Kojo speaks with "Speak No Evil" novelist and D.C. native Uzodinma Iweala about his second novel and how his local upbringing affects his storytelling.
Ringing in 2012 with a bang. A D.C. Council member pleads guilty to federal corruption charges. Virginia and Maryland brace for whirlwind legislative sessions. 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
- Ken Cuccinelli Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia (R)
- Cathy Lanier Chief, Metropolitan Police Department (Washington, D.C.)
Politics Hour Extra
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says that a recent EPA order requiring stricter mercury emissions guidelines from coal-fired plants hit the poorest people in his state and elsewhere “first and worst.” According to Cuccinelli, in the poorest areas of Southside Virginia, more than 80 percent of residents’ electricity is from coal-provided sources. In the past year, people in the region have seen their electricity bills rise by 8 percent, 5 percent of which Cuccinelli said is the direct result of new EPA regulations:
In response to a caller’s comments about Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s objections to the Obama administration’s health care law, Cuccinelli said he would not have filed the lawsuit challenging the law “absent a violation of the Constitution.” Cuccinelli said he expects a 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court, whichever way it rules:
D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier said in response to a caller’s question that the murder of Gaurav Gopalan in Columbia Heights in September 2011 will be “one of the most difficult cases” to close, partially due to the apparent absence of eyewitnesses to the crime:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. He's currently at the U.S. district courthouse in Washington, covering the plea and sentencing hearing of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe's pleading guilty to stealing more than $300,000 meant for children's programs and not reporting his income to the IRS. Tom will join us later in the broadcast with an update in proceedings in the courtroom. Also later in the broadcast, we'll be joined by D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier. But our first victim is Virginia's attorney general. What? Did I say victim? I meant victor.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIKen Cuccinelli plans to be the victor in the next Virginia governor's race. Right now, he is the attorney general for the commonwealth, and he joins us in studio. Ken Cuccinelli, welcome.
ATTY. GEN. KEN CUCCINELLIGood afternoon.
NNAMDIGood afternoon to you, and Happy New Year to you.
CUCCINELLITo you as well.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 if you've got questions or comments for the attorney general. Call us now, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. You can send a tweet, @kojoshow. Or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Ken Cuccinelli, just a few weeks ago, you were part of a nationally televised debate among the Republican presidential candidates. But you recently found yourself in the thick of the presidential contest again when some of the prominent candidates failed to get on the ballot in Virginia.
CUCCINELLIMost of them, actually, yes.
NNAMDIMost of them. At first, you called for an emergency legislation to change the requirements to get on the ballot. You've since walked that back to say that the rules should be changed only for future elections. Why did you make that decision?
CUCCINELLIWell, fundamentally, the deadline for getting on the ballot, for turning in the 10,000 legitimate petition signatures, which is the standard in Virginia, passed on Dec. 22, and only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney met that threshold. And that struck many of us as problematic, for obvious reasons, meaning the people of Virginia want to have a full plate of choices, but it -- I stepped away from pursuing that for 2012.
CUCCINELLII'm still strongly supportive of changing this ballot access requirement. But for 2012, it would be changing the rules midstream, and that really is contrary to defending the rule of law. And we don't have to like the rule, but it's perfectly legitimate rule. I think, as a policy matter, the 10,000-signature requirement is too high, but it is legitimate as a legal matter. And as an attorney general, one of the things, I think, that attorneys general should do is be defenders of the rule of law.
CUCCINELLIAnd my initial position, I think, was inconsistent with that, and so admitted as much and altered it, at least as it relates to 2012. Again, I still support changing it for the future.
NNAMDIThere are those -- I'm sure there are those who argue that it would be unfair to those like Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, who have already managed to qualify. Where do you think -- what do you think the rule should be if not 10,000 signatures?
CUCCINELLII would take it down to about -- we also have a requirement of 400 per congressional district. Virginia has 11 congressional districts. And the rough rule of thumb is you want to bring in more than 50 percent over the threshold because there are often so many bad signatures. So -- but I would take that down to 100 per congressional district, and that's it, which would be, of course, 1,100 total in Virginia, which is barely over 10 percent of the current requirement.
CUCCINELLIAnd not -- maybe a week or so after that debate you referenced on Dec. 3, I encountered Michele Bachmann and her campaign manager at an event in Washington. I didn't know they were going to be there, but her campaign...
NNAMDIAfter they finished strangling you, you did what?
CUCCINELLINo. She was -- she is a kind lady. But her campaign manager commented to me that Virginia's ballot access requirements are the third hardest in the country. Now, I deal with a lot of attorneys general and governors and others in other states, but I don't get down into the nitty-gritty of their election law. So while I'm familiar with Virginia's, that was surprising to me. And I don't think that's a position that Virginians want to be in.
CUCCINELLIWe want to have the full slate of choices every time for president, and it's particularly frustrating because, in many years, Virginia really didn't have much influence on the selection of nominees for either party. And this year, we were set to be a part of the discussion. And now that has been dramatically changed because of the limits that Virginia places -- or I should say, the requirements on candidates.
CUCCINELLIAnd as the Santorum folks told me when this all broke last week, it isn't just the 10,000-signature requirement for presidential candidates. It's where it falls on the calendar. And the deadline was two weeks before Iowa, and we're on Super Tuesday at the beginning of March. And they're all spinning up to Iowa, New Hampshire, of course, which is what they're looking at next. And it's very difficult timing for the thinner campaigns, if you will. It is not a surprise...
NNAMDIIt's really a difficulty for the thinner campaigns.
CUCCINELLIThat's right. It's not a surprise that the two 2008 candidates who are, again, running in 2012 made it. And Romney has more money, and Ron Paul has more ground grassroots. And they both leverage those to get on, so, to that, they deserve credit. But it is an unfortunate situation for Virginia to be in.
NNAMDILooking to change it in the future. In case you're just joining us on The Politics Hour, our guest is Virginia Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli. Tom Sherwood is at the U.S. district courthouse in the District, following the trial of the plea agreement -- or the plea of D.C. Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. He'll be joining us later in the broadcast with an update on that. But in the event that you'd like to talk to the attorney general, call us now at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDILet's stick with electoral politics for a minute. The Virginia GOP central committee decided recently to require Republican primary voters to sign a loyalty oath. The governor and the lieutenant governor have both said, bad idea. How do you feel?
CUCCINELLIWell, first of all, for people who don't know Virginia political process, it's...
CUCCINELLIIt's important to know we're not a party registration state. If you ask, who are the Republicans, who are the Democrats, there's no recording of that like there is in other states. So the loyalty oath is in that statute, really is a throw-in, there's no enforceability of it. Nobody is going to go into the voting booth with you and November to make sure that you voted for the nominee of the party as you signed on the oath. It's a moral obligation that people are expected to keep, but there's no way to enforce it. And the governor noted as much recently.
NNAMDIAnd that's, of course, because, in Virginia, people are not registered by party, so anybody can vote in the primary elections.
CUCCINELLIYes. We have what's called an open primary system. Literally anybody can walk in and vote there. And so this mechanism is allowed for -- and, initially, the State Central Committee of the Republican Party, which is about 85 people, decided when they selected a primary that they would have such an oath requirement and...
NNAMDIHow do you feel about it one way or the other?
CUCCINELLIIt's certainly one of those things I find to be uncomfortable. I would -- I have, for years, supported going to party registration so that people can declare a side, pick a team. Republicans shouldn't pick Democrat nominees. And Democrats shouldn't pick Republican nominees. And the party should be able to decide how much participation independents have. I mean, this is not a function of government.
CUCCINELLIThese are private associations of people who share a core set of beliefs, hopefully. And they should be able to pick their own team. It's like going to a Lions Club meeting and having all the Rotarians walk in on your annual meeting to elect who your officers are going to be. That doesn't make any sense.
NNAMDIMy fellow brother Lions wouldn't approve of that at all. As a Republican voter, how do you feel about the presidential candidates who are competing for the party's nomination? You've gotten a chance to size them all up as a debate moderator yourself.
CUCCINELLII did. And I was pretty happy with the overall performance there on Dec. 3. However, no one is really just leaping out there, from my perspective, as somebody to throw one's self behind. Obviously, other people feel differently, but I have held back this year in terms of supporting anyone. I haven't come out for any candidates yet.
NNAMDIWhen do you expect to do that?
CUCCINELLIWell, I'm a...
NNAMDIHow about right now?
CUCCINELLINo, right now. I may write out the whole nomination process on the sidelines in terms of endorsing or supporting any particular candidate. So we have two more months to the day before the Virginia primary, so that would be my first kind of decision point, if you will.
NNAMDIYeah, you got to step into the voting booth on that day.
CUCCINELLIThat's right. And I'll certainly do that, but I just may not tell anybody what I do. We'll have to see.
NNAMDIYou've got your own big race coming up. You'll be running for governor in 2013. Some have called on you to give up your job as attorney general so that you don't politicize the office. Your predecessor, Bob McDonnell, resigned from that office to run for governor. Why are you not resigning? Why -- what do you say to the argument that you should resign?
CUCCINELLIWell, I wouldn't resign to run for re-election, and nobody would really expect to. Frankly, I don't see much difference between the two. Just because it's a different office doesn't change any of the considerations.
NNAMDIHow about historical precedent? Virtually all of your predecessors in this position who have run for governor, with the notable exception of one who lost, have resigned.
CUCCINELLIOver the last 50 years or so, that's true. And it is a very peculiar tradition to Virginia, and it doesn't happen in any of the other 49 states. I've talked to attorneys general in other states about -- who have run for governor about their ability to do both at the same time and, in fact, have worked some of them while they were doing it: Rob McKenna in Washington, Bill McCollum in Florida. And they all said, no problem, it's hard work.
NNAMDIWell, the two criticisms of it tend to be, one, it'll cause you to be -- since you're campaigning for a specific office, then it will politicize your function as attorney general. How do you respond to that?
CUCCINELLII just think that is an excuse, really. And we have to be careful all the time every day, and that's been true for two years that I've been in the office, that conflicts are weeded out. All those sorts of things go on. This is a law firm after all, and we'll continue to do that. And we'll have that sensitivity, and people will be able to be critical, should they choose to be so. But I'm -- I'll be accountable for that.
NNAMDIThe second critique is that you can't run two full-time jobs at the same time. You're going to be a part-time attorney general.
CUCCINELLII assumed Team Cain didn't make that one. But, you know, I carried on leading a law firm while I ran for attorney general. It was hard. And as I said, if I were running for re-election, I certainly wouldn't quit, and nobody would raise the thought of it. And I can tell you that that's hard work. I expect to work hard. I bring a strong work ethic to not just the jobs I do, but the campaigns that I run and participate in. And I will continue to do that, but it will be without sacrificing my role as attorney general. That is my top priority, and it will remain so.
NNAMDIIt's been assumed during the past several years that Bill Bolling, the lieutenant governor, was your party's candidate-in-waiting for 2013. Why did you decide to jump in, and why do you think you'll do the job better?
CUCCINELLIWell, for starters, I think that the leadership that I bring to the table has been consistent with my time in the state Senate. I've been not merely accommodating of running government, but I have been aggressive in attempting to lead it. And that includes working in a bipartisan basis. For instance, this session, we're going to hopefully finish off a seven-year effort to get property rights protected in our Constitution, something I've worked with Democrats and Republicans on for that long to achieve.
CUCCINELLIIn fact, the last phone call I had before I came in here with you was with a Democrat delegate who I'm working with on that project, and have for a long time. So I bring that to the table. I don't have any -- anything negative to say about my competitor, but I think that the grassroots...
NNAMDIHave you spoken with him since you announced you would run?
CUCCINELLIHe wouldn't return my phone calls now.
NNAMDIBut it's my understanding you're part of a lawsuit challenging his participation. In Senate votes, you are, in fact, defending him, so...
CUCCINELLII am defending him and very effectively.
NNAMDIYou got to speak with someone.
CUCCINELLIYes. Well, he -- you know, we -- I have a lot of clients in state government. The lieutenant governor is one of them. And as a good lawyer, I want to make my clients as comfortable with their legal turmoil as possible. And the way to make the lieutenant governor the most comfortable is not for me to get in his face and insist on being the lawyer handling the matter. I review and edit all of the materials in that case.
CUCCINELLIHowever, it's a lot easier and a lot more accommodating of the lieutenant governor, I think, just as a customer service matter, to leave one of my deputies as that contact. And we have done that. And we've done a good job with that case. We've -- we won round one, and we're going to win the rest of it.
NNAMDIYou said he hasn't been taking your telephone calls, so it's, I guess, OK to say, right now, he's not speaking to you?
CUCCINELLIThat would be accurate, for the last month or so.
NNAMDIKen Cuccinelli is our guest. He is attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Let's talk with Joe in Bristol, Va. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEHi. Good afternoon, Mr. Cuccinelli. How you doing?
CUCCINELLII'm doing well. Good afternoon.
JOEVery good. Across Bristol, Va., Prince William County, this area has seen a great deal of foreclosures decimated because Virginia is one of the states that, I guess, the banks can foreclose without going to court. I know that there is ongoing process between the attorney general and the bank, and I haven't heard anything about it in Virginia. I wanted to find out what's going on because it's of great concern to me. Thank you, sir.
CUCCINELLIThanks, Joe. I also live in Prince William County, and if I remember my statistics correctly, of all the localities in Virginia, Prince William County has the highest foreclosure rate, or I should say default rate, in the entire commonwealth. If it's not number one anymore, it's darn close to it. And I share your concern in that area and have been active in those discussions.
CUCCINELLIThere is an executive committee of attorneys general that we put together that are the primary contacts on that, though I have been at the Department of Justice back in March for our initial sit-down with the banks and play a very active role in that effort. However, when settlement discussions are going on, it's a great sensitive point that they stay private until the attorneys general as a team agree that we're going to discuss X publicly. I will tell you they are advancing.
CUCCINELLIThey are not advancing at anything like the pace that I would like to see because, I think, we need to close this chapter behind us. These banks did some things wrong. And they need to be punished for it, and they will be. And critically going forward is something I have been very aggressive in focusing on, is changing how they do business in servicing mortgages and requiring them to operate in ways that avoid foreclosures going forward in the future because people don't get tied up and confused in the process they have in place.
CUCCINELLIAnd they have had a really lousy process in place for a while. And I think we are making great headway in that way regard. And I would also add that I was one of the leaders with Beau Biden over in Delaware of making sure that our service members who are on active duty or reserved or guardsmen who are activated are protected from foreclosure as well. And I have to say the Department of Defense was a great partner this past year when we went over to the Pentagon and worked through how best to do that.
CUCCINELLIThey have been very accommodating in doing that. And, of course, they want to protect their service members, too, just as much as we do. And so that's something that we were already successful at really. And I -- just a little war story, in that meeting with the -- at the Department of Justice, it was kind of funny to be sitting there with Beau Biden, the vice president's son who is the attorney general of Delaware 'cause they have these pictures all over the Department of Justice of the president -- mostly the president and the attorney general.
CUCCINELLIBut in the big conference room we were in, the vice president's picture was also in there on the opposite side of the room from Beau Biden, which, every time I would look in that direction, I would...
NNAMDIYou're looking at two Bidens.
CUCCINELLI...kind of think -- well, no. Beau was on my left, and the vice president was on the wall to the right.
CUCCINELLISo he got to look at his father the whole time, which had to feel a little bit funny there in the room. But he was very passionate about that issue, and I think we were very successful in moving it along.
NNAMDIKen Cuccinelli surrounded by Bidens.
NNAMDIHe is the attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia. You're not exactly a fan of the Environmental Protection Agency, which last year issued an order for stricter pollution limits on coal-fired plants. Another order issued late in the year addresses mercury emissions. Where do you see the fights over these regulations heading?
CUCCINELLIWell, first of all, it's important for people to realize that, while we do have a couple of fights with the EPA -- and when I say fights, I mean, legal fights. They're doing things that we believe are outside of the law. That's where I come in, in those contests. But we have also resolved a number of cases in environmental enforcement as partners with the EPA in Virginia. So, you know, it's one of those awkward situations where you're suing an outfit that you're also doing business with.
CUCCINELLIAnd they are, frankly, pretty professional about that in recognizing what's going and continuing to work together to keep Virginia clean, water and air in particular. On the mercury question, that is -- they'll be contests over that later. We will probably not be involved in those. But, as a policy matter, mercury is an excuse, and people should know this. Since 1998, with no direct regulation of mercury, we have reduced mercury output in this country by over 60 percent. I should say over 50 percent.
CUCCINELLIIt's about 60 percent because of other measures where mercury, just as a collateral benefit, is reduced.
NNAMDISo you're saying that this rule is unnecessary, that would start...
CUCCINELLINot only that.
NNAMDI...requiring emissions cuts in the year 2015?
CUCCINELLINot only that. If -- let's just say we wanted to get at the mercury 'cause everybody says mercury in this thing. It is less than 1 percent of the impact and the cost of what's going on here. The mercury is an excuse to get at other things like particulate matter, which the EPA can already regulate in other ways. They have produced no benefit, none that they can demonstrate, that holds up for the mercury piece.
CUCCINELLIAnd it wouldn't drive our electricity rates through the roof. Be clear about what this is. And coal is not a form of power supply that people are all that comfortable with, but the fact of the matter is it's powering, now, around 45 percent of our electricity. And if you go to the poorest part of Virginia, go to Appalachia, go to Southside Virginia -- south side Virginia, we have unemployment over 20 percent in some spots -- they -- their electricity is over 80 percent coal provided.
CUCCINELLIYou -- when these regulations hit, it is important for people to understand that the people hurt first and worst are the poor. And people can deny that all day long. But if what you care about is getting at mercury, just regulate mercury, and don't raise my poor folk's electricity rates another 5 or 10 percent. We just had electricity rates in that region of Virginia go up 8 percent.
CUCCINELLIAnd five of the 8 percent increase, roughly, was strict compliance with federal environmental regulatory standards, and that's it. And, look, let's face it. We mentioned the vice president. He and the president said, when they were campaigning, they wanted to bankrupt the coal industry. That's a big deal in the poorest part of Virginia. And I care an awful a lot about those folks, like I do everybody else, but they are suffering from that.
NNAMDISomewhere I heard that you refer to environmentalists as watermelons. Please explain.
CUCCINELLINo, not all. But that's an old phrase from the '70s. I didn't make it up. They're green on the outside and red on the inside. And that is for those who use environmentalism as an excuse to obtain changes in how centralized the power of this country is...
NNAMDIYou think they are closet communists.
CUCCINELLIBut, yes. And a lot of them aren't really all that closet. But it is a very attractive thing. I'm for a clean environment, clean water, clean air. Who wouldn't be? The question is, where is it on the priority list as balanced against other things? And I just gave you an example with the cost of electricity in the poorest part of Virginia. You know, there's a lot of fixed incomes down there.
CUCCINELLIAnd when you raise electricity rates 5, 10, 20 percent, 30 percent, which is what we're looking at with some of the regulatory schemes coming, those people have the hardest time affording it. So where is the balance?
NNAMDITime for one more call. You got to go, and we got to move on. But here's Iman in Chantilly, Va. Iman, you're on the air. Please make your comment or question brief.
IMANI just want to say to the attorney general -- thanks for taking my call, Kojo. But I think that this attorney general, he politicized everything since at day one. The day he become office, he has started attacking the President Obama health care. We knew that time that he has an agenda to run as a governor. But I want to specifically tell the attorney general that Virginia is changing. If you have the mentality of Tea Party, you will not win as a governor. I can assure you right now (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIIman has made a prediction you will not win as governor, but he also raised the issue of the federal health care law, which you have challenged. The Supreme Court will take up a separate challenge to that case later this year. What do you expect to happen?
CUCCINELLII expect that the individual mandate, which is the requirement that every individual buy their government-approved health insurance, will fall as unconstitutional. What is a lot harder for me to predict is -- OK, let's say that happens. What will the court do with the underlying law, and will they throw the whole thing out? Will they just get rid of the private insurance pieces? Will they get rid of the Medicare and Medicaid pieces as well?
CUCCINELLIThere's a lot of options there, and there's not a lot of guidance from what these justices have written before about what they would do at that point. But I would comment on Iman's politicization comment. First of all, in health care, we were talking a bit about the EPA. You know, the EPA has implemented some policies I don't agree with. We don't sue them because they implement policies we don't agree with. That's what elections are for.
CUCCINELLIWe didn't file that lawsuit absent a violation of the Constitution. And our lawsuit against the EPA, which will be heard right here in the District of Columbia, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 28 and 29, was filed because they broke the law. I'm an attorney general. That's where I get involved is when they have broken the law. And it is astonishing, the willingness of this administration, across so many agencies, to break the law. And that's what it -- the law is there.
NNAMDIAnd you feel that the individual mandate is a violation of the Constitution and the law.
CUCCINELLISpecifically of the Commerce Clause, yes. It is one thing to regulate commerce, which the federal government has the right to do. There is no power for them to command commerce into being to create commerce. And the Supreme Court will decide that. My -- I'm very confident it'll be 5-4. We'll see which way.
NNAMDIGot to take a move on, so to speak, 'cause we don't break on this show. Ken Cuccinelli, thank you so much for joining us.
CUCCINELLIAlways a pleasure, Kojo. Thanks for having me and Happy New Year.
NNAMDIHappy New Year to you. Ken Cuccinelli is attorney general for the commonwealth of Virginia. He is a candidate for governor in 2013. You're listening to the Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Later in the broadcast, we'll be joined by...
MR. TOM SHERWOODTell (word?) to be ready to get the walkout.
NNAMDIWe'll be joined by police Chief Cathy Lanier. You're already hearing Tom Sherwood in the background. He is at the U.S. district courthouse in the District, covering the plea of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. Tom Sherwood, can you describe for us what happened in the court room, or what is happening in the court room today?
SHERWOODYes, I can. And I apologize. There's a little confusion. We're out here waiting for Harry Thomas to come out and speak to reporters. And just give me one second. Larry, you need to stand there and shoot side shots as he comes down (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIHe's talking to his cameraman while the entire audience, the millions of listeners in our listening audience, await his disposition. In case you don't know what we're talking about, D.C. Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. was in U.S. District Court today pleading guilty to stealing some -- more than $300,000 from kids' programs in the District of Columbia and not reporting his income to the Internal Revenue Service, IRS. And we are still for Tom Sherwood to tell us what went on in that courtroom. Tom, are you there now?
SHERWOODI apologize. This is breaking news. We're live on the scene here. It's too bad you don't have a camera here, but here's the deal. It was literally high noon for Harry Thomas Jr. today. He came into the courtroom just before 11:15. The judge started about 11:25. And then right around noon, after all the legal words were said and done, Harry Thomas, the second-term councilmember, son of former Councilmember Harry Thomas Sr., pled guilty to the two counts of one federal -- both felonies of stealing about $353,000 and filing three years of false income tax returns.
SHERWOODHarry Thomas will be sentenced by the judge, Judge Bates -- and I apologize, I don't have his first name -- on May the 3rd. In the meantime...
NNAMDIIt's Judge John Bates.
NNAMDIJudge John Bates.
SHERWOODOkay. I'm sorry. Thank you for -- I didn't write it down, so I didn't have it. But he'll be back in federal court to be sentenced. It's entirely likely he will get some type of prison sentence of up to 47 months, almost four years, in prison. Thomas did not have any statement in the court. Only the lawyers spoke. The only time Thomas spoke was when he agreed that he understood what was happening. The judge went through, like, a 30-minute recitation of what was happening in there.
SHERWOODThomas' wife, I believe, Diane, his mother, Romaine Thomas, who was just a famous figure in city politics and in Ward 5, Thomas' son and a group of friends were all in the courtroom. It was kind of a cold night coming down on this scandal that's been brewing now since 2010.
NNAMDIWere any of Councilmember Thomas' former colleagues -- since he's now resigned from the council -- on the council in attendance?
SHERWOODYes. And Mr. Thomas did say he has already resigned, and I believe that's a letter to the Board of Elections and Ethics. But, yes, the only councilmember that was here that I saw in the courtroom -- it's not that big -- was Vincent Orange. Vincent Orange who came in, who's a former Ward 5 councilmember who's now an at-large councilmember, who has promised that he will try to do as much as he can to represent the ward.
SHERWOODBecause now that seat, the Ward 5 seat, is vacant until the board of elections can officially declare a vacancy and schedule a special election in about 114 days, probably some time in May. And it will be an open election in which anyone who runs -- whoever gets one vote more than anyone else will win, and they will serve out the remaining three years of Thomas' term.
NNAMDISo there has been a plea agreement. The councilmember has pled guilty. And it will be exactly how long before he is sentenced and we find out whether or not he has to serve jail time or not?
SHERWOODThat will be May 3. He will be back in this courthouse, back before the judge, to be sentenced on May 3.
SHERWOODAnd then, even if he is sentenced, it doesn't mean that they will take him away in handcuffs right at that moment. But he may have a reporting date. You know, this is not a violent crime. It's a horrible crime, stealing money from children's programs in the city that so desperately need it, but it's not a violent crime. So it may be that he will be sentenced on May 3, and then he'll have a date in advance of after that, which -- and he would actually turn himself in.
SHERWOODBut I do not know that for a fact. It's possible the judge could have him taken into custody right away. But, generally speaking, they have a reporting date some time after the sentencing date.
NNAMDIDefinitely a shadow over the District of Columbia today, and, of course, both Mayor Vincent Gray and City Council Chairman Kwame Brown are also being investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office. And, of course, we have no idea how those investigations will turn out.
SHERWOODWell, no, we don't. But, you know, this is -- everyone thought that -- I use the phrase that Thomas was low-hanging fruit. The U.S. attorney for the District, Irvin Nathan, had already laid out a withering case against Thomas and got Thomas to agree to repay the $300,000 that he misused. So we already knew kind of this -- everyone thought that Thomas' case would move faster than the other two. It's unclear whether the -- they're -- the U.S. attorney is doing more on the mayor's issue about whether or not he misspent campaign funds 'cause I want to make that point.
SHERWOODFor Kwame Brown and Mayor Gray, they're facing federal investigations. It is not about misuse as far as we know, not about misusing city funds or federal funds or government funds. It's about mishandling their campaigns: the mayor's 2010 campaign for mayor, Kwame Brown's 2008 re-election campaign for at-large councilmember. So those are investigations. And I see Mrs. Thomas now. Her family are holding their hands. She's about 85 years old.
SHERWOODThere are many victims in this situation. But Mrs. Thomas is (unintelligible), I mean, it's a terrible thing to happen for her. I feel -- my heart bleeds for her every time I see her.
NNAMDIAnd some people feel it's a terrible thing for the city also.
SHERWOODWell, yes, it is. And there's no question about it. For all the people who feel sorry for Tommy -- it's not just nickname -- for all the people who feel, oh, it's a sad thing and all that, it's a horrific thing that money was taken by the hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for youth programs and youth education issues and nonprofits who struggle every day for a dollar and to have the money go to a lavish lifestyle that Tommy Thomas had for himself.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, thank you so much for joining us. Tom Sherwood at the U.S. District courthouse in the District, covering the plea of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. You can start calls for our next guest right now, 800-433-8850. Before I even reveal who she is -- but I did reveal that earlier -- I'll start with a pop quiz for our next guest. If she gets the answer right, maybe she will get to stay on.
NNAMDII remember the first major sting in the District of Columbia in the 1970s. You just ran a year-long sting here. That sting lead to the -- a large group of lawbreakers in D.C. More importantly, it's the name of the second sting that makes these repeat stings so remarkable. So my question for you, do you remember the name of the second sting? I'll give you a hint. It was called GYA. That was the nickname for (unintelligible).
MS. CATHY LANIERYou know, I remember the sting because when I took over major narcotics branch, it was the most notorious operations of the MPD. But I don't remember the name.
NNAMDIThe second sting was called Got Ya Again.
NNAMDIGot Ya Again.
LANIERGot Ya. You got to love our creativity, don't you?
NNAMDIGot Ya Again. So I'm amazed that these people still keep getting got, so to speak. Our guest, of course, is Cathy Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also go to our website kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there, or send a tweet @kojoshow. I'm reminded that the city is starting off the year on a lot of high notes, in spite of the sad information that we've just been talking about.
NNAMDILast year homicides fell to a point not seen in the District for half a century. When you look at those numbers, what do you see?
LANIERWell, I see we still have a long ways to go, but I see a lot of pride in my police department and the men and women that have worked so hard to get us where are and a real sense of satisfaction that we have very good relationships with our community. And it's not just the number of homicides. It's the closure on the homicides because that is the community. I mean, that's the people and the residents of the District of Columbia. So a real sense of pride.
NNAMDIWhat specifically did you do to increase the closure rate? Because our closure rate was scandalous for a while.
LANIERWell, you know, closure rate for homicide nationally, for cities our size, is about 56 percent. So a 95 percent closure rate is phenomenal for a major city. I think it's really -- it's all about the community. You have to have good relationships with people in the neighborhoods. You've got to give them ways to reach out to you and people that they feel comfortable talking to. And, apparently, we've reached a high mark because that closure rate is, you know, about 50 percent of the contribution to reducing the homicide rate. So it's just that simple.
NNAMDIProbably your running around schmoozing everybody in the neighborhoods might have had something to do with it. Washington Post scholar Mr. Charles Lane pointed out that at the end of last year that violent crime is down in major cities nationwide but that the precise cause remains a mystery. What are your thoughts?
LANIERWell, you know, I can only talk about Washington, D.C. I think there's things -- nationally, there's a lot of things that impact crime from, you know, economic growth and, you know, weather and everything else. So, nationally, there's a lot of things going on. But, I think, for the District to have such significant reductions -- and we've reduced homicides 42 percent in just three years. I mean, that's a really dramatic reduction. I think the things that contribute to that are, you know, some of the economic development and change in the actual city itself.
LANIERBut a lot of it is use of technology and building those relationships and policing tactics, so...
NNAMDIHere is Larry in Southeast Washington. Larry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARRYGood afternoon, folks. I just moved to Southeast in April, bought a house in Henson Ridge area, really like it. I like the affordable housing. I like the fact that it's close to downtown. It's very green and lush over there. But two guests to my home in the last two months have been mugged, one at gunpoint, either on the way from Metro to my home or parking their car down the street to my home. And I'd like to know what Chief Lanier has in mind for making the streets of Ward 8 safer for those who are drawn to the area because of quality of life and low housing prices?
LANIERYeah, it is a beautiful place. Henson Ridge is one of the prettiest areas over there, so congratulations on the move. The crime that I've talked about that has been the most difficult for us -- and, by the way, the 7th district is the district that's had the biggest success in reducing violence.
NNAMDIIndeed. It saw its annual homicide count drop 55 percent with 24 fewer killings in 2011.
LANIERYeah, so the robberies and the snatching of electronic devices and the thefts are just a huge challenge for us. I mean, you've got one of the best district managers in the city over there. He does a phenomenal job. And I know Chief Groomes, my assistant chief, spends a lot of time over in Henson Ridge as well. So the best advice I can give you to help us do what we have to do is we really need residents to report suspicious activity to us. Don't wait until it's something that's criminal.
LANIERDon't worry about dialing 911. If you see somebody or something that's suspicious, that's out of place, dial 911 and let us come out and make that determination because a lot of times that's how we prevent these crimes.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Larry. Our guest is Cathy Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. You, too, can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Or you can just send us a tweet, @kojoshow. On the one hand, we see that dramatic drop in homicides in the 7th district. On the other hand, neighborhoods right across the border in Prince George's County's 4th district, including Hillcrest Heights and Oxon Hills, saw their homicide count more than double, up by 21 slayings.
NNAMDIHow would you characterize the city's relationship with Prince George's County when it comes to crime? It seems a lot of that is kind of cross-border crime.
LANIERYeah, some of it is. I mean, we've always had issues. I mean, I've been here 21 years. And when I was in the 6th district and the same thing (unintelligible), we always shared a lot of our crime issues across the border. You know, I don't know -- we have an everyday relationship with the county. In fact, I get emails -- we communicate back and forth daily, as does the Assistant Chief and the District Commander. So we work really well together.
LANIERBut, you know, I have to say that the issues that we've shared in the past have typically been violent crime. It is the gang members and those who are involved in the serious violent crime that we share along those borders (unintelligible).
NNAMDIDo you have any specific kind of coordination or taskforce targeting that in that part of the...
LANIERNo, we don't have a taskforce. But, as I said, the two chiefs in charge of patrol, so, for me, Assistant Chief Groomes and over in Prince George's County, Chief Davis, they coordinate daily. And we share -- same thing with Montgomery County, by the way. So they share information, and we've been able to -- for example, with 7-Eleven robberies, we've got such an instantaneous communication system set up now that they had a 7-Eleven robbery about a week ago.
LANIERThey notified us immediately, so we could, you know, head up, you know, our 7-Eleven sites. And as the suspects involved in that robbery, you know, entered into the District and hit, you know, one of our 7-Elevens, Prince George's County was already on their way over and came to our scene. So the communication's very, very good. And we just have to really stay on it. This -- it takes a lot of focus.
NNAMDIYou mentioned this already, that, in terms of sheer numbers, property crimes have become your biggest problem, snatching phones, iPods, that kind of thing. To what degree do you think this spike is the result of, either flaws in policing strategy or it's the result of people in the city being, well, better off and walking around with more expensive things dangling from our necks and holding in our hands?
LANIERWell, but that's only a small part of it, though, Kojo. And, you know, if I look at the morning report and there's 11 thefts on the report this morning, six of them took place in an office building where somebody left their wallet and their purse and walked out of the office. And they'll come back and their wallet's missing. Or somebody was in a restaurant and hung their purse on the back of the chair, went to the restroom and came back and their purse was gone. I mean, how do I deal -- I mean, how do I combat that as a police agency?
LANIERThat really is -- you know, we try and educate people. We put stuff on our listservs. It's because -- two things, I think. We get a lot of visitors here in D.C. You know, we have tourists, and we have people who come here to go to our restaurants and our, you know, nightclubs. And, no matter how well we educate our residents, those visitors come in, and they, you know, make things available for people to steal.
NNAMDIAnd so you simply have to be able to warn people to try to make sure they keep track of their possessions, that they don't...
LANIERThat would help an awful lot.
NNAMDI...leave them carelessly anyplace. Here is Lee in Brightwood in D.C. Lee, your turn.
LEEThank you. And I'd like to congratulate the chief on the lower homicide rate.
NNAMDIWe got to get rid of these congratulatory calls. But go ahead, go ahead.
LEEOh, that's funny. But...
LANIERThank you, Lee.
LEEYou're welcome. I live in a fairly scrappy neighborhood and -- if I may say so. And I find the police presence very reassuring, and I think they've been doing good work. But I'm calling regarding a murder case of a friend of mine. He was killed in Columbia Heights in September. I think it was Gaurav Gopalan.
LEEAnd I'm sure you're aware of it. And I called not so much to put you on the spot, but to encourage the police force to continue to work on that. And, if you have any information...
NNAMDIWe do have an email also about that from Clair who mentions that Gaurav was an aerospace engineer and theatre artist who is believed to have been the victim of a hate crime. Chief Lanier?
LANIERYeah, I mean, I know you probably know the details in that case. This is going to be one of the more difficult cases to close. You know, when people look at homicide closures and murder cases that we solve, you know, obviously, a case where it's domestic violence and the suspect is almost always known, those cases close pretty easily. If it's a case that happens out in public space in the middle of the day and there's potential for more witnesses, those are obviously easier to close.
LANIERCases where there's a lot of evidence on the scene, those are -- but this is one of the most difficult cases. This is where he was discovered. You know it appears to have happened when there was no witnesses around overnight. There was not a significant amount of visible evidence on the scene. So it is going to be a tough case, but I think it's going to come back to piecing together bits and pieces of information that we can get from people who were known to the victim and people in the community.
LANIERAnd that's kind of the strategy of the detectives right now. But they have not forgotten this case by any means.
NNAMDILee, thank you very much for your call. We usually bring up Chris Baughman because of beefs that he and the police union have going with you, but I read an Associated Press article where he said that police have not been getting enough support from the D.C. Council. What would you say?
LANIERWell, you know, I'm not sure what he's referring to. And every time I've gone to the Council and asked for legislation to be introduced or other measures that we need their support on, they have been supportive. So I don't really know what his specific issue is. He's raised the Occupy Movement several times, I'm sure.
NNAMDIOh, yes. He's also said that police are being pulled away from neighborhoods to patrol Occupy D.C. What do you say to that? How would you -- I guess the broader question is, how would you characterize the challenges that the Occupy camps present to the city?
LANIERYou know, it's -- we deal with so many protests -- large protests here all -- you know, on average we have about 2300 special events or protests in the city a year. That's largely what Special Operations Division does. So they're out there every day monitoring different types of protests. And with Occupy, as long as they're at the McPherson site or in Freedom Plaza, it's the United States Park lease. So that's not something that MPD is tasked with at all. When they have marches and they have moves or they have demonstrations, that's when MPD handles it.
LANIERWith the exception of just a couple of large events, MPD's SOD handles that. Now, we've used officers from the neighborhood a couple of times, but we usually use them on overtime. I hold them over, so I'm not depleting resources. So, you know, it's part of what we do every day.
NNAMDIOn to Bob in Takoma Park, Md. Bob, your turn.
BOBHI. Thanks for letting me on. I am a cyclist. I've been riding to work in D.C. for 38 years now. And I've encountered some real problems on the Metropolitan Branch Trails -- Branch Trail with D.C. police. I ride John MacArthur Drive Northeast, and then I go up Bates Road. At the corner of Bates and John MacArthur is a police -- or D.C. refueling station. And then, as you go up the hill, there's a gate at the corner of Bates and Fort Totten.
BOBWhat police do is, instead of going around the block to go to their refueling station, they use the sidewalk, which is part of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. I've spoken to Lieut. Rogers about this on Dec. 13, and I want to -- and I have a follow-up with him. I hope to speak to him this week. But I encountered three vehicles there on Tuesday night, either coming up or down the sidewalk, which is really unnerving for a cyclist. And I actually was in the middle between two police cars, one going from...
NNAMDIWhat's the point you're trying to make here, Bob?
BOBWell, what I'm trying to make is, why do -- why can't police go around the block as opposed to driving their cars on a sidewalk? And they are damaging their cars because I can hear the bottom of the car -- because that's not a ramp. It's a (unintelligible).
NNAMDIAllow me to have Police Chief Cathy Lanier respond.
LANIERActually, that's the first time I've heard that complaint, and I actually monitor -- there's an awful lot of Metro Branch Trail folks that we communicate with on our listserv 'cause we've had officers patrolling up and down there. We have bike officers. That's the first time I've heard that complaint. If you've spoken with Lieut. Rogers, I'm sure he's addressing it. But I'll follow up and address it as well.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Bob. Here is Noon (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Noon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NOONYes, hello everybody. I live in D.C., and I work up in Tenleytown. And I often see that there are police -- this is kind of related to the previous caller -- that police tend to park wherever they want. They're getting a haircut. They're parked on the corner where I've gotten tickets. And I see police parked illegally, running and getting his uniform from the dry cleaners in the same space where I've previously gotten a ticket.
NOONAnd I think that we need to tighten up on that because all that really does is tends to anger the citizens when the police are allowed to park wherever they want when we're not.
LANIERYep, I'm with you.
NOONAnd then we get tickets...
LANIERBelieve me, Noon, I'm with you 100 percent. In fact, in my speech that I give for every recruit class that graduates, I include comments specifically about things like that. And, you know, what I encourage people to do, if you see an officer that's, you know, violating any traffic laws and parking violations and things like that, please, just jot down the number of the car, time of day and get that to us, you know, either straight to the district commander who will address it. Or you can send it to me or whatever you feel most comfortable with.
LANIERBut we try and address that behavior as we encounter it. It's not a huge problem, but, periodically, we do get complaints about that. And we have to keep addressing it. But they know the rules. They shouldn't be doing that.
NNAMDINoon, thank you very much for your call. Wanted to get back to sting operations again because the sting you ran -- the year-long sting resulted in dozens of arrests. It snagged millions of dollars in drugs, hundreds of weapons. Walking away from that operation, what do you think it tells you about the challenges you're still up against as a police department?
LANIERIt's really about the future challenges that law enforcement in the United States as a whole is facing. When I look at that operation as a whole, there were multiple attempts for violent gang organizations to establish either drug footholds here in the District or run guns through the District and, in one case, to commit a series of violent robberies against banks and home invasions.
LANIERAnd so I think the cross-border initiative and the cross-border issues for the United States right now is these violent drug cartels have penetrated the United States. And that's a scary thought. I mean, we have challenges going forward, and we better stay on our toes.
NNAMDISo that means we can expect more stings in the future?
LANIERYes. You definitely can expect more stings. This was our second big operation and extremely successful and, you know, dangerous but necessary.
NNAMDIHow about crimes against transgender people? Where are we trending with that? I know you were asked about that yesterday, but nobody ever listens to that other radio station. So any chance...
LANIERThat's awful, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhere are we trending right now in terms of transgender?
LANIERThe biggest thing with the transgender crimes is I'm confident that we're seeing better reporting. We have worked very hard on that relationship to get the reporting in. But, you know, we have seen some just outright assaults where they're targeted and assaulted simply because they're transgender. And we've seen some of the transgender community that's involved in prostitution being attacked.
LANIERAnd, you know, we've been trying to do outreach with the transgender community to say -- just like we do with, you know, any part of the population that engages in prostitution, you know, they are increasing their risks for being targeted. As, you know -- I mean, people that want to do robberies are going to look for somebody who's carrying cash. And, typically, you know, prostitutes that are working on the street aren't using a credit card machine.
LANIERSo, you know, we've got to work together and help each other to get those crimes down. But, you know, that's kind of where we are. Overall, hate crimes, the biggest increases has been against race, not against transgenders.
NNAMDIAlmost out of time here, but speaking of bicycles, one emailer says, "I've never seen a police officer issuing a ticket to a cyclist riding where they shouldn't be riding. What guidance does the chief give to officers about enforcing the rules for cyclists?"
LANIERSee, now when I go to that other radio station, I always bring all of my citations for bikes and pedestrians 'cause I get a lot of calls about that. I didn't bring them with me today, but I can tell you citation and enforcement for the bike laws is up, not only just with the bikers, but also with the motorists for, you know, violating blocking bike lanes and things like that. So that's kind of a two-way issue. We do issue those citations. There has been a number of them issued, over 2,000, I believe, last year. So -- but it's a big challenge. There are over a million bike rentals in this city this year.
NNAMDIAnd going up. Cathy Lanier is the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us...
NNAMDI...and Happy New Year to you.
LANIERHappy New Year.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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