Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
D.C.’s mayoral candidates trade attacks as the pace of their race picks up. The temperature rises in a closely-contested congressional race in Northern Virginia. And general manager of the region’s public transit system announces plans to step aside. 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
- Gerald Connolly Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-VA, 11th District);
- Lateefah Williams Democratic Candidate, Attorney General, District of Columbia
Watch A Featured Clip
Lateefah Williams, a Democratic candidate for D.C. attorney general, answered a caller’s question about her stance on marijuana legalization in the District — and whether she smokes marijuana herself. Williams, who said she does not smoke marijuana, said she supports decriminalization and “more than likely” will vote for legalization. She said if a bill legalizing pot passes in the city, she is “very much committed to defending it.”
Watch The Full Broadcast
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. If you'd like to watch the broadcast now, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you will see the live videostream of the broadcast, where you will see our resident analyst and our guest. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter for and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, I referred to our guest yesterday, during a promo, as Congressman Gerald Connolly. Have you ever heard anyone else call him Gerald?
MR. TOM SHERWOODOnly his angry spouse.
NNAMDIYeah, that's what happens.
REP. GERALD CONNOLLYThe last person who called me that was my 8th grade nun and I was always in trouble.
SHERWOODYou can hear the tone still.
NNAMDIExactly. He joins us in studio now. Gerry Connolly is a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat who represents Virginia's 11th Congressional District. Congressman Connolly, good to see you again.
CONNOLLYGreat to be back with you, Kojo and Tom.
NNAMDIOf course, we normally discuss a few general topics before we get to the specific questions we have for you, but I suspect this is a general topic in which you and just about every American is interested. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that he is going to be resigning and that -- when is it going to take effect, Tom?
SHERWOODAs soon as a replacement is done. And I think the Obama administration would like to have a replacement done by this current Senate for confirmation because we don't know what the next Senate will look like if it's under Republican hands.
NNAMDIHe's held this position since the very beginning of his administration. Looking back on what he's done, Congressman Connolly, how would you measure the impact that Eric Holder has had as attorney general.
CONNOLLYI think he has been definitely in the top tier of U.S. attorneys general. This is a man who really reinvigorated the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, fought voter suppression efforts all over the United States, and paid a lot of attention to the criminal code and tried to achieve some better balance in sentencing guidelines, so that non-violent criminals are not always condemned to long prison sentences.
CONNOLLYI think he's been an outstanding attorney general. And, as a member of the Oversight in Government Reform Committee, I absolutely decry what the House Republicans did to this man. The contempt vote was itself, frankly, contemptible and a real long…
NNAMDIYou had a lot to say at that time, too.
CONNOLLYYeah, absolutely. And it was a real low point for the United States Congress. And it was all designed to get at this prominent African American, as almost a surrogate for the president himself. And to make sure that he would be disqualified ever for consideration on the Supreme Court.
SHERWOODHe -- and he basically remained above that kind of fray, as best you possibly can without lashing out.
CONNOLLYThat's right. I agree.
SHERWOODYou know, he's a real -- well, let me -- I want to be as clear as possible because Patrick Madden of this distinguished station has already been tweeting, "Now does this mean Eric Holder will run for mayor in the District of Columbia?"
NNAMDIThere was that speculation many years ago.
NNAMDIHe was seriously considering it at one point, it's my understanding.
SHERWOODWell, he looked at it. His wife Sharon -- Dr. Malone -- I'm not sure was as serious as he was. But, you know, let me just be clear. No. He's not going to run for mayor. And obviously we don't -- he's not on the ballet now -- he's not going to run in the future. No. He's not going to run. And if I may say a third time, no. He's not going to run.
NNAMDINevertheless, he still -- he does have the District of Columbia in mind and did when he addressed the Congressional Black Caucus. This, of course, is their annual legislative weekend. Here's what he had to say.
ATTY. GEN. ERIC HOLDERAnd when I talk about all who want to be heard in the halls of the federal government, I am including the more than 600,000 taxpayers, who, like me -- like me, live in the District of Columbia and still -- 600,000 taxpayers, who, like me, live in the District of Columbia and still have no voting representation in Congress. We pay our taxes. We die in the Army. We have a great representative, but we do not have voting rights. It is long past time for every citizen to be afforded his or her full responsibilities, as well as our full rights.
NNAMDIEric Holder, attorney general, addressing the Congressional Black Caucus. Today, of course, it is a sentiment shared by many people in Washington, but of course the question will come up, why only now when you're getting ready to leave office?
SHERWOODWell, see that's part of the problem. The people who have great power don't need to focus on a lack of voting rights. And the people who don't have power can't get the attention of the people who do. It would be -- I mean, the attorney general did any number of great things and as the attorney general. He did not push voting rights to my knowledge. President Obama has nodded to it like it would be nice if we had it, but he hasn't said or done anything to help.
SHERWOODIt's been so episodic. And the people who -- D.C. voting rights folks in town are so episodic in their push for statehood or voting rights, it gets -- I mean, what's happened in the last -- Monday will be two weeks since that pitiful Senate hearing on statehood. And what's happened -- have you heard -- since?
NNAMDIWhat I have heard since then is a question for Congressman Connolly from one of those people you characterize as voting rights activists, James Jones, of D.C. Vote, says, "Americans living in D.C. greatly appreciate that you, Congressman Connolly, are a co-sponsor of the D.C. Statehood bill. Any chance you can convince your friend, Senator Warner, to do the same? He's the only Senator from Maryland and Virginia who is not a cosponsor of the bill."
CONNOLLYOh, it's a great opportunity maybe to raise that question during a campaign season. The Senator-elect, myself, is on the ballot November 4th. I have not really had the conversation with Mark Warner, but I will. Every member has to make up his or her mind, but I believe this is straightforward a clear and simple issue of fairness and equity, you know. And democracy needs to be extended to 600,000 plus citizens in D.C.
SHERWOODIt's almost 650 now. But, you know, as a citizen of the city, I certainly support us being 100 percent Americans. But as a reporter, I look across the river and see Northern Virginia and the part of the 400,000 plus thousand people who come into the city every day. They don't want to pay a commuter tax. And if we have a state of the District of Columbia, we're going to impose a commuter tax just like New Jersey does, and just like all the other states do. And you, I'm sure, would not want that to happen.
SHERWOODOr maybe you would.
CONNOLLYI mean, frankly, Tom, I think some people who address this issue from the city want to have it both ways. I can remember a few years ago the delegate from D.C. complaining about the burden of all of those people coming into Washington, D.C. And yet, when we then talked about maybe the Department of Homeland Security would be in Virginia instead of D.C., you would have thought that the Earth was threatened, you know, with Armageddon.
CONNOLLYYou can't have it both ways. Either you want the burden or you don't. If you don't, many of us in the suburbs are happy to take some of that burden of your hands. But a commuter tax…
SHERWOODDo you think you're going to get the FBI?
CONNOLLYA commuter tax also works both ways. We have lots of reverse commuting going on from D.C. to, say, Tysons in Reston, for example. And…
SHERWOODAnd that's growing.
CONNOLLYAnd if a commuter tax is good for people going one way, then presumably it's good for people going the other, as well.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for our guest, Congressman Gerry Connolly, you can call us at 800-433-8850, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow or got to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or watch the live videostream of our broadcast there.
SHERWOODYou know, I think we gave a little bit of short shrift to the attorney general. You know, he was a former D.C. Superior Court judge, appointed in the Reagan era. He was a former U.S. attorney here. He was the first African American attorney -- U.S. attorney in the District. As a deputy attorney general during the Clinton years, he was the first -- he was the highest ranking African American. And, you know, at some point, America will get past the first black this or the first black that because people will be fully integrated in our whole society.
SHERWOODBut he's been active here in town with the Concerned Black Men. He and his wife are very strong in the social circuit of Washington. It's a real place where real people live. And so I do hope that when he goes -- I'm guessing he'll return to Covington and Burling, where he'll maybe resume some of those high salaries and, you know, per hour that those lawyers get -- but that he will be maybe more active in the city, maybe for voting rights, maybe for illegal reforms in the city, all kinds of things. We could use his help. So I welcome him home.
NNAMDIHe's certainly been an active citizen in the District of Columbia. And since you mentioned so many things about him…
SHERWOODHe could take -- be the new NFL guy.
NNAMDISince you mentioned so many things about him, I should also mention -- in my own personal interest -- he is of Caribbean background. Parents from Barbados.
NNAMDIWhat kind of candidate do you hope the White House proposes to replace him? Is there anything you'd like to see change at the attorney general's office?
CONNOLLYI want to see somebody who's going to uphold the laws and is going to be aggressive, especially with respect to voter suppression. We've got to call that what it is. My home state of Virginia -- we have one of the strictest voter ID laws on the books, and there's a story just today in the Washington Post that points out that as many as 450,000…
NNAMDIFour-hundred and fifty thousand.
CONNOLLY…people could be disenfranchised. I mean, that is not right. It is, you know, it ought to be called out for what it is, which is voter suppression, in 2014. I thought we kind of dealt with that stuff, you know, when we passed the voting rights act back in 1965. So I want an attorney general who's going to be aggressive and not shy about deterring this effort by the other party, frankly, to suppress the vote. Because if everybody votes who's eligible, they wouldn't win the election, apparently.
NNAMDIWe'll also be bidding farewell soon to Richard Sarles, who's departing as Metro's general manager in January. Some say he finally gave Metro the strong footing it needed. Some -- Washingtonian.com just called him the man with Washington's most thankless job. What do you think of his tenure and his outstanding accomplishment? Do you think there are valid complaints about the job he's done?
CONNOLLYWell, it's a job that is never going to be perfect or perfectly dealt with. But I think Richard…
NNAMDIHe'll never be the beloved head of Metro.
CONNOLLYThat's right. That's right. That word beloved may drop. But I think Mr. Sarles really did re-instill confidence in the system that had been so badly damaged for a number of years preceding his tenure. He was sort of a no-nonsense management type. He -- I never experienced him as defensive when you did bring up a criticism. And he would sort of roll up the sleeves and get it done.
CONNOLLYAnd he had -- as a result, I think he did win back support in the Congressional delegation. Support that had been also jeopardized, frankly, by the previous preceding years with, you know, the fatal crash and with so many other issues that had plagued Metro. So I think his legacy is going to be having a -- really made a contribution, both in management and in re-instilling competence in the system.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, I don't know if heads of public transportation systems anyplace who can be described as beloved, except the now late sainted Carmen Turner, who was the first general manager of Metro here.
SHERWOODWell, everyone's beloved in the, you know, after they've moved on.
NNAMDIThis is true.
SHERWOODYou'll be beloved after you move on.
NNAMDIYou mean I'm not beloved now?
SHERWOODBut I do -- I think when Mr. Sarles took this job it was temporary.
CONNOLLYYeah, that's right.
SHERWOODI don't think he was intending to be the general manager of Metro. He was a gap-filler for -- and then he ended up staying.
SHERWOODAnd he did a lot of things. I mean I wish I rode Metro more, but when I hear all the traffic reports or if you do this the -- this weekend -- I was listening to the report on the radio here today about what's going to be closed for track work, and who's -- it's just an extraordinary amount of track work going on. And someone says, well, ad 25 to 30 minutes to your ride. Well, I just in my car and drive or I ride my bicycle.
NNAMDIWell, some of that track work has been going -- that's been going on, our guest is fairly excited about. The Silver Line's progress, it's been less than two months and already there's some significant ridership numbers. It's over halfway to its first goal, with 10 months to go. Your office tweeted this week that the line is already showing return on investment. What do you feel that return is?
CONNOLLYWell, the return -- the big return, frankly, is in the increase both in land values along the route and in a big commercial uptick among retailers. You know, for example, the Tysons mall has really experienced a bump up, including people coming from the city and from other suburbs, using that Silver Line to shop on Saturday.
SHERWOODAnd the Silver Line is not closed this weekend for any repair work.
CONNOLLYThat's right. That's right. But it's really been a big success.
SHERWOODBut it's a really good -- it's a great thing. I did a story -- I talked to George Mason University. And they showed me this map they have. And as far out as you can go, where the Silver Line would be, where there's already land being bought and sold.
SHERWOODPreparing to build new buildings.
SHERWOODPeople talk about the over-building in northern Virginia. I always remind them that I remember way back when in '80s when at the Post we did stories about was northern Virginia over-built. You know, it's the fact that the buildings do get built and sometimes they stay empty for a while, but the trend line is growth, whether it's Arlington, all the way out to West Virginia.
NNAMDICan you take that trend line 10 or 20 years down the road? What kind of impact do you see the Silver Line having in your district in that time, 10 or 20 years down the road?
CONNOLLYAnd I represent a lot of that corridor. I represent Herndon and Reston and Tysons. So I would say that right now the Dulles corridor is the second-most important economic part of the entire region. Only downtown D.C. is bigger. And it has grown from, say when I first moved here about 2 or 3 percent of the regional GDP to about 25 percent today. And I would say 20 years out it's going to be a third of the GDP.
CONNOLLYAnd you've got to -- and we're going, as Tom suggested, completely retrofit within that corridor. So you're going to have a lot more transient oriented mixed-used development. If you look at how transformative and vibrant that can be, many people site the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington. And they quadrupled density in that corridor, without appreciably changing or adding to congestion. Well, that's a three-mile corridor. The Dulles corridor, by contrast, is 21 miles. So I think it's going be profoundly transformative in an economic sense, and in giving people lifestyle alternatives that, heretofore, have not existed in the suburbs.
SHERWOODCan Maryland, Virginia and in D.C. get more support from the federal government? I know the jurisdictions -- they have some story -- I haven't read it yet -- about Maryland worried about the pricing of new cars and things like that. But it seems to me with the huge footprint of the federal government in northern Virginia and Maryland and the District that the federal government ought to do more to help move its own workers.
CONNOLLYI couldn't agree with you more, Tom.
SHERWOODWhere's the roadblock to that, to use the phrase?
CONNOLLYWell, I'm afraid we're in a sort of know-nothing mentality in the Congress at the federal level, with respect to big, new investments. Now, under Ray LaHood, the previous secretary of transportation for most of the first term of President Obama, we really had an ally. He lived in the region. He bicycled a lot himself.
SHERWOODYes, he did.
CONNOLLYBut he also used transit. And he was a big fan. And we were able to bump up a sort of a -- an enhanced instrument for financing transit, known as TIFIA, these transportation improvement bonds. And the biggest recipient in the history of the program is this project, the Silver Line, Phase 2. We're going to get $1.9 billion of low-interest federal loans. So that's great news and a real breakthrough in trying to get the federal government to step up to the plate, in terms of infrastructure investment.
CONNOLLYBut we're way behind. We're only -- if I -- we're only spending 2.4 percent of our GDP on infrastructure investment. China, by contrast, is spending 9 percent. And we used to spend, routinely, 6 percent.
SHERWOODAre we going have -- on transportation -- before we move on -- are we going to have another outer beltway?
CONNOLLYWell, we might. But, frankly, in terms of our immediate needs, that can't be on the A-list. It may be on the B-list. I've never ruled it out myself, but we've got so many immediate needs that need to be addressed.
SHERWOODThe new American Legion Bridge?
CONNOLLYProbably. Yeah, I…
SHERWOODThat's a lot to be done.
CONNOLLYYeah, and look how long it took…
CONNOLLY…to get the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
NNAMDIOur guest is Gerry Connolly. He's a member of the United States House of Representatives. A Democrat who represents Virginia's 11th Congressional District. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. If you have questions or comments for Congressman Connolly, call us at 800-433-8850. Here now is Robert, in Arlington, Va. Gentleman, don your headphones, please. Robert, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBERTHi. Thanks for taking my call. I had a question -- a quick question about voter suppression. I'm not aligned to either party, but, you know, I hear it talked about a lot on the radio, read about it in the newspaper, like today. And so -- and I was wondering if the congressman could explain why the Virginia law specifically is for voter suppression. Because, as I understand it, you just provide a photo ID and you're able to vote. That's something we do at the airport. And, like I said, I don't know. I don't have a stance on the issue and I was wondering if you guys could tackle that issue for me.
CONNOLLYYeah, I call it voter suppression because, as the story in the Post today pointed out, that all sounds -- the way you described it sounds easy. And what's wrong with that? And we -- all of us have to produce an ID in getting into secure buildings, airports and so forth. And that's true. But 450,000 people in Virginia will not meet the standard. And their vote, therefore, is in jeopardy. Why would you do that? There is no problem to be solved. It's not like we have massive voter fraud in America. We don't. We -- what we do have in America is underachievement with respect to casting a ballot.
CONNOLLYYou know, this election November 4th, maybe 40 percent of the voters are going to come out and vote. That's the problem. And so when you cut back on early voting dates, when you try to put restrictions on absentee voting, when you don't allow same-day registration, and when you require tough ID standards, all of that can only be designed to suppress the vote. And the problem in America is the opposite. And we ought to be doing everything we can to facilitate the vote, not suppress it.
SHERWOODThere is not history of fraud. If voter misrepresentation were an issue, I think we would have news stories about it. I certainly would do stories if I could find out where that is.
SHERWOODYou know, and as some person said to me, every rich person has an ID, but every poor person doesn't necessarily. And it's a real issue for -- if you're going to send people in, which is in this city, where 80 -- it is suggested 80 percent of the people who are moving into the city don't have automobiles. Which means they may not have a driver's license, right?
SHERWOODSo they don't have a driver's license. What ID card are you going to show them if you're a 22, 25-year-old person?
NNAMDIThere's also the issue of the equivalency that the caller drew between having to show an ID at an airport and going to vote. Is that a false equivalency in your view?
CONNOLLYI think so. I'm not -- I don't have any special right in the Constitution to fly an airplane. I have every right in the Constitution of the United States to cast a vote and to be unimpeded in doing so.
SHERWOODAnd we should be clear that for the people in Virginia and wherever else people are planning to vote, is that you can vote. I mean, you will have to vote a contested ballot. But -- which could be, you know, an administrative nightmare, but if you want to vote you really ought to go vote.
CONNOLLYWell, and you know what? Voters are intrepid. Some of these measures were in place around the country in 2012. And voters were not having any of it. Thank God. And they showed up in large numbers to vote. And I think that's the best revenge. We need voters to come and not be intimidated.
NNAMDIHere is Karen, in Washington, D.C. Karen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KARENHi, Kojo. How are you?
KARENGood. Listen, I just want to take a -- take you back a little bit to the comment about the so-called commuter tax. You know, I'm sure Representative Connolly and all of you know this. I mean, the legal principle in the U.S. is that income is taxed at its source. So this really isn't about a "commuter tax." Residents of the District of Columbia who work in Virginia, should be taxed in Virginia, or should be taxed in Maryland if they work there. And anybody who works in the District of Columbia should be taxed on that income, on that -- their source of income and in -- by the District of Columbia.
KARENThat's the way it works in 49 states. And that's the way it should work here. And I think that will reflect the amount of investment the District of Columbia has done to attract good jobs or to maintain federal presence here.
KARENAnd it should be that way, if that's the way it is in Massachusetts and…
SHERWOODIs that Karen Tramontano?
KARENIt is. How are you, Tom?
NNAMDIHow could I not recognize…
SHERWOODChief of staff to Sharon Pratt Kelly and -- you had some White House job, something where you wouldn't return my phone calls. I've forgotten now, but it was really a big job.
SHERWOODWe never forget. No. Congratulations. Thank you…
KARENBut I think we should -- thank you. But I think we should have a clear discussion about this. Because I think commuter tax just raises everybody's hackles. And that's not what this is about. We should -- revenue should be treated the same way in the District of Columbia, as it is earned everywhere else.
NNAMDIKaren, I didn't recognize your voice. Karen, my (unintelligible) Washington classmate.
SHERWOODBefore the congressman -- this is less now of an issue in the city -- the congressman talked about people having jobs in the suburbs. It used to be that in this city 70 percent of the jobs were held by people who lived in the suburbs. The CFO, Mr. DeWitt, Jeffrey DeWitt's office, told me recently that number now has dropped to 55. It's 55/45 because of the growth of the city.
SHERWOODSo at some point maybe it won't be such a big issue. But the city loses hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, being hamstrung. I've always said somebody should run for office saying that if I'm elected and we have a commuter tax, we'll slash the taxes in the District. Then we really will have economic growth.
NNAMDIWhat do you say in response to Karen's suggestion?
CONNOLLYWell, I think…
NNAMDITax income at its source.
CONNOLLYI think at the end of the day the District of Columbia needs to work out what makes sense for it, in terms of fiscal autonomy, which I support, and in terms of what makes sense from a revenue point of view. I believe in autonomy for D.C. And if it wants to try to impose a commuter tax, I'm going to fight it fair and square. But I'm not going to try to impose a legislative fiat on the fiscal autonomy the city should have.
CONNOLLYI think, however, D.C. wants to tread lightly in something that could be received as hostile by its neighbors because, as I said, you know, one good commuter tax deserves another. And I don't, you know, you could have the unintended effect of actually driving businesses out. And so, you know, that's a matter of just trying to be smart. And I would hope that whatever happens, the District works with its neighbors in the region.
SHERWOODThe only difference is that if you're a Virginia resident in your district and you come into the city to work and you get assessed a 2 percent commuter tax or -- well, then you could deduct that from your Virginia income taxes. And then Virginia would then lose a lot of money. So it wouldn't be necessarily…
KARENNo. But that's…
NNAMDIKaren, you get to have the last word.
KARENThank you. It's the wrong question. With all due respect, you know, if I -- when I live in Rhode Island and work in Massachusetts my income was taxed at the source because the rationale for the -- for our legal system, which allows taxation, is that the jurisdiction that makes the investment for those jobs get to tax that income. Now, as Tom said, what happens is my Rhode Island income tax is then reduced. But everywhere else -- where -- if you work anywhere else and you lived in a different state, you would be taxed at the source. And so…
NNAMDIIs the District…
KAREN…those rules, that legal regime should apply to Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia just like it applies everywhere else.
NNAMDIIs the District of Columbia different, Congressman Connolly?
CONNOLLYYes. Of course it's different. It's the nation's capital. It's carved out and got special status. That doesn't mean it shouldn't have its voting right. But I respect Karen's opinion, but, you know what, you've got a guest on who represents 750,000 people in northern Virginia and here we go again, getting, you know, obsessed with D.C.-based issues. Not that they're not important, but…
NNAMDIWell, I'd like to get you back to Virginia -- and, Karen, thank you very much for your call -- and voter registration or voter turnout or alleged suppression in Virginia. On now to Emily, who is in Arlington, Va. Emily, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EMILYHi. I'm an election officer. I work in Fairfax County during the elections as a volunteer. And I want to tell you what I anticipate in the election because of the change in the voter laws. What I'm afraid that we're going to see is based on an experience working in the polls -- is a lot of the senior citizens coming in and voting -- expecting to vote as they have for many years, using the voter ID card that they get in the mail. And they're going to be told that they can't vote with that voter ID card any more. They're going to be confused.
EMILYAnd I think these are the least likely people to be able to rectify that because then they're going to be given a provisional ballot. And that provisional ballot is only going to be counted if they go out to the government center with an ID later in the week or if they go and get the special ID taken and then bring that receipt to the government center. And I think that's very unlikely. So I have to agree with the congressman that this is -- this law has an effect of suppressing the vote.
EMILYAnd I just -- I don't think it's good. And I encourage everybody out there to volunteer as an election officer because then you get out there, you see what the problems are for yourself. And if you can vote, you can work as an officer.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Congressman Connolly?
CONNOLLYI think all of us who are concerned about this -- and I thank Emily for her testimony on this -- I think it's really important that we not unwittingly add to the sense of suppression. You know, getting people to cast their vote is hard enough. Advertising in advance there are going to be problems, I think probably, unwittingly adds to the problem. So, you know, our -- my message is come and vote. We're going to help you. We're going to make sure -- if you need, you know, ID you don't have, we'll help you get that ID.
CONNOLLYAnd don't forget there is, you know, absentee voting in person, otherwise known around the country as early voting. But not known as that in Virginia. And so there are weeks ahead here to work through whatever issue -- hopefully none -- to cast your vote.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time, Tom. One last question?
SHERWOODWell, I -- an international question. You're on the Foreign Affairs Committee. With the bombing that we're doing, the Americans and the…
SHERWOODWell, you know, I know some things outside of the District of Columbia. We have huge military presence here, where, you know, family members directly related to the kind of war effort, the people who are flying the planes and dropping the bombs. It just seems so hopeless in the way -- I mean, maybe we'll stop ISIS/ISIL now. But it just, I mean, how do you -- you're on the subcommittee for Middle -- for the Middle East. How, I mean, how do you get up every day wondering how we can fix that part of the world? Can we fix it?
CONNOLLYI don't think any of the problems we're dealing with in the Middle East are going to be resolved any time soon. I do worry every day, how do we fix it, but the answer comes back -- and it's a long-term proposition at best. There are so many moving parts. So much has changed in the region, starting with the Arab Spring that started with so much hope and has ended, I think, with a lot less hope. And the United States doesn't have a lot of good options in the region.
CONNOLLYI think the president has probably picked, you know, an option that's the least harmful, and the least dangerous, but that is designed to take out the military and the geographic prowess of ISIS/ISIL, the latest terrorist group. But it's the first terrorist group to control significant chunks of territory and access to maybe as much as a billion dollars of revenue. That makes it very dangerous.
SHERWOODCan I ask him one more quick question? Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie, the Channel 4 and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce are doing a debate on October the 7th. Mark Warner is up 9 points in the poll. That's less than where he was. It's a healthy lead but not as good as he was. I know you're a Democrat, but give me your assessment of that.
CONNOLLYI think it's going to be very hard for Mr. Gillespie to really make his case. That is -- that poll, so far, outliner. As you know, the previous poll…
CONNOLLY…two weeks before showed him up 22 points. I don't think he's lost, you know, 13 points in two weeks. So I think Mark's going to be a formidable candidate. He's going to have a rigorous debate in the opposition campaign. But I think Mark's in pretty good shape.
SHERWOODAnd we didn't have time to talk about the 10th Congressional District.
CONNOLLYYeah, I wished we had talked about that.
SHERWOODThat's a heck of a race.
NNAMDII'm afraid we don't have enough time. We don't have any more time. Gerry Connolly is a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat who represents Virginia's 11th Congressional District. He is up for re-election in November. Good luck to you.
CONNOLLYThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us.
CONNOLLYGreat to be back with both of you. Thanks so much.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. A reminder that on Thursday of next week WAMU 88.5 will be hosting a mayoral debate at NPR headquarters on North Capitol Street. That event will air live at 7:00 p.m. There are no more seats available. But what is still open is an opportunity to ask questions of the candidates. If you are an undecided voter and you've got questions for Muriel Bowser, David Catania, or Carol Schwartz about their plans for the city, let us know what you would like to ask them by sending an email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIThat email address, again, firstname.lastname@example.org. Tom Sherwood is in studio with us. He is our resident analyst and a reporter for NBC 4. Our next guest has already joined us in studio. Lateefah Williams is a Democratic candidate for attorney general of the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
MS. LATEEFAH WILLIAMSThank you for having me.
NNAMDII should also remind you that she will be joining four other candidates on the ballot for attorney general for a candidate forum that we'll be having at WAMU 88.5. That is on Wednesday, October 8th. Don't confuse the two dates. The mayoral debate is October 2nd. This debate, October 8th. The station is partnering with American University's Washington College of Law to make this event happen. It will be moderated by yours truly. And panelists will include American University law professor and Maryland state senator Jamie Raskin and "Politics Hour" producer Michael Martinez.
NNAMDIWe'll have more information about that to share with you in the days ahead. And in this -- these mayoral races and the attorney general race that we're having, Tom Sherwood, Washington City Paper Loose Lips columnist Will Sommer wrote this week that this elected attorney general position was designed to create more independence for this position from the mayor. But it's less clear how the candidate running for it for the first time are independent from each other. What is your case, Lateefah Williams, for what makes you and what makes what you want to bring to this office different from your opponents?
WILLIAMSWell, I think the one thing that I bring to the table, that my opponents don't, is that my background is extensively grassroots. And, you know, while we all have very legal backgrounds, and that includes myself, the thing that makes me different is that I've been very active in the trenches here in the community in the District of Columbia. So in addition to being an attorney, I was active in the D.C. Young Democrats for years and eventually became the national committee woman. I was active in the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club for years and became president.
WILLIAMSI'm currently the recording secretary for the Ward 5 Democrats and I'm currently a committee chair for the D.C. Federation of Democratic Women. And that's in addition to being a board member currently for the Wanda Alston House which provides housing to homeless LGBTQ youth. So I've been in the trenches and on the ground across the city to really see what the problems are that impact residents of the district. So when I combine that with my legislative and public policy law background, I think more than anyone else I'm more in tune to the needs and concerns of the average Washingtonian.
SHERWOODAnd you do have an extensive background. And the Wanda Alston House is still open. Is it still being run by Casa Ruby?
WILLIAMSIt's still -- Casa Ruby is the fiscal agent but actually...
SHERWOODWe could talk...
SHERWOODI'm sorry. I shouldn't -- we could talk about that property for a long time. One of the things though, this first attorney general for the district, it's like an office of 700 people. It's like 300 or more -- almost 350, half of them lawyers. You've done a lot of community work, you've done a lot of public policy discussions and debates and fights. What about the management of an office that has 700 employees? What gives you the strength to do that?
WILLIAMSWell, first of all, I think that bringing a diversified background to the table really helps me out. I have had management experience in a variety of my positions such as being the legislative and political director for ATU Local 689, metro's largest union. So whenever members of the union would be interested in engaging politically, you know, I would manage those entire operations and...
SHERWOODYou've dealt with corporations by dealing with metro and all of that (unintelligible) metro.
WILLIAMSRight. Right. But the other thing I want to point out is, first of all -- and there are a lot of people point out the 700, you know. And that number is influx. It's not going to be 700. You know, one of the things that this new legislation has done is that many of the attorneys that currently work for the office of the attorney general are going to be working for the individual agencies. So most of those...
SHERWOODLike the mayor essentially.
WILLIAMSRight. Eventually -- yeah, essentially. But, yeah, they'll be working for those individual agencies. And then they'll report to the general counsel of the agency. And that general counsel will report to someone appointed by the mayor. So one of the things I want to do is -- because with this new structure, there's a concern that there may be competing interests amongst the various agencies. So I think it's really important to have someone who's used to dealing with a variety of people and managing multiple interests.
WILLIAMSSo I'm going to be meeting regularly with the general counsels of each of these agencies just to make sure that we're all on one accord as far as a legal entity here in the district.
SHERWOODThe city has lost a court case on its -- the gun laws are being eroded steadily. The city has not yet said it will, in fact, appeal the gun ruling. It says the city must provide for concealed carry, which counsel did this week. Would you appeal that ruling?
WILLIAMSI would appeal it and I do understand that there are concerns with appealing it. So I understand why they're being cautious. That being said, the attorney general's office did put out a brief for reconsideration. And, I mean, it's a very good brief. I read it extensively and it highlights the reasons why the district is different from other localities, you know, such as being the seat of the federal government and why we have more security risks.
WILLIAMSBut then also I guess the legal aspect of it -- I mean, if you apply the intermediate scrutiny standard that's generally applied to these cases, I think the case...
NNAMDIWhat is an intermediate scrutiny standard? (laugh)
WILLIAMSWell, basically the intermediate scrutiny standard is in cases that generally involve gun control. That's the standard that the courts have generally used which is that if...
NNAMDISee, one of the responsibilities of the attorney general is going to be able to translate technical legal language so that people like me and the public can understand what you're talking about.
WILLIAMSRight, right, right. No, I...
SHERWOODSimple declarative sentences. (laugh)
WILLIAMSRight. No, I understand. But that's basically a level of standard that there's a few level of standards that the court uses when determining whether a law is constitutional or not. So the intermediate standard, which is basically the middle standard, is the standard that says, if there's a compelling government interest to reach that objective, then it's generally constitutional. And public safety has been considered the compelling government interest in the past in gun control cases.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Our guest is Lateefah Williams. She's a Democratic candidate for attorney general of the District of Columbia. If you have questions or comments for her, if you want any more legalese translated, 800-433-8850 (laugh) is the number. You can send email to email@example.com.
SHERWOODAnother big case this past year is the counsel wanted to end run (sp?) the congressional -- the set traditional budget authority by declaring that the home rule act in fact gave us the right to spend our own money without congressional approval each year. The attorney general or Nathan said, that's -- he didn't call it foolish but that's -- he said it was bad. It's bad policy. Don't do that. And we -- the city has not been able to succeed in court on that. Congress laughed at it, said that's not going to happen, that the budget's going to go through congress. Would you go off on a tangent like that and try to pursue that? And do you have a better idea?
WILLIAMSFirst of all, I'm a strong proponent of statehood, so I do think it's important to pursue it. I think we need more multi faceted approaches. So -- and the courts are one avenue to achieve that. So if there indeed is a good case and a good way to pursue it in court, than yes, that's something I would do. But I think in...
SHERWOODI was going to say, but the voting rights activists were made -- or are mad at Nathan because they said as the attorney general, even though he thought it was not the right thing, he should let it go forward and let somebody else complain about it rather than stopping it. But that was a sign of independence on the attorney general's part. He said, I don't think this is legal. We're not going to do it, and then he didn't support it. Would you be that independent?
WILLIAMSWell, first of all, I don't really feel it was independent because he was appointed by the mayor and the mayor agreed with him. So you can argue that he was siding with his boss.
SHERWOODWell, the mayor agreed with his opinion.
WILLIAMS...so they were on the same side versus the counsel was on a different side. And more importantly, the voters were on a different side. So I don't agree with what he did. I think particularly when you have voters that voted, I believe, 83 percent for it -- for budget autonomy, I think it's your job to either defend it or at the very least not get in the way. It was not his job to fight against the counsel, against something that the voters of the district have said that they wanted.
NNAMDII was going to ask you the question, since you say that past attorney generals have focused more on representing D.C. government and less on representing D.C. residents, I was going to ask for an example of where you feel they've gotten that balance wrong. Apparently you just gave one. Is that -- was that an example in your view?
WILLIAMSThat's an example. I think another example I would use -- and I currently live in Ward 5, so -- and I just premise that because I'm going to mention a Ward 5 matter. But in the Ivy City community there is this situation where they were trying to put bus barns in their community. And the residents didn't want it. There were tests to show this is an environmental hazard. Many of the buses that were currently at Union Station, they were going to place them in Ivy City in this underserved residential community.
WILLIAMSAnd so you had the mayor and the attorney general on one side literally fighting against working class residents. And you had nonprofits such as (unintelligible) Power D.C. who stepped up to help them. And that was good because I think they honestly -- one of the reasons I think they thought they can get away with this is because they didn't expect that community to be able to fight back to the extent they were.
WILLIAMSBut I think in a situation like that I would definitely side with the people. And there's...
SHERWOODBut you're going to be -- but as attorney general you're going to represent the government. You're going to be representing the government, aren't you, when it's in court and when it gets sued? And you're going to -- how are you going to divide those two loyalties?
WILLIAMSWell, and that's the thing...
SHERWOODIt sounds like you're much more of an activist than the attorney general with the corporations and the issues and the law.
WILLIAMSTom, I'm both and I would be both in that capacity. And there's a little known provision that some people don't know about that allows the attorney general to appoint a special counsel if they think that there's a conflict. So if there's a conflict like in that situation, that's what I -- I would make -- I would always make sure that the district government's concerns are taken into account. But if it's a matter of the people and siding with the people, particularly with the charter saying that the attorney general is to act in the public interest, well, in my opinion the public interest would be in the interest of the voters that put me in.
SHERWOODYou want the people to be heard, whatever the -- you have to do as attorney general for the city. I got it.
WILLIAMSI want the people to -- yes, I want the people to be heard. But obviously if the district has some type of, say, fiduciary interest or, you know, some type of monetary interest, if I'm siding with the side of the people but it's clear that the district government has another interest that needs to be protected, then that's when I would appoint a special counsel.
NNAMDIYou mentioned that you are a Ward 5 resident and that caused me to think of a war that would get the phones ringing the minute I mention it here. I'm wondering if the U.S. -- if the attorney general would have any say in the dispute that's currently going on over McMillan, the development of McMillan. You're a Ward 5 resident. We've had a lot of disputes here in which the community is arguing that the plan the developers and the government seem to be going ahead with is a plan that a lot of residents of the community are not in favor of. Would you see a role for the attorney general in that dispute?
WILLIAMSWell, while I personally am not taking a side on the McMillan dispute...
NNAMDIOh, come on, take a side, please. (laugh)
SHERWOODThere are two or three sides. (laugh)
WILLIAMSRight. But I do think it's important to afford the community to be heard. And one of the things that I want to do as attorney general is have community forums and meetings in all eight wards in addition to having meetings for particularly vulnerable constituent groups such as seniors, such as returning citizens. So under that vein, of course I would meet with and hear what the McMillan protestors are saying. And if there's a role for the attorney general's office to play in it, then I would look at that. But that's something that I would look at further. And right now I'm not going to pick a side on it.
SHERWOODPaul Zukerberg is one of your four opponents. He's -- we're having this attorney general race because he stepped up, went to court and forced the city to have the election. How is it you -- and he's had some background of representing people too -- how do you differ from him? Why would you be better than he, in people looking at this? The Post poll, the NBC 4 poll, (word?) poll showed that he's ahead, you're in second place. Many people don't know about this race partly because the media hasn't covered it very well. But how are you different from Paul Zukerberg who leads in the polls and you're second?
NNAMDIWhy don't you just step aside and make the job available to him since he made it available in the first place?
SHERWOODWell, that's not my question. (laugh)
WILLIAMSWell, yes. I don't think that would be very democratic for everyone just to step aside.
SHERWOODNo. But Paul's worked hard for this but -- so how do you differ with him? When you're in the forums how do you say, vote for me not Paul?
WILLIAMSWell, I think we have completely different backgrounds. And more importantly I focus on voting for me so I don't focus on my competitors as far as why people should not vote for them. I focus on why people should vote for me. But...
SHERWOODBut then how are you different in a positive way other than Paul?
WILLIAMSOkay. Well, first of all our backgrounds are different. He's -- you know, mostly his background has been as a solo practitioner working on basically marijuana cases. I think my background is more diversified. Both my...
SHERWOODExcuse me. Are you for the marijuana -- are you going to vote yes or no on the marijuana...
NNAMDIWait a minute. Don't answer that question yet because that's exactly what Steve in Silver Spring would like to ask more specifically.
SHERWOODBut she -- I didn't get her to answer the last question.
NNAMDIWell, she'll answer the last question after we hear from Steve. Steve -- don your headphones so you can hear from Steve, please...
NNAMDI...since we've got him now.
SHERWOODOkay. (unintelligible) back to that question.
NNAMDISteve -- how many hosts does this show have? Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEAll right. Great, greetings to all of you, yeah, I was wondering, this attorney general, is she like going to go on with this marijuana plan? And also my other question is, is she a smoker now (laugh) or a previous smoker, or will she not answer those questions?
NNAMDILateefah Williams, talking about putting on the spot.
WILLIAMSI'm not a smoker but as far as -- I do support that the criminalization that has already passed as far as the legalization aspect...
NNAMDIIt's on the ballot.
WILLIAMS...as on the ballot in November, my assumption is that it's going to pass. And if it passes I'm very much committed to defending it. Now, one thing I do want to ensure while defending it -- and I'm going to defend it vigorously when it passes because...
SHERWOODYou haven't said whether you're going to vote for it yet.
WILLIAMSMore than -- okay. More than likely I will vote for it. I will say there's -- the one concern that I do have is that right now there are certain communities that bear the brunt of the negative effects of the drug trade. So I'm concerned with legalizing it without having a mechanism for how people are going to buy it. Because what I don't want is easy for people to -- and say -- and I'm going to just pick on Ward 3 because there is not a heavy drug trade there -- it's easy for someone in Ward 3...
NNAMDIAt least not on the street.
WILLIAMSRight. And that's what I mean. It's easy for someone in Ward 3 who -- no one's going to be standing on a corner selling marijuana to say, let's legalize. And when everybody's going to then go to another part of town and buy it and possibly impact their quality of life. So I support -- yes, I support it but I think we really need to think it through on how we implement it and make sure we implement it in a manner that's not going to be harmful for communities that are already struggling.
NNAMDISteve, thank you for your call. Now, onto Tom's previous question.
SHERWOODWell, now you may answer the question. Paul Zukerberg got this measure on the ballot and you say you're promoting yourself, not running down other candidates. And I respect that but -- and you said he's a sole practitioner where you've been involved in a multilevel of things but you had not finished your answer so...
WILLIAMSYeah -- no. I was just going to say, I've been involved in a range of areas from -- I've done litigation. And actually the person I learned under for litigation when I was an associate for a couple of years with David C. Simmons and Associates. And David C. Simmons is now the chief administrative law judge for the D.C. Commission of Human Rights. So I learned a lot about litigation from someone who is very people-minded.
WILLIAMSSo, you know, I have been in court. I have litigated cases. It was -- I was -- at the time it was a D.C. firm but I was the Maryland attorney so I've litigated cases in Maryland.
SHERWOODSo you have enough -- you don't have a lot of time. I want to get a couple more questions. You answered that question.
NNAMDIWe have two minutes.
SHERWOODYou know, we have a huge homeless issue. We're coming up on another winter. The city has a law that says people in the -- when the temperature drops below 32 they have a right to shelter in the night. I mean, the city could be ripe for lawsuits to say you're not following the law. The attorney general would have to defend the city. Would you defend the city on that?
WILLIAMSI would make sure the city has a defense -- first of all, I would try to work with the agencies beforehand if we see that this is a potential issue. Part of what I want to do...
SHERWOODIt is a potential issue.
WILLIAMSRight. And part of what I want to do is stave things like that off in the beginning. So something like that -- and especially when you have issues like this that are reoccurring every year, it's important to try to work with the parties involved and try to negotiate so we're not in that position. If we're in that position, the city's going to have a defense. Like I said, if I don't agree, there'll be a special counsel. So the city will be adequately defended but I think it's important and it's absolutely vital for people to have shelter during the winter.
NNAMDIIn 2013, writing in the Blade commenting on a response that Anita Bonds gave on this broadcast on the issue of race, you wrote, and I quote, "If in 2014 David Catania gives up his seat to run for mayor or attorney general and Jim Graham is defeated in the Ward 1 primary," both very real possibilities, both of those things have, in fact, since happened, "there's a chance that a city as progressive as D.C. will not have any LGBT representatives on the counsel." Since that possibility has in fact occurred, do you now think it's more important to have an LGBT representative as attorney general?
WILLIAMSI do. Well, I think it's important to have LGBT representation at all levels. And I know there is an openly lesbian candidate running for counsel right now at large race, so that still is a possibility. But yes, I think it's important for all Washingtonians to be represented at all levels of government.
SHERWOODHate crime particularly in this city still a major problem. Transgender people are having a very difficult time. Lots of issues there.
NNAMDILateefah Williams, she's a Democratic candidate for attorney general of the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you.
WILLIAMSThank you. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Feeling badly about last night's football game?
SHERWOODNo, because I predicted it. You know, I'm more interested than that going into the playoffs in the World Series. And I'm looking forward to -- we didn't get to talk about the police camera...
NNAMDIThat's what's known as a fair weather fan. Thank you all for listening. (laugh) I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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