Amid Washington’s graduation season, we look at the craft of writing and delivering commencement speeches. What advice sticks — and what doesn’t?
The final D.C. Council session of 2018 was an eventful one, with debate on green energy, sports gambling, school safety and a new hospital in Ward 8. Councilmember David Grosso joins us for a look at what passed, what didn’t, and what we can expect the Council to take on in the upcoming year.
We’ll also catch up with Maya Rockymoore Cummings. The policy advisor and former gubernatorial candidate was recently elected chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington. Welcome to the Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I am Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
MR. TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Maya Rockeymoore Cummings who is chair of the Maryland Democratic Party -- the new chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. We'll also be talking with At-Large D.C. Council member, David Grosso. But first, partial government shut down. Joining us to discuss this by phone is Max Stier who is President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. Max Stier, thank you for joining us.
MR. MAX STIERYes. Thank you.
NNAMDIMax, a partial government shutdown seems to be imminent at midnight tonight if Congress doesn't find a compromise on President Trump's demand for billions of dollars for funding a border wall. And in a flurry of tweets this morning, the President predicted that the shutdown will, we're quoting here, "Last for a very long time." The Washington region is home to thousands of federal employees. What could this mean for federal workers here?
STIERIt means a lot of bad things for federal workers here. As you suggest, the federal government is the largest employer -- actually in D.C. But also across the country. There are probably around 300,000 feds here in the D.C. region and about two million civil servants across the world. And it's a terrible thing. Most importantly because, the reasons why the people are in the government is that they're mission oriented. They're trying to help the American public in all kinds of ways. And a shutdown -- a partial shutdown means that they can't do what they're there for, which is work for the American people. But it's not just them. It's the set of companies, the contractors that are also supporting government work. And at the end of the day, it's the American public that is going to get hurt here.
SHERWOODMr. Stier, this is Tom Sherwood. What's different about this one, though, is that only about one fourth of the government will be shut down because the Congress has in fact passed some appropriation bills. So can you tell people which of the agencies that are going to be affected, if in fact the shutdown occurs at midnight tonight?
STIERYes. And it's one fourth of the dollars. But it's, you know, close to about 800,000 federal employees themselves. And it's, you know, everything from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Commerce, the, obviously, you know, Homeland Security, Justice, Interior, State Department, Transportation, HUD, non-cabinet level like NASA. So it's a broad swath of government. And it is also worth noting that a lot of people, even in those agencies, will still be working. They will be viewed as accepted employees because there's a task that involves life or property preservation at stake here. But they will not be getting their paycheck and obviously not ever a good time not to get your paycheck. But certainly on the holiday season not a good one.
SHERWOODAnd generally speaking, though, those paychecks are often made whole later. But that doesn't mean that the families aren't hurting for the weeks that they go without pay.
STIERYou're exactly right.
SHERWOODMay I also ask, a lot of conservatives I've spoken to over the years complain about Washington want to shut down the swamp. Want to drain the swamp. But they don't realize 85 percent of the federal workforce is scattered throughout the United States and I guess overseas too. And that when you have a shutdown like President Trump is doing, it's not shutting down the swamp. It's shutting down the business of government across all 50 states.
SHERWOODAnd services, Medicare -- all types of services.
STIERYes. No, it's cutting off our nose to spite our face. It is not the right way to do this. You are right about how many people are outside of the D.C. metro area. A third of federal employees are veterans. And fundamentally, again, they are out public servants -- these are our tax dollars that are being wasted. And they're already wasted. Just the threat of a shutdown means that lots of people are planning for a potential shutdown and are distracted or actually doing their job to make it an orderly one. So this is just bad. We -- everyone losses in a shutdown situation. And it is the broader environment you need to think about, the contractors, etcetera. So there are reasonable policy differences. This is not a reasonable thing to put in the firing line because it is one response, that again, that hurts everybody.
SHERWOODAnd if I just very quickly can say one of the agencies that -- Transportation Security Administration, the TSA folks who will be in line there at the airports getting people going home for the holidays, getting them through their lines to their planes. So that's a direct impact if there's any problem there.
STIERWell, certainly. And, again, a lot of these folks will be on the job. They won't be getting their paycheck and while they're working. Presumptively they'll get their paycheck afterwards. And those folks that are told to go home, you know, there's no certainty that they'll get the paycheck. Historically they do. But it's just -- it's terrible for them not only for the paycheck, but also because of the interruption in their ability to do their jobs well, which is why they are there. And that's really -- I can help but mention our best place historic rankings just came out. Overall government numbers went down in terms of employee morale. This is not a way to create the engaged workforce we need for the services that we want as a country.
NNAMDIMax Stier, finally what protections do federal employees have during a government shutdown?
STIERIn terms of protection there are not a whole lot. I mean the disruption is not just the paycheck. Even their planned vacation time is something that no longer holds. They actually don't get paid vacation time even if they are accepted employees. It means that they may actually have a planned vacation that they have to come back for. There -- it is an immensely disruptive environment and one thing I would say is now is the time to be thanking our public servants more than ever because they do their jobs, important jobs in ordinary times, and this made it a whole lot harder.
SHERWOODVery quickly, your Partnership for Public Service is something you started back in 2001. It's largely supported by corporations partly because the goal, as I understand it, is your organizations make sure that the quality and the education and service of the federal workers is always improved. And that's how you get a clear window into the companies around the country that also depend on the Federal government not just individuals.
STIERWell, thank you very much for a very kind description of what we do. Actually, our support comes from individuals, it comes from foundations. It comes from corporations. It comes from work that we do directly for the government. I mean, we are a non-partisan, non-profit organization trying to help the government do its job better.
NNAMDIMax Stier is President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIJoining us is studio is David Grosso. He is a member of the D.C. Council At-Large and chair of the Council's Education committee. David Grosso, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID GROSSOGood afternoon, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
SHERWOODOn the shutdown -- or is the District government no longer subject to a shutdown? You know, Congresswoman Norton got the law changed and has had it changed. D.C.'s local government won't shut down. That's good news.
GROSSOIt's good news and it wasn't always the case. So I appreciate her efforts.
NNAMDIBefore we go to David Grosso, Tom Sherwood, quickly about Virginia where Governor Ralph Northam, according to Laura Vozzela's report in the Washington Post, is that he'd like to increase spending in the current two-year budget by some 2.1 billion dollars because there are surging state tax receipts. Of course, Republicans still have control, albeit, narrow, of both the House and the Senate. How is that likely to affect his plans?
SHERWOODWell, I think spending the money -- this is -- Virginia works in a two-year budget cycle. Their budget is about -- its budget cycle is about 118 billion dollars for every two years. So he wants to add two billion to it. And that comes in part from the Federal Tax Reform Act and the restrictions on deductions you can take for your local -- state and local income taxes, no longer can do it on the Federal stuff. But that means, you're going to be paying more taxes because your income is going to go up. And so this is where this coming, not only for Virginia, but for Maryland and every other state in the country. So I think the Governor has a good hand. He's got money to pass out to government programs. And I think that legislature -- Democratic or Republican, and it's pretty split there in Virginia, will welcome their chance to put money into education, the Chesapeake Bay, several issues that the Governor is talking about.
NNAMDIOn to the District of Columbia where a judge has denied the District's request to force Providence Hospital to stay open. The Attorney General's Office had filed a lawsuit after the closures at Providence Hospital began. But this raises a very ticklish questions about when a private organization is performing a public service, the extent to which the local government can force it to continue.
SHERWOODWell, hospitals operate under what's called a Certificate of Need, a CON. And they say what they're going to do, how they're going to do it. It's decided based on what's available at other hospitals or medical facilities. But they largely are, you know -- they make money. They're for-profit organizations. And if they find they can't make the profit -- are not providing the services they want to shut down. So Providence wants to shut down. It says it will keep open emergency services till April the first. But the city has actually very little hold on a hospital that is not being profitable if it wants to close.
NNAMDIAnd if we're going to talk hospitals, David Grosso, let's talk about the compromise that the D.C. Council voted on to move forward with the construction of a new hospital, in what Vincent Gray likes to call the East End of the city, George Washington pulled out of the previous deal after the Council voted what Council member Gray -- former Mayor Gray calls them, "poison pills." Exactly what did the council do this week?
GROSSOSo Councilmember Gray came back to the table with a new proposal that would try to help us move forward with this and with a lot of compromise working with myself and my colleagues, we were able, I think, to keep this deal alive at least until --
SHERWOODIt's not on life support, but it's alive.
GROSSOThat's right. And there are going to be more opportunities for the Council to weigh in and the public to weigh in. We're going to have vote on a definitive agreement eventually that will protect, hopefully, the interest of Howard Medical School, which is very concerned here. And also the workers, you know, there are a lot of Union workers over at UMC that don't want to see their jobs disappear.
NNAMDIAnd George Washington Hospital says that it is in again in the process. It's willing to continue to negotiate with.
SHERWOODA couple of weeks ago the Council, you know, passed a legislation that would require the new hospital to take the employees and the Union employees from United Medical Center. And that -- that's when George Washington said, "We're not going to do that." So now it's been weakened substantially. Alicia Silverman, a Councilmember, didn't like it. But did make it that there will be a real effort. There has to be some employees hired. But it's not as hardcore as it was.
GROSSOWell, there's a requirement for 51 percent of all the new workers to be from UMC -- unskilled workers. And that they also have to give some preference. So it will all be ironed out as we move forward. The good news here is that it's not just entirely dead.
SHERWOODBut if the Council chairman and Councilmember Evans who doesn't like the impact on the West End -- the West End, not the East End over the by the current George Washington Hospital, each voted against it.
GROSSOAnd I was sympathetic to that. You know, I think the folks on the West End have a real concern there of traffic and overcrowding and all of the things that they brought to us. I just felt like the need for a comprehensive hospital services east of the river is more important right now.
NNAMDIWell, we got a tweet from Molly who writes, "Why is the D.C. Council weakening education oversight when we need it most?" What is Molly talking about? Well, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson announced yesterday that the community of the whole teachers will now share the responsibility of overseeing D.C. public and charter schools with the Education Committee, which David Grosso chairs. Some people see this as a dilution of your power. But you said, and I'm quoting here, "I think it's good for education overall." Do you support this move actually or are you just trying to get along -- to go along to get along? Whatever that phrase is.
SHERWOODHe's accepting it.
GROSSOAnyone that knows me knows I don't just go along to get along. That's just not there.
SHERWOODHe's accepting this. But it's not -- two different people who were there Thursday said to me that you left -- one person said stomped out, another person said left kind in a huff. This was not a surprise. You had talked to the chairman about this. You have worked with the chairman on other school issues. I talked to the chairman myself about this and he said -- he told me that he thought you were doing a good job on a number of issues and the achievement gap. But he also said he had heard too much complaints that there's not enough reform going on in schools fast enough. And he thought this would be a way to expand it. And if I just finish up my premise for you, is that you worked very closely with the previous chancellor. You've worked with the mayor. And some people have complained that rather than providing oversight, you have been more of a partner and what the schools, to make some real progress need, is oversight, not a partner. Over to you.
GROSSOWhen someone says that I stomped out, it was probably because the meeting started late and was going overtime like it always does, which you know frustrates me. And I had things that I needed to get done. The reality is I look forward to working closely with the chairman. We have worked together for a long time now on education matters. This formalizes it a bit more. But I think it also elevates it and that's important. The more eyes and ears and the more people engaged in education reform in the city, the better off will be. And I think having him involved elevates this. There will be access to more money. There will be access to a smoother path for policy making. And he and I, like I said before, most recent example is the research collaborative, that was referred to both our committees. We worked very hard together on it, and I think came up with a really good result. I look forward to working with him and I don't think there's any dilution at all. I think if anything it expands the oversight that we can give.
SHERWOODWell, we should be clear that the previous committee chairpersons -- I mean, the Chairman of the Council, Vince Gray and Kwame Brown before him, kept education of the committee as a whole where all 13 members can weigh in. Some people worry, though, that if you have all 13 members -- if everyone is responsible for education then no one is because they can shift blame to someone else or at some other person.
GROSSOWell, let's just be clear that just because this was a standalone committee doesn't mean that my colleagues didn't weigh in on a regular basis. And I think people should be concerned. It is the number one issue in the city to make sure that every single student has the equal opportunity and a real opportunity to succeed in school.
SHERWOODWhen it's your committee -- you have to hold a hearing on Lewis Ferebee. He's coming in from Indiana -- Indianapolis. I always get those states.
SHERWOODThank you very much. He's going to be here on February. When are you going to hold a hearing so that you can approve him or disapprove him? I assume you're going to be approving him.
GROSSOLet's just be clear the mayor has nominated him. But she has not sent down the paperwork yet. So the clock has not begun ticking.
SHERWOODOh, my goodness. Really?
GROSSOMy hope is that she'll send it down in early January. We will do two hearings out in the community and one at the Wilson Building in City Hall. The idea for me is that he would get out and meet people ahead of time. Do a tour. Similar to what Paul Kihn did, the new Deputy Mayor for Education. He took me up on that opportunity. Go out and talk to the community. Get engaged and then let's have a real honest conversation about whether or not he should be approved by the Council.
SHERWOODWell, the mayor announced he was going to come to work on February the first.
GROSSOWell, he can come as in interim or acting chancellor. But he is not officially in the position until the Council votes on it.
SHERWOODThis is what my problem is with schools. It's all this -- it seems to me this would be an urgent thing that the mayor would have done. Maybe the changing of the Council period would affect it and all that. But we're just about to have another -- he's going to come in. He's going to have a lot of aspirational talk about what he's going to do. And I've said on this program before, I'm a little tired of aspirational talk. I would like to see action.
GROSSOAnd I agree, Tom. And I wish she would have started this process last year. When Antwan Wilson left we should have started right away.
NNAMDILet's talk about some of the things he's going to have to act on. How do you want him to address the issue of school segregation? A report out from the D.C. policy center finds that, although, schools are getting more economically diverse in the city, they remain highly segregated by race and ethnicity. What do you make of that report and what do you see the next school chancellor being able to do about it?
GROSSOI think it goes directly to the way that we do budgeting of our schools and whether or not we are doing an honest approach when it comes to making sure every single school has everything they need to be successful. The reality is right now you know we do it on a uniform per student funding basis. So if you have lower enrollment you get less money. And it's just too objective. I think what we need to do is get the money in there that it takes to actually educate all of our students. Then you will see, I think some of the students that -- some of the schools that have lower enrollment begin to turn around because the parents will see educational opportunities. The students will see those opportunities. And it just can't be in name. It has to actually be real. Like, for example, the AP courses that you offer have to be by high quality professors who are engaging students academically at the highest levels. That has just not happened yet. And I think you're seeing as a result the clear separation in our city. It is economics as well. It's not just race. And I think there's something that needs to be said about that. The reality is that the -- you know, I was just in Sousa Middle School. I just toured Anacostia High School this year. I mean, this week. And the fact is that a lot of these students are the ones that are left behind that we've been too readily willing to just forget about and let fall through the cracks. I think as a city we should be judged on and we should be committed to giving every one of these students an opportunity to succeed that is supported by dollars and staffing at the same level as a school that has lots of enrollment.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments about education, this is the time to call because David Grosso, who is an At-Large member of the D.C. Council is also Chair of the Committee on Education. We got a tweet from Karen who says, "Ask Councilmember Grosso for a report from the meeting about the debacle with false accusations by OSE of Duke Ellington families."
SHERWOODThat a State Education Office.
NNAMDIThe Office of State Education.
GROSSOWe have been working very closely with Superintendent Kang and her team to help them do this process better than they first started out. The reality is, is that they just --
NNAMDIThey bungled this is what they did.
GROSSOThey completely bungled it. But it wasn't just them. And I think that's clear that we need to talk about the whole city's responsibility to do this better. They took over responsibility from DCPS to do the residency verifications just a year and a half ago. They found these problems that they thought were really serious problems at Duke Ellington. They -- I think didn't do the best job investigating. Didn't do the best job giving parents the due process that they deserved. But at the same time we were able to turn that around a little bit. There is some harm done, and we need to take into account. But the reality is Duke Ellington is an amazing school. The building is amazing, the teachers are amazing, the arts programs are amazing. And I don't think that this will have a lasting impact. I think it will be able to bounce back.
SHERWOODSo how many students at Duke Ellington are not in the city? You don't know.
GROSSOI can't remember the numbers of the top of head, Tom. I mean, it was more than 50. I mean, it was not a small number.
SHERWOODYes, it's too many. And the Attorney General also has filed suit against some parents at $700,000 for people for 10 years or more have brought their kids to D.C. public schools while living in the suburb.
SHERWOODBut, again, you talk about how you've been working with the school system to address this. I'm just wondering if that's part of the criticism I keep hearing about you is how you're more -- you describe things as working with as oversight and insisting that things will be done. I've seen you get angry on the Council -- in the Council chamber when they don't answer your questions. You can ask them a question and then three weeks, three months later the question is still not answered. I'm just wondering if people want to see a tougher edged Council Chairman who says, "Get me this information or clear out your desk."
GROSSOThat there -- there are two different styles that you're describing and frankly that's -- I subscribe to the one that actually tries to work with people and doesn't try to, you know, slam people all the time and dodge the questions because I don't think that's any more effective than working with people. And I bet you that I was able to get just as many answers if not more answers than a different chairperson who might be more hard on these members of the Mayor's staff. Now, should there be greater oversight powers? Maybe. And right now we can't control that.
SHERWOODWell, just enforce the ones you have.
GROSSOWell, you know, it's not that simple. And I think -- you know, I get just as many emails and just as many tweets to me saying, "Thank you for doing this in an adult like way that is not just screaming at people." And I'm not going to start doing that.
SHERWOODI don't want you to scream at them. I just -- okay. Not to scream at them. I'm not screaming at you now. But I'm just trying to be a little more aggressive about saying, lets skip the aspirational talk and judge -- you know, we've got this new STAAR system. We're judging all the schools now. And you're right. You're right that if it's --
GROSSOYou know what? As you go back and look at the operations of OSE before I was a chairperson versus how they're doing now --
SHERWOODNot saying you haven't done any good things.
GROSSOThey're night and day in difference. So I'm not trying to be too defensive. But also I think it is a style question that is fair to ask. And I'm trying to answer that question and so for me it's about making sure that people have the tools to be successful and putting people in the position to be successful while at the same time holding them accountable. And if people want to look at my oversight questions, want to look at my oversight hearings, they should. Not many people do.
SHERWOODWell, you can write the questions. You're going to be running for re-election later this year. In 2020, you'll be running for re-election. I assume you're going to run for re-election. You haven't really said. But if you do you'll start later this year. Later -- half of this coming year of 2019, right? Are you going to run for re-election?
GROSSOYou know, the last time that I had this decision before me I made it in the fall before the election. So I'll probably do the same.
SHERWOODThat's this coming fall.
GROSSOThat would be in the fall, yeah.
SHERWOODThere's no reason not to, right?
NNAMDIHere is Bill in Washington D.C. I got email from a long time Shaw community activist, Abraham Mumin, about this. The future of Shaw Junior High School. And that's what Bill wants to ask about. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLThank you very much. And I appreciate your time, Councilman. I have questions about the future of Shaw Junior High. I know the mayor has come out and said that that's going to be turned into Banneker. But it was some sort of weird process where it was -- there was no real any oversight or any public hearings about the future of it. And we're at a point in Shaw where you have these great robust elementary schools and really no viable middle school place for them to go. And it's getting frustrating.
NNAMDII should point out that the current building of Shaw Junior High School is shuttered and the --
GROSSOIt has been.
NNAMDIAnd many of the residents were told that they would be refurbishing it and reopening it. And now apparently the mayor wants to go in another direction. What's say you?
GROSSOI think this is a really paramount question right now. So, Bill, I'm glad you raised it. The fact is that I think the community members have been promised by a number of different mayors that we would have a standalone middle school in Central City right where Shaw Junior High School was located. And the reality is the mayor came out with a plan, frankly not doing a whole lot of public engagement before it. And I think they thought they did more than they did. But they clearly did not do enough. And said that they were going to rebuild and put Banneker High School on that site. I have to be straight up with you. I believe that that's a good idea. I think Banneker is a remarkable school. Has the top academic achievements in the city and deserves a new building. In fact, I'd put money in the budget to make that happen. That doesn't then jut eliminate the reality, though, that the community in the middle of the city has been wanting for a long time a standalone middle school. Right now Cardozo Middle School is embedded in Cardozo High School. And that is clearly not a viable option. Many many of the parents are not wanting to send their children there. So we have to think of a different option.
GROSSOSo here's the next steps. We are -- we held a hearing in December on this between myself and Councilmember Allen to dig into it and understand it. In January, there are going to be community engagement sessions that are going to be more meaningful, which I and my staff are going to be attending all of them to actually dig into where we would put a standalone middle school. There are three or four different options including still perhaps right there where Shaw Junior High is. It's just a very complex situation that I don't think a lot of preparation was put in.
SHERWOODCan we switch to ethics?
SHERWOODWashington Post has a detailed story about Councilmember Jack Evans and his relationship on and off again -- the relationship with a private businessman, Donald McCord and Digi Outdoor Media. I won't go into all the details. But basically it says --
NNAMDIBoy, there are a lot of details.
SHERWOODThere are a lot of details. Have you had any thought about this? Jack Evans has said he has done nothing wrong. That whenever he was given money or a offer for a job for his kid or any of these different things, he has turned it all back each time. And some people question, "Well, why didn't you take it in the first place? And the Post story, which is again detailed talked about 200,000 shares of stock. The Post says it's worth $100,000 or was when it was passed over. But some people think it was pretty much penny stocks. It wasn't worth anything. I don't know the answer to that but, again, he – Jack Evans, I'm told, returned it within 48 hours.
SHERWOODBut again, there's a case where he was – put his toe on the ethics line. Maybe he didn't cross over it. There's been no allegation of illegality. There's some hint that maybe more than the (word?) ethics board is investing it. Maybe law enforcement is although there's been no public disclosure of that. But it does put a murky –even the chairman of the Council Mendelson said it creates a cloud around the Council. What are your own thoughts about it? And Jack Evans was just named to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, did I get the name right, which oversees BEGA. So how can he serve on that committee and also be subject to a BEGA investigation?
NNAMDIDo you think the Council needs to do a better job to avoid potential conflicts of interest in ethics violation?
GROSSOYeah, I think there's been a lot of work that's been done on this and I wanted, you know...
SHERWOODBefore we get to all the changes that Alan's (sounds like) committee's passed...
GROSSOI understand, yeah.
SHERWOOD...what about Jack Evans – what does this say to you and what do you know about it that you can say?
GROSSOThere are two – two different things here, whether or not he actually is proven to have done something wrong versus what is the perception of what he's doing and the coverage of this. This is on the actual front page of the Washington Post today. This is not a buried story. This is not something that's disappearing and it's not going away.
GROSSOSo last spring when this first started coming out, I actually did talk to the chairman and said, hey, maybe we ought to do an ad hoc committee like we did with Marion Barry to just understand what the ethics implications are here at the Council. The chairman talked to me about it, was concerned and then said he wanted to wait 'til BEGA finished their investigation, which in fact is what we did with Marion Barry when we had him before us. But the reality now is that BEGA has suspended, from what I understand...
SHERWOODYes, whatever that means.
GROSSO...their investigation, whatever that means. I think the Council still has an obligation to look closely into this to see...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Let's be clear. Do you want the Council chairman -- let's be clear because we don't have a lot of time – do you want the chairman to create an ad hoc committee to look into Jack Evans?
GROSSOI think that we should. I think that should be established...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) With an outside lawyer...
GROSSO(overlapping) Yes, absolutely.
SHERWOOD...an outside lawyer just like Barry?
GROSSOYeah, I think it makes a lot of sense and I think we can avoid a lot of problem. Now here, let me just say one thing. We did just pass campaign finance reform. In fact I'm very proud this year we passed public financing in the campaigns and campaign finance reform. And what frustrated me the most was the fact that my colleagues amended out of it a way to regulate and to monitor the way that we use our constituent services funds and the way that we get money invested in the constituent services fund.
GROSSOSo when I read...
SHERWOODIn fact, it increased the number.
GROSSOYeah, so when I read this article, I was blown away that this is part of the problem is that they were donating to his constituent services fund when we could – we just had active opposition to this. I also find it curious that the chairman put Councilmember Evans back on the Judiciary Committee which has direct oversight of BEGA. And I think you should ask him about that on the record to see why he did it.
SHERWOODMaybe he only...
NNAMDIWe only have about two minutes left. The Council voted on a bill legalizing sports gambling in the District. You were one of two councilmembers along with Brianne Nadeau of Ward 1 who voted against this legislation. Why didn't you support it and what do you – what is your concern about what it'll do?
GROSSOKojo, I'm – I could not vote for this for a lot of different reasons. I think it's – the obvious reasons are that I believe gambling is a regressive tax on the poor that I think puts poor people in a much more difficult position. I also think that the estimates of the CFO came out with what we might earn off of this type of gambling are very – too rosy and probably not gonna come true.
GROSSOAnd, you know, here we are cutting the commercial property tax , saving the commercial property owners $40 million a year when we had a viable amendment on the table that we could've invested that money in services. And now we're instead investing in these services through what I think is not gonna come true at all and is going to be built, you know, on the backs of the poor. I just think it's a bad idea. I could not vote for it.
SHERWOODYou're against gambling in general, I think. You don't even like the lottery, the scratch tickets or anything like that.
GROSSOWell, if you look at who lines up at these ticket booths. These are not the wealthy people that are putting their money there. This gives false hope to people in a way that I think is irresponsible as a government to be endorsing. I also didn't like the way they were rolling it out through the lottery. I think there's a lot of problems there.
SHERWOODOkay. We're almost out of time. Every mayor since Tony Williams has been trying to get the Washington football team back into town, with the team building its own stadium, the city spending millions of dollars for land preparation. Councilmember Allen started a hell no RFK, not hell to the Redskins but hell no petition. Have you signed that petition? Have you...
GROSSOI have signed that petition.
SHERWOODAnd do you think the city should just step away from this multi, what, three-billion-dollar corporation because of its name and because of the land use?
GROSSOI think it's a bad deal all around. I think if you wanna cut a good deal, you don't start with Dan Snyder for sure. I think secondly you have to do more community engagement. The people that live around the RFK site are opposed to this for the most sake. They've expressed their opposition. I think also the name is offensive. I think it's a racist derogatory term that should not be used in association with this team. So I don't think we should spend a single dollar on this. I think we should tell Dan Snyder that he's not welcome in the District of Columbia.
GROSSOAnd frankly, I think football's on a downturn in our country right now. I know a lot of people that won't even let their children play the game anymore.
NNAMDIDavid Gross is a member of the DC Council. He's chair of the Education Committee and apparently in the interest of time he speeded up his levels of speech and elocution today. Thank you – thank you for joining us.
GROSSOThank you guys for having me and happy holidays to everybody, Happy New Year as well.
NNAMDII haven't heard him talk that fast before. Thank you very much for joining us.
SHERWOODThat's 'cuz I kept staring at him.
NNAMDIUp next is Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. Tom Sherwood, new problems for the Silver Line again? Concrete rails installed at track crossovers along the second phase are flawed. It's already 13 months behind schedule. What's going on?
SHERWOODI think we need to change the name of the Silver Line to, what's the fake gold name. It's horrible. You wonder where all the – you know, when you have a construction project and you talk to any developer, when you're putting up concrete, every level of it is inspected, when you do the foundation, when you start putting up the posts and the columns and the walls. It's inspected along the way all the time. And now to be this far along on this Silver Line is just terrible that they keep finding all these concrete problems. Who's gonna pay for the cost?
NNAMDIMaya Rockeymoore Cummings, thank you for joining us.
MS. MAYA ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGSIt is my pleasure to be with you again.
SHERWOODYou clearly didn't take the Silver Line.
NNAMDIMaya Rockeymoore Cummings is chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. Some people may remember you from your primary run for governor in Maryland. But why were you interested in becoming chair of the Democratic Party?
CUMMINGSI felt very strongly...
NNAMDII should mention that you had to abort your run because of your husband Congressman Elijah Cummings' illness. I presume he's much better now.
CUMMINGSHe is much better. And...
SHERWOODAnd boy, is he fired up for January...
CUMMINGSHe's got a lot of work to do.
SHERWOOD...when he takes over his committee.
CUMMINGSGot a lot of work to do.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I wanna ask you about that in a moment but your plan for the Party, you defeated Kathleen Matthews...
SHERWOOD...who had led the Party through lots of success the last couple years except for the governor's race again. But across the board the Party was very successful but you decided you would do a better job. What're you gonna do?
CUMMINGSIt was successful and I wanna just congratulate Kathleen and the entire team for having all of those down ballot wins in the State of Maryland. But I gotta tell you, I just was not convinced by the argument, you know, nothing to see here folks on the governor's race. And I felt very strongly that, you know, with a state where Democrats actually outnumber – registered Democrats actually outnumber registered Republicans two to one that we could do better, that we could win up ballot and down ballot. And the fact of the matter is is that, you know, we need to get prepared.
CUMMINGSYou know, the primary electorate in the State of Maryland is increasingly diverse. And the kinds of candidates they're sending out to the general election are different than the traditional kinds of candidates that Maryland has seen before. And so we have to do a lot of work, I think, to, you know, what I call go deep. We need to define our values. We need to deepen our infrastructure, enhance our infrastructure. We need to make sure that we're expanding our base and that we're protecting our vote in the state.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about the more recent election because you've lost three out of the last five governors' races. Some people have criticized Democrats, both state and nationwide, for not more enthusiastically backing your last gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous. Why do you think he wasn't able to get traction in a state where registered Republi – Democrats, as you pointed out, outnumber Republicans two to one? Is it because he was not a long-standing part of the Democratic establishment in Maryland?
CUMMINGSI think that there was a – there were a lot of reasons. I think that, you know, his campaign came out of the primary clearly not having enough resources and...
CUMMINGS...no money. And...
SHERWOODYeah, be clear, no money.
CUMMINGS...and the resources never came in. The Democratic Governor's Association didn't, you know, jump in early when the Republican Governor's Association spent all of that money early on...
SHERWOODA couple million dollars.
CUMMINGS...defining Ben Jealous. And then, you know, he just never, you know, gained traction in terms of fundraising. And then of course there was a lot of, I think, dissension within the Democratic party about, you know, everybody had the top lines in terms of what might be happening with regards to his race. And so the down ballot races, you know, some of them chose to go their own way and not necessarily support the...
NNAMDIYour job is to change all that.
CUMMINGS...the top part of the ticket. And my job is to change it because we can do better. I know we can do better.
SHERWOODLarry Hogan, one of two Republican governors in the country who have established identities that's fully separate from President Trump and has been bipartisan, whether he's been willingly bipartisan or dragged kicking and streaming (sic) to be bipartisan. But he did have a very strong campaign. He had lots of money, had a sophisticated campaign, all of which Ben Jealous didn't have. Some people said, well, you know, the party was too progressive in the campaign. When Maryland is a blue state but it's not as progressive, the western parts of the state, eastern shore and other places are not as progressive as say Baltimore and the Washington suburbs. You have to knit all this together.
SHERWOODWhat will you be doing differently other than traveling the state?
CUMMINGSWhat I'll be doing differently is...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Doing a lot of knitting.
SHERWOODA lot of knitting.
CUMMINGSSo the – you know, the rural areas, eastern shore, western Maryland, southern Maryland actually have, I mean, historically identified with Democrats in terms of the issues. And yet, you know, we haven't, I think, consistently invested in making sure that Democrats are mobilized and certainly supported in terms of turning out during elections.
SHERWOODLike the Andy Harris race on the 1st District on the eastern shore.
CUMMINGSYeah, and so, you know, what we're seeing is that, you know, there's a lot of frustration amongst rank and file Democrats in these areas because they are looking for the support from the state party. And it is my job to provide it for them. And so I've argued that we have to have a rural equity strategy, that we don't just show up three weeks before an election and expect to be able to drive up turnout in these areas of the state, that we have an ongoing relationship with the voters and the nonvoters, and even Democratic-leaning independents in these areas.
CUMMINGSAnd they know what the Republican – what the Democratic Party stands for and that we provide that support for them year-round, not just in the lead up to an election but year-round.
NNAMDII'm guessing here because I didn't check the history, but I'm suspecting that you're the first African American woman to chair the Maryland Democratic Party.
CUMMINGSI am not.
NNAMDISee there, I didn't know.
CUMMINGSThe first person is a wonderful, beautiful lady named Yvette Lewis and...
SHERWOODShe's still around.
CUMMINGSYeah. she is still around. She is a Democratic National Committee Rep.
SHERWOODShe'll be calling you later, Kojo.
NNAMDILike Sherwood and I, she's still around (laugh) .
CUMMINGSAnd she works for Senator Van Hollen. She is...
CUMMINGS...one of his chief staffers.
NNAMDIYou have said that you want the Democratic Party to create more, quoting here, "onramps into participation" and that you want it to be a broader, more inclusive party. Not only what do you mean by that but how do you plan to accomplish that?
CUMMINGSSo I don't remember where I was but I heard somebody say that, you know, their local Democratic Party operates like a private club. Nobody knows how to get involved. Nobody knows how to volunteer, etcetera. And so with that, you know, what we're looking to do is open the doors in a way that, you know, really kind of allows people to understand where they fit in. If you wanna volunteer, these are the opportunities available to you. If you wanna run for a state central committee in your local area, this is how you do it. We're looking to open the doors to make sure the people understand.
CUMMINGSAnd in this run-up now to the 2020 convention, we're gonna be traveling around the state to make sure people know how to become delegates to the 2020 convention as well. So we're really kind of making sure that our doors are open in a way where people feel welcome and they know exactly how they can onramp into the party infrastructure.
NNAMDIOur guest is Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. She is the new chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.
SHERWOODOne key issue for the party is redistricting. The gerrymandering that occurred in the state with the 6th Congressional District is quite clear. There's a court case involved in this. The governor has proposed one way of doing redistricting with an independent commission. The legislature I think is also doing something about this. Does the Party itself have a position to get more people involved by more fairly distributing the congressional seats around the state so that people will feel involved and not feel like they've been all dumped into certain holes in the state?
CUMMINGSWe feel very strongly that redist...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What would you do?
CUMMINGSWhat I would do is actually encourage legislatures who are considering redistricting. Of course, as you well know, 2020 is a redistricting...
CUMMINGS...is the census and redistricting comes shortly thereafter. I am wary and the Party is wary of these commissions staffed by unelected people who are answerable to who, we don't know. You know, determining actually what happens in terms of how districts get drawn. At the same time I believe very strongly in compact districts that are, you know, certainly, you know, contiguous and supportive of, you know, communities that recognize themselves as communities.
CUMMINGSAnd so with that I do think that it is possible for the legislature to actually abide by those kinds of parameters and to draw lines that are considered fair in the future. And with that we are also making sure that, you know, with 2020 coming up, our position is that we're very much interested in making sure that we don't have to go through this twice, that we wait until after the census and that we redistrict as a regular course of action instead of doing some kind of special session of redistricting.
SHERWOODIf I may say, another thing that would affect the average Maryland voter or citizen would be ranked voting. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and the Council president Nancy Navarro are asking the legislature to allow the county to do what Tacoma Park does, which is to have ranked voting, that you vote for someone, you vote for your top three people. If no one gets a majority, than the lowest person drops out and then you recalculate the votes. Some people think that is too complicated for general public and it could despair – it could hurt minorities and others who are not as familiar with the English language or whatever like that. It could be a problem.
SHERWOODBut does your Party have any position on ranked voting so we'll -- you'll have a clear idea who wins? And the reason people say that Montgomery County, 33 people ran for four seats and they could win with just 10 percent of the vote.
CUMMINGSRight. So not an official position on ranked voting. We understand that – I think it was Maine or Vermont, which one had it this last election cycle – and it went relatively well. Anything that can, I think, encourage more people to vote, and certainly especially those independents who feel like they're left out and disenfranchised during, you know, primary season when they don't have an opportunity to actually participate. I think we're welcoming of, but to the extent that we have a particular position on that at this moment in time, we don't.
NNAMDIHere's Lynn in Bethesda. Lynn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LYNNThanks for taking my call, Kojo. I know that -- I've been reading the articles in the Washington Post about Chairman Perez in the National Party and their desire to put together a major list – voters list that will be able to compete in 2020 with the Republican list. And I'd want to know what their – what your position is with working with the National Party...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Of course it's not clear...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Of course, Chairman Perez was formerly an elected official in Montgomery County...
SHERWOODThis is where he wants the state parties to turn over their records...
SHERWOOD...so they can create a national...
CUMMINGSRight. This is all about data...
SHERWOOD...database -- database.
CUMMINGS...this is all about data and the selling of data and the collection of data.
SHERWOODFor or against?
CUMMINGSSo I actually don't know yet. I just got to my office. This is something that recently bubbled up. I don't even know what structure they're proposing. I know that, you know, they're broadly saying it's for profit. I haven't seen any kind of proposal yet. And so I'm looking to -- I'm looking forward to digging into the data and the research to understand the history of this, as well as any specifics that they might have available right now to help inform my thinking.
NNAMDILynn, thank you for your call.
SHERWOODAnother political question. You did, in fact, jump into the governor's race primary earlier this year and you had to drop out in part because of the health of your husband Elijah Cummings. But now you're gonna be the party chairman. People think you could still be, you know, a candidate for statewide office so where are you in terms of being chairman and possibly ruling our or keeping open the idea that you might run for statewide office? Because as you well know, one of the issues in Maryland is the absence of women and minor -- people of color in statewide elections.
CUMMINGSSo I know that...
SHERWOODSo where are you personally?
CUMMINGSSo personally, where I am, is serving as the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party and committed to...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That's your front and center job.
CUMMINGS...and committed to service. This is a super volunteer job, as you well know.
SHERWOODHow much does it pay?
CUMMINGSZero (laugh) . Zero dollars, yet it takes a lot of time and a lot of dedication. And so I am committed to what I propose in that go-deep plan which is to build the infrastructure to make sure that we're defining our values with a platform, that we're expanding our base and that we're, you know, protecting our vote. So...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) At least through the next two years. I mean, do you have a term?
CUMMINGSSo it's a four-year term.
SHERWOODFour-year term. Well, we know what reporters like to say. Are you committing to serving out your term?
CUMMINGSI am committing.
NNAMDIAs Tom mentioned, your husband has been at the forefront of the legislative fight against President Trump. Do you think that as head of a state Democratic Party you have a role to play in the national drama that is playing out with President Trump or...
NNAMDIAnd what would that role be?
CUMMINGSIt's several fold. First of all, we – this is actually another reason why I'm sitting in this chair and I'm excited to sit in this chair at this moment in time in the history of this nation.
NNAMDIWe're listening to some (word?) conversation.
CUMMINGSWe have to – we have to turn the White House blue. Everybody out there hear that, turn the White House blue. It is absolutely imperative and Maryland has a role to play, not just in making sure that the state stays blue in terms of the presidential election but, you know, we often serve as an exporter of volunteers during the presidential election years, where we send volunteers to Virginia and to Pennsylvania...
CUMMINGS...and West Virginia and other places. We'll continue to do that but we're also looking towards making sure that we're also engaging in and continuing to invest in our rural areas and other under, I think, represented areas that need to continue to have stimulation in the 2020 election year and beyond.
NNAMDII wanna get to this issue because it's one of my pet peeves in Maryland. This week Maryland State Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Mike Busch announced that the deadline for the Kirwan Commission to announce its proposals for funding education in the state has been extended for a year.
NNAMDIWhy is this reminding me so much of the Thornton Plan when the Thornton commission came up with a plan that everybody thought was brilliant, Republicans and Democrats alike, and then the state didn't fund it. And that is where it would appear the sticking point is on this new formula that is being proposed by the Kirwan Commission.
CUMMINGSSo it is my understanding that the Kirwan commission has yet to -- they're just now beginning negotiations on the funding formula. And as you well know...
SHERWOODThere's a dead – excuse me, there's a deadline for it to make a report to the legislature in early January (word?) ...
CUMMINGSBut they have not (all talking at once) ...
SHERWOOD...extend the money...
CUMMINGSRight. That's right. And so, you know, we definitely want the commission to get it right because, as you well know, there were questions about – at the end of the day we know that Thornton was a visionary plan for the state and yet, you know, we're still looking at updating and making sure that we're refining the funding formula in a way that actually works, making sure that those kids who need it most in every area of the state gets the support that they need, that the districts are – have 21st century schools, that teachers are taken care of because we wanna have a quality teacher in every classroom.
CUMMINGSThere are things that we need to make sure that we do but we need to make sure that we're funding it right and that we're distributing the resources correctly. And so, you know...
SHERWOODAt least in the state it is now quite clear that the casino monies are in fact going to education, not to replace other education funds but on top of...
CUMMINGS...on top of.
SHERWOOD...the education. So – and the governor and the legislature are making strides in that way with the...
CUMMINGS(overlapping) It was actually a ballot, yeah, absolutely.
SHERWOOD...referendum. Well, I was gonna say, with the referendum...
SHERWOOD...to get that done to make it clear and more money will be spent. But the Kirwan Commission, this is the core thing, how do you – you can talk all you want, as I like to say, aspirationally about better schools and more teachers and more classes and more athletics. But if you don't fund it then you're just talking.
CUMMINGSThat is absolutely correct. And we know – and by the way, there was a lot of disappointment with the letter that came out yesterday, from advocates, not just in Baltimore where, you know, of course, I had my ear (sounds like) ...
SHERWOOD...across the state.
CUMMINGS...but across the state. People feel the urgency of making sure that we have a quality education system in the state of Maryland because we've been steadily falling in national rankings.
SHERWOODRight. Nancy Navarro was here just recently and she said the president of Montgomery Council said the same thing. You know, the state support of education is important. The localities also had to put up their money but the state money is so important.
CUMMINGSIt's very important. And so this matters and people are very sensitive to the delay. So, you know, I think that we're gonna be staying on top of this and looking forward to getting to the finish line.
NNAMDIOnly have about a minute left but I'll allow James to have that time. James in northwest Washington, your turn.
JAMESYeah, thanks, Kojo, Tom. My question is it had to do with the rising prominence of Democratic Socialists and Democratic Party politics. And it's largely, I think, a reflection of the inability of kind of a corporatist wing in the Democratic Party to speak to the economic anxiety that most Americans are facing. I'm curious if the chairwoman has any thoughts about under her leadership, the Party might do a better job kinda addressing those concerns?
CUMMINGSSo I think that, first of all, I don't think that the Democratic Socialists have – are anything new to the Democratic Party. I mean, the Democrats have stood for, you now, social security, against privatization of everything, have been for solid strong public education, you know. So the – but I think that the area that we've seen a lot of energy around is healthcare. And so, you know, there was, I think, a few years ago when the Affordable Care Act was passed, a lot of disappointment from the more progressive wing of the Party about...
CUMMINGS...the public option not being a part of it. And people frankly want truly universal healthcare. And I think that's the next challenge on the horizon.
NNAMDIMaya Rockeymoore Cummings is the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. Thank you so much for joining us.
CUMMINGSThanks for having me again.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. We'll be taking a break for the holidays but we'll be back on air next Thursday, December 27th. We'll discuss highlights from art and culture from the past year and dig into the meaning of altruism. What makes do-gooders do good? That's next Thursday at noon. Until then Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Tom Sherwood, Merry Christmas.
NNAMDIAnd Happy Holidays to all of you. Enjoy. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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