you -- I'm sorry, I didn't hear. You're a Democrat.
MCDUFFIEI am a Democrat, but I think we obviously should be looking more than party affiliation about who we support in the city. I have not had a conversation to speak to the folks who are running right now to make that decision publicly. I will tell you this. I've worked extensively with council member Bowser on a number of issues. I know where she stands on affordable housing. I know where she stands on workforce development. I've worked with her on a number of issues.
SHERWOODCan you say that about David Catania?
MCDUFFIEI've worked with David on issues around education and so...
NNAMDIBut you have not yet endorsed anyone in this race.
MCDUFFIEI have not.
SHERWOODAnd that is -- I think we've just made news here on this program.
MCDUFFIEI have not endorsed anyone.
NNAMDILoose Lips has already started talking about -- Loose Lips, the city paper columns -- has already started about whether you've got your eyes on running for mayor someday, maybe even four years from now, that you might be the so-called next, next mayor. Let's pretend for just a minute that you were mayor.
NNAMDIEnquiring minds make, specifically Michael Martinez of this broadcast, would like you to bring back -- would you bring back the yearly tradition of cannonball diving at the beginning of pool season?
MCDUFFIEI think if there were a vote in my household as to whether I should do a cannonball if I were mayor, I would probably lose and have to do it because my kids would probably want me to jump off the diving board.
SHERWOODI think Mayor Gray, today...
MCDUFFIEI don't know that I would want to do it, though, Kojo.
NNAMDII got to tell you, my feeling is that the only reason the cannonball was good was because of the guy who did it.
NNAMDIAnthony Williams was so, well, idiosyncratic that...
SHERWOODYou're saying nerdy.
NNAMDIRight. Watching him do the cannonball, but now everybody wants everybody to do the cannonball.
SHERWOODI think it should be written in -- I think the council should have a referendum, the voters pass it, we put it on the ballot and ignore Congress and change the law so that we have a cannonball mayor whoever the mayor is.
NNAMDIKenyan McDuffie, thank you so much for joining us.
MCDUFFIEThank you guys for having me. I really appreciate being here.
NNAMDIAnd good luck to you. Kenyan McDuffie is a member of the D.C. council. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 5 and chairs the council's committee on government operations. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the current newspapers.
SHERWOODAnd I'm very nervous about the elections November 4. I'm going to maybe redouble my efforts there as soon as I go shopping at McMillan for a grocery store.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, when Tom Sherwood gets nervous, somebody someplace in elected office is going to have a hard time, somebody in elected or appointed office. But before we move on to our next guest, I have to mention the passing of Washington activist Acie Byrd at 77 years old. Those of us who've been around for a long time know that Acie Byrd has been active in just about everything that's gone on in Washington politics, the environment.
NNAMDIHe was one of the veterans who was exposed to radiation. He served in the armed services. He was exposed to radiation between '45, 1945 and 1962. He was a member of the National Association of Atomic Veterans. Acie Byrd, they're having services for him today in Washington. He will be missed. Acie Byrd, rest in peace.
SHERWOODMay I say, he was such a peaceful presence. I mean, maybe that's what's wrong with the peace world, they're not aggressive enough. But, you know, he was such a quiet, firm presences whenever he came in. He would just sidle up to you. He'd just talk with the most heartfelt words and he just -- it was really great. I'm sorry he's passed.
NNAMDIReally good guy, Acie Byrd. Joining us in studio now is Michael Pope. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the Connection newspapers. Hi, Michael. How's it going?
MR. MICHAEL POPEPretty good. How are you?
SHERWOODHe brought a deck of cards with him.
NNAMDIFifty U.S. senators, Tom Sherwood, all of them Democrats, have signed a letter to the NFL to urge its leadership to press the Washington Redskins to change the team name in the aftermath of tough sanctions against the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Two questions for you, Tom Sherwood. A, why were they only Democratic senators who signed onto this and, B, why did the two Democratic senators from Virginia not sign onto this.
SHERWOODWell, I'm not sure why they left the Republicans out. I'm not clear exactly who initially did it. I guess it as a...
NNAMDIIs a part of the dysfunction and partisanship that characterizes the Congress today?
SHERWOODWell, I think Harry Reid maybe just did this 'cause he's always been against this name, but you know, Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski signed onto it and I thought that was really interesting 'cause, you know, the Washington Redskins play in their state.
POPEAnd in the Maryland gubernatorial debate, all three of the candidates said that, you know, they didn't like the name. I thought that was pretty interesting.
SHERWOODBut, you know, in Virginia, Tim Kaine, neither one signed onto it. I think...
NNAMDIMark Warner, Tim Kaine.
SHERWOOD...they both have said that they think the name will change, but I think Warner said that he didn't think it was Congress' place to tell the people what to do, but he thought it would change. I can't decide if this is a tipping point. There's been a lot of news in the last year or so about the Redskins' name. And I say it because that is their name.
SHERWOODAnd I'm not taking a position on it. But I don't know if the tipping point is that we are now reaching a point where the NFL is going to require the team to change its name or whether we've just reached the amount of publicity you can have about and will fade away again.
POPEMaybe the tipping point is Tom Sherwood takes a position.
SHERWOODI'm not taking a position.
NNAMDICould be a tipping point. And you think, of course, that Tim Kaine and Mark Warner are just being diplomatic in this situation because, of course, the team is based in the Commonwealth, Michael Pope?
POPEIt's a thorny issue because either way, you're going to make enemies and so I, you know, for the politician's choice is usually to try to, you know, not annoy people as best they can.
SHERWOODKaine has said the team should change the name. I just want to be clear about it. He just doesn't like the tone of the letter sent by the Senate Democrats. And Warner believes it is not for Congress to dictate what the league does. He believes that over time, the team names will change to reflect the times as happened with the Washington Wizards.
NNAMDIBut, of course, the league is a nonprofit and Congress might have something to say about that. June, Michael Pope is going to be another busy month for primaries in this region. Few places as busy as the congressional district in Virginia where Democrats are competing or the seats being vacated by long-time representative Jim Moran. The field has been narrowed from what once seemed like a million candidates.
NNAMDIThose left include former Lieutenant Gov. Don Beyer, State Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Patrick Hope. What are you watching most closely in the final days of this contest?
POPEMoney would be something to watch closely, support, endorsements, positions. You know, as we head into the final days of this primary, the stakes are very high because whichever Democrat, you know, wins this primary is likely to be the next congressman from the 8th congressional district. You know, we're talking about a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
POPEObama won with 68 percent of the vote in the Virginia 8th. Romney got only 31 percent. So I mean, right there, you've got numbers that indicate whoever wins this primary is going to be the next congressman.
NNAMDIYou've sat through a number debates where it's become clear that these candidates agree on the vast majority of issues. What substantive matters separate the candidates and what case are the candidates who appear to be chasing Don Beyer making against his candidacy?
POPEWell, so that's two different questions.
POPEI'll take the -- the first one is what substantive issues separate the candidates. Very little. There was a -- at one of the debates, there was kind of some disagreement on Common CORE, the federal education standards. Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and State Senator Adam Ebbin said that they did not necessary support Common CORE. The other candidates said they thought it was a good idea.
POPEI asked -- I was interviewing all of the candidates after that particular debate and Lt. Gov. Beyer said he was not a particular fan of the Virginia standards of learning. And so there was kind of some division there so it's not like, you know, we're totally devoid of substantive issues. Another issue I interviewed the candidates on was their position on animal rights. You know, Jim Moran has been a long time supporter of animal rights and so, you know, they had kind of different positions on how much they would emphasize that, whether or not they would join the animal rights caucus.
POPEFor the most part, though, I have to say that there's really very little actual sort of policy divisions among the candidates. Now your second issue was what are the candidates doing to attack Beyer. Well, you know, Beyer is seen as the front runner mainly because he has money and name recognition and so, you know, the candidates are trying to position themselves as being, you know, the grass roots candidate, the candidate that can go out there and knock on doors.
POPEYou know, we are talking about a primary that takes place in June so it's a different kind of a voter than your general election voter. These are people that are really tuned into politics. They listen to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" and they, you know, know a lot about these candidates and the race.
NNAMDINow, here's the question from former Virginia reporter Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODThat's right. Well, Don Beyer, I think, is, what, 63 years old? Does age play a -- not that that's old, but, of course, it is old if you're going to go to Congress where you get power...
POPEIs this an ageist question?
SHERWOODYes, it is an ageist question. But the question is, if you're going to go to Congress as a 63, 64-year-old freshman, I mean, you really have to be there a few years to get any power. Who's playing the role -- are there any polling that would tell us who is doing well?
POPEWell, of course, most of the campaigns have their own internal polls, none of which I've had the pleasure of seeing, although to any candidate out there that might be listening, please send them to me. I'll can give you my email address. So in terms of whether or not the candidates are attacking him on his age, which I think is a real implication in your question, not explicitly, but certainly implicitly.
POPESo when you go to these debate forums and they do their introduction statements or they speak it, frequently the candidates will say, we need new blood in Washington. We need new voice. We need to approach things differently and, you know, the way I've kind of interpreted that is, we want to change, you know, the power structure such as it exists and Don Beyer is, as you say, someone who's been around a lot.
NNAMDITime is getting the better of us and I still got a couple of questions. The Democratic primary in the 10th district, less likely to be competitive, but what's waiting in the fall could be a barn burner of a race. What's happening there?
POPEIt's already kind of a barn burner. So in that congressional race, that congressional seat is much tighter than the 8th, which is what we were previously talking about. So in this congressional seat, Mitt Romney actually won the Frank Wolf congressional seat with 50 percent of the vote. Obama got 49 percent. So right there you've got Republicans already have an edge and the retiring incumbent, Frank Wolf.
POPEAnd so Barbara Comstock is the Democrat in that race who is a member of the House of Delegates. She actually, when she won that seat, she unseated an incumbent Democrat, Margi Vanderhye. So she's running against Democrat John Foust and so that race is going to feature, you know, all kinds of things, the Koch brothers and ObamaCare and, you know, just sort of more your standard kind of issues than in the 8th congressional Democratic primary.
POPELots of money, lots of excitement. It's going to be a closely targeted race for both the Democrats and the Republicans and so I would expect that to be one of the hottest races in November.
SHERWOODWith November, Northern Virginia loses its clout with both of these seats changing hands after two decades.
POPEIt does. And Northern Virginia will absolutely, certainly lose out in terms of influence in Congress as a result of that.
NNAMDIThere was a special election in Arlington County to replace county board member, Chris Zimmerman. John Vihstadt, Republican running as an independent, won that race by tapping into the mounting frustration over the county's street car project on Columbia Pike. Some have gone so far as to warn about whether this is a reckoning for the Arlington Democratic Party. There's going to be a rematch in the fall for this seat.
NNAMDIVihstadt is running against the same Democratic opponent. How is the upcoming race likely to be either similar or different from the one that took place in the spring?
POPEWell, it is similar in the sense that we've got the same two candidates. Independent former Republican John Vihstadt versus the Democrat Alan Howze and so what you're going to see there is kind of a replay essentially of the special election and so we're likely to see some of the same arguments about big time county spending on things like an aquatic center and a bus stop and, of course, the, as you mentioned, the streetcar proposal.
POPEAnd so we're going to see all of those issues come up once again. And, you know, meanwhile there's been some action on the streetcar. You know, the county officials have given a new cost estimate for what it's going to be and it's $100 million more than the previous cost estimate. So I would expect to see that be a major part of the campaign moving into November.
SHERWOODCan we go back to the 8th just for a moment?
NNAMDIYou've got 20 seconds.
SHERWOODJim Moran has not -- he says he has lots of friends running and all that kind -- but so he's not endorsing...
POPEHe will not endorse, is what he told me.
SHERWOODBut has he tilted in any way? Are the people around Jim Moran supporting any particular person or is Jim Moran -- he said some nice things about several of the candidates, but...
NNAMDIYou've got 20 seconds.
POPENo. The answer is Moran has not endorse and he...
SHERWOODIt must be killing him not to say something.
POPE...will not endorse -- I'm sure it is probably killing him not to say something 'cause he likes to say something about everything.
NNAMDIHey, Jim, give us a call anytime you get ready to say something. Michael Pope is a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the Connection newspapers. Michael, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the current newspapers and he really, really wants a supermarket in the McMillan area.
SHERWOODI'm going to do a beer and bike tour tomorrow.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Coming up at 1:00, Bill Nye, Science Guy, the Washington native on inspiring a generation of young scientists on how educators today can do the same. Today at 1:00 on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU 88.5.
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