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.
Guest Host: Marc Fisher
It’s getting hot: Alexandria officials announce the closure of a coal-fired power plant, fueling debate about what to do with the prime waterfront property. The District investigates taxpayer dollars diverted to fund a strip club. And a plan to manage the deer population in Rockville, Maryland sparks a response from a television personality turned animal rights activist.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Stuart Hagen Chair of the White Tailed Deer Task Force, Rockville, Maryland; Resident of Rockville, MD.
- Bob Barker Television personality and animal rights activist; author of "Priceless Memories."
- Natwar Gandhi Chief Financial Officer, District of Columbia
Politics Hour Extra
D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi says that the city has a severely depleted working capital and that come the first week of October, D.C. will be borrowing about $900 million just to cover its operating costs – the most it has ever had to borrow for this purpose:
Television personality and animal rights activist Bob Barker says that there should be alternatives to Rockville’s proposed controlled deer hunt to thin the out-of-control deer population in the area. But Chair of the White Tailed Deer Task force, Stuart Hagen, says that none of the alternatives will actually be effective and that the deer hunt will be carefully overseen:
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," for more than two decades, your place for local politics and the personalities behind them. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo. And he is back next week. But here with us, as always on Fridays, Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst, an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist with the Current Newspapers and -- I am allowed to say -- a senior citizen?
MR. TOM SHERWOODYes. I am, as of July.
FISHERMy God. Shocking. Shocking news, especially when you -- if you can see the youthful Tom Sherwood, the energetic, youthful Tom Sherwood, you'd be...
FISHER...utterly stunned by this news.
FISHERWell, that's what it is. Well, TV makeup or not, nothing could hide the smoke and the pollution and the noise of the Pepco plant, later called the Mirant plant, later called the GenOn plant, basically, the noisy power plant in old town Alexandria that has been the bane of many residents' existence for decades. And it's finally going to be shut down.
SHERWOODIt's terrific that someone has finally said, clearly, it's not needed. This is something -- this is acreage that can be redeveloped for Alexandria. It can be put to use. I mean, it's pretty bad if the mayor of the city is thinking about suing you because of the pollution that's coming up the river, you know, although I still think the mayor should sue Maryland over Anacostia. But that's a whole different story. But it's amazing that plant has kept so long.
FISHERAnd the amazing thing about it is that the residents there protested against this, raised environmental concerns on and on for decades, and, actually, what finally killed the thing was not really the protests so much as the fact that the plant simply became obsolete. There are other sources for power that are more efficient and more economical for the power company.
SHERWOODI'm not quite sure why it says here it's going to close by Oct. 12. It's just a year away now, so get out there...
SHERWOOD...and breathe in the pollutants as much as you can.
FISHERRight. Get out there, and enjoy it while you can. And it will take them at least that long, if not much longer to figure out what to do with that land going forward. But it does open up the waterfront for Alexandria and give them a chance to connect all the exciting stuff of old town with the residential areas in a new way.
FISHERAnd that will lead to all sorts of new controversies as well. Well, moving on, the District has found a way to cause controversy now with its AIDS money. This is the money that is set aside for the care of AIDS patients. And this has been a continuing source of trouble for the District government.
FISHERAnd now, we find that a former drug kingpin who somehow got a big AIDS contract was able to steer some of that money, or even much of that money, into paying somehow to renovate a strip club.
SHERWOODWell, the name of the organization is Miracle Hands. Now, that actually fits with a strip club, I would think.
FISHERI guess so.
SHERWOODBut the -- and this -- you get the money. Where was the oversight? This is the kind of the classic problem my X years of covering the city. The oversight of spending on grants, who decides -- when people get these grants, it has been a continuous problem. Grants are given. Reports are given. And no one checks to see if the reports really are done consistently. The city spends billions of dollars over years. But this is a particularly egregious (word?).
SHERWOODYou know, that HIV-AIDS in this city is one of the worst in the country. And to think that any -- that a dollar is wasted on HIV-AIDS for anything else is remarkable.
FISHERAnd the D.C. government is now suing this nonprofit group Miracle Hands to get back about $330,000 in grant money that was given -- they were supposed to set up a job training facility, which is often the way that money tends to vanish from the D.C...
SHERWOODThe job training usually is the people who get the grants. They get the jobs, and that's about it.
FISHERRight. They get their money.
SHERWOODBut this is good for Irv Nathan, the new attorney general for the city, appointed by Mayor Gray. You know, people wondered whether he would be -- he's much more mild mannered and almost milk toasty in his presence. But people wondered if he was going to be more like Peter Nicholas, who was much more hard-charging, who was often in front of the cameras.
SHERWOODAnd -- but Irv Nathan, with his suit against Tommy Thomas worth $300,000-or-so of misspending money, let's hope that this is a sign the attorney general is going to be very aggressive.
FISHERWell, Atty. Gen. Irv Nathan may have another issue to take up. And that is on something where Mayor Vince Gray was trying to turn the page, trying to set a new tone for his administration. This week, he announced the appointment of a new chief of staff, as well as a new deputy chief of staff. And that deputy, Andi Pringle, came with a rather impressive resume.
FISHERShe had worked on the campaigns of not only people in the city, such as Harry Thomas Jr. and Scott Bolden and Vince Orange in two campaigns but on national campaigns, presidential campaigns of Bill Richardson, Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson, Carol Moseley-Braun. But it turns out that she has perhaps been overzealous in some of her campaign work in the past, particularly in this last mayoral election, where she worked for Gray against Mayor Adrian Fenty.
SHERWOODAnd I'll point out -- this is something that's not commonly known. She had prepared the Don Peebles' campaign for mayor. She had put together a remarkable team of people that would have run the Don Peebles' campaign had he ran for mayor. He didn't run. But what she's done and what she's acknowledged is she has been living in Maryland. But last year, she voted in the District of Columbia election.
SHERWOODOn its face, that's a criminal act.
FISHERAnd she lives in Montgomery County. She had lived in the District for some years, I think, eight years or so prior to that. And she just continued to vote in the District despite living very clearly in Montgomery County.
SHERWOODI don't -- and I have to say I don't have any stats on this. But this is kind of goes to the issue of the porous borders of the District of Columbia where people think that they can kind of live here and be part of the city, but they don't -- they aren't really. I mean, I can't tell you a number of people who live in Maryland or Virginia when they want to criticize the city. And I say, but you don't live in the city.
SHERWOODThey say, well, I was born there, as if they have some hold on commenting. But this is a very serious issue because you're turning the page, as you mentioned, to start afresh, to reboot, to reset the Gray administration, and you find out the person who's going to be in charge of your communications at this point, who's going to be community organizing is someone who lives in Maryland and voted in our election.
SHERWOODIt's an indefensible kind of remark. Some people have called on her to resign. I don't know what's going to happen.
SHERWOODBut she'll face a charge.
FISHERThe other issue that's come up is she won an award for an advertisement that she created for Vince Gray in his winning campaign for mayor, which was an overtly racial appeal, in which a black woman was pictured in this flyer and basically it said Mayor Fenty doesn't care about you and doesn't...
FISHER...want you to vote in this election. And that was -- it sort of flew in the face of Gray's expressed theme of one city and bringing people together.
SHERWOODWell, you know, that was a different goal then. The goal was to get Gray elected, and it was a very good campaign ad. And Gray has talked about one city endlessly since he's been elected. You know, you just move on from those election kind of -- and those placards are often forgotten.
FISHERWell, we'll see if this one is forgotten and if...
SHERWOODBut her voting won't be.
FISHER...and if the new deputy of chief of staff is able to hold on yet another controversy for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. And speaking of the District of Columbia, we're going to be talking momentarily with Nat Gandhi, the chief financial officer of the District of Columbia, about a very difficult financial situation yet again.
FISHEREvery time we think the District has pulled itself out from trouble and out from financial despair, we get slapped again with a controversy over whether the District is really as solvent and healthy as it appears to be.
SHERWOODWell, I think the city is solvent, but the issue is how you keep persuading Wall Street and other places, that you're solvent. But I hope we're also going to talk to Nat Gandhi about how he played Mahatma Gandhi in an event out in Rockville.
FISHERWe certainly will. We certainly will. And he's often confused with -- in fact, they come from the same hometown...
FISHER...in India. So we can...
SHERWOODWhen I did my story for Channel 4, we actually stood on Massachusetts Avenue at the Gandhi statue where I talked to him about playing Gandhi. And then we did a nice little story about it.
FISHERAnd he is -- as many D.C. residents may not know, the chief financial officer is an accomplished poet in Sanskrit, and he has published books. And he joins us now. Nat Gandhi, the chief financial officer for the District of Columbia, welcome to "The Politics Hour." If you'd like to join our conversation, you can do so at 1-800-433-8850. Or email us at kojo -- K-O-J-O -- @wamu.org. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo.
FISHERAnd, Dr. Gandhi, welcome to you. We welcome you in as we, unfortunately, too often do, at a point when the questions are being raised about the District's financial health. This time, it's about a possible downgrading of the District's credit rating by the major credit agencies in New York. You were there to talk to them. They gave you, apparently, a stern and difficult message. How serious are they about this downgrade?
DR. NATWAR GANDHIWell, thank you, Marc, for inviting me. Thank you, Tom. I appreciate being here. There is a concern on Wall Street about all the jurisdiction that depend upon the federal government for their expenditures and their presence. As you know, Maryland, Virginia and surrounding counties and jurisdiction, also some other states who depend greatly on federal government, have been notified of the concern on the part of rating agency.
DR. NATWAR GANDHIWe are practically sitting on the lap of the federal government. So the federal government is a major presence here. And what they do in terms of the cuts, expenditures, et cetera, freeze, laying off of people, that will all affect us. Second, that -- over the last several years, we have used up our savings account or so-called fund the balance. Recall that in mid-'90s, we had roughly half a billion dollar -- $500 million deficit in fund the balance.
DR. NATWAR GANDHIThen, we had accumulated about a billion and a half dollar in -- by 2005 fund the balance, a $2 billion turnaround. Other cities that have gone through control period experiences, like New York, Philadelphia, none has been able to come back as well and as fast as the District has. And during that time period, we have received roughly seven successive upgrades.
DR. NATWAR GANDHISo from junk bonds, we went to AAA on our income tax bonds and AA on our so-called general obligations.
SHERWOODBut now, in the last -- since the Fenty administration, we went from one and half billion down to around $600 million. And Wall Street doesn't like that.
GANDHIWell, it's more like it be -- by the end of this year, around $700-plus million. But -- and Wall Street doesn't like that at all because what it happens here, Tom, that we'd lose our liquidity. We don't have working capital. We have about $6 billion local enterprise here. And that $6 billion, what it means is that we need about $500 million a month to just run day-to-day. We have depleted our working capital altogether.
GANDHISo in the beginning of October, first week of October, we will be borrowing around $900 million just to carry on our day-to-day affairs.
SHERWOODBut the city always borrows a substantial amount of money every fall to go forward in anticipation of the spring tax revenues. But this is, I think, the most we've ever borrowed. Is that correct?
GANDHIThat's right. We used to borrow around $3-, $400 million.
GANDHINow, we're talking about $900 million.
FISHERSo whose fault is this? I mean, you've been warning about this for years. I mean, you know...
FISHER...if anyone were to caricature your performance in this office, he's the guy who's always crying. This is -- you know, terrible things are about to happen if we don't get our house in order. And so the council members and the mayor, they were the ones who have learned your lessons over the years. Where did it go off the rails?
GANDHIWell, that is a legitimate reason for us to be able to use the fund the balance. Imagine a family having economic troubles. The breadwinner lost a job. So at that time, you go to the savings account. Over the last few years, we, along with the rest of the nation, have gone through a recession that has been the widest and the deepest since the Great Depression. So it is all right to use the fund balance at that time.
GANDHIHowever, what these rating agencies, the financial markets look forward to is, what are your plans to replenish those fund balance? As we look ahead for next four years in our five-year plan, what we see here is that our fund balance roughly stays $700-plus million. And if I'm...
SHERWOODThe fund balance has been cut in half, and the mayor proposed no additional ready money to their fund balance this year. The council headed up just like a measly -- and I say measly because that's what it is -- $26 million, and then they cut that back to 13. It just seems there's no will to rebuild up balance, no matter what you've said.
GANDHIWell, the mayoral veto and the council decisions, we will -- are going to add around $28 million. And you're right. That does not send a good signal. It's a signal, but not as much as they would like to have. But the second point here is that any additional incremental revenue that we get -- if we have a quarterly revenue estimate -- what the rating agency look for is that we put that in fund balance.
GANDHIAnd instead of doing that, we are spending that money. And also, we do contingent budgeting. That is revenue that is yet to come in 2010. We do budget it out, and that is not welcome.
FISHERNow, you have tried over the years to persuade the politicians in town to get their spending in line. You've tried to this through moral suasions, through educating them about the process and what the credit agencies are looking for.
FISHERAnd in that -- in doing so, you've sometimes been compared to the great Mahatma Gandhi, who, I understand, you played in a theatrical production in Rockville this summer in a play written by a Rockville resident and which you had to, perhaps, take on even bigger questions than the budget of the District of Columbia. This is Ben Kingsley in the movie "Gandhi."
FISHERLet's hear a clip from him.
FISHERWill the politicians of the District have to torture your body and break your bones and even kill you is the question.
FISHERAnd we raise this question because D.C. Councilmember David Catania, just yesterday, was rather harsh. He said, I am tired of playing these expletive games with this idiot bean counter. If he were half as good a chief financial officer as he is a spin agent, the city wouldn't be in as bad financial shape as we are in, very tough words from one of the council members who, perhaps, studies the budget more closely than many of his colleagues.
FISHERWhere is this venom coming from? And how do you now deal with politicians who are pointing to you as the problem?
GANDHIWell, I would not dignify that by giving any response. So I would leave it at that. However, I do want to give credit to the elected leadership. Remember, in the $2 billion turnaround that we talked about, half of that came -- $1 billion came after the control board went away. So our elected leadership did perform substantial fiscal prudence. And we did accumulate $1.5 billion in fund balance.
GANDHISo my suggestion to you here is that we want to send good signal to the Wall Street that we are quite serious about this depletion of fund balance, that we want to be careful about making sure that we have a plan to maintain our credibility in the financial market.
SHERWOODI do -- I know you do not want to talk about David Catania, your good friend on the council. But I do want to point -- there as a history of this, at least dating back to the baseball stadium where David Catania was one of the most vociferous critics of the spending. And you guys fought over that, your assessments of whether the city could go forward, 'cause there have been a number of issues around which you and he have disagreed.
SHERWOODAnd he's always been fairly harsh. But this is the first time he used the word idiot. I thought that was a real surprise.
GANDHIWell, in my capacity as a chief financial officer, you know, people call me different names.
SHERWOODYou call yourself a bean counter, so I'm not worried about bean counter, even though that's used as a derogatory most of the time. But using the word idiot, I wonder if he would revise and extend his remarks if he could.
GANDHII don't want to comment on issues of that sort. I don't think it's appropriate for a bureaucrat to comment on that.
FISHERIf you could put your headphones on, we're going to hear from Steve in Front Royal. Steve, it's your turn.
STEVEYeah, thank you. I have a question for Mr. Gandhi. I actually live in Southern Maryland. And I've been a veteran of local government for the past 30-some years. And it amazes me how much higher the salaries are paid to, particularly, management personnel in the District of Columbia government versus the outlying surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia.
STEVEI mean, I'm talking about salary levels 50 to 100 percent more than are paid in these counties, many of which are only 30, 50 air miles from Washington, D.C. And I was wondering, considering the financial situation that the District faces, whether there's any thought to looking at the cost that the city government pays for their (word?) versus what is being paid in many of the other counties in that area.
FISHEROkay. Thanks, Steve. Let's hear Dr. Gandhi's response.
GANDHII think the point is well taken. The council has already established a freeze on any bonuses, any salary increment and on hiring. Now, there is problem about the disparity of wages. People in the city feel that they are not paid well. Second, that, you know, city's cost of living is much higher, and we have no account for that as well.
GANDHIAnd it is not easy to attract people to work for the city government. Many are competing against world-class jurisdiction like Fairfax, Montgomery...
SHERWOODAnd the federal government.
GANDHI...and the federal government.
FISHERAnd Steve is right about the lower pay rates in counties 30, 50 miles away. But in the immediate neighboring counties of Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George's, you are competing an often -- or considerably behind those wealthier suburban communities in the amounts you pay.
SHERWOODAnd I'm not sure what the superintendent of Montgomery schools makes, you know? We have to pay for that. The Montgomery -- the Prince George's County council members make -- right at $98-, $99,000 a year. Our elected council members make 125. That's a lot of money if you get it. The difference -- but it's not a huge difference. It is more expensive here.
SHERWOODI'm more worried about how the money is spent in the government rather than the salary. That's not the budget problem the city has.
FISHERAnd one of those problems in spending money, that the credit agencies brought up and that ticked off Councilmember Catania this week, is this whole question of the city's hospital and the -- obviously, we went through this long period of deactivating D.C. General Hospital. And now we have the hospital in Southeast, United Medical Center. And, apparently, the credit agencies on Wall Street don't like the idea of cities supporting any hospital.
GANDHIWell, I think there is a general concern among rating agencies and the financial markets about the not-for-profit public hospital nationwide. The Moody's are so concerned about the public hospital that they have put the entire public hospital sector under a negative outlook. Second, that I think we have had an experience with D.C. General, and, as you pointed out, we had to close that. Now...
SHERWOODWhich was a big fight because every council member, I believe -- I remember going to a press conference in which, I think, every council member stood up and said, don't close this hospital. Mayor Williams said we're going to, we have to and we need to. And the control board backed him up. Had he not had the control board, D.C. General would be open today.
GANDHIRight. But the important point does remain that we have to find a way to provide quality health care for the needy citizen east of the River. That is the issue before the mayor and the council, and they have to decide how best to do it.
SHERWOODBut is it your view that -- David Catania has worked very hard to -- I was starting to say prop up. I think that's what I meant -- prop up the hospital to get The Washington Hospital Center, I think it is, to help with the -- can't say that -- baby clinic, other things. But is it salvageable?
GANDHIWell, I think...
SHERWOODOr is it salvageable (unintelligible) in favor of risk?
GANDHII think what I'm suggesting here is that if you want a normal operating hospital east of the River, we should get a very good assessment. How much does it cost to do that? Ninety or so percent of poverty, the patient population that come there is government subsidized, some form of government subsidy.
GANDHIRight. Now, the issue here is how best to make it financially viable, credible hospital. Now, mayor has appointed a consulting firm to basically make that assessment. And by the end of September, we will have the report of that consulting firm about the financial liability, operational liability, credibility of that hospital. And we would have much better idea then.
FISHERJust a few days ago, you pushed out the hospital's chief financial officer, Derrick Hollings, who had been hired by the hospital when it was still owned by the previous owner and -- but somehow they have managed to maneuver things where the same man, although he's no longer the chief financial officer, will essentially still be running the hospital.
GANDHIWell, I mean, I cannot prevent from him being hired on the executive or program site. That is their choice. But when we took over the hospital, I did not want to disturb the managerial structure there because, more than anything else, we want to go through a transition that is as smooth as possible. So we kept all the programmatic and the financial people there.
GANDHINow, I thought it was about time to find a new CFO, one in whom we have a confidence. And we have started a search for that. And Mr. Hollings, you know, is still there helping manage the hospital.
SHERWOODCan -- I don't know how much time we have for Dr. Gandhi, but I want to talk about iGaming, Internet gambling. Despite characterizations to the otherwise, this Intranet iGaming thing was sprung on the people of the city with very little public disclosure, no public hearing. And now, there's a delay -- Jack Evans has said he's going to ask for yet another hearing on this.
SHERWOODYou have Marie Drissel, who's one of the big critics of this, says you have the power to really delay this. As chief financial officer, you're setting up the rules on how it would be monitored, how it will be -- and that you can hold this up, so there can be much more public vetting of whether this city should be going into the Internet gambling world. Would you do that? Can you make that unilateral action? Would you make it?
GANDHIWell, first of all, right now it is legal. Second point that we want to keep in mind here is, as we promised at the hearing, is that we want to be absolutely sure that we have community input and mayoral and council feedback until we roll it out.
SHERWOODAll over the city, where I have been, people act surprised about it. They don't feel comfortable knowing what can happen. I know Buddy Roogow from the lottery has said, oh, it's going to be this. We have all these controls. But whether or not we could even control a system to keep it from being hacked from outside the city, it just seems to me like a huge undertaking. And we're doing it almost slight of hand, out of public sight.
GANDHIWell, look, I cannot control what council does. That is their prerogative. All I'm promising you is that we are going to find the best available technological way in which to protect the integrity of lottery and iGaming, and we are going to do to make sure that all the federal laws and the local laws are properly followed.
SHERWOODThey're hiring people who will be full-fledged casino people, not just a couple of little games.
FISHERWell, we will...
GANDHIWell, not us. But...
SHERWOODBut the Intralot...
GANDHINo. But they have to prepare for it, not -- that it will not go ahead until we say, okay.
SHERWOODOkay, good. I just think a lot of the people in the city -- again, my going around the entire city -- is people feel like this as being a surprise package without their input.
GANDHIWell, look, there is already a proposal to cancel the whole affair.
FISHERDo you think it's a good thing to have Internet gambling in the city?
GANDHIWell, I hold no opinions. All I'm saying here is that council and the mayor and the people at large would have to decide. If they want it, we'll roll it out.
SHERWOODThere's going to be another -- Jack Evans says he's going to hold another hearing. I think that will lead to a lot more public discussion, and it could be a very big hurdle for iGaming in the city.
FISHERNat Gandhi is the chief financial officer for the District of Columbia. Thanks very much for joining us today. We appreciate it.
FISHERWell, in Rockville, up the roadways in Montgomery County, there are a lot of deer these days. In fact, more than 30 deer incidents reported to the Rockville City Police on just one small section of West Gude Drive. And these can be car crashes involving a deer, deer carcasses found on the road. It's been -- they are on the horns of a dilemma in Rockville.
FISHERWhich is why we're turning to Bob Barker. Bob Barker, who you know from "The Price is Right" TV show for many years, decades, joins us now, on the line, from California. And, Bob Barker, you're joining us because you're concerned about this situation in Rockville, Md.
MR. BOB BARKERThat's right, Marc. I am concerned. And I think that many animal lovers and people who have enjoyed those deer are concerned as well. And I want to thank you and The Washington Post and all the other newspapers and radio and television stations who have made this problem known to the public. Because that's what we need, is a public reaction and try to put a stop to this hunt.
FISHERWell, this is what's being proposed. There's the task force in Rockville that has come up with the idea that Rockville, like many other agencies all around the Washington area and around the country, would have a managed hunt because the population of deer in Rockville is out of control. And, you know, you have spent a good part of your career asking people to neuter their pets.
FISHERThat's not really possible with deer in the wild. So shouldn't there be some form of control over the deer population?
BARKERWell, I understand that there are. Now, unfortunately, they have not been discussed. It is my understanding that when this deer problem was discussed at a -- I assume it was a council meeting, that three councilman promptly said, let's have a hunt. We're going to go on a hunt, and we can't wait to get the hunt started, and that there were other alternative plans there, but not discussed.
BARKERAnd I would love to see those discussed before they start shooting deer and possibly passersby as well.
SHERWOODMr. Barker, this is Tom Sherwood, a local reporter here in town, what could be done? It seems to me there's two problems. One, there are too many deer right now. And you can't go out and build enough fences or whatever to keep them away. There's not enough deer repellant to keep them away. How would you thin this herd of deer immediately?
SHERWOODThen you do a long-term plan, maybe to do something about spaying and whatever it takes to cut back the population. What would you do to cut back the population?
BARKERI do not have the knowledge or background to tell you how to manage deer or manage any other animals that become a problem because of population, except dogs and cats, which is spay and neuter. Now, I understand that there are alternative measures to be taken, which I have not been adequately discussed. And what those are, I have not been able to find out as yet, but I hope to have that information in the near future.
SHERWOODYour basic view is that all animal life is -- should be protected, I would guess.
BARKERWell, absolutely, in every way possible, of course. These deer have become part of that neighborhood. There are probably people living there, who moved there, because there were the -- there were deer there. They are harmless and wonderful, wonderful animals. And, as a matter fact, I was a part of an effort not long ago, a year, a year-and-a-half ago -- there's a community there in Washington, D.C. of only four homes.
BARKERAnd these four homes are in an area, which -- in which there is a certain amount of forest. And deer had lived there for years and years and years. There were children there who had grown up with these deer. And someone sold the one -- one of the houses. And someone moved in, who went through the same sort of thing that apparently some people are going through there. They're eating my plants and so and so and so and so.
BARKERAnd he arranged for bow hunters to come in there and kill these deer. Well, we found out about it, and then -- one of the homeowners was a friend of mine, and she called me. And I called, and, fortunately, The Washington Post came through with a story. And this neighbor, who had just moved in, suddenly changed his mind. And those deer are flourishing now.
BARKERWhy can't we do the same thing right there in Rockville?
FISHERThat was -- that happened over in McLean in Virginia, as I recall. This time, though, the situation is in Rockville. And in a letter that you wrote to the citizens of Rockville, Bob Barker, you said that perhaps the residents are not as aware as you that -- are not aware that you really do believe that lawmakers should listen to the public.
FISHERBut what if the public is fed up with this uncontrolled population of deer that causes mayhem on the roads and kills off new generations of young trees? Should -- if most people believe that, should the politicians listen to them?
BARKERWell, I think that it would be interesting to give the public -- perhaps, have an initiative or both of some sort and learn -- and, first -- the first thing that we should do, or that they should do, is to discuss the alternative plans. What are they? I don't have that information, and I doubt if the public has it as yet. And if there are two, three, four alternatives, let's hear what they are. Now, I understand that the mayor wants to -- is opposed to the hunt.
BARKERAnd I understand that two people who are running for council membership are opposed to the hunt. But I also understand that there are three members of the council who immediately, upon beginning this discussion said, let's have a hunt. Let's have a hunt. And, of course, all the hunters are in favor of that.
BARKERBut as you learn more about these hunts, they are supposedly -- psychologists say that they are very harmful to children because the children have loved to learn -- have learned to love the deer. And to see a deer running around with an arrow sticking out of it, while it dies in agony, is not very -- a very good sight for a child to see.
BARKERAnd, of course, they miss their deer if they're killed, and they've learned to -- grown up with the deer. And there are people, adults as well, who love the deer...
BARKER...and have enjoyed the deer. And so let's find out if there isn't something that can be done, that would be effective, and we'll solve the problems of the people who are worried about their plants or whatever.
FISHEROkay. We'll let -- we will...
BARKERAnd you'll still have the deer, and deer hunts are unsuccessful anyway.
FISHEROkay. We will check that with our next guest. I want to thank, Bob Barker, who now devotes his time to animal rights. His memoir is titled "Priceless Memories" and, of course, he's the long-time host of "The Price is Right."
FISHERAnd now, come on down. Our next guest is Stuart Hagen. Stuart Hagen chairs the White Tailed Deer Task Force for the City of Rockville. And, Stuart Hagen, you have spent a lot of time looking into this question that Bob Barker said. He didn't know what the alternatives were. But you've studied every one of those alternatives. And what did you come up with?
MR. STUART HAGENYes.
SHERWOODWhat are they?
SHERWOODSo what are the alternatives?
HAGENWell, I have studied the alternatives, Tom, and it's a bit frustrating. There are no good answers out there really, especially in urban areas, including a managed hunt. It's not going to solve the problem overnight. Now, the first thing is the least, I guess, intrusive to deer, would be deterrence and exclusion. And that's -- those were the things that we did discuss and we did bring up with the council. Deterrence is that --
FISHERThat means fences and repellant, essentially?
HAGENRight. Right, repellants and fences. And that's a great idea for your yard if you want to go ahead and put up a big huge high fence. It's typically not done in many homes in the area. We like to have our little fencing around in our yards, and so that's a problem kind of aesthetically. And it also doesn't solve the problem.
HAGENIt solves the problem for you perhaps, but not for your neighbors, who now -- that's where the deer go, unless they decide to do the deterrence and the exclusion as well. So those two options are not really helpful. A third option that we looked at was contraception. And it is possible for -- to use contraception on deer, but to do so -- first of all, these are not pets. They're wild animals.
HAGENAnd you have to catch the deer first and sedate them. You have to -- and then you give -- do a contraceptive procedure that hopefully makes them non-fertile -- the doe non-fertile for a year.
FISHERAnd that seems awfully impractical, given the number of deer. As we understand it, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources says that it's typical or reasonable to have 25 or so deer per square mile. But when the last census was done by an aerial survey, more than a decade ago, the number in the Montgomery County area was more than four times that. The population was more than four times that dense.
FISHERAnd, presumably, it's even worst now, although we don't really have numbers at this point.
HAGENThat's true. The last census was done in 2002, and they estimated between 50 and 200 head of deer per square mile in Rockville. And that's -- it's a huge number, and you're right. You can't really use contraception, aside from the fact that you have to go through this big process in order to do the procedure. It's also very costly.
HAGENAnd that's something that's very hard to do on city budgets, just like any other government agency are tough for money right now.
SHERWOODIf -- if you go look forward with this deer hunt -- and this would be shooting them, not bow and arrows; is that correct? It's just not a bow and arrow hunt, or is it?
HAGENIt is not a traditional bow and arrow hunt, and maybe we should talk a little bit about the hunting method in general.
SHERWOODBut before you -- I just want to say, and let's assume you do a hunt, you know, a successful hunt and you kill any number of deer within Rockville, what is to keep the deer from coming from other parts of Montgomery County? It's just repopulating right -- is this going to have to be a series of -- like, we'll have deer hunting season in Rockville?
HAGENIt won't work that way. Let me first point out that both Howard County and Montgomery County do this. They already have deer...
SHERWOODThey do do it?
HAGENYes. They have deer management programs, which include managed hunts in a controlled environment. This is very different than what Mr. Barker was referring to. He has this impression that we're going to just let people go, and you're going to have these guys sitting in the back of pick-up trucks, slugging down a Coors Light and -- with a gun and just taking pot shots where they can.
HAGENBut that's clearly not the case. There are going to be very -- there are very strict rules. There are organizations out there, that we've spoken with, who actually conduct these hunts on behalf of city and county governments. They do it in very restricted areas. There's a minimum distance in which the hunt has to take place from an inhabited dwelling.
HAGENThere's a long -- there's a -- they make sure, you know, through a series of notices and through careful guarding of areas to make sure that everyone is excluded from the area where this is going to take place. Then they do it. They do the cleanup, and they're out of there.
FISHERStuart Hagen is the chairman of the White-Tailed Deer Task Force in the city of Rockville. I'm Marc Fisher, and this is The Politics Hour on WAMU. Let's go to John in Gaithersburg. John, it's your turn.
JOHNHi. Thank you, Marc. And I'm appreciating the conversation. I'm with the Humane Society of the United States. I'm the director of our urban wildlife programs and dealt a lot with deer issues. And, as a matter of fact, we were associated with the task force in Rockville and participated as a non-voting member. We'll be issuing a minority report.
JOHNAnd while we appreciate very much the efforts in Rockville to be inclusive, to listen to all voices and try to comprehensively understand these issues, we differ, of course.
SHERWOODWhat do you want them to do?
JOHNWell, we want them to begin at the beginning, which means, let's define our problems. There are typically four things that concern people with deer: eating ornamentals in the backyard, automobile accidents, the relationship of deer to the tick that carries Lyme disease and then the impact of deer on natural forests and vegetation.
SHERWOODSo the problem was pretty well-defined. We have too many deer that's disrupting the urban life of -- in Rockville. What should they do right now? What's the immediate thing -- steps...
JOHN(unintelligible) I understand that, but you're jumping to a conclusion that not everyone agrees with, that too many deer kind of -- doesn't represent the significant part of the population who feels that they like to see deer, that they enjoy deer, that to see a deer in the backyard or while they're on a walk in the local park is a valid and an indefensible thing. I mean, this is something we enjoy, a lot of us.
FISHERSo you would do nothing.
JOHNI'm not saying we'd do nothing. Now, the HSUS has been behind development and implementation of contraceptive programs that have worked very well in Fripp Island in South Carolina, and they've worked very well in Fire Island in New York. We're actually proposing that we work with the National Park Service here in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., to evaluate an urban contraceptive program for the first time. If we don't do these things, we'll never learn how to do them right.
JOHNAnd I do want to take exception to the argument that hunting solves the problem because I've looked at many hundreds of technical and peer-reviewed research papers on urban deer, and I just don't see a relationship between hunting and achieving a goal. I think hunting creates a placebo effect.
FISHEROkay. So, Stuart...
JOHN(unintelligible) their hunting, and it works.
FISHERStuart Hagen, obviously, you and the majority of the task force concluded that most people do have a problem with the overpopulation of deer.
HAGENI think -- and, actually, I didn't really hear him saying that he doesn't have a problem either. I think everybody that lives in the area, almost everybody, feels that there is a problem. There's just too many deer. They're walking around on suburban streets in the middle of day. Near the city -- I live near the city center where the headquarters are and the police headquarters and everything, and there are deer walking all over the place.
SHERWOODIs it a nuisance or a public safety issue? I mean, what -- I mean, if you listen to him, he would say, well, there are a lot of deer. So what? I mean, is there a defined public safety problem? Are there too many vehicle wrecks? Are there too many landscapes destroyed? Are there -- what is the problem having too many deer?
HAGENWell, they're certainly a nuisance. It's hard to say at what line -- where you draw the line that says that they become a public safety problem. But, certainly, they do contribute to vehicle accidents. They're part of the life cycle of the tick that contributes to Lyme disease. They cause problems with the habitat. They destroy habitat for birds. So I don't -- I think those are relatively understood and accepted problems with the deer.
SHERWOODIn terms of the effectiveness of hunts, there -- it is not -- hunts are not a great solution. What they -- what we hope that they would do, in the limited use that they might be put to in Rockville, is to keep the population from growing further.
SHERWOODSounds like a pressure valve.
HAGENYeah, hopefully doing that -- and I think that's been the experience of Montgomery County and Howard County and other local jurisdictions -- is to try and keep the problem from spiraling further out of control. And...
FISHERWell, let's go to...
HAGEN...could I just make one last point?
HAGENI just -- the idea with the National Park Service in Rock Creek Park, in terms of trying out an urban contraceptive, I think, is a great idea. And if that works, we would be delighted to use that. And that's part of our report, is that we're open to looking at other technological improvements and hope that that comes.
FISHERLet's hear from Karen in Charlottesville. Karen?
KARENHi. How are you doing?
FISHERGood. What's your question?
KARENI just wanted to disagree with what Bob Barker said about deer being harmless, and it's not really a problem. They're beautiful, peaceful animals, which, of course, is true, and I -- you know, I know that his heart's in the right place. But deer do cause serious problems because every one of those dead deer on the side of the road is a car crash, and some of them can be quite dangerous.
KARENAnd for anyone who likes to hike, Lyme disease is a really big issue. And the bigger deer population you have, the more risk of Lyme disease there is, which your other commenter has already covered. But also, I just wanted to bring that up because I don't think hunting should be dismissed out of hand for a welfare of the animals issue because the fact is that, as humans, we have killed all of the deer's natural enemies.
KARENI mean, the coyotes, the wolves, the things that naturally hunt deer are all gone because of us. So they have no natural predators left, so we need to come to a solution. And whether hunting is it, I think, is something that should be definitely very carefully studied before it's implemented. But I don't think it can be dismissed out of hand.
FISHERWell, thanks, Karen. And that -- she raises a good point, which is, I mean, obviously, the hunting is attractive because you're subtracting from the population. But are you subtracting enough to really make a difference? There's -- you know, we've referred that you do get some food out of the deal, the deer meat that goes to local food pantry programs. But are you really making a significant enough dent in the population through these controlled hunts?
HAGENWell, I think, coming back to the point that -- there are some studies out there that show that you're not reducing the population in some hunts. But it's hard to say that you're not stopping future population growth. So I think --, like I said before, that is what we would really like to at least see from -- if we're able to do a hunt in the few select areas within the city of Rockville, it would be to stop -- to put a stop to further growth of the deer problem, then, hopefully, with further improvements in technology.
SHERWOODAnd also -- and the issue of the deer can then become food for people? It's a problem with that. Some of the -- who inspects the food to see that it's not diseased, if there -- is that an issue? Beyond the Bambi syndrome, where they're so cute and lovable, let's have as many as possible.
HAGENWell, I think there has been some talk of the lead in bullets would poison the meat and make it not edible for people. People have been shooting deer and eating them for hundreds of years. This does not seem like a huge risk. I imagine that you wouldn't want to serve venison steak with the bullet still in. But I think that that's not too risky.
FISHERHere's Carol in Rockville. Carol, it's your turn.
CAROLHi. How are you? I wanted to weigh in about the task force in general. I believe that I was the first person who saw that there was going to be a deer task force in the Rockville Reports. And I immediately called Stuart Mader (sic) from the rec department. I thought the rec department -- the only other times I called was to get pool space for my swim team, but, apparently, they do other things.
CAROLSo when I called Steve Mader, he told me, wow, I can't wait to hunt. Those were the first words out of his mouth. And he's attempted to hire his cronies through an organization, who can't wait to hunt either, to come in and do this deer hunt. First of all, this has not been advertised to the population of Rockville at all.
CAROLIf you're in touch with the city government every single day of your life, if you don't have kids or elderly relatives or a job to worry about, and you're watching the website of the city 24/7, then you might know that maybe there's going to be a deer hunt in Rockville. Otherwise, you would not know.
CAROLIt's people that live where Stuart lives who are wealthy and so involved into this because maybe their child got Lyme disease. I mean, it's like class warfare in Rockville.
FISHEROkay. Let's let Stuart Hagen respond. Has this become a class issue in Rockville?
FISHERJust a couple of minutes left.
HAGENHardly. We're not wealthy to begin with, but we do happen to have a lot of deer. They're not spread evenly throughout the city limits, so I'm sure there are places where they don't have deer. And they're lucky to do that. Yes. I do have a daughter who has Lyme disease. And it's Steve Mader, not Stuart Mader, but...
HAGENSteve Mader. And he is a city employee. I'm not aware of him wanting to do this hunt, but it's supposed to be done through controlled circumstances. And I doubt that it's the sort of thing where people are going to be getting a lot of joy doing it. It's just a job.
SHERWOODWould you be one of the hunters?
HAGENMe? Oh, heavens, no. Heavens, no.
FISHERAnd so, finally, just very quickly, where does it stand now? And when will a decision finally be made about whether to have the hunt?
HAGENWell, I think there's a comment period, a public comment period that ends on Sept. 9. And we encourage people to submit their comments, including Carol. And if she -- I have to say, I don't know why she didn't join the task force. She would have been welcome. Then the council will be taking a consideration of those public comments and having a meeting on this topic on Oct. 24.
FISHERWell, thank you very much. Stuart Hagen is the chairman of the White-Tailed Deer Task Force for the city of Rockville. And we heard also from Bob Barker. And we will hope that your dilemma is resolved, although, given the track record elsewhere around the area and the country, deer are, I think, ever with us.
HAGENThat's right. Thank you.
FISHERTom Sherwood, just in the final seconds here, we had -- we noted the passing this week of Nadine Winter, the former member of the District Council. What's the legacy there, if any?
SHERWOODWell, you know, she came to town. And she was very aggressive on homeless issues, on housing for lower-income people. She was a character. She had this great smile that, you know -- whether she was angry at you or whether she was happy with you, she could flash that smile. And she was -- she served in the council for 16 years.
SHERWOODShe was one of the original council members from the 1974 creation of the law. And she was pretty -- she was a fun member of the council to have around. It's good to have colorful characters. She was one.
FISHERTom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist with The Current Newspapers. And I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo. The Politics Hour is produced by Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Brendan Sweeney and Taylor Burnie. The managing producer is Diane Vogel. The engineer is Andrew Chadwick, and A.C. Valdez has been on the phones for us.
FISHERPodcasts of all shows, audio archive, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org. Kojo is back next week. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks very much for listening.
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