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.
Republicans wrestle control away from Democrats in Richmond. Authorities in D.C. say the “Occupy” protests are spiraling dangerously out of control. And Prince George’s County gears up for a vote to ban slot machine gambling. 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
- Dick Black Member-Elect, Virginia Senate (R-District 13); Former Member, Virginia House of Delegates (R-District 32)
- Phil Mendelson D.C. Councilmember (D-At Large); Chair of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee
- Rooj Alwazir Participant, Occupy DC
Politics Hour Extra
Dick Black, Member-Elect, Virginia Senate (R-District 13), says that he has not mellowed his conservative stance on social issues and that he is very proud of the work he did in 2003 to pass a bill that required minors to obtain parental consent before having an abortion. Black said that improving the economy should be the top priority for politicans from both parties now:
Kojo and Tom chat with D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Occupy D.C. participant Rooj Alwazir about protestor-police clashes last week and about the movement as a whole:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Navy veteran Tom Sherwood. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Happy Veterans Day to you, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODThank you very much. I'm always glad to be part of it.
NNAMDIYou're a Navy veteran. What rank did you accomplish in the Navy?
SHERWOODI was a yeoman third class. That's basically a lower-level sergeant ranking. I worked at the Navy Yard. I was here -- and I hate to say this -- 1968 and '69. I sneaked off the base -- I lived over Bolling Air Force Base. And when King, Martin Luther King, was shot, I sneaked off the base so I could go see the riots that were ensuing. I got downtown and saw the guys with the big rifles, and I turned around and went back to the base.
NNAMDIWere there any -- was there anyone to whom you had to give orders at any point?
SHERWOODYou know, my job was to...
NNAMDIAnd are they still around? Can they testify?
SHERWOODMy job basically was to make sure that the doughnuts were delivered and the coffee was hot in the morning at the Department of Defense Computer Institute.
NNAMDIWas that done efficiently?
SHERWOODI wasn't kicked out, but I wasn't really promoted, either. So I suspect I just barely treaded water.
NNAMDIIf you remember...
SHERWOODIt's a great day, Veterans Day.
NNAMDIIf you remember Tom Sherwood's service, we'd be happy to hear from you. The number to call, 800-433-8850. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking with D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson. He's a Democrat who is the chair of the council's Committee on Judiciary and, more importantly for this discussion, Public Safety because we'll also be talking with Rooj Alwazir, who is participating in the Occupy D.C. movement, which has had some problems, if you will, with the police department.
NNAMDIWe'll also be talking with Senator-elect of the Virginia Senate Dick Black. But first, Tom Sherwood, a couple of local issues. A former priest was sentenced to five years of supervised probation on Thursday for fondling two students at Georgetown Preparatory School where he taught from 1989 to 2003. Prosecutors compared the school's initial response in the case to the scandal unfolding at Penn State University.
NNAMDIGarrett Orr had pleaded guilty to two counts of fourth-degree sexual offense. According to Montgomery assistant state's attorney Donna Fenton, the matter was passed up the chain of command. Another word we've heard a lot in the last few days, referring, of course, to the Penn State case involving coach Joe Paterno. Care to comment on any of this?
SHERWOODWell, I just -- some of the tweets that I have done on this is that, yeah, I don't doubt that coach Joe Paterno is a terrific coach. He may be a very good man, but he didn't as someone said make a mistake, it was an absolutely failure -- a failing on his part not to do more. If there's anything that virtually everyone can agree about will be the children, the defenseless among us, need to be protected.
SHERWOODAnd that just -- I mean, legally, Paterno did the correct thing. He reported up the chain of command to the person with whom he works. So you can't charge him for it -- but he himself says he wishes he had done more. This, you know, the Notre Dame football team is in town to play the University of Maryland this weekend. I mean, that's what everyone is talking about. How did Penn State get into this terrible situation? But if you just remember the basic goodness, that children need to be protected. I think he wouldn't have this happen.
NNAMDINationals' baseball player has been kidnapped in Venezuela -- the team's new catcher. This happened a couple of days ago. Thirty-six hours have passed. And no word on this as yet. There -- of course, his name is Wilson Ramos. And there's no word on it as yet. But it seems that there's a fairly intensive hunt taking place for his kidnapers. But you've just got to wonder this seems to have been happening in South America a great deal.
SHERWOODWell, it's not uncommon in Venezuela. That's for sure. And Wilson Ramos -- I'm glad you pronounced his name correctly. A lot of people have been saying Ramos.
NNAMDIRamos. You know, as a Southerner, we're very sensitive about how names are pronounced because we can't pronounce anything. But, you know, it's -- there is hope that someone -- usually, family -- as I understand it, family members are usually of well-to-do people...
SHERWOOD...are kidnapped and then exchanged -- ransoms are exchanged. In this case, he was kidnapped. We can only hope that it turns out well. You know, he speaks very little of any English. He's new to the Washington Nationals, but he's a rising star. And the Nationals are, you know, they're reluctant to say much. They've said something, but they don't want to create a bad situation or make it worse by saying too much. And so everyone is hoping that this will be done.
NNAMDIDo you have the inside word on whether or not Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry does indeed intend to run then step down and have his son Christopher replace him in office?
SHERWOODThis was a story that was on...
NNAMDIYou wrote the book on Marion Barry.
SHERWOODYes. I do have the inside word.
NNAMDII knew you would.
SHERWOODThis was a story on the front page. My friend Mike DeBonis wrote it. And it's just a wistful -- I don't want to call it a fantasy because, you know, in the...
NNAMDIOh, belated birthday greetings, DeBonis, by the way.
SHERWOODYes. Right. At the Rock & Roll Hotel on H Street.
SHERWOODIt was actually fun, except for the loud D.J. next door. Anyway, the story on the front page of The Post which shocked and stunned and scared a lot of people was that Barry was planning to win re-election next year, serve one to two years of his next term. He's 75. And then, he would somehow magically resign from office and then allow his son Christopher to run in the special election to succeed him.
SHERWOODWell, Christopher -- I mean, Barry, first of all, has talked about this for eight years. Barry has -- and Christopher has shown less than zero interest in running for public office. He doesn't do the things that you'd want him to do. Maybe he could start doing them. The only public things he's done is he spoke eloquently at his mother's funeral.
SHERWOODAnd he can certainly use -- if he were to summon that behavior, he certainly could be a potential candidate in Ward 8, but Ward 8 is changing. And Christopher is not -- has told friends he's not interested.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Observers are eager to learn how the Virginia Senate is going to operate now that the numbers are what they are, and they're eager to learn what kind of personality the new Republican caucus is going to take on. Joining us now in studio is Dick Black. He's a member-elect of the Virginia Senate.
NNAMDIHe's a Republican. He'll be representing the Commonwealth's 13th District. It includes parts of Loudon and Prince William Counties. He's also a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Senator-elect Black, thank you so much for joining us.
STATE SEN. DICK BLACKIt's very good to be here.
NNAMDIIf you like to join the conversation, if you have questions or comments for Sen.-elect Black, call us at 800-433-8850, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Earlier this week, GOP officials indicated that they don't have any intention of sharing authority with Democrats even though the Senate is technically split 20-20. The lieutenant governor, of course, has the deciding vote. How do you think it should work?
BLACKWell, it's a little hard to say. You know, we just finally picked up the 20th seat. Bryce Reeves defeated Edd Houck. I think Edd had been in for 28 years. He's quite a veteran, and he has conceded. So now, we are evenly balanced. What that means is still being sorted out because the way that the Senate works, the lieutenant governor is -- he acts very much like the vice president of the United States when he...
BLACK...when he presides over the U.S. Senate, and he breaks a tie. But the lieutenant governor does not sit on committees. And so that's really where the action lies is, you know, how are the committees going to be structured and that sort of thing. There are ways of getting specific pieces of legislation to the floor for a vote. And when that happens, assuming that Republicans can hang together, then the lieutenant governor will break the tie.
SHERWOODIn the past, there's been -- the number of committee -- the number of members of the 40-member Senate help determine how many members you would have on the committee. The majority would have the majority on each committee, and you would be in the minority. Now, that you're tied, there's some discussion that -- well, the committees might be 50-50 now, but that's not necessarily so.
SHERWOODOr that's, again, still being worked out?
BLACKI'm sure it is still being worked out. The committees used to be a 15-member committee, so to do 50-50, you're going to have to work something out. So I honestly don't know. I mean, there a couple of ways. You could do 16-member committees. You could give certain committees to one party, and certain to the other.
SHERWOODLet me -- if you go right to the -- I think -- I asked you how long it took you to get here, and you said about an hour and a half.
NNAMDITransportation, here it comes, folks.
SHERWOODSo, yes. There was talks before the election that if the Republicans were successful in getting both the Senate and it already has the House and it's increased its majority two-thirds in the House now, that Governor McDonnell propose in his next budget can in fact do something about transportation. Is that the biggest issue as you go to Richmond? What is the biggest issue?
NNAMDIYou should know that Senator elect Black has on his website that transportation is one of his top priorities.
SHERWOODYeah. One of his top -- everybody had -- the mayor has -- in this city, has four top priorities. So they end up not being -- is it the top priority?
NNAMDIIs it a top-top priority?
BLACKI would say it is the top priority. You know, Virginia is an interesting place where we have been at an impasse over transportation for a quarter of a century. We have some structural problems, and I know that Bob McDonnell, Governor McDonnell would like to change those. And one of the fundamental problems that has always kept us at an impasse is that we have been unable to change the Virginia Constitution to bar raids on the transportation trust fund.
BLACKThat creates enormous distrust anytime someone talks about a stream of revenue devoted to transportation because nobody trusts the politicians. Can you imagine that, not trusting your...
NNAMDIYou have said you will introduce a constitutional amendment prohibiting raids on the trust fund. How successful do you think that is likely to be?
SHERWOODMr. Black is having a -- we're having a direct call to Mr. Black at this moment.
NNAMDIMaybe an advisers is on the phone.
BLACKYou know, I -- unfortunately, I am a primitive when it comes to technology, and I have tried to silence that. But, anyway....
SHERWOODSomeone is coming to confiscate your...
SHERWOOD...the first act as a senator-elect is you're having your phone confiscated in a radio studio.
BLACKThey're going to confiscate it and haul me off in chains.
BLACKI go to the station dungeon.
SHERWOODConstitutional amendment to keep -- protect the transportation fund.
BLACKYeah. I have introduced that previously when I was in the House with, you know, I hadn't -- was not able to succeed. I know this is something that the governor has pushed for, and I suspect that that would be a major emphasis of his once again. I will certainly be working to make that happen. And I think that's something where he will probably move heaven and earth to try to do a package of transportation issues. As you know, he...
NNAMDIIf you had your way, what would that package look like? Because when Cong. Tom Davis was on this show a couple of weeks ago, he boasted that one of the things that could happen if there's a Republican majority in the Senate is that we might finally see a transportation bill coming out of the General Assembly. If you had your druthers, what would that look like?
BLACKWell, a couple of things that I would look for. I would like to see a half cent of the existing sales tax designated for transportation. You always get into a contest -- well, does that detract from using money for other things. But any way, that's one thing I would like to see. Another thing that I think is potentially doable is to modify the statute that governs how we handle surpluses. Now, in theory, or on the face of it, we handle surpluses by sending 50 percent to transportation.
BLACKBut in reality, it's 50 percent after you have deducted a number of other things, and it really ends up being more like 15 percent. So I think we could adjust that, and that would give a sitting governor, whether he happens to be a Democrat or a Republican, the ability by the way that he projects the revenues, the incoming revenues, it would allow him to have a greater or lesser surplus at the end of the year, and thereby he could put more or less into transportation based on executive decisions.
NNAMDIOur guest is Virginia Senator-elect Dick Black. He's a Republican who will be representing the Commonwealth's 13th District. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODVirginia has one of the lowest gas taxes in the country. Would you be interested in raising that?
BLACKYou know, the problem with the gas tax is that every time they poll, the public is just adamantly against it. And, you know, it's a little bit ironic. And so, I cannot support it because, you know, I'm not gonna -- I'm not going to do anything in the face of the entire Virginia public. One of the ironies of it is that it was fixed many, many years ago. And it wasn't a percentage of the gas. It was a flat rate. And because it's a flat rate, it never increases.
BLACKSo over the years, in relative terms, the gas tax has diminished and diminished and diminished. And so there are people who argue and say, well, why not just sort of adjust that for inflation? And that would be a, you know...
NNAMDIAllow me to have Nick in Winchester, Va., interrupt us because I suspect that's one of the points he would like to make. Nick, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKYes, I would like to thank your guest for addressing that issue. It's one of my pet peeves that people just say -- and I'm more familiar with this at the national level than I am with the state level. But -- although I do know that we have one of the lowest gasoline taxes in the region. And I guess nobody seems to say when they -- as I say, I can do this better at the national level. But if they established the gasoline tax in 1994, you have to ask them, how often has their salary been increased in the meantime?
NICKWhat would 18 cents buy in 1994 compared to now? What portion of the gasoline price is 18 cents compared to that? And -- let me say it -- I forgot to say what can you buy with 18 (unintelligible).
NNAMDIDon't go Rick Perry on us, please.
SHERWOODThat's right. Would you want the gas tax raised? I'm not quite clear. Are you against it? Or you're up for it? You think it should be raised?
NICKI'm all in favor of it for crying our loud, and I've got two SUVs.
NNAMDIYou're in favor of it even though you have two SUVs. Here's Senator-elect Black.
BLACKWell, I, you know, once again, I'm not in support of the gas tax. At the same time, I do understand the arguments on the other side and it is a little bit ironic that we, you know, it's not that long ago that gasoline was running $2 a gallon. And then just in a fairly short time, we've seen it escalate close to $4 a gallon.
SHERWOODAnd it takes about something like -- I read just the other day that it takes -- compared to a year ago, it cost you $8 more to fill up the average tank of gas. And rather than talking about penny here or there, that's a lot of money.
BLACKYeah, yeah. And the irony is people sort of grunted and groaned and said, gosh, you know, I wish it hadn't gone up. But then when somebody proposes an increase in the gasoline tax of 20 cents, people just are adamantly against it. Now, as you know, our government being what it is, if people are adamantly against something then, you know, you have to listen to the voters and you wanna do the right thing. But at the same time, you don't want to do it in the face of peoples' very, very deep concerns.
NNAMDINick, thank you very much for your call. You have a great deal of credibility with the conservative wing of the Republican Party on social issues. But some Democrats have said that focusing on social issues in the upcoming legislative session will only come at the expense of focusing on jobs and the economy. Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran going as far as to call you zealously out of touch, someone whose obsession with social issues won't create a single job, won't get a single commuter out of traffic, won't put a single teacher back in our classrooms. How would you respond?
BLACKWell, I thought it was interesting watching the campaigns across Virginia. The Republicans campaigned on jobs and the economy. We, you know, there were collateral issues, transportation, energy policy, things of that sort. Our opponents, on the other hand, campaigned almost exclusively on divisive social issues. And it's sort of ironic that they say, well, this is, you know, somehow this is gonna be a problem because we're concerned.
BLACKNow, you know, make no mistake, I am very much a social conservative. I'm pro-life, I'm pro-marriage. I was elected to the House of Delegates in '98 for taking a stance against permitting children to have access to pornography on the Internet in the public library.
NNAMDIYou introduced a ban -- a bill that ban gays from adopting children. Your socially conservative credentials are indeed very strong. I guess what people are concerned about is that that is what is likely to dominate your legislative agenda.
BLACKThe problem that we have right now -- and I have been to the most remote spots of Loudoun County and Prince William knocking on doors and talking to people. These are conservative people, many of them, but underlying everything is a very deep angst about the future of America, the economic future of America. I think, unfortunately, the world economy has become interlinked with all sorts of derivatives and guarantees from bank to bank and nation to nation that are unsustainable.
BLACKAnd I think we're in an extremely dicey situation. And, you know, I had two people called to congratulate me, and on the same day, they said they had had a close family member who had just been laid off. Now, we look at the unemployment figures in the D.C. area, and they are pretty good on the surface. But when you dig down below them and you look at people who are underemployed -- for example, I spoke with one woman and she said, oh, yes, I'm gonna back you.
BLACKShe said, my husband lost his job and he had to take a 75 percent pay cut. She said, I lost my job. I had to take a 20 percent pay cut. My brother, who is with IBM, was six months away from retirement got laid off, and he gets nothing. She said, I don't know how I'm gonna do it. And as my aide and I drove away from the house, I told him, I said, you know what, I said, I really feel uneasy about that. He said, why? She's voting for you.
BLACKI said, because I don't know the answer to her question. I do not know how she's going to make it. And, you know, if we look at the wealthiest spot in America here and you project that sort of emotion out into the hinterlands, where they don't have all of the flow of tax money coming in that's being expanded, this nation is in a very desperate spot. And whether you're liberal or whether you're conservative, we're all rowing the same boat right now.
SHERWOODDo you think on that basis, just -- there's, you know, personhood went down to defeat in Mississippi, things like that. Is it your thought that, being the social conservative that you probably are, that you're going to focus on the economy and transportation and things like that and not be introducing bills yourself in these other social matters? If they come up, you'll vote for them, I presume, but you're not gonna put them in the front of the agenda of the economy.
SHERWOODSounds like you're gonna say if they're on the agenda, you're gonna vote for them, but you're not gonna push social issues ahead of the economy and the transportation issues.
BLACKWell, you know, I think as a legislator, you've got be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. When I was in the House of Delegates, one of our landmark initiatives was I introduced a package of legislation that created the Route 28 freeway. And we took down 10 stoplights and put in interchanges and built what I consider one of the finest roads ever built in Northern Virginia, a road that saved, oh, perhaps, 40,000 commuters an hour a day.
BLACKWe did a similar major project on Route 15 going north of Leesburg. We did that. At the same time, we did social legislation. I did a law that required a parent to consent before a minor had an abortion. It, you know, caused a tremendous flap in the media. A lot of time these things, while they don't absorb all of your time, the media loves them. You know, they're easy to report on.
BLACKThere's conflict. I -- you are going to see a forward movement in the pro-life area, and in the area of the Second Amendment, perhaps, in the area of regulation, environmental regulation, which sort of crosses over with the environment or with the economy rather. But I think when all is said and done and you array all of these things, I think you're gonna say, hopefully, the Republicans have made major progress in transportation.
BLACKThey have done things that have improved the environment for the creation of business. They've been very protective of Virginia's right-to-work laws. They have blocked additional onerous regulation that has interfered with business and things like that. And then, also, they have moved the ball down field on the right to life. You know, strengthening marriage, strengthening social things.
NNAMDIThey have walked and chewed gum at the same time, but you said you were kind of disappointed that you weren't able to help that woman in that situation that she and her husband were facing. So when it comes to job -- jobs, what do you think are the one or two most important things that you and the general assembly will be able to do to help that person and her husband?
BLACKGovernment can do certain things to create jobs. I think where we -- when watched government go out and create programs and create grants and things, typically, they fail. They fail because they're government driven, and you have politicians making decisions that hard-nosed businessman would not make because a businessman or businesswoman has got to think, what if this fails? What if that fails? Politicians doesn't have to do that. He just says, hey, this sounds good. Public likes it. We'll give it a half a billion dollars here and a half a billion there.
NNAMDIFinal question. We're running out of time.
SHERWOODI have to -- I'm a little -- I haven't met you personally, but I was told you are a firebrand, that you are gonna come in here, that you are in a very good economics jobs campaign, but you really are -- just really a wild social conservative guy who is gonna just be breathing fire.
NNAMDITom wore a bulletproof vest today to come with you.
SHERWOODAnd I was all set to engage in the discussion about that. It sounds like you -- this is more than just a campaign thing. It's different for, you know, you're the guy who famously mailed the plastic fetuses in -- was it 2003 or something? Have you mellowed or have you just decided the economy is so bad that you're gonna deal with that first? I mean, I'm really -- you're not the person I was told you would walk in this room and sit down.
BLACKWell, you know...
SHERWOODHave you mellowed?
BLACKI have not mellowed. I am the same person. You know, I'm very proud of what we did in 2003 because there are thousands and thousands of children whose lives were saved by House Bill 1402, which required a parent to consent before abortion. And, you know, and I look forward to doing additional things, but at the same time, I am dead serious about this. If the economy continues in the direction, you know, we've got a federal government that is taking in $60 and spending a dollar.
BLACKAnd if you do that for very long, it doesn't matter. I mean, probably, all of us in this room have different political perspectives. But if the dollar collapses, we're all gonna feel exactly the same emotion. I wanna see an America that doesn't just tout itself as a consumer nation but touts itself as a producer nation. I'm somebody who has worked in a factory. I was a plant manager in Massachusetts. I've run a rock quarry. I've been a pilot.
BLACKI've loaded ships. I ran the port at Morehead City. I've done a lot of things, and I, you know, I know how things function. I know how people need to work, and we can't just have an economy that caters only to people who peck away at computer keyboards. We need one that caters to people who work with their muscles, to people who have mechanical abilities and creativity and...
NNAMDISo you got him going now, Tom. He's clearly has mellowed...
BLACKI mean, I believe in these things.
NNAMDIYou're getting fired up as we speak, but we're just about out of time.
NNAMDIDick Black is a member-elect of the Virginia Senate. He's also a veteran of the Marine Corps. Happy Veterans Day to you.
BLACKOh, thank you very much.
SHERWOODAlways a Marine.
BLACKSemper Fi to all the Marines out there.
NNAMDIHe is a Republican who will be representing the Commonwealth's 13th District. Senator-elect Black, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck to you.
BLACKThank you very much. I enjoyed it.
NNAMDIYou're listening to The Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, there is some controversy over exactly how the growing of marijuana for medical purposes in the District of Columbia will unfold. We all know that the applications for licenses to do this are all in one area of the city in Ward 5.
NNAMDIAnd while residents of Ward 5 seem to be upset about this, the city's director of health, Mohammad Akhter is saying, look. This is in fact going to make your ward more secure. These places will be the most secured places you've seen in your ward for a long time. It's not gonna be like street corner drug dealers with people hanging around all the time.
SHERWOODWell, honestly, if I were Dr. Akhter, I would say the same thing. But, you know, this is an uncharted waters we're going in. The law that was passed by the council -- I believe our next guest may confirm this for me -- is that it was fairly tightly written so that there would not just be the Colorado, California craziness of, you know, more prominent than 7-Eleven shops, that there would be specific growth, opportunities and clinics to sell the marijuana. But it does seem that most of -- the CS reported first and the places where they're going to be grown are going to be in Ward 5.
SHERWOODAnd I think Ward 5 needs to have all the answers to their questions -- its questions about how these places will operate. Now, I think it's little known that each place could have, maybe at most, 95 plants and things like that. But, you know, Ward 5 feels like it's been targeted for the sex club. It still has some of the most industrious lands in the city.
NNAMDIStrip clubs, not sex clubs.
SHERWOODI stand not corrected.
SHERWOODAnd it has a lot of industrial land. It could be repurposed in a different way. And so Ward 5 doesn't want to be seen or feel like it is or be the dumping ground.
NNAMDIThe person that Tom Sherwood referred to who might be able to answer that question is At-Large D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson. He's chair of the council's committee on the judiciary and public safety. Councilmember Mendelson, thank you for joining us.
COUNCILMEMBER PHIL MENDELSONGood afternoon. It's good to be here.
SHERWOODAre these marijuana-growing places gonna create safety issues? You're the chairman of the judiciary committee. Do you think there are enough safeguards?
MENDELSONI think -- I don't think they're gonna create safety issues. Very few plants, as you noted, there are gonna be very few of these cultivation centers. I don't know that, in the end, they would all be in Ward 5. And there will be security around them, a lot of security around them.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have questions for Councilmember Mendelson. He is joined in studio by Rooj Alwazir, a participant in the Occupy D.C. movement. Rooj Alwazir, thank you for joining us.
MS. ROOJ ALWAZIRThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAgain, if you have questions or comments, it's 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com or a tweet, @kojoshow. Councilmember Mendelson, we're gonna talk about public safety in a minute because Police Chief Lanier and Mayor Vincent Gray both expressed concerns this week that the Occupy D.C. protests were becoming a threat to public safety. But first, I'd like to ask a few questions about how you feel about the Occupy movement philosophically.
NNAMDIEarlier this fall, you pushed a bill to raise taxes on the wealthiest residents in the District. How do you think the political philosophy that you follow, the one that's been guiding you on the council, compares to that one which seems to be driving the protests?
MENDELSONWell, I think they're two different things. The issue before the council was whether we were gonna impose this municipal bond tax. And I pushed that, instead, we have a new top bracket. People whose net income was 350,000 or more would pay a slightly higher tax, and I emphasize slightly.
NNAMDIWhich some people characterize as sticking it to the rich.
SHERWOODOf course, it was half a percent more, isn't it?
MENDELSONWell, yeah. Yes, yes. But...
SHERWOODWell, that is -- some people would not think that slight.
MENDELSONWell, do the math. It's a couple hundred dollars, the difference that was at issue. That's very different than the Occupy D.C. movement, the Occupy movement in the different cities, which is, as I see it, a much broader expression of much broader frustration about national policies. There is -- part of that is the 99 percent and the millionaires getting a lot of benefits. But they're just very different. And I'm -- Rooj should be the one who speaks about it, but it's a much broader expression of frustration.
NNAMDILet me speak more specifically. How do you feel about the Occupy D.C. movement?
MENDELSONI'm not quite sure how to answer that. I mean, it's very legitimate for people to...
SHERWOODWhat first comes to your mind when you think about Occupy DC?
MENDELSONTents. That's the first thing that come to mind.
SHERWOODTents? Oh, tents, tents.
SHERWOODWell, Chief Lanier put out a fairly aggressive statement saying, this -- they're now putting children in front of the convention center doors. They're putting them in the street. People are getting hurt. We're gonna take this more seriously. They're not peaceful protests. They're welcome to be peaceful. We're gonna crackdown. The mayor came out later and put out a softer statement but also kind of endorsing what the chief was saying, that the police were gonna step up their overseeing of these thing. Do you think it's -- they're unsafe now?
MENDELSONWell, no. No, I don't. And what I've seen around Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square has not struck me as dangerous or a public safety threat. Something happened at the convention center last Friday night. Unquestionably, there were a lot of protesters. There was friction between protesters and traffic and protesters and the doors to the building...
SHERWOODAnd maybe not enough police. Some of the protesters said there were not enough police at the time just to control the cars 'cause these folks have been walking around town all...
MENDELSONIt could be. So what happened on Friday night clearly was a public safety issue. But in terms of the protests in general, what I've seen has been peaceful, and it's expressing an opinion, which is an American right to express opinions, and it's a political opinion. And it's that the government, the national government is failing the citizens.
SHERWOODIn Oakland, in Atlanta and other places, I think St. Louis and several places the police have come down or elected leaders have come down fairly hard and -- so we've got to clear out these places. They're unsafe. They're unsanitary. They are being misused. Here, when the four-day permit was up, the park service said you can stay, and all the tension kind of went out of the group staying, at least, at Freedom Plaza.
MENDELSONCorrect. And we have a lot more experience in the -- in Washington with these kinds of demonstrations. Whenever you have people who are expressing some anger against the government, against the establishment, you can have some friction. And there are gonna be people who say, you know, this is annoying. This is obnoxious. And we need to kind of clear it out. Or you can carry your signs as long as you're very orderly on the sidewalk, Mr. Sherwood, but don't get messy at all. And if you upset me...
SHERWOODMy last question, have you -- or on this moment, have you cautioned, have you talked to the Chief Lanier about don't do anything that overreacts or appears, sort of, look like it's overreacting?
MENDELSONI think she understands that without my having to give her that advice.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you think about the relationship between the police and D.C. -- Occupy D.C. protesters? 800-433-8850. Rooj Alwazir, the Occupy D.C. movement put out a statement of sorts this week calling for an investigation into the incidents from last weekend. What conversations have you had with the police since then, and how would you describe the relationship between the protesters and law enforcement?
ALWAZIRI personally haven't -- first of all, thank you for having me on the show. Second of all, I haven't personally spoken to the MPD or went to the press conference. But the people that -- the witnesses on Friday night went to the press conference because they -- their voices were not heard on Friday night. On Friday night when the three victims were hurt, witnesses ran to the police, tried to give a statement of what they witnessed, and the police completely shoved them to the side and said let us do our job. Stay on the sidewalk.
ALWAZIRTheir job was to actually take a statement. They did not do their job. Our witnesses, the occupiers ended up doing the jobs for them. They then went to the press conference demanding the police hear out the -- hear out a statement from the witnesses.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to weigh in. What would you say, in general terms, about the relationship between law enforcement and the Occupy D.C. protest ever since the beginning of the protest started? How would you characterize the relationship?
ALWAZIRIt was civil in the beginning. I mean, we were respectful. We listen to everything they're saying. We had no problems at all. And...
NNAMDINow, isn't that a bit of a problem when you don't have any problem with the police? To a certain extent, it would seem that your protest will fail if it simply co-exist so peacefully with the city that people don't even realize you're there. How are you balancing the need to create attention for what you're doing with the need to keep a peaceful process because if you're going to get attention, you got to, well, disrupt something?
ALWAZIRCorrect. I mean...
SHERWOODHave you been -- he's saying are you too polite?
ALWAZIRWe're escalating but escalating peacefully. Our tactic has always been a non-violent movement.
SHERWOODHow can you, you know, one thing I had noticed when I went to Freedom Plaza or McPherson Square there's kind of a general assembly leadership thing. Do you even feel comfortable speaking for the group here, you know?
NNAMDIShe's speaking for herself.
SHERWOODIt's only for yourself. I just wanted to make that point 'cause no one really speaks for the group without some general discussion first. It sounds like my newsroom sometimes, bureaucratic.
ALWAZIRI speak for myself. I'm one of the occupiers, and I'm coming here to speak my expressions. And I'm almost sure I share a lot of the opinions and the frustration of many occupiers.
NNAMDIHow long have you been participating?
ALWAZIRSince the second day, Oct. 2.
NNAMDIAnd you were saying that, earlier on, that the relationship with the police was very good at first. Is that something you found a little off-putting?
ALWAZIRIt wasn't good. It was just that we -- they were -- we were respectful, and we were respectful of their concerns. We took it into consideration. We -- but we then brought it to our general assembly and made our own decisions.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson, Chief Lanier, as we said earlier, said that the protest have been becoming increasingly conventional. Have you...
NNAMDII love that. Have you or any of the councilmembers had conversations with the police department, the park police about the protest since these incidents took place last week?
MENDELSONI've had brief conversation with Millicent West from Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. Beyond that, no.
NNAMDIWell, what was that conversation about? Tell us a little more.
MENDELSONI'm not gonna give you all the details but...
NNAMDIYou're a detail guy.
MENDELSONCorrect. Just about what some of the concerns are.
NNAMDIAnd what are those concerns?
MENDELSONBut as I say, I mean, what we've seen excluded there was some friction, to put it very diplomatically, on Friday night. I'm not aware that there's been any serious friction or confrontation since then.
SHERWOODOr before then.
MENDELSONI mean, there's always gonna be tension between protests. I mean, you make the point, Kojo, that if folks really want to agitate for change, they're gonna push. And, you know, what Dr. Martin Luther King strove for was, what, this constructive tension, out of which you would get attention and solution. And, I mean, so you're always gonna have that dynamic in a protest.
NNAMDIHere is Hassan in Alexandria, Va. Hassan, (sp?) you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HASSANThank you, Kojo. Kojo, I think -- I don't want to correct anybody, but I think the anger should be directed directly to the banks instead of Wall Street because you and I and everybody has his bank account in banks. It might be directed by Wall Street, but the message should be, I think, and the anger should be expressed directly to the banks, which we see them in every corner in D.C. and other cities.
HASSANSo the protesters should come to the bank and just say, we are against the banks. You don't give us loan. My money is your -- in this bank and I cannot get loan. Not Wall Street. That's all I want to say.
NNAMDIWell, Hassan, I have a question for you. Why have you not joined the protest yourself?
HASSANYou are absolutely right. And I should, but as -- I'm not organizer. I would like to be organized by somebody to be specific, OK?
NNAMDIWell, I only asked because, clearly, you had an opinion about what the protesters should be doing, but it is Rooj Alwazir who should be responding to you.
ALWAZIRWe have taken to the banks, actually. We've protested Bank of America, we've protested Citibank and...
ALWAZIR...Wells Fargo. We protested them all.
SHERWOODI'm keeping up with this.
ALWAZIRYou follow us on Twitter?
NNAMDIHe's following you in his car and on his bicycle is how he...
ALWAZIROh, I'm sure.
NNAMDI...is how he's following you. Hassan, thank you very much for your call. Here is -- I'm sorry, Tom. Go ahead.
SHERWOODCan -- Rooj -- you know, one of the criticisms, generally speaking, other than the sanitation, all that, is that this -- the movement is so diverse that there is no clear -- no one knows what people are for because people are for so many things. In your own view, representing yourself, can you characterize what you think Occupy D.C. -- I always forget the name of the other group at McPherson Square -- and then across the country. What is it that you want to see and to achieve, and why you've been here since Oct. 1 or 2?
ALWAZIRFirst of all, the group in McPherson Square is called Occupy DC.
SHERWOODWhat was the -- and the other one? The other one?
ALWAZIROh, Stop the Machine.
SHERWOODStop the Machine, OK.
ALWAZIRWe've been occupying since Oct. 1. Stop the Machine started Oct. 6. And...
SHERWOODWhat do you want?
ALWAZIRThere's many reasons. You're right. There's a lot of frustration in McPherson Square. People are -- have many concerns. But I think the big picture here is corporate greed, corporate accountability, and then from that, there's a lot of issues that stem from that. There's unemployment, unfair health care system. There's our education system. There's the gap in equality, economic inequality. There's a lot of things that go on from all of that. For me personally, it's the health care issue, and it's the unemployment.
NNAMDIHere is Kathleen in Washington. Kathleen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHLEENHi. Yeah. Thanks so much for taking my call. And I've spent some time -- quite a bit of time, actually -- down at McPherson Square. And, you know, you started out the segment by focusing on the scuffles, you know, between police and protesters, and I think that that's a bit misguided because I think the truly revolutionary part of what's going on is conversations that are going on between people from all walks of life down in the square.
KATHLEENAnd, you know, I myself was there the other night and had a really enlightening conversation with a guy who's from the financial sector. And, you know, he, you know, came from, you know, a poor family and is upset by what he's seen happen and sees, you know, solutions. So I think that, you know, there's people from all walks of life who are coming down there. And to me that's just really inspiring, and I think that's where our attention should be focused on, you know, the conversations and the really productive conversations that are happening between people.
NNAMDIKaleen -- Kathleen, thank you for your call. Rooj, care to comment on that?
ALWAZIRDefinitely. I cannot stress how important that is. I think -- it's funny, actually. On Friday, one of the reporters from The Daily Caller was there, and she had so many footage of amazing conversations she shared with the protesters there and the people that were peacefully calling for change. And then she caught two seconds of people next to the door, people getting pushed and whatnot. And that's what they ended up focusing on.
ALWAZIRThe right wing media ended up taking what seemed like -- what was a peaceful protest and completely changed that into something that was, they considered, "violent." And that's what was ridiculous. I mean, they didn't focus on the peaceful protest that...
SHERWOODWell, you know, the media, right wing or otherwise, generally focuses on conflict. That's why we were asking why you guys were there. Can I -- one thing we've been unable -- do we have time for -- I wanna get an encryption question...
NNAMDIYeah, that's what I was going to ask about because...
NNAMDI…Chief Lanier testified before your committee last week, basically saying that these new encryption technologies used by the police department have made old-school police scanners used by news organizations and hobbyists...
NNAMDI...useless. How do you feel about the new encryption technologies being used by the police department? Tom Sherwood likes transparency here, and all of a sudden, the police department is no longer transparent.
SHERWOODCan we be clear what encryption means? It means if you have a police radio, you cannot hear the routine chatter of police officers as they go about their business, as we have heard for...
NNAMDIEver since I've been in broadcast.
SHERWOOD...ever since radio -- well, even longer than that, even though that's a long time. So you had a hearing, Mr. Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Do you say you may hold another hearing? Where are you on this issue of can the public hear what the police are doing?
NNAMDIShould these communications be opened and accessed?
MENDELSONThere are several questions here. Let's see how I answer this. The first thing is that...
SHERWOODAnd very short.
SHERWOODSound bites, please.
MENDELSONI don't think I can do that, Tom, Yeoman Sherwood. Let me see. First of all, I think a lot of people misunderstand that the availability of police communications is important to news media to do their job. I mean, this isn't just about some guy wants to sit in his basement with a scanner and hear all the police traffic. There is a greater role or issue here, which is the ability of media to learn immediately about incidents: a shooting, a series of shootings, a fire...
MENDELSON…whatever. Traffic, yes. And I think all that's important and to the good for media to have that accessed. The other side of this is that with the development of technology, it is possible for a person to have on their iPhone an app that enables them to listen to police communications. And there have been a number of instances -- and Chief Lanier enumerated some of them -- where there have been burglars.
MENDELSONThere was a shooter -- I don't believe in the District of Columbia, but somewhere -- she didn't say where -- who -- he shot somebody, thought he killed them, didn't, left that room to shoot somebody else in the house. The first person, who wasn't dead, called 911 over the police radio, you know, victim in the house. The shooter hears this, goes back into the room. We don't want that. So there is a value to encryption.
MENDELSONWhat came out of the hearing, I think, is a solution, which is, namely, that the legitimate media can have a lock box scanner, if you will. They won't know the encryption code. So that measure of secrecy is protected, but the media is able to have access, and there's a value to that. Next step is, I understand, news directors are meeting with the chief and deputy mayor. And if it doesn't get resolved, I'll have a hearing.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd belated birthday greetings to you.
NNAMDIYou have the same birthday as Mayor Vincent Gray?
MENDELSONCorrect. I do.
NNAMDIYou don't agree on everything, but you do share one thing.
SHERWOODAnd he's nine -- he's 10 years younger too.
NNAMDIRooj Alwazir, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHappy Veterans Day to everyone. Have a respectful Veterans Day.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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