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.
D.C. rolls out relaxed penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Maryland’s governor scraps with the White House over what to do about the flood of unaccompanied minors from Central America coming into the United States. And lawyers in Virginia prepare for a corruption trial involving the commonwealth’s former governor and his wife. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Jay Fisette Chair, Arlington County Board
- Muriel Bowser Democratic Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 4); Chair, Committee on Economic Development
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Featured Clip: What’s The Future Of Pub Crawls In Arlington?
Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said Friday pub crawls have a future in Arlington, but how they’re run could change.
He said the board would look into the cost of the additional public safety required for events like pub crawls and consider passing that burden onto the organizers and the bars, instead of the department itself.
Watch the full discussion below.
Watch Live Video
Starting at noon July 18, watch live video as Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with Muriel Bowser, the Democratic nominee for mayor of the District of Columbia.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
MR. TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDIAnd joining us this hour, later, will be Jay Fisette, the chairman of the Arlington County Board. He's a Democrat. And as you may have heard there is a bit of a controversy, a bit of a controversy over the proposed streetcar there. He joins us to talk about that and other issues. Right now, in studio with us, as we bring you this live video stream -- if you go to our website, kojoshow.org, you can see us and her.
NNAMDIYou want to look at us, just look at her. Muriel Bowser is the Democratic nominee for mayor of the District of Columbia. She's a member of the D.C. Council who represents Ward 4. And chairs the Committee on Economic Development. Councilmember Bowser, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MS. MURIEL BOWSERThank you, Kojo. Thank you for having me. Hi, Tom.
NNAMDITom, it seems every week…
NNAMDI…we start off with the same issue, but I'll do it again. This week it's a lawmaker from Kentucky, a Republican by the name of Thomas Massie. He has introduced an amendment that would prevent the use of D.C. city funds to enforce virtually all the local gun laws, meaning police and city officials could enforce only federal firearm laws. The city is known to have some of the tightest gun control laws in the nation, but here we go again, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWell, you know, they don't have enough to do in Congress. Since they're not doing anything on the federal budget, they might as well sit around and take sniper shots at us.
NNAMDIIt's every week, week after week after week. This, of course, may be resolved in the Senate. And it might struck out completely.
SHERWOODWell, generally speaking, in the -- yeah, they -- Eleanor Holmes Norton campaigned for Stop Gun Violence, the Brady folks all will hope that the Senate will bury this kind of legislation somewhere in a committee meeting, somewhere -- and, I mean, there -- always the danger is -- in a political year -- if one of the members of a minority party or even if a conservative Democrat tries to get it to the floor, attach it to another bill, then you could be in trouble.
NNAMDIIs that what you're hoping for, Muriel Bowser?
BOWSERWell, we're certainly relying on our Democratic allies in the Senate to make sure that this doesn't happen. But, of course, it speaks to the larger problem of Republicans meddling in the District of Columbia and using the District of Columbia as some kind of laboratory for the things they can't get done in their own districts.
NNAMDIIf you have questions -- Tom Sherwood, I interrupted you.
SHERWOODWell, I have a questions.
NNAMDII like doing that, actually, but…
SHERWOODYou want to give the number first?
NNAMDI800-433-8850. If you have questions or comments for Councilmember Bowser you can also send us email to email@example.com, go to our website, ask a question or make a comment there. You can also watch the live video stream at kojoshow.org.
SHERWOODSome of the folks at D.C. Vote are very glad that you've spoken up for this city, but they're also a little nervous that you had a get together with Steny Hoyer, is that right? No? Who was it -- the one on the Hill? Was it -- I can't…
SHERWOODAnd with some of the leadership and met some of the leaders. And they want to make sure that you still stay tough with them and not get too friendly with them.
BOWSERWell, I certainly -- I don't think anybody would argue with a leader in the District of Columbia -- certainly someone who's in the position to be elected the next mayor of the District of Columbia -- making sure that we know our regional delegation. And that's certainly what I intend to do to maintain relationships with members of Congress from Maryland, Virginia and the District.
NNAMDIYou had mentioned in a public meeting in Ward 3, on the issue of statehood and voting rights for the District of Columbia, that -- on a bill that was introduced in the Senate -- that you will be meeting with senators in order to try to get that bill to come to the floor of the U.S. Senate. Have you had any such meetings yet?
BOWSERI think what we told Mark Plakon (sp?) I think who put that question to us out in the Ward 3…
NNAMDI(unintelligible) that name. Go ahead.
BOWSERThat name -- is that we would encourage the senator whose committee it was in to hold a hearing. And I think he's agreed to do that.
NNAMDIEarlier this week -- moving to another issue -- you called on the city's inspector general to investigate the situation at Park Southern Apartments, an affordable housing complex in southeast D.C., that, by most accounts, has fallen into disrepair. And it's owned by a non-profit corporation that's struggling to account for its financial dealings. The president of that non-profit is politically active.
NNAMDIShe supported you in the Democratic primary for mayor, switching her support from Vincent Gray. It's been clear the situation at Park Southern has been of concern for months. Why are you calling for an investigation now? There is a sense that were stories about Park Southern not published in the Washington Post this week, you would not be calling for this investigation.
BOWSERWell, actually, the issues at Park Southern have been problematic for decades. And so something that we in the city and many people prior to now, mayors and council members have been aware of an affordable housing complex in Ward 8 that was really constructed for the sole purpose of people who are very -- have lower incomes in the District of Columbia, but income's too high to be subsidized elsewhere, to have place to live.
BOWSERAnd certainly when I was made aware of the government's involvement in Park Southern, I did what I do with all problems that come to me, be they housing or some other constituent issues, is call all the people to the table. And that's what we did.
SHERWOODWho did -- well, I ask -- I happened to just be there the day you had that meeting in your office. Because I was there to ask you about something else. And the person I want to focus on as much is Phinis Jones.
NNAMDIWe should say Phinis Jones is the former property manager at Park Southern, and gave you money for your campaign and volunteered for you. His name was listed as a host on fundraisers for you. I'm sorry.
SHERWOODYes. And he's on the fundraiser for your July 31st birthday party.
BOWSERAbsolutely. And he joins 523 Washingtonians…
SHERWOODI'm still going through the list.
BOWSER…to do that.
SHERWOODPeople who have talked to me about this, some of them are your opponents, as you would guess. Others have -- some of them are the tenants. And the tenants have filed suit against this horrific management there. And the people have asked me about it or someone said, "This appears to be a situation where you, as a chairman of the housing committee, had a choice of trying to reinstate or find out what the management had done to be removed, but haven't taken the sides of the tenants, who are suffering mostly through this."
SHERWOODAnd that Phinis Jones has not accounted for all of the money, that Rowena Joyce Scott, who was the manager there of the corporation that runs it, runs a religion out of this building, she has a -- she's taken two apartments, took down the wall, that's it's been clearly mismanaged with monies missing. But you, again, as Kojo just said, you didn't call for an investigation until after…
SHERWOOD…the Post story.
BOWSERNo. I have to correct you, Tom, on that point. Because what we learned -- I learned about issues and problems at Park Southern when two of my colleagues actually told me that the government had seized the building. And when I learned that I had to…
SHERWOODThat was just…
BOWSER…define facts about what happened at that building. And so…
NNAMDIThat seizure took place April 2, it's my understanding. But, go ahead, please.
BOWSERI don't know. I think it took place sometime in May. And so at that point we called the government, we called the people who were running the building, to get some information about what was going on. And the government came and provided a lot of facts. And at that meeting, I learned about a lawsuit that the tenants had against the management.
BOWSERWe learned about the government's $3 million loan and the fact that it was in default. We learned about the fact that some of the utilities hadn't been paid and there were threats to shut down the building. I also learned what the government's plan was to address it. And so they installed a new property manager. They instructed that property manager to make arrangements for the utilities, make arrangements to have the needed repairs made. And they…
SHERWOODThe things Phinis Jones should have been doing.
BOWSERWell, I don't know that because I -- from what I understand he had been there 33 days, as the property manager.
SHERWOODWell, he had -- he certainly had enough time to be trying to buy the building out from under the tenants. I just thought -- no one has said that you have done anything wrong. The most of the point is you haven't acted more -- quickly enough. You haven't called on Phinis. You haven't held a public hearing on this. It sounds like a terrible mess. But you haven't called on Phinis Jones to pay up the money he owes the city, get his hands clean, as they say at DCRA.
BOWSERWell, I think that DHCD laid out a plan where they were going to find out exactly what happened. And anybody who owes money would have to pay money. But what -- the cleanest way to make sure that we have all the answers is to do what I've done and have the inspector general, who is independent from the executive and independent from the Council, who's armed with investigators and auditors, to get to the bottom of that case.
SHERWOODBut you don't…
SHERWOODBut as chairman of the committee, though, on housing, you have the authority to hold a hearing on this, in tandem with whatever other investigations, criminal, administrative or otherwise. I remember Mary Cheh…
BOWSERBut that's not the -- that's not how to get to the bottom of the issue, Tom…
SHERWOODWell, how about calling your…
BOWSER…because -- and in fact -- and this is what has been my experience, whether we're dealing with an issue in Ward 4, like Randolph Towers or the Eastern and Juniper Apartments -- and all of the discussions I've had with DHCD, mind you. And we have all had them by bringing the government, the tenants, the property management, in some cases developers who were working in those buildings, around the table.
SHERWOODBut as mayor, if you get elected mayor, you cannot have those kind of elongated, lengthy, fact-finding missions. You're going to be the executive who has to make decisions. And as I…
BOWSERAnd the executive, Tom, had a plan that I was comfortable with, that they presented me…
SHERWOODBut is it really too slow?
BOWSER…they presented me with at that meeting. And that plan was to get a property manager in place. And they also indicated that there were investigations of a criminal nature going on at the time. So…
SHERWOODI guess that's why I think you ought to hold a hearing…
BOWSER…I have been…
SHERWOOD…to get the administrative side of it and find out.
BOWSERNo. I think what we need to do…
SHERWOODThe tenants are in the rat-infested conditions.
BOWSERI think what we need to do is have a clean investigation, that with these allegations that are out there, what the tenants and all the taxpayers need to recognize is that there are no politics involved. Now, let's face it…
SHERWOODOh, but there are politics involved.
BOWSER…there are a lot of -- there are a lot of politics involved.
BOWSERAnd so let the politicians step back and let the professional investigators get to the bottom of it.
SHERWOODWell, I have to…
NNAMDIWell, allow me -- allow me to…
SHERWOODCan I just finish this -- that one point, please?
SHERWOODOkay. Mary -- in the midst of the Mayor Gray -- he called for Mayor Gray to resign because of the distractions of his investigation. Mary Cheh called a hearing on Sulaimon Brown who had created all of this mess and had a very thorough hearing about that and put out a report. Hesitate to mention David Catania's name because he's the guy running against you for mayor and he wants a -- to make sure people hear about this story.
SHERWOODBut, you know, at the United Medical Center, which is right down the street from this Park Southern apartment complex. He -- whether you like what he did or didn't -- he was all over that hospital, holding hearings and trying to find out where the money was going, who was doing what.
BOWSERYes. Let's find out where the money went. That's a good question. I mean, if you ever get to the bottom of that question, where $70 million went at the hospital, I -- because I think a lot of people would like to know.
SHERWOODBut Phinis Jones is -- you still accept his support for you as mayor? I mean…
SHERWOOD…why not? As I told the mayor on his own, why don't you call him up and say, "I want you to fix this. You -- if you're going to support me for mayor, I want clean hands in this." And don't play along -- he went to the Post and gave out some numbers. Just made the situation worse.
BOWSERWell, Tom, what I understand actually…
SHERWOODAnd hurt you.
BOWSER…is that he has supplied information, but what I won't do…
BOWSER…and I want -- I want everybody out there listening to know, is that I won't interfere with the inspector general's investigation.
SHERWOODBut you don't have to interfere with it. You could have an administrative hearing, just as the IRS is not interfering with the IG investigation, the attorney general of the city or of Nathan's...
BOWSERDo you not think that the attorney -- the inspector general is going to be able to use his investigators and auditors to get to the bottom of those questions?
SHERWOODI -- well, you have subpoena power.
BOWSERAnd do you not think it is more appropriate, given that you've alleged that I am unbiased in my review of Mr. Jones, that you have…
SHERWOODNo. I'm not alleging it.
BOWSER…an independent -- okay. Maybe not you, but certainly you're speaking for my opponents, in saying that an independent investigative body should do the investigation? I don't know how anybody could argue with that.
NNAMDIWell, let me -- let me -- I'm not speaking for any of the opponents here.
NNAMDII'm simply speaking for…
BOWSEROkay. My apologies.
SHERWOODThat's okay. I'm just speaking for -- I went to see the tenants. And I talked to…
NNAMDII'm simply speaking for myself here. Allow me to interrupt for a second.
NNAMDIOn the issue…
SHERWOODIt's your show, Kojo. Go ahead.
NNAMDIOn the issue of a public hearing.
NNAMDIBecause the Post reported that a housing official in the Gray administration suggested you hold a public hearing into Park Southern, putting officials there under oath, as well as that public official. Now, obviously you have called for the inspector general to investigate, but a public hearing suggests a level of transparency because the public is interested in what is going on here and the public may never know what all the inspector general investigates or may do.
NNAMDIThe public, it seems to me -- and especially the tenants who live in that building -- need to have something aired publicly and transparently about what's going on. Why not have that hearing?
BOWSERWell, the inspector general most certainly is going to provide a public report of her findings. That is absolutely the case. And let me just…
SHERWOODWill that -- when…
BOWSERLet me -- let me just step back for a second, Kojo, to your question about -- and first of all, the Department of Housing and Community Development, they suggested that we have a meeting at the time that I was asking them for a briefing about what was happening. And then we agreed that they would come in and brief me on exactly what was happening. So the purpose of their request was to give me information so that I would have the facts to proceed. I got all of that information in the meeting that we held.
SHERWOODDid you invite the lawyer for the tenants who are suing because they're being treated so badly there? Did you invite Laura Buckner -- I think is her…
BOWSERI did not because at that time I wasn't aware of the lawsuit. The government attorney came to the meeting that I held. And she was a wealth of information. And I think she probably has the most information about this building of any one in the government. And she, at that time, provided a copy of the lawsuit.
SHERWOODI just think this is the politics of it.
BOWSERAnd too, and to your point, I think there could have been -- certainly the tenants' representative, but at the time I thought that Ms. Scott was the tenants' representative. But also missing from that meeting was the management agency that the government had appointed.
BOWSERI think they could have also provided some additional information.
NNAMDII guess the point I was trying to underscore is that this is, as you pointed out, been going on for years.
NNAMDIIt's certainly been going on for months.
SHERWOODIt has -- well, the…
NNAMDIWell, let me finish. Let me finish for a second.
SHERWOOD…allegation has not gone on for years.
NNAMDILet me say…
BOWSERBut, Tom, let's speak clear.
NNAMDIExcuse me. Let me finish my point.
NNAMDIIt certainly has been going on for months. The point I was trying to make is that everything so far seems to have been going on behind closed doors.
BOWSERYes. Including meetings that the Department of Housing and Community Development had with the property managers and with -- and with the current property manager, the former property manager and the current non-profit association. So all of those meetings happen. And that's not unusual. What would have been unusual, in fact, was for me to hold a hearing about finances of single building. I can't recall one time that I've done that.
BOWSERWhen I talk about economic development projects, I have eight or nine projects on the agenda to review. When we have our annual review, we're talking about, you know, issues that affect affordable housing across the spectrum. I believed -- and I still do -- that the way that we were going to get to the bottom of what was going on was to have all of those people around the table at one time, putting the information out there for me to understand.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Muriel Bowser. She is the Democratic nominee for mayor of the District of Columbia, a member of the D.C. Council who represents Ward 4. She chairs the Committee on Economic Development. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers.
NNAMDIThere are a number of callers on the line, so the lines are busy. If you want to get through you may want to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you can also see the live video stream of the show. Wait your turn for badgering Muriel Bowser. It's still ours.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know, badger. But I -- knowing how the IG has worked, I know they think -- there somebody different there now, but asking for an IG investigation is almost guaranteeing that there won't be any formal report until after November 4th, when you're up for election as mayor. But at -- meantime, there's 700 -- this is not just one little building somewhere. There are 700 low and moderate -- excuse me -- low and no-income people, working people there and seniors.
SHERWOODOne -- I interviewed of them. She told me she had asked for a refrigerator because her food was spoiling. And she asked for that refrigerator in 2009. And she just got it when the mayor office took over this place from the bad management by the corporation that was running it and by Phinis Jones. If Phinis Jones and -- what's her name, Scott -- whatever her name is. If they're your supporters, why don't you, as a candidate for mayor, said that you are disgusted by what you've heard, seen and read…
BOWSERI am disgusted by it.
SHERWOOD…and that, I mean, hold the public hearing at that place. I mean, it's a miserable place. It's huge. It dominates the skyline on Southern Avenue. It just seems that if you want to be the mayor…
BOWSERAre you interested in show or are you interested in results?
SHERWOODIt’s not a matter of show.
BOWSERNo. I think it is exactly a matter of show.
SHERWOODNo. I don't think it's show. And I think…
BOWSERNo. I think what is substantive is to say that I have met with the Department of Housing and Community Development. They have shown me how they're proceeding with getting that building in order. And that's what it's about.
SHERWOODWell, they told…
BOWSERNow, all other of these allegations that are swirling, it is most appropriate for the inspector general to look at. But even more than that…
SHERWOODYou know, but how long do you want them to take?
BOWSERI want them to do it just as fast as possible. I want them to do it…
NNAMDIWell, just as…
BOWSER…urgently and completely.
SHERWOODSeven hundred tenants…
SHERWOOD…who have trouble living in the place where they try to live, and it seems to me more urgent action is needed, whether it's the mayor's race or anything else effecting it. And it's not just a matter of show. It's like going…
BOWSERIt is a…
SHERWOOD…going to the building and saying to these folks, as the Housing Committee chairman, "I hear what you're saying. And I'm going to be on this until it gets settled."
NNAMDII feel your pain.
SHERWOODI didn't want to say that. It's such (unintelligible). But they're there and they come out and they're getting on the bus and trying to go to work and trying to live in a place that needs immediate attention, not some bureaucratic, long-running…
BOWSERAnd is it not getting immediate attention from the new project manager?
BOWSERBecause I don't think you're right, Tom. And more than that-- hold up.
SHERWOODBut (unintelligible) emergency things.
BOWSERBut hold up, Tom. And more than that, we're talking about $20 million worth of repairs. This building has been -- it begs the question of why did the government give that $3 million loan in 2006, without also giving the loan that would take for the building to be in good repair.
SHERWOODI think for your mayor's race…
BOWSERSo those are -- those are the -- those are the big issues. But more than that, don't be lost on this point. That we need to be talking about how we're preserving these units across the city.
SHERWOODI know. But I'm talking about this place. And as you, the candidate for mayor, you are being seen as someone who is kind of dragging this out as opposed to taking executive action.
BOWSERExecutive action happened back in May. What you're talking…
SHERWOODI'm talking about what you're doing.
BOWSERNo. Executive action happened…
SHERWOODI don't mean the executive, I mean the mayor, I mean…
BOWSER…in May. And so what you're talking about is a show.
SHERWOODYou're running for more than a convener. You're running for mayor.
NNAMDIWell, well, one at a time, please.
BOWSERAn executive action has already occurred.
SHERWOODAll right. But you're running to be mayor…
SHERWOOD…more than a convener of people who have interest. You're -- you have to make an executive decision. I'm just surprised…
BOWSERI made the -- you -- you're disagreeing with the decision that I made…
SHERWOODWell, it doesn't seem…
BOWSER…by bringing the executive to the table to fix the problem.
NNAMDIAllow me -- allow me to ask…
BOWSERAnd that's executive action, not show.
NNAMDIAllow me to ask one more question…
NNAMDI…or make one more point. It seems to me…
NNAMDI…that what Tom Sherwood and a few other people are saying is that so far this discussion seems to have been characterized and has been a discussion among various individuals who have been involved in either ownership or management of this property while there are 700 people who are living in this property who need help and attention now. And that as…
BOWSERAnd what I'm telling you, Kojo, is that's exactly what is happening now.
NNAMDIHow is it happening?
BOWSERIt's happening because there was a new manager put in place and given…
SHERWOODAnd threw out your supporters.
NNAMDIWait a minute. Let -- allow her to finish, please. How is it happening?
BOWSERIt is happening because, first of all, there was a big threat of utilities being shut off.
BOWSERAnd so they have been able to negotiate agreements, as I understand, to make sure that those payments are going to be made. And that the repairs, the immediate repairs need to be done. And let me just turn to Tom's point. We were very grateful to accept the support of a lot of people across the District of Columbia.
BOWSERSo I wouldn't want you to mischaracterize people that have worked hard in Ward 8 for us in some special role. They voted for me. We had -- we had somebody, you know, host an event for me. So that doesn't make me some -- make it strange that they have supported us.
NNAMDII have to cut off this conversation at this point because our callers have been waiting patiently for a long time. They would like to discuss some other issues…
NNAMDI…that are -- that they are concerned about. And so we'll start with Meghan, who is on 8th Street Northeast. Meghan, thank you for waiting. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MEGHANThank you. Got to move off of topic a little bit. I was unemployed earlier this year and I had a really hard time getting in touch with claim services to get things like unemployment insurance. So I wanted to know, Councilwoman, do you have a plan to improve city services like unemployment insurance and other services?
BOWSERMeghan, you are saying you had trouble accessing your insurance?
MEGHANUnemployment insurance, yes.
BOWSEROh, unemployment insurance. And certainly we've heard across the city about some concerns. I was just leaving Ward 8 actually this morning, where a number of residents told me that they were having difficulty accessing a number of the human services programs. And I think part of our issues are making sure that all of our government employees understand that customer service is first. And that there's a level of respect with our employees.
BOWSERI'm not completely sure about what barrier you encountered and I don't know if it was about customer service and feedback and response, or if there was some structural issue you encountered.
NNAMDIOkay. But is there a way that you -- and I'm afraid that caller has dropped off. Is there a number you would recommend for that caller to call or some other way she might be able to find some form of assistance?
BOWSERNo. Absolutely. I would ask her to call my council office.
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Natalie in Kalorama, in Adams Morgan. Natalie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NATALIEThank you, Kojo. Ms. Bowser, assuming you agree with me, that an informed citizenry is paramount to our Democracy, why then do you not engage your worthy opponents? Not doing so concerns me.
NNAMDIWhy are you not engaging…
NATALIEAnd all -- you both…
SHERWOODShe means forums.
NNAMDII know. She means debates, forums. Why are you not engaging the other candidates for mayor?
BOWSEROh, I'm absolutely will. And I look forward to it. Just as soon -- and we're going debate and have forums with everybody who qualifies, like I have, for the ballot.
SHERWOODWell, but that doesn't happen until September, I guess, when the ballot's formal. There's a lot of people interested now. I got a -- just an email yesterday from the somebody representing or talking about the Georgetown Citizen Association , who said they've contacted your campaign about scheduling a forum. Didn't put a date on it. They've gotten no response. And then there are other people, you know, for political reasons, that you have and I have discussed, who tried to drag you into something. But why not have some forums, just one a month until September? Just so people can see who's doing what with whom in the campaign.
BOWSERNo, absolutely. Tom, we're out…
SHERWOODPeople are accusing you -- like this woman suggested, some are accusing you of saying that you're…
NNAMDIThat you're ducking.
SHERWOOD…afraid. And I know -- I've seen the tough part of you. I might raise it here today if I keep talking. But I've seen you be tough in forums.
BOWSERI'm not tough. Listen, let me tell you something, Tom. This is -- let me…
SHERWOODBut why wait until September?
BOWSERThis -- I have been -- this is my four up. And in four elections in the last seven years. I venture to say I have been in more debates than anybody in recent mayoral forums. And I am looking forward to it. We went through a 13-month primary where I defeated a sitting mayor and three council members, all who are very good at debates. And I got very good feedback on all the debates we participated in. So I have no fear of debates.
BOWSERBut I do think it's appropriate that the people who make the ballot are the ones who are invited to all of the debates. And then we'll have it. I also think it's important that we have debates when the citizenry is engaged and ready. And we know Washington in the summer is not really -- people aren't that focused on elections.
NNAMDIWe're ready. Here's Ally…
SHERWOODWell, I am.
NNAMDIThat's what I'm saying, we're ready. It's Ally, in Ward 2, in Foggy Bottom. Ali, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALLYHi, Councilman Bowser. I had a quick question for you. I know you wrote the ethics bill that passed in 2011. How do you think it's been working so far? And I guess, going off that, what more can you do as mayor to improve the culture of D.C. government?
BOWSERI do think it's working. And as you know, it in -- with that law we created the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. And what we have seen with that board is their willingness to investigate, investigate quickly, report out and make recommendations. And already they've made recommendations on sitting members of the Council. More than that, they've been actively involved in training.
BOWSERAnd they are in a position for all of our 30,000 government employees to go to them for advice. Because, largely, I think employees want to do the right thing. And if they're guided in that way they'll be fine.
BOWSER…also created the Open Government Office, which is important for people being able to access government records. Next, I think we need to tackle how we do procurements in the District and get more politics out of the procurement process.
NNAMDIBut this Park Southern issue raises the issue once again of individuals who are doing business with the city or seeking to do business with the city, and are at the same time making significant campaign contributions or being involved in campaigns. What do you think should be done about that? Tom sure feels that there just needs to be more transparency.
BOWSERI agree. And I think that, you know, the reason why you can ask me questions about contributors is because we put all of that information out in the public forum. And people can ask questions and make judgments that way. And we do -- let's remember, we have pretty significant campaign finance rules and restrictions in the District of Columbia. There are limits, there are reports that are required very often in the District. And so that's important to me as well.
SHERWOODI'm not -- I'm not worried about the aspect of reporting it. No one's accusing you of -- certainly, no one I know of is accusing you of doing anything wrong in your reporting. In fact, you've gotten a lot of money and you seem to have reported it very well. But again, it goes back to Phinis Jones who's six or seven companies gave you $20,000 out of more than a million you've raised.
SHERWOODIt's not a lot of money, but where -- in this Park Southern thing -- one more -- where have you taken an interest in what the tenants are doing, other than having that one person, who's actually one of the perpetrators of this whole controversy?
BOWSERWell, I will tell you. I had a meeting at the building with the tenants. And I have to tell you…
SHERWOODIs that the one that's in -- with the tenant representative, Ms. Scott?
BOWSERWith tenants, probably 100 people.
SHERWOODWas that from the tenant council or whatever it's called?
BOWSERI don't know what the names were, but…
BOWSER…I was there. Now, I was…
SHERWOODBut I'm told they didn't have a fair election.
BOWSER…there at night. And I wasn't there for a long time or did I take a tour of the building.
BOWSERBut I have to tell you, those issues at the time weren't raised by the tenants.
SHERWOODDo you think this has hurt your campaign?
BOWSERNo. I think that we have stayed focused on our campaign, just like we do every day. We're going out. I'm on the phone all day. I'm in community meetings all day. And, you know, this is not what residents of the District of Columbia are talking about. I have to tell you.
NNAMDILet me get one more caller in for you. Malika, in Northwest, D.C. Malika, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MALIKAHi, Councilmember Bowser. Good morning -- or good afternoon.
MALIKAI bought house in your district, in Ward 4, in Crestwood, 16th Street Heights neighborhood because my kids would have buy-right access to some of the best performing schools in the city, specifically Deal and Wilson. And I'm very concerned that the deputy mayor's newest school boundary realignment and undoes all of those expectations, including disregarding, you know, a lot of the alignment schools, which formally set into Deal and Wilson.
MALIKAI know many families have now discussed moving from the public school system totally or relocating in D.C. And I was just interested on your position.
BOWSERWell, I think you know I've said repeatedly and very stridently that I think one very important aspect of any school boundary reform suggestion or proposal, would have to take this principle that's very important to me into heart. That the boundaries should not draw a line down Rock Creek Park, or certainly down the middle of the Anacostia River.
BOWSERAnd, unfortunately, I think the proposal that continues to be on the table -- which is better than the first -- continues to do that. So my position is that that cross park boundary that exists currently be maintained.
SHERWOODBut, you know, your opponent, David Catania, has said, "We need to press the pause button on this. Let's don't make a boundary change for this coming school year, 2015-2016. We need to do something and get this all fixed up. And then you've also said, "Let's not rush into this."
BOWSERRight. You might be surprised that we agree.
SHERWOODBut the parents across the -- well, parents across the city are very nervous about all of this. And everywhere I go they say, "We don't know what's coming next. We just know they're going to change it."
BOWSERRight. And it is one of the biggest concerns that we hear. In my very first meeting with the mayor after the primary, that was among my first requests, not to rush this process through. Let's get it right. There will be changes. We know there need to be changes, but there's no sense in rushing it through now. We think the capacity of the current boundary -- there's time to make -- get the decision right.
NNAMDIMuriel Bowser. She is the Democratic nominee for mayor of the District of Columbia. She's a member of the D.C. Council, who represents Ward 4. She chairs the Committee on Economic Development. Muriel Bowser, thank you for joining us.
BOWSERThat's it? We didn't get to talk about soccer?
SHERWOODOh, it's just about -- say, she has two public -- she does have hearings coming up on the soccer…
BOWSERAre you kidding?
NNAMDIWe have another guest who is waiting to appear on this broadcast. We are now ending our sparring session with Muriel Bowser…
SHERWOODBut she does have two…
NNAMDI…as she prepares for the big fight in November that's coming up.
SHERWOODShe does have two public hearings coming up in Southwest and -- I've forgotten. And…
BOWSERIt's going to be in Southwest at the Reeves Center next Wednesday.
NNAMDIJay Fisette, come into this room, please.
BOWSERAnd on Thursday, it's going to be at Reeves itself.
NNAMDICome in and sit down.
BOWSERThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
BOWSERThank you, Tom. Bye, Jay.
SHERWOODAnd the tenants want you -- the tenants want you to reconsider holding that hearing.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. If you have questions or comments for Jay Fisette -- he is chairman of the Arlington County Board -- you can start calling now at 800-433-8850. If you had questions or comments for Muriel Bowser, she's gone, leaving the building, you can hang up now. 800-433-8850 if you have questions for Jay Fisette. Jay Fisette, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. JAY FISETTENice to be here. Thanks for having me on.
NNAMDIBefore we get…
SHERWOODIt's better if you talk into the microphone.
FISETTEAll right. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIBefore we get started with Jay Fisette, because he's going to be talking about streetcars, the Council voted 12-1 in the District of Columbia to override Mayor Vincent Gray's veto. And one of the reasons why he vetoed that legislation is that he wanted to keep funding intact for a streetcar network, among other things, in the District of Columbia. Does the overriding of the veto, in a way, either limit or curtail plans for streetcar expansion in the District?
SHERWOODWell, the mayor's worried not that it's going to hurt the long-term planning and the speed at which the city gets its 37-mile streetcar system, but what happened is the mayor's a lame duck. He became a lame duck on April the 1st. The Council has moved on, and he's just -- and they're telling him, some of them privately, that we're going to be running things basically from here. You're a lame duck. And he's been told, look, just focus on the soccer stadium deal. Get that done. That'll be a nice cap to your time in office.
NNAMDIOK. No expansion for the time being of the streetcar system.
SHERWOODNo, it's -- they're going to have 400 million as opposed to 800 million. But as several people said, the Department of Transportation can't spend the money it's got.
NNAMDISo it can happen on down the road. Jay Fisette, if there's a single issue that's dominating county-level politics in Arlington right now, it's the county's plan for streetcars. A Republican turned independent, won a special election earlier this year, almost solely on the streetcar issue, he and others have pushed for the streetcar project to be put before voters in the fall in a referendum, an idea that the board has rejected. Why do you feel it is so necessary to continue moving forward and to do without a referendum?
FISETTEYeah. And, by the way, in the District, with the Council chair, I think it's great that every time he talks about it, he still supports streetcars.
FISETTEIt's, you know, let's not lose that. And, you know, in Arlington, it is a topic of conversation despite the fact that, you know, we made these decisions initially back in 2006 and have reaffirmed them. In the last year or two, there has been a serious effort, well, well done to derail the streetcar. And we thought about it. And...
SHERWOODWhy? Who and why?
FISETTEYou know, the truth is I think it's some people who were not involved in the past have -- there's a mood out there in the larger community as well, and they were not involved in the decisions. And they have questions about the money and questions about the transit system itself. I've stopped back. Look at it. You know, clearly that special election and other things and people that you talk to -- we need to do a better job of educating people, helping engage people.
FISETTEI am convinced that it is the right system for that 7.5-mile stretch from Skyline in Fairfax to Crystal City and all along Columbia Pike both to move the people, for the environment, for the people that are going to come. Sixty-five percent of the growth in population in the county in the next 30 years is planned along that 7.5-mile stretch.
SHERWOODYou're talking like $600 million now. We all know that those numbers never stay the same, and they rarely ever go down. Some people said a rapid bus service -- since the streetcar will not a have a dedicated lane and it will share it with cyclists and cars and pedestrians who foolishly walk out into the street, why not do a rapid bus system where you don't have all the infrastructure cost that you're going to incur for streetcars?
FISETTEWell, a bus rapid transit is a fine thing in some places. Bus rapid transit is not feasible in Columbia Pike. It just don't work. A bus rapid transit by definition means at least half or more of that stretch is in a dedicated lane. And we do not have that option along Columbia Pike.
SHERWOODBut are you concerned? Some people are concerned here in the city. Over on H Street, for example, commuters are not going to get on a transit device that stops at every block and just chunks down the road. They're going to -- they're just not going to do it. Streetcars, as one person said, they're cute, but they're not for commuters.
FISETTEWell, I don't necessarily agree with that. I think streetcar -- and, you know, what we found the other day is the state is a full partner in this. They came through just last week, the secretary of transportation in Virginia, with an additional $65 million for this project, which is their seal of approval, their full embrace in partnering in this, so yesterday, at our CIP work session.
SHERWOODWhat's a CIP?
FISETTEGood question. Every two years, we do a capital plan, a 10 years out capital plan. And we have adopted -- and we'll do it officially tomorrow -- a funding plan for the streetcar that has no debt burden on the homeowner.
NNAMDIPlease stop pounding on the table.
FISETTEOh, sorry. No homeowner tax...
NNAMDIHe's emphasizing his points.
SHERWOODMuriel didn't pound on the table, so you can't either.
FISETTEI got to learn from Muriel though. Yeah. We have a funding plan that leverages state money, regional money, which Gov. McDonnell effectively pulled through the legislature last year in Virginia.
SHERWOODYou don't really want to mention his name here.
FISETTEWell, I just did. And the third one is the local commercial real estate assessment. There is no burden on the debt for homeowners in Arlington, so we really feel that that's an innovative way of making an investment that has an incredible return on that investment as proven by the independent studies that have been done three times or more than any enhanced bus system. And that's good for economy.
SHERWOODWell, you're anticipating, like, 37,000 jobs when this all gets done. More people are going to be there. And you're saying that bikes, cars, and -- are not enough and won't be.
FISETTEAbsolutely. That's part of our M.O. in Arlington. We have taken a community that was sort of a sleepy suburb 30 years ago, I think you will admit. And through smart strategic transportation investments and technology and other things, we have added, in 30 years, 40 million square feet of office, 4 million square feet of retail, and 40,000 housing units. And traffic on arterial streets, on most of them, has gone down. That's because we're providing all those alternatives through bus, streetcar in the future, metro, walking, bike, bike share, that give people an option in a mixed-use community.
NNAMDIJay Fisette is the chairman of the Arlington County Board. He joins us in studio. He's a Democrat. If you have questions or comments for him, call us at 800-433-8850. Speaking of the streetcar, here is Gideon in Washington, D.C. Gideon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GIDEONHey, Kojo, thank you for taking my call.
GIDEONAlso, Tom Sherwood, thank you for asking serious questions to Muriel Bowser. Great job.
GIDEONMy question is, will adding more of these streetcars also add more bus routes to make Arlington more of an accessible place? 'Cause I know growing up in D.C., going into Arlington was quite an endeavor before. You'd needed to have a car. So will more bus routes be added to make, like, Arlington like a, like, definitely more commuter friendly accessible place? And will the streetcars take some of those major bus lines, like, take place of some of those major bus lines? Thank you.
FISETTEYou know, we are always evaluating our bus system, our local ART system, the metro bus system, and how it integrates with commuter rail, the VRE system in Crystal system, the streetcar in the future. All of these are a network of transit options in the county. And I am sure, since you were a kid -- what it sounds like anyway -- things have evolved significantly. Do you know that 40 percent of all the transit trips in the whole Commonwealth of Virginia start or end in Arlington? That reflects our commitment. And a great number of people don't have a car anymore.
SHERWOODIs that because of the Pentagon? Is that because of the Pentagon or...
FISETTEOh, it's because of all the transit investments we'd made, metro being the hub, the center sort of spine of it. But we didn't have a local ART bus system just 20 years ago. That is not in place.
SHERWOODYou guys are -- you've become a big urban place, and that's a -- some people also -- is a five-member board too small? It used to be kind of a sleepy little area for five -- maybe you should have more board members.
FISETTEWell, I know one of our sister cities in France has 75, and that doesn't sound very appealing to me.
NNAMDIWe got a call from Marco who couldn't stay on the line. But he wants to know, "Has the board considered servicing the Columbia Pike corridor with metro instead of a streetcar?"
FISETTEThat's a good question, and, yes, we did. In fact, for those that don't know it, there is a bump-out built in into the metro system under the Pentagon that was designed for a potential future metro line down Columbia Pike. That's how everybody knew. This was a corridor that was left out. So when we started that whole process of revitalizing and revisioning Columbia Pike, that was on the table because we do land use planning and what we want the community to look like physically. With transportation planning, from the beginning, people were asked, do you want metro?
FISETTEDo you want us to go in and fight for that over the next 20 years? And if we did that, we'd have had to invest in buildings that were 20 and 30 stories tall, like Rosslyn and Boston, to justify those billions of dollars in investment in transportation. And they didn't want it. They wanted a Main Street feel, six stories, eight stories, 10 stories. That Main Street, we looked at the transportation. It correlates to a modern streetcar. That's what you need to move those people.
NNAMDIHere is John in Arlington, Va. with another suggestion. John, your turn.
JOHNHi. I'm calling because I believe that the Columbia Pike corridor does need some sort of major transportation mode there. But one option that was not considered in the options that were evaluated was a trolley bus system in which there are, you know, the overhead wires like you have for the streetcar, stations like you would have -- stops like you have for the streetcar but no, you know, no rails. This electrified system that's used in about 200 cities around the world, and seems like something that would have been a much less expensive option, but was just not part of the options that were considered. And I would like to know...
FISETTEYeah. Well, we're talking about 10 years and 12 years ago, and I think I know what you're talking about because, for a year and a half, I lived in San Francisco. And there were one or two lines of electrified buses.
FISETTESo they had a little more movement left and right. But I will tell you, it felt more like a bus than a streetcar or a light rail system or a rail system. And the advantages of a rail system and, again, as I understand it, are capacity. You're going to get twice as many people in a typical streetcar as in a metro bus size. Now, you can get an articulated. You get a little bit more than that. But you can't compare to the streetcar.
FISETTEThere's also a comfort level and an accessibility issue. So there's also a return on the investment. The independent analysis that was done clearly shows that when you put permanent fixed rail in the ground, just as D.C. has projected, you will get those property owners making very different level of investment in the community with the tax return for the whole community in the future.
SHERWOODI think some of the drivers on Columbia Pike particularly are worried about not having a dedicated lane for the streetcar and that it will take -- it will just cause confusion. Do you anticipate there will be some confusion but people will adjust as the city is hoping on H Street? Or was -- or not?
FISETTEYeah. And we're all hoping that the system in D.C. works smoothly and seamlessly. But, you know, there are always going to be some glitches at the front end. And would I rather have a dedicated lane for either a bus in any situation or a rail system? Always. That's always the preferred option. And you try to do it if you can. The street with -- along Columbia Pike in that stretch just do not allow for it. So...
SHERWOODAnd you're not ever interested in having 66 changed inside the Beltway around Arlington?
FISETTEIn -- you brought that up the last time I was here.
SHERWOODI bring it up every time. I'm astonished...
NNAMDIThat's the kind of (word?) .
SHERWOODI'm astonished -- I'm not on it myself 'cause I-66 is a fool's game to try to drive on that. But I'm astonished that there's so much traffic on I-66, and it dies at Arlington.
FISETTEYeah. Well, you know that the governor just announced something about doing some work with HOT lanes, I believe, outside the Beltway.
SHERWOODOutside of the Beltway.
SHERWOODI'll visit there one day.
NNAMDIHere is Cameron in Falls Church, Va. Cameron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAMERONOh, thank you. Thank you for having me. I think it's relevant for me to say that while I'm an active Republican, I am very supportive of what the representative is doing in Arlington. And I just recently actually bought a condo on the route in the Skyline area in anticipation of the streetcar. And I'm one of those, you know, who would never ride a bus. If for no other reason, I could never figure out how to get where I need to go. And so I'm one of those who would certainly give up my car to ride a dedicated streetcar that I know where it's going, where it's picking me up from, and so -- and I wonder if there are ways...
NNAMDIWhat, you find bus lines too confusing for you?
CAMERONOh, yeah. I mean, you know, I rode the bus for one month only in my life, like, I think, two years ago. And they just go all over the place. I was meaning to go one place, and it was going somewhere else. And so I went back to my car. That's the point.
NNAMDIThat's the whole point. But allow me to have Jay Fisette respond.
FISETTEWell, I think the interesting point here is that there is truly some increased ridership that will develop on the people that will choose the streetcar fixed rail...
NNAMDIYou got Cameron.
FISETTE...over a bus. But I also point to the point -- he said he's in Skyline, so that's Fairfax. This is a joint project with Fairfax, always has been. And if you look at Skyline, if you've been out there, those are tall buildings. And you know why they're tall? 'Cause they anticipated metro when they first designed it. Now they have redesigned all that area of the end of Fairfax bordering Arlington to receive the density that will come and the capacity carried by a streetcar. So there is a big difference with that streetcar and the land use plan and the return on the investment you'll get. And Fairfax is planning for it as well.
NNAMDICameron's like, I'm going to the pub. Then I'm going home. That's it.
SHERWOODAnd now -- I don't think -- I missed it. Why not hold a referendum? And people often say, let's have a referendum. Why do you think it's not a good idea to have a referenda on this policy?
FISETTEYeah. That was -- and Kojo did ask that before, so it's a very good question. I will tell you. I grappled with that for quite a while, thought about it because I know this is a debate in my community. And there are people who are either confused or see both sides of this or don't have enough information and feel they should have that opportunity to vote. So I did take it very seriously, and it took me a long time to figure this out. But the reality is we have always said from the beginning that you will not have any debt increase from general obligation bonds on the taxpayer. And right now the only authority I have to put anything on the ballot is for money through general obligation bonds.
SHERWOODIs that for -- so only a technical reason you don't have it? Or do you just think that you just shouldn't have public referenda on major policy? 'Cause that's why you get elected, you and your colleagues, to make those decisions.
FISETTEIt's a combination. But we do put a lot of things on the ballot. That is -- some little people can vote that down. So putting some things on the ballot through the general obligation bond authority we have is fine. The flip side again -- and you just referenced this -- I lived in California for a year and a half. And my ballot had a hundred things to vote on.
FISETTEVirginia is not a referendum state that way. Do I think all public policy should be by referenda? No. Do I think this one could have been? I think that was a fair question because of the magnitude of it. But the bottom line is we have always told the people we had other funds to use to build it. And it would have been technically not possible, but also I think quite confusing.
NNAMDIGot to move to another issue 'cause we're running out of time. A lot of people are becoming more and more concerned about rowdy drunken pub crawls, joint events that county bars have on days like St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo that have posed bigger public safety and policing challenges. It's my understanding that one of the issues that Council will be looking at this weekend is that. What do you feel is the most sensible way forward?
FISETTEKojo, I think I saw you down at the last pub crawl.
NNAMDICameron and me both (unintelligible)...
SHERWOODBut he wasn't that naked guy out in the middle of the street that the police were chasing, was he?
FISETTEOh, please, no.
SHERWOODI'm going to go back and look at that.
NNAMDII covered my face. That was not me.
FISETTENo. It's -- pub crawls are sort of a reflection of some of the popularity right there now. We have the highest percentage of 25 to 34-year-olds of any locality in America in Arlington. And they're that creative class, and they're having a good time. And that's fine. But they've got to be safe. And our responsibility is public safety. So these new groups -- this whole concept has just evolved in the last year, couple years where you buy a pass, and you move from one establishment to the next. And 99.9 percent of them are perfectly fine. And then occasionally you get the bad apple, so...
SHERWOODSo what can the Council pass? What kind of legislation would you pass?
FISETTEWhat we directed the manager a couple of months ago to do was come back with a way we can improve this and put the burden, the cost burden of the police enforcement on those establishments...
FISETTE...and the promoters because right now it falls outside of our special events policy. We will be dealing with a recommendation to bring it in and put that burden on those who are benefiting.
NNAMDIHave time for one more quick question from Adiam (sp?) in Arlington, Va. Adiam, you only have a minute. Go ahead, please.
ADIAMHi. Quick question we got in signage. I have a small business in Arlington at 1919 North Lynn. And we were not able to get a sign -- two signs put up although all small business -- retail is supposed to get three signs because our building would have to opt out of their -- all the new buildings, I guess, can only have one group sign. It's really hard to compete against the Starbucks and all those other businesses.
NNAMDIWhat can she do about that, signage? We have 30 seconds.
FISETTEYeah. Well, first of all, I know your situation. You can just email me at my office, and we'll look into it. But signage is a big issue. It's one of our assets. We've got a great skyline, and a lot of businesses want to use that to mark themselves. And then we have signage on small businesses. Again, many of those, as referencing the earlier conversation, have moved to Columbia Pike because they anticipate the streetcar. So let me know and we'll figure it out.
NNAMDIJay Fisette is chairman of the Arlington County Board. He's a Democrat. Jay, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
FISETTENice to see you guys. Thanks.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHave a good weekend. Thanks.
NNAMDIHave a nice weekend yourself. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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