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.
Heads roll in the D.C. mayor’s office. A same-sex marriage proposal dies an unexpected death in Maryland. And former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine inches toward a political rebirth as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. 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
- David Albo Member, Virginia House of Delegates (R-Springfield)
- Mary Cheh Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 3); Chair, Committee on Government Operations and the Environment
Politics Hour Extra
When Kojo asked DC Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) what she would say to a constituent today who asked her, “Is this what you campaigned for?” in reference to her pre-election support for DC Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown, she replied, “I would say it absolutely is not.” Cheh asked Kojo and Tom Sherwood what questions they would like answered during a March 20 hearing which will examine, among other issues, the Gray administration’s hiring procedures:
Virginia Delegate David Albo (R-Springfield) wants Governor Bob McDonnell to veto a bill mandating thirty minutes of daily physical education for schools in Virginia. He notes that the cost for Fairfax County alone would be $18 million, and that schools already include physical education classes in the curriculum:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood broke the story this week that the D.C. mayor's chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, was out. See, the mayor was about to make the announcement, Sherwood preempted the mayor by announcing first. See, Tom's sources are literally inside the mayor's head. The mayor thinks it. Tom reports it. Then, the mayor says it. That's why Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. More about that later. How do you do that, Tom?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, you know, I just work hard, Kojo, unlike radio hosts who sit and talk all day. I go out, and I meet people. I talk to them on the phones. My weekends are ruined by making phone calls. You know, I talk -- you have to make the -- the number of e-mails and phone calls that you make as a reporter are astonishing if you start adding them up. And you just have to get little drips of them, drabs of information, and there you have it.
NNAMDIWell, in addition to which, if you've been around long enough, you actually get inside the head of elected officials.
SHERWOODWell, if I were inside Gray's head, I'd give him a lot better advice about what to be doing.
NNAMDINo, you're just there as a listener, nothing else. We have a new development in the story, of course, and that is a congressional committee has launched an official probe into the allegations by former mayoral candidate, disgruntled fired employee Sulaimon Brown, and that would be Congressman Darrell Issa, who is the head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. What's this all about?
SHERWOODThat -- and that...
NNAMDIIt's an entirely local affair. Why would Congressman Issa want to get involved?
SHERWOODWell, the committee which Tom Davis of Virginia used to head, is in fact the House committee that oversees the District of Columbia. You know, the Constitution says the Congress shall have full legislative authority over the District, and this is where it resides in the House. And I have to say if you believe the reports and what the -- Issa's own staff said, is, you know, because that they're aware of the media reports about the high salaries and the SUVs and the Sulaimon Brown stuff, and so they started asking some questions and were pretty much stiffed-armed by the mayor's administration and the people around him. So they started saying they would just make it a formal inquiry.
NNAMDICongresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the D.C. delegate, is outraged. Of course, there was the outrageous story in the small suburb of Bell, California, where elected officials were making as much as about $800,000 a year. People will say that's your home state, Congressman Issa. You didn't investigate that. Why are you coming here to investigate what's happening in the District?
SHERWOODWell, as a citizen of the city, I think that the congressional committee ought to go slow. It ought to be aware, but it ought not to take a lead role, at least not yet, unless the city agencies in charge fail. We've got the U.S. attorney, which is a federal agency, the FBI looking into the Sulaimon Brown allegations. We have the Office of Campaign Finance and Ethics looking into the allegations, and, of course, we have the media looking into the allegations.
SHERWOODSo I think it's a homegrown thing that I think, the city would be able to take care of, but I don't disparage Congressman Issa interest -- his staff's interest in this, and so I would ask where is Mayor Gray's -- I don't -- can't remember now. Who is Mayor Gray's liaison to Capitol Hill? He appointed her, I think, sometime back, and I don't know if she's up there working, you know, doing the lobbying that she needs or he needs to do to make certain that the committee is informed but not taking action.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we will be joined by D.C. City Councilmember Mary Cheh, who represents Ward 3 and who has been looking into these matters. Her appearance here was widely advertised on another show, but it does nothing for us since nobody actually listens to that show but...
SHERWOODAnd worse, on that other show, the principal actor on that program asked Miss Cheh about things which she's really not that well versed, about the cars, the SUVs. I mean, she's only marginally interested in that. She's been looking at salaries and the structure of the mayor's office and what it's doing, which is much more important.
NNAMDIAnd those are the things we'll ask her about. However, before we get to that, special election update in the District of Columbia, a couple of candidates have been knocked off of the ballot for the at-large special election that takes place on April 26, but there are still nine candidates there. In particular, one member, one candidate, who is the interim city councilmember, Sekou Biddle, tried to get three candidates knocked off the ballot. He wasn't completely successful, but he did get Jacque Patterson knocked off.
SHERWOODYou know, Jacque Patterson didn't get enough signatures to get the Democratic Party nomination to be temporarily in the seat that Sekou has. And for some reason having not learned from that, Jacque did not get the signatures to be on the ballot. So I think two times, they're trying to get on the ballot as a candidate. The first time you ought to learn, you have to have the signatures. You know, this is the standard way it works in the city. You're allowed to challenge the petitions of other candidates, and if they don't have enough legal signatures, they're not allowed to be on the ballot. It's perfectly fair game.
NNAMDISekou Biddle, at one point, challenged his own signature among some of the signatures that others have collected but...
SHERWOODWell, you throw a lot of stuff against the wall and see what sticks.
NNAMDIYou throw a lot of stuff against the wall and see what sticks, and Jacque Patterson did not stick. But, as we said earlier, there are still nine candidates in that at-large race coming up on April 26. Even though no matter how many times we say it, there's probably not gonna be much of a turnout for that race.
SHERWOODVery few. I mean, if you just get your extended family members to vote, you might win, but the fact is, you know, Sekou Biddle is the appointed person by the state Democratic Party currently in the seat. The good news is he's the -- he's in the seat. He can use that as an incumbent to raise money and to actually take actions right now. The bad news is he's very closely tied to Kwame Brown, fully loaded Kwame Brown, and Mayor Gray, at a time, where they're not very popular. So he's having to fend off allegations that he's the establishment candidate, and the other candidates are making that pretty hard charging statement.
NNAMDIMore about the District later. Gay marriage has been shelved in the state of Maryland. In the House of Delegates, the statehouse speaker said the issue would not see the floor again this year. They have sent it back to committee. It was passed in the Senate last month by a vote of 25 to 21, and the informed speculation was that it was going to make it through the House of Delegates. But, apparently, a few delegates had a change of mind, and so it's not gonna happen, and it's not gonna see the floor again before next year.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I think some of the advocates for marriage equality underestimated the intensity, the passion of the -- some of the churches, the Catholic Church in particular, some of the large African-American churches in Prince George's County, some of the general divisiveness of this issue in the state of Maryland. And so I think they were a bit surprised. Some of the delegates got a little nervous when they were going to be challenged.
SHERWOODYou know, this comes at a time when the new Washington Post poll, just out today, says for the first time ever in the nation, 53 percent of the respondents say they now favor or would approve of same-sex marriage. And I forgot what the number is against it. But that's the first time there's ever been a majority. Any one poll doesn't make a, you know, fact, but it does show a change in attitudes. But Maryland is...
NNAMDIAre you suggesting that elected officials simply stick their finger out...
SHERWOODOh, no. I wouldn't.
NNAMDI...in the wind and decide what to do on that basis, because we know better than that.
SHERWOODBecause Lord knows what the polls would say about journalists. We'd be out of jobs. So, no, I just think if there is a -- I think there is a continuing shift towards the acceptance of this issue, but it shows even in a heavily Democratic state like Maryland, you have to work pretty hard to get it passed.
NNAMDIFrom Maryland onto Virginia. In the -- in Washington, House Republicans on Capitol Hill are getting a lot of attention for their mission to cut spending, but in the Virginia House of Delegates, they're taking a pretty big ax to the Virginia budget. Joining us in studio to discuss that is Dave Albo. He's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican from Fairfax County. Delegate Albo, good to see you again.
MR. DAVID ALBOHey. Thanks for having me again.
NNAMDIGlad you could join us. The big ax that you were taking to the Virginia budget has resulted in a surplus now of maybe $600 million. So why do you keep cutting?
ALBOWell, actually, we did the heavy lifting last year. We cut $1.75 billion out of the budget, and it was -- I've been doing this 18 years. It was probably my most unfun year. But that set us up pretty well because this year we came in, the economy or the recession had kind of tapered out. In other words, we weren't in a freefall anymore, and when we showed up in January, we had $400 million more money than we expected. So this year wasn't the bloodbath that it was last year.
SHERWOODThat's an argument to make the cuts quickly when you have to. I mean, in the District, for example, Mayor Gray is gonna put out his first budget on April 1st. He's got a three or $400 million deficit. He's being encouraged make the cuts now because you'll never make that time up if you don't do it first.
ALBOWell, that's one thing we had said in the Republican Caucus was, you know, we've been looking to reform government for years to redirect the way Virginia delivers government services to people, and it's really tough to do it when there's money. But when there's no money, you can actually get in there and really do what you want to do. So there's always a silver lining in a recession, and we've actually, I think, kind of redirected the way government operates pretty dramatically.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Delegate Dave Albo, call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Delegate Albo, you write that investments in infrastructure, transportation projects are an appropriate use for leftover funds. Wasn't a lot of the president's stimulus package about similar investment?
ALBOActually, I was very disappointed in the president's stimulus package. It was only 14 percent of the money that we -- Virginia got. Only 14 percent was infrastructure. The rest was ongoing spending, and that's the absolute paramount thing we worked on this year. We weren't gonna spend any of the surplus on expanding government. It had to be one-time things, and this really great thing when you can build a road because you don't have to keep on feeding the monster next year.
SHERWOODThe (cough) where did -- when you cut 1.75 billion, almost $2 billion, did people notice it? What did you cut? Just tick tock two or three things.
ALBOWell, over the years when the, you know, the budgets were tight, we kind of went into, you know, the ancillary things, outside education and Medicaid. But education is 50 percent of our budget. Medicaid is 22 percent, and there's no way to cut 1.75 billion out of the budget without hitting education and Medicaid, and that's what we did. I mean, you have to look -- in a time like this, you have to look at your constituents in the face and say there's just no money. And I'm sorry, but it's got to be cut.
SHERWOODDo the Democrats and Republicans get credit for this? Did you work across the aisle, or was this something that Republicans drove and the Democrats timidly followed? Will you give some credit to the Democrat?
ALBOWell, actually, this year is the first year that I've ever seen 18 years where 100 percent of the House and 100 percent of the Senate voted on the final budget. So, in the end, we all got along and passed the budget. Everybody agreed. It was acrimonious getting there, though.
SHERWOODCan -- what -- you know, in the metropolitan area, of course, Metro is a big funding -- it's a big deal. There were some irritation that Governor McDonnell was slow in the uptake of urging Congress to not cut 150 million out of its federal budget. Where are you on that?
ALBOWell, that's interesting, though. We're kind of split on that. There's a letter that was circulating asking Congress to put the money back in. I didn't sign it, and the reason I didn't sign it was because I'm not gonna be a hypocrite and tell people they have to live within their means, and when something comes in my district to cut, I say no. So I kind of said let Congress kind of do what they got to do.
SHERWOODEven though that this was a deal between Maryland and Virginia and D.C. that each state would -- each jurisdiction would put up 50 million a year, 450 million, and Congress would match 150. It was a set-in-place deal.
ALBOWell, I don't intend to giving Congress the match if they're not gonna put up their share. I mean -- so if...
SHERWOODSo if they were not -- if that were just to happen, if Congress bails on this, 150 million, then Virginia, then Maryland and D.C. could bail its 150 million.
ALBOWell, a deal is a deal. That's what I would (unintelligible).
SHERWOODThen we could you shut down Metro.
ALBOWell, I don't think that would shut down Metro, but it wouldn't help.
NNAMDIWell, back to the budget cuts again. There are still a lot of Virginians who are hurting in this economy. What concerns do you have about cutting the state's safety net so thin, that these people lose a lifeline that they really need right now, particularly when it comes to health care. You've been quoted as saying, I am sympathetic to Medicaid recipients, but I think we can all agree that 10 percent per year growth above and beyond population and inflation is mathematically impossible to sustain. So how, in that situation, do you sympathize with those people? How do you express that?
ALBOKojo, I tell you, I had a really sad meeting. I had a lady come to my office who's a constituent who had a son who had severe developmental problems, and one of the proposals was to cut respite care, which is having somebody come to the house and help take care of the kid. I mean, the mother and the father had to sleep, and he needs 24 hour care.
SHERWOODRight. It's care for the caregivers.
ALBOYeah. I mean, it's not, you know -- and she was crying in my office, telling me that she needs these hours. And, you know, I showed her my graph, showing that Medicaid has gone up from three million to seven -- excuse me, three billion to seven billion in 10 years, and population inflation has only gone up to four billion. It's mathematically impossible. The states in this country cannot survive with Medicaid increasing 100 percent in 10 years. And she said, I can't survive without respite care. And it was a really interesting meeting because I don't think either of us had an answer, you know?
SHERWOODHow did that meeting end? Did she just...
ALBOIt ended with her being, you know, crying and me being very upset because I couldn't give her the answer she wanted. But the problem in this country is that people keep on just saying, well, I don't have an answer, so I'll borrow some money from the Chinese, and we'll keep on expanding government. And we're at a point right now that we just cannot continue to fund Medicaid the way it is. And so we're trying to fund it smarter.
NNAMDIWell, there are some people who think they may have a long-term answer. Allow me to make a relationship here. You've written a letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell, urging him to veto a bill mandating that elementary schools and middle schools devote time to physical education. You say it's an unfunded mandate. Obviously, you feel that it's going to cost the state a significant amount of money, but people say, in the long run, those Medicaid costs would go down if those young people got more physical education at an early stage in life so that you're cutting off your nose to spite your face.
ALBOWell, if I actually thought that this program was gonna make any kids lose weight, I'd be for it. You know, I came back from Richmond last year at 225. I'm six-two. So it's like if I was in the Washington Redskins, that would be good statistic, you know? But it's not, so I kind of got into dieting. And I found out that you're got to run 30 minutes to burn a bag of French fries. And, you know, the solution to obesity for kids is for the parents to keep doughnuts and French fries out of their kids' hands. This thing will not make anybody lose weight. It's a laudable goal. But at 18 million a year for Fairfax County, I'm just not for it.
NNAMDIWell, let me pursue that argument because physical education is not just about losing weight. It's about helping the function of your heart. It's about helping the function of other parts of your body. It's, overall, a health program. And people say one of the reasons that we have such high health costs right now is because we have such unhealthy habits. What's wrong with trying to instill in young people, at an early age, while they're in school, healthy habits?
ALBOThere's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and we already do it. The bill says you have to do it for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. And, you know, I bet you the Indians and the Chinese and the Japanese don't have 150 minutes of physical education in their school. They're making them do multiplication tables. And school is for learning and being competitive in the world. And the parents can help their kids join a Springfield youth club soccer that I was in and get their exercise after school.
NNAMDIOur guest is Dave Albo. He's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican from Fairfax County. You can call us at 800-433-8850 with your questions or comments.
SHERWOODIt's been a long time since I was in school so -- but aren't there still P.E., physical education classes, where you could get the kind of exercise people are talking about? Is this where -- are there classes -- those classes have been cut out of the curriculum, and that's why we're mandating time for exercise?
ALBONo, this bill is in addition to what we're already doing. So you already have your P.E. in eighth grade, in high school, and you already have your recess. This bill says you can't use recess in elementary school to count towards physical education, and it says you have to give 30 minutes a day, five days a week. I mean, it's just too much.
SHERWOODIt sounds bureaucratic.
ALBOWell, what Tom Rust testified to was that, if this bill passes, there will only be 22 minutes per day in elementary school of non-mandated programs.
SHERWOODI still have horrors of trying to climb that rope (laugh) and while the P.E. teacher below me with a paddle in case you dropped too early. I don't want that kind of P.E.
NNAMDII still have horrors of watching you trying to exercise in the health club, (laugh) but that's another story.
SHERWOODI don't belong to that expensive club. You do.
NNAMDIDave Albo, your attorney general, your Fairfax neighbor Ken Cuccinelli, is carrying the torch in the legal fight against the federal health care law. What do you make of the challenge that he's putting up?
ALBOWell, he's putting up a challenge that he pretty much had to because we passed a law last year that said that nobody can be compelled to buy health insurance. So Mr. Cuccinelli is not really on some kind of personal rampage. All he's doing is his job, which is enforcing Virginia law. I actually happen to agree with everything in that lawsuit that he says. I just do not think that the federal government can regulate inactivity, and there's got to be an end to what government can do. If they can punish you for not doing something, then they can do anything.
NNAMDIWell, they punish us for driving a car without having insurance, don't they?
NNAMDIWell, why wouldn't you object to that?
ALBOWell, that's because driving on the roads is a contract between the people of Virginia and the driver. The people of Virginia will pay for the road. They'll pay for the stoplights, and they'll pay for everything else, but you have to have insurance. This health insurance issue is just in order to live, you have to have insurance. I mean -- I just don't think it's appropriate.
SHERWOODIt's like the order of -- a federal government order to have seatbelts. It was based on getting federal fund for highways. So that was the encouragement.
NNAMDIBack to the letter you wrote to Gov. McDonnell urging him to veto that bill about physical education, any other bills that you're hoping the governor rejects?
ALBOI can't really think of any. We -- off the top of my head, we have a Republican majority -- a pretty significant Republican majority in the House, so anything that's objectionable usually gets killed at that point.
NNAMDIHere is Leslie in Great Falls, Va. Leslie, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
LESLIEHi. I just had a comment, and it really had to do with your argument with regard to physical education in the classroom. From your argument, it makes me feel as though your understanding of learning to read or write or mathematics is only based on those skills that students get in the classroom. It's about taking those skills they get in the classroom and translating them or generalizing them to real-life scenarios. So if you believe that with math and science, I am somewhat confused as to why you don't view physical education as learning those basic needs to take care of yourself and your health for a healthy lifelong living. And I'll take the comments off the air.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Leslie. Here's delegate Albo.
ALBOWell, I mean, she's got a good point. And if we had no physical education in school, I totally agree with her. Again, this is a mandate to add on to what we're currently doing, and let me give you a -- you know, I'm a citizen legislator, which means I'm a citizen and a legislator. And I've got a five year old, and he's going to kindergarten next year. We only have half-day kindergarten in Fairfax County. And so my kid is not getting the same quality education other kids are because he only gets half-day kindergarten. I'd rather have full day-kindergarten than 150 minutes of physical education in school.
SHERWOODMove in to the District, then you have it.
NNAMDIA lot of people look at the school system in Fairfax as one of the jewels of the county. You and Delegate Tim Hugo have publicly supported a plan that would allow county supervisors to dissolve elected school boards. Why do you think this would be a good idea for Fairfax?
ALBOWell, I just don't think it's worked the way we thought. If I had one vote to take back in the 18 years it would be elected school boards. The school board reps do a really, really good job in discipline, in the operations of the schools. And it's the toughest job in politics because every decision they have deals with a person's most important thing, their kid.
ALBOI mean, I would never do the job. The problem is that the spending authority and the taxing authority are separate. The school board spends, and the county taxes. And you should never have a form of government where the people who spend aren't the same people who have to look their constituents in the eye and take the money from them. And so you have this nightmare every year where the school board asks for a certain amount of money. The county says no. School board says you don't like children. You're cutting education. The county says you guys waste money. And it just doesn't work.
NNAMDITim Hugo told The Washington Post that the county's zero tolerance discipline policies were part of why he's behind this. You mentioned that they do a good job on discipline. So where does that discipline -- zero tolerance discipline policy fit in to your list of concerns?
ALBOYou know, Tim and I have this agreement on dissolving the school board. We have different reasons to do it. I think the school board just does a great job on those kind of things, and I would disagree with Tim on that.
SHERWOODWhat about the -- the position that an elected school board is closer to the people and that it's more democratic -- with lower case D -- for people to have a say in who is making school board policy? Maybe they should be given revenue authority.
ALBOWell, you're -- what you just said is exactly, 18 or 16 years ago, why I voted for the bill. And the -- and practically speaking, I just don't think it works. One thing you could do is instead of eliminating school boards, you could give them taxing authority. I'm not for that. But what I would consider doing is maybe transferring half of real estate taxes to the school boards. In other words, they get to control half of real estate tax, and that's all they get. But they won't want that, because then they can't ask for more. So I haven't found a solution. I wanna go back the way we used to do it.
NNAMDIHere now is Nancy in Northern Virginia. Nancy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NANCYHi. I wanted to comment about the bill requiring 30 minutes of P.E.
NANCYAnd just ask you -- you know, there are a lot studies that say that children who get a regular period of exercise come back to their studies with more concentration, are able to study better. And you're talking about, you know, the people in China and India doing multiplication tables, and our kids might be doing P.E. at that time. But our kids might actually do better if they have this period of exercise.
NNAMDIHere's Dave Albo.
ALBOWell, again, it's not like they're not getting exercise now. I mean, they have recess. They have P.E. I don't know what it is. It was two days a week when I was at Rolling Valley Elementary School. So, I mean, the comments she makes are absolutely true. But again, in a perfect world, we would have 30 minutes a day of P.E. But 30 minutes a day of P.E. is gonna costs Fairfax County $18 million. And I have a West Springfield High School that's not renovated. Like I said before, I don't have all-day K. There's a lot of other things that I rather spend $18 million dollars on.
SHERWOODAnd the cost of having that 30 minutes -- is the hiring the people to do that or it could -- it's not -- then it would be assigned to teachers to...
ALBOIt's correct. Their estimates said they would need to hire extra teachers to handle the physical education.
NNAMDIHere is Nathan in Vienna, Va. Nathan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NATHANHi. Even though I really don't agree with the congressman's pseudo slippery slope argument, he seems to be implying with government-controlled health care -- I'm in George Mason University, and I'm a freshman. And after just coming from the -- this nation's public school system, I can pretty much definitively say and agree with the senator that 30 minutes a day, even if it was every day of a school week, I don't believe it would do a whole lot to instill the idea of a healthy lifestyle in our nation's children.
NATHANAnd I would agree with him on the main onus of this movement has to be on the parents. You know, developmentally, parenting is what matters the most. And I think that also factor the great deal more than a teacher's opinion in a school room. Thank you.
NNAMDINathan, while you make a thoughtful argument, you should know that at George Mason University, you should be taught that there's a distinction between a congressman, a senator and a state legislator. Del. Albo happens to be a state legislator. Care to respond, Del. Albo?
ALBONo, I mean, I think he makes a good point. Again, if the real problem is childhood obesity, 30 minutes a day of P.E. is not gonna solve the problem.
SHERWOODAnd the parents could use 30 minutes a day too. (laugh)
NNAMDINathan, thank you very much for your call. Virginia is gonna be diving in first when it comes to this round of redistricting. You'll be holding a special section -- session next month on drawing new lines. What do you think your party's strategy should be and what result do you think will be the most fair result for Virginians?
ALBOWell, I mean, what we're mostly concerned about is the constitution in the Voting Rights Act. We're one of the few states still under the Voting Rights Act. And so any map that we draw has to, you know, reflect all the goals of Voting Rights Act, which is one person, one vote, maintaining some minority representation. And I'm not the guy drawing the map, but the guys who are drawing the map tell me it's like a Rubik's cube. I mean, you do one area, and then it affects all the other ones. And so we've had a number of statewide public hearings over the fall. We have two coming up. And anybody who wants to tell us what they think or what they like to see is invited to come down to Richmond and can do so.
NNAMDII don't know about what people think, but the betting people say that when it's all over, Rep. Gerry -- Gerald Connolly's 11th District, Rep. Frank Wolf's 10th District, will be safer than it was before, and that Rep. Rob Wittman, Republican's first, is going to move up into the Washington suburbs.
ALBOWe haven't even started working at the congressional level yet.
NNAMDIAnd they're betting already.
ALBOYeah. Well, we're all still fighting amongst ourselves in the state line. So...
SHERWOODWell, every -- in the system, whoever controls a legislator basically controls the redistricting. And it's natural that you can make an honest judgment of changing the boundary here or there, and it supports your Republican Party or your Democratic Party if you're in charge. That's the way it's done. It's called democracy.
NNAMDIAnd when he used to be covering the state house in Richmond, he would have been able to predict exactly what's gonna happen, because as we heard earlier, he gets into the heads of the elected officials.
SHERWOODWell, you know, every place, even here in the little District of Columbia, which is the most un-American place in the world without voting rights, is redistricting its council members and its ANC members.
NNAMDIDave Albo, thank you so much for joining us.
ALBOHey, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
NNAMDIDave Albo is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican from Fairfax County. This is "The Politics Hour" starring Tom Sherwood. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, why -- yes, you have an...
SHERWOODBefore he goes, can I ask him one quick question?
NNAMDII mean, who the heck runs this show anyway?
SHERWOODWe didn't ask about the Senate race. Tim Kaine getting in to run against George Allen -- we'd be remiss...
NNAMDIThere you go.
SHERWOODWouldn't that be a great campaign?
ALBOI think it'd be a fantastic campaign, because they're both very, very great guys. I mean, you'd like to hang out with them. They're really fun and interesting people. And I think it would be, actually, a race run on issues rather than caustic comments.
NNAMDIWell, why don't you hang out with Tim Kaine and tell him to hurry up and make up his mind?
ALBOI'm sure he's listening to David Albo.
SHERWOODAll right. Thank you very much.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, why is it that what is going on in Miami-Dade County relevant in your view to what's going on in the District of Columbia?
SHERWOODBecause the mayor there -- the mayor of Miami-Dade County has been recalled by the voters, 88 percent of the vote if I remember the correct total.
SHERWOODAnd it turns out that he was, like, giving his staff high salaries. He was driving around in one of the most expensive BMWs you could have. He was cutting services, and he was giving city employees raises. Now, someone says that sound an awful lot -- except for the BMW part, it sounds a lot like the District government right now with Kwame Brown's SUV and the mayor's high salaries and sons and daughters of officials being hired. I think it shows that, you know, in the District, you cannot have a recall election in the first year, and I believe, the last year of any particular term.
SHERWOODBut, you know, if this is -- if the mayor doesn't get this under control, I think he might -- see, I don't think any recall is gonna work. But I do think that's -- he ought to see it as a warning flag. He should visit Miami maybe and talk to that deposed mayor.
NNAMDIBecause one remembers that that deposed mayor, Mayor Carlos Alvarez of Miami, was voted into office in order to clean up county government. And so...
NNAMDI...he could have been considered a reform mayor. There were a lot of people who are hoping that Vincent (word?) -- I mean, Vincent Gray would also be a reform mayor in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWell, you know, he ran the campaign against the -- some of the missteps of the Fenty administration and allegations of favoring the mayor's friends and said that he would bring integrity and honesty and transparency and collaboration and all these other words. And he just, kind of, stumbled out of the starting gate.
NNAMDIWe mentioned earlier that you reported on the story that the mayor's former chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, was asked to resign. What we did not mention was the timing of her resignation, because she was scheduled to testify Wednesday morning before the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment to explain how the mayor's hiring decisions were made.
SHERWOODWell, she was there to talk about the way the mayor's office was operating. That was gonna be a principle matter, because it is in the public eye. And she sat there through the first testimony about city administrator Allen Lew, and then there was a break. And she was gonna come back, but she didn't come back. And the mayor, instead, held a press conference and announced that she had resigned just as a reporter on certain TV station on Monday had said would happen so...
NNAMDIWell, did you think the timing of it had anything at all to do with her upcoming testimony?
SHERWOODWell, you know, if you're going to replace a chief of staff, there's no reason to throw her into a potentially hostile environment on -- of a committee, if moments later or hours later or a day later, she's gonna be out of a job. So it probably saved her.
NNAMDIThat potentially hostile environment was created by our next guest who will probably object to your characterization of it. Mary Cheh is a member of the D.C. council. She's a Democrat from Ward 3, and she chairs the council's Committee on Government Operations and the Environment before, which Gerri Mason Hall was supposed to testify. Mary Cheh, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. MARY CHEHAnd thank you for having me.
SHERWOODThis is not a hostile environment.
CHEHNo, not all. And...
NNAMDINot yet anyway.
CHEHAnd actually I think it's probably good if we carry on the idea about the hostile environment, because then maybe I'll get cooperation and, you know...
CHEH...better answers. I don't know.
NNAMDIWell, let's start with the hostile environment here. Before we get into the details of what's been going down in the Wilson Building, let's take a look at the big picture. You endorsed Vincent Gray. You endorsed Kwame Brown. You campaigned for them. You backed them up. And needless to say, the scandals that have hounded them for the first few months in office have made for a rough start. If a constituent of yours approached you today and ask, is this what you campaigned for? What would you tell that person?
CHEHI would say absolutely is not. And when I endorsed the mayor, I explained why. I didn't know him four years ago when I had my first term. And I didn't know Mr. Fenty either. But working to -- with both them over the four years, over time, it became clear to me my judgment about whom to vote for was that, at that time four years later, that it was Mr. Gray.
NNAMDIAnd Mr. Brown?
CHEHThe same was true of Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown was on the council, and the question was who was going to become chair, and there were a couple of other names being floated about. And having worked with Kwame Brown, I felt that he was someone who could bring the council together and could bring consensus, and as a result of that, I supported him.
SHERWOODIs he doing that? Apart from his fully loaded SUVs, is Kwame Brown managing the council as well as people thought Vincent Gray did, or is he distracted by all this?
CHEHWell, you know, there must be some level of distraction, but I think he's, you know, getting his traction. And I think that, you know, he's doing a good job.
SHERWOODA couple of people have said to me -- said that when the first stories and when the post about his salaries, which was your purview of your committee and the SUV stories broke, that the council and the mayor himself should have been more proactive in stepping up faster. And that had you done so, we wouldn't have the inspector of the Congressman Issa investigation now. We would -- the city itself would be taking care of its problems. Do you think the council stepped up fast enough to get onto these issues?
CHEHWell, I think we have. I mean, you have to schedule hearings and you have to go forward, which is what we've done, and I think with fairly quick dispatch.
SHERWOODI was told Mayor Gray did not know that six or seven of his top appointees had their children hired in the city government. Do you know whether or not the mayor knew about it?
CHEHI had asked the mayor that at one point. And first of all, I don't know -- you have six or seven. I had had four children of folks and not necessarily even people who work for the government, people who were perhaps in the transition, something like that. But he had told me he knew of one.
NNAMDIYour committee held a hearing this week looking into those aforementioned hiring decisions made so far by the Gray administration. We mentioned earlier, on the same day, his chief of staff who was drawing a salary of $200,000 was essentially fired. What answers are you going to be looking for from here on out, and what were some of the questions you intended to put to Gerri Mason Hall if she were to have testified?
CHEHWell, let me also point out that those -- the hearing was what we call an oversight hearing. All of the agencies -- I have 18 agencies under my committee, and you have hearings with them each year to see how they've done and what the plans are for the future to get ready for the budget, which is what really is the thing we ought to be talking about. And I took the -- I took advantage of the fact that some of the people that were coming before me, the interim director of human resources or personnel, the next day and that day, the city administrator and also Ms. Hall, who was coming to represent the executive office of the mayor. And so I wanted to take that opportunity.
CHEHThere will be a hearing on this general matter, and there will be some answers that will probably be redundant from some of the people I did get a chance to talk to on March 28. I will invite Ms. Hall to come to that.
SHERWOODThat's the same day I think as -- sorry, I got allergies. I apologize. That's the same day as the...
CHEHNot to me, though.
SHERWOODWell, I am allergic to bad government. (laugh)
SHERWOODThe mayor has a State of the District speech that day, I believe, March 28.
CHEHI know. You know, someone pointed that out to me after we had selected the date, but then I was further told that that state of the speech is in the evening in...
SHERWOODSix o'clock in the convention center.
CHEHRight. So this hearing will be in the morning.
SHERWOODBut I think the overall image, I mean, the general complaint that people -- if I will go to Rodman's (sp?) , which is in Ward 3 or other places around town, my Safeway in southwest, people come up to and they say they wanted -- they are afraid that Vince Gray is a return of Marion Barry. That we're back to the corruption days and the wasting of money days. And it seems to me he's really lost a lot of ground. Whatever is true about the Sulaimon Brown allegations, whatever is true about the salary, it just seems to me the city itself is taking a terrible hit.
CHEHYou know, I -- that was being said during the campaign, and I would respond to people that that is not the case. But you're right, you know, just right out of the gate, you have these allegations and you have these issues. It certainly has demoralized people. I know it's demoralized me. And in fact, you know, if I had to describe my -- I'm just very sad about all this.
SHERWOODAnd why is it the mayor, who is very plodding in some respects, why, I mean, why is he in the temple with a baseball bat kicking people out left and right and doing thing to show that he's in charge instead -- today, for example, he's going to a retreat at the convention -- aforementioned convention center to meet again. He seems to have -- he's still like the council chairman that meetings are not action. But he seems to have constant meetings. Where is the action?
CHEHWell, you know, he's been very busy by all accounts of thoroughly going over the budget, which is the most important document in the District which, you know, is, again, the thing that ought to be occupying us. And I think that he works extraordinarily hard, and I think that his time has probably been, if I were to guess, most taken up by budget issues.
SHERWOODIn office two months, and...
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us. We are talking with city Councilmember Mary Cheh. She's a Democrat from Ward 3. She chairs the council's Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. The number is 800-433-8850. Again, 800-433-8850. We got a tweet from somebody named Samuel Mole who says, "Anyone who want to wager how many minutes, seconds today before the Politics Hour is -- before the -- on the Politics Hour the words control board are uttered?" Well, there -- I've said them. There is a fear here that with all of these investigations with now the investigation being launched by the Congressman Darrell Issa that at some point or the other, somebody, somewhere is gonna talk about a control board before this mayoralty has even gotten off the ground.
CHEHThat is so inappropriate. I mean, really the -- one of the things the District has shown is that it is able to handle its finances. It is able, despite the structural constraints that were put under that almost make it, you know, impossible for us because we can't tax non-resident income among other things, this District has shown repeatedly that it's able to handle its finance and run its affairs. These allegations that are out there, of course we should pursue them. But this is in no way a basis for thinking about a control board. And it's only those folks, you know, who apparently might get a lot of air time if that's what they say.
SHERWOODWell, here's the deal. I talked to Nat Gandhi, the chief financial officer of city, he said there's not gonna be a control board brought back based on the law that put it in place in the first time, because financially, we are in better shape. And he says that, I will allow nothing to happen that will make us be financially subject to a control board.
NNAMDIWhy do you always have to bring reporting into our speculation?
SHERWOODWell, that's facts.
NNAMDIWho needs them?
SHERWOODBut here is the problem. Mr. Issa, the Republicans on the House side don't have to bring back the control board on the basis of the law as it now stands. It simply could be an amendment to a bill that has anything to do with the District that simply says that given the problems of the -- whatever happens with the mayor's office and the misspending their money on SUVs and whatever else they want to name, that the control board is herby reappointed for a period of X days to see what's wrong. And then no one in the Senate is gonna block it and Obama won't either.
CHEHWell, that's wholly inappropriate. It's, in fact, absurd. If this is the predicate for the members of Congress to take away what little control we have over our own lives, I think that...
SHERWOODIt may be awful. And as a person, as a citizen of this city, I would...
CHEHNo, no. It's inappropriate...
SHERWOODI would agree with you as a citizen but ...
CHEHAnd it's inappropriate. You know, it's so disproportionate. It looks like what it would be, it would be just a power grab, an attention grab...
SHERWOODMaybe. But that's, see, that's the danger...
CHEHWell, but that's the legal system that we're under...
CHEH...that is so offensive that they, they are by the constitution, the legislature for the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODAnd actually that's -- I think that's what I think the mayor and some of council members are missing is that if there's not more aggressive pursuit of these problems, instead of meeting about them and having extended hearing, you could have the Republican House act much quicker even if it's indefensible in your view.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to the Congressman Darrell Issa's investigation. His --Republicans in the House led by Issa are pledging to launch an investigation that Tom and I have been talking about. You haven't weighed in on it. What are your thoughts about folks on Capitol Hill getting involved in this?
CHEHBut let me pause here a moment. I wanna ask Tom this. You know, we referred this to the inspector general who said, I think in the flimsiest of basis, that he had to recuse himself in his...
NNAMDIBecause he himself had interviewed Sulaimon Brown.
CHEH...for no job and no job was offered. But in any event, we have the attorney general of -- the U.S. attorney, rather, saying that he's looking at this. And apparently the FBI is talking to people. So...
SHERWOODThey're assessing the situation.
CHEHThey're assessing the situation.
NNAMDIWhat's the difference between that and an investigation?
SHERWOODIt's just they're having -- it's just they -- it's a fig leaf.
CHEHWell -- so you have that. And then let me find out. Tell me what questions -- to the extent I have this hearing on March 20, what questions do you want answers to?
SHERWOODWell, if I were Mr. Issa, whatever -- more important, if I were the mayor, I would come to your meeting. I would come. You don't generally invite the mayor to those kinds of things. If I were the mayor and I were not party to the guilty stuff that's occurred, I would be screaming to high heavens. I'd be on the soapbox everywhere. I wouldn't be hiding in a retreat at the convention center. I'd be...
CHEHNo, no, you're characterizing this as hiding at a retreat at the convention. He's not hiding.
SHERWOODHe hasn't been in office two months, and he has to gather his entire staff together for some kind of...
NNAMDII have questions.
CHEHWell, wait now. This is a man...
CHEH...who, I understand, has reintroduced the idea of a real press conference every week. Is that correct?
SHERWOODNo, he hasn't. Sorry. I hate to say, what he does is -- the mayor -- if I may speak for a moment, he has over an hour of introductions and whatever, whatever, then takes a couple of questions. That's not a press conference. That's an orchestrated event.
SHERWOODWe haven't discussed that with the mayor. But I just think the mayor ought to be more proactive to fight the image. I think, well, the Republicans on the Hill will see that this mayor is trying to right the ship, and then they will stay out of it. And right now they don't see that. That's what they're telling.
NNAMDIQuestions that I would have, specifically, Mary Cheh, what is the process by which Sulaimon Brown was hired? What is the process by which Sulaimon Brown was fired? We have been given no reason yet for the...
SHERWOODOr several reasons.
NNAMDI...for the termination of Sulaimon Brown. What did you know, and when did you know that they were members of your staff or your transition team whose children were being placed in positions?
SHERWOODAre you calling Sulaimon Brown to your hearing?
NNAMDIWell, for starters, anyway.
SHERWOODWould you? Is that right? Will you call Sulaimon Brown to your hearing?
CHEHYou know, I was just talking to my chief of staff today about making up our witness list, and we haven't finalized that.
NNAMDILast week, councilman David Catania called a report by your committee on those hiring decisions a whitewash. How would you respond?
CHEHWell, as I responded at the time, I thought it was unfair. It was a preliminary report. I have the report. I can give you copies of it. I told the committee what I had found to that point. And I was asking for their advice about what we should do next. I don't regard that as a whitewash. They were -- we weren't anywhere near where we were making conclusions. And so for him to have done that, you know, I thought was inappropriate and, for whatever his own motives, grandstanding.
SHERWOODThere are -- can I ask a question about that? 'Cause there are a lot of official..
NNAMDIThen we have to get to the caller.
SHERWOOD...there are a lot of officials on the council, with some obvious irritations among more members than I've seen in quite some time, particularly Mayor Gray. How is the council doing? It seems to me that it's being torn apart by these various issues also.
NNAMDICan we all get along?
CHEHWell, again, that's -- no, that's a bit dramatic. I mean, torn apart? We're doing our jobs. We're moving our legislation. We're all working on aspects of the budget. We have disagreements, but I don't see -- I think that's, you know -- I don't see that we're...
CHEH...in that situation.
NNAMDIIt certainly is one individual's characterization of the council, but we'll ignore that. Here's Michael in Edgewood, Md. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELGood afternoon. What I wanted to ask is why does there always seem to be such a feeding frenzy in the media to uncover corruption of small town mayors and governors? And I'm talking about Vincent Gray. And here in Baltimore, we had Sheila Dixon who got booted out of office because she took, you know, a few hundred dollars...
NNAMDIDon't forget Jack Johnson in Prince George's County.
MICHAELYeah. That's what I'm talking about. You know, Sheila Dixon, you know, took a few hundred dollars in gift certificates.
NNAMDIYeah. What's the big deal?
MICHAELAnd Dick Cheney made over $30 million at Halliburton, you know, as a CEO, doing a job that he had no qualifications for. Then he, you know, selects himself as vice president, starts a war, and who gets paid off billions of dollars, but Halliburton in contracts?
SHERWOODWell, the short answer to that is that's national politics. And the fact that you know all of that shows that it's been disclosed and discussed and all the politics of it. You know, I believe the government closest to the people is the best, and that's what I cover. And I want to see them do, those people do, the best things. And I'm just saying that this mayor has gotten off to a terrible start. I think his heart is in the right place, but I think his mind and his action, so far, is not.
NNAMDIAm I allowed to endorse your remarks, or is that only a legislative process?
SHERWOODYou may say it if you want to. Yeah, media cabal.
NNAMDILet's look backward for a minute, Councilmember Cheh. The special investigator hired by the council to investigate contracts doled out by the Fenty administration essentially said this week that Mayor Fenty didn't do anything wrong. Those contracts became a big part of the campaign last year as a vehicle for accusations of cronyisms in the Fenty administration. What are your thoughts about the report's conclusions?
CHEHWell, I had a number of reactions to it. Concluding that the -- there was no wrongdoing by the mayor is one thing, but it shouldn't mask what was actually there. What was actually there is that there was a -- an agent, if you will, of the mayor in the deputy mayor's office for economic development, Mr. David Jannarone, who was really the puppeteer of all of this. There was a -- an avoidance of the council in terms of approval of contracts. There was an attorney general -- and I find this interesting.
CHEHYou're all focusing on other things in the administration. We had four years of an attorney general who was an apologist for what the mayor did. And the current attorney general appointed by Mayor Gray is independent and was not -- is not even -- was not even known to him as such, which is a measure of independence. But -- so you have this man Jannarone there who's sort of calling the shots. They have a methodology for the contracts whereby they don't use a request for bids where people bid. They use a request for qualifications.
CHEHAnd the report found, well, we didn't find that there was any, you know, hanky-panky on scoring, but the very use of that vehicle was peculiar. And then you have a contract that's given to the mayor's friends, and then the mayor's friend gives the contract to yet another mayor's friend. That was -- to put -- to say that it was generous is to put it mildly. The man was paid, you know, an extra, extra generous sum for his work, and then given a percentage...
CHEH...give away -- given a percentage to oversee subcontractors, his friends, okay?
SHERWOODYou're talking about Sinclair Skinner.
CHEHYes. To oversee...
NNAMDIAnd Omar Karim.
CHEHHe was -- part of his job was to oversee these subcontractors, make sure they were doing the right work at the right price.
NNAMDIIt is Sinclair Skinner.
CHEHBut he got a percentage of what they got. So he had a conflict of interest inherently to have them charge as much as possible 'cause he would get as much as possible. I mean, that's what was going on, so.
SHERWOODThat Trout Report did not clear the Fenty administration. It simply cleared the mayor of any wrongdoing. That was in the report.
SHERWOODThere's a lot there. And...
SHERWOODAnd, again, I'll say this is a -- the Republicans on the Hill see all of this, and they wanna see more action. And I think that's why I'm worried...
NNAMDIWell, here's some action. We only have about a minute left. But you're introducing, it's my understanding, a series of bills this week to commemorate Sunshine Week, a push for government transparency. What kind of proposals are we talking about here?
CHEHWell, this is a follow on a number of things I did last term, in terms of the Whistleblower Act, in terms of Freedom of Information Act, in terms of open government in general. I added a number of bills. One is to make the council, just like the executive branch, put online all of its contract-related information for the contracts that it enters into. There's about $2 million...
SHERWOODIncluding subcontracts, which is for all the stuff that's hidden.
CHEH...for goods and services. I reintroduced the Open Government Act, which, again, very importantly overhauls our open records law. It makes the council publish amendments to legislation. You know, a lot of times, laws are significantly changed by amendments, and those are not immediately put up or put up at all.
CHEHAnd then finally, we have a complete police complaints board that only gets complaints if they're filed with them, but not with MPD and not with the housing authority. Now I want them to get all of it.
NNAMDIMary Cheh is a Democrat from Ward 3. She chairs the City Council's Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. Thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOODIt wasn't too hostile.
NNAMDI...is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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