It's in our salad dressing, bread and most everything else we eat -- and it's doing tremendous harm to our bodies. How can we kick the salt habit?
D.C. swears in a new mayor. Virginia politicians pledge to fund transportation projects. And Maryland lawmakers vow to fight over upcoming same-sex marriage proposals. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Alan Suderman "Loose Lips" Columnist, Washington City Paper
- Vincent Gray Mayor, District of Columbia (D)
Politics Hour Extra
“If we propose tax increases, we’ve got to be able to say with clarity, “Here’s what will not happen unless we have these dollars,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said about making the case for raising taxes in the city:
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray addresses callers’ questions about aggressive parking enforcement in the city and possible alternatives to the current metering system:
District Mayor Vincent Gray discusses the time frame and process for appointing a new schools chancellor, and whether interim schools chancellor Kaya Henderson will be appointed to the position permanently:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He got an upgrade. The show now stars him. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Happy New Year, Tom. I know your column said you're tired of people saying Happy New Year...
MR. TOM SHERWOODI'm not saying it anymore.
NNAMDI...but I have -- you're becoming very curmudgeon in your...
SHERWOODNo, it's just that, you know, I wanna move on. I'm starting to say, you know, I'm like the retail stores. I'm already looking towards Valentine's Day. They've got the candy out. It's on sale.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is also a columnist for the Current Newspapers. And a new feature in his column, "Odds and Ins," things he sees around town, this one with shades for me of George Costanza, a gentleman at Clyde's downtown, eating a grilled cheese sandwich. Well, what's wrong with that, Tom?
SHERWOODYou know, it was very odd because there was a nice bowl of tomato soup and there was a grilled cheese sandwich, and he was ever so delicately eating it with a knife and fork.
SHERWOODAnd I started to lean over and ask him (laugh) why he was doing that. And then I realized that the knife was in the hand closest to me. (laugh) So I just decided to leave him alone. But I just thought it was kind of an odd observation.
NNAMDIThere was an episode of "Seinfeld" featuring George Costanza eating a candy bar with a knife and fork.
SHERWOODRight. That's exactly right...
SHERWOOD...for those who are old enough to remember to those programs. (laugh)
NNAMDIOur guest analyst is here today to receive both congratulations and denunciations. Alan Suderman, "Loose Lips" columnist for the city paper.
MR. ALAN SUDERMAN(unintelligible), yeah.
NNAMDIIt's his first appearance here. Welcome, Alan.
SUDERMANThanks. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd congratulations to you and your wife on the birth of your son. He weighed in at nine pounds, eight ounces. What is his name?
SUDERMANDean Alan Suderman.
NNAMDIDean Alan Suderman, congratulations to you and your wife for that. And now the denunciations, Tom. Alan did not get our memo because producer Michael Martinez, who shares Alan's odd sentiments, didn't send the memo. Martinez is out of here. See, Alan wrote that his son, quoting here, "has the uncommon strength and intelligence necessary...
NNAMDI...to become a Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback." The memo you did not get, Alan, says in Washington, you're not allowed to use Dallas Cowboys and intelligence in the same sentence. (laugh) . Okay?
SHERWOODAnd also with the Washington team needs a quarterback more than Dallas does.
NNAMDIYeah, but in Washington, you know you can hate the owner of the team, but you're never allowed to love the Dallas Cowboys.
SUDERMANBut I'm from Texas. I mean, it's my grandpa's team. I don't have a choice.
NNAMDIThat rumbling sound you hear is people trying to run you back out of town into Texas because they don't like the Dallas Cowboys. Tom, if we may look at the state of Maryland for a second. Separate packages addressed to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and his secretary of transportation contained incendiary devices that flashed, smoked and produced an odor when they were opened on Thursday, causing minor injuries to two employees and putting officials around the Washington region on alert. That includes officials on the Distinct of Columbia.
SUDERMANYou know, he...
SHERWOODWell, even in the district, the Emergency Management Agency sent out an alert to all the city government agencies to be careful with the mail. You know, this was -- and in fact, is a rare case where a suspicious package in fact acted, you know, there was. And we have all these phony suspicious packages and this was a case where something did in fact happen. And then they saw them smoking or something like that. So the people in these kinds of jobs, I mean, can day in day out whether you're a security guard sitting at the same station day in and day out or opening mail, you kind of just lose track of the focus that something could happen at any time. It's security exhaustion, in fact. So we're lucky that no one was seriously injured in those cases.
NNAMDIAnd here in the District of Columbia, Alan Suderman and Tom Sherwood, we have a new member of the city council. Sekou Biddle is going to be occupying the At-Large seat vacated by now city council chairman Kwame Brown. How did this all come about?
SHERWOODHe's the anti-Vincent Orange.
NNAMDIRight, he will be the anti-Vincent Orange in the April (laugh) election to fill this position.
SUDERMANYeah. Well, it came about because the way D.C. decides who gets to replace At-Large council members, leads the D.C. Democratic State Committee, to make the pick. And last night that came down to getting 38 members of the committee to vote your way and Sekou got, after three rounds, got the nod. It's a tight race.
SHERWOODYeah. But it's only…
NNAMDIAgainst Vincent Orange...
SHERWOOD...it's only (unintelligible) the state charter on the city charter requires that the Democrats, in this case, fill the seat of the vacant seat left by Kwame Brown. And -- but it's only until the special election in April 26, I think it is?
SHERWOODAnd that will be a race where they may be a, you know, may be a dozen candidates, three or four of whom will be fairly well known.
NNAMDIWell, you're the odds maker here. How significant is the advantage that Sekou Biddle has by going into that April election as the incumbent, even though Vincent Orange presumably still has wider name recognition?
SHERWOODWell, he does have wider name recognition, but Tom Lindenfeld who’s working with Sekou Biddle said, you know, getting the nod from -- for the party helps you with organization, helps you with fundraising, gives you instant credibility and it gives you a say-so with the media which will decide quickly who are the -- and also run-in candidates and who are the contenders. So it's important to have -- David Catania won the council seat by -- I can't remember who has -- had been appointed.
MR. VINCENT GRAYArrington Dixon.
SHERWOODArrington Dixon, right.
NNAMDISee, we've got institutional memory in the room even though we haven't...
SHERWOODSo we have to introduce our mystery guest in a moment.
NNAMDI...even though we haven't introduce our institutional memory yet.
SHERWOODThe reason why there are one, two, three, four, five, or whatever, cameras in here with us today.
NNAMDIWell, Alan Suderman, you may not have Tom Sherwood's institutional memory. How are you handicapping that race for At-Large City Council in April?
SUDERMANWell, Sekou is now the incumbent and, you know, everything that comes with being incumbent surely gives him the advantage. So yeah, I think it's his race to lose now.
SHERWOODOkay, Tom Sherwood, a fanfare.
NNAMDIYou don't do fanfare?
SHERWOODOh, for the guest.
NNAMDIFor the guest that I'm about to introduce. You don't do fanfares?
SHERWOODI -- you know what, he's already getting a big head.
NNAMDIDo you whistle...
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYYou know, he's got this big vehicle.
SHERWOODHe's got this huge -- is it a Cadillac?
NNAMDILadies and gentlemen, joining us...
SHERWOODIt's a huge vehicle.
SUDERMANIs that an SUV?
NNAMDILadies and gentlemen...
SHERWOODIt's an SUV. Isn't that a Cadillac SUV?
NNAMDINobody listens to me on this broadcast.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now...
NNAMDI...is the new mayor of the District of Columbia. This is his first week in office. Vincent Gray. Vincent Gray, congratulations. Thank you so much for joining us.
GRAYThank you, Kojo. I'm glad to be here with you.
SHERWOODAnd he's not driving -- I desperately wanted him to get a Smart Car because, you know, he's tall as I am.
SUDERMANHe's too tall.
SHERWOODAnd I'd just loved it if you'd gotten in a Smart Car.
GRAYIt would have been a squeeze, Tom. We don't know.
SHERWOODYou could have put it in your back pocket.
NNAMDIWe know you have questions and comments for the mayor of the District of Columbia, Vincent Gray, so call us now, 800-433-8850, or go to our website. Ask your questions or make your comments there. That's kojoshow.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIWhen you were running for office, Mr. Mayor, there was a perception that became a reality that there was a racial division among the electorate in the city and that you will have to make special appeals to white voters west of the park. What a lot of people found out during your campaign is that you already had some experience west of the park while you were a student at George Washington University, where you happened to integrate a fraternity there and became the first president of that fraternity. What a lot of people may not have known, what I saw this past Wednesday in the auditorium at George Washington University...
GRAYThe Smith Center.
NNAMDI...is -- at the Smith Center, is that you also played intramural basketball on the first integrated basketball team at George Washington University at a time when black players were not allowed onto the college team, and that intramural team that was integrated broke a lot of barriers. Apparently, it was a very, very good team. The ceremony that was held on Wednesday was one in which, during a timeout, you were honored and then you turned around and were surprised by the entrance onto the court of four other members of that team, two black and two white, who played on that team with you. And so you have had some experience interacting with whites in general and whites west of the park in particular. But before we get to that, I just want you to talk a little bit about how you felt about that honor that evening.
GRAYIt was an awesome experience. I had no idea what was about to come. I went to the game, got a chance to go and talk to the players before the game, told them about my experience, you know, and I looked at the team and said this is so starkly different from when I was here, when I didn't even have a chance to play on the team because there had been no African-American players. And this was a team that was predominately African-American now with an African-American coach and what progress that symbolized to me. And then to go out there and be announced at the half court and somebody said, why don't you turn around? And I turned around and here are four guys, two of whom I've not seen since I was in college...
NNAMDIForty years or more.
SHERWOODDid you recognize them?
GRAYI did. Neil Hausig and Steve Haenel. And then, Norm Neverson, who, of course, has been very active for years in the political scene. Norm and I have seen each other consistently. And then, Garry Lyle, who played on that team as well, who actually went on to play eight years with the Chicago Bears as a safety, and then, he played a year, I think, with the New York Giants thereafter. It was absolutely one of the most memorable experiences imaginable. And if you don't mind, I want to give credit to someone who was instrumental...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to interrupt and say for a second that "Loose Lips" wrote in his column that George Washington University probably scored a few points with the mayor by doing that, but, Alan, George Washington was not the architect. I know who the architect of that...
NNAMDI...whole event happened to be, and the architect who shall remain nameless until the mayor mentions his name, wants everybody to know that he scored 23 points in an intramural game during that same era. Who was that?
GRAYIt was Mark Plotkin, who you worked with for quite some time and who has his, of course, show on another station, I might add.
NNAMDIThat nobody listens to.
GRAYAnd Mark I've known for decades, and that was a part of making it such an awesome experience that he worked so hard to do that. I -- even -- I thanked him there, and I even called him in the aftermath and left a message for him to tell him what an incredibly awesome experience it was, how memorable it was and how much I appreciated what he did to bring us together.
GRAYAnd by the way, this team was awesome itself. This team -- we won most of our games by anywhere from 20 to 40 points, and we got a chance offline to play against varsity players in those days, and we could have beaten the varsity.
SHERWOODHow did you feel about the racial discrimination that you were good, that you played well but you were black so therefore you couldn't play?
GRAYWell, you know, there was an enormous amount of resentment, but resentment is fine. You got to do something about it, and one of the things that I was pleased to be a part of was helping to break down the racial barriers in the fraternity system at George Washington. There never had been a member of either a sorority or a fraternity at George Washington. I went through what was a very difficult rush process, because the way the rules were written, you had to visit every fraternity or every sorority and get a card signed. There was one fraternity who said, don't bother to come here. We'll sign your card. Another one that completely ignored me when I went there. I had met some of the brothers of (word?) before that, and I knew that these were good people. And at the end of that process, we all decided that this was something we wanted to pursue. Never in a million years that I imagined I would become within a year the president of that fraternity.
SHERWOODIs this gonna help you with the city divide that Kojo spoke about, that everyone speaks about. Are you...
GRAYI actually think so, Tom, because, you know, my -- I ran on a theme of one city, and I believe that very, very strongly. And one of the first things I did in the aftermath of the primary was to go out and that we had town hall meetings across the city. The least attended one was with 800 people, and we had as many as 1,200 people at the -- the one in Ward 8. Over 7,000 people came out. And frankly, I didn't -- you know, it wasn't -- the purpose wasn't to get into a debate about, you know, race and whether there were racial motives to the vote. One of the things I recognize and continue to believe was that I think there were people who cast votes who didn't know who the heck I was, that I had a campaign that barely was five-and-a-half months, that even as Council chair, you don't get to -- you don't get that kind of visibility all across the city.
GRAYAnd so I took the position that the onus was on me, and that I wanted to introduce myself to people and let people know what I've stood -- what I stood for. I think there were a lot of people who were scared into the position of believing that we would -- that education advancements, education reform would be stymied, and I needed to convince them that that was not the case, that I had done the pre-K legislation. I got the reform legislation through the Council when it came over from the mayor. And hopefully, the appointments I've made on education in recent weeks will send a message that we're quite serious. You know, De'Shawn Wright, who will be the deputy mayor, great deal of experience in New York working with charters and DCPS.
GRAYNot DCPS, but public education.
NNAMDIBefore you go to that, I have a caller on the line who will raise a question that will allow us to proceed with this interview. Allow me to go to Veronica in Northwest, Wash. E. Veronica...
SHERWOODHas this call been screened?
NNAMDI...you're on the air, go ahead please.
MS. E. VERONICA PACEHappy New Year. Congratulations, Alan. And I want to remind you...
PACE…guys, that some month ago, I called this one, and it was because of my unequivocal belief and passion for our new mayor and for his known leadership skills, for what he brings to the table, for his determination and his refusal to let anybody get him off track and to stay focused. And I hope you guys will give him the honeymoon period.
NNAMDII'm glad you got to that...
NNAMDI…E. Veronica Pace because he just had it. The honeymoon period is now…
SHERWOODYou missed it. You blinked, Veronica. You missed it.
NNAMDIThe honeymoon period is now officially over. I can't wait to see the tension build between the mayor and the aforementioned Mark Plotkin as we go ahead during the course of the year. But, Vincent Gray, you might want to respond to E. Veronica Pace before Alan Suderman officially declares the honeymoon over.
GRAYWell, first of all, I hope most people recognize that E. Veronica Pace is the foremost leader that we've ever had in this city and maybe nationally in serving people who are aging and seniors. Her -- the model that she established and service delivery is now emulated all across the country. And believe me, I'm absolutely delighted to have her support. And frankly, I look forward to her advice and her wisdom as we move forward over the next four years, and I really appreciate her call.
SHERWOODYou hired -- you kept her a deputy in the job, right?
GRAYYeah. Actually, he wasn't our deputy. He had been at Howard University. Clarence Brown, who really has done a good job, who I've actually known for some time, and he will be continuing. He's -- he did a wise thing, and that was he continued many of the things that Veronica put in place in the first place which were, you know, state-of-the-art approaches to how we serve seniors.
NNAMDIE. Veronica, thank you very much for your call. Release the hounds, Alan.
SUDERMANI just wanted to know, is -- was your intramural team that good? Or was the competition that bad? Because if you're beating guys like Mark Plotkin, that kind of takes some of the shine...
NNAMDIThe competition was that bad.
GRAYActually, to be candid with you, Mark -- there were two legs, and Mark was on the other leg. And Mark was a good shooter. I've said that to a number of people. You don't score 23 points in any game without being a decent ball player. But he was in the -- in one leg, and we were in another leg. And yes, our team was that good.
NNAMDIOkay. Now for the official end of the (laugh) honeymoon. Political constituencies are not static things. There are groups coming together all the time who you'll have to reckon with. Allow me to read a letter sent to The Washington Post this week by John Glad, who identifies himself as a bicyclist. "Protected bike lanes are taken for granted in such European cities as Amsterdam and Munich. The dedicated bike lanes on 15th Street are the right approach. But what good are just a few blocks? Former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a cyclist himself, talks a good game, but he never attempted to deliver what drivers take for granted and all -- riders take for granted and all encompassing network. As for the suburban commuters who, in their road rage, deafen us with their horns and shrieking brakes, clogged our streets, pollute our air and regularly kill us, they vote elsewhere. We cyclists represent a significant activist constituency, so ignore us at your own peril." How do you respond to that, Mayor Gray?
GRAYWell, I'll respond to it the way I responded to this issue before, and that is I think we've got to have multiple approaches to moving people around the city. And for a couple of reasons, it's obvious that we have to have more than automobiles. First of all, what the rider indicated, and that is just the absolute gridlock that we see in this city and other cities frankly. And increasing automobiles is not the answer to that. Secondly, the expense of, you know, of oil and gasoline at this stage is making prohibitive driving cars increasingly. And, you know, we've been this now for several years, and we don't see these prices coming down.
GRAYI not only support bikes and bike lanes, I support street cars. I've been a proponent of street cars. I went out to Portland, Ore. twice to see their system out there. We're gonna work to introduce street cars into the city. So, again, bikes are a part of that. The bike sharing program that has now been introduced to the city, I certainly support that, and I'm glad to see that there are components of the bike sharing program all across the city. So -- I've said it before. I'll say it again. That I think it's a very constructive and useful approach to moving people around the city.
SHERWOODI wanna do a hard question about the economy and -- but not get bogged down in numbers. Today, on another radio program, former mayors Marion Barry, Sharon Pratt and Tony Williams all agreed that you had to come out of the box smoking with your first budget in terms of being tough. Mayor Barry says he wants you to do cuts and taxes. Mayor Williams said that he thought you should not raise taxes because of the economy. Sharon Pratt Kelly didn't make a precise judgment on that, but said you cannot risk waiting and hobbling the budget together. How -- you've talked about it before but just if you could summarize, how bad is this budget going to be? There are some uptick in the economy, but it's not gonna be in time for this budget.
GRAYWell, I think it's going to be a very challenging budget, Tom, because recognize it comes on the heels of a number of cuts that we've already made. The council just went through at the end of December, a period of adjusting the fiscal year '11 budget by $188 million.
SHERWOODBut do you agree with these former mayors that you have to be shot out of the canon with this first budget?
GRAYI think, we've got to present a balanced budget, and that's exactly what we intend to do. And, hopefully, my work as council chair demonstrates that I'm prepared to make the top decisions that have to be made. The -- everything will be on a table. This last round, I really felt like we were not in the position to have a sufficient time to be able to responsibly raise taxes and we resisted that. There's not a new tax increase at all in the $188 million that we put on the table. We'll look in the $400 million plus upcoming for the fiscal year 12 but...
GRAYOh, 440. And when you think about that, the enormity of it is we have a lot of agencies that have budgets of 35 to $40 million. That would be tantamount to eliminating one of those agencies 10 or 11 times, which, of course, you can't do but just to give a concrete example of how challenging this is. We don't have a choice but to put a balanced budget on the table. We've got to show that we are fiscally responsible and that's important, one, to our bond rating agencies. We're gonna be going there in February to talk to them about, you know, our fiscal rigor in the city. I'm very pleased I've been a part, you know, response and legislation that created a debt cap of 12 percent in the city, even though, the charter permits 17 percent, and have said that we are gonna take steps to start to rebuild our fund balance as well.
SHERWOODThat's good. I don't wanna bog down in the numbers but, you know, a rating agency has already warned that, you know, it's very nervous that the city is -- has reached too far into its reserves.
GRAYAnd I happen to share that. We had at the beginning of 2007, we had a fund balance of $1.5 billion, which was the envy of many around this country. At the end of this current fiscal period, it could be as low as $650 million. In the sense, it was dropped...
NNAMDIYeah. But you've syndicated that the tax increase is pretty close to the table. You said maybe close to the table top. This city is already one of the most heavily taxed jurisdictions in the country. What measuring stick do you plan on using to determine how a new tax will affect city residents and whether it's necessary?
GRAYI think the measuring stick is one of the consequences of not doing it. What services then will not be supported or provided as a result of not having the resources to do that? And that's the case that we have to make. One of the things that I've done is really enhance the capacity of our own budget shop in the executive. We're gonna work closely with Dr. Gandhi and those in the CFO. But I'm very fortunate to have the budget director, the council's budget director for four years who worked with me who I appointed, Eric Goulet. He is now going to be working with me on the executive side and we've got some very talented professionals who are working with him. Now, we've already started the process of looking at where we are. And again, I think, if we propose tax increases, we've got to be able to say to people with clarity, here's what will not happen unless we have these dollars.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, is the mayor gonna have to strangle Jack Evans to get a tax increase passed the finance committee?
SHERWOODNo. I think, Jack Evans is -- I think Jack Evans didn't want to raise taxes last year as I understand his position. But I think all the council members as the mayor just said, recognize that they can't just cut their way out of this -- the government has grown like 65 percent since early 2000. And there's got to be some cuts and there would probably be some income -- some tax increases. But this is true in 46 of the 50 states.
SUDERMANRight. That's exactly right.
SHERWOODBe -- just be glad we’re not California or New York.
SUDERMANI mean, how are you feeling now about a millionaire's tax or...
GRAYI don't really have -- I don’t have a position on specific proposals at this stage.
SUDERMANWell, do you think...
GRAYThis is something that will evolve over the next couple of months as we put the budget together, but those all are considerations. They call it a millionaire's tax, but I guess it's a tax on the higher income earners because some of their members were proposing it on people who earn $250,000 and up.
SUDERMANSure. But as I understand, you make 40,000 a year. You're taxed at the same rate is if you make a million bucks a year.
GRAYYeah that and that, though, is you make the argument and that's not fair.
SUDERMANWhat do you think?
GRAYWell, I think that we will evaluate all of that, Alan, as we go forward and we will
SUDERMANYou don't need to evaluate it.
GRAYYes, we will. We do need to evaluate.
SUDERMANThat's a simple question. You think it's fair that the tax rate of someone who makes 40k a year as the same as...
GRAYI think we need to evaluate the consequences of all of these things because I don't think that any of these is as simple as it might appear to be. We need to know, you know, if we're gonna tax somebody who is 250, 500, a million. What then are the potential consequences of that? And we wanna work with the CFO. We wanna work with our own budget shop. We wanna work with the council members to evaluate those consequences. I, frankly, would love to be able to present a budget that we've had a chance to talk to members about that we -- you know, they gonna do, you know, they're gonna do their jobs, of course, because I was -- as a member of the council for six years, that's precisely what they have to do and they expected to do that. But I wanna have the kind of collaboration that would say -- look, this is something that no matter what we can't support it or yes, we think we can support this as we put this budget together.
SHERWOODAs you -- very quickly.
SHERWOODAs you compete with the region where the business goes to Fairfax or Montgomery or Prince George or Howard and the tax is where people decide to live, do you recognize -- do you -- that the fact the city does have a high tax base, so therefore, it's a high burden on you to decide that you will raise taxes, that this is not something you will just do because it's easy?
GRAYThat's right. And it has to be -- you're absolutely right, Tom. It has to be evaluated in the context of the entire region. I was involved with, you know, in 2009, we raise the sales tax from five and three quarters to six percent. And we evaluated that in the context of the region. And that brought us to parity with Maryland, but, of course, we're still above Virginia. So we, you know, we know that people in the District of Columbia will go shop elsewhere and we have to evaluate. Sure, we may have raised something a quarter of a percent, but how much business did we lose in the course of it? We raised the gasoline taxes. We raised the tobacco taxes at the same time. But then you got people who will go out and buy gasoline in Maryland or Virginia (all talking at once)
NNAMDIBut if you have comments or questions for Mayor Vincent Gray, you can call us at 800-433-8850, or ask your question, make a comment at our website, kojoshow.org. Here is James in Washington. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESYes, I appreciate the opportunity to talk to the mayor. I'm actually on the board of one of the private schools that supports and takes in D.C. and other county children with learning -- reading-based learning disabilities. And the results are pretty incredible. I mean, there's -- the school I'm involved with, 90 percent of these kids go off to college. And they're coming from, you know, some families that have some economic challenges and they're -- you know, they have the learning disabilities, but here they are -- 90 percent of them are going to college. And it's an incredible success story.
JAMESWell, D.C. is now moving away from sending the kids out to the private schools, which is fine. I guess there's a policy change. But as D.C. takes a hard right turn on this, it's creating a tremendous problem with an institution that's been there to support D.C. And what I'm trying to find out is, who exactly would I speak to try to make that transition as least damaging to the children that came from D.C., and are still coming from D.C., and the teachers that have been partners in supporting those D.C. students and -- for the last 10 years?
NNAMDIForgive me, but you seem to be making the argument that the District of Columbia has a responsibility to support the institution, because the institution has, in the past, served D.C. kids. Is that what you're saying?
JAMESWell, I -- the word responsibility is a big word. What I'm saying is, just on a basic humane level, if there's gonna be a policy change that -- so be it. But I'd like to be able to sit down with someone and say, you know, let's do it in a manner that where the transition doesn't devastate...
JAMES...the institution and the existing...
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Mayor Gray's response.
GRAYWell, first of all, during the campaign, I made it very clear that I thought it was absolutely unconscionable that we spend the level -- the number of dollars that we spent on private tuition for kids with -- children with various disabilities. In 2009, we spent $166 million on children in private schools, about $160 million in the fiscal year that ended this past September. And that has to stop. We've got to build our capacity in our own public education system, in our charter schools and then in our traditional public schools to serve these young people. It makes good educational sense and, frankly, it makes good social sense, because these young people have to be integrated into a society and hopefully will live with people who don't have disabilities. So we want them to be around all the other children in the District of Columbia.
GRAYThat having been said, the first priority is to do what's best for the children. And that is bringing them back to a classroom, and our public education system is the best thing. That has to be the priority. That will be dictated by their individual education plan, which is developed in a very methodical systematic way and frankly involves those who are currently educating those children. I'm aware that there are concerns about the business implications for these -- for private schools who have been serving these young people. And we wanna be, you know, we wanna be as mindful of that, as sensitive as that as possible. But at the end of the day, we have to do what's best for our children. And, frankly, the education chain that we put together, I think, is second to none. Kaya Henderson is our interim chancellor.
GRAYThis is something that's she's been...
SUDERMANHe's brought it up.
GRAYThis is -- she's already been involved in for several years. We also have our new state's superintendent, Hosanna Mahaley, who's got vast experience -- actually, was the chief of staff to Arne Duncan for six years in Chicago, and our new deputy mayor, De'Shawn Wright. They will come together to make this decision. But the policy issue for me -- and I wanna be absolutely clear about this. We need to serve as many children as we possibly can in our public education systems. The law of the land didn't change yesterday. It changed in 1975 with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. And, frankly, in the District of Columbia, the thing that changed most was the name of the federal law. We've got to change the way we deliver educational services to children with disabilities.
SUDERMANKojo, can I ask Tom's question?
NNAMDIJames, thank you very much for your call. Here is Alan Suderman.
SUDERMANOh, I'm just gonna go ask for Tom. (laugh) Actually, you are making some of the district's veteran TV reporters look bad, because they continually report that you're gonna employ Kaya Henderson...
GRAYWho would that be that (unintelligible)...
SUDERMANI'm not naming names. They're not naming...
SHERWOODI have reported twice...
SHERWOODLet me just be clear, you know. I've reported twice with reasonable sources that you're gonna appoint Kaya Henderson. I had just -- I am not wrong, I believe, about the appointment. I'm just been off on the timing. (laugh)
GRAYThat's a great way to save face, isn't it?
SHERWOODI believe I am not wrong but I think I'm just off on the timing.
SUDERMANWell, isn't there some danger to letting the interim label linger? I mean, that's what the Post editorial page said in, I think, today.
GRAYWell, frankly, we're making decisions about the education team. We're gonna have a first-class education team. I think we do. And there is a process -- I wanna remind everyone that there is a process...
GRAY...for appointing the chancellor. And it's right in the legislation, because that was the legislation I helped to shepherd through. And it talks about having a panel of people. It's fairly clear about who the people are, presenting them with three candidates. And we're gonna follow that process.
NNAMDIDo you have any idea how long it's likely to take?
GRAYI don't. We're gonna move as expeditiously as, you know, the -- you know, as we can. Again, we needed to get all of our other appointments in place. We've now made almost 40 appointments to the new administration, which is a lot. You know, 40 appointments are…
NNAMDIYou've talked about...
SHERWOODIt's not quantity. It's quality. So you don't have to... (laugh)
GRAYI have quality, too, gentlemen.
SHERWOODYou said nice things about Kaya Henderson. And you said she's a strong candidate...
SHERWOOD...but there might be others, but you do -- she has committed to stay to the end of the school year, I believe, is -- that's what, I think, she's told people in general. I don't wanna speak for her. But surely, you would think, by the end of this school year -- because you got to plan for next year, starting this spring, so you would think in a matter -- it would be just be a matter of weeks, not months, that you'll have a decision?
GRAYWell, I don't wanna pinpoint a timetable, but recognize...
SHERWOODOr in the school year.
GRAY...what this does also. It gives the public -- it gives Kaya Henderson a great opportunity to demonstrate her approach to leadership, her style of leadership, her ability to move things. And, frankly, one of the things she is special...
NNAMDISo she's a little bit like Sekou Biddle. She's ahead of the other people in the position. So if there are other competitors there, she already has the opportunity to make her case before they do it.
GRAYThat is absolutely true. And, frankly, to show me, too, what she would do in the position.
NNAMDISince we are talking education, you've talked about embedding career and vocational training in the school system. Over and above that, what do you think needs to be done to build what, I guess, we can characterize as a better bridge between the education system as a whole through the university level and the jobs that are available in the Washington region?
GRAYYeah. We really don't have a workforce development system in my opinion. And it involves far more than the schools, certainly secondary education. And career and technical education in our schools is an important element of that. But it also includes the Department of Employment Services that has to take the lead in creating and in administering -- managing a workforce development system. That's why I'm really glad that Dr. Webb, Rochelle Webb, has agreed to come and work for us. She has a national reputation. She is moving here from Arizona to take on this responsibility. She actually is head of the professional association of people who do workforce development around the nation.
GRAYSo I'm excited with her coming. And I've said to her, as clearly as I possibly can, that the top priority has to be building a workforce development system that gets much more attuned to the jobs that are emerging in this economy. One of the interesting factors is that it isn't the absence of jobs. We've had, I don't know, 20 to 25,000 jobs created in the last 12 months in the District of Columbia. The problem is the mismatch between the jobs that are being created and the skill sets of those who are out of work these days, and we've got to be able to close that gap. Another important element in a good workforce development system is what we've now created, and that is a community college here in the city.
GRAYIt's been open now for, I guess, about 16 to 18 months. We have 2,600 students who are enrolled. It provides two-year degrees. But it also provides workforce training, continuing education, remedial education. All of which are designed to create a foundation for people to be able to get back to work. We had a job summit on the 13th of December and incredibly well attended, especially by people who are in the business of creating jobs and our university system in the District. And I'm delighted to say again to go back to George Washington University that President Knapp stepped up at that event and said he'd like to be responsible for taking the next steps as we figure out how we integrate the various industries in this city in creating new jobs.
NNAMDIWe got a question about education on our Facebook page from a user called feartuitionudc. It says, "You say one city and tout the changes at UDC that slammed the undergraduate students with an unprecedented 150 percent tuition increase in addition to the 40 percent increase two years prior compared to the dismal 20 percent for the UDC law school. What do you propose for the numerous students who are enrolled in the flagship university but cannot afford school because one, they do not qualify for financial aid or two, they cannot get a loan?"
GRAYWell, there were very few people who did not qualify either for a loan or some kind of financial aid. It's a discussion that I had extensively with Dr. Sessoms when he started this process, you know, soon after he got there. And frankly, when you look at the UDC tuition, it is incredibly competitive with other universities in the District of Columbia and the surrounding area. And one of the things -- one of the obligations I think we have, and that's what we're doing with this leadership, is providing an increasingly sophisticated and effective education that will make even more of our UDC students competitive in the marketplace when they get a degree from there.
NNAMDIOur guest is Vincent Mayor, he is -- Vincent Gray, he is the mayor of the District of Columbia. He is a Democrat. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Alan Suderman is the Loose Lips columnist at the Washington City paper. He is our guest analyst. The phone lines are busy, so if you have a question or comment, go to our website kojoshow.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow.
SHERWOODIt's one thing to do better education for the future people who go into work. But if you--you have said many times, there are many people who need to go to work now, I have never understood it with the Department of Employment Services. I've forgotten how many millions of dollars it runs through there with federal funds and city funds and all that. But will you do to the Department of Employment Services essentially what Mayor Fenty did to the school system, completely shake it up so there's more money going to actual job creation as opposed to the bureaucracy of talking about joblessness.
GRAYThe only thing that matters from DOES is how many people got jobs. You know, it administers and manages the summer youth employment program which has had certainly its peaks and valleys. And we wanna work to try to better organize that. The budget has taken its toll there and that is we'll have 12,000 jobs that will be available for young people. That's still a lot, probably more than most jurisdictions, but it will be lesson in the past. That experience, we wanna make it one where kids have a real job to go to. They're expected to show up every day. They're expected to show up on time, and they're expected to get along with people when they get there. But yes. the work -- creating a workforce development system in the city is absolutely one of the most important things that we can do. And that’s why Dr. Webb was selected. She is expected to provide leadership on that front. And at the end of the day, the measure is what's the level of unemployment here.
SUDERMANHow are you managing expectations? Because, you know, a new mayor comes in and people have these hopes that, you know, all these jobs are gonna come. But in reality, I mean, the mayor and the government, you guys -- you're limited in what you can do in terms of creating jobs unless you start hiring, you now, increasing the city payroll yourself. But, I mean...
GRAYWe're not planning to do that.
SUDERMANYeah. You can't do that...
SUDERMAN...so, I mean, you -- there's all these high hopes out there, but in reality, you're pretty limited in what you can do.
GRAYYou are and you aren't, Alan. One of the realities is and it's stark and that is 70 percent of the jobs in this city are filled by people who do not live in the District of Columbia. We've got to be able to use a leverage of the resources that we have, and let me give an example. The first source agreement says that if you get a contract at a certain level in the District of Columbia, 51 percent of your new hires have to be people who live in the city. Frankly, I don't think we've done the kind of job that is warranted to be able to use the leveraging of those dollars.
SUDERMANWe haven't done anything ourselves.
GRAYWell, yeah. I mean -- well, we've done something. But, you know, it certainly has not been as effective as it should be. So in some of this, it isn't just a matter of more dollars. It's a question of how we use the bully pulpit that we have and how do we then make sure that we have the various elements of workforce development in the city much more coordinated and working more effectively together.
SHERWOODAnd people get those city contracts or then subcontract out, and it's hard to track those subcontractor people in the suburbs...
SHERWOOD...and we don't get the employment.
GRAYIt is, Tom.
SHERWOODI know Michael Brown...
NNAMDIIs there a way of increasing the efficiency of that process?
GRAYThere is. As a matter of fact, one of the things that the council did and Michael Brown, Marion Barry...
GRAY...myself, Kwame Brown, we joined together. And we actually appropriated $780,000 for compliance officers for the First Source Agreement. And the last administration didn't spend anything on that.
GRAYAnd it would have -- it will return dollars to the city because those are tax dollars that would have been recycled because people would have gotten jobs who live in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIOn to Anthony in Washington, D.C. Anthony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Anthony. Are you there? Anthony, if you're not there, then we will go on to Eric in Washington, D.C. Eric, your turn.
ERICYes. When the mayor was on the -- in the campaign, he talked about his own dismay about the parking enforcement or, I should say, over parking -- overzealous parking enforcement.
NNAMDITom Sherwood just woke up. Go ahead. Go ahead.
SHERWOODGo ahead, sir. Make your point.
ERICSo now that -- my point is that now that you're mayor, what can you do about that?
GRAYWell, first of all, you know, I -- and I tempered my comments by saying that we wanna be in the position to be able to reduce the number of -- the hours because they go to 10:00 p.m. at this stage. We wanna be able to have a different metering system in the District of Columbia to make it more convenient for folks.
GRAYAnd consistent, that's right. And, frankly, as a member of the council, I was proud to beat back a proposal that said we were going to make the cost of it 25 cents for every five minutes. It's now 7 1/2 minutes and we stopped that. We found money from another place to be able to do that. So we've already taken a step in that regard.
GRAYAnd I don't wanna be disingenuous either because, obviously, we are facing tremendous revenue challenges. But I wanna get to a point, as this economy improves, and we get -- we're able to give relief to people in the District of Columbia. That's one of the areas where we're gonna give relief. And, frankly, if we can get more people using public transportation systems and using bicycles, it becomes a moot point.
SUDERMANMaybe you could raise that revenue by increasing the tax on parking garages.
GRAYThat's a thought. We've certainly looked at that. And obviously we wanna talk to the people in that industry as we go forward with our proposals.
NNAMDISpeaking of raising revenue, let me take one -- another phone call. This is Lisa in Washington, D.C., who has, apparently, a suggestion on how to raise revenue. Lisa, go for it.
LISAHello. Thank you for taking my call. Yes. I think in terms of parking, I think that the general fees are way too high. But at the same time, the meters are not working. And I can tell you there's a parking area in D.C. that has not -- that has probably about 100 parking meters, none of which have been working for the past three years. And even if I have been a beneficiary, I think, honestly, I should be paying for parking.
NNAMDIWhat part of the city that is? I wanna move there. What part of the city -- tell me what part of the city that is, Lisa.
LISAI can tell you. It's the Virginia Avenue, right across the...
SUDERMANNo, don't tell them. Don't tell them. They'll come fix it.
NNAMDIVirginia Avenue near where?
SHERWOODVirginia Avenue where?
SUDERMANDon't do it.
LISA...Virginia Avenue at the end of Potomac, across Rock Creek Parkway.
LISAThere's a parking lot there on the other side, you know, on the river side. And basically, every parking meter is not working, and it has not been working for umpteenth, you know.
GRAYAnd those are city meters that are in there?
LISAThere's a -- there is an old quarter -- first of all, it only takes quarters. But now they don't even take quarters anymore. It takes nothing.
NNAMDIOld city meters, okay.
SHERWOODYou know, we had huge problems with, you know, parking meters in Williams'...
NNAMDIThank you very much for that, Lisa.
SHERWOOD...administration, replacing meters. And it's really a labor-intensive operation. Now we -- the Department of Transportation has like four or five different meter-type prototypes out there, trying to decide which one the city ought to use. It's really frustrating. And someone you can't -- I got a 30-dollar ticket the other night. The automatic meter couldn't read it because it was so dark. The streetlight was out, and you couldn't read the meter to tell whether it's working or not, so.
SUDERMANSays Old Man Tom Sherwood.
GRAYHave you paid the ticket?
SHERWOODYou know what? I assure you, I paid my ticket. I pay them online immediately because I am not gonna have anybody do a story about my parking.
GRAYCan I just respond to that quickly?
GRAYI really am a proponent of multi-space meters. And I wanna see us move increasingly in that direction. I think it's more efficient and, frankly, it will allow people to use other methods of payment like credit cards also. So I wanna see us move in that direction. It stops the coins, you know, which I think is an archaic approach. But it still doesn't address the question of, you know, can we give some relief...
SHERWOODAnd you got to have enough of the boxes. Even if you just -- now we have -- we have like a whole block. There might just be one or maybe two places where you can pay. If it's raining, if it's dark and you're a single woman by yourself or something, if it's blistering hot, if -- you can't get to the meter. And by the time you walk way down to get to the meter...
NNAMDII told you he woke up.
SHERWOOD...and come back, you could get a ticket.
NNAMDII told you we woke him up. Another dangling issue from the previous administration, Mr. Mayor, will be the future of United Medical Center, which the city now operates. In a perfect world, how do you want this to play out, and what will it mean for health care access in that part of the city?
GRAYWell, you know, health care access is a huge issue for us. I had a conversation this morning, as we announced two people who will be working with us on the health care front, about the fact that we have one of the best levels of coverage of people in the nation. Only 6.2 percent of our adults are not covered, 3.2 percent of our children, which, in a ladder case, puts us at the top of the nation. Six point two percent of our adults puts us second only to Massachusetts. But that's only part of the picture. The question is access to services, and it's not just access to a hospital, it's access to other services. We're beginning now to build clinics, east of the river for example, which hopefully will take some of the pressure of people going to emergency rooms. We need to step up our efforts around getting primary care physicians to locate in underserved areas. And I was delighted to join with David Catania a couple of years ago as we did legislation to create incentives for people to work in underserved areas.
NNAMDIYou mean David Catania, who made the shortest speech at the inauguration ceremony? That David Catania?
SHERWOODI think he's still talking.
NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Mr. Mayor.
GRAYIn any event, we need to recognize that a hospital is not, ipso facto, the answer to health care. Health care is far more complicated than that. And we've got to change health care behavior in the District of Columbia to get people thinking about prevention and early intervention. And the only way you do that is by making the services available that people would then access.
SHERWOODYou do -- do you wanna sell the hospital or do you wanted the city to run it even as you do this broader services?
GRAYWell, we've had a bad experience, as most jurisdictions have, with running hospitals. Most cities are getting out of the business of running hospitals. We got at the business of running D.C. General Hospital a decade or so ago and it created the health care alliance, which has really provided health care insurance for a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't be covered and other options. We've put a $100 million into that hospital already. So the first concern is making sure that we continue to have a hospital that is available to people on the east end of the city. But the second priority has to be on what's the most efficient way to run that hospital, whether it be in the government or the private sector. But even more importantly than that, having a panoply of services that are available so that people don't go to the emergency room as their primary care physician.
NNAMDIWe have the mayor, the council chairman, a former mayor and another council member who all hail from neighborhoods east of the river. What do you think that means for the balance of power in the city?
GRAYWell, I think the question is what does it mean for services in the city. And I think there are very few people who would argue that east of the river doesn't need to be lifted up in a number of ways. On the jobs front, we've got 19 percent unemployment in Ward 7, over 30 percent unemployment in Ward 8. Economic development has lagged significantly behind. And frankly, with attention devoted to Ward 7 and 8, all boats will rise in the District of Columbia. You know, the number of people who have to be supported because they don't have a job or they're on TANF or they're on Medicaid, the extent in which we can get people to a point of being self-sufficient is good for the District's economy citywide and frankly is good for the feelings of self-worth of those people who find themselves in these situations.
SUDERMANYeah, I just wanted to give a quick plug to the City Paper's cover story. I don't know if anyone said it -- seen it this week. It's about…
GRAYIt's very self-serving.
SUDERMANYeah. Well, it's a great story...
SUDERMAN...by Jason Cherkis. It's about how messed up the residential treatment system is that we're using for juvenile delinquents and other kids with problem and how much money we're throwing into sending these kids to Maine or Vermont or Florida and all that. And it ties it into one of the biggest problems that we saw last year was with the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services and all these kids taking part in high-profile murders. And, you know, now that you're mayor, what do you -- how are you gonna fix all this?
GRAYWell, first of all, we wanna get a leader in the DYRS who really understands that they've got to create a sensitive balance between ensuring that rehabilitation continues to be the principal raison d'etre, if you will, for DYRS. But recognizing the public safely is critical also. And frankly, the question you raised, the issue you raised ties in with the question that was asked by a caller earlier and that is spending money on private, you know, private facilities, private programs and the hundreds of million -- the tens of millions of dollars that we're spending.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time. Jason Cherkis, you owe us all lunch. You got 30 seconds.
SHERWOODThirty -- very quickly. The Washington Redskins -- I've done stories for three years about Jack Kent wanted them back. What is your position on that about -- what do you think would -- is it the economic -- is it good or is it too much trouble? What's your view? What would you do?
SUDERMANAndy owes Rex Grossman an apology.
SHERWOODNo. But go ahead with -- answer that. We're out of time.
GRAYWell, the first question is I think a lot of people love to have the Redskins back in the city. The question is at what price. And we don't know what the answer is to that. That means -- so it's desirable. Is it feasible? I don't know.
NNAMDII wanna have Leon in Laurel, Md. have the last word. Leon, you're on the air. You only have about 40 seconds. Go ahead, please.
LEONHi, Kojo. (laugh) I just wanna congratulate the mayor for his win. And I was the first African-American ever to graduate and earn my masters of engineering -- Masters of Science in Engineering Management from GW. So I was also a trendsetter. It just happened to be that Michelle Obama was the first black first lady and she spoke at our commencement last year. And I just wanna congratulate the mayor and I wish him the best. And I do understand the diversity breakdown of George Washington. They're trying to do...
NNAMDIJust wanted to take the broadcast full circle, Leon. We started with GW (laugh) and ended with GW. Mayor Gray, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck to you.
GRAYThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Alan.
SHERWOODHad a few more questions.
NNAMDIAlan Suderman, (laugh) thank you very much for joining us.
GRAYCan we extend this one hour?
SUDERMANThanks for having me.
SHERWOODNo, we can't. (laugh)
NNAMDITom Sherwood, always a pleasure. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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