Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
Two at-large seats are up for grabs on the D.C. Council. We sit down with the four candidates on the ballot — and find out what voters need to know about their positions on everything from public safety to economic development.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- David Catania D.C. Councilmember (I-At Large); Chairman of the Committee on Health
- Phil Mendelson D.C. Councilmember (D-At Large); Chair of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee
- David Schwartzman Statehood Green Party Candidate for DC City Council (At-Large)
- Richard Urban Independent Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Running for any office is serious business, but running for citywide office is another undertaking altogether. Two at-large seats on the D.C. Council are up for grabs next Tuesday. Those council members will be responsible for representing constituents on every block in every neighborhood in every ward in the District and advocating on their behalf on issues ranging from education reform to public safety. This hour, we're joined by the four candidates on the ballot for those two seats, one of which is reserved for a non-Democrat. They're here to share their opinions about the issues they feel affect the entire city and to take your questions. Also here is Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst, a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, welcome. Have you finished your Current column today?
MR. TOM SHERWOODYou know, I actually write that on Monday nights. It just gets published in the old-style media on Wednesdays.
NNAMDIBut you don't make any endorsements, do you?
SHERWOODI never make any endorsements. I just try to be critical of every one equally.
NNAMDIWon't you think of changing that for this at-large race here?
SHERWOODI don't think so. I think -- I trust the voters.
NNAMDI(laugh) That's the problem. The voters, however, don't trust Sherwood. Joining us in studio is David Catania. He is not only an at-large candidate for the council he is an independent, who's defending his seat on the council next week. He chairs the council's committee on health. David Catania, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID CATANIAThank you for having us, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is David Schwartzman. He is an at-large candidate. He's a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party. David Schwartzman, good to see you again.
MR. DAVID SCHWARTZMANGreat to be here.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson is with us. He is a Democrat who is defending his seat. He currently chairs the council's committee on public safety and the judiciary. Phil Mendelson, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. PHIL MENDELSONGood afternoon and thank you for doing this.
NNAMDIWere you surprised by the number of votes you got in the primary?
MENDELSONSomewhat. Given that the polls were -- the polls showed something quite different back in August.
NNAMDIWere you surprised, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODThat he got more votes than anyone else.
SHERWOODYeah, I think that whole thing about confusion over names of his opponent...
NNAMDIWorked to his advantage?
SHERWOOD...was a ruse just to get everybody out to vote. It worked very well. Congratulations.
NNAMDISo it would appear also joining us in studio is Richard Urban. He is an independent candidate. Richard Urban, thank you for joining us again.
MR. RICHARD URBANGlad to be here. Good afternoon.
NNAMDIAllow me to start with a question about the economy. Vince Gray, the presumptive mayor, has said in recent weeks that the fault lines and the voting patterns in his race had more to do with rifts in economic opportunities than with race. What are the one or two things you feel the council could do that would create more economic opportunities for residents across the city? David Schwartzman, I can name one from looking at your literature. Raise some taxes on the wealthy.
SCHWARTZMANAbsolutely. I fought for this for over a decade. I am also pushing for...
NNAMDIHow would that help the poor?
SCHWARTZMANWell, because we can generate more revenue in our underfunded survival budget, that would include affordable housing, child care, adult education. The council has cut this budget two years in a row. Of course, the council had restored a little bit from what Fenty had cut, but we need to put more revenue into these programs, and there is a tax base to give that. To generate that, we also need to establish a D.C. municipal bank. So we put our revenues and fees into that bank and leverage it for green jobs, affordable housing and also curve corporate tax abatements. There's plenty of that, and we need to take a good look at that, plus push for pilots of the entities like World Bank, IMF. Many cities do this, but our elected government has not pushed a public campaign to embarrass these institutions.
NNAMDIHave them pay taxes in the District of Columbia. You can join the conversation at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org and join there. We ask our panelists to keep their answers under one minute. Phil Mendelson, you next.
NNAMDIThe same question. What would you do to provide greater economic opportunity for those people in the city most, so to speak, at risk?
MENDELSONWell, the first thing is jobs and job training. You know, we've disinvested from vocational education, and we need to reverse that. We need to look at our educational system as being not just DCPS but the entire system and not just through grade 12 but post-high school, including job training, apprenticeship programs. That's one thing. You know, we've even added jobs in the District of Columbia over the last decade, but we've seen a reduction in jobs for District residents. We have laws on the books that if government money is connected with a project that there has to be -- District residents as the first source for new hires, honored in the breach, because enforcement is lousy. And we need to improve enforcement of our existing laws to get -- direct more D.C. jobs to D.C. residents.
NNAMDII should also mentioned that after this not each question needs to be answered by each panelist, but I wanted to start on the economic issue with all panelists. Now, incumbent David Catania.
CATANIAKojo, thank you for this question because it is essential to many of our voters. And I'm pleased with the record that I have over the last 10 years on the subject. In fact, in addition -- besides myself, there's only one other city member of the council that can point to a job training program that he or she helped originate, and I can point to several. The elevator and escalator apprenticeship program at WMATA is a program -- a $6 million apprenticeship program that I helped found. The electromechanical program at Cardozo, which is the pre-apprenticeship program I helped found. The allied health training program at United Medical Center. The medical records program at Georgetown I helped support the Excel Institute. And Mr. Mendelson mentioned that we need to strengthen the laws with respect to the first source agreement and so on. I actually authored the law that put the first ever penalties associated with companies that violated the first source.
NNAMDIThat was in the past. What do you plan on doing in the future?
CATANIAWell, in the future, I'll tell you. Last Thursday, I was with Allen Sessoms, the president of University of District of Columbia. We were on site at United Medical Center, surveying space, so we can bring another mid-Atlantic accredited institution east of the river. So we can actually begin allied health training immediately. But it's -- you know, it's also, as Mr. Mendelson mentioned, it's taking care of making sure that people live by our laws. And there's another law that I authored that I'm very proud of, and that requires that 35 percent of all apprenticable hours on government-funded projects be District residents. And if you talk with Mr. Lewis Brown, who heads the D.C. Apprenticeship Office, he'll tell you that there's not been a single piece of legislation in the last decade that has had a greater impact on putting our young people to work and creating demand for them.
URBANWell, I think that you should, if anything, reduce taxes, not increase them. We need to create an environment where small businesses can, you know, create more jobs. And recently, there's been a lot of increase of fees, everything from parking fees, registration fees. So we definitely should not, you know, increase taxes. In fact, it's good to keep, like, the earned income tax credit, and so the working people at the lower income levels can keep as much of their income as possible. Government doesn't actually create jobs. It's private enterprise that does. So we need to create that kind of environment. I do agree with more vocational education and also, like, keeping all kinds of taxes down, like longtime homeowners saw a large increase in taxes in March that was put in by the council last year, and that affects longtime homeowners, and many of them who may be seniors. Some people even had a double increase. Well, that affects the working poor. So we've got to try to avoid, you know, that kind of taxation and create a climate where small businesses can operate and create jobs.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODI'd like -- Mr. Mendelson and Mr. Catania are fairly well-known to the voters. I want to, just for a moment, focus on the other two candidates, Mr. Urban and Mr. Schwartzman. As you're running for this office, do you have an incumbent in mind that you would like to defeat? Are you running against Mr. Catania or against Mr. Mendelson, Mr. Urban, you?
URBANWell, definitely, I'm running against Mr. Catania. I feel that, especially, you know, with my platform, you know, emphasizing I'm the only candidate, you know, who believes marriage is a man and woman. I have a values platform.
SHERWOODAnd I want to get to those values...
SHERWOOD...if you feel like. You have less concerns about Mr. Mendelson's role on some of those?
URBANWell, I feel -- he has a role, but I feel the way it's set up with two candidates and one of them reserved for a non-Democrat and I'm being, like, a lifelong independent, you know, 26 years registered independent that I am in the independent race, especially.
SHERWOODSo you're a fairly conservative candidate given the cast of the city politics. Mr. Schwartzman, yourself, you're the opposite. You happened to be on the other side of the political meter.
SHERWOODWho are you running against? I know you're running for yourself. I'll preempt your traditional answer.
SCHWARTZMANWell, obviously, given the dynamics of this election, I'm running to come in second to Phil Mendelson. So therefore I am running to remove, what I would say, privatize David Catania from the city council. And the reason is because he's -- I would argue that he's really a Republican who's posing as an independent. If you look at his economic policies, blocking even a very modest tax hike for D.C. millionaires, the top 5 percent, he has consistently voted against that, of course, joined with Jack Evans, to block that. To just get back briefly the tax issue, I am for tax relief for the majority. We can combine that with one to two cents per dollar increase for the top 5 percent.
SHERWOODWhat income is that?
SCHWARTZMANOh, it would be above, like, 250,000, especially D.C. millionaires. The top 1 percent in D.C. is earning -- families who are earning $2.7 million a year, they're paying 6.4 percent of their income in D.C. taxes. Of course, the argument is that the opponents say, "Well, we'll drive them out." Well, I would challenge Mr. Catania, who happens to be in that top 5 percent, given the fact he has two salaries, M.C. Dean broadband plus his salary. I challenge him to say I'm not going to move if my tax rate goes mostly up because I want to see my -- the revenue go to address the crisis of everyday living that our families are facing in D.C.
SHERWOODWell, I want to get to them to the social issues, but as he's talked about Mr. Catania I think we might -- ought to give him...
NNAMDII was about to say Mr. Catania...
SHERWOOD...we're going to try to be fair on this program.
NNAMDIBoth of the challengers here have indicated that they're really running against Mr. Catania. I don't even know why we invited Mr. Mendelson.
SHERWOODOkay. Maybe Mr. Mendelson has something else he could just go do.
MENDELSONI thought you liked it when I was here.
NNAMDIHere's David Catania.
CATANIAThank you, Kojo. Let's see. Where to begin? Yeah, I'm proud of the work that I've done on behalf of civil marriage equality in our city, and I was pleased to be the principal author of the civil marriage law here in the District of Columbia. And I'm also want to congratulate Mr. Mendelson for having, you know, chaired the committee on judiciary and doing such an excellent job of stewarding that legislation through the council. And so it is true that there's a contrast on that subject between me and Mr. Urban. With respect to Mr. Schwartzman, you know, he continues to state things which are obviously not true, that the top 4 percent pay 6.4 percent on their income tax. The top rate in the city begins at $40,000, and that rate is 8.5 percent.
CATANIANow, on the subject that I'm somehow a Republican masquerading as an independent, you know, I'm in fact a true independent. I don't think you'll find many Republicans in this country that supports same-sex marriage that author a law as I did that brings medicinal marijuana to the citizens of the city. But, most importantly, I think, Tom, the work that I've done as chairman of the committee on health has certainly earned me the appreciation and respect of my colleagues. When I assumed the chairmanship of this committee in 2005, the District had a 13.4 percent rate of uninsured. Because of the work that I've done to expand access to insurance and to improve the administration of our programs, we now have a 6.2 percent rate of uninsured in the District, which is the second lowest in the nation. And I've cut that in half in five years.
CATANIAWhat I'm particularly proud of is the work that I've done on behalf of children because I've had targeted expansions towards children and insurance towards children. And so now we have a 3.2 percent rate among children, which gives the District the distinction of having the lowest rate of uninsurance among children in the nation. Now, we still have a long way to go. I'm happy to have discussions based on, you know, the priorities that I've had as the chairman of the committee on health and as a member of the council and my 13 years of service to the city. And look forward to having a spirited discussion on subjects.
NNAMDIWe're talking with four people running for at-large on the D.C. City Council -- two incumbents, David Catania and Phil Mendelson and two challengers, David Schwartzman and Richard Urban. Mr. Mendelson, you've been on the Council for 12 years now. And the largest newspaper in town, nevertheless, declined to endorse you in the primary and in the general election. What's your argument for why you deserve another term? And what's your view of not being endorsed by The Washington Post?
MENDELSONWell, The Post has always had a tempered relation -- The Post editorial pages always had a tempered relationship with me going back to my first election in 1998. I happen to disagree with their views. I think that most recently probably the largest issue of disagreement has been with regard to the existing D.C. attorney general, Peter Nickels, about whom I've been a very outspoken opponent. I led the fight in the Council to try to keep him from being confirmed to be the attorney general. A situation -- I think if we had that vote again, he would not be confirmed by the Council. And The Post has just disagreed with me on issues like that.
MENDELSONBut if you look at my record over the last 12 years, I've been a very active and productive legislator. We are elected to legislate, to effect public policy. I've been very active with oversight issues. Over the last year, I've had monthly oversight hearings to put pressure on the fire and EMS department to reduce its overtime spending. It overspends overtime by 100 percent of its budget. And we're talking about it in millions of dollars. Many people will remember that a number of years ago there was a problem with fire in the Dupont Circle area that brought to light problems with the 911 call system. I was very active with oversight on that issue, bringing substantial reforms to the 911 call taking.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. But finish your thought.
MENDELSONSo I've been good on legislation. I've been good on oversight. And people around the city know me because I have been good on being responsive to community issues.
NNAMDIIf you would like to join this conversation, this debate among candidates for two at-large seats on the D.C. City Council, call us at 800-433-8850. Or send e-mail to email@example.com or a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe are joined by four candidates for the two at-large seats on the D.C. City Council. David Catania, he is an independent defending his seat on the Council. Phil Mendelson is a Democrat defending his seat on the Council. The challengers -- David Schwartzman is a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party. Richard Urban is an independent. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom.
SHERWOODI want to go back to Mr. Urban because we got off on some other issues and because you are clearly the most conservative -- if I have looked at everything correctly, the most conservative candidate. You're...
NNAMDIAnd proud of it, correct?
SHERWOODWell, I'm not -- I wasn't suggesting that he wasn't.
NNAMDIOh. Go ahead. (laugh)
URBANYes. I definitely have a values platform. I won't necessarily label it conservative, but it's definitely based on values.
SHERWOODAnd if you were elected to the Council, would you -- I don't -- I looked for your literature on abortion. Where are you on abortion?
URBANWell, that's -- to me, that's not as core an issue on values. For instance, you know, I've run a non-profit...
URBAN...that helps you to say abstinence.
NNAMDIAbstinence is (unintelligible)
URBANAnd to me that's, you know, so...
SHERWOODI know. I know we would get to abstinence, but I wasn't sure where you were on it because I looked on your literature, you don’t really have it. I just didn't...
URBANNo. I don't. That's right.
SHERWOODSo are you pro choice, personally into abortion?
URBANI'm basically not for abortion. I think it's wrong. However, I wouldn't necessarily line up with an absolute ban on all abortions like some people might. There might be some exceptions in some cases.
SHERWOODAll right. So -- and -- how do you -- one of your big issues is abstinence, teaching young -- I guess, teenagers, preteens, to be abstinent as they go for -- what do you -- how do you do that outside of religious context? And how do you teach it without having a religious context?
URBANWell, quite easily. I mean, there's many, many consequences of, you know, sexual activity whether you start with sexually transmitted disease including HIV/AIDS, emotional consequences, having a pregnancy, you know, that affects you. In fact, I think there should be more discussion about how, you know, that affects poverty. Not finishing high school, having a pregnancy -- that really is one of the strongest indicators. I haven't heard that discussed.
SHERWOODThis will be part of a school program, and so if you were to get your way on the council to make this possible.
URBANWell, the non-profit I was running -- I am running already has been giving programs in schools...
NNAMDIUltra Teen Choice.
URBANRight. Schools, churches, organizations. So that's something, you know, people -- it should be competitively bid like anything else. But what happened under Ms. Rhee, for instance, she actually kicked our program out. We see at Hardy Middle School where you saw -- where you she brought in Metro teen aides and is giving this graphic test asking 12-year-olds whether they're, you know, transgender or not, that's totally off the wall. So you see the kind of trend we've had. We would offer abstinence-centered programs in addition to other programs. No one's talking about banning everything else.
SHERWOODWould you repeal same sex marriage law that was passed -- a marriage equality bill?
URBANWell, I would work to do that by putting it on the ballot so the citizens of District of Columbia can vote on it.
NNAMDII am glad that Mr. Urban brought up the school's Chancellor Michelle Rhee because for a lot of people, education was the issue at stake in the mayoral race this fall. The future of the school system is in flux. A new chancellor and a new mayor will be in charge. What, David Schwartzman, is your vision for the city school system? And what do you think is at stake?
SCHWARTZMANWell, a lot is at stake and I've stated publicly and actually the last time I ran two years ago, I made the same case. I think the Fenty-Rhee approach to education has been really harmful. Closure of neighbored schools -- number one, firing of -- mass firing of teachers. Now, some teachers deserve to be fired. But there was no due process and many teachers were fired unjustly and staff and further...
NNAMDIYou are opposed to mayoral control of schools, period.
SCHWARTZMANYes. Well, I am and I think I would say the new chancellor should certainly work to further up more of a bottom up parent-teacher participation in the management and design of education, involve the parents. But the most important factor in poor school performance, and Diane Ravitch has said this and many other academics in -- that have studied this issue, is poverty. Poverty is the biggest impact on poor school performance. Even if you look at the same school, a child coming from a family in poverty is gonna generally do worse in the family -- than a child coming from a family that's affluent.
SHERWOODDo you -- let me ask you. You -- I think you in your luxury want to go back to an elective school board, take the power out of the mayor's hands and have an elective school board that run the school system?
SCHWARTZMANWell, I think this deserves discussion and reexamination, but in transition, we certainly should further parent-teacher power over the educational process. And also, let me add one thing. I'm an -- been an educator for 40 years at Howard University and before. And the most important thing to bring to the students is to encourage critical thinking. I -- my co-campaign manager, Mai Abdul Rahman, who is actually a doctoral candidate, you know, is a...
NNAMDIWhat do you say to people who say, look, critical thinking won't get you jobs in this society, passing tests will?
SCHWARTZMANWell, I would say over testing does not prepare students for a productive career. And we need green apprenticeship programs in our high school. So I'm happy that Phil Mendelson actually put out much of my platform on first source and green jobs and friendship programs.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson, one of the criticisms the Washington Post had against you was that you opposed mayoral control of the schools. Now that we have a new administration coming in, where do you stand on that issue?
MENDELSONI think, one of the biggest problems we've had with education reform in the city is that we always start over. And you can't really get progress if you constantly going back and starting from the beginning. Continuity, in my view, is very, very important. And that is why during the primary election, I was clear that I did not wanna see the chancellor fired. I wanted to see her continue. She's removed that choice, her option from the table. But I think stability is important. So while I would have preferred not to have politicized the school system by putting it under the mayor and the elected branches of government, I think, at this point, we move forward without another governance fight that we move forward.
MENDELSONI think educational reform was a big winner in the primary election because it was an issue that everybody have to acknowledge was important. And everybody, winners, losers said that they supported educational reform. You know, there was -- the notion that electing or nominating Vince Gray in the primary was gonna be an end to educational reform was just campaign rhetoric in my view. You look at the last four years, the council has been four-square behind educational reform, putting resources there. Well, it was clear that the voters across the city improving our schools, continuing the progress there is important. And we will see that continue. And that's where I am.
NNAMDIGot a question from Perry in Northwest Washington for Councilmember Catania. Perry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PERRYThank you, Kojo and Tom as well. My question is directly, chiefly to Councilman Catania. And I like to hear is a response from candidate Schwartzman on this, not that the other two excluded. Why so? I received your flyer, Councilman Catania, and so it behooves me to pay attention to it and base my vote or non-vote for or against you. I saw -- actually I receive through, you know, I continue to see your health agenda and that's commendable. But in the city, I have seen so much of the other pieces of the pie that are missing, including poverty, in terms of the gentrification issue, unemployment, first source in particular, education, the choosing of the public schools, all -- statehood, the lack of representation and housing which I like to you define affordable...
PERRYSince I don't know that, I'm looking at Schwartzman more and more because I hear him on the several issues, not to divert from health care, which is important. But why is...
NNAMDIPerry, your question has taken up more time than the councilmember is allowed for a response. Housing, poverty, education, and the like, David Catania.
CATANIAWell, thank you for the question. Let's first start with housing. I'm pleased at the work that I did that made it possible for individuals to use their Section 8 vouchers for mortgage assistance. And that was especially useful in the Henson Ridge development on Alabama Avenue. I think homeownership is a way in which people can build an asset and have, you know, certain control over the lives. I'm very happy about the work I did there. And I'm also happy about the work I've done with respect to Section 8 properties with, you know, tax abatements to help keep them affordable.
NNAMDIHow do you stop gentrification from running poor people out of the city?
CATANIAWell, I think, the best way to have stable neighborhoods is through increased homeownership, to be honest. If you own your home, then these fluctuations in the rents are not something that are going to, you know, wash you out of the city. And I think we need to be paying more and more attention. And that's why I, you know, led the council's effort, frankly, on that charge. With respect to, you know -- yes, it -- a great deal of my platform is associated with health care, because I chair the Committee on Health. And that's the way, you know, many of the members typically focus almost exclusively on their particular area. And, of course, we are trying to dig ourselves out of a lot of bad health disparities. And that's where my focus has been.
CATANIAOn the subject, I think, of statehood. You know, I'm very pleased at the work that I've done on voting representation, and I'll lay my record next to anyone's. In January of 2008 -- and let me back up by saying, I'm a member of a lot of national organizations. I chair the National Legislative Organization on Prescription Drug Prices. I meet state legislators from around the country. And one of the things that I did was encouraged one of my colleagues from the New Hampshire House, Cindy Rosenwald, to introduce a voting rights resolution in the New Hampshire House. And I led a delegation that included eight members, the chairman and the mayor, on January 10, 2008, the day after the presidential primary, to call awareness to the subject. I also initiated the -- what has become an annual event at the National Conference of State Legislatures. And I'm absolutely committed to voting representation.
CATANIAOn the issue First Source, just out of fairness, because a lot of ideas were -- out there. Again, the First Source Agreement existed in the city for more than 20 years without any penalties. I authored what is -- the only penalty regimen for people who violate First Source, and with respect to opportunities for jobs -- I mentioned earlier, I authored the legislation that requires 35 percent of all the apprenticable hours be performed by district residents. And I've personally been involve in creating four jobs training programs. I would lay that record against any members on the council.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood. Thank you for your call, Perry.
SHERWOODMr. Catania, are you supporting Vince Gray as the candidate for mayor?
CATANIAI believe Vince is a man of enormous integrity and intellect. And I think he is going to be a fantastic mayor.
SHERWOODMr. Schwartzman, are you...
SCHWARTZMANYes, I am. And let me...
SHERWOODOh, I don't -- I'm sorry. Just...
SHERWOODMr. Urban, are you supporting Vince Gray for mayor?
URBANI still haven't totally decided. My preference was Leo Alexander. Of course, obviously, he was defeated. So, you know, I haven't decided, actually, my vote yet.
NNAMDIAnd Mr. Urban's hedging his bets.
SHERWOODAnd, Mr. Mendelson, I know you have endorsement with Mr. Gray. Is that right?
SHERWOODHe has said he'll fight for statehood -- to get back to where the discussion was. He said he'll fight to make the city the 51st state. You know, the city can't even get a vote in the House much less come as state yet. He says -- but he won't be willing to do civil disobedience and be arrested and do all those types of things, unless people would join him on that line. I think I know the answer from Mr. Schwartzman, but I'll ask you first. Will you join him and be arrested...
NNAMDIYes. We can move on to the next...
SCHWARTZMANWell, of course, I can. Of course, I will. But we need to empower the people of D.C. to fight better for statehood. They've been disempowered by the economic and social policies that have impact the increase child poverty to over 30 percent, 40 percent for a black children. And it's interesting Mr. Catania says he's supporting Gray, but why was he neutral during the primary? That's a question that you might ask him. I would say...
SHERWOODYou're -- shortly for this. You would be willing to be arrested along with the new mayor if he does some kind civil disobedience for statehood?
SCHWARTZMANNot only that, I would use my office, once on the council, to organize for economic social justice...
SCHWARTZMAN...and empower the people so they would fight more massively for our full self (unintelligible)
SHERWOODMr. Mendelson, would you go to jail with Mr. Gray or be arrested? You wouldn't go to jail. You'd be out on bond, probably, pretty quickly. But would you go -- would you be arrested for statehood?
MENDELSONThe short answer is yes. But Vince makes an important point. And that is it doesn't do any good if he goes up to the hill alone. There need to be people behind him, and not just 13 members of the council, but the citizenry.
URBANYeah. I think we should voting representation. I'd be volunteering -- you know, I look at the mayor without a particular proposal, but yes, absolutely.
SHERWOODAnd, Mr. Catania, you look like you're anxious to say something.
CATANIAAbsolutely. Let me tell you how I've even gone one step further. I have a commitment from the Democratic nominee for governors in the state of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, who is also a member of one of my organizations. I have a commitment on his part that as soon as he's elected and he's leading the polls next Tuesday, we are going to have someone in the gubernatorial office who's going to be an advocate on behalf of voting rights in the District of Columbia. Look, we...
SHERWOODWhat state is that?
CATANIAVermont. Peter Shumlin. And so that's on a piece of literature that coming soon to a mailbox near you. But the point is, we have to go beyond the 68 square miles of District of Columbia when we're talking about voting rights. We need elected officials who are going to leave the state, form relationships, which I have, with representatives from around the country, and then list them in the effort in their legislatures, because these individuals do rise. You know, when I first met Peter, he was just a state senator. Now, he's the president pro tem of the Senate. And so we have these commitments. The same is true for Cindy Rosenwald, who I mentioned earlier. We have to form these relationships, form these commitments, make the ask and have a national ground as well on behalf of voter rights.
SHERWOODBut the Republicans are gonna take over the House. And they have seen not to be very supportive of self-rule for the District of Columbia. Is that gonna be a huge hurdle?
CATANIAWell, it's gonna be a hurdle. And that's why I think we need to use some of their own rhetoric against them. I mean, part of what's fueling the Republican Party right now is the Tea Party Movement and the idea of Washington, leave us alone. We subscribed to that. Washington should leave us alone.
NNAMDITom Sherwood has been recruiting people at bars in Miami Beach. Here is Carl in Washington, D. C. Carl, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARLYes. This is addressed to the incumbents. The council, a couple years ago, passed a bill, I believe unanimously, to outlaw street evictions. That is to prevent people's furniture from being put out on the street. It was -- money was put in the budget, but then it was rescinded. The council was supposed to receive reports. They've never been produced. I'd like to know why there's been no oversight and why do bill has not been put into effect.
MENDELSONWell, first of all, the caller is a little bit mistaken. The bill did not outlaw the evictions. What it did was it created a process, whereby a person's property could be warehoused if the person wanted that. You know, oftentimes with evictions, the person's long gone. But if the person is, in fact, there, that their property would be warehoused at the government's expense, and that was the money that the caller referred to. It was put in the budget, and then taken out as our revenues have dropped. And we've been looking for -- unfortunately, we've been looking for a lot of cuts in order to keep our budget balanced.
NNAMDICarl, thank you very much for your call. Here's is Black in Washington, D.C. Black, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BLACKYeah. My first question is what would the city council do or address the current $175 million deficit? And, secondly, why should city employees pay in the form of cuts and layoff when the city employees did not create the existing debt?
NNAMDIRichard Urban. What would you do about the city council's -- about the city's $175 million deficit and to make sure that you don't have city employees pay the penalty for it?
URBANI think we look -- need to look at ways we're spending. One thing is I think the Streetcar Project has been -- is ill planned. It's expensive. It's gonna eventually cost $1.5 billion. We should provide, you know, basic transportation. That's one are I'd look at cuts. I think it's important to work with youth. That's what I do in my profession. However, I think the summer youth program has been bloated again. We see just recently reported on channel nine about corruptions, huge waste, $30 million overrun two years ago. So there are many areas where government is often an inefficient user of funds. The more money it gets, the money is wasted, money is stolen. So I'll look at making this kind of cuts to non-essential things, such as the Streetcar Project.
NNAMDIMr. Catania, what would you put on the table?
CATANIAWell, first of all, I'm not certain we're looking at $175 million issue. Let me be specific as to why. I see it, though, did not include the savings, which the city will obtain as a result of the President's health care plan. And, specifically, what we've done is we've moved 32,000 people from our Alliance program on to Medicaid where we paid 100 percent of the cost to where the federal government pays 70 percent. 32,000 people, that can be between 30 and $40 million, which has not been included.
CATANIABut assuming, for conversation sake, it's $175 million. A hundred million of it, by Nat Gandhi's own admission, is overspending. The first line of -- the first order of business is to apportion each particular agency on a quarterly basis and simply not give them the money to overspend, all right? And once we do that, we do -- I believe Mr. Urban is right. We need to look at areas of overspending. But we need...
NNAMDIDid you say I believe Mr. Urban is right?
CATANIAListen, I think that we have to look at overspending. We're gonna have to look at everything. I think the caller also addressed why should the employees be faced with cuts as well. It's because all of our residents our faced with cuts, and no portion of our community can be spared. I think this era demands that we all make a sacrifice. And so whatever that final number is -- I personally do not support tax increases. I think it's the wrong way to go, but I think in order to bring the community together, we need there to be shared sacrifice and everyone needs to know we're in this together. And so whatever that final number is, I think we need to look at taking a percentage from our workforce, a percentage out of programs, and a percentage that would be funded by increases in taxes.
SHERWOODThe caller said not to do this on the employees back, but isn't employee cost one of the highest things that the city has?
CATANIAAbsolutely. Absolutely. And to be sure, our employees have been held as harmless as any public sector employees in this country. We have seen large scale furloughs and pinch in readjustments across the country. We have not asked that of our workers here...
CATANIA...yet. I think, look, we need to have an adult, grown-up conversation with the citizens of the city that we are facing. We've spent through our savings to try to keep the ship afloat. We are coming up against some very difficult times. And I think the only way to have united city in the spirit of Vince Gray going forward is an adult conversation where we tell everyone that everyone's ox is going to get gourd so that we can all get through this.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation/debate among the four candidates for two at-large seats on the D.C. City Council. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're having a conversation among the candidates for two at-large seats on the D.C. City Council. David Catania is an incumbent. He is an independent. Phil Mendelson also an incumbent. He is a Democrat. Challenger David Schwartzman is a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party. And challenger Richard Urban is an independent. Tom Sherwood joins us in studio. He is our resident analyst, a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Phil Mendelson, allow me to speak of public safety. But you wanted to answer on the budget first.
MENDELSONYes, I did because I think that's one of the most important issues facing this government and it hasn't gotten enough attention, although people are realizing that we do have a very serious fiscal situation. I happen to think that the $175 million is an understatement of the problem because, over the last several years, the budget that's been developed by the mayor has been one that has relied on one-time sources of dollars for continuing expenses. For instance, reducing the fund surplus, that's one-time dollar. So you have an ongoing program. Let's say fire department. You can't use one-time dollars. You've got to have ongoing dollars. And so the problem is greater than $175 million. I consider myself, one, a fiscal moderate. And there are fewer of us on the Council today than there were four years ago. David is somebody that I've turned to, and we've worked well together with regard to looking seriously at our budget and bringing it into balance. But you...
NNAMDII have a caller who has a question about this that you may want to deal with. Black, thank you for your call. Here is Al in Chevy Chase, Md. Al, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALGood afternoon to everybody. I have a very small question, actually, which is when Mr. Williams handed the city to Mr. Fenty, I believe we had a surplus. And now we wanted to know what Mr. Fenty actually done extra that -- beside that the surplus is gone, now we are in the red zone of $175 million...
NNAMDIWhat did we do, Phil Mendelson, that can cause us to go from surplus to deficit?
SHERWOODJust -- and just for the listeners, it was about 1.5 billion surplus in the bank, and it's down now to about almost 700 million.
MENDELSONCorrect. Well, what we did was we didn't cut spending to equalize with declining revenues. And we kept spending by...
NNAMDIWhy declining revenues?
MENDELSONWell, because the economy, the national economy, is down. And we -- the District has actually done better than other states, but we've seen a decline, significant decline, in revenues but not a commensurate cut in spending. And in the short-term, that may be fine with some programs, but it's not sustainable. And that's why we're now looking at the financial situation we have. But, you know, there's some examples of the kind of waste. For instance, we simply wrote off Medicaid revenues from Child & Family Services a year ago -- I think that was like $40 million -- in foregone revenue. The -- Virginia had 225, Virginia had. We've spent $20 million so far on a building that is yet to be occupied. It will soon be occupied. But that's $20 million for vacancy for three years. Six million dollars a year in overtime spending over the budget. Twenty million dollars overspending in summer jobs program. I mean, just add those numbers up.
SHERWOODThese are -- are these an argument?
NNAMDIAl wanted to know how we got to where we got.
MENDELSONThis is -- these are examples of where we have wasted spending...
NNAMDIAl, thank you very...
MENDELSON...and then how we could, with better discipline, we can meet this current problem.
SHERWOODYou didn't say tax -- Mr. Catania said you didn't think tax -- raising taxes is the way to go. What is your view about taxes?
MENDELSONI don't write off tax increases, but it's not the first place I look.
CATANIAMay I clarify it, Tom? Because -- if I might.
NNAMDIFirst David Catania, then David Schwartzman.
CATANIAMy -- I said my preference, frankly...
CATANIA...isn't to begin there. And my preference is to wait until we see how the national tax rates shake out with what's going on, which rates will be raised and which ones won't on the federal level, and that will help inform us on the local level. It's also important to know that we have some time because whatever rate we would put in place wouldn't go into place until January 1 anyway. So we have a little bit of time. I'm not ruling out anything in order to keep our financial house in order. And that's why I stress the need that we're going to have to have an adult conversation. We will have to go -- every sacred cow, if you will, has got to be put forward. We cannot simply say -- have an ideologically-driven, you know, solution to what is a very deep problem.
NNAMDIEvery time he says adult conversation, I think I'm Norton on "The Honeymooners" crying and saying, I don't wanna...
SHERWOODWhen he said sacred cow, I thought of the United Healthcare center in Southeast. You're putting a lot of money out there.
CATANIAAnd I'd love to have a conversation about that because you...
SHERWOODBut we're not gonna do that right now, though.
CATANIA...because you've been out there, Tom.
NNAMDIPublic safety is a universal...
NNAMDIOh, I'm sorry. Yes. Mr. Schwartzman. Yes.
SCHWARTZMANWell, I find that kind of amazing -- shocking -- that Mr. Catania would say that everyone has to bear burden of this effect of depression that's in Ward 4, 5, 7 and 8. You're talking about record poverty levels in D.C. You're talking about the misery index going up. And you're saying that the majority of people need to make more sacrifices, but the wealthy shouldn't. They can't afford...
CATANIAIt's not what I'm saying.
SCHWARTZMAN...to pay 1 or 2 percent higher tax rate. By the way, he misstated my tax statistic. It's 6.4 percent of the total income of total D.C. taxes, not the income tax. Please go on my website and look at my tax plan, Mr. Catania.
NNAMDII have gone to your website, and the impression I get is that you feel that both the Fenty and Williams administrations were disastrous for the city in general and for the poor in particular.
SCHWARTZMANAbsolutely. And I stand by that because income inequality has grown. The gap of the rich and poor has grown. And we know that this drives bad health. The most...
NNAMDIWell, it implies that...
NNAMDI...before we had a control board here, the city was doing pretty well.
SCHWARTZMANIndeed. And the control board -- I'm glad you mentioned that -- the control board balanced the budget on the backs of the poor. And what we're facing now is a repeat -- the danger of a repeat on this -- of the same policy. And we have to fiercely resist it. There is waste, indeed, that Phil Mendelson referred to. And, for example, we're spending 150 million to rent from developers for municipal functions while we could use our own buildings.
NNAMDIIn effect, Mr. Catania, Mr. Schwartzman saying that since you and Phil Mendelson have been in office and for four years prior to that, this city has moved backwards.
CATANIAAgain, that there in lies the contrast. I believe that the city is moving in the right direction. With the respect to the previous caller who talked about where the fund balance went, it went to shore up what we're declining revenues. And we make calculated decisions in 2008 when we were told by economic experts, that by 2010, we'd be coming out of this recession. It does not look like we are and that's why we have to again recalibrate, you know, the way in which we respond to this crisis.
SHERWOODWell, here's an easy question 'cause it's fun to do. And reminds voters in the District of Columbia, you have a choice. You can vote for two candidates in the at-large race. So I'd like each of the candidates to say who you want the voters to vote for other than yourself. Mr. Mendelson, you obviously wanna vote for yourself. Who is the other person the voter should vote for?
MENDELSONYou know, I hate this kind of question.
SHERWOODI know you do. That's why I brought it up. (laugh)
SHERWOODI could see his face twitching when I brought it up.
MENDELSONMy answer is Phil Mendelson.
NNAMDIYou got 30 seconds because then we have to go to the final comments.
MENDELSONWe have the public safety question. Phil Mendelson.
SHERWOODOh, he's not gonna do it. Mr. Schwartzman.
SCHWARTZMANWell, I would say Phil Mendelson because he is...
SCHWARTZMAN...still dominantly progressive on many issues.
URBANPhil Mendelson -- because -- okay. That's it.
SHERWOODOkay. Mr. Catania.
CATANIAI happen to agree with Phil. I'm gonna vote for Phil as well. I think he's done a great job.
SHERWOODThere you go.
NNAMDIIt's unanimous on Phil Mendelson. Gentlemen...
SHERWOODWe shouldn't even have invited Phil here. (laugh)
NNAMDII don't know why. We each -- you each have one minute for a closing statement. Since you've been endorsed by everybody else, Phil Mendelson, we would...
SHERWOODExcept us. We didn't.
NNAMDI...we would anticipate that your closing statement will be short and probably address the issue of public safety. Go.
MENDELSONWell, yeah. I do wish it should have been a question about public safety so we could we talk more about what our different ideas are on how to improve public safety. You know, we've made significant progress over the last several years. You see it in the crime statistics. But I think we're -- we have not gone far enough. People don't feel safe enough in this city. And I think that we are at the cusp of some significant changes with the new administration that will take reduction in crime, improving in public safety much further. I just wanna say in the few seconds remaining, many people know me because I've not been a stranger at any neighborhood in the city. I think that's important for any legislator. I'm also known as a very...
MENDELSON...active legislator. I think that's important. I'm very proud of my record. I also just wanna say that, you know, I'm a D.C. public school parent. I'm invested personally in seeing improvement in our schools. And I wanna see us be the best city that we can be.
SCHWARTZMANIndeed, I'm David Schwartzman. Please consider casting one of your two votes for city council at-large for me on Nov. 2, the D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate. To privatize David Catania, a part -- Republican posing as an independent who voted to close neighbored schools and justly fired teachers and staff and to cut the chunk here in affordable housing budget. I'm a Howard University professor standing for jobs for D.C. residents and ending child poverty, apprenticeship programs for green jobs and a fair tax hike for D.C. millionaires with more income for a majority and revenue going into a municipal bank...
SCHWARTZMAN...promoting affordable housing and jobs. Ban the box, forward to one city with green justice and state, davidschwartzman.com.
URBANOkay. I am Richard Urban. I'm the only candidate out of the four who believes marriage should be defined as a man and woman only. I'm the only candidate out of the four who believes that issue should be put on the ballot. I'm also the only candidate who is supporting -- helping stop HIV by an abstinence-centered approach. Also, I am a candidate of integrity that is not bought by special interest. Mr. Catania receives $10,000 a month from Open Band LLC. That's a subsidiary of M.C. Dean. That's a company -- does major business for the district. So I'll offer you integrity in the office in those conflicts.
CATANIAThank you, Kojo. I wanna thank the voters for the trust they've had on me over the last 13 years, and ask for your support next Tuesday. As I mentioned at the top of the program, I work in the health care arena, has led to a cutting in half of our rate of uninsured in the city. We now have nearly universal coverage of full-time nurses in our schools. We've doubled the number of mental health professionals in our schools and we now have among the highest rates for preschool immunization in the country. Tom alluded to United Medical Center. I'm very proud of the work I've done east of the Anacostia River, to build health care capacity. In my tenure the last five years, we've invested, through my leadership, $300 million in health care facilities east of the Anacostia River, which is more than in the first 30 years of Home Rule combined. I'm very proud of the common sense solutions that I have brought...
CATANIA...to this government and I look forward to continuing. Thank you.
NNAMDIDavid Catania is defending his seat on the city council. He's an independent. David Schwartzman is a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party. Phil Mendelson is also defending his seat. He is a Democrat. And Richard Urban, running for the seat, he is an independent. Tom Sherwood required a few seconds left at the end for incoherent babbling. (laugh)
SHERWOODYou know, once again, I did not get a closing statement. I'm gonna demand a closing statement.
NNAMDIAs we said, incoherent babbling. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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