Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy discusses his efforts to address gang violence. Plus, D.C. Councilmember Trayon White joins us to recap the "grocery march" protesting food deserts east of the Anacostia River.
Guest Host: Bruce DePuyt
The Washington region experiences its own “week of rage.” Maryland’s governor gives voice to public frustrations about power companies. Virginia lawmakers bully the governor’s plan to privatize liquor stores. And a national political activist says that Egypt should inspire the movement for D.C. voting rights. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Bruce DePuyt Host of "NewsTalk," News Channel 8
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Benjamin Cardin U.S. Senator, D-Maryland
- Mary Cheh Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 3); Chair, Committee on Government Operations and the Environment
Politics Hour Extra
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) would like to see the District of Columbia’s Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings in Laurel, Maryland moved to a location within D.C.. Cardin says the land on which the juvenile justice facility is located is owned by the federal government and that the National Security Agency (NSA) requires its use for, among other things, a security perimeter:
D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh talks about Pepco’s response to last week’s storm and talks about her dissatisfaction with the city’s Public Service Commission:
MR. BRUCE DEPUYTFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour." For more than two decades, the place to turn for savvy analysis of local news and politics. Hi everyone. I'm Bruce DePuyt of TBD on NewsChannel Eight sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Welcome to the show. It's great to have you with us on this first Friday of February, just two days to go until Super Bowl XLV. You may have noticed there are a lot of Steelers fans here in the Washington area. Some Packers fans too to be sure. This is an exciting time for them, not so much for Redskins fans, though. Sadly, the Redskins were never really in it this year, just as they weren't really in it last year or the year before. Tom Sherwood is here. He's our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4, a columnist for the Current Newspapers. And, Tom, it's always good to be with you. Good to see you again.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI'm still impressed that you said, first Friday of February...
SHERWOOD...without messing that up. Very good.
DEPUYTI practiced all night.
SHERWOODWelcome, Mr. Host.
DEPUYTGood to see you.
SHERWOODBruce, you used to be, you know, you used to be the best reporter in Maryland. Now, you're a talk show host. I'm glad to see haven't lost it.
DEPUYTI haven't lost it all. You're a Redskins fan.
SHERWOODI am a Redskins fan...
DEPUYTLots of people are. Just...
SHERWOOD...in spite of its name, in spite of its location.
DEPUYTYeah. Good point about the name. Sad, though, that, you know, they just can't find the handle is the word to be a team that competes, that's there on the playoffs, you know, with a chance to do something.
SHERWOODWell, in -- you know, it is sad, you know, Jack Evans, a Ward 2 councilmember, you know, he likes to say that the reason they're no good is because they -- there's the curse of moving to the suburbs. You know, if they would only move back to RFK, where Mr. Snyder could build a spectacular stadium in line with the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Dome, it would be much easier for them, and they would win.
DEPUYTWhat do you make of the fact that owner Dan Snyder has chosen now to sue the City Paper over an article that was sometime back and it was...
SHERWOODNovember 17th or 18th.
DEPUYT...really unflattering. A lot of people thought it was a great -- almost an ultimate zing from a reporter and columnist Dave McKenna, really well done -- I don't wanna say hatchet job but a strong takedown of this guy who clearly many Washingtonians love to hate, a lot of people been exposed to the article now, though, and what about...
DEPUYTWhat about a public figure suing for libel? It's an awfully high bar for them to make.
SHERWOODIt may be one of the highest bars. I think it's the Sullivan rule. I can't remember the Supreme Court ruling. But did he really have to show bias?
SHERWOODOr malice. I knew there was a word. Malice. Something worse than bias. You really have to have a really bad story, and there's -- I just -- I think everyone thinks this will be tossed out summary judgment the very first time a judge hears it, but others think also that Snyder is not doing this to win a legal case but to hammer a financially unstable business. You know, they're not doing that well financially. And so the fact is you hit them with a $2 million suit and make them spend some money on legal fees, just a kind of payback.
DEPUYTI want to talk with you briefly about the storm, not this week, but...
SHERWOODThe Redskins storm.
DEPUYTBut 10 days ago, the storm that hit, the terrible traffic that people suffered and the really -- the significant criticism that's being leveled at Pepco because of how long people were without power after, you know, trees came down on power lines, lots of folks left in the dark, not for hours or a day or two but for a really long period of time, and many elected officials from around the region are joining the chorus of criticism of this utility.
SHERWOODWell -- and there's criticism and Pepco have done this since last February, of course, when they didn't do well and they admitted last fall that they had not done well after the Post did a -- The Washington Post did an amazing story about their response time. But, you know, I think the worst thing and I say this 'cause my power never went out, is the worst thing was the chaotic evacuation. I mean, whatever Pepco did or didn't do, you know, no one was getting anywhere at the height of the storm. There was just a horrendous disgorging of people into every direction without any kind of coordination. We hear all the time officials talk about evacuation plans and the council of governments has one. Everyone says will the federal government will work with the Arlington, will work with Montgomery County, will work with the District, not of that that I saw happened. It's just the storm hit, and it was a disaster. And fortunately, it was a natural disaster, not something worse.
DEPUYTAnd it wasn't anywhere near the snow we got last year. This was a few inches, really. It had a major impact. The timing...
SHERWOODIt came quickly. I mean, there are always indicate their -- it came quickly, and it was intense. And so that makes a difference, but, again, there was just -- I saw no evidence of any kind of effort by the region to work together.
DEPUYTTom Sherwood is our resident analyst. I'm Bruce DePuyt sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi today here on "The Politics Hour." Joining us now here in the studio is Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a longtime former member of House of Representatives, now the junior senator from the state of Maryland. Welcome, Senator. It's great to see you as always. It's great to be with you.
SEN. BEN CARDINWell, Bruce, it's always nice to be on the show. Thank you.
DEPUYTThanks very much for your time. I want to begin by asking you about the situation in Egypt. Pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to step down, he told an interviewer yesterday he's ready to go. He's had enough, but he can't leave now because it would create so much stability -- I believe he used the word chaos. Do you agree? What do you hope comes of this period of prolonged unrest?
CARDINWell, it's a very fluid situation. It's getting worse by the day, rather than better. The key thing is for President Mubarak to hand over the interim leadership so that the people have confidence that the type of reforms that they have a right to expect, where they can peacefully demonstrate, where they -- where the press has an opportunity to report, where the Internet is open, that these basic rights for a free and fair election will be available, that they don't have confidence that it can be done under President Mubarak. It's time for him to turn the -- to an interim government to maintain order and give Egypt the best chance to maintain its moderate leadership as it relates to fighting terrorists and moving forward with peace in the Middle East.
SHERWOODYou're a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Are you getting information that you may can't even share with us about how dire the situation is there? Or are we actually seeing the Internet feeds and the video were seeing? Is it as bad as it looks, or is it worse?
CARDINWell, I think the situation is so fluid. It changes day by day. You know, yes, we are getting information. I think the next briefing is scheduled early next week, so we'll have another opportunity to hear in a classified setting what is happening. But I think what you're seeing on the news shows is pretty much what we know. We know that -- and I think President Obama has been very open as to what he wants to see happen, as have I think almost all the world leaders.
DEPUYTWhat would that be? I mean...
CARDINThey want -- we want to see...
DEPUYTThere's the nervousness about advocate -- you know, do we want democracy? Yes. Free and fair elections, of course. Right of assembly and protest, yes. But to push a guy out who's been an ally creates a very nervous kind of climate in terms of some of our other allies in this crucial part of the world.
CARDINWell, first, what we're not doing we were not telling the Egyptians what to do about their government. That's up to the Egyptians. We can't nor should we interfere on the way that they have -- they choose their government, but we have a right to ask that there be a democratic system. We certainly want to prevent violence in the region. We want to make sure there's stability. We want to give Egypt the best chance we think the people there will select moderate leadership as long as it's done in a smooth transition. We worry about chaos, about lack of water in that country.
SHERWOODWhat are the -- what is the role and what is the Muslim Brotherhood, which some people are just hearing for the first time, as a participant in whatever happens next?
CARDINWell, the Muslim Brotherhood is probably the best organized of the opposition. It's a very small group within Egypt, but it's a group that has supported terrorists. It's a group that is opposed to the peace process, and it's a group that the United States -- I think, the region and the international community has a legitimate right to say should it be -- should have no part in the governance of Egypt.
SHERWOODIs there any real fear about the Suez Canal?
CARDINWell, I think there's concern about all of the regional security issues. The Suez is a particularly important for international commerce, and it's critical that that the integrity of the Suez remain intact. We're obviously concerned about Egypt as far as Israel is concerned, its long border with -- strategic border with Israel could change the equation of defense needs in the Middle East. We also are concerned about what happens in Egypt could spread to other moderate Arab states and what impact it's already spread to some. So there's a lot of security issues.
DEPUYTHave you been taken by surprise, as I think probably most people have, by the extent to which this pent-up feeling, anger and other emotions of probably dating back decades has exploded in such a dramatic way, not just in Egypt but in other cases? And do you think we'll look back and say, wow, what a turning point for this region that we're essentially at a crucial stage right now?
CARDINWell, Egypt has been a strategic partner for the United States. They've been our partner in fighting terrorists. They've been our partner in moving forward with the peace process, but we have been saying for a long time that the lack of progress in Egypt in dealing with the basic human rights of its citizens and allowing opposition groups to protest peacefully and be able to form and have free and open elections that that was an issue that Egypt needed to address. And we've been pretty consistent about that, including the president's speech in Cairo of a year and a half ago. So I think it's fair to say that the United States has had a strong partner in the Middle East and Egypt, but clearly, we have been very troubled by their lack of progress. And I'm not surprised to see the type of protests that occurred.
DEPUYTCould a more democratic system there or elsewhere lead to leaders that we would have trouble dealing with?
CARDINThat's always a risk. We know that, and it's certainly a risk that we need to be aware of. It's clear to me. It's clear, I think, to foreign policy experts that the smoother the transition, the quicker the transition, the better chance we have of a government that will support our objectives in the Middle East.
DEPUYTYou can join the conversation as we continue to talk this Friday with Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. Our number, 800-433-8850. Again, 800-433-8850. Comment on our website, kojoshow.org. You can also send in an email, question or comment to email@example.com. I had the opportunity to interview Congressman Jim Moran on News Talk recently, and we talked about the looming showdown over the budget. He predicted -- I'm quoting here -- gridlock, stalemate and then shutdown. He looks -- this is how he views this sort of tension, particularly on the House side, where he serves, and with the new GOP majority. Many -- you have a huge freshman class there, and many of them were elected with Tea Party support, and there's no mistaking what folks who turn out -- many of them in the last election want to see happen here in Washington in terms of spending. So, again, he was talking about gridlock, stalemate and shutdown. How do you view the upcoming vote on lifting the debt ceiling?
CARDINWell, I think there's real risks here. I saw -- I think Congressman Moran is raising real concern, but let me go back to December. I thought December was a particularly good month for our country, where we saw in a lame-duck session where normally you can't get things of any significance done. You saw Democrats and Republicans truly crossing party line in order to do what's right for our country, to move forward on tax policy. We got the START new treaty done. We repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I mention that because I think we understood that the policies that we have in the past were not ones that Democrats wanted, the Republicans wanted.
CARDINThere are things in there we didn't want. There will come a time -- I hope by certainly the time the CR is up, the continuing resolution, which is the first week of March, that the Republicans in the House, that now govern the House, understand they have a responsibility to govern. And that means they are not gonna get the policy they want enacted into law. But certainly, they represent a view that needs to be taken into consideration as we work out the budget problems of this country. If we're gonna have a credible plan to reduce the federal deficit, Democrats and Republicans need to be at the table together. No one party will be able to develop a credible plan.
SHERWOODThere's some dispute that if the debt ceiling, however many trillions of dollars it is, if it is not increased, that chaos, economic chaos, would occur. On the other hand, some of the Republicans are saying that's not true. That's more scare talk than it is, much as we believe that if we default on some of our debt that it will be that much trouble.
CARDINTwo reasons. First, it's intuitive. If America defaults on its debt, we know our debt's gonna be much more expensive. We know we're gonna lose international credibility. We know that the U.S. dollar, which has been the bedrock of international support on the monetary systems, will be damaged. That's just intuitive if you default. Secondly, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of Federal Reserve, said this past week in Congress that it would be catastrophic. That was his words. And the chairman of the Federal Reserve rarely uses those -- that type of language.
SHERWOODBut the Republicans would say, well, this is the very reason, if those are all true, that the -- as any group should do or any family should do, is that this is the time to make serious budget cuts now. Are the Democrats prepared to make budget cuts to show a willingness to move in that direction so that you can then raise the debt ceiling? I mean, it seems to me, that seems to be the goal of the Republicans.
CARDINI wanna disagree with the premise. To me, the premise of raising the debt ceiling, which is to acknowledge that you've already spent the money now, are you gonna pay it? You've incurred the debt. Are you gonna pay it? That's what the debt ceiling is. It's not -- if we didn't increase the debt ceiling, we still would have the same amount of debt. It's gonna be there. The problem is we're not gonna pay our bills. We're gonna default on our bills. That means we're gonna basically be going through some form of bankruptcy. To me, you don't use that type of threat as leverage to what you're trying to get done on the budget. We need a credible plan on reducing the deficit.
CARDINAnd, quite frankly, Tom, it has to include spending cuts. But if you're gonna be able to have a credible proposal -- understand the dynamics here, if the President's program went through, and that's a freeze for five years, that's $400 billion off of the federal debt or deficit. If we extend all the tax bills, that's $2.5 trillion. If you don't put the tax issues on the table with the spending, with military, with entitlement, you don't have a credible plan. And just talking about spending cuts in and of itself is not a credible plan.
DEPUYTPolitico is reporting that Senate Democrats are going back to the -- some of the recommendations put forward by the deficit reduction commission, in other words, to potentially match what the House Republicans are talking about in terms of cutting Washington spending. Not in the same areas, to be sure, but making it clear that, hey, we're no slouches when it comes to getting our fiscal House in order and -- just getting our fiscal House in order.
CARDINYeah. Well, the deficit commission came in with a credible game plan for reducing the deficit with the --look, we all have problems with some of the provisions that are in it. I don't want this to be an endorsement. But what I am telling you is I believe the only way we're gonna deal with the deficit is to follow the model of the deficit commission. Every segment of government spending that's on the table, it has to be.
SHERWOODRight now, there are 200,000 federal employees inside the Beltway. There are many more -- many in the region. Are we, as a region, gonna be hurt by the -- by this cutting back of the federal government? If so, how badly?
CARDINThe answer is yes. There's no question about it. We are heavily...
SHERWOODThe private contractors, the government workers, no pay increases.
CARDINAll of the above. All of the above. It's not just the federal workforce, direct workforce. As you know, it's -- what it means, as far as these federal facilities, attracting private sector jobs into our community, the adequate funding of the federal services will clearly have an impact on our local economy. It's gonna have an impact on the national economy. But we're gonna do everything we can, I can assure you that as the regional representation, to make sure that the essential government programs, that our federal workforce are properly cared for. That's why I said you can't have a credible plan to reduce the deficit if you just say the way to do it is cut spending. You got to go beyond that.
DEPUYTSenator, grab your headphones for a moment, if you would. We're gonna head to the phones. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland is our guest. I'm Bruce DePuyt from TBD.com, filling in for Kojo Nnamdi today. Tom Sherwood of NBC 4 here. He is, of course, our resident analyst. To the phones we go. Enam (sp?) in the District. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ENAMHello? Can you hear me?
DEPUYTGood morning -- oh, good afternoon. You're on the air. Welcome.
ENAMHi. Hello, Sen. Cardin. How are you?
CARDINI'm fine. Thank you.
ENAMHi. I know in the state of Maryland, roughly 20 percent of households have less than 4,000 in savings and nationwide about 20 percent are asset poor. I'm not sure if you're familiar with asset poverty, but it essentially means that a household wouldn't have three months worth of income and savings within the federal poverty level. And I know that half of workers don't have access to a retirement plan at work. For those that do, it's a little less than 50 percent nationwide and a little more than 50 percent in Maryland. And -- sorry. I'm getting to my question. In the 109th Congress, I know you introduced a bill to extend the saver's credit to low income households who most need a savings incentive. And I believe it was you and Rep. Portman, now senator, who led this effort. I know that you recently...
ENAMYes. I know you were recently named to be on the Finance Committee, and I want to know if you would consider or are considering reintroducing the saver's credit expansion to incent low income families who participate in...
CARDINThanks for the question. Let me just underscore the point you raised, which is interesting. When the United States, during the good times, when the economy was booming and we're creating all types of jobs and we're leading the world economy in every single category except for one, and that's national savings. We don't save. We don't save for retirement. We don't save for whatever. We tend -- we were spending over 100 percent of our income during the hot economic days.
DEPUYTUsing our homes as piggy banks, in some cases.
CARDINExactly right. My point, when I raise that, people say, oh, no. We -- look at all the appreciated value we have in our real estate. Well, that's gone. So we need to increase our savings in this country. We really desperately need to do it. Retirement savings is the most secure savings. It also takes pressure off the government programs if people have retirement savings -- so, yes. Senator Portman, when he was congressman, the two of us teamed up to make it easier for people to save. We're gonna continue to work on those issues. The saver's credit allows low-wage workers to be able to put money away for retirement savings a little bit easier. They need incentives. I want employers to provide incentives for their employees to save and I think government has to make it easier.
DEPUYTThere was an article -- excuse me, there was a poll just this week showing that a huge percentage, not a majority but, you know, one in four, maybe, suddenly north of their -- one in four Americans, no savings, and a significant number of Americans, no retirement savings at all. So, you know, if you think of savings, in the general sense, that was a problem according to this poll, retirement -- 401 (k) pension -- zero. We're talking about a lot of people who are cruising down the road in rough financial state to be sure...
SHERWOODAlmost bankrupt Social Security System.
DEPUYTComment if you would, Senator, on the ruling in Florida regarding health care reform -- judge ruling that the President's signature reform law is unconstitutional.
CARDINWell, yeah, I'm gonna do that but for Tom, Social Security is in good financial shape. I don't wanna leave that comment go.
SHERWOODOkay, it's long-term.
CARDINLong-term -- it is solvent for the next -- I think it's 20 some years.
SHERWOODThat's good for me.
CARDINSo it's a long time. And -- but let me just underscore the point and that is Social Security was never meant to be the sole means of person's retirement security. We have to increase dramatically private retirement savings in this country.
SHERWOODAnd retirement age will have to go up.
CARDINWell, I think, you know -- we'll, take a look at what we need to do. But I think that -- don't pick on Social Security. That's not the problem. The problem is our revenues -- our general fund revenues and spending runabouts. In regards to health care, we now have four court decisions. Two have upheld it, two have not. This issue is going to Supreme Court of the United States. I am confident, at the end of the day, the law that we passed will be upheld as constitutional, that Congress has a right to make sure that we have affordable health care for all Americans. That's what we did in the passage of the bill. We've been talking about it as nation for 30 years plus and, finally, we got it -- they got it done.
SHERWOODTo agree with the Atty. Gen. Cuccinelli in Virginia who wants an expedited hearing, did the Supreme Court have it settled?
CARDINI think that's fine. I think it's the right thing. It's gonna end up in the Supreme Court. Let's get it to the Supreme Court. Let's get this issue behind us. What I've been saying is that, look, I don't wanna go back and relitigate what we've already done. Let's move forward. I do -- I'm very proud with the health care bill.
DEPUYTBut critics say the point, you know, the -- I'm no expert but it appears this is all gonna hinge on the mandate piece of it. Can you think of another area where the federal government has said, you must do X. In this case, have health coverage.
DEPUYTAnd you think that is a potentially winning nugget, if you will.
CARDINI don't see the difference between what we did in health care and what we've done in Social Security. It's mandatory. You can't get out of the Social Security System. And I tell you something, if that Social Security System was uprooted...
CARDIN...uprooted, you would find Americans like the Egyptians, they'd be on the streets.
DEPUYTI wanna hear from Nana in Woodbridge as we go back to the phones. Nana, I hope I'm saying your name right. Please go ahead.
NANAYeah, you did. I was calling to make -- to comment on the problem in Egypt. If you look at the way the opposition is handling the whole situation, I think it's very fishy, you know? I think the protest have achieved a lot and I'm thinking by now, the opposition would ask people to go back to their homes and then try and reorganize themselves in terms of forming a government. They are just sitting back for people to destroy the country, which is gonna set them back, maybe five, 10 years. And so, it's -- I think that the question might be, when it comes to the opposition, you know? They are just sitting back. Nobody said anything. They are -- people are burning buildings, and nobody's intervened. Now, they are blaming Mubarak. They're saying he withdrew the police and -- he withdrew the police from that city. What is gonna happen is even the police they forgot to (word?) what is going on, these monsters are gonna attack the police and then the police would have to defend themselves. People are gonna die.
NANAAnd the whole thing is gonna turn back to Mubarak.
DEPUYTNana, thank you. Senator.
CARDINNo. I think you need a credible transition government that will have the confidence of the Egyptian people that there will be open and fair elections that the people have the basic rights in order to participate in their country but will also protect the safety of the people of Egypt. That will happen -- the military is pretty strong. But right now, the military is conflicted as to what it should do. We certainly want to end the violence. I think the Egyptians wanna end the violence, wanna protect the heritage of the country. We'll make sure the museums are not booted. All that needs to be under the authority of a transition government that has the confidence of the Egyptian people that there will be open and fair elections to choose their next leaders. It's clear from what we've seen that Mr. Mubarak cannot be in that transition government.
DEPUYTDid you have a Chesapeake Bay round table this past week -- this come -- this week? Or do you have it coming up? You have...
CARDINI talk to Chesapeake Bay almost every day of the week. So (unintelligible)
DEPUYTI've always said something...
DEPUYTI had interesting meeting yesterday with some local officials on the Chesapeake Bay. But it's a subject that comes up in so many different ways. Of course, the governor mentioned it -- Gov. O'Malley mentioned it in the state address yesterday. So this is an issue that that we need to move forward out of bill in the last Congress -- gonna be working in this Congress to try to get enacted.
DEPUYTTalk to us about the districts of juvenile justice facility, the DYRS facility in Maryland at Oak Hill. Is that something that you're interested in seeing relocate to the district out of your state?
CARDINI think you made the case for me -- the district youth facility, the District of Columbia Youth Facility in Maryland. There's something wrong with that title.
SHERWOODWell, part of this promise, we went through this in Virginia with Congressman Tom Davis and (unintelligible) . Everyone thought it was just one bad person done there, but it's actually like 3,000 acres, which is now being tremendously developed. And there's fear that the folks from Maryland like you and the officials there will want it out not because it's a city event but because that's -- what would happen to that land if the city were to lose its place here.
CARDINWell, thank you. First of all, we're talking about 60 children, so we're not talking...
SHERWOODIs that one building? But the land is much larger.
CARDINMuch larger. It's federal land, not D.C. land. It's federal land, it's owned by the federal government. Significant part of that land needs to be used for security purposes, for NSA. It borders the, you know, NSA, and they want the land.
SHERWOODThey need more security?
CARDINThey want parameter security.
SHERWOODIt seemed endless.
CARDINThey want parameter security today. That's the -- you do not want to have people close by to federal facilities, particularly NSA, which is...
SHERWOODColorado was a good state for that kind of, you know?
CARDINWell, NSA is...
SHERWOODPlains of Oklahoma.
CARDINWell, NSA -- you know, what's going on right now at Fort Meade is the epicenter on cyber issues. And one thing they need is to make sure that that could be done with integrity. The location is key. But a good part at the Oak Hill property is -- it could be -- will be used by NSA. A large part of the property is environmentally sensitive and will be maintained for environmental regions.
CARDINWell, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has an interest in it. So there are other federal agencies. So there are other federal agencies would like to have federal land. And, yes, there are areas that could be developed for economic reasons. Fort Meade is a magnet for private companies located in the cyber areas. We think that could be developed and help economy.
SHERWOODI've toured the old buildings out there is already spectacular. But it's, kind of, like, the Saint Elizabeth in Southeast Washington, which...
CARDINBut the land should be used for its appropriate purpose. Putting 60 children out there so far from their families makes no sense whatsoever. They should be in the District. There's property in the District. You don't need a lot of property to handle this. This is...
SHERWOODThey wanna get them -- as (word?) said, they wanna get them away from their family members and the people who have caused them to be into trouble anyway with this.
CARDINThat's not my understanding. My understanding, they really like to have them close to their families.
DEPUYTSen. Cardin, thank you very much for your time today.
CARDINMy pleasure. My pleasure.
DEPUYTGood to have you with us. We appreciate very much your time. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joining us here on the Politics Hour. Bruce DePuyt from TBD, filling in for Kojo Nnamdi today here on the program.
SHERWOODWonderfully too. (laugh)
DEPUYTThank you so much. Tom Sherwood is here. He's the resident analyst, a long-time reporter at NBC 4 a columnist for the Current Newspapers. You can send an e-mail to the show if you'd like to weigh in by e-mail -- and by the way, that good question about Oak Hill. I stole it as my own. It was an -- came to us via e-mail from Brian in Cleveland Park. So credit to Brian for that. The e-mail address here is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're a tweeter, you can tweet, @kojoshow.
DEPUYTTom, so much criticism being launched at Pepco. The storm was -- 10 days ago, as we said, so many people lost power. Coming as this does, after other storms where power goes off and stays off for a long period of time, people looking around, coming the utility's performance to others, other utilities and how they cope with the power when it goes south. Looking at Pepco and saying, there is something wrong here. It took them a while after the last event to sort of signal publicly that they've got it. That was...
SHERWOODThat was a big Post story...
SHERWOOD...and said they were horrible.
DEPUYTExactly right. And that it couldn't all be blamed on trees. So, sadly, not that you expect them to be able to wave a wand and fix some systemic problems necessarily overnight, but to go through what we went through 10 days ago, after what happened last year, I think there's a lot of people scratching their head about can this agency -- can this utility really govern itself in a top rate fashion?
SHERWOODWell, you can argue on a couple of levels. The first, the most, maybe superficial, but one of the most important really is, is the public relations aspects of how you handle a crisis. Crisis management at Pepco -- they didn't present themselves as an agency. I mean, Thomas Graham, the president, was out and about and doing some things. But they just generally just didn't handle, I think, the public relations very well. Secondly, they have said they needed much more money and they will need to have rate increases to all the things they need to do in the Capitol area.
SHERWOODSo, but after last February, you would think there would have been more of an action plan, more of an all-hands-on-deck kind of response. There are some question about whether -- did they wait too late to call in out-of-state crews to help them out when they realized it was a big issue. But, of course, Pepco will say, and I have -- this is a point in their favor, well, if we can get the crews here, there was no place for them to go because the roads were slammed. And this is where government could have done a better job of clearing the roads, so the emergency responders, including Pepco, could get out and about. They could not do it.
DEPUYTSometimes, when elected officials jump on Pepco, it has the feel of political opportunism, as though there's...
SHERWOODLow-hanging fruit there.
DEPUYTRight. There's an issue that's got people angry. And so you jump onboard and make it seem as though you're sort of one with the political zeitgeist. But, in fairness, I think, to a lot of the criticism that's been out there, it comes with ideas and with legislative offerings, if you will. Delegate Brian Feldman from Montgomery County is working with Councilman Roger Berliner to implement standards that the utility would have to meet. And if they didn't, there would be financial...
SHERWOODAnd who gets fined? What happens if you fined Pepco? What happens? They run that up as a cost. And then they got -- then they the raise the rates to pay their cost. Or do you find -- does it hurt the investors in Pepco?
DEPUYTWell, and, of course, so many people, now, alarmed that this concept -- that this notion that Pepco might be able to charge us for electricity that...
DEPUYT...didn't even get to our house because of a provision in the law that was put in a couple years ago, well intended, because it dealt with conservation, but clearly, from the view of a lot of people, misappropriated here. Councilwoman Mary Cheh joins us now, a Democrat from Ward 3. She's been talking publicly about this issue. Councilwoman Cheh, it's good to see you. Thanks very much for being with us today.
MS. MARY CHEHGood to see you too.
SHERWOODWe're pleased to have you.
DEPUYTTalk to us about Pepco.
CHEHI'm pleased to talk about Pepco. And it's not just, you know, piling on, because they're an easy target. One of the other targets happens to be the Public Service Commission. And the Public Service Commission in the District of Columbia -- I'm hoping that we have a clean sweep of the three commissioners, because I think they've been far too timid and not sufficiently engaged in regulating Pepco as they should. But you mentioned the bill in Maryland, but I introduced at the beginning of the year, even before this most recent event, a piece of legislation that we'll get a hearing, I think, next week in another committee. And it's exactly that. It provides for penalties and also there can be rewards for Pepco as well. We're in the bottom 20 percent and have been for a very long time in terms of liability. And what we wanna do is move them up to the top 20 percent.
SHERWOODWhat was the bill? Can you explain that for me and for others who has -- you've pin a lot -- so you charged Pepco a million dollars because they didn't something. What (word?) the money?
CHEHRight. But wait -- yeah. But wait. The money must come not from rate payers. It has come to from the profits of the people who hold stock in Pepco. And...
CHEHThe investors. And so, I think that that's a key point, too, because otherwise it's just a past due and what do they care? In fact, the -- what do they care attitude has seemed to me to be one that they've evince, you know, for years. There'll be some sort of a crisis. Everybody will say what's going on and then they'll come and they'll have a five-point, 10-point, 16-point plan, and it's just the same thing over and over again. And then the other thing here, in the District, in particular, that they've cited over and over and over again are trees. You have too many trees and you don't let us trim them off, et cetera. There have been evaluations done that while that is something of a problem, that does not explain the poor reliability of Pepco operating in the District.
SHERWOODWhat about not being able to get to neighborhoods because of the horrendous traffic in this most recent storm? Is that a mitigating factor...
DEPUYTBut we're talking to -- in fairness, we're talking about the people who were without a power for three, four, five days, not...
DEPUYT...that didn't come on in five hours. So, I mean, yes, it was an epic...
SHERWOODBut most of us in Montgomery County, for the long term, when the city got back fairly quickly although -- but...
CHEHWell, it took me two days. I don't know how long it took you.
SHERWOODOkay. I didn't lose power. I live in southwest.
CHEHWell, because, you know, you're on a special list. So you're on a special list.
SHERWOODI am my power.
DEPUYTAre you off the grid, Tom?
CHEHYou're off the grid. You're off the grid.
SHERWOODI'm off the grid.
DEPUYTThat would explain a lot.
SHERWOODI've got three chipmunks running a flywheel up on the roof.
CHEHYeah, right. Right.
SHERWOODNo. But what about the -- let's say Pepco did badly and they ought to do better and find them that they don't. What about the regional response, the roads, the chaotic? We hear all the time about emergency evacuation, they do these testings during the 4th of July fireworks and it's all nice because everybody's in a good mood. But in a crisis quick situation, the governments didn't talk to each other. The federal government want its people to blame them, but the fact is they told their people to go home, a storm is coming. Where was the response from the local government?
CHEHWell, you know, I obviously can't speak for the region. Though I agree with you that there ought to be, you know, coordination. I can say something, though, about the District of Columbia. While there was some talk about salting and then, you know, the rain washed it away and so it wasn't there. I traveled home that evening myself and the major problem that I saw in the District of Columbia, in the downtown area, was gridlock. People blocking...
SHERWOODYes. No one -- traffic control.
CHEHExactly right. People blocking the box. Instead of taking the people who would ordinarily be out there to conduct traffic control, they said that they were putting them on plows. Well, it seems to me that the police have to be deployed to major intersections. I was at 15th and K, for example, for I don't know how many cycles of the light simply because the box was blocked. Now, that's on us, you know...
CHEHRight. Really? We really ought to begin...
SHERWOODYeah. But we can't expect people and the chipmunk...
CHEHTo behave. All right, to behave. Okay.
SHERWOOD...ought to be running around and stop and oh, you go first, madam, chairman. And, you know, that's not gonna happen. You need a foot soldier.
CHEHNo, no. But -- no, but we do know...
SHERWOODBut it's common sense. Don't enter in an intersection before you know you can get to the other side.
CHEHRight. Right. You have...
SHERWOODYeah, but if you use common sense, if you don't enter it, someone else will.
DEPUYTNo, that nonsense, Tom.
CHEHNo. But, you know, you have to look beyond...
CHEHNo. But you have to look beyond and say can I fit over there? Now, for...
SHERWOODThat's what the law says.
DEPUYTThat's common sense.
DEPUYTContinue, councilwoman Cheh. (laugh)
CHEHAnd, you know and -- but I mean, it is basic sense. And we have to take some responsibility ourselves. We can't just say, oh, the government this and the government that. You have to drive properly in those circumstances. It's especially important. So...
SHERWOODTenley -- the day after the storm at Tenley Circle, I was live in the 5:00 show, the Tenley lights were flashing on one side and were dark on the other. And people tried to do the courtesy...
CHEHOne on one. Yeah. Mm-hmm.
SHERWOOD...of four-way stop thing. But, of course, most people did and it was chaotic. We showed it on the air and within minutes after showing it on the air...
CHEHThe police came.
SHERWOOD...the police came and they did -- and the officers did a terrific job. They put out a flare and they wave people through and then they stopped them and wave them. It was exactly what someone you were saying should be done in this crisis.
CHEHRight. Right. And in fact, you know, I sent a note to the mayor. I know it's on his mind already and maybe he doesn't need, you know, other people sort of poking him about it. But I said, you know, in view of what had happened, I really think part of the plan for, you know, what we next do in a storm like this is we have a deployment.
DEPUYTIt's called an evacuation.
SHERWOODAnd they didn't do it.
DEPUYTI wanna get back to Pepco for a moment. Do you have confidence in the leadership of that utility?
CHEHWell, you know, I know there's been some calls, you know, for the leadership. But, you know, I have been focused primarily on the public service commission. And their lack of oversight, we can't control them on the council directly. It has to be through the public service commission. And if we hadn't an invigorated, aggressive public service commission...
SHERWOODWho are the three members? I don't even know.
CHEHThe three members are Betty Ann Kane, she was the most recently reappointed. It was a 12-1 vote. I was the one who voted against...
DEPUYTWas she your predecessor's predecessor?
CHEHNo, she was an At-Large...
SHERWOODAt-Large. At-Large. Betty Ann Kane.
DEPUYTShe was At-Large. I'm sorry.
CHEH...councilmember. And, you know, you're pressing me on names...
DEPUYTOh, we've stumped the guest. (laugh)
CHEHNo, no, no. I just -- I'm not real good at that. It'll come to me as we go...
SHERWOODBetty is At-Large.
CHEH...but there are two other people...
SHERWOODThey're all kind of veterans there for a while.
CHEHNo, no, no, no. Well, the fellow is. He is a bit of a veteran. But the woman was only recently appointed. I had opposed her when I had chairmanship of that relevant committee. The mayor put her up for the chairmanship of the public service commission and, happily, we were able to stop that. But when the committee went to someone else, he re-nominated her for just a spot, not the chairmanship. She is -- was apparently, you know, a friend of the mayor's wife, and that's, you know, her big claim to fame...
SHERWOODHave we finished beating up on Pepco?
DEPUYTWell, I wanted to...
DEPUYT...I wanna go to snow...
DEPUYT...and I wanna ask whether...
CHEHSnow clearing? Sidewalks?
DEPUYTYes. Well done.
CHEH(laugh) Yes. I have a bill that I put in last period and I re-introduced again this time that would provide real enforcement for a law that we've had on the books since 1922 which says that a homeowner, a property owner is responsible for clearing the sidewalks eight hours, daylight hours, after the snow has stopped. Now, that law is currently -- the enforcement of that law depends upon the statement in the law that says that if you don't this that the government can clear your walk and then sue you in court -- begin a court case -- and recover no more than $25.
CHEHNobody does that obviously...
SHERWOODAnd nor should they.
CHEHAnd nor should they because it's ridiculous. And so, this bill would simply say -- it would be a citation like a parking ticket or a ticket that you get when you're shrubs grow in the parking space...
SHERWOODThat's what we needed. More fines in the city.
CHEHNo, we don't need more fines...
DEPUYTIt's pretty dangerous, though, and a hassle when...
CHEHRight. We don't need...
SHERWOODWho's gonna get out and about to do -- assess these fines?
CHEHWe don't need more fines. What we need is more compliance. And so, sometimes, you know, it's carrot and stick and this is a big regulation...
SHERWOODWhat if you're a senior citizen and you're infirmed and you can't get down your steps in Mount Pleasant, for example...
SHERWOOD...and get down. You have to hire someone just to shovel your walk?
CHEHWell, you know, here's what we've been talking about. First...
SHERWOODWhat if you're out of town when the snowstorm...
CHEHWell, there may be many issues, but when you own a property, you undertake certain responsibilities. You have to cut your grass and if the place is a mess, DCRA can come out and clean, you know, clean up your property. You have to get your gutters cleaned...
DEPUYTRight. Because when you don't get to it in that first day or two, a lot of times it freezes and it's...
CHEHIt's like a solid rock of ice.
DEPUYT...totally slick for potentially days on end. So , yes, Tom, you're right. There are people where this is gonna be a bit of an issue that they're...
DEPUYT...Right, right. Of course.
SHERWOODI mean, we have a huge senior citizen population -- not that we're all -- I'm a senior citizen so I get too say this -- that we're not all infirm...
SHERWOODYes, I'm old.
CHEHI wouldn't have guessed that, Tom.
SHERWOODI'm old. What is a senior citizen, older than 62? I'm well over that, so that's good. But here's the...
DEPUYTAll I know is that middle-aged is my age plus five...
SHERWOODI understand how are you gonna do this and then the workers we send out to get tickets maybe give them shovels and they could do the work for us.
DEPUYTMy point being though, that sure, it's gonna -- for some people, it's gonna be an issue and they're gonna have to call -- as someone here on my screen has suggested, an enterprising middle-schooler -- somebody may come and do it for you, give them some money, whatever. Great, that's taken care of...
SHERWOODWhat about businesses?
DEPUYTBut homeowners can't say I have to preserve my safety at all cost and I'm -- but in so doing, I'm gonna make it difficult and dangerous for every youngster, kid, senior, someone in the wheelchair, whomever who, or just able regular person who's gonna slip and fall on their butt...
SHERWOODAnd who fines in the schools? When the - neighborhood schools, sidewalks aren't shoveled, who fines them?
SHERWOODI think you can go after businesses, yes, because that's where people are. But...
CHEHWell, yes, that's part of this. And in terms of the schools, I agree with you there. You know, again, I recently contacted DCPS and apparently the janitors at these schools are supposed to be responsible for clearing these walks...
SHERWOODAnd they have done a pretty good job most of the time, I've been out to look.
CHEHAnd -- but I've been reminding them that that is their responsibility. We have other issues too. I mean, sometimes it's the District and sometimes it's really a problem with the park service with sidewalks along their property. So, you know, I don't think that this is a panacea and I do recognize that there may be some issues. One of the things we should do, though, I think, is if we go down this road, we should have warnings. And if you get a warning -- and maybe even a second warning -- and then you would be fined. In other words...
SHERWOODAnd who would issue these tickets? DCRA doesn't have enough staff...
CHEHNo, no, no, no, not DCRA. No, no, no.
SHERWOODThe police could do it?
CHEHNo. But no, we would use the same thing that we do with the parking fines. And someone said, well, how are they gonna, you know, have all the time for this? As their driving around these neighborhoods and looking for people who don't have the RPP stickers or their registrations expired, I think it'd be fairly easy to just eyeball.
SHERWOODWhat if it's a rental house?
DEPUYTLet me -- just in the interest of time. Sorry, Tom. Let me just...
CHEHOkay. You wanna switch gears here?
DEPUYTI do. I do have several years...
CHEHOkay. You know, I -- there's...
SHERWOODYou're fined $25...
CHEHThere's so much to talk about.
DEPUYT(laugh) I know. Mary Cheh is here.
DEPUYTShe's the councilwoman who represents Ward 3 on the D.C. Council. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst, a reporter for NBC 4...
SHERWOODSenior citizen grump.
DEPUYTThe grump part has been there, buddy. (laugh) I hate to tell you, it's been there for awhile. But we love Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODAll right. Moving on...
DEPUYTI'm Bruce DePuyt...
CHEHMoving on, yes.
DEPUYT...from TBD on NewsChannel 8…
CHEHYou forgot where you're from.
DEPUYT...filling in for Kojo. (laugh)
SHERWOODA rattled host.
DEPUYTWe've got a special election...
DEPUYT…upcoming in the District…
CHEHApril 26, mm-hmm.
DEPUYT...the seat that became open when Kwame Brown became chairman...
DEPUYT...last fall. So now the remaining part of his at-large term will be filled by the winner, probably someone getting just a plurality of the vote, given the huge field of candidates that we expect to contest for this seat. Talk to us, though, about some of the issues here behind -- regarding administration of a special election, how many polling places there will be. Will our -- you know, is the city gonna happen every polling place? Talk about the expense. Because at a time of budget shortfall, you hate to spend more than you need to.
CHEHYes. I had asked the board of elections to come up with some alternatives in terms of the expenses, and they did come up with some alternatives. But in view of the fact that it's -- we're really close on to that election and we don't wanna suppress any voting, we're probably going to have to spend about $800,000. The council budgeted 500 -- $60,000, I believe. So, obviously, we have a 200,000-plus shortfall. I'm working now with the mayor's office and with Chairman Brown to see if we can identify that money. The executive director of the board of elections originally had a figure that was higher than what I've quoted, but he's been able to go back. There may be a few precincts that are folded together. For example, in my ward, we have a precinct. They're a block away from each other. One's at St. Columbus, and one's at the Janney Elementary School, and they're literally a block away from one another. So it may be possible to take instances like that and consolidate them. But we are gonna open all of the precincts with that slight modification for that election.
DEPUYTCould you do it in a different way? If not -- and if not for this time, maybe in the future? Because it seems like every time there's an election, the winner creates another opening and you've got to...
SHERWOODThere's an echo election.
CHEHRight, right, right, right.
DEPUYTRight. So could you do...
CHEHYes, voting centers.
DEPUYTRight. Could you do that?
CHEHMm-hmm. We can, and I think that that is the direction we ought to take. I just think that it was too close…
DEPUYTPotentially over several days to sort of offset the fact that it's...?
CHEHOh, yes. And even now, we will have a period of time where you can vote early. And the changes in the election law is that we put through -- you know, you have no-fault absentee voting, you have early voting. There are variety of things we can do. And looking forward to the 2012 election, I want to be able to, you know, think about all of these methodologies. But in addition, in addition to that, we need to be thinking about aligning the primary with the presidential preference vote so that we don't have two elections for that. The primary date in September that we've always had in the past...
CHEH...cannot stay because federal requires a certain amount of time for us to send ballots to military personnel overseas and have them send it back. Once the primary is finished and the results are certified and all the rest of that, it's not enough time. We have to move it back. And I've been asking the council members, and we're going to have a hearing on this. When? When should we have it? I got two responses from council members. One of it is we have to have it as early as possible -- March. Some would have it as late as possible, which is the -- I think the second full week of August and anywhere in between. But whatever we do, I'm going to try to encourage everyone to think about the alignment so we only have to have one election.
SHERWOODWhy not just have nonpartisan elections and just have one election, not have these primaries?
DEPUYTWell, are we mixing apples and oranges here?
DEPUYTBecause you're talking about presidential, and there's a good follow-up to that.
DEPUYTBut go ahead. Are you talking about...
CHEHThere will be a presidential...
DEPUYTBut I think Tom...
SHERWOODI'm saying -- I'm just saying with all our local elections, why don't we just have nonpartisan elections and just have one election?
CHEHWell, there are many people -- and I'm among them -- who believe that there are differences in the parties, and the parties should have their own representatives in the general election.
DEPUYTSo if we have -- are we gonna be voting in the summer of 2012?
CHEHIt's likely we're gonna be voting in the summer or the spring.
DEPUYTAnd it's all over but for the shouting in many -- you know...
CHEHWe have to do this. We're under a mandate by the federal government to do this. And in fact, we were required to do it...
CHEH...during the most recent election.
SHERWOODGot a waiver.
CHEHBut we got a waiver, happily, and we simply delayed the period of certification to allow these ballots to come back from the military personnel.
SHERWOODSo we would have a presidential preference primary in this -- in the late winter or early spring of next year? Then we would have a separate primary for the local election?
CHEHWell, that's what I don't want to have happened. I have -- I am going to be in touch with him and inviting...
DEPUYTThat's the problem.
CHEH...the party representatives to come in about when, you know, when they would have this preference. Now my understanding, at least from the Democratic side, is that the later you have it -- for example, if you move it to June -- the more delegates you get because the party is trying to encourage jurisdictions to have later primaries because everything keeps inching up, you know.
CHEHWe're practically having a primary for the presidency almost, you know, a year before. So there's an incentive to do that. I understand that Maryland is thinking about June. Maybe we'll think about June.
SHERWOODWell, California, it's usually in June.
DEPUYTAnd it's a -- it's nothing. It's a no-brainer. I mean it's a nothing burger because the action is over with.
CHEHWell, no. It depends on how things have gone to that point. I mean, because California is so vote-rich.
SHERWOODSo we -- okay.
DEPUYTI wanna talk money with you. You have...
CHEHMoney. Do you have any? Because we'd like to have some for the District.
DEPUYT(laugh) I'll scram some change from the...
CHEHI have a hat here that I'm passing.
DEPUYT...from the -- under the carpeting. You have a proposal to help the city deal with its current fiscal challenge by stepping up the debt collection that the city engages in.
CHEHMm-hmm. Yes. There are variety of things we can do and should do, I think, in terms of bringing in money, and one of them is to centralize our collections. In other jurisdictions where they've done this, they've been far more efficient in collecting money that's owed to us. The agencies now are charged with the collections, and that's not really their primary expertise or interest, perhaps. And so this would be a way of getting money that is owed to us, in any event. I've also been talking up the idea of PILOTs, Payments In Lieu Of Taxes, particularly for the universities. The university...
SHERWOOD…'cause the place is a working institution.
CHEHWell, the -- well, I wanna start, you know, with the universities. And the other aspect about the universities is that I wanna look more closely at all the property, ooh, such as the building that we're in now, where the university uses the property for other than educational purposes.
SHERWOODAre we supposed to turn the mic off now?
DEPUYTI know. I'm never gonna be invited back now. (laugh)
CHEHAnyway. So, yeah, I'm looking at a variety of things because we have to be sure that we're getting payments that are owed to us or payments that reflect, you know, the services that are given to the entities that get them.
DEPUYTWe have been -- because I know you're dying to get back to snow removal on sidewalks...
SHERWOODNo, I wanna talk about how much...
CHEHHe wants to talk about...
SHERWOODYou guys -- you're gonna cut the budget very seriously when the mayor's budget comes out, right?
CHEHWell, I think that we should. In other words, you know, when you're in dire circumstances, which we are -- $500 million to close a gap that we expect because the one-time monies aren't gonna be there -- when else do you get really serious about cutting except if you're under the gun? And so I think, you know, we have to step up and try to do that. Last year, you know, we looked at TANF, you know, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Only two other jurisdictions provide that -- those kinds of funds after five years. And while there may be people who are disabled, who might continue to get them, it shouldn't be a regularized thing, just, you know, as one example. We're gonna have to look at pensions and employee contributions to health benefits. And so...
DEPUYTAre you worried that there may be a council majority to do taxes?
CHEHWell, you know, I -- what I hear suggests to me that that's coalescing, yes.
SHERWOODIt's important. Every state and every city has to worry about the pensions of its workers.
DEPUYTMary Cheh, thank you very much for your time.
CHEHThank you. Have me back.
DEPUYTGood to see you, as always.
CHEHI have a lot more to tell you.
DEPUYTWe'll do it.
SHERWOODWe'll fine you for coming back, $25.
DEPUYTTom, good to be with you, as always.
SHERWOODHappy to be here.
DEPUYTThe Politics Hour is produced by Michael Martinez, Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. The engineer today, Andrew Chadwick. Dorie Anisman is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, transcripts, audio archives and CDs available at our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Bruce DePuyt.
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