Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
A former executive in Prince George’s county pleads guilty to taking bribes. Loudoun County plays hardball on a project to extend Metro to Dulles Airport. And D.C. lawmakers ask a judge to order testimony in their probe of the mayor’s hiring practices. 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
- Rushern Baker Executive, Prince George's County (Md.) (D)
- Carol Schwartz Former Member, D.C. Council (R- At Large)
Politics Hour Extra
“We are the only U.S. citizens who pay federal income tax who are denied a vote in Congress,” former D.C. councilmember (R-At Large) Carol Schwartz said. Schwartz said that in 2012, she is prepared to deposit the federal income tax she owes into an escrow account in protest of D.C. residents’ lack of voting rights, and she invites other city residents to join her. “I’m willing to do it all,” Schwartz said, “because I have had it:”
“We’ve been almost a bystander in regional issues,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) said in response to a caller who asked why the county doesn’t seem to have more of an influence on policy issues, like the Purple Line transit project, that affect its residents. Baker said that he had taken steps towards reorganizing some of his staff to focus efforts on making sure the county’s voice is heard:
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) says that he took “serious actions” when he first assumed office, including letting more employees go than had ever been dismissed in any previous transition of government in the county’s history. Baker said that his office was “still under the cloud of the FBI” following his predecessor Jack Johnson’s ethical and legal troubles:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. At least starring Tom Sherwood up until this week. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Who knows where he'll be next week? Tom, got any plans for Sunday?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, I have a, you know, I have -- are we talking about the end of the world is tomorrow...
NNAMDIYes. Any plans for Sunday?
SHERWOOD...or are we talking about my yet another vacation week coming up in a couple weeks?
NNAMDIWell, I don't know that vacation will be happening at all. Are you looking past Saturday when followers of Harold Camping, who predicts Judgment Day is May 21st, believe they will be transported to heaven? And for those who don't make it, five months of earthquakes, plagues, war and famine.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I'm kind of a backsliding Baptist Seventh-Day agnostic type, but, you know, my brother is a Baptist minister, and I've discussed this with him. And he...
SHERWOODYes. And he points out to me the -- I think it's in the book of Matthew and maybe in some remark in Revelations that, you know, no one on Earth knows when the rapture is coming, that not even the angels of the Lord know, and this is in the Bible. And so I don't think any minister -- where is he from?
NNAMDIHarold Camping, I don't know where's he from.
NNAMDIOkay. It doesn't matter.
NNAMDIA former engineer turned minister.
SHERWOODSome planet somewhere. So for any human being who believes as a Christian in the Christian theology, it's kind of foolish to say that you know when the end of world is coming, if you read the very Bible from which it allegedly comes.
NNAMDISo you have plans after Saturday?
SHERWOODI plan to have a Bloody Mary tonight with my son, and I was going to do that whether the end comes or not.
NNAMDI(laugh) Okay. We'll have to see what eventually happens. George Parker, the former president of the Washington Teachers' Union, is set to join Michelle Rhee's Student First as a senior fellow. He'll sit on the advisory board and work with Students First to further the movement that's, quoting here, to further the movement to transform public education across the country.
NNAMDII've got to repeat Examiner reporter Lisa Gartner's line when she wrote the story. If you weren't holding onto your hat when you read that, you'll probably never going to see that sucker again.
NNAMDITom, as a friend of mine said, when a mutual friend came out and got married to another man, he went over to the other side.
NNAMDIThat's what a lot of supporters of Nathan Saunders in the teachers' union will probably be saying about George Parker.
SHERWOODWell, you know, Michelle Rhee has started her national organization in order to further school reform. I don't think she sees it as I'm going to be on this side or that side, but she has been fairly critical of unions. And for George Parker, who, you know, made the terrible mistake of trying to go down the middle and be for reform and keep control of his union, he got hit from both sides.
SHERWOODYou know, you get in the middle of the road. You get hit going on each direction. And that's what happened to George. So -- but the agreement they did, in fact, reached is pretty well respected. How it gets implemented, the analysis of the teachers going forward, all those things are important. But George is, you know, he's -- he can be very helpful. He'll give him access from a union perspective to national leaders in education. And so I think it to be a good thing, and then, maybe we can have them on together for -- after they've been together and see if they last more than six weeks.
NNAMDIThat's entirely possible. Michelle Rhee in a statement said George and I don't -- clearly don't see eye to eye on everything, but he and I came up with, as Tom said, a teachers' contract that dramatically changed how D.C. public schools operate. I hope working together again, we can come up with effective ideas for improving how schools serve children nationally. It turns out that they agree on at least one thing.
NNAMDIThey don't -- neither of them likes the last-in, first-out layoffs, also known as seniority. George Parker saying most teachers would agree that seniority-based layoffs are not a good way to ensure that high-quality teachers remain in our schools.
SHERWOODUnfortunately, seniority is a -- have -- as a member of a union, former union president myself, seniority first is not the best way to judge a workforce.
NNAMDIOkay. Then, we can move on. The purple line -- not the purple line. No. I want to go to the Dulles rail plan first because officials in Loudoun County are considering bailing out of the regional compact to construct Metro to and beyond Dulles Airport. The cost is skyrocketing. It's gone from $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion, and politicians in both Loudoun and Fairfax County are howling over plans by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to have users of the Dulles Toll Road pay higher tolls in the future to pay for that project.
SHERWOODAnd the -- this -- if Loudoun County doesn't want to participate, you know, it's the local government, it's the people in the local jurisdiction sort of paying for this. I mean, I am so anxious. I would -- I essentially will not fly from Dulles because I don't want to make the overnight trip over the Himalayas and back to get there. But I would love to be able to take a Metro line out there, and there ought to be -- maybe there ought to be some regional -- you might hear some complaints about this -- some type of regional -- more support from the entire region, not just in that area.
SHERWOODTo have rapid access to Dulles is not just to help the people in Northern Virginia. I don't understand why it has to be paid for by them essentially.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter. He's also a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Joining us later in the broadcast will be Carol Schwartz. She served on the D.C. Council from 1985 to 1989, then again from 1997 to 2009. She's a Republican who held an at-large seat and a former mayoral candidate. But first, Jack Johnson, the man who held the job of county executive of Prince George's County for eight years before Rushern Baker won the seat, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to accepting bribes.
NNAMDIHis plea essentially revealed that he shook down developers throughout his tenure, confirming a lot of what reporters have been investigating in Prince George's County for years. Joining us in studio now is Rushern Baker. He is the executive -- county executive of Prince George's County. He's a Democrat. Rushern Baker, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. RUSHERN BAKERGlad to be here, Kojo, with you and Tom.
SHERWOODI thought he was about to introduce Jack Johnson with the way he started out. That -- my goodness...
SHERWOOD...where is he? On the phone?
NNAMDIRushern Baker ran against Jack Johnson both in 2002 and 2006. Where did any suspicions about this kind of politics fit into your reasons for running against Jack Johnson in those two campaigns?
BAKERWell, my reasons for running were looking at the county and looking at the potential of the county and what we could do. Clearly, I thought that the county, you know, had great potential, and I still do as county executive, given our Metro sites and ability to attract businesses. It really didn't play into the pay-for-play or corruption or anything that didn't play into my decision to run. It was -- I thought I could offer some talents for the county.
BAKERI thought my experience in Annapolis could help us out, and I didn't feel like the county was being served the way that I thought it should be served. And that's really what motivated me to run.
NNAMDII'm sure that's what motivated you in the big picture, but Tom and I like to engage in a little scuttlebutt here from time to time. This is just us talking. Nobody else is listening.
BAKERAnd nobody is listening.
NNAMDISurely, you had to be hearing in 2002 and 2006 a lot of rumors about this kind of thing taking place. And while it may not have been your major motivation for running, clearly -- well, not clearly, wasn't it something that figured in your calculations?
SHERWOODIn opposition research?
NNAMDIExactly. Thank you.
BAKERWell, clearly, I think in 2006, I thought that there were -- there clearly was a lot of indication from business type that Prince George's County was a place that was unfriendly to do business in. That really was the extent of it. And I felt like we needed to change the way -- whether it's perception or reality, we needed to change the way that people looked at us and the way we do business, and it was part of the campaign in '06 but also a greater part of the campaign in '10.
BAKERIf you remember when I did my announcement for county executive in '10, one of the first press opportunities was at a development site where I said we've got to change the way that people see us and the way that we do things and the culture in Prince George's County and that...
SHERWOODDid that include suspicions of illegal activity as opposed to just being -- because you can be unfriendly to business by having taxes that are too high to discourage them. You can be unfriendly to business by not doing road and infrastructure improvements. You could be unfriendly to business, but in fact Jack Johnson was quite friendly with some business, and he benefited from it.
SHERWOODSo -- but -- so the corruption aspect is not just to make the county better, but there was a corruption pall over the entire county and still is.
BAKERWell, let me take a section with the last part of that. I think in the first part of it, you know, at that time, there was nothing that we had that was concrete. It was all a, you know, it was all hearsay and -- but the feeling was even with the perception, it was stopping people from wanting to do business in the county, and therefore, it had a chilling effect. And what we want to do and what I want to do as county executive is say, listen, we've got to realize that whether in fact anybody had ever been convicted, it still was stopping us from moving the way that we needed to move.
BAKERAnd so that's why we kicked off the campaign that way. And the first pieces of legislation that I introduced or had introduced in Annapolis dealt with those very issues head on. You know, we didn't try and duck them. We said, listen, there is -- there are things that we need to change the way we do business in the county. One has to do with the way we raise money, and I've made it very clear to the council and to Annapolis that the slate loophole which we tried to close, and I think we did a good job of closing as much as possible, that everyone was taking advantage of, including me as a candidate.
BAKERBut we went right after it. So that if you're a developer and you're doing business in Prince George's County, the slate, because you can't do it individually, we could do it through slate. That loophole were closed for you.
SHERWOODCan I just...
NNAMDIWell, that loophole has been closed, but I'd like to pursue that for a second because apparently there were two bills closing those loopholes, but there seems to be another gaping loophole in the existing law, and it excludes detailed site plans from the definition of the application to which the developer pay-to-play ban applies. And when I looked at the number of things that were included on the detailed site plan review, attached housing, planned mixed use developments, large parking compounds.
NNAMDIIt seems like almost everything developers do are excluded there, and it is my understanding that that legislation was watered down to some extent because of a pushback from the county council. So...
NNAMDI...the perception is that you might be dealing with a county council that still wants to play footsie with developers.
BAKERNo, I think what you had in the county council and remember this is a -- it was a bold step for them. The majority of them are new. They're good people. They're honest folks. They work hard. I've worked with them over these last six months. And it has been a pleasure to work with them, but they're just now coming in. They ran the same way I did on -- listen, we want to clean this up. We're new people.
BAKERAnd so to immediately come in and say we're willing to restrict without being convicted, mind you, the county council or these individuals haven't been charged or done anything...
SHERWOODAt that point.
BAKER...but -- well -- or at this point. What they said was we're willing to at least go out here and put some restrictions on what we can do. Did I think we should go further? Sure. But that was mine, but I think they went as far as they felt they could.
NNAMDIThat's the voice of Rushern Baker. He is county executive of Prince George's County. He's a Democrat. If you have questions or comments, 800-433-8850. Do you think there's a pay-to-play culture in Prince George's County, and do you think the measures that have been taken by the general assembly will serve in fact to change that? 800-433-8850. Or do you think this is a smear on the county?
SHERWOODWell, I want to get the clearest possible statement from you, Mr. Baker, because people do respect the fact that you want to move forward, and we'll be able to move forward on other issues but not until we get this out. Jack Johnson now is officially and legally a corrupt politician. He has pled guilty to corruption. Mark Seagraves, my friend, I know at WTOP asked you this week after this -- after the court appearances that if you thought this was an embarrassment or a stain on Prince George's County, and you said no. He says you said no. I try not to listen to TOP that much. But any event, you said no. And it's just strange credulity to me that you can't just say yes to that, so knowing that you are trying to fix something, but you first have to admit that this is a stumble, a bad -- something bad for Prince George's County for which you are going to work your heart out to overcome. But to say it's not an embarrassment to the county seems to be a false start.
BAKERNo. The -- let me just answer it this way. The premise of the question was that the county's -- that the county itself should be embarrassed by the actions of this individual.
BAKERWhat I said was not because the county, by and large, is working very hard. County workers who come in and out every day did nothing wrong. They followed rules.
SHERWOODYeah, but shouldn't they be embarrassed by Jack Johnson's blatant illegal corruption? I mean, it's not a question of reporters...
BAKERWell, should they be...
SHERWOODI would say yes and move on and say, we're not gonna have that happen.
BAKERAnd we're not gonna have it happen.
SHERWOODWhen Janet Cooke lied about -- when I was at The Post and Janet Cooke lied about her Pulitzer Prize story about the kid...
SHERWOOD"Jimmy," about getting cocaine, I was horrified. I was embarrassed. I suggested to The Post at the time that we not even (unintelligible) prizes anymore. I was embarrassed, but I wasn't -- but I wanted to move forward. And I wasn't gonna get caught in something like that. I just think you got to acknowledge how bad it is for the county to have this happen, then you can go forward with all the positive things you wanna do.
BAKERWell, clearly, you know, by the action that we're taking, you know, I wouldn't have introduced legislation or had introduced legislation...
SHERWOODBut why won't you just say it, that's what -- in a simple declarative sentence, that this was an embarrassment to the county, you're offended by it and you're moving forward? I just wrote it for you. (laugh) You're a nice person and you wanna move forward, but you've got to acknowledge...
BAKERNo. You're -- we are moving forward.
NNAMDINot that he's putting words in your mouth.
SHERWOODWell, every reporter wants to know.
BAKERNo, but we are acknowledging -- we acknowledge by our actions that Prince George's County understands that there were things out there that we need to straighten out. Clearly, as county executive, I wouldn't have taken the steps I took when I first got in, whether it's to have legislation introduced or to form a task force to look the way that are...
NNAMDIWhich was my next question. Go ahead.
SHERWOODThis is bad, and you're not having it anymore.
BAKERExactly. It's bad, and we're not having it anymore. Not only that, what we have to also understand in all of this is that the laws actually work. The individual was caught and that according to a plea agreement, you know, he was convicted.
SHERWOODYou haven't even said his name today, I want to point out.
BAKEROh, the former county executive?
SHERWOODYes. Was it...
SHERWOODOkay, good. Thank you.
NNAMDIOne of your first acts, as you pointed out, as county executive was to put together a task force on ethics. That task force, which is led by former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and former Judge William Missouri, has recommended that you set up an independent government watchdog, an anonymous tip line, and that you strengthen the county's ethics board. What do you make of those suggestions so far?
BAKERYou know, I think they are good suggestions. Let me -- if I could just go back, Kojo, and just replay what happened from the first day that I took in office and show you how serious we were. One is, we -- when I came in, we let go, on that first day, more employees than have ever been let go in any transition of government. Why, because we still were under a cloud of the FBI there. So we couldn't take a chance with anyone. We had to completely almost start fresh with the government and bring people in to say, here, we wanna do an assessment of what's going on.
BAKERI also didn't make any permanent appointment, not many because we want to look at each and every department, and I personally wanted to scrutinize there because at the end of the day, you know, when I made an appointment, I wanted people in Prince George's County to know that I took this very seriously. I looked at it, and I understand we've got to look at each and every department to make sure they were not part of whatever was going on.
BAKERAnd then we form the task force that said, you know, come in and not only look at what's going on with this individual, but let's look at the process, let's look at the structure, and what do we need to do to change the structure so there's no doubt in anybody's mind that if you come to Prince George's County, what we expect is a quality project. You know, we expect the benefit for the community. That's what we expect out of you, nothing more. And how can we ensure that so no matter who sits in this office, whether it's me or whether it's someone else, that that goes forward.
SHERWOODAnd that's working pretty well now, right, what you're saying?
BAKERIt's working great, I think. You know, we put a great task force that came up with recommendations. We're gonna sit down with the council and hammer that out. The legislation that we got out of Annapolis, does it do everything that I wanted to do? No, but it's a start. And the more we keep, you know, pushing it, I think that's what's gonna help us. But the only thing that's gonna really -- as I said to folks, you know, words are words. It's action. It's how we conduct business every day in the county and how I conduct business as the county executive.
NNAMDIDon -- gentlemen, please don your headsets. I'm going to the telephones. When you ran for office -- when you were running for office, you said schools were your priority, and Sam in Laurel, Md. has a question about schools. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMYeah. Hello, Kojo. You know, my question was I'm a parent of students in Prince George's county, and we just actually moved to Prince George's County recently. And a big decision that we made coming here was the educational system in Prince George's County. Most polls rate it as probably the lowest rated count -- educational system in Maryland. As a parent who's actually kindergarten -- was actually lost the first day of kindergarten, I was just wondering what is Mr. Baker's plans in the future to improve our school system, too, as well. I think our school system impacts everything in Prince George's County. I mean, it's the people whom, I mean, you know, the educated parents who are gonna move here are gonna be really thinking twice in terms of...
NNAMDISo, Sam, when did you move to Prince George's County?
SAMActually about a year ago.
NNAMDIOK. Here's Rushern Baker.
BAKERWell, Sam, first of all, thank you for moving to Prince George's County.
NNAMDII knew you would you say that. (laugh)
BAKERAnd you're absolutely right. Our education system is the number one issue facing Prince George's County, bar none. As a parent of three children that went through the system and one that's still there who graduates, knock on wood, next year, so -- but it is. We're working with the superintendent and the school board to not only fund them. We've funded them this year with about $1.6 million. If you look at what I've done is -- in Prince George's County compared to the other jurisdictions, we're not making cuts in our education budget. We've funded them in -- with a small increase.
BAKERWe're also gonna take $14 million and start targeting that money and give it to the school system to target at programs that will have direct impact on the classroom. The problem in Prince George's County is not that we don't have good schools. We have great schools there. The problem is, we don't have them throughout the school system. And what we have to make sure is that we got highly qualified teachers in each and every classroom, that we have the resources our principals need so they can effectively, you know, provide education to our kids.
BAKERAnd that we as elected officials and me as a county executive understand that's the number one issue and keep it out front. I made a commitment that I would visit one school a week as county executive. I've kept that up -- I was at a school this morning, elementary school -- because, one, I want everyone to know...
SHERWOODWhich one? Do you mind saying which one it is?
BAKERIt was Mattapan.
BAKERMattaponi, I'm sorry. Mattaponi in Upper Marlboro, terrific principal, terrific students. But the more important thing is, I want people to know this is the number one issue. If the county executive is spending his time, it should be in our education system, and it should be advocating for more resources and more targeted resources. And that's what I did in Annapolis to bring back more money.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Sam. We move on to Hancock, also in Prince George's County, Md. Hancock, your turn.
HANCOCKYeah. Thank you, Kojo. I'm a Prince George's County taxi driver. I've seated on your show previously, you know, the Prince George's County Council passed a bill to give an opportunity for drivers to own their own medallions.
HANCOCKAnd 390 medallions were awarded to be given out to the drivers. Now, there's a bill proposed by Councilmember Campos that did a study that gets the drivers out of the loop, the public out of the loop, that wants to reverse that process and wanna shut down the medallion process from those individual drivers getting the medallions. What is surprising is that the cab companies, you know, who were opposing this bill from the beginning, are being represented by the chairman of Mr. Baker's (unintelligible) Mr. Wayne Curry.
HANCOCKAnd now we've been having a hard time getting those medallions implementing the law. And now county executive's office came with the position putting Mr. Campos' bill, and that was again as the whole ethics issues, you know, Mr. Baker...
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to see what Rushern Baker has to say about this. Wayne Curry is a former Prince George's County executive himself.
BAKERRight. Right. He -- I mean, I don't, you know, the connection with Wayne Curry, I don't have any comments on that. I don't know his relationship with the cab drivers. I will say that the issue did come up. And what I've asked our director of environmental resource to do is to look at legislation that was passed during the previous administration and how it's working. I've also asked him, as long as the legislation is there, that we follow every rule of the law to make sure that people who properly applied for the medallions get the medallions. There is a bill that's put in by Councilmember William, Will Campos...
NNAMDIWill Campos. Yup.
BAKER...to restrict this. I've asked our director to look at it and to give me a recommendation. His recommendation was that, I think, we added some amendments to Will's bill to make sure that it's -- the process is fair and that -- and subordinate with those conditions. And that's what, you know, an independent person looking at it made a recommendation to me and I concurred with it.
SHERWOODThe taxi issue -- this is alive in the District of Columbia also, whether there'll be medallions. And the concern was initially that a group of people in the city -- and there was an FBI investigation of this -- were trying to get the city to go -- move to the medallion process. So the people with money could buy up the medallions and shutout the independent drivers. In Prince George's County, are the medallions subject to being bought up by the more well-to-do companies who would then control them? Or it would -- will they reserve for individual drivers?
NNAMDIThe cab drivers say that used to be the situation that the new system was supposed to and allow most -- more cab drivers...
NNAMDI...to be able to do that. Now, they're claiming that the legislation...
NNAMDI...introduced by companies represented by Wayne Curry is trying to cut that off.
SHERWOODYeah, this is a national problem around the country. There -- Seattle and Atlanta, other places, companies are trying to corner the market on the cabs.
BAKERWell, the issue, as I understood it won't out in the county, is that unlike the District of Columbia where you have plenty cabs that are here. You have plenty of stops where people actually used the cabs. In the county, it's more folks calling. It's few and far between. And it's usually a call for cabs to come out. There is a clash in the county because of the number. We don't need the volume that you have in the District or a city.
BAKERAnd so, the confusion, even with the past legislation that, I think, was supported by Councilmember Tom Dernoga at the time, it caused confusion in the county itself in our ability to handle the number of people who were applying for this and to monitor it. So I asked Sam Wynkoop, who's our director, to look at it. You know, give me his opinion, not -- and, you know, with his experience. He's somebody who's been around in government for a long time -- so look at it, give me your opinion and then tell us what's best for the county. And that was the decision I made.
SHERWOODIs it -- was it your feeling then that it would be all right if two or three companies bought up all the medallions and just run the companies? Or do you think it's important to have individual cab drivers? And I'm not sure where I stood on the issue myself, but that's the issue as presented to me.
BAKERYou know, I think, ours, like I said, is a little different. I mean, the -- what I need to make sure is that, one, the structure works for the county, and that there is not a run where we have all these medallions out there without the ability of people to actually operate or for us to monitor them. And that's a concern, I think, our director had.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Hancock, thank you very much for your call. We've talked a lot over the past few months about what your colleagues in Montgomery County are going through with their budget and how they compensate public employees. It's a mini-Madison, Wis. kind of situation over there. You're looking at some pretty tough choices of your own.
NNAMDIAnd I know there was a raise that county employees were supposed to get. You decided that it would not be a good idea. The county council redacted that raise this week. AP, the Associated Press, reporting that the county maybe thinking about a possible one-time bonus for nearly 6,000 people who work for the county. But it's entirely possible that the unions are gonna go to court about that raise. You're facing a situation, as I said, similar to what your fellow Democrat Ike Leggett in Montgomery is facing.
NNAMDIAnd Tom was saying to the union leader from Montgomery County last week that they're not used to Democrats being confronting unions in situations like this. How is it working out for you?
BAKERWell, you know, we're -- our situation is not as bad as what councilmember -- Council Executive Leggett is facing in Montgomery County in the sense that, you know, in the budgets that I proposed to the county council, there are no layoffs. There are no furloughs. There are draconian cuts. We've held the line.
NNAMDIBut no raise.
BAKERBut no raise. But I have made it very clear that, you know, in any budget we propose in this administration, the priority has to be education and public safety. Those would be the first two things that we would take care of. This 2 percent raise that was proposed and that was negotiated with the last administration, we looked at it, and the county simply could not afford it. And if we could afford -- what I said to them, if we could afford a raise, then we're having negotiation with our public safety and our education, at the same time, the school board is cutting, you know, teachers and laying off.
BAKERI didn't feel the county was in the position to be able to sustain this. As a matter of fact, it wasn't. There is no revenue projections that show revenue is going up. In fact, it shows revenues are going down.
SHERWOODWe aren't that different in the city. The city is starting to see some, and Virginia is starting to see some, a little uptick.
SHERWOODYou're not even static, you think you're going down?
BAKERWe're not -- in all -- in 2011, it's flat, which, for us, was good. In 2012, we just looked at it. And revenues are projected to go down. So I couldn't, in good conscience, support a raise that I can't see how we're gonna be able to sustain in the future. And so that's why we made the decision. We asked the council to go along with that.
NNAMDIHere is Tom in Landover, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMThank you very much. Mr. Baker, I know your transition team had written a critical report on the health department. Could you enlighten us as to where the health department stands, the leadership? And I'll take your comments on the line. Thank you.
BAKERThank you. We are. We're looking at the not only health department, but the way that Prince George's County does health access to health care in the county. And so, part of the recommendation -- in fact, I just got the final briefing from our health transition team yesterday. I asked the health transition team and the education transition team to stay over.
BAKERAnd that means extend beyond the normal reporting period, because I think we're gonna have to look at ways that they're gonna take extra time. But we are looking at the health department. We're gonna make some changes in, like I said, in health care access to health care in the county.
SHERWOODIt would be great if you guys could work out a deal with the United Medical Center and have some kind of sharing agreement there.
BAKERRight. One other thing I will say is that...
SHERWOODThat southeast Washington.
BAKERThat's how they...
SHERWOODFor those who don't know.
BAKERRight. And one other thing that I will say is that I've talked to the mayor. I think -- and I said this to him and I think he believes it and I think he agrees with me. Health care in Prince George's County is really health care in the Washington Metropolitan region. So any plan that we come up with has to take in consideration what is going on in the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, but especially the District of Columbia.
BAKERAnd that's why I wanna take our time and look at the restructuring, because we've got to take in consideration where is health care access in the District, where are the pockets we'll need in the District of Columbia, where are they being met in Prince George's County and how do we work together, because our residents go back and forth. That includes not only adult patient, but our education. Our kids go from schools in D.C. to schools in Prince George's County, and a lot of that has to do with health care.
SHERWOODSpeaking of going big weekend, this weekend, Maryland Preakness -- are you gonna go?
BAKERI will not be going to the Preakness.
SHERWOODWhat is the status of horse racing in Prince George's County?
BAKERWell, that's a good question. You know, we've got Rosecroft. And, you know, every year, there are different scenarios on what happens with Rosecroft. I've said to the senator from -- Sen. Muse from the 26th District and Councilmember Obie Patterson that, you know, I will -- I wanna see something happen there. I just don't wanna see housing.
SHERWOODOK. In Laurel?
BAKERWell, in Laurel, they're -- you know, the state's looking at how they, again, support the racing industry. Clearly, we, in the county, wanna make sure that these facilities are viable, and they are part of the community. But in each one of them -- I mean, in Laurel, it's a little different because you have -- it's actually in Anne Arundel County.
BAKERBut Rosecroft in Prince George's County sits in an area where we think it's great for attraction of development and commercial development, so having something there that's viable and is important.
NNAMDIHere, finally, is Lisa in Riverdale, Md. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAOh, thanks for taking my call. I just witnessed something or at least I think I have and I wanted to know what the executive thinks. Something like the purple line comes along. And people in Montgomery County organize. They have meetings. They're -- got lawsuits. And state highway and other agencies are there meeting with them, working with them. I live in Riverdale. We've had one meeting. They came and said, hey, the design is almost done.
LISAIs there something different between our counties that we're not organizing maybe on a citizen level, maybe at the (word?) level, maybe in between, that we're being treated like we deserve that kind of outreach and that kind of voice in what's going on in our communities?
BAKERLisa, you're absolutely right. I mean, part of what I've seen over the years -- and were changing -- is now is we have been almost as a bystander in regional issues. I mean, Purple Line is just one example of what's going on. But if you take the ICC, whether you're for it or against it, since Prince Georges County has a large impact on that, we should be participating in the discussion of what happens there, same thing with the Purple Line.
BAKERWe've almost been a bystander in the fact that the argument has been in Montgomery County because where it goes through Montgomery County. But the start of the Purple Line could certainly be in Prince Georges County. We should be a leading participant in it...
SHERWOODThe Purple line is 16 miles from New Carrollton through College Park to Bethesda.
BAKERTo Bethesda. And it will direct shoot for us. And what I've said to folks is that's an opportunity for us to get jobs coming toward Prince Georges County, not just jobs leaving Prince Georges County. But whether what -- no matter what side you're on, the county should be a leading participant in these discussion because they have great impact on us. And that's the same thing with health care. We're not gonna be a bystander in transportation, health care or any of these other regional issues anymore.
BAKERWe're gonna be out there in the lead of it. And I've asked our -- my staff to make sure that that happens and we've actually reorganized our departments to make sure we have a greater impact on these things.
NNAMDILisa, thank you very much for your call. Before he came here today, county executive Rushern Baker, Tom tweeted that he was on his way here to talk about Prince Georges being on a path to greatness. (laugh) Do you think he's accomplished that objective?
SHERWOODWell, if he's gonna depend on the Purple Line for it, (laugh) you don't have to wait awhile.
SHERWOODBut, you know, I do think Prince Georges County is ripe. It's got land, it's got education, it's got all the right things, but it always seems to be the caboose on any discussion in this region.
NNAMDIWell, Rushern Baker hopes that...
NNAMDI...that will not be the case...
SHERWOODAnd the county executive is too polite about it.
NNAMDIHis tenure can turn it around. He visited an elementary school this morning. Tom Sherwood visits elementary schools all the time. He's still hoping to graduate (laugh) from one of them at some point. Rushern Baker, thank you so much for joining us.
BAKERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIRushern Baker is Prince Georges County executive. You're listening to the Politics Hour, where Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom...
SHERWOODIt's newspaper, not newspaper.
NNAMDINewspaper. Tom... (laugh)
SHERWOODSounds like a kind of radical thing from the south.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, in Washington, D.C., there was some controversy over a police escort afforded to Charlie Sheen. We're now finding out that there were police escorts for Jay-Z, there were police escorts for Bill Gates and for others too. Big deal or not?
SHERWOODWell, it's only a big deal -- when the police chief was asked about the Charlie Sheen thing and she says, that's not the policy. And it turns out, well, the policy seems to be kind of Swiss cheesy, (laugh) so I think she's moving to firm up the thing. I think it makes sense if a (word?) or some big team or - is in town, they're being moved through town, it's not bad to have a police officer escort a bus of, you know, professional players, make sure they get to where they're going. But you have to...
NNAMDINext the paparazzi will be asking for police escort.
SHERWOODBut, you know, we have certainly -- there are a lot of escorts in town. The people I would stop if I were in charge. But there is a -- but, you know, going outside the city, having these kind of ad-hoc decisions where you do this and I'll do that is wrong. There ought to be a clear policy and so there will no -- the limited police resources are being used well, and for the benefit of the city, not for the benefit of some loud-mouth (laugh) would-be celebrity star.
NNAMDIWell, we talked at the beginning of the broadcast about those people who believe that the world will be ending, so to speak, on May 21st. We forgot to mention there's a group called Brightest Young Things that's greeting the prophecy with an end of the world party on Saturday.
SHERWOODAnd I've been to some parties that seemed endless, but...
NNAMDIThey'll be featuring DJs and the like, so I guess to each his own or her own.
SHERWOODWe may be reaching the end of the world now with our guest.
NNAMDINow, we have not. We are...
SHERWOODWhich I -- we're not gonna be able to prove beyond this one.
NNAMDIWe're certainly gonna be able to find out what our guest has been doing for the past several years. Carol Schwartz served on the D.C. city council from 1985 to '89 and then again from 1997 to 2009. She's a Republican. She held an at-large seat and she's a former mayoral candidate. Carol Schwartz, good to see you again. What have you been doing?
MS. CAROL SCHWARTZWell, hi, guys. It's so nice to be together again.
SHERWOODYeah. Welcome from (word?) Florida. Where have you been? (laugh)
SCHWARTZEverywhere but here. (laugh)
NNAMDIWhat have you been up to since you left the city?
SCHWARTZWell, I've spent the first year, you know, it's been a little over two years now since I've been off the council. And I spent the first year -- I must confess -- wound-licking. I call it my wound-licking stage. I was...
SCHWARTZRecovery. I was so hurt by what happened. And I'm used to losing elections. I lost four mayoral elections. I'm a good loser. But this was so personalized, so mean-spirited, so much money spent in that primary to get me out of office just because I gave sick leave to workers and I didn't like earmarks.
SCHWARTZBoth of which I'm very proud of. I still don't like earmarks -- you saw what happened with earmarks -- and the sick leave for workers, a modicum of sick leave for workers I think is a humane thing to do, and I'm proud of it.
SHERWOODYou know, she didn't mention all the good things she's been doing in the community. Now, she and I appeared with the theater lab benefit. We did the "Romeo and Juliet" scene.
SCHWARTZWell, you know, Kojo and I, many years ago, did another scene. We haven't been able to get him back lately...
SHERWOODNo one ever talks about that.
SCHWARTZ...we're gonna have to work on that. (laugh)
NNAMDIWe were much better than Sherwood was with you. (laugh) You wrote a letter to the editor of The Washington Post on the issue of voting rights for the District of Columbia and what you think that presidents of the District of Columbia should be doing. Talk about that.
SCHWARTZWell, I'm so pleased you asked me about that. I was actually -- it was a few days before the taxes were due on the 18th and I was looking at my calendar and I thought, oh, I've got to go take care of my taxes. And then it was like late at night as I was looking at the calendar and I thought, once again, I've lived here for 45 years, 4 years I've paid my federal income taxes religiously on time, in full, and then no vote in Congress. No vote in Congress.
SCHWARTZAnd this whole country was founded on the proposition of no taxation without representation. So my stomach started churning and I started writing. And I wrote a piece...
NNAMDICan I quote from it?
SCHWARTZ...of how I was feeling at that time and...
NNAMDICan I quote from that piece?
SCHWARTZOh, absolutely. Thank you.
NNAMDI"Dramatic action is needed. Taking to the streets and getting arrested is one's such action, and it's fine with me. But better still would be taking no taxation without representation literally, the way our forefathers and foremothers did. Next year at tax time, if I am still denied my right to vote in Congress, and no real movement is afoot, I am ready to deny the federal government my taxes. I will be looking at setting aside my taxes in an escrow account. I hope my fellow disenfranchised D.C. residents will join me in this effort."
NNAMDIIs that an effort in which you are prepared to join, Carol Schwartz? Call us 800-433-8850. And talk about whether or not you feel withholding D.C.'s government -- D.C.'s residents' federal taxes in an escrow account is a good way of putting pressure on the Congress to give us our voting rights. 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODYou know, when she did this -- I interviewed her for the Washington for -- the TV station also wrote a column about it and I got a pretty good response. You know, I think I gave some people your home phone number, I hope you don't mind.
SCHWARTZWell, that's fine. I'm listed in the phonebook, folks. I'm Carol Schwartz on Connecticut Avenue. Anybody can find me.
SHERWOODYou know, Walter Fauntroy, dating back, you know, try to do to gen up some kind of let's-withhold-our-taxes, and it didn't seem to work very well. What do you think of the mayor being arrested? You know, that's -- once again, it was a big thing a month ago, but it's all seem to faded away now. What should the city do?
SCHWARTZI think we've got to hit 'em from every angle. I think the protests are fine and I don't like the way that not only do we not have a vote in the United States Congress, but we can't even spend our own local dollars the way we see Fed. I mean, we are being barraged from every angle, and I think we got to hit back from every angle. The tax thing we haven't really done -- and I think, you know, money talks. And I think that it is very important that we say to them literally no taxation without representation.
SCHWARTZAnd if you don't give us a vote, we don't give you our taxes. And it's over $3 billion worth of taxes they would be denied if everybody in the District -- in the income tax level did it. People, when you talk about the IRS, get nervous and, oh, God, would you, you know what I mean, none of this is fun. It is also a jail sentence. I'm willing to go to jail.
SHERWOODThere are penalties, fees and interests.
SCHWARTZOkay. I'm willing to do it all 'cause I've had it. I have had it. I think it's an abomination. Do you know, we are the only United States citizens who pay an income tax who are denied a vote in Congress -- the only. You have Guam, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, American Samoa.
SCHWARTZThey are territories. They have that same non-voting delegate in Congress that we have. But they, individually, do not pay federal income tax. Their citizens do not pay federal income tax. So, once again, I repeat, we are the only citizens in the United States who pay federal income tax, who have no vote in Congress.
SHERWOODAre you gonna create an organization to help with this, a nonprofit organization?
SCHWARTZYes. We're gonna -- we're working on -- I've had -- I've been hearing from people when I did it and jumped out there. I mean, there's no office, there's no website yet, but there have been people who've contacted me. And, you know, we have until April of 2012 to have our acts together. But we are going to be setting up some sort of office. We don't wanna make a lot -- you know, spend our time raising money. We wanna spend our time getting this done. I'm also setting up meetings with members of Congress to try to get them to do the right thing and give us that vote in Congress that we deserve.
SCHWARTZDo you know every single democracy throughout this world -- the world -- including Iraq and Afghanistan, their citizens, their nation's capital, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Croatia, you name it, all have voting representation in their national legislatures? Every single democracy throughout the world except in Washington, D.C. What hypocrisy.
SHERWOODYou know that the Iraqi council...
NNAMDISo tell us how you really feel about this.
SHERWOODI know. The Baghdad Council...
SHERWOOD...called the Provincial Council was visiting Mayor Gray yesterday. I did a little story about them. They came -- none of them came. And they said, we will support you 'cause, you know, yes, we have the kind of representation you just described.
SCHWARTZCan you imagine in Iraq we lose all our lives, you know, the lives of our citizens there, including District of Columbia of residents? Another thing, you know, when there was a draft, our citizens were eligible for the draft. The citizens of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, they were not eligible for the draft. So we've had all the responsibilities of citizenship and none of the rights. And, you know, for the Republicans, my own party, to be so opposed to this, this seems so against their philosophy of promoting democracy around the world.
SHERWOODWhy don't you just go up there and get Speaker Boehner and grab him by the scruff of his neck and just shake him?
NNAMDIApparently, she has plans to do precisely that.
SCHWARTZ(laugh) Oh, listen. I plan to meet with...
SHERWOODYou used to smoke, didn't you? He likes to smoke.
SCHWARTZOh, gosh. Listen, I haven't smoked...
SHERWOODMaybe you guys can both have another smoking thing.
SCHWARTZIt'll be 11 years July 10, not one puff.
SHERWOODOh, congratulations. That's terrific.
SCHWARTZBut I do wanna say that the Republican Party...
NNAMDISo far, I've had the opportunity to ask one question. (laugh)
SCHWARTZOkay. But I just -- sorry about this, but this is important. I'm glad you brought it up, Kojo. The Republican Party used to be on the right side of this issue.
SCHWARTZAnd I actually have quotes here. This was Senator Robert Dole, used to be a presidential candidate, as you recall, losing, but a presidential candidate. The Republican Party supported D.C. voting representation because it was just, and in justice we could do nothing else. President Richard Nixon said, it should offend the democratic sense of this nation that the citizens of its capital have no voice in the Congress. That's President Richard Nixon. And Sen. Howard Baker: We simply cannot continue to deny American citizens their right to equal representation in the national government.
SCHWARTZThis basic right is a bedrock of our Republic that cannot be overturned. So the Republicans had it right. We're asking for a vote in Congress, and I don't think it's too much to ask. But if they don't wanna give it, fine. I'm not gonna give them my federal income tax, and I hope people will join with me in this effort.
NNAMDISpeaking of taxes, we spoke with Elissa Silverman of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute last week and got a view of whether the city should raise taxes rather than cut services. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute commissioned a poll that found that the majority of D.C. residents believe maintaining services are -- is more important than holding the line on taxes. What do you feel about that?
SCHWARTZListen, I haven't been in the government for over two years now, but there's some waste in government. I don't think it has to be either or. I think if they just start scrubbing the government that they can find the money. The thing that concerns me about raising the taxes, it's easy for people to say. And, course, if you're gonna be a person on the street who's gonna interview, do you wanna cut services or do you wanna raise taxes? -- And many of our residents aren't above that higher mark anyway -- of course they're gonna say yes.
SCHWARTZI -- it seems like motherhood and apple pie to say yes. The problem is is that we lost middle-class residents for years and upper middle-class residents for years. They fled the city. They went to Maryland and Virginia where the taxes were less. And they also established people that have money, usually have other residences. And then they established residency in other jurisdictions. And then, in our effort to gouge that last nickel out of them, we get no nickels because we don't get their income tax at all, their local income tax.
SCHWARTZSo we did finally get down from 9.5 percent, which we were several years ago, to 8.5 percent. Still higher than Maryland and Virginia, but still showed some intent to attract middle-class people to the city. I hate to see that overturned.
SHERWOODCouncilmember Jack Evans, the finance chairman -- and I talked to Jim Graham. I just happen to see them on the street yesterday. And there's some suggestion that the revenues are still ticking up. The revenues in June will show enough money to cover maybe -- what -- would you raise supporting...
NNAMDIThat's what they're hearing from CFO Natwar Gandhi.
SHERWOOD…$40 million or so for the higher income taxes for people over $200,000. But maybe a chance that all of these things -- there won't be as many cuts as people thought, and there won't be any taxes.
SCHWARTZYeah. And I don't think we need to pit citizens against citizens. I mean, we certainly care about services. We care about serving our vulnerable populations. But we also don't wanna force people that have some money out of the city from paying our income tax, at which point it's counterproductive.
NNAMDIHere is James in Arlington, Va. Please put on your headphones. James in Arlington, Va., you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESI'd like to support your idea of withholding the taxes. I think that's the only leverage you have. I don't know if you have a National Guard in D.C., but you would have to do something to prevent anybody from being arrested like using a National Guard. Do you have that or what?
NNAMDIWell, we -- Carol Schwartz, we do have National Guard.
SHERWOODThere is a National Guard.
SCHWARTZWell, we do have National Guard in...
SHERWOODControlled by the U.S. Attorney General. (laugh)
SCHWARTZYes, unfortunately, you know, controlled by the federal government. But I hope that the federal -- the government, the president and the Congress would just see how this is an abomination. It's hypocritical as we support democracy around the world and deny it to our own citizens. It's been a hypocrisy that's gone on for generation to generation.
SHERWOODWhat about the people...
NNAMDIYou make your case so passionately. Why didn't you run in the last at-large race for the D.C. City Council?
SCHWARTZWell, now I can do this full-time. Listen, you know, when you're far away from that, you realize that there's -- can be life outside of doing that 80-hour a week kind of work. And -- but I was laying low and having a good time, and then I jumped out here in my inimitable way...
NNAMDIYes, being Carol, being Carol. I'm glad you've got another move.
SHERWOODWell, you know, some people say, well, if the city...
SCHWARTZAnd now it's either jail, give up my possessions or get voting rights. We're gonna get voting rights...
SHERWOODYou'll have the best decorated jail in the country if you go to jail. Some people...
NNAMDITom Sherwood, I have a question for you.
NNAMDIMike DeBonis of the Washington...
SCHWARTZOh, ya'll gonna bring me brownies as a question. (laugh)
NNAMDIMike DeBonis of The Washington Post is tweeting.
SCHWARTZBrownies. I like brownies with chocolate chips and nuts.
SHERWOODWhat's he tweeting?
NNAMDIStill no naked statue coverage from -- at Tom Sherwood. What's that all about?
SHERWOODI did a story last time on 11 o'clock news about all the naked statuary in Washington. It was supposed to be online, nbcwashington.com, but when I left, it had not yet been put up. I'm just warning everyone, though, don't go, you know, breathlessly. It's all pixelated.
NNAMDIThey won't be ogling the...
SHERWOODNo. But I tell you, there's some amazing statues in this city.
NNAMDIWell, I'm afraid that's all the time we have.
SHERWOODI'll just leave it at that.
NNAMDIWe won't be able to ogle Carol Schwartz any longer.
SHERWOOD(laugh) Oh, my goodness.
NNAMDIShe'll be leaving at the end of the show. Carol Schwarz served in the...
SHERWOODHave her back.
NNAMDI...D.C. Council. Yes, we will have her back.
SCHWARTZI'd love to come back.
NNAMDIShe served from 1985 to '89, and again from 1997 to 2009.
SHERWOODBoy, that's a long time.
SCHWARTZHow about the school board from '74 to '82?
NNAMDII forgot to mention that. She's a Republican who held an at-large seat. She's also a former mayoral candidate.
NNAMDIAnd as you can tell, she is as effervescent as she always was. Carol Schwartz, so good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
SCHWARTZThank you all.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers and a sometime thespian with Carol Schwartz.
SHERWOODThat's correct. And see you next week if it doesn't all end on Saturday.
NNAMDIHe'll be -- we'll be back next week. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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