On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The summer heat wave has begun. Federal officials dip into the controversy over extending rail services to Dulles airport. A star witness is finally compelled to testify on a scandal weighing down D.C.’s mayor. And an incumbent U.S. Senator draws his first opponent in Maryland. 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
- Gerry Connolly Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-VA, 11th District);
- Jack Evans D.C. Council member (D-Ward 2); Chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue
Politics Hour Extra
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) says that he and his fellow councilmembers Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Michael Brown (D-At Large) have made changes to last month’s draft redistricting plan for the city. “Redistricting is the issue that brings out the worst in people,” Evans said, remarking that this is the third time in his years on the council that he has been involved in the process. Evans said the changes will be announced Monday, but declined to discuss specifics:
Kojo and Tom Sherwood talk about the planned dance protest at the Jefferson Memorial this weekend (featuring a classic “Men At Work” tune we’re sure you’ll recognize):
Congressman Gerald Connoly (D-VA, 11th District) talks about how to pay for the Metro extension to Dulles Airport, and about the Congressional debate over raising the debt ceiling:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Today, we'll be talking with Democratic Cong. Gerald Connolly of Virginia and, later in the broadcast, with D.C. City Councilmember Jack Evans. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, good to see you again.
MR. TOM SHERWOODHappy to see you. You know, this is my only workday. I'm on vacation this week.
NNAMDIOh, this is your only workday this week?
SHERWOODYes, this work hour.
NNAMDISo what have you been doing this week?
SHERWOODI've been playing golf. You know, I was at Hains Point this morning for my second lesson. I went into the snack bar where I'm most comfortable rather than on the first tee. And I think her name is Ms. Ellis who runs it.
SHERWOODShe says she hasn't seen you down there for a while.
NNAMDIThere's a very good reason for that.
SHERWOODBecause you're horrible at it.
SHERWOODWell, that's the reason I started taking lessons because I was terrible, and I stopped several years ago. Now, I'm trying again. I have another lesson Sunday morning.
NNAMDIYou might inspire me to try again, Tom.
SHERWOODI don't want anybody in front of me holding me up.
NNAMDIGive me a progress report on how you're doing. I might be inspired to try again.
NNAMDIThe city council will be happy to know that Sulaimon Brown has agreed this past Tuesday to testify on next Monday, June 6th, before a D.C. Council committee. He had been resisting that before. He ended his fight against a council subpoena before a superior court judge after a council attorney testified that Brown's roommate had been served last Friday. He said in a text message that he will appear under the judge's order.
NNAMDIHe's not expected to speak about the substance of his allegations again Mayor Vincent Gray. Those allegations, for you -- those of you who are not aware of it, had to do with Sulaimon Brown claiming that he was offered a position in the Gray administration and bribes in exchange for attacking then-Mayor and mayoral candidate Adrian Fenty. How significant is this, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, I think it's important because we don't know how Sulaimon is going to react. He has been on the verge of maybe talking, and he's kind of exploded with reporters occasionally. He's been very critical of Mary Cheh, and I think David Catania and Mayor Gray. So he now under a court -- heavy-duty court suggestion is going to show up. Will he be -- will he just simply say I'm not talking? Or will he take this opportunity just -- sometimes, he says he's not going to talk.
SHERWOODAnd then, he talks, you know, for five minutes afterwards. I mean, I think people are very anxious to hear from him. He's an interesting person. He seems well intended on a lot of things he says, but it's hard to follow sometimes his train of thought about things. So I'm very anxious to see him. I'm looking forward to being back home.
NNAMDIHe said in court he's been told by federal investigators not to discuss certain subjects, so you can expect him to plea the Fifth on some of those questions.
SHERWOODWell, maybe not, but part of the problem is that federal investigators have not, Mary Cheh says, the chairman of this committee that's investigating, she says none of the prosecutors or the investigators have cautioned her to be careful of getting into these various things. And, you know, Lorraine Green testified, and she's been before the authorities. So they are parallel but two different worlds.
NNAMDINo charges filed in the DC9 case. Some of you may remember that last October 15, Ali Ahmed Mohammed died after being found on the ground outside the popular DC9 nightclub. He had apparently thrown a brick through the window, ran away and was pursued by a co-owner and several employees of the nightclub. The U.S. attorney, Ronald Machen Jr., said in a statement there was insufficient evidence to press charges.
NNAMDIIn the initial hours and days after the incident, it was felt that he had been severely beaten, that there was a savage beating. Apparently, the U.S. attorney was not able to find any evidence of that.
SHERWOODWell, some of the witnesses -- I mean, this is a very sad case. The man who died is pretty well liked -- was pretty well liked by a lot of people, was a good natured and friendly person. Why he threw the brick is not quite clear. The chasing of him by the employees, then the witness statements that he was severely beaten and kicked turned out on further investigation not to be true. According to the prosecutor, some of the witnesses recanted their testimony.
SHERWOODSo it's a very sad case for the family members who wanted something -- some kind of justice to occur for this, not for it to end like this. But on the other hand, the bar owners were -- and the employees said they were too quickly accused of doing something they didn't do. And remember, Chief Lanier...
SHERWOOD...came out and said this was a savage vigilante justice beating and all that. So she's going to have to walk those remarks back.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, the U.S. attorney had decided not to prosecute, but that doesn't mean there is not the likelihood of a civil suit coming up.
SHERWOODThere could be a civil action, but when you have the lack of clarity on the specific cause of death that you can't necessarily attribute to the guys who maybe kicked and hit him a few times.
NNAMDIGiven Tom Sherwood's affection for unattractive and intrusive expansions on security in Washington, you'll probably have to say a lot about this so let's get going. So you and four protesters get arrested and roughed up for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial over the weekend. How do you get revenge? Try an encore performance. This new event, which organizers say it's not a protest, is scheduled for this Saturday. It's billed as a dance party at T.J.'s.
NNAMDIAs of Monday morning, more than 1,600 people have said on Facebook they were planning to attend. Come dance with us, they're saying. You don't have to risk arrest, but it seems to me that these people need a safety dance from back in the day. Maybe, it could be this.
NNAMDIWait, wait. That's not right. Not the Men Without Hats version. Let's do this D.C. style.
SHERWOODLet's just let that play and forget this hour.
NNAMDI(laugh) That's Go Go Lorenzo from D.C.
SHERWOODOh, that's got to be played tomorrow. I'm going to go.
NNAMDIYou're planning on attending.
SHERWOODI'm going to go. I'm not officially working. I'll be writing about it for my little newspaper column, but I'm not going to be TV-ing. But I do want to go. It's remarkable. This is not so much about the rule that you cannot have demonstrations in any memorial, whether it's this one or any -- there's a pretty clear park service policy, and the court say it's a good one. That's an acceptable one, that you cannot have demonstrations within the confines of the memorial.
SHERWOODBut what the real issue here, I think, is the police reaction. You see the video. It's a fairly aggressive -- well, it's not fairly. The aggressive takedown of the people who were silly dancing there, and then, we had the wheelchair incident with Metro a couple of weeks ago...
SHERWOOD...with the police officers there who appear according to the video, appear to be overly aggressive in this person. And then, you know, the Maryland transit agency just to make a full sweep around the region where they arrest these cops or police officers who arrested someone for trying to take pictures of trains which in our society is not a crime.
NNAMDIWell, they're saying you don't have to risk arrest. You can dance on the steps outside in support or join in the civil disobedience in the memorial.
SHERWOODAnd the number of people who have signed up is well over 2,500 now.
NNAMDIGot to move on. Joining us now by telephone, he had expected to join us in studio but couldn't because he had to stay on Capitol Hill for a vote, is Gerald Kennedy...
NNAMDIGerald Connolly. Cong. Connolly is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Virginia. Cong. Connolly, thank you so much for joining us by phone.
REP. GERALD CONNOLLYMy great pleasure. And I am sorry I can't be there physically, but, as you know, we're voting on the Libya war power resolutions momentarily, so I got to be here to vote in (unintelligible).
NNAMDIHow do you expect that vote to go?
CONNOLLYI think the Kucinich vote, which would require a pullout within 15 days is going to be close, and I think the Boehner resolution to buy a little more time for the president to report to the Congress on, you know, what his intentions are and banning the introduction of any ground troops. It's probably going to pass, but I think it will also be a tight vote.
SHERWOODPullout within -- did you say 15 days?
NNAMDIWell, let's bring you back home. The feds jumped into the fight over Dulles rail this week, Cong. Connolly. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood trying to make peace among those arguing about the cost of the project and trying to make sure that the project moves ahead. You have said that the current path is untenable. Why?
CONNOLLYWell, as we get to -- by the way, I participated in both of the meetings this week with Secretary LaHood, and I think, you know, I think we've actually made some progress. But untenable from a financial point of view, we cannot simply have cost increases, and they're just going to be borne by toll-road users. I just think that's not going to work, and that's a view shared by the Fairfax County government, the Loudon County government, Metro itself and the congressional delegation. So we've got to find some alternatives to bring down cost and don't put undue burden on toll users.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to those people who say, look, you put the airports authority in control because you didn't want politicians affecting how the work went, and then, the first decision that they make that's controversial, politicians jumped in and want to change it.
CONNOLLYWell, what I would say, if you read The Washington Post this morning, Mike DeBonis pointed out I was not one of those politicians. As a matter of fact, I spoke out against the transfer of the toll roads to the airports authority for precisely that reason.
SHERWOODWhen you were the chairman of the supervisors?
CONNOLLYWhen I was chairman of Fairfax County. It's an unaccountable body, and I don't mean to criticize them, but, you know, it's actually -- its governance structure is not well suited for this. I mean, they were well suited to get a construction project completed. But in terms of the management and the policy issues around that management of a toll road in Virginia, we have unelected D.C. presidential appointments, Maryland appointments, making decisions about what Virginia toll-road users ought to pay.
CONNOLLYAnd I think that's a structure that just doesn't work. And by the way, the only two airports subject to the purvey of the airports authority are in Virginia. BWI in Maryland is expressly exempted. And I think that's also long term a problem in terms of the governance we're looking at.
NNAMDIIf you like to join this conversation with Cong. Gerald Connolly, you can call us at 800-433-8850. On the ground or above ground, what do you think the Dulles-Metro rail should be? 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODCongressman, you said you didn't mean to criticize the board, but it sounds like you did a pretty good job of doing exactly that. How do you get out of this? What -- having had the meeting with the secretary, LaHood, how do you go forward now? I mean, it seems like there's this move afoot that this underground decision is going to be, if not reversed, is it's just not going to go forward until a lot more discussion, which means there's going be more and more delay? What's going to happen?
CONNOLLYWell, I -- yeah, Tom. I don't know that I really criticized the board. I was criticizing the governing structure and the framework here. I think the decision they made about whether it'd be on the ground or above ground, on the merits was probably the right decision, but what didn't get back then was the cost...
CONNOLLY...and the burden of that cost. Who bears that burden? And the real answer is toll payers, and that's a problem.
SHERWOODThere just seemed -- walk in -- Metro was a regional body. I just -- and I cannot wait -- I won't go to Dulles until you get that built, so maybe I'm too old to fly when you do. But why doesn't the region pay for the expansion of Metro because the region is going to participate and that someone in Silver Spring is going to take Metro to Dulles?
SHERWOODWhy couldn't that be a regional thing?
CONNOLLYI second the motion, Tom.
SHERWOODI've just made furious everybody in Maryland and D.C., but that's OK. This is a regional -- we talk about it all the time with our, you know, rah-rah meetings of chambers of commerce and stuff. But it seems to me, you're going to build it. Let's have a regional construction project.
CONNOLLYYeah. I agree. This is not an extension to Shady Grove. This, as you said correctly, is an extension to the nation's capital airport, Dulles. And is it really fair that only those in Virginia, Northern Virginia should bear the cost? But let me add to your point, which, I think, is a very good one. You know, remember that right now, on phase two here, from Wiehle Avenue in Reston past the airport, not a dime of federal money is gonna go in that construction.
CONNOLLYAnd I, you know, let's look at what happened in the original Metro project. I was here, you were here when that was built. It was 80-20 money. Eighty percent...
SHERWOODWhy isn't there federal money? That is almost...
SHERWOOD...absurd that there's no federal money.
CONNOLLYBut that was the agreement, to get federal money for phase one, which was limited to $900 million. So when the total project is completed, we'll be lucky if the federal financial participation is 16 percent.
SHERWOODOh, you know, there are 200,000 federal workers within the Metro, within the Beltway itself. It just seems to me that the federal government is a partner, as is -- are the three local jurisdictions.
CONNOLLYAnd the largest single beneficiary, let's be honest, of the existence of Metro every day is the federal government. Forty percent of the federal workforce uses Metro to get to work every day. We saw what happened when Metro couldn't function in icemageddon, I mean, in the blizzard last year. You know, we had to shut down the federal government.
SHERWOODEliminate all that free parking on Capitol Hill for all those Maryland and Virginia tags that clog all the streets with their cars, and they don't pay a thing for it, maybe they'll ride Metro. We have to move on. (laugh)
NNAMDIWell, we will get to some callers who want to address this issue, but I'd like to get the congressman to address a couple more issues before we do that. A lot of people are watching every move you and your colleagues make on the Hill, including a lot of folks on Wall Street. The credit ratings agency Moody's has threatened to downgrade the U.S. because of concerns that the country might default. The House rejected a plan to raise the debt ceiling this week in a very partisan vote. Where do you see this conversation going in the coming weeks?
CONNOLLYWell, I'm hoping, having vented, that the majority now will get serious about both the debt ceiling extension and whatever package we can put together under the Biden talks to, you know, to move forward. I think playing chicken with the debt ceiling vote itself is extremely dangerous and reckless. The United States has been a credit-worthy nation since Alexander Hamilton established the principal by absorbing the state's Revolutionary War debt in 1783, and that has helped us become a great a country. And we’ve got to be good for our obligations. And...
NNAMDIWell, were they just venting, because it would appear that you need to put cuts on the table to get Republicans to vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling? Where do you think -- do think that's reasonable? And where do you think would be a reasonable place to start?
CONNOLLYWell, I think -- obviously, I did not think it was reasonable because I voted for the clean debt ceiling extension because I think that making it conditional on anything is an extremely reckless precedent. Having said that, we have to move on. That, clearly, is what the majority intends to do, and so we're gonna do that as the price of getting the debt ceiling extended when we come closer to the August 2 deadline.
CONNOLLYBut it's very dangerous business playing around with the credit worthiness of the United States and the implications for that in terms of credit and equity markets.
SHERWOODAnd whatever happens to the Washington region as the seat of government. I want you to know that Mike DeBonis has tweeted that he appreciates the fact that you read his column this morning.
NNAMDIWhat -- will DeBonis please stop tweeting? But don't stop listening. What sense do you have, Congressman Connolly, for the urgency that members of Congress have about this issue? Some Republicans are saying that the Treasury secretary's warnings about the debt ceiling are overblown.
CONNOLLYClearly, there are some especially some who got elected with Tea Party support or on the Tea Party banner, not all, who have basically said, you know, it'd probably be healthy for the system to actually have the technical default.
SHERWOODHas there ever been any kind of default of the federal government, so far?
SHERWOODNever, right? That's what I was thinking.
CONNOLLYNever. Not since 1783.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here now is Nick in Leesburg, Va. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKGood afternoon, gentleman. Kojo, I'd like to thank you for taking my call. And in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and I'm a professional air traffic controller.
NICKCongressman Connolly's involvement in transportation issues, most notably the Dulles rail extension and HOT lanes for Virginia's side of the D.C. Beltway, are well known. Over the past three years, I've had the pleasure to work with the congressman and his staff on a number of aviation safety issues. We've discussed delays within the National Airspace System, the updating and modernization of that system...
NNAMDIOK, OK. We know he's a nice guy. Keep going. (laugh)
CONNOLLYYeah. Don't interrupt, go ahead.
SHERWOODNo. We got to stop that. What is the question? I got a plane to catch. (laugh)
NICKOK. Sorry about that. I guess my question is for the congressman. FAA reauthorization, I believe, is in conference now in the 112th Congress, and if you were to be a prognosticator, what do you think it'll -- do you think it'll pass in the 112th, and do you have a timeframe for us?
CONNOLLYThank you, Nick, and thanks for your comments. I don't have a crystal ball but, yes, there'll be some FAA reauthorization clearly. We've had like -- something like 13 extensions since 2007. I'd like to see a permanent reauthorization for the FAA so we have some stability in the system. As to timing, I frankly do not know when that legislation will be scheduled. Hopefully, sometime later this summer or early fall.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Glen. We move on to -- that was Nick. We move on to Glen in Washington, D.C. Hi, Glen.
GLENHi. I just had two comments or suggestions and wonder if they were considered. I thought it was very logical what the congressman said about why the people driving the road should be asked to pay for the Metro station. If it's a benefit to have the Metro station underground, has anyone looked at raising the fares on the train to cover the cost of the station?
GLENAnd if that's gonna discourage people from taking the train, what about dealing with the fact that it's free to ride the highway out to the airport, but it costs money to ride the highway if you're not in the lanes going directly to the airport? Maybe raising the fares on the part going -- maybe making fares, you have to pay for driving to the airport to encourage to encourage people to use the Metro. Just wondering if those were considered.
NNAMDIThat rumbling sound you hear are the sounds of Metro riders and people who ride the free roads getting ready to riot. But here is Congressman Connolly.
CONNOLLYWell, you know, we have a very strong user-fee system in Metro now. In fact, the, probably, farebox recovery is number one or number two in the country. And so, putting more of a burden on them to pay for this extension, I think, would be very problematic and an undue burden for an awful lot of people who totally rely on Metro to be able to get to and from work. So I'm not sure that's a great option.
CONNOLLYBut the suggestion that the free Dulles access road be tolled, I know, is something that people are contemplating, because keeping it free may very well compete frankly with this transit extension. But, again, the principle of let's have the toll road users bear the full brunt of the financial cost of this extension, I think, has to be re-examined. What about state participation? What about federal participation?
CONNOLLYAnd as Tom suggested, maybe even regional participation to help finance the single most important extension we've contemplated since the creation of Metro itself.
NNAMDIGlenn, thank you for your call. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with Congressman Gerald Connolly. He is a Democrat from Virginia. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood is on hand. He's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers.
NNAMDICongressman Connolly, one budget reduction maneuver that you've already been fighting against involved the pension system for federal employees. You say that federal workers have been made a scapegoat in conversations about spending and the debt ceiling. What do you think would be reasonable sacrifices for federal employees to make?
CONNOLLYWell, I've also said, Kojo, that I believe that federal employees are willing to make a contribution in terms of shared sacrifice to get our fiscal house in order. They've never said that they weren't. However, the idea that there are always -- not only the first, but often the only example that people come forward with, there is where we can save some money, I think, is a problem, especially in the context of, you know, federal employee bashing that's going on in the new majority share in Congress.
CONNOLLYAnd, for example, the only recommendation of the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction commission that was contained in the president's budget was the federal pay freeze for federal employees. And how come you picked just that one? Why them? And that isn't to say that it's not an idea worthy of consideration, but, you know, I think there's a process. There's equity issue that has been brought up by federal employees and their representatives, and it's fair.
CONNOLLYSo I wouldn't rule anything out, but I am insisting that if you done a full context where everything is on the table, not just their benefits and their pensions and their compensation.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know how much more time do we have, because I already have two questions that has to be asked based on the news.
NNAMDIMuch, much time. Jack Evans is our other guest. He can come in anytime.
SHERWOODOh, OK. Next week. No, I have to ask you on the national issues. One of them is fairly serious. One of them is kind of serious. The first one is John Edwards, a former Democratic Party leader, candidate for president, vice presidential candidate, has now been indicted for messing up his campaign accounts by allegedly having money sent to the woman who had his child. I'm just wondering, given that this rapid media or, like, rise in national politics and now fall, I'm just wondering if you as a professional politician, what do you think about that?
CONNOLLYI think it's a very troubling situation. I'm sad for his family and for his late wife and what they went through. And I have some personal views as to Mr. Edwards' behavior, but I think I'll probably keep those to myself.
SHERWOODGood, now I’ll give you another opportunity. I would say the kind of the boxer rebellion on Capitol Hill, Andrew Weiner's embarrassing situation with the tweeted picture of him allegedly in boxer shorts happened to be sent into a constituent. What's your thought about that, if you can say anything at all without laughing? It's sad for him, I know, too, but I'm giving you...
SHERWOOD...a chance to be a little more lighthearted about it.
CONNOLLYYeah. I hope all of us can grow our way out of this incident.
NNAMDIEnough said. Here is Hani (sp?) in Fairfax County, Va. Hani, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HANIYes. Thank you. This is a question for Congressman Connolly. I'm an Arab-American voter in the 11th District. And I understand that there is a resolution in front of the House that will blame the Palestinians for the failure of the peace process and upholds President Obama's declared position that the 1967 borders should be starting point for any peace negotiation. And I want to know what Congressman Connolly is thinking about that or how he plans to (unintelligible)
NNAMDICongressman Connolly, what do you think about the resolution before Congress on the Middle East, which, our caller says, well, allegedly blamed the Palestinians for the lack of progress in Mideast negotiations?
CONNOLLYI don't know that I've seen that resolution, but let me -- a couple of points to be made here. One is, you know, like I've said and written about President Obama's reference to the, you know, 1967 borders, that technically, sort of, been the position of the United States all along. Now, practically speaking, I don't think anybody expects this, that we'll go back to the actual the 1967 borders. I certainly don't. It's not tenable.
CONNOLLYThere are parts of Israel that would be only nine-miles wide if we went back to the 1967 borders, and that's just not, you know, a defensible border. So there's -- you know, the President went on to say, of course, there are gonna be land swaps and so forth that will change those borders, and I think we need to be focused on trying to get the process restarted. With respect to Palestinian, you know, I favor a two-state solution. I wanna make sure the Palestinian authority is engaged.
CONNOLLYI do think that the, you know, the decision to reunite Hamas and the Palestinian authority is going to be a real problem, because they are not on the same page with respect to the state of Israeli's right to exist and the peace process. And so, you've got an inherently unstable partnership, and it raises serious questions about who do we deal with and how we deal with them. And as you know, Hamas has actually been officially listed as a pro-terrorist organization by the United States State Department.
CONNOLLYSo I don't think it's unreasonable to say, you know, flag some issues on the Palestinian side as well as the Israeli side. So, but again, with respect to the specific resolution you're talking about, I haven't see the language yet, and I’ve got to see that.
NNAMDIHani, thank you for your call. Finally, here's Ted in Washington, D.C. Ted, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TEDYeah. I have to go back to the extensions in Metro to Dulles. There are some creative proposals, I mean, projects that were done through FAA funding around and for the benefit of airports around the country, whether they're road improvements or bridges over roads where FAA moneys were used without purposes. And since the Metro extension would relieve traffic congestion and would improve the service to Dulles, why...
NNAMDIWhy couldn't they use FAA money?
CONNOLLYI don't know the answer to that. Part of the process we're looking at this week with Secretary LaHood is to look at what changes we can make to the scope of the project to make it more efficient and what cost we're dealing with both in terms of cost that we have to, you know, finance and cost that we can save. So we're also looking at, you know, possible revenue sources.
CONNOLLYOne of which is what's known as TIFIA funding, bonds that would be backed by the FTA, transit administration. But the problem is, you know, the amounts are fairly limited in terms of what is available, and there are fairly strict conditions. Now, whether this FAA money or not, so far, nobody's really put on the table, but it's worthy of examination.
NNAMDICongressman Connolly, thank you very much for joining us.
CONNOLLYMy great pleasure. Call me back.
NNAMDIGerald Connolly is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Virginia. He couldn’t join us in studio today because he had to stay on the Hill for a vote. You're listening to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers.
NNAMDIComing up, Jack Evans, Ward 2 city councilmember. He'll be joining us shortly, but I wanted to give a little shout out to -- not a little shout out, it's a big shout out to Donovan Jordan. Donovan Jordan is D.C.'s representative, was at the National Spelling Bee. It wrapped up last night at National Harbor. Jordan did not take home top honors. That prize went to 14-year-old Sukanya Roy of South Abington Township, Pa., but he certainly did his city proud.
NNAMDIDonovan was one of the unfortunate spellers who were eliminated before the semi-final round without actually misspelling any word. He's a sixth grader at Howard University Middle School for Math and Science. He was sponsored by The Washington Informer newspaper. He'd been beaten -- he beaten 2,000 other kids to earn his spot at the nationals and studies at least four hours a day to prepare. Since he's in sixth grade, Donovan can come back to the competition next year. That report by Aaron Morrissey in dcist.com.
SHERWOODHe didn't had it. He get bumped out?
NNAMDIBecause they have a bonus point system...
SHERWOODOh, bureaucratic thing.
NNAMDI...in earlier rounds to speed things along for the television...
SHERWOODCan you spell the word, bureaucratic?
NNAMDISpell this word that you're seeing here on the copy from dcist.com.
SHERWOODOh, the one at the top?
SHERWOODThat's a great thing. You know, when I was growing up, I just -- I would just look at the dictionary, amazed at the number of words that were in it. I'm a pretty ignorant, Southern, you know, red neck and I just thought -- I would see one of this Oxford English dictionaries that you would be -- you couldn't pick it up, it'd be so big. And I would just look through that, could not believe how many words there were.
SHERWOODParticularly the ones, I didn't know.
NNAMDIWell, Donovan Jordan...
SHERWOODWell, congratulations to him. It's a great thing...
NNAMDI...a sixth grader at Howard University Middle School for Math and Science. He will be eligible again next year. So, Donovan, thank you very much for representing the city and good luck to you next year. Joining us in studio now is City Councilmember Jack Evans. He's a member of the D.C. Council, a Democrat who represents Ward 2. He's also the chairman of the council's Committee on Finance and Revenue. Councilmember Evans, how are you?
MR. JACK EVANSI'm great. I saw my time was cut off, though. I'm just concerned.
SHERWOODWell, we were letting you...
EVANSVirginia people, I mean, unbelievable.
SHERWOODHe was out there having a huge, like, 32 oz. Coca-Cola and some kind of pastry with chocolate dribbled all over it. He said that's his lunch.
SHERWOODHe's gonna be on a sugar high before we get through this program.
NNAMDIHe was not -- actually, his time was not actually cut off at all. We are right on schedule. If you have questions for Jack Evans, you can start calling now, 800-433-8850. Let's start with redistricting, a fairly controversial issue. It may not have gotten as much attention as the aforementioned Congressman Anthony Weiner's now infamous tweet, but a lot of people were struck by a recent retweet by one of your colleagues, Tommy Wells, that shared one resident's comment that during the redistricting process, Jack Evans was trying to drop any area that isn't lily white and rich.
NNAMDIHow would you respond, and how would you describe the approach behind the draft redistricting plan that was floated last month? First, your approach, your response to Congressman Wells' retweeting that resident's comment.
EVANSWell, let me say this. As I've said from the beginning, redistricting is the issue that brings out the worst in people. In my 20 years in the council, this will be my third time going through it. And of all the issues that I've dealt with or we've dealt with in the council, nothing rivals redistricting for people who otherwise acted a civil fashion to become completely not civil with each other. The quote you read is another example of someone saying something about me. I wish Councilmember Wells had not retweeted it because when one does that, it almost says I agree with this in him sending it out. And so...
SHERWOODHave you spoken to Councilmember Wells about this matter? You guys have had -- I know you've called some of his remarks snarky on the (word?), and you've had a back and forth. But have you actually spoken to him away from the council?
EVANSNo, I have not. So in any event, what I've tried to do in all of this -- and I know my colleagues, Michael Brown and Phil Mendelson, who are also involved on the committee, is just to -- you accept the criticisms and move on because you know that that's part of the process that you're involved in.
SHERWOODSo people who are not involved in the redistricting may not know too much about it. But it just seems like the core issue is that you are taking part of Capitol Hill, which is part of our Ward 6 area, and you're brusquely cutting it off at 17th Street, up near the Congressional Cemetery, and pushing that into Ward 7 to balance the wards. And one of the witnesses -- I actually was on vacation, but I sat there and watched it for several hours. Fortunately, I wasn't in the room for several hours.
SHERWOODOne person said that you are -- you don't really have to make all these changes, that even if you don't make the changes, you are still within the legal definition of a little bit over, a little bit under in terms of representation. You don't really have to do anything. Is that true?
EVANSYes. There is some sense to that. And let me, kind of, explain how we got to where we are, and let me also emphasize we are not finished yet.
SHERWOODOh, that's the news right there. You're gonna make changes. What changes are you gonna make?
EVANSWell, I'm not sure what changes we're gonna make, but I can assure you that that Councilmembers Brown, Mendelson and I -- after our seven-hour hearing, it went on to 1:05 in the morning the day before yesterday -- are seriously looking at we -- the proposed plan that we put out. We got a lot of input back, and we were looking at many of these suggestions that have been made and very well may make some changes. But at this point, I don't have any information as to what they might be.
EVANSSo it's not the final plan yet. But let me just...
SHERWOODThere's a hope for Ward 6 in this, people who want to stay as a continuous group?
EVANSBut as I said, I don't want to give anybody hope at the moment. I just wanna let everybody know that we heard what was said all around the boundary lines, and we're taking a real serious look at that. But we got to where we were because there's -- when the census numbers came out, there were three wards in the city that did not fall within the federal guidelines. The federal guidelines being the average ward should have 75,000 people plus or minus 2,500 or 3,000.
EVANSWard 2 had more than the 78,000, and Wards 7 and 8 had less than the 72,000. And so by federal law, we had to make changes and, of course, they're not contiguous to each other, as you pointed out. So we had to make changes in either Wards 5 or 6 to get 7 and 8 with more people and 2 with less people. And so you could have done it such that Wards 7 and 8 had the minimum amount of people, and Ward 2 would have the maximum amount of people, or you could try and get everybody toward the 75,000.
EVANSSo what we have tried to do is try to get the wards close to equal at the 75,000, but that hasn't necessitated, as you said, Tom, more changes than are necessary if you wanted to stay at the minimum. So -- but we're still looking at everything, and I want people to understand that.
SHERWOODWell. I just want, you know -- I should be watching these tweets while we do this program. But someone tweeted that, "Sherwood is biased because he lives in Ward 6."
EVANS(laugh) There you go.
EVANSBut people know, I'm gonna say again, I live in the southwest part, near southwest part. I don't live on Capitol Hill, and I'm still very upset that you didn't put my part of the city into Ward 8 so that I could run against Marion Barry.
EVANSThat would have been a great race. (laugh) It might have been (unintelligible)
SHERWOODI'm pretty clear about my bias.
NNAMDISpeaking of Marion Barry, the Ward 8 councilmember is getting a lot of attention for his push to expand Ward 8 across the Anacostia River. Regardless of the practical implications exactly what you're going to do, it seems that from a philosophical standpoint, what the councilmember is saying is that, look, we need a little more affluence in Ward 8. We'll be able to do a lot more if we have more affluent people living in Ward 8. It seems to me that that is a reasonable proposition.
EVANSWell, actually we looked at all of those suggestions, including Councilmember Barry's. The idea of, as Tom mentioned, southwest, the idea of where the baseball stadium is and precinct 131, and none of them really worked. Number one, it didn't bring enough people in...
NNAMDII didn't say I was being practical.
EVANSYes. They're across the river. There are no bridges that connect them. And, frankly, with the exception of Councilmember Barry and, you know, a couple of people, we could find nobody else who really wanted to do that. The people in Ward 6 didn't wanna do it. A lot of testimony, a night before last, from people in Ward 8 didn't wanna do it. And so I certainly understand his approach, but it's unlikely at this point that that would happen.
SHERWOODWhat do you -- one of the complaints people have, particularly on the far Capitol Hill east -- I'm not sure if there's an official name for that part...
SHERWOOD...is that by moving into Ward 7, although the schools don't move and the roads don't move and the communities don't move, that the people in Capitol Hill East will then be part of Ward 7, 90 percent of which is across the river, so that undermines their ability to have real influence in their Ward 7 race or to be really active in that Ward. Is that a legitimate concern? Looks like it would be.
EVANSI think it is. I think it is a legitimate concern. And I think that that's something, again, we're taking a look at. We had a very similar situation in Chevy Chase 10 years ago where...
NNAMDII was about to ask how this compares with 10 years ago.
EVANSVery -- well, it's not as difficult as 10 years ago.
SHERWOODA lot more people 10 years ago.
EVANSTen years ago, we made...
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) 30,000 people.
EVANSYeah. We made -- in Ward 2 alone, we made nine boundary changes. In Ward 6, we made six boundary changes. In my ward alone, we had to move 30,000 people because if you remember, Ward 6 back at that time was east of the river. So Ward 7 and 8 took everything of Ward 6 east of the river, and then Ward 6 had so few people that they took all southwest and northwest one from Ward 2, and, oh, it just went on and on. So this is nothing compared to that.
EVANSBut we did move a whole -- half of a neighborhood, Chevy Chase, 10 years ago from Ward 3 to Ward 4. And the park is the separation as the river is here. And so...
SHERWOODIt's a lot easier to get across the park than it is the river.
EVANSWell, and I think that's right, Tom. And I think there -- it hasn't worked perfectly, but it has worked. So you can make an argument that we have done this in the past. But clearly the people in Ward 6 are very concerned about this proposal, and we're taking a look at everything and see if there's anything we can do to be helpful.
SHERWOODCan I -- do you have a caller? You want me -- I have a question about the Kwame Brown issue.
NNAMDIKeep going. 800-433 -- if you have questions about redistricting, city finances, or anything else for our guest, City Councilmember Jack Evans, call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org.
SHERWOODI want to be clear, you know, he has made news here by saying that there are gonna be changes in this plan, which is the strongest he’s said that he's been working on (unintelligible)
NNAMDIUnfortunately, you're on vacation, so you don't get to break the story.
SHERWOODWell, yeah. But it won't be -- they won't be officially done the next week, but somebody will have it by Sunday's paper I'm sure.
SHERWOODLet me ask you about the new news of our Council Chairman Kwame Brown. We all thought he had said, the two vehicles he's all -- the two SUVs, he was gonna pay for whatever cost it were. And now Alan Suderman, I think, from the Loose Lips City paper has now reported that yet there was a third vehicle. He was offered a Tahoe. He had it, and then he didn't want it.
SHERWOODWhat is your general thought about the chairman in his continuing fully loaded controversy over what kind of car -- is there even something that's -- Chuck Thies asked me today. He says there's nothing in the home rule charter that the chairman gets a car. Is there something in the rules that he gets a car? Why does he even get one?
EVANSNo. There is -- there are no rules. The only person who, I believe, gets a car is the mayor. But by tradition -- I believe this goes back to John Wilson when John was really adamant that the council would be an equal branch of government with the mayor and have the same trapping. So the chairman got the same trapping...
SHERWOODBut he went around in sedan, some kind of...
EVANSOh, no. I agree.
SHERWOOD…beat-up motor pool car.
EVANSBeat-up sedan, yes. No. And Linda Cropp had a similar beat-up car and blah, blah, blah. But that's the genesis of how the chair of the council ended up with a vehicle. With Chairman Brown, I think what you're seeing with this newest New York congressman, you know, the -- there is such an analysis on how do you handle a controversy. Number one, on the one hand...
SHERWOODYou're talking about Weiner's boxer rebellion.
EVANSYeah. You put everything out there immediately...
EVANS...and hide nothing or you put -- you leave it -- you put out the least amount of information and hope nobody finds out. And, you know, whoever is advising the chairman, I would suspect we should say whatever happens, put it all out there because it's gonna dribble out, and there's nothing worse than, now six months into his administration, having another fully loaded article. I think that that -- and he's doing a good job on the budget and everything, so I'm sorry that this came out.
SHERWOODOK. And, you now, I actually -- he was here last Friday. I complimented him on the budget...
SHERWOOD...because of what all of you guys have said. But -- and someone said, well, Sherwood, he's -- don't he -- he gave you guys everything you wanted that's why he did a good thing on the budget. But let me ask you about Sulaiman Brown. He's coming to testify before the council on Monday.
SHERWOODDo you think he'll stop by to see what he has to say?
EVANSOh, absolutely. I think it's gonna be one of those -- he is the individual who was responsible for all of -- most of Chairman Gray's -- I mean, Mayor Gray's issues, and so it will be interesting to see what he has to say. I suspect he won't say much of anything if he's cooperating or working with U.S. Attorney's Office. My guess is they’ve instructed him to say nothing, so. But...
EVANS...you know, he's a guy who tends to -- I don't know him at all. I never met the guy. But he tends to run his mouth a lot, so, I mean, he may get in there and just start talking just because he's there.
SHERWOODWell, Mary Cheh, the chairman, says that, you know, you can answer questions without getting into any questions that the -- and she says nobody from the prosecutors have told her to...
SHERWOOD...lay off from the questions.
EVANSLay off, yeah. I mean, so the obvious question is gonna be, you know, did you get this money, and who did you get it from? Do you have any evidence other than your word that you didn't? And whether he can answer those questions, I don't know.
NNAMDIGentlemen, please don your headphones. We're going to Chris in Washington, D.C. Chris, you are now on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISThank you, Kojo. How are you doing?
CHRISGood, good. Great show. Jack, you deserve an award for your acting during the budget hearing. The babe in the woods character was amazing. I find it really disgusting that this city's top tax bracket is $40,000. You're so opposed to changing that and gradiating it so that we can raise some real income from the wealthiest earners in the city and saying that these people are gonna -- the wealthy are gonna leave if they're taxed any more.
CHRISAnd the fact -- with the context to that being the corporate giveaways, all of these years, the baseball stadium boondoggle, the Convention Center, the latest thing with the giant Marriott Hotel next to the Convention Center. All these corporate giveaways...
NNAMDIOK. Your bottom line being...
CHRIS…no mention of that during the budget season, oh, suddenly we're out of money. But we can't tax the rich.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Jack Evans respond because we had Kwame Brown, the chair, on here last week, and it looks like Chris might be beating a dead horse.
EVANSYes, he definitely is. The idea of raising our income tax, which is 8.5 percent, any higher, for me, isn't about we don't wanna tax the rich or -- and that presumes that somebody earning $200,000 is rich in this city. My whole problem with that is it sends the perception, again, that the district is in an unfriendly place for businesses, 'cause, remember, that 8.5 percent falls on small businesses and everyone else.
EVANSYou're absolutely right. No one is gonna get up and leave the city. But it really sends the message to people who might be thinking on locating here --and, frankly, people are here -- that this hurts them. And let me follow on to your second comment too. You mentioned the baseball stadium, the Convention Center, the Convention Center Hotel. You might as well throw the Verizon Center in.
EVANSThink what the city would be like today had we not built any of those things. What would downtown look like without the Verizon Center? What would the city be like with a fifth-rate convention center that had, at the time, become the 50th largest in America, without the new Convention Center?
EVANSAnd the baseball stadium, remember -- and I know people who oppose this hate to hear this -- makes a profit of $15 million a year that goes into our treasury and pays bills, in addition to the $50 million additional property tax revenue that we are now realizing from that area. And I can assure you, it would not have happened any way.
SHERWOODAre the bonds for the stadium being paid off?
EVANSAbsolutely. We are down now. We borrowed $584 million -- not a billion, not 600 million -- $584 million, which are now down to $510 million.
NNAMDIHere is Francis Campbell in Washington, D.C. Francis Campbell is an ANC in 6B. Francis Campbell, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
MR. FRANCIS CAMPBELLHi, gentlemen. And thank you for taking my call. Councilmember Evans, I mean as was noted in a number of the testimonies, when they talk about moving residents, we said it would diminish our voice by moving your residency as you’ve proposed to do it with this ward redistricting plan.
MR. FRANCIS CAMPBELLBut those people that are moving two to 3,000 inmates of the D.C. jail. So, again, in moving these people, why not just move the jails and its inmates, which would satisfy your numbers and not have to disrupt the neighborhood and disrupt all of my -- Hill East residents?
SHERWOODIt's a great question.
EVANSIt's a good question. And as I said in my opening comments, Councilmembers Brown, Mendelson and myself have taken very seriously this process, took very seriously the hearing the night before last. And we'll be making changes in the proposal that we put out. I cannot say now 'cause I don't wanna -- we don't know what they are. But I can assure you that what we come out with on Monday will be try to reflect some of the testimony that we heard last Wednesday night.
NNAMDIA similar concern comes from James on Capitol Hill. James, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESYeah. I'm actually in Francis Campbell's part of the ward. He's my ANC commissioner. I just wanted to weigh in because one of you -- and pardon me, I forget -- who mentioned, you know, the -- one of the negatives. In other words, I live in the part of Ward 6 that would be severed from Ward 6. And someone mentioned that it would give us across the river from, you know, the main part of Ward 7.
JAMESWe wouldn't have as much influence on Ward 7. My concern is not that, but that everything that happens around my house: the safety of the streets, traffic patterns, just, you know, public safety issues, zoning concerns. Everything like that has to do with Ward 6. I'm a block and a half from 17th Street. And if this goes ahead and severs us, blocking half of it, at least, from Ward 6, I suddenly lose any say in my -- in anything that happens around my house. And that's just not right.
SHERWOODCan I add to that question? 'Cause some -- I've heard people like Yvette Alexander, who represents Ward 7, say, well, you know, the school districts don't change and the police districts won't change.
NNAMDIWell, allow -- go ahead.
SHERWOODBut I do feel -- I understand why people feel emotionally detached from the people who live around them.
EVANSYeah. And, Tom, I think, in this city, anyone who's lived here as long as the three of us have -- and I've been here over 30 years -- we have an identification with our ward. And if it means absolutely nothing, we still have it. You know, I've lived in Ward 2. I'm Ward 2. If somebody in the office said -- and said I was Ward 1, I'd feel like a -- you know, didn't have my pants on or something. You know, or...
SHERWOODNow we’re into Weiner remarks.
NNAMDIJust don't tweet it. That's all.
EVANSBut -- so...
NNAMDILet's talk about it in more...
EVANSI just want people to understand that we certainly heard throughout this whole process and are still listening. Yes, go ahead.
NNAMDIDavid Alpert of the website Greater Greater Washington wrote this week that redistricting wouldn't matter as much if wards weren't, as he characterized it, mini empires. He argued that the city's agency should be able to operate more independently of which ward a facility or a school is located. To what extent are the wards mini empires?
EVANSWell, Kojo, this goes to the fundamental principle of how America is structured or any geographical place is structured. We are structured in eight wards like many states are structured into counties, into congressional districts. We divide lines and we elect people from those divisions to represent us. And I've -- I know David quite well. I talk to him all the time.
EVANSAnd, I mean, there is this philosophy: Let's not have any boundaries or any representatives. Or let's have just neighborhoods or this utopian kind of idea that this doesn't exist. Look, the reality is we have eight wards in the city. It was established in 1975, just like congressional districts. And we elect a representative from that ward who does the best that he or she can do to represent that ward. That's how this -- that's how America is set up.
SHERWOODOne thing -- one of these issues -- the Latino -- some of the Latino representatives said -- not elected 'cause they're not there --
SHERWOOD...that they may wanna sue because they are dispersed enough that they can't have a say in a ward. Is that a concern going forward?
NNAMDIThat's why we have at-large representatives...
EVANSThat's exactly right, Kojo. (laugh) I'm glad you said it. We have at-large representatives 'cause they represent everybody. And secondly, that is the gerrymandering quote that takes place in many other jurisdictions, that a population that is in the -- not in the majority wants to be represented. And so you had this in the old South, where you'd have these districts that would, you know, displace everyone so that the majority kept getting elected everywhere.
EVANSThen you'd gerrymander districts to make sure that somebody could get elected. And so those are issues that are very common and have been addressed and...
SHERWOODLooking good. But I'm gonna ask before we run out of time: Are you gonna run in the Race for the Cure tomorrow, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Tomorrow? Is that something not on your schedule?
EVANSThat's not on my schedule, although my daughters, I believe, are. My daughters are going in there. Yeah.
NNAMDIWe got an...
EVANSBut it's a great race for the -- to raise money for cancer.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, executive director of DC Vote.
SHERWOODNo, he is no account. No account.
NNAMDI"Tell Tom that I will see him tomorrow at the Jefferson Memorial. If--"
SHERWOODIf Dewitt Kinlow dances, I think we should turn off all cameras.
NNAMDI"If residents want to make a stand for local democracy, then they should dance madly for full self-determination."
SHERWOODOh, my goodness. Oh, my.
EVANSHe's expecting 2,500 people.
SHERWOODMothers and children, cover your eyes.
EVANSI know. (laugh)
NNAMDITom Sherwood will be there. He says he's covering it because, well, he can't dance. Jack Evans is a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat who represents Ward 2. He's chairman of the council's Committee on Finance and Revenue who keeps showing up here uninvited.
SHERWOODHe made news here today. He made news. He's changing...
EVANSI'm always driving by on Friday...
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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