How do we talk about gun violence when it's not in the form of a mass shooting? We held a student town hall to discuss how local kids deal with the threat of violence locally, and how adults can respond.
A Virginia Senator turns down a chance for an encore run. D.C. teachers score a victory in the sequel to a “Rhee era” legal fight. And Maryland politicians gear up for Act Two of the General Assembly’s fight over same-sex marriage. 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
- Angela Alsobrooks Maryland State's Attorney, Prince George's County
- Chris Zimmerman Chairman, Arlington County Board (D)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks to Bruce DePuyt of NewsChannel 8 for filling in last week. Bruce DePuyt opened the show by saying for more than two decades, "The Politics Hour" -- for more than two decades, it's the place to turn for savvy analysis of local news and politics, but did he say starring Tom Sherwood?
MR. TOM SHERWOODYou know, I was gonna bring that up. You know, I was gonna -- you know, I've known Bruce forever. I knew him when he wanted to be a journalist...
SHERWOOD...even before he is an accomplished one now. He failed to say starring. I just think it would have made him choke if he had to say that.
NNAMDIWhich of these statements do you think is more important and more accurate, for more than two decades the place to turn for savvy analysis of local news and politics or starring Tom Sherwood? I think starring Tom Sherwood is certainly more accurate.
SHERWOODCertainly more cutting edge. We don't need ancient history (unintelligible) ?
NNAMDIWell, can we say them both? Can we use Tom Sherwood and savvy news and analysis in the same sentence?
SHERWOODI think you could.
NNAMDIWe're sure, as heck, going to try. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. We turn to him for savvy news and analysis. How does that sound?
SHERWOODIt sounds terrific.
SHERWOODAnd I think we know maybe when we get to the fundraising weeks and months, people can show their appreciation for all that we say here.
NNAMDIWell, now, let's get to some of that savvy news and analysis. Jim Webb, senator, Democrat of Virginia, has declared he is not running again in 2012, and that stampeding sound you hear are all the people who are going to consider running to replace Jim Webb, both on the Democratic and Republican side. Of course, we know on the Republican side, that former Senator George Allen and others are competing. On the Democratic side, we're hearing former Governor Tim Kaine maybe.
SHERWOODWell, before we get to who might run, that noise you hear, all the running around, are the Republicans who are running in circles, cheering their heads off. They looked like the people in Egypt cheering Hosni Mubarak stepping down. But, you know, Webb was a quirky-- is a quirky -- he was a quirky candidate. He's been a somewhat quirky senator, and he may be one of the real examples of where he decided he wouldn't run for family reasons, and it's the truth.
NNAMDIOne gets the impression that he never particularly liked the job or maybe even if he liked the legislative aspect of the job, he didn't seem much to like the glad-handing and the weekends running around talking to people all the time.
SHERWOODHe did not like the glad-handing, as we like to call it. He did like the job. He was considered an effective senator. You know, this is bad for Virginia because, you know, Virginia has had this sort of strong presence in the armed services committee, you know, John Warner a long time. So Webb stepping out is -- can be a blow to the state's power, and then, they're gonna have to work hard because George Allen, you know, was a very strong candidate six years ago, and Webb won in part, and some people believe because of the macaca incident.
SHERWOODAnd I don't think George Allen is going to make that mistake this time.
NNAMDIBut you know somebody in the news media is going to bring it up.
SHERWOODOh, yeah. I'm sure he'll bring it up. And he'll have a -- I'm sure he'll have a quick dismissive remark to it and move on 'cause elections are always about the future, not the past.
NNAMDIAnd if you've been wondering what happened to Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell's proposal to privatize the state's liquor store, tout it so widely before he came to office. Well, while you weren't noticing, it died quietly this past Tuesday. Considered the biggest legislative defeat of his tenure after months of lobbying lawmakers and residents about getting out of the alcohol business.
SHERWOODIt landed with a thud when he announced it, and it never got off the floor.
NNAMDINever got up again.
SHERWOODIt never got up. I mean -- and then, he tried to scale it back to -- well, we won't privatize. We won't make public the distribution of alcohol. We'll just make privatize the stores themselves. But, you know, that was a drowning person going down for the last moment.
NNAMDIAnd it's likely, however, that he may bring it up in the next session of the state legislator. It's gonna drown again?
SHERWOODI think he ought to have a stiff drink and think that over.
NNAMDIIt's gonna drown in a sea of beer and alcohol. The Washington Teachers' Union scoring a legal victory this week. An arbitrator ruling that the first 75 teachers who former chancellor Michelle Rhee fired must be given about $7.5 million in back wages and offered positions with the D.C. public schools. The Washington Post editorial today pointing out some of what it feels are the more egregious offenses committed by some of those teachers and wondering how the heck the arbitrator could have decided they needed to get their jobs back again.
SHERWOODWell, the arbitrator -- and there's American -- what is that American Arbitration Association...
SHERWOOD...a legitimate, you know, a real arbitrator looked at it very narrowly just from the firings that occurred in 2008, and said specifically that obvious -- these are teachers that were on probation too -- and said that the school system simply failed to define the reasons for which the teachers were not kept on, and that they were just let go without clear factual information on why they were not kept. Whether or not this can survive an appeal, the school system says it's gonna to appeal. I don't know but this is a rare victory for the Washington Teachers' Union, and they're happy about it, but I think they got a rough legal road going forward.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, this is "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst, a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. These are challenging times for law enforcement in Prince George's County, which recorded 16 homicides during the first month of the year alone. Joining us now in studio to explain what's being done about this is Angela Alsobrooks, Maryland State's attorney for Prince George's County. Angela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. ANGELA ALSOBROOKSThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAs I said, these are challenging times. It's a very complicated situation, the 16 homicides occurring during the first month of the year. But what conclusions have you been able to draw about what factors are driving that spike in homicides?
ALSOBROOKSThese really are challenging times, and it has as much presented a challenge as it's presented an opportunity in law enforcement, especially for us to be, again, to work together collaboratively. I think what we saw with the last -- with these 16 murders was a concerted effort on the part of law enforcement. You watched the Prince George's County Police Department along with the state's attorneys and the sheriffs, and we also brought in ATF and the FBI and the DEA, and we had, I believe, a really wonderful partnership that stepped in. And although we really don't celebrate 16 murders, it's just far too many. One is too many. But after those first 14 days, we started seeing a decline based on the efforts by Chief Magow, who, I believe, responded really aggressively and appropriately, and we were able to see a decline -- decline begin.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Angela Alsobrooks, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask your question there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or an e-mail to email@example.com.
SHERWOODAny of the murders, of course, are horrible, but it's just that odds -- on the first day of the New Year, there was one, and on the second day, there was two, and then the third day, there was three. That's a made-for-TV movie, horrible situation. Of the 16 homicides, can you -- do you have a thumbnail sketch of -- have there been arrests in most of them, or has there been some -- there's no closure this quickly, but arrests, have we had arrests for those 16 homicides?
ALSOBROOKSWe have. I believe we've had arrests in approximately five of the murders. We have good leads, and the others, the officers have worked, literally, around the clock to bring leads to bear, and I believe we're going to successfully be able to close out many of the cases.
SHERWOODBecause of the -- obviously, this is bad for the image of the county, which already was struggling with the corruption issues. But what is the status of crime in Prince George's County now as you look at it overall? Are you -- a part of it is going down -- major crimes are still going down, even though homicides appear to be up.
ALSOBROOKSYes. Actually, the irony of all of this is that we were feeling really encouraged by the decline in crime, violent crime. We are at our lowest rate in 30 years, and then, we start the year out with these homicides. But crime is declining in Prince George's County, and we hope, of course, not to see a repeat of this horrible trend that we saw in January. But what it did for us really was to give us an opportunity to look honestly at some of the issues and problems we have in Prince George's County that could have led to this sort of violence. It has given my office an opportunity to partner more closely with the community. We have started a program that we're calling Speak Up.
NNAMDIYeah. Because you are concerned about a culture in a county where people are reluctant to come forward to police. How do you fight against that, the stop snitching culture?
ALSOBROOKSThe stop snitching is just a horrible culture, and the way that we counter that is through education. We are really going to get into the schools and talk to young people about their responsibilities as citizens to our county. We are going to talk to them about anonymous ways that they're able to cooperate with law enforcement, to make sure that our streets are safer. Likewise, we've relied on the faith community to also communicate the message to our citizens that they have not only -- we talk so much about the rights that we have, but they have a duty to come forward as jurors, a duty to come forward as good witnesses and to participate in their community and make it safer.
NNAMDIYeah. A lot of people would say you can say that, but you're not around when I have to pay the penalty for stepping forward and doing something. How do you protect me when everybody in the neighborhood knows who I am and knows that I'm probably the person who came forward and pointed the finger at an alleged -- whatever, alleged criminal?
ALSOBROOKSExactly. You know what, that's a legitimate concern. I understand the concern of a citizen who, like you said, would not want to see a person returned to the neighborhood. That is -- that makes really our job, I think, that much more important to make sure that we are effective in our prosecutions, that we prosecute and incarcerate violent criminals, make sure that they are not returned to the streets and to work collaboratively to make sure that we are reducing the opportunity for these crimes to occur.
SHERWOODBut some people could also give some information anonymously just to help give you some leads to point you in the right direction, even if they were reluctant to come forward themselves.
ALSOBROOKSAbsolutely. And that's part of the education that we're going to be more aggressive. We have expanded our community prosecution unit. I have assigned prosecutors to all six police districts in the county, and we will be at the community meetings on a regular basis and distribute information with anonymous phone numbers, ways to text message us. We're building a website very soon where the citizens can also communicate with us in an anonymous fashion to report information that they have that may help us solve crime.
SHERWOODNow -- can I -- we talk about these murders and homicides in Prince George's County, but I think the Post had a graphic -- I think it's right that -- like 13 of these 16 homicides were all within the Beltway, actually a small geographical portion of the county. Is that the case for crime is much more intense inside the Beltway than it is outside the Beltway in Prince George's County?
ALSOBROOKSI think in this instance that was true, but I think it's incumbent upon all of us to be concerned whether we're inside or outside the Beltway because the effects are very far reaching. We see violent crime here, but we have quality of life crimes that are affecting communities throughout the county. And so I urge all citizens not just to be concerned about inside the Beltway but really the effect is so far reaching that we have to be concerned. We had, you know, you heard it's -- you know, it's not a respecter of social class, status, of race. It really is very far reaching. We've even reached the University of Maryland-College Park, where a student was murdered as well. And so all of us have to be so very concerned about this violence.
NNAMDIOur guest is Angela Alsobrooks, Maryland State's attorney for Prince George's County. If you have concerns about crime or the prosecution of crime in Prince George's County, now is the time to call 800-433-8850. Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday effectively extended a moratorium on the state's death penalty by withdrawing regulations needed for executions to resume. You announced last week that you're seeking the death penalty in the case against a man accused of killing four people in Prince George's County, including two young children. We remember that story about what happened inside that squalid apartment in the Lanham area in August. What is your own philosophy about the death penalty?
ALSOBROOKSWell, the death penalty is still the law of the land in Maryland. I have pledged to keep safe the people of Prince George's County. I understand the seriousness of filing a death penalty notice. And so we do spend time and we -- I have considered very closely the case where we filed the death penalty notice. But I believe that I have an obligation to keep the community safe, and to do what is just on a case by case basis. In this particular case, I found the facts to be so heinous and the circumstances to have so many aggravators that I felt that it was in the interest of justice to file the notice.
NNAMDIThat's what you can do according to the statutes. What is your own feeling, your personal feeling about the death penalty?
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know, I'm personally not a huge fan of the death penalty. You know, I am a Christian and believe that God gives and takes life, but I am also a representative. I have sworn to uphold the law of Maryland, and that is what I intend to do.
SHERWOODThe -- this is a real struggle for people even I. I want to be against the death penalty, but you could describe the crime for which you're seeking the death penalty it will horrify people. But the Baltimore Sun editorial said that the death penalty is no more effective in deterring crime than life sentences with parole. It has never been fairly or consistently applied, and it deprives families, victim families, of closure and costs the state millions of dollars sometimes on just one case as there are endless appeals. Does the state suffer if you have a death penalty? And why not life imprisonment without parole, which is a pretty good sentence?
ALSOBROOKSI'm not sure that the state suffers if you file the death penalty. I have -- again, I just believe that there are certain circumstances where the death penalty is appropriate and this just happens to be one of them like...
NNAMDIIf it isn't available to you in cases like this one that you're currently pursuing, as Tom pointed out -- that was a fairly bizarre case. What do you feel would be an adequate punishment, the kind of punishment that's capable of serving as a deterrent to future crimes if you don't have the death penalty on the table?
ALSOBROOKSWell, without the death penalty, then, certainly, life without parole, I believe, is also an appropriate punishment. The point, of course, is to make sure that we remove the threat, that we remove dangerous people from the streets. But that we also send the appropriate message that this sort of violence will not be tolerated in our county.
SHERWOODAnd this really -- I mean, how much deterrence is there, really? If someone who's committed murder as some type of gang person, he or she even would know that there is a death penalty. I don't think they'd go out about with their crime saying, well, I'm not gonna do that because I might get the death penalty if I'm caught. I don't think that's gonna be a common thought in the heads of people who are ready to shoot someone.
NNAMDIEspecially if you happen to be in a gang in which the death penalty might be administered without benefit...
NNAMDI... of any court situation whatsoever.
SHERWOODBut what about the expense though? The -- again, the Baltimore editorial said that it costs millions of dollars to go through the court cases, to maintain the cases all the way to the end of all the appeals?
ALSOBROOKSYou know -- and that's certainly one of the things, I think, that the legislature has to consider as it considers the death penalty and whether it should still be the law of the land. The death penalty, by itself, is not the only deterrent we have. I think the general message is that we will be aggressive, that we will be firm in our prosecutions. And so it's not just the death penalty, but the public should get the message that we will be firm. We're gonna be fair and consistent as well, but that we will be firm in all of our prosecutions.
SHERWOODAnd can we just, very quickly, in this case -- this is a case in which a person was found guilty. Is that right, found guilty? So he's...
ALSOBROOKSNo. He has not yet gone into trial. Yes.
SHERWOODOkay. I wanna be careful with the legal stuff. But he's accused in a quadruple killing, two women and two children.
NNAMDIHere now is Tim at the University of Maryland. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMThank you for taking my call, Kojo. Hello, guests. I'm a native Marylander. I'm a student at the University of Maryland right now. And I'm kind of upset with the way that you're talking about these crimes. You're saying they're not gonna be tolerated, you know, appropriate punishments and so forth and -- I mean, I'm familiar, personally, with the culture in Montgomery County and Prince George's County, of people thinking that violent crime isn't wrong. I mean, there's a disconnect between what's a crime and what's right and wrong. And, if you wrong me, I wrong you. So how are you gonna solve the issue of violent crime when people don't see violent crime as something that they ought not to do? That would be my question.
ALSOBROOKSThank you, Tim, so much for your question. I agree with you that it's disturbing for anyone to believe that violent crime is not wrong, and that's the sort of mentality that we seek to change. I think we do that in a number of ways. We -- you know, we are, as I said, very aggressive in our cases. We're going to be very firm. But I think on the other side of that, we have to focus as much on preventing people from getting here in the first place. I think...
NNAMDIIndeed. When we spoke last September, you talked about your desire to implement a criminal recidivism plan, similar to one that California Attorney General Kamala Harris put in place when she was the district attorney in San Francisco. Explain that plan, and tell us where things stand with this.
ALSOBROOKSThe plan is that we -- you know, we are working on two tracks at once. One is that we have to deal with the crimes that have occurred and to deal with them firmly. But I believe that the best crime fighting strategy that we have is prevention. And so we are working through community prosecution to involve ourselves in the schools, to connect with our young people and to provide for them, hopefully, alternatives. We will do that as well. We're looking at the Back on Track program from San Francisco. We have been in contact with that office.
NNAMDIAnd that's the program for non-violent first offenders. The program offers offenders, ages 18 to 24, the opportunity to challenging their energy into learning new skills and like that.
ALSOBROOKSIt is. It's an absolutely wonderful program. It has been extremely effective. What it does is provide for first-time, low-level, non-violent drug offenders an opportunity to go to college. Many of them have opportunities for job training. It even reconnects families. And if that occurs, then their conviction does not stand. But the thought is that it should cause a decline in recidivism and give people a way to rejoin their communities in a productive fashion.
SHERWOODWe have serious budget problems virtually everywhere we look in this country now with governments. You wanna do a lot of things. You're in the office now. Are you having budget problems yourself?
ALSOBROOKSOh, we are actually. Yes, we are affected. As you indicate, this is a very tough budgetary time. I do wanna compliment, however, County Executive Rushern Baker. Oh, he has been working very closely with my office. I have met on a number of times with him and with his budget staff, and he has said that he would fund his priorities and has said that public safety is one of those priorities. And so even in a tough year, in terms of our budget, County Executive Baker has gone out of his way, I believe, to assist us as we attempt to pay our attorneys salaries that will help us to retain and train them. And so we're working with him. We've worked -- I visited Cong. Steny Hoyer the other day, who's indicated his support for us. And so where there are grant opportunities, we will apply for those. The same on the state level. The governor has indicated his support for our office, and there are grant opportunities at the offices we'll be applying for.
NNAMDIWe got an e-mail from Sarah in Chevy Chase asking, "Is Leslie Johnson still serving on the county council?" Rushern Baker, of course, the new county executive, has pledged to root out corruption in Prince George's County. Investigation into his predecessor, Jack Johnson, is a federal case. But more broadly, what concerns do you have about corruption in the county and where your office fits into the effort to stamp it out?
ALSOBROOKSMy office has recently formed a new division in the office that we call special prosecutions. That unit takes into account cases involving police officer shootings, cases involving public officials and others, and we have staffed it with some of our finest attorneys who will investigate concerns and cases such as these and will give them due attention to make sure that we seek justice in each of those cases.
SHERWOODDo you get -- are you working with the U.S. attorney? Are you meeting with -- sorry, his name just went out...
ALSOBROOKSYes, we did. We met with him last week and met with his staff, and we'll be working very closely with U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, particularly with respect to gun cases. They have Project Exile there, and we are renewing our efforts toward eliminating gun violence. And so his office has been...
NNAMDIWhat's Project Exile?
ALSOBROOKSProject Exile is a case where the -- sorry, well, program where the U.S. Attorneys' Office has the ability to ask for tougher sentences involving recidivist and violent gun offenders.
SHERWOODWhich is nationwide.
NNAMDIOn to -- in Kim in New Carrollton, Md. And, Kim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KIMHi, Kojo. I just wanna give you praise. You are so awesome. I love your style. Your charisma is the bomb. I wanna be like you when I grow up.
NNAMDIListen, I think this is my cousin. But go ahead please.
KIMHello, attorney general -- State's Attorney Alsobrook. I'm so glad that you came on air. My concern is this, you know, because of the rise in the murders, you know, the federal agents have come into play. I want to know, did you request that assistance? And if you did, does the county have to pay for that? And how effective have they been in helping to solve the five, you know, make arrests in the five murders, you know, did they help that?
ALSOBROOKSThank you so much, Kim, for your question and for calling. I did not request the additional federal assistance. The County Executive and Acting Chief Magaw actually did request it. It does come at a higher cost. The county executive has said, however, that he does value the lives in our county and would do whatever was necessary to protect its citizens. So it does come at a higher cost, but he has said over and over again that he would fund his priorities, and certainly public safety is high on his list.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We move on to Alex in Mitchellville, Md. Alex, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEXHello. Hi, Kojo. State's Attorney Alsobrooks, it's so nice to have you on air. The question I have basically is, what will you do and how will you support the law enforcement when it comes to dealing with things like low-level crimes such as littering, loud music, things in my view that contribute toward a cultural or an atmosphere of lawlessness? How will you, you know, deal with things of that nature going forward?
ALSOBROOKSThank you so much, Alex, for the question. I have -- I agree with you. I've made it a priority to prosecute what I call quality-of-life crimes, those include municipal infractions and the crimes that you're discussing. I was, for example, in Greenbelt the other night, meeting with the city council there, and they have expressed deep concern for the issues that you're mentioning. I have a community prosecutor in each district. And they go out on a regular basis and meet with citizens, and we are really going to prosecute those cases very aggressively as well. I've heard loudly and clearly from the citizens that quality-of-life crimes affect their happiness in their neighborhoods, affect their sense of security. And we're going to make sure that we prosecute those cases very aggressively.
NNAMDIAlex, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIOn to Robert in Montgomery County, Md. Hi, Robert.
ROBERTYes. Hello. How are you doing today?
ROBERTI just wanna make a comment or pose a question. I hear a lot of talk regarding politicians in the government and how significant the senators and the governor and the mayor are gonna play in the decreasing the crime rate in PG. But what I don't hear is how drugs and alcohol and inappropriate behavior at home, as well as a poor education system, in addition to poor parenting, how all of this plays a significant role in the crime rate, not only in the crime rate but crime in PG County.
NNAMDIAnd whether or not the state's attorney can address that issue or is it better left to the county executive.
ROBERTOkay. I'll take my comments off the air. Thank you.
ALSOBROOKSThank you so much, Robert. I couldn't agree with you more, actually, that we need a comprehensive approach to attacking crime, which is why I have really spoken with the faith community. And we're going to meet with them on a regular basis and ask for their assistance in helping us, particularly with the young people. I have said and made no -- not ashamed of saying that we really have to instill proper values in our young people to make sure that they understand not only the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but to understand that those behaviors are inappropriate and that they lead to negative results.
NNAMDIFaith community, small churches and megachurches. Have you been able to get any of the megachurches to participate in this with you, because that's where a lot of the resources are?
SHERWOODBut don't -- I'm sorry. Angela, I'm sorry. Go ahead. Answer Kojo's question or he'll throw me out.
ALSOBROOKSYes. Okay. Yes, absolutely. First Baptist Church of Leonard hosted a wonderful forum, for example, on Martin Luther King's birthday. And this was -- a lot of the conversation was around parenting and the importance of good parenting. So, yes, the -- all of the churches I have found to be extremely supportive, large and small alike.
SHERWOODAnd they do have rehab programs, re-education -- a lot of churches run their own programs to help people out of substance abuse and all of that.
SHERWOODBut to the caller's call, though, the drug and alcoholism is a critical issue for families. It tears families apart. Children don't learn that well. Schools cannot make up for a bad home life. They can help, but they can't make up for it. It just seems sometimes it's exhausting, the breadth of problems that need to be addressed in order to heal a community.
ALSOBROOKSI agree with you. I mean, what I have said is I have urged parents, urged the faith community, urged everybody to put their arms around our young people who are entering the system, because by the time they reach me in the criminal justice system, it is often too late. They are dead, injured or headed to jail. And it's far too late. And so we really have to be, I think, as passionate about providing ways for our young people to stay away from the criminal justice system. And I think stressing proper values is a great start.
NNAMDIOne more call I'd like to get in, that's Larry in Washington, D.C. Larry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARRYHello. My question was what Ms. Alsobrooks' plans were or are to deal with corruption within the police force. It seems to me, like, the county has just been suffering from a culture of corruption that goes from the top to the bottom. I mean, it's been a year of one thing after another. You got Jack Johnson. You got the University of Maryland beating. You got an officer recovering weapons and selling them. You know, the scandal within the school for the police. It just seems like one thing or another. It doesn't seem to be getting any better.
ALSOBROOKSThank you so much, Larry, for your question. I agree that all of us are very concerned about corruption and the things that have occurred over the last year. You make a great point that it starts at the top. And I can assure you that I am very in tuned to it, the transparency is very important to me and to my administration, and that we will work closely with the county executive, who has also talked not just during the campaigning, but has spoken for a long time about ethics reform, and that we are of like minds that this is so important that the public trust us. We cannot perform unless we have the public's trust. And we do regard it highly, and we'll make sure that we root out corruption wherever we find it.
SHERWOODAnd you mentioned that you have a special prosecution team now to do that. That's...
NNAMDILarry, thank you very much for your call. Angela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.
ALSOBROOKSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAngela Alsobrooks is Maryland State's Attorney for Prince George's County. Tom Sherwood, we managed to get through an entire discussion of Prince George's County without once mentioning...
SHERWOODThe Washington Redskins...
NNAMDI...or money stuffed in...
NNAMDI...or money stuffed in underwear. It's...
SHERWOODOr, no, in brassieres.
NNAMDIWell, see, you have to go and mention that.
NNAMDII would see -- oh, there you go.
SHERWOODWas it 86 --, how much, was it 78,000 -- how much was it?
ALSOBROOKSSomewhere around like 78 or...
SHERWOODNo. What's the difference if it's in your brassieres?
NNAMDINow, we have not gotten through a broadcast without mentioning money stuffed in underwear.
SHERWOODI think we have to give the full story each time in "The Kojo Show."
NNAMDIAnd that's why he is our Tom Sherwood. That's why he is our source for savvy news and analysis. You're listening to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood, if you were to guess, what neighborhoods would you believe, that since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the District's handgun ban, more handguns were being sold in than any other neighborhood?
SHERWOOD...registered? Well, I actually know the answer to this because I keep up with the news.
SHERWOODBut it came as a surprise when I -- well, I guess, The Washington Post did the story that showed that the upper-income neighborhoods of Washington and the 20016 zip code, where we are sitting -- (laugh) hope no one in this immediate environment has a gun.
NNAMDIIs packing heat.
SHERWOODWe're all packing heat apparently.
NNAMDIIn this particular zip code. And one...
SHERWOODWell, there's the people who can afford the guns.
NNAMDIWell, one would have thought that in the poorer, more crime-ridden neighborhoods of the city, there would have been a greater rush by people to acquire handguns in order to protect themselves.
SHERWOODWell, they may have in their homes. They just don't wanna go through the bureaucracy of registering them. It's not the most easy thing to do.
NNAMDIWell, we are seating in the most heat packing zip code in the District of Columbia right now. And so I either feel very safe or very unsafe. I can't decide which one right yet. For the time being, plans have been scrapped to put high occupancy toll lanes, those HOT lanes, on a six-mile stretch through Arlington and Alexandria. Today, The Washington Post editorial page accused Arlington County, which has fought against HOT lanes projects in court, of NIMBYism. The Post says that in the final analysis, Arlington County is undercutting its economic interest. Joining us in studio right now is Chris Zimmerman. He is the chairman of the Arlington County Board. He is a Democrat. Chris Zimmerman, good to see you again.
MR. CHRIS ZIMMERMANGood to see you.
NNAMDIHow do you respond to the Washington Post editorial of NIMBYism, that you're undercutting your own economic interest? How do you see it?
ZIMMERMANYou know, this is one of these things that there's so much error in the statement of a few hundred words. It's hard to know where to start.
ZIMMERMANLet me begin with the first sentence, which asserts incorrectly that Arlington is responsible for stopping the widening of I-66 and for the stopping and for opposing HOT lanes on 395. Now, it's true that Arlington doesn't think widening I-66 is a good idea and has opposed it. It is not true that our opposition has anything to do with I-66 not being widened. That's convenient for some people who want -- who say they wanna widen it, but don't -- really aren't gonna deliver it. So, you know, it's convenient to blame Arlington. In fact...
SHERWOODBut don't you have...
ZIMMERMAN...the only reason I-66 hasn't been widened is because the people who would do it don't have the money do it. They've never presented a project to do it. And in the case of 395, Arlington did not oppose HOT lanes outright, and we didn't oppose them specifically on 395. What we opposed was the illegal issuance of what's called the categorical exclusion by the federal government two years ago, as the Bush administration was leaving office, that was gonna allow the state to transfer a public facility, paid for with taxpayer dollars, to a private company without having gone through the required analysis and providing for mitigation for any adverse impacts in the way they would deploy it.
ZIMMERMANAfter they did that, of course, and once they do this, the private company effectively owns the road and we won't be able to fix any mistakes. And what we said was, follow the law, do the process you have to do, and then we can work out things so that when you make this contract, we know that five years from now, we're not gonna find ourselves stuck in something that can't be undone for 75 years. In fact, that's what the state now says they're gonna do with the new project.
ZIMMERMANWe didn't specifically focus on 395. We were talking about the entire project. They're not doing 395 not because of Arlington, but because it wasn't financially viable to do that. They hadn't -- remember, they didn't stop the project. Here's the other thing, the project wasn't stopped by the lawsuit, which, you know, again, is a misconception. The project was stopped before Arlington ever filed a suit because it was not financially viable. They now have a project they think is financially viable and they say they're going to go through the proper analysis. Had they said that at any time in the last year and a half, there would be no lawsuit.
SHERWOODFor those of us who hate Northern Virginia's traffic, is under the new plan state announced and what Arlington's position, is it gonna be that the HOT lanes, which will be designated lanes for buses and costly single-occupancy vehicles, is it -- are those HOT lanes going to stop at Edsall Road in Northern Virginia or now under this new plan, if everything works out, they'll continue up to the District through Arlington?
ZIMMERMANWell, the earlier plan would have had them running up to Ead Street...
SHERWOODWhich is right near the Pentagon. Pentagon.
ZIMMERMANNear the Pentagon. And one of our concerns, one of our many concerns was that the plan for how it, you know, would dump out there was problematic.
ZIMMERMANWe said, if you're gonna do this, really should take it over the 14th Street bridge. You need to complete the plan for that.
SHERWOODNo, we don't want that. Thank you. But the new plan is Edsall Road.
ZIMMERMANThe new plan ends just north of the beltway. I guess around Edsall Road. One way or another, it was gonna have to stop somewhere. And the project now mostly, I think, is aimed to connecting with the beltway.
SHERWOODAnd Edsall Road is in or out of Arlington?
ZIMMERMANJust in -- well, it's outside Arlington.
ZIMMERMANIt's inside the beltway, yeah.
ZIMMERMANDepending on where you are...
ZIMMERMAN...Alexandria or Fairfax.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that some lawmakers in Richmond are upset that the lawsuit included accusations that the project somehow would infringe on the civil rights of people to suit claiming that because highways would benefit predominantly white residents of the outer suburbs, the highway project had racist overtones. House Speaker William Howell and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Colgan complained, denounced the legal tactic as outrageous claims of conspiracy and racism. How do you respond?
ZIMMERMANWell, you know, we mostly didn't respond in public to, you know, it was a fairly public campaign because we were taking a legal action based on what, in fact, the National Environmental Policy Act says. And we said, look, here's what the law says. Here's what they're doing. They're not following the law. Court, please make them follow the law. All the specific, you know, parts of the lawsuit reflect provisions in federal law that were not being followed. They were characterized by a lot of people over the last year, you know, kind of outside the context of the court. And, you know, again, with whatever aims they had in mind, but they weren't aimed at the substance of the question. In fact, the court ruled on several occasions on procedural matters as to whether this was outrageous or -- I mean, you know, after all, if you think that somebody is suing you and they're making outrageous charges, you go to court and say to the judge, this is ridiculous, throw it out. Well, the state did that, and they lost. And, you know, the court, on several occasions, in every occasion when it came up, upheld the county's position.
ZIMMERMANAnd, you know, we weren't out issuing press releases every time it happened. We didn't get into that. We were trying to get a reasonable resolution. We offered to settle the thing from the very beginning, when the McDonnell administration came in. Even before he took office, you know, we went and said, hey look, we just want you to follow the rules here. And if you're willing to do that, you know, we don't have to do this in court. But, you know, they chose not to do that. They chose to go to court to try to get some (word?) and they lost.
NNAMDIOur guest is Chris Zimmerman. He is the chairman of the Arlington County Board. If you have questions or comments for Chris Zimmerman, call us at 800-433-8850 or send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHERWOODLet's look ahead. I know that by looking back briefly, in the '60s, citizens of the District of Columbia kept the city from simply being a pass through from Virginia to Maryland and vice versa. Arlington, small, aggressive county. If it were not careful, it would become just one big clover leaf of highways crisscrossing Northern Virginia. Given that you had -- you didn't like how the state was behaving before and now they're gonna pursue the environmental impacts, what is the vision for Arlington? Are you going to have more roads and you just want more say so and how they're gonna be? Are you gonna have more lanes of 395? What do Arlingtonians and the government see as what's the future for Arlington so you don't become just simply a paved-over county?
ZIMMERMANI think you have to keep in mind exactly what the substantive reasons were for Arlington to bring the case in the first place. Again, we didn’t say you should never do a HOT lane project. We didn't say don't do it on 395. We said, this is not like the beltway. You know, the beltway, they're adding a brand-new facility. They're building something that's not there today. In the case of I-95, 395, we have a facility that taxpayers paid for and built for the purpose of running buses, and then later added cars at HOV4 and then HOV3. As a result, we have a facility that moves more people per lane an hour than any other roadway in the area. It's five to 6,000 people or something like that, which is like triple what you get on regular roadways. And so, the issue for us was, you know, not is this -- you know, that we're against this thing that's gonna make life better for everybody otherwise.
ZIMMERMANWe're suggesting that it may not. That you'd better be very careful because, in fact, you could be making the traffic congestion problem worse because you're not really adding a new facility. You're just putting more cars in the existing facility. If there's a way to do that that will allow the existing traffic to continue to flow at the rate it has been and add this additional traffic, okay, let's see the plan. Let's show that it models out, and let's say if that doesn't turn out to be true, what do you about it when you've now turned it over to a private facility whose only incentive is to sell time to individual drivers who are paying the toll.
SHERWOODBut not just I-395. Just getting into, through and around Arlington, is the future many more roads or are you just trying to manage what you have?
ZIMMERMANI don't think anyone is proposing -- whether Arlington wanted to or not, again, nobody has the money to be proposing any new roads. Again, widening I-66 isn't about a proposed project, you know, that we oppose. In fact, there is no project.
SHERWOODAnd where would the traffic go if you widen it?
ZIMMERMANWell, that's part of the problem. It's still a funnel.
SHERWOOD'Cause it's kind of a dead end to the Lincoln Memorial.
ZIMMERMANThe bridge doesn't get wider. The -- exactly.
SHERWOODAnd I don't think we need that many cars.
ZIMMERMANThere's no way to go. Arlington has always said the trick to doing this is moving more people. You have to focus not on vehicles but on people. If you move more people in fewer vehicles, everything works better. And as we've seen particularly at times whenever, you know, either gas prices spiked or people go on vacation in August, a slight change of the margin makes a big difference in traffic. So it's not just whether you yourself can take transit. If there's a small increase in the number of people who take transit and a number of people who are bicyclists, a small increase in that can make life easier for everyone else who has to drive cars. So we need to find ways to use the existing infrastructure more efficiently. That means if we can provide, you know, more, for instance, express bus services and guarantee people that they get a ride that they can rely on, that they can make time, then you'll have, you know, every bus is 40 cars that aren't on the road. That has a huge impact.
ZIMMERMANThat exactly -- that's exactly what was at stake here in this. And what is at stake now, because as they moved forward with the new project, which is only slightly modified. It's only six miles that isn't on it. It's still a 30-mile or whatever it is project. That's the question people need to start asking themselves. If you right now -- and forget Arlington -- suppose you live in Dumfries or Woodbridge...
ZIMMERMAN...or Aquia or far -- much farther south than that, people are commuting from long distances. If you now get up in the morning and you get in a ride share, you're a slugger, okay -- it's an unlovely name, but, you know, the informal system of ride sharing that moves thousands of people -- if that's you today, if you depend on an OmniRide bus to get in, you know, from Prince William County, what is this gonna do to you in a few years when they've opened this new facility? That's the question you need to ask because it's possible that, you know, they're gonna make a contract that is valuable to the Australian company that's gonna run the system. They'll make money on it, but they don't care whether you get there, you know, as fast as you do today or whether your ride gets longer. And you should know what already is in place in the existing contract for the beltway, because in that facility, the contract says that the state has to pay a penalty to the company if too many people ride buses or ride share.
NNAMDIHow do you think the relationship between Arlington and the rest of the region is tied to traffic? Call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Anne in Alexandria, Va. Anne, your turn.
ANNEThank you very much. Mr. Zimmerman, I would never question your expertise in traffic, in transportation, et cetera. But I would like to know -- and I'm very happy Alexandria did not join in this lawsuit with you, which I believe was somewhat frivolous -- how much money you've cost the Arlington taxpayers for this lawsuit, which you would have lost had the state not come in and made changes. And, of course, now when we have the BRAC facility opening up in Alexandria, which will be creating humongous amounts of traffic on 395, your lawsuit wants to stop the HOT lanes because of the Shirlington exit and that traffic circle. So I think you owe it to the taxpayers of Arlington to say, we spent this much money with one of the top law firms in D.C. And how much money did you spend to stop this project?
ZIMMERMANLet me point out a couple of things. First, the Shirlington Circle was an issue for Arlington and Alexandria. In fact, the issues we raised are the same issues, for the most part, raised by Alexandria and Fairfax. The Shirlington Circle interchange that was proposed in the original project would have been very problematic for everyone. And what it -- what the project didn't include was anything for the Mark Center, so it wouldn't have dealt with BRAC. The new project at least provides connection to the Mark Center, which will deal with, at least to some degree, with that BRAC problem. So that's a good thing.
ZIMMERMANAs far as, you know, Arlington spending money, yeah, we spent money because, you know, we knew that if the -- if this thing went forward the way it was originally proposed, it would wind up costing millions of dollars. Just to give you an example, if -- the main concern I talked about, which is how it affects the flow of transit vehicles, if it slows that down, you not only have more people choosing not to ride transit and, you know, increased air pollution and congestion, all those other things, but if the buses take longer to cycle through, it costs more to move the same number of people. You basically need more vehicles. And if you slow it down just enough that you need three more buses -- just three more buses -- that's a million dollars. Plus, of course, you have to pay the operators for the three buses and the fuel for the three buses and the maintenance for the three buses every single year. So there is tremendous potential costs involved if this thing had gone through the way it did.
SHERWOODWhat is the expense you spent legally on this, to answer her specifically?
ZIMMERMANIt's around a million dollars, something like that.
SHERWOODAbout a million dollars.
ZIMMERMANI mean, it's been very public. It's -- you know, they've been reporting it regularly, you know. Absolutely not cheap. But there were tens of millions of dollars at stake and potential impacts not only in Arlington, but on the entire region. Again, this is still very much a live issue. The violation they had made in the process is now put aside, which is why we can put aside the lawsuit. But we now have to focus on the question, okay, they're gonna make a contract with a private company to turn over this taxpayer-paid facility. Make sure, when we're done with it, you know what the deal is.
SHERWOODDo you have any -- at Arlington, do you have any say-so in what the state does now going forward, if it's all gonna stop at Edsall Road?
ZIMMERMANWe have the same say-so that anyone ever had. I mean, again, it doesn't matter whether it's in Arlington or not. It's a state road. They can do what they want with it in the end. But they do have to follow, you know, certain procedures in the way they go about it. And that means everybody has an opportunity -- all stakeholders have an opportunity -- to get their questions answered and to raise issues that should be dealt with before the state makes an irreversible decision. That's the same situation going forward that hasn't been ended. You know, again, I point you to the communication that went, you know, last August or September from -- to the governor from Fairfax County, Alexandria and Arlington, which raised all these specific issues that Northern Virginia has been raising for about five or six years now, which, if they're not addressed, are going to adversely impact people's commutes from all over Northern Virginia.
NNAMDIBut this issue is affecting other issues. Threats have been flying in Richmond over the county's stance on this issue. Anti-Arlington measures have been proposed out of retaliation. Fairfax delegate Tim Hugo has tried to stall a county hotel tax. He's tried to block funding for county transportation. What do you make of how this is playing out in the general assembly?
ZIMMERMANYou know, as I said, Arlington saw federal law being violated and said, you know, we're blowing the whistle. I understand that some people might not like that. But, you know, to say that, you know, now that people are gonna use, you know, some kind of a political pressure in another way, instead of arguing the point itself and saying, you know, no, it wasn't being violated or, you know, addressing the substantive issues involved, you know, I think other people have to answer for that. Again, the issues we're raising are not just specific to Arlington. They affect everybody who travels in the I-95/395 corridor. And I think it's time to start focusing on those issues and not this extraneous matter.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt with some news that we just got. The man convicted of killing former federal intern Chandra Levy was sentenced to 60 years in prison this morning in D.C. superior court, putting an end to one of Washington's most sensational murder cases. I'm reading from the Washington story filed by Keith Alexander. Ingmar Guandique, 29, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, was convicted in November of two counts of first degree felony murder, one related to Levy's kidnapping, the other related to an attempted robbery. On Friday, Judge Gerald Fisher sentenced him to 60 years in prison.
NNAMDIWe return now to "The Politics Hour." We're talking with Chris Zimmerman, the chairman of the Arlington County Board, taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWe had another Virginian in here a couple of weeks ago, and I -- talking about Northern Virginia. And I just wonder if Northern Virginia has lost the battle for a rational road policy. You see what Tyson's Corner is trying to do to recreate itself. You see what Crystal City is trying to do to recreate itself. You see how Arlington has tried to protect itself. As somebody said in one of the postings, the failure of the rest of Northern Virginia to plan properly doesn't mean Arlington has to go along. What is -- I think in the larger view, given your experience with Metro and your public experience, is Northern Virginia beyond a tipping point? Can it ever really get it right when it comes to roads, or will it just be piecemealing around the edges and it's always gonna be a big traffic jam like Los Angeles?
ZIMMERMANWell, I think -- first of all, we wanna make sure, when we're talking about transportation, we don't just say roads because we really mean...
ZIMMERMAN...the totality of the transportation system, which is about moving people, and that's not just vehicles, you know, not just cars, but also, you know, all the other ways people can move, including walking being a large important component of making it all work. I believe people in Northern Virginia actually got a pretty good idea now, throughout the region, of what needs to be done. You know, there was a time when, you know, maybe people in Arlington and a few in Alexandria were trying to do certain things, and that was sort of quaint and, you know, okay, fine. That's what they're doing over there. But that's not really we're at now. People all over the region are trying to do the right things.
NNAMDITyson's, for example, trying to make walkable...
ZIMMERMANIt's -- that's one example. You know, I think that -- you know, my colleagues in Fairfax have been trying for some years to make the whole system work by getting the kind of development patterns that actually make transportation function. I think people recognize that it is the way we've done development that makes it unworkable, that you can't ever -- you know, if you had all the money in the world, which you don't have, you couldn't build enough roadway to solve this problem. You just become Los Angeles, and, you know, people don't want that. They are trying to do the right things. The problem is that Northern Virginia doesn't control its own fate.
ZIMMERMANAnd so, you know, what we need are resources that invest in the infrastructure now, that can correct this and can start channeling development in the right direction. We can change the rules so things work the right way, but that doesn't help if you don't have the investment in the infrastructure that's necessary to support it. And for 25 years now, we have kept, you know, transportation funds frozen, and they're effectively been, you know, losing value. So as Virginia has added a million people, we have less money for transportation than we had 25 years ago.
NNAMDITom just mentioned it and we're running out of time very quickly, but over the years, we've gotten used to talking to you in Metro mode. You don't serve on the Metro board anymore. But since we talked to you last, you've taken on this new post as chairman of the Arlington County Board. What, in one minute or less, are your priorities for the county in this job?
ZIMMERMANWell, we're doing a lot of looking forward in Arlington, particularly planning for parts of our county that, you know, will see a lot of change. Crystal City was mentioned. We're gonna try and ensure that it's a great place that is accessible in multiple ways.
ZIMMERMANWe're working on Columbia Pike and particularly focusing on preservation of affordable housing. We wanna be sure that, in the future, Arlington continues to be a place where people of all incomes and all backgrounds will have a place to live.
NNAMDIAnd that's about all the time we have, except for this briefly, from Steven in Stafford, Va. Steven, you've got 10 seconds.
STEVENYeah, I just moved here a year ago and I have to commute on 90. Why can't 95 be widened by 10 lanes in each direction?
ZIMMERMANWith enough money, you can do anything. But right now there's not enough money to maintain the roads they have now.
SHERWOODAnd where would it go? The District of Columbia would not like that.
NNAMDIAnd why can't they have bike lanes on Columbia Pike for Tom Sherwood's bike?
SHERWOODI think bike lanes are part of the transportation solution.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Chris Zimmerman is the chairman of the Arlington County Board. Chris, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you in this latest job.
NNAMDIAnd, Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODYes, good luck fundraising next week. I'll be off on vacation again.
NNAMDINo, you can't take a vacation.
NNAMDIWe need you to raise money. Well, will you make your contribution now?
SHERWOODI'll call in from Florida if I'm sober.
NNAMDIMake your contribution right now. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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