Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker is in studio. And Aisha Braveboy, candidate for Prince George's State's Attorney, joins us.
The debate over credit card payments for D.C. cabs boils over, as a story surfaces involving the daughter of a D.C. lawmaker. Virginia’s high-stakes battle over Medicaid consumes the General Assembly. And new polls indicate Maryland’s lieutenant governor is running ahead of the Democratic pack in the race for Annapolis, with many questions lingering before primary day in June. 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
- Jay Fisette Chair, Arlington County Board
- John McCarthy States Attorney, Montgomery County (Md.)
Last year, a Maryland court ruled that indigent defendants have the right to a public defender at their initial bail hearing. State administrators, including State’s Attorney John McCarthy, have asked the court to throw out the ruling. “I did not favor this decision,” said McCarthy, calling it “wrong headed.” McCarthy said the ruling will cost half a billion dollars since it now affords a defendant the right to go before a judge with an attorney twice, rather than once, within the first 24 hours of arrest. He said he agrees with the governor’s proposal to instead use risk assessment to determine whether a defendant will be released.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. We'll be talking with our first guest later, but in case you'd like to talk with him you may want to start calling now. It's going to be Jay Fisette, chairman of the Arlington County Board. So you can start calling if you have questions or comments for Jay Fisette, at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITom Sherwood joins me in studio. He is our resident analyst. He is a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, I begin with a quiz for you.
MR. TOM SHERWOODUh-oh.
NNAMDIYou've got three choices in order to answer this question. The first one is Vladimir Putin. Two is an angry tea partier. Three would be a D.C. firefighter. Question, which one of those three people was most likely to make an angry and disturbing phone call to the White House during the course of the past week? Vladimir Putin, an angry tea partier or D.C. firefighter?
SHERWOODWell, I think all three could have. You know, they could do a conference call.
NNAMDIBut who actually did it?
SHERWOODWell, it would be firefighter who -- allegedly.
NNAMDIThe D.C. firefighter. According to Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner the Secret Service is investigating that call from the firefighter who apparently asked in the call if he would have to turn on the speakers of his fire truck on the White House lawn to air the death threats that he was allegedly receiving in Anne Arundel County. Paul eventually spoke with him. He said it was a joke and he was angry about the lack of his response to the complaints about the alleged death threats against him. What's going on with the D.C. fire department? It's coming across…
SHERWOODWell, you know, it's just one thing or another. I would just say -- I would recommend to anyone within listening shot of this radio show -- and I'm a pretty good jokester myself -- there's nothing around the White House that you should treat as a joke.
SHERWOODThere is no joke there. It is just unfathomable that somebody would play some joke. It just makes no sense.
NNAMDIKnowing already the shadow that's hanging over the D.C. fire department. We're supposed to hear the results of another investigation involving the beleaguered fire department today over the death of long-time D.C. employee Cecil Mills across the street from a fire house on Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast. That report/investigation is supposed to be made public any minute now.
SHERWOODYeah, any moment. You know, there are just thousands of emergency responders, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, people who have served on the job for six months and people who have served, you know, for 25 and 30 years, and I don't know how they stand it. They must be embarrassed more so than the leadership of the fire department, that the D.C. fire department keeps getting such bad publicity about so many different things.
NNAMDIBecause, as you point out, the overwhelming majority of those people are just hardworking public servants.
SHERWOODIt must be dispiriting for them.
NNAMDIIt's got to be. Let's talk politics for a second here. The Washington Post has endorsed Muriel Bowser in the Democratic primary coming up on April 1st in the D.C. mayoral race. Surprised?
SHERWOODNo, not a surprise. You know, that's a very long editorial. I have shortened in a tweet I sent out last night that said, "We might have endorsed Vince Gray, but we don't know if he's a crook."
SHERWOODFrom his 2010 campaign. And that's what they did. They said very nice things about Jack Evans. They said, you know, Jack Evans is clearly somebody…
NNAMDIThey said he can do it.
SHERWOODHe could be the mayor. He could do the work, but he doesn't give any aspirational encouragement out on the stump about what he would do, not what he's done. And so the Post picked Muriel Bowser. A safe choice for the Post. She's well respected, came up through the Adrian Fenty organization. She's represented Ward 4 in upper northwest Washington for some time. She has her head screwed on straight, they say. And she's the best choice of the candidates running.
NNAMDIThe thing that surprised me most was a kind of snide backhand at candidate Andy Shallal, with the Post saying that his main focus seems to be to decry the economic forces that have contributed to his businesses success.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know if it's a back of the hand to him. But I mean, he is -- you know, Muriel Bowser called him a rich socialist. He has worked very hard to establish his Bus Boys and Poets. I believe there's one in Arlington. And he's a successful businessman. That doesn't mean you have to be some kind of conservative Tea Party person.
NNAMDIYeah, that's what I was about to say. People seem to think that you can't be…
SHERWOODSo I think that was unfair.
NNAMDI…you can't be leftist and a business man at the same time.
SHERWOODRight, I mean, there are plenty of them. And so I think that was somewhat unfair. Andy had, just this past week, put out a strong statement on what he thinks should be done with the city public school system. So that one sentence, maybe out of all the sentences in the Post, I might have rewritten.
NNAMDIOkay. Let's stay in the District for a while because the apparent situation involving a cab driver and the daughter of a prominent elected official who shall remain nameless -- Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh -- apparently was making the news. This incident happened in November, but it wasn't made public until this hearing this week that Mary Cheh had, saying that her daughter was in this taxicab, offered the taxicab driver a credit card.
NNAMDIHe said that he couldn't accept it because the reader was malfunctioning. She said she would go into the house and get some cash and pay him, but that she was going to report him anyway because he was supposed to take her credit card. She alleges that he then locked the doors and drove off to some other location. Mary Cheh, being a lawyer herself, she says that fits the legal definition of a kidnapping. And on and on we go.
SHERWOODVery soap opera-ish. But the one thing the cab driver didn't realize is that Mary Cheh chairs the committee that oversees the taxi industry.
SHERWOODSo that's not a good person to irritate. Only since last October in the District of Columbia, have cab drivers been required to accept credit cards. They have a machine to accept credit cards. And a number of the cab drivers are saying that it's not fair because the machines and the companies that are responsible for the payments take too long. They say as much as two weeks to get reimbursed before…
NNAMDIAnd they say they are restricted both in terms of where they can get the machines from and the companies that are responsible…
SHERWOODWell, there's plenty of places they get the machines. There's a dozen that were -- it started out as the dozen. I think we're down to eight now. And then there are other people who are concerned that some cab drivers who wanted -- like waiters want to deal in cash so they don't have to report the money -- are purposely not using the credit card machines. So this is a difficult transition period for the city.
SHERWOODBut Mary Cheh says apart from her daughter's incident, is that the city is going to continue to push for people to have credit card machines that work. And so the taxicab commission chairman, Ron Linton, and Mary Cheh, are urging the public to report any cabdriver who's working without a credit card machine that's working. Because as Ron Linton said, if that machine is not working you're not supposed to be picking up fares.
NNAMDIWell, we got a call from a cabdriver here yesterday who complained about the readers. We have another one on the line who's called. We're not going to take because we're not going there right now, but he says the machines are not broken, it's the internet access that is not working.
SHERWOODWell, they're saying it drops out around the White House and all that. But I must say, I'm in a lot of cabs. With 6,000 plus cabs on the street, I'm only hearing of incidences of a couple hundred where the machines allegedly are not working. There's lots of people who use portable credit card devices. Cabs should have them also.
NNAMDIAnd for the cabdriver, if that's the case and you're having a problem, you cannot arbitrarily change the rules and decide that you are not accepting credit cards because that'll get you into a lot of trouble.
SHERWOODThere are 20 million cab rides in the city, estimated every year. About 10 million of them from people who are traveling from out of town. They're using credit cards. They need to be able to use them in the cabs.
NNAMDIOkay. Let's welcome our guest. Jay Fisette is chairman of the Arlington County Board. He is a Democrat. He joins us in studio. Jay Fisette, thank you for your joining us. Good to see you again.
MR. JAY FISETTENice to you. Thanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIQuestions or comments for Jay Fisette? 800-433-8850. Send email to email@example.com. Before we get into the nitty gritty of Arlington, let's talk about Capitol Hill for a moment. It seems like half the Democrats in Arlington and Alexandria are lining up to run for the congressional seat currently occupied by Jim Moran. He's a Democrat. He'll be retiring at the end of the year. And he took a pass on the race. Why?
NNAMDIYou took a pass, I mean, yes.
FISETTEYeah, it's something I certainly have given thought to over the years, but now was not the time. Part of it really is, you know, trying to figure out what that day would be like up on Capitol Hill. And sadly I don't think the energy and the innovation in local and public life right now is at the federal level. It's really at the local level, the regional level and some states.
FISETTEBut going up there and spending all my time raising money, when you're in the minority in the House, which is likely to be the case for a while, you know, and by the way, good for everybody who wants to still do it because it should be that way. We should all be aspiring, if you are interested in it, to be in Congress. But it's a very different place than it was 15 or 20 years ago.
NNAMDIWhich is why you should want to go. You Arlington Democrats get along too well. You need to be in a situation where you learn to mix it up with the other side that doesn't get along with you. This would be great experience for you.
FISETTEIt's about getting good things done, you know. And I just look at the federal government, think about how many good things have really gotten done, where they used to get done. It's not happening very much these days.
SHERWOODBut the federal government was your local constituents. I mean you have a lot of federal interests in Arlington.
SHERWOODAnd I talked to Julie Carey from NBC 4 this morning. And she said, you know, ask Jay about this, said, you know, Arlington makes up a preponderance of this congressional district, which has been represented by Jim Moran (unintelligible) he's worked for the whole district. She wanted me to ask you is it time maybe that the Congress person be from Arlington.
FISETTEI think there's going to be an interesting breakdown, because about half the congressional district is actually Fairfax. The other half is Arlington and Alexandria. And there are, what, 11 people running now? Each of them are going to have their own constituency, whether it's from the region, whether it's based on demographics, whether, you know, you've got some gay folks in there, you got gay, you got the African American, you've got women, men. It's going to be a very interesting to see how it breaks down.
SHERWOODDo you have a…
FISETTEAnd they're all…
SHERWOODAre you supporting anyone?
FISETTEI am not at this point.
NNAMDIAre you endorsing anyone?
FISETTEAt this point, no, but I may end up doing that before it's over.
SHERWOODAnd this is for the primary?
FISETTEThe primary would be in June.
SHERWOODJune 24th is the…
SHERWOODSo we'll hear from you later.
NNAMDIAt the end of the day what legacy do you think Jim Moran is leaving behind in this congressional district and in the region, as a whole?
FISETTEOnly a good one. He's been a very strong voice for all the Democratic values that I think I and many of those people running for that seat look for. He's been a strong voice for women. He's been a strong voice for the environment. He's been a strong voice for the federal workers that, you know, are, as you say, all throughout that district.
NNAMDIPlus, he always seems to be everywhere. Does that mean we're not going to be seeing Jim Moran everywhere we go from now on, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, you know, once you retire you still just wander around. The people just don't pay any attention to you. You know Frank Wolf is leaving, too. And that's…
SHERWOODFor north Virginia, those two losses for northern Virginia is a pretty big deal. I mean one of the issues is where is the FBI headquarters going to go with its 11,000 employees. Maryland has a lot of power house members of Congress. Barbara Mikulski in Senate Appropriations and Chris Van Hollen in Montgomery County, Steny Hoyer in Prince George's. I mean that's a lot of powerful stuff on Capitol Hill that Virginia can't compete with.
FISETTEWell, you've seen a lot of the senior people in the House leaving this year. A lot very -- Henry Waxman, California, and others. No question that the delegation from northern Virginia, including Frank Wolf, all worked well together and they represented the region when they needed to, with a single voice.
SHERWOODThat was true of the U.S. senators from Virginia, too.
SHERWOODWhether it was John Warner or anyone.
FISETTEAnd I think that race for Frank Wolf's seat is a much more competitive one come November. John Foust, a current member of the Fairfax Board is a very capable guy. And that is a potential pickup for Democrats.
NNAMDIJay Fisette is our guest. He is chairman of the Arlington County Board. He's a Democrat. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. You can call us. We'll be going to the phones shortly. 800-433-8850, if you have questions or comments for Jay Fisette. Or you can send us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIA lot of spotlight was on the General Assembly in Richmond this week, where lawmakers are locked into a very partisan dispute over Medicaid and a potentially massive showdown over the commonwealth's budget. Meanwhile, the Arlington Board, which is made up completely of democrats is contemplating, a budget for the county, one that may allow lawmakers to avoid hiking property taxes. What do you see at stake with this spending plan and where do you think it'll fit into the vision for the county that you'd like to pursue as chairman?
FISETTEYeah, sure. Well, this is an annual event for us. We have a requirement to balance our budget every year at the local level. So tomorrow we will get and receive the manager's budget. She's been working on it for six months. And, as you read in the Post today, we gave her guidance to create a budget within the existing tax rate and she has done that. And we haven't really seen it in detail, so we'll get it, along with everyone else, tomorrow.
FISETTEWe will be advertising the maximum tax rate tomorrow, that we're able to adopt. And I think it's not going to be a surprise to people that we're very likely to go above the existing tax rate, as well. And the good news is we…
SHERWOODI'm sorry. I misunderstand the…
FISETTEThe existing tax rate? We have a requirement tomorrow to set the maximum tax rate, to advertise.
FISETTESo that two months from then we have to pick the tax rate. But we set the advertisement, which means the maximum you can go has to be announced tomorrow. And I think you're going to hear that we're not going to above the existing tax rate, just as the manager's budget has come forward within a…
SHERWOODWell, for people who live in Arlington, the residential tax rate is rough, I think it's about 85…
FISETTEAbout a dollar. (unintelligible).
SHERWOODIt's now a dollar per 100, which is actually quite high.
FISETTEActually, it's the -- I think the lowest in the region.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know. The District of Columbia is lower.
FISETTEThe District of Columbia?
SHERWOODEight-five. Yes, the District, we have a very low property tax rate for residential. And we have a cap also on how much you can raise it, 10 percent.
SHERWOODSo I say that because some people who live in your wealthy county would like -- why not some residential property tax relief? Is that in sight?
SHERWOODI won't tell you who told me that -- asked that.
FISETTEObviously, one of the things we're always doing is trying to find that balance. And the good news is that the assessments, from our perspective, for commercial came up a little higher than they projected in the fall, which is a good indication that, you know, the commercial market in Arlington is still very strong. We've got a lot of cranes out there, as well.
SHERWOODAnd the Council of Government says that you're a 96 cents per 100, and this was 2011. You haven't -- and 85 cents in the District, $1.07 in Prince George's.
SHERWOODEight-two in Montgomery.
FISETTEYeah, well, and sometimes…
FISETTE…comparing apples to apples in Virginia, your commercial and residential real estate tax rate have to be identical. There is not permitted to be a difference between the two of them. But throughout northern Virginia, all the real estate tax rates are higher than they are in Arlington.
SHERWOODBut Arlington's doing well, isn't it? I know that Crystal City is trying to reinvent itself. We were talking before the show about BRAC and the devastation of the thousands of employees lost there. But how is Arlington doing? It seem to -- I go over to Arlington occasionally.
FISETTEIt's a prosperous place, Tom.
FISETTEIt is. I mean we hitched our wagon to transit 20, 30 years ago when the Metro was being developed. And ever since then you just look at the results. It's a prosperous place.
NNAMDIWell, given that, this is the fourth time you've served as chairman.
NNAMDIAnd this time you declared economic development would be your focus.
NNAMDIIf it's already a prosperous place, why are you laying out a plan for economic development and what are the center tenants of this plan?
FISETTEYeah, that's a good question. When I stepped up at the beginning of the year, I tried to focus on our three biggest things. And two of them were victims of our success. You know, housing affordability, a challenge for us because the value of property for every square inch is challenging. And the other is our school enrollments. For an urban place we've got growing enrollments. Probably 4,000 new kids over the next five years.
SHERWOODWhat's your enrollment number, total?
FISETTEOh, it's just over 20,000, 21,000, something like that. But it's higher than it's ever been.
SHERWOODThat's a big increase.
FISETTEAnd for an urban place to see schools growing, it's because they're so good and we treat them so well. And everybody in Arlington -- even though only 13 percent of the adults have kids in the public schools, we're all committed. Those bonds pass at 75, 85 percent. And we've upgraded and built new schools -- 35 renovations and new schools over the last, you know, 20 years. But the part that we hadn't done, the Board hadn't really taken on, was our economic competitiveness, that you mentioned, Kojo, because we had always done just great.
FISETTEWe had been able to focus on other issues, but the truth is the competition in the region is growing. D.C.'s doing better, rail's going to Tysons, the federal government is setting these caps on lease rates -- which are probably disadvantaging us more than others, BRAC, we talked about BRAC before the show. Arlington lost more people over those 10 years after that decision was made then any jurisdiction in America. And a lot of it in Crystal City. So we redefined Crystal City as a future.
FISETTEBut we have to focus on that more. And that's what I'm trying to do, to create and build Arlington as sort of the innovation economy hub in the region. And we've taken great steps to get there. And I think very likely you're going to see that happen.
SHERWOODMay I just -- before…
NNAMDISure, please, go ahead.
SHERWOODBecause I've heard that same, almost word-for-word description from Mayor Gray about southeast Washington. I've heard it from Ike Leggett and Doug Duncan last week and the I-270 Corridor. I've heard that from all the jurisdictions that this is growth area, we want it. I mean, is it realistic that all of the region can be a growth area in hi-tech?
FISETTEIt's a good question. I think there are a lot of areas where you can get those incubators and get those startups. It's in healthcare, it's in cyber security, there are a range of places to look. I'll tell you that Arlington, for example, why we think not only our location and our sort of smart growth environment, but we have the highest percentage of the 25 to 34 year olds as a percentage of our population of any jurisdiction in America.
FISETTESo we've got that creative class. That sort of young, entrepreneurial, smart, highly educated person already living there, drawn to the community we've created. And part of it is taking advantage of that. Plus, a lot of the federal agencies.
NNAMDIJay Fisette is our guest. He's chairman of the Arlington County Board. And apparently the fact that we mentioned at the top of the show that you were going to be our guest has attracted a lot of callers so please don your headphones so you can hear what Lindsey, in Arlington, has to say. Lindsey, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINDSEYThank you, Kojo. I am an Arlington resident. And last year I had filed to have my taxes reassessed. However, when the county reassessed them -- say my house was worth 500, they were measuring me with people who were 650, 640. And it seemed like it was a stacked deck.
NNAMDII'm not sure I understand the question. I hope Jay Fisette does.
SHERWOODThe assessments aren't fair, right?
NNAMDIYes, I gather that much.
FISETTEWell, the only thing I'll say -- Kojo, all I can tell you is that the issue of or the task of assessing properties is one that the Board does not get involved with directly. We are separated from that. It is a separate function by the professionals working under the county manager that do that work. And there is a citizen-based board of equalization that will take those, you know, appeals and process them.
SHERWOODBut isn't that kind of the way works? I mean, the assessors go out, apart from the Board, and they look at what properties have sold for or what improvements have been made in properties, what improvements have been made in the neighborhoods, and then make the assessment there. So if you have the lowest income-valued house on the street, with a lot of valuable houses, your house might, in fact, be worth more, than it might be if it were on a different street.
FISETTEMy understanding is…
NNAMDISee that's why he's our resident analyst. He understands stuff that I don't.
FISETTEWell, I think the way you described it, Tom, I think is accurate. A lot of it is based on how homes of a similar size or number of bedrooms or, you know, the various pieces of a home that they look at, how they compare and what they have sold for on the market in the past.
SHERWOODAnd if you have outdated infrastructure, a heating system -- you can then go to the Board and say this is why I don't match the house next door.
NNAMDIOn to schools. Here's Meredith, also in Arlington. Meredith, your turn.
MEREDITHHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm an Arlington mother and we have a terrible capacity crisis in the schools here, as you just eluded to. It's easy to praise the schools, as you did, but the fact is that the schools need more capital to address a crisis that cannot be addressed by tinkering at the edges, which is what they're trying to do right now.
MEREDITHMy understanding is that the amount of borrowing authority, which used to be split equally between the county and the Arlington public schools, has been shifting in favor of the county and away from the schools. The schools need more borrowing authority. And what would you do to make this happen?
FISETTESure. Actually, over the -- and I did reference this earlier -- over the last 20, 30 years there have been 25 schools that have been improved and a whole bunch of new ones, new high schools. We've made major investments and the community has supported those. I think the capital needs of the schools, they are going through their own process of identifying where the needs are, whether they need new schools, whether they need additions. And that process is one within the schools.
FISETTEHowever, the county is participating because we have a 26-square-mile place, limited land. We've undertaken in the last months sort of an inventory of our public land. Sort of public land for public good process. And where do we have opportunity to maximize those lands and those facilities. Sometimes you're going to see joint use, affordable housing, schools and open space and other public facilities. That is a major effort underway now. And we've had a commitment to schools. We will meet the school needs and the community supports that, and we're working very closely with the schools to do that.
SHERWOODAre there any new school facilities opening up this year or early next year in the school term?
FISETTEYes. In the last year we've approved one new elementary school, which is either underway -- under construction or about to break ground and a major addition on another. And we'll be taking up others in the next year.
NNAMDISome people have tried to throw cold water on the county's plans for building a streetcar along Columbia Pike, both in Arlington and in Montgomery County, Md. I think that's what David, in Arlington, would like to talk about. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDThank you for accepting my call. Mr. Fisette, I'm actually from South Arlington and I know that North Arlington has certainly benefited from economic development and transit-oriented development. And I'm sorry I missed your speech where you said economic development was going to be a priority. Can you speak to what the county has planned for South Arlington, in particular Columbia Pike and a very controversial issue, the Columbia Pike streetcar and whether that would impact taxpayers at all?
FISETTESure. We started a revisioning process of Columbia Pike in 1998. And in 2006 I took my first vote, along with Fairfax Board of Supervisors, to support streetcar as the transit alternative that would meet the needs of the Columbia Pike neighborhood. That's what we do well. From the beginning, it was integrating transportation and land use. I support the streetcar. I have from the beginning. And it's because, one, it fulfills the vision of a main street, not what's in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, but a main street.
FISETTESecondly, it's the capacity that's needed to support that going from 16,000 riders a day to 38,000 riders a day. Streetcar is a fixed-rail system that will attract new riders and riders that would not always take a bus. And number four the return on investment and the economic competitiveness that we've spoken to already on this show, it's important. We hitched our wagon to transit years ago. We've invested, as you said, in the Metro system throughout the county. That has transformed our county.
FISETTEThough, at the time, go back in history, a lot of people said busses would be fine. And now for the Columbia Pike corridor from Skyline through Columbia Pike, to Pentagon City, to Crystal City, connecting with the Metro in two of those areas, high job opportunities at both ends, streetcar is the right choice.
SHERWOODWill these be dedicated streetcar lanes? I mean there's -- in the District, on H Street, where it's first going, cars will be allowed to drive onto the streetcar lane.
FISETTESame thing. Tom, it's the same thing.
SHERWOODIt's not a war on cars?
FISETTEAnd many streetcars -- primarily streetcars, as I understand it, are in traffic. It is not a dedicated lane. Optimally, you would have one, but in fact, along Columbia Pike there is no opportunity for dedicated lanes for busses or for streetcars. So it would work within traffic.
SHERWOODYou have limited busses with limited stops and do you have high speed -- someone who rides the bus a great deal in the District of Columbia was telling me that she has figured out the bus system. And she can get to wherever she needs to go surprisingly well by riding the bus. But busses seem to be less favored than streetcars.
FISETTEWell, I know the system you're just opening in the city is the beginning of a 22 or 37-mile…
FISETTE…system. And there are about 14 cities around the country that are in the process of constructing streetcars. A couple of them opened last year. So we're in that queue. The busses are a great option for some places, but just like the city is taking their high bus corridors, where the volume of traffic is growing substantially, busses can no longer have the carrying capacity to ensure the congestion is reduced. And that's the same with us. This is about the highest volume bus corridor in the commonwealth of Virginia.
NNAMDIOn to Merriam, in Arlington. Merriam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MERRIAMGood afternoon. And thanks for having me, Kojo. And I'm thrilled to talk to Jay just for a moment. I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk about one of his passions and also mine, which is sustainability. He's working on a great project called Tap in Arlington. And, of course, competing with the District on who's going to be the more sustainable community. I just wanted Jay to take a moment and tell us about that project.
FISETTEMerriam, thanks for calling. How about that? This is Tap in Arlington. It's a project that…
FISETTEWhat's it called?
FISETTETap in Arlington.
FISETTET-A-P. There's a website with that name. And actually it's a group of people, grassroots, that meet in my living every couple of months. And we are set upon reducing the proliferation of single-use plastic water bottles as a step for people to take in changing their own behavior. So this is -- you go on the website, you sign a pledge, which basically says I will choose tap water whenever possible instead of buying those single use throwaway bottles that are just destroying our environment.
FISETTEWe spend a lot of money in our local governments creating clean, safe drinking water. And this was a step that a lot of individuals thought we could take. We have a March 13th, actually, showing at the Cinema and Draft in Arlington, of a fabulous movie with the director coming out.
SHERWOODThank you. And to be clear you can't -- I'm sorry.
NNAMDIMerriam, here's the deal. When you call into this show it's not to make the guest on the show look really, really good by offering him the opportunity to talk about one of his pet projects. As punishment for that, we're going to have Tom Sherwood ask him the last question.
SHERWOODI'll puncture this right away. Well, you know, what the ideal thing some people think would be to have bottle tax. You can't do a bottle tax in Arlington, even if you want to. I don't know if you would. But because the state government is set up that you can't do it unless you get authority from the state, I think, to do that. But could you do a bottle tax?
FISETTEWe cannot. And this effort is…
SHERWOODWould you do it if you could?
FISETTENo. That's not -- you know, when you don't have any authority to do it you don't even go there. People ask me right away, are you trying to tax the plastic water bottles or tax bags, you know, fees and bags. I would love to see a fee opportunity for plastic bags, but in the commonwealth of Virginia, under the Dillon Rule we are afforded that option by the state.
SHERWOODSo you're just going to persuade people not to use bottles?
FISETTEIt is all about educating. It really is educating people and asking them to personally make a choice to change their behavior.
SHERWOODWhat about a deposit? Can you give a deposit?
FISETTENo. We cannot do that either. We don't have the local authority. Although, honestly, deposits, great idea. The issue is you'd want to do it in a broad enough region so that it was across boundaries, too.
NNAMDIJay Fisette, thank you for joining us.
FISETTEKojo, thank you.
NNAMDIJay Fisette is the chairman of the Arlington County Board. He's a Democrat. You're listening to "The Politics Hour," where Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Our next guest is John McCarthy. He is the state's attorney in Montgomery County, Md. If you you'd like to start -- if you have questions or comments for John McCarthy, you can call now, 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. That number again, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of Maryland, Tom, polls are showing that Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown is holding a 2 to 1 lead over his closest rival in the gubernatorial primary race among Democrats in that state. Of course he went into this with the support of a pretty large number of the already elected officials sitting in the State of Maryland. He's sitting lieutenant governor. And even though, Doug Gansler is the sitting attorney general for the state, it would appear that Anthony Brown starts out with an advantage here.
SHERWOODWell, the good news for Anthony Brown is that both this poll, the Post poll and the Baltimore Sun poll showed him with a substantial lead, a 2 to 1 lead over Doug Gansler and even more so over Ms. Mizeur -- Heather Mizeur. But the bad news for him is that a huge number of people -- 40 percent or so -- are suggesting that they might change their mind or are not totally wedded to him. So there's a lot of work to be done between now and the June primary. And some possibilities for openings. But if you are any of the candidates, you'd want to be in Anthony Brown's position at this moment.
NNAMDIWhat's going on with the "House of Cards?" It's, you know, it's in Maryland. And it's about…
SHERWOODWell, it's a very good program. Binge viewing.
NNAMDIBinge viewing for people who have Netflix available to them. And they've been watching. It's a lot about the sharp elbows in politics. But it seems as if the show itself has some pretty sharp elbows there, telling the State of Maryland, we're not staying here unless we get more tax breaks here.
SHERWOODWell, you know, businesses…
SHERWOOD…that are successful and think they're bringing something to your jurisdiction are known to want some tax breaks now and again. And "House of Cards" is no different. It's filmed there in Baltimore, in the area, and some at the State House in Annapolis. It's a very popular show. I have not seen a breakdown of how much money it's bringing to the state employment.
NNAMDII was about to say, they're very popular. They're probably making a lot of money. Why do they need more?
SHERWOODWell, because that's what American...
SHERWOOD...business is. They make more money, so they can do more things, to hire more people, to, you know, to -- it's, you know, you attacking the American business system on the show?
NNAMDINo. I'm just attacking people who make goo gobs of money and then...
SHERWOODWell, you know, there's a competition, Mayor Gray, in the District, has gone out to Los Angeles and met with film industry people...
NNAMDIMore tax credits.
SHERWOOD...about trying to, you know, bring people here because a tax credit and some of the security issues are undercutting the business here. But, you know, a lot of people -- Virginia likes to have some of that business too, so Maryland better pay attention.
NNAMDIOur guest is John McCarthy, he is the States Attorney in Montgomery County, Md. John McCarthy, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOHN MCCARTHYIt's great to be with you again. How are you?
NNAMDIAgain, if you have questions or comments, 800-433-8850 is the number to call. A number of violent killings during the past several weeks have shaken up people just not in Montgomery County but throughout the entire region. Just this past week, there were headlines about a Damascus man who's been accused of beating his 3-year-old son to death.
NNAMDIYou have said that this spate of violence has called into attention the role of law enforcement in how we care for and how we deal with people struggling with mental illness. What do you feel you've learned during the past several months about the intersection of mental illness and our criminal justice system?
MCCARTHYWell, let me say most of the cases that you referred to, there appeared to be some profound persistent mental health issues that were existent within the lives of the people involved in those cases. And obviously I'm not making no prediction about how this ultimately will play out in the courts. But I think it's maybe symptomatic of what happens as a community when we oftentimes begin to focus on an issue, when something becomes -- I don't want to say sensationalized.
MCCARTHYBut it sort of grabs our attention. And the reality is that, increasingly, there is an intersection in the criminal justice arena between mental health and people who find themselves in our jail or in our courthouses charged with crimes. And those crimes to which -- that you refer, these are the most egregious kinds of offenses 'cause they're all homicides involved in the cases that you referred to.
MCCARTHYBut we see -- and the numbers are, I think, somewhat shocking. In Montgomery County, last year, 28 percent of the people who presented in our local county jail, upon presentation at the jail, needed immediate psychiatric intervention. That was over 2,000 prisoners. That's an enormous toll and enormous challenge to the people in the corrections facilities, as well as it is to the courts.
MCCARTHYWhat's really happening, since we deinstitutionalized the mentally ill in America, beginning in the '60s into the '70s, we have put people on the streets without creating a network to sustain those people. And what's happening -- our jails now are -- I don't know what's masquerading as what. But our jails are our largest mental health facilities.
SHERWOODThat's what Doug Duncan said on this program last week when he was talking about that as an issue. We don't want the jails to become mental health hospitals and institutionalized places, which appears to be exactly what it is. The massive homeless problem, whether it's in this city or other urban areas or in suburban areas -- you have a homeless issue in Montgomery County. Many of the people who are homeless are mentally ill. They have a right to be out there.
NNAMDIAnd it's a nationwide issue because, in today's edition of The New York Times, the director of corrections in the State of Colorado has an op-ed piece in which he said that the people who are held in solitary confinement in the jails there tend to be people who are mentally ill, and then they are often released directly into the community causing all kinds of havoc. Are there remedies that you would urge lawmakers to take?
MCCARTHYWell, I think there are a couple of remedies. And I will tell you that -- with respect to Mr. Duncan's comment, I think that our jails have already become our largest mental health institution. So that ship has sailed. That's where we are. The Cook County Jail by itself, there's 9,000 prisoners at Cook County Jail today. I verified this number. But there are over 3,000 that are in the mental health ward. I mean, and about a third is about what you're dealing with. Are there solutions? Yeah, I do think there are some solutions.
MCCARTHYI think that there's some -- and, again, these are very sensitive civil rights issues for people because there is a bill in Maryland and that addresses the potential issue of forced medicating people who could be maintained very safely in the community, that would not come into the criminal justice system if we liberalized the ability of doctors and/or hospitals or others to force-medicate them 'cause most of the people we see are individuals who can be sustained perfectly well in the community if they stay on the regiment of their psychiatric medications.
MCCARTHYThere's another bill that's in Maryland, that's being discussed, about lowering the legal standard for when a person is deemed to be dangerous and potentially liberalizing the ability of us in some instances to put people into some type of treatment facility, have them committed involuntarily. Those are among two of the proposals.
MCCARTHYThere are other things still being done in many major cities, including Baltimore where they've established drug courts where we look for alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders of non-violent crimes where we -- look, I know that there are people that come in and out of our jail in Montgomery County that we see the same person maybe 8, 10, 12 times a year for relatively insignificant crimes. But because we don't maintain them on their medications or supervise them once they're back in the community, we're going to see them again in 60 or 90 days.
SHERWOODA lot of people talk about the deinstitutionalization of mental health patients. But very few people want to take that step and say, perhaps the country went too far and that the facilities were horrific in too many cases which led to the end of civil rights of the people there. But maybe it's time to say -- is it not possible in this era to have a hospital that would serve the mental health patient and keep that person from being a homeless person during the horrible winters or the summer?
NNAMDIOr keep the criminal justice from having (unintelligible)...
SHERWOODAnd keep the criminal justice from being overburdened versus is it too much to take that step to say we need more mental health hospitals to handle this influx of people coming and going?
MCCARTHYWell, yeah, Mr. Deeds' issues in Virginia that I know you have well covered before in earlier reports.
MCCARTHYYou know, I think it is a tragedy that we've actually -- I think there are less beds now available for the mentally ill in Maryland. And we've closed some facilities in the last couple of years. We're moving in the wrong direction. How is it that our jails are filling up? We've gone from 20 percent in the last several years of people in our jail needing immediate mental health intervention to 28 percent. We are becoming increasingly a mental health facility. I think that we have to look for more beds. And I think there's a very tough conversation for the community to have.
MCCARTHYBut there's a conversation between public safety, balancing public safety, and at the same time maybe, in some ways, affecting what some people would describe as the civil liberties of individuals who are mentally ill. You get into involuntary commitments. You get into compulsory medication of individuals. These are civil rights issues. I understand that, but in order to get a handle on that, that's a real question.
NNAMDIAs a prosecutor, how do issues related to mental health affect how criminal cases are handled?
MCCARTHYWell, I think, quite candidly, the system is not set up to deal with those issues. I mean, in the most severe cases, we have people who raise issues, like, of competence. Is somebody so severely mentally ill they're not ready to even be put on trial? That's a very small percentage of cases, but that does come up. We have issues of what are traditionally known as insanity or criminal responsibility, whether or not a person was so profoundly ill at the time they committed an offense, they should not be held criminally responsible for it.
MCCARTHYAgain, that's a very small percentage. The vast majority of the issues have to deal with people who commit most of these offenses are going to be -- they're going to be reintroduced into our community. How can we put them back on the street supervised in such a fashion that they're not going to pose a danger to themselves or others or simply come back to us again 30 days later?
MCCARTHYSo it's community resources that are supervising these people, maintaining and making sure they're on their medications. Medication is a huge issue here, I think, in most of these cases. 'Cause if you maintain people on their meds, most of these people can be made safe to live in our communities, to work and be contributing members of our community.
SHERWOODSome people would say that you hadn't -- I think your website says 25,000 different crimes from the most modern to the most serious in your shop every year. But some people would say that any person who commits murder or kills someone else it's a mental issue -- there's a mental health issue there. Is that really true?
MCCARTHYI don't agree with that statement. I don't -- I mean...
SHERWOODWhat do you (unintelligible) ?
MCCARTHYLook, I -- it would be wonderful if we could say that the people -- or that no one ever takes another human life, except for the fact that they have a mental illness. Having done this more than 30 years, that's not been my experience.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Please don your headphones, gentlemen, because we're going to be hearing from Larry in Arnold, Md. first. Larry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARRYOkay. I thank you for putting me on. Apparently, your panel is too young to remember LEAA and the...
NNAMDIThe law enforcement administrate -- what's LEA? Law Enforcement Agency Administration, right?
LARRYRight. And NIMH.
NNAMDINational Institutes of Mental Health.
LARRYRight. See, back in the day, these questions were all answered. And they were answered very effectively. When the institutions were closed, the money was supposed to go with the patients into the community, paid for services. Instead, the legislation said (unintelligible) we've got the rear end of the rainbow here, and the money...
NNAMDIOkay. But having got into the -- we know exactly how we got into it. What are you suggesting about what should be done about it?
LARRY(unintelligible) people should -- the conversation should be about, okay, we messed it up. Now we've got to go back and fix it. And guess what? Taxes are going to pay for this stuff and this NIMBY stuff is going to have to go away.
NNAMDIBut -- well, allow me to have John McCarthy respond to that. He's suggesting we go back and basically do what we were doing before.
SHERWOODAnd also you could have community facilities and not let Not In My Backyard folks stop you from having truly community-based mental health services.
NNAMDIThat was the point he was making, yes.
MCCARTHYI thought that there was something that you said that I actually agreed with, and that was that I think that when we deinstitutionalized individuals, what we did not do is correspondingly build a network that were community-based networks to maintain these individuals who had previously been institutionalized. That's where the failing is. And, quite candidly, it would be -- I don't know if it's a pay me now or a pay me later kind of a situation.
MCCARTHYBut I think we have to invest greater dollars into those community-based resources. Otherwise you're going to see them, as we are increasingly seeing them, in our jails. And you go -- look, I've lived in Washington for more than 30 years. And you walk around here, and you go to any intersection in a -- anybody who lives in this community understands the increasing presence of people who are mentally ill in our community, people who are homeless in our community.
MCCARTHYIt's there. It's apparent. It's changing the picture of our community and the fabric of our community. And we need to do something to change that. And, look, I'm in the criminal justice field. And, increasingly, I am seeing the intersection between mental health and what happens in my courthouse and in my office.
MCCARTHYAnd obviously we've got to bring some attention to it. And, unfortunately, one of the reasons that I'm now talking about it is because of these very critical, very serious cases that took place in the last couple of months where there are profound persistent mental health issues present in each of these cases.
SHERWOODSpeaking of that, the Brian Patrick O'Callaghan has been charged with the death of his 3-year-old son. Now, what can you tell us about that case? I know it's fairly new, but what...
SHERWOODDoes this fit into this conversation?
MCCARTHYNo. I don't think Mr. O'Callaghan's case does not fit into the conversation we're having because, to my knowledge, the issue of mental health has not been brought up in that particular case. Now, I don't want to comment at all about the merits of that case, only to say that I think his case is to be distinguished from the others that we are talking about this morning.
NNAMDISpeaking of how cases are handed in Maryland, state judiciary administrators have asked the highest court in the state to throw out a ruling that low-income defendants have a constitutional right to public defenders at their first bail hearings. What do you feel about that? What do you feel is the most reasonable outcome here?
MCCARTHYWell, first of all, I disagree with the opinion that was issued by the court of appeals initially. I think they -- it was a wrongheaded decision. I think the decision of the court -- and, again, they decided this case based on the Maryland constitution, not the federal constitution, 'cause courts all across America facing the same issue did not reach the same conclusion that Maryland reached.
MCCARTHYI think that this decision comes with a price tag of about a half a billion dollars over the next 10 years on a state and local level. And our Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler, I heard you mentioned a little bit briefly in the previous segment, has just filed an appeal again asking that the new court of appeals -- because it's actually newly constituted 'cause some of the people that were on the court previously and now retired, I think the thought is in Annapolis that, as the court is constantly constituted, the decision would have not been the same.
MCCARTHYI think that Maryland -- here's the reality. If you get arrested in Maryland, you get taken before a commissioner. And a quasi-judicial official makes a decision about what your conditions of release are going to be and whether you're going to be held or not held. And about 18 hours later, you'll see a judge. I think you should have counsel, and my personal opinion is you should have a lawyer with you when you go before a judge in the very first time.
MCCARTHYWithin 24 hours of your arrest, you're going to see a judge. And a lawyer should be there. But what we're doing is we have the very unique situation in Maryland because someone gets to see someone about their bond twice within the first 24 hours. There's only two -- there's one other state in the country that does it the way we do. Quite candidly, some people would have argued that we had the gold standard.
SHERWOODWhat state is that?
MCCARTHYI -- you know, I don't...
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) I figured you didn't remember or you would have said.
MCCARTHYWell, I would -- thanks for catching me on that.
SHERWOODSorry. I'm sorry. I just wondered what state it is. We can find out later.
MCCARTHYBut the reality is I think this -- I did not favor this decision. It was a 4-to-3 decision as it came down from the court. I don't know if they're going to revisit it or not. But right now, the best proposal, I think, is the one that's coming out of the governor's office where we might go to what we call a risk assessment instrument. And when an individual is arrested in Maryland, rather than go to a judicial officer, basically a caseworker's going to fill out a risk assessment instrument based on some social science researched criteria to make a determination whether you're going to be released or not.
NNAMDIRunning out of time, but the county's Domestic Violence Coordinating Council's going to be holding a symposium on safe teen dating this coming weekend. What are you hoping to achieve there? And where do you feel efforts to curb domestic violence, particularly among young people, are coming up short? You only have about a minute left.
MCCARTHYWell, one of the things we found out is that in teen dating relationships, one in three teen dating relationships unfortunately have had violence in them. One in two teen dating relationships have threatened violence in them. These are national statistics.
MCCARTHYWhat we are trying to do is when a young person is learning or beginning that relationship kind of building and learning how to date other people and how to -- how men are supposed to treat women and women are supposed to treat men, we are trying to teach them where the right parameters are with the hope that if you learn those parameters as a young person when you first begin dating, later on you'll be less likely to allow yourself to be a victim of domestic violence and stand up for yourself.
NNAMDIJohn McCarthy is the state's attorney in Montgomery County, Maryland. Thank you so much for joining us.
MCCARTHYThank you for having me.
NNAMDITom, a report on the death of a man who died across the street from a D.C. fire station in late January finds that a lieutenant and a fire fighter failed to respond to calls for help from the man's daughter and passes by. According to the report, a probationary fire fighter called for help from the lieutenant after he was told that Mr. Mills had collapsed along a sidewalk on Rhode Island Avenue, but the lieutenant never responded.
NNAMDIA fire fighter in the station who found the lieutenant was asked to determine where exactly Mills had collapsed, but he did not come back to the lieutenant with the information. No ambulance or fire truck was ever deployed from the station. The report also says that a 911 dispatcher incorrectly inputted the address as being in Northwest instead of Northeast, delaying an ambulance's arrival from another station.
NNAMDIOne of the fire fighters at fault has been charged and is scheduled to appear before a trial board in March while four 911 dispatchers have been recommended for disciplinary action. You've got about 30 seconds.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, this pretty well fits what the news stories have been about, what happened on Rhode Island Avenue and this deplorable situation in which somebody obviously was in terrible distress and then died.
NNAMDIThis is true.
SHERWOODAnd that the fire department -- the people I know in the fire department would have gone over there and helped that person. The fact that administratively or personal failures kept it from happening is just a terrible thing.
NNAMDIAnd that's essentially what the report outlines, that what we all heard was apparently what was true, according to the reports. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHave a good weekend.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The number of people living in D.C. is booming, and so too is the number of rats. Kojo talks about how D.C.'s rodent problem is affecting the city and what's being done to fight off the pests.
The federal court judge who ruled that Maryland's public universities were unlawfully segregated rejected solutions proposed by the state's Higher Education Commission and a group representing a coalition of Maryland Historically Black Colleges and Universities for redressing that segregation. We get an update on the case.
A new book, "Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital," presents a sweeping view of how race impacted Washington, D.C. for the past four centuries.