The timeline and cost for completing the Purple Line is up in the air after a judge ruled that contractors may quit in the middle of the project. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich weighs in on that, the latest coronavirus news and more.
This week on the Politics Hour, we get a preview of the upcoming Maryland legislative session from one of the General Assembly’s newest members, Montgomery County’s Lily Qi, a Democrat representing District 15 in the House of Delegates.
Then, from climate change and gun laws to the fight for a new hospital, we hear the latest D.C. Council news from Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen.
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
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the Politics Hour starring Danielle Gaines, I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is off today. Our guest analyst is Danielle Gaines. She's a reporter for Maryland Matters. Danielle, thank you so much for joining us.
DANIELLE GAINESThank you. I'm glad to be here.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with D.C. Council member, Charles Allen, who represents Ward 6 on the D.C. Council. Joining us in studio now is Lily Qi. She is delegate elect representing Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates. Delegate Elect Qi, welcome.
LILY QIThank you so much, Kojo, for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.
NNAMDIDanielle Gaines, let's start with the lawsuit that's been around for some 12 years that supporters of HBCU, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have filed against the state of the Maryland. It would now appear that a panel of judges in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has called for mediation and that mediation it says has to be completed by April 30th, otherwise you're going to spend another series of decades resolving this issue. What's going on?
GAINESYeah, so this is a case that started as you said many years ago in 2005. It started with Morgan State University challenging a decision to create an MBA program at Towson University. At the crux of the lawsuit is the fact that HBCUs in the state have been undermined when a similar curriculum is introduced at white public institutions and that the population at HBCUs has -- they're --
NNAMDISuffered as a result.
GAINESYeah. Exactly. So the number of other ethnicities at HBCUs had declined. And so they want money to put their course offerings on parody with other public institutions in the state. The court set a deadline of April 30th. They want monthly updates. This would coincide the meditation talks with the general assembly session. So you might see lawmakers trying to get into the fray and say what they'd like to see out of a settlement opportunity.
NNAMDIBecause the Maryland Legislative Black Caucasus had this as one of their priorities for years.
GAINESIt's a top priority. It bubbles in all the legislation that comes before the general assembly each year.
NNAMDIAnd Governor Larry Hogan, as the member of the Board of Public Works, has voted against the Potomac Pipeline, with the two other members of that board, it was unanimous. Talk about that.
GAINESSo this is a small stretch of pipeline, three and a half miles that would run in the western part of the state. And what the Board of Public Works was considering was the actual easement for the land that would allow the work to begin on this pipeline. Other approvals have already been granted for this pipeline through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
GAINESSo this was kind of a procedural vote. It could be challenged. That hasn't been made clear yet. But those advocates in Annapolis, who have been opposed to fracking for many years, you know, certainly cheered this is as a way to at least stall work on this effort. There are hundreds of miles of pipelines running under Maryland. So this is a relatively small part of the debate.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding the governor got a letter signed by some 60 members of the general assembly. He apparently agreed with them on this and I guess this helps to solidify his reputation for being able to work across party lines, doesn't it?
GAINESOf course, yeah, so in 2017, Governor Hogan -- near the end of that legislative session when a fracking ban was kind of in a state of turmoil. There were amendments being considered in the Senate that would have changed that bill. So it didn't match the House bill anymore. The governor came out and said that he actually would support a full out fracking ban. So he's been kind of building on that reputation since 2017.
NNAMDIOur guest is Lily Qi. She's Delegate Elect representing Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates. First, congratulations on your win.
QIThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIThis was your first time running for state office, but you've been involved with Montgomery County politics for a while. Why did you decide to run for the House of Delegates?
QIWell, thank you very much, Kojo, for asking that question. I decided to run for a couple of important reasons to me. First of all, I have lived and worked in this region for 20 years. And I worked for both Washington D.C. and Montgomery County. I have witnessed the dramatic demographic and economic changes of our time. I understand why people like me came here and why this place is attractive to so many people. I want to make sure that we continue to be a magnet for talent and opportunities and investments.
QIAnd I think my experience and my community involvement would bring important perspectives to make me an effective legislator. And I also believe, you know, in today's Montgomery County, which is one-third foreign born in its population make-up, it's time for us to move beyond the celebration of diversity to really look at a community integration.
QIAnd I believe running for office is an ultimate form of community integration.
NNAMDIWhen you're sworn in next week, you'll have the distinction of being the first Chinese born person in Maryland's legislature. In your victory speech, you said that your campaign greatly accelerated the Chinese American community social and political integration and maturity. Can you explain how that works?
QISure. Well, I'm impressed that you actually listened to my victory speech. I never considered that a victory speech. Probably off the cuff remarks. But, yes, I am proud that not only that as a first timer I was able to win, but also how we ran and won this campaign. I had a choice when I entered the race. I probably could have won without engaging the immigrant Chinese community to the extent that I did. But I would not have been proud of the race I ran if I did not bring along my community.
QIAnd I thought it would be a great opportunity to practice what I have been preaching. I'd been writing and speaking about these community civic and political engagement issues for years. And I had been trying to bring others along to get more actively involved in political realm. And when I started this campaign, I felt that it was important. Now, because I am Chinese immigrant, the most excited base for me was also the least experience, the base.
QIThere was no infrastructure in my direct community to know what to do. Even for the people, who wanted to help me. So I literally had to run to concurrent campaigns to reach out to the super dense, which would be those reliable primary democratic voters to distinguish myself as a credible candidate. At a same time, I had to launch a separate campaign to reach out to the Chinese American voters to bring them along and to unleash their energy. I think there was pent-up demand to be more encouraged to be more engaged. And my campaign simply provided a vehicle for that.
GAINESSo if you are blazing a trail yourself as a candidate, who do you look up to? Who are you inspired by politically?
QIWell, I think I am inspired by a lot of people, who are trailblazers in their own ways. I'm inspired by a lot of women lawmakers. I'm inspired by our county executive who just retired, Ike Leggett. When he became the first minority to be elected to the county executive at that time, Montgomery County was still majority white. I was so inspired I actually wrote an op-ed piece in the Gazette at that time and I also answered to his call to serve in his administration.
QIHe has been a great leader for our community. He has been a great supporter of my run for office. I'm also inspired by other Asian American legislators. Each one of them had to, you know, blaze their own trail in their own ways.
NNAMDIIke Leggett was our guest on this show last week. He doesn't have a job. He says he's not looking for a job. The man has way too much time on his hands. As you talked about, you reached out to many members of the Asian American immigrant community. You wrote columns in local Chinese language papers. You made targeted calls to people with Chinese names on the voter rolls. What are some of the concerns you heard expressed from some of the people you talked to?
QIWell, the Chinese immigrant voters -- and by the way, the Asian Americans in the national capital region are mostly immigrants. So the issues they care about tend to be more bread and butter issues about education, about economy, because that was mostly why people like us came here, for opportunities. As opposed to the reliable Democratic voters in the primary, who tend to move beyond that and look at some value issues.
QISo I have heard a lot about transportation concerns, about economic security concerns, about education opportunities. How to make sure Maryland and Montgomery County stay competitive to continue to expand opportunities. And some of the equity issues as well depending on who you talk to. But the Chinese community, especially, as well as the larger Asian American community, in Montgomery County by and large is highly educated.
QIThey tend to get very analytical about things. And they also tend to get skeptical about certain policies that might sound too good to be true in their minds because they know why they came here. So we have heard -- my team and I have heard of a broad range of issues. But most of them as I said are, you know, those basic community concerns related to education, economy, and access to opportunities in competiveness.
GAINESWell, back to just your election victory. So you won election on the same night that many other Emerge Maryland alumni won elections. So I was wondering, Emerge has trained 103 women in the state -- Democratic women since 2012. Ten of -- eleven women won election to the general assembly on the same night as you. Ten of them were first time candidates. What do you think makes that program successful? You're a graduate.
QIYes. Thank you for asking this question. I'm very grateful for Emerge Maryland's training. That really not only prepared us, but pushed us to jumping and to run. I think what was effective was this peer support that gave us this pressure to actually jumping to run. That was important, because even after the tactical training you still have to have the courage to run. So that encouragement was really important.
QIAnd also just to be able to reach out to other friends, ladies, who say, you know, "This is what I have been through. You don't have to be afraid of this." You know, that was important. And also just the technicality of how to run a campaign and how to use social media, you know, even what to wear, you know, appearances, how to deliver your soundbites and all that, get to the point and all of that training was very helpful.
NNAMDIYou have been placed on the economic matters committee.
NNAMDIWhere do you think Maryland is getting economic development right and where do you think it could improve?
QIWow. That's a weighty question, but it's a great question.
NNAMDIFor somebody who hasn't started the job yet.
QIYeah, that's right, exactly. Well, I do have some strong opinions when it comes to economic matters. I think what Maryland gets right is we have been a great magnet in our educational system, in our ability to attract the talent. We are actually one of the top states in the country in terms of our innovation assets and our ability to leverage global talent.
QIAnd in recent years especially we have been improving our game in economic competitiveness. We're -- and especially in Montgomery County we have invested a lot in infrastructure improvements in place making, in smart growth, etcetera. We have had great success on many fronts. Where we could improve is to continue to work on the perception that we're not as business friendly as we need to be, that we tend to be a nanny state that overregulate, that we continue to send conflicting messages sometimes about how welcoming we are to businesses.
QIAnd I think we have some work to do. I think it's important for legislators at the state level to be aligned at the county level, you know, where I used to work to make sure we are very serious about growing our economy by looking outward and forward. And not just looking at how we can re-slice the pies in many different ways, because that in it of itself is not enough.
NNAMDIWell, you used to work for Ike Leggett as Montgomery County Executive. And one of the challenges that the incoming -- the current county executive, Mark Elrich has faced is accusations that he is not as business friendly as he should be. He has fought against those challenges, but what do you think about Mark Elrich and business development in Montgomery County?
QIWell, I think Mark has some challenges, and I applaud him for making it very clear in his inaugural speech that he is going to benchmark. One is that he is going to reform the county government to make sure it's much more collaborative and responsive to community needs, and that's sorely needed. I also believe that. And I encouraged him and his team to look a deeper cultural change, so that we adopt a healthy mindset in looking at businesses and job creators.
QII also think, you know, Mark was right in making it clear that he wants to benchmark the Montgomery County's business regulation against the other in a capital region especially. And I think it's about time to do that. Not every county executive can finish everything they started. I think County Executive Leggett made tremendous strides, especially in place making, infrastructure improvements, and in pushing for innovation commercialization, etcetera, and workforce development. But County Executive Elrich needs to continue that.
QIHe's no longer the councilmember. If you are one of nine, it's a different game than if you are the top elected official.
GAINESOne of the major issues that your committee has faced in the last couple of years in Annapolis is the issue of alcohol regulation in the state. The Economic Matters Committee has butted heads with Comptroller Peter Franchot, who would like to see things freed up and a lot more support for, you know, the craft breweries for instance and getting rid of the state control of liquor in Montgomery County. What are your thoughts on alcohol regulation and how it should change?
QIWell, I think for especially the Capital region jurisdictions, like, Montgomery County and Prince George's County. It is beyond time that we act more like the cities. That includes vibrant night time economy. That includes connectivity. That includes just an overall vitality. And a craft brewery not only is great in place making, but it is also is a manufacturing kind of industry. It is not retail business. We brand it -- it's categorized actually as a manufacturing business.
QIThey create the kind of sense of place for communities. And that's why Montgomery county, especially under leadership of former Council President Hans Riemer, has been encouraging the growth of that industry, which I think is a great emergent industry. In fact, just the past year, County Council passed legislation to expand our move program, which initially was only for office market to also include craft brewery.
QISo that the production part would qualify so that we can attract more breweries to downtown places. And I personally would encourage the growth of that. But we have to look at ramifications of where we have that that would make sense and what kind of economic impact in a place making value it actually offers. I know there is a lot of discussion about privatization. And I think some reform is needed. I will keep an open mind in working with other legislators to figure out the best way to move forward.
NNAMDIAnother issue that will be in front of the general assembly is the tobacco sales ban for people under the age of 21, a move that the District of Columbia already made. Do you think this makes sense?
QII think it does.
NNAMDIWell, that was precise. (laugh) You've pointed out that although one in three Montgomery County public school students receive free and reduced price lunches.
NNAMDIQuoting here, "We continue to operate under the assumption that our demographics are the same as generations ago." How do you think that changing demographics of Montgomery County should affect how the county and the state approach education?
QIWell, education is our top branding attracting people and business. So education is always the top priority for any legislators. I think on the education front we need to look at both -- not just the middle part, but also the beginning and the end. What I mean by that is the early childhood education. We need to continue to push for making early childhood education more affordable and accessible to families. And also we need to look at how to be more career ready not just college ready, especially for high performing counties like at Montgomery County.
QIWe have culturally been programed to push our kids to go to college, but in this new economy, in this gig economy there are so many opportunities, middle wage, middle skill jobs that are not being filled. So I hope we can adopt a new way of thinking and an approach to look at education so that we can really connect our talent pipeline with the demands of the market and the growing industries.
GAINESWhen you talk about changing demographics of Montgomery County there are a group of high school students that are actually advocating for a county wide redistricting to create student bodies that are more diverse. What do you think about that push?
QII support diversifying student body, but it depends on how we do that. I know there have been some concerns from some parents about the different tactics that the MCPS system has been using in bussing students around. And I think part of it is engaging the community to make sure the parents are on board and understand what real value they offer in the educational process. I believe in the value of a diversified student body whether it's in MCPS -- whether it's in K through 12 stage or in higher education.
NNAMDIYou are the parent of a Montgomery County public school graduate.
NNAMDIThe future of school funding in Maryland is an open question as the Kirwan Commission's recommendations have been delayed once again. What do you think the county needs in terms of funding and support from the state and the lead up to discussions over school funding in this coming legislative session?
QIYeah, I know the Kirwan Commission spent two years and it did a tremendous amount of work in coming up with two kind of mandates. One is to come up with a funding formula and the other is to come up with a set of strategies to make sure that Maryland has a world class, not a mediocre educational system that is equitable for all communities.
QINow the challenge for the state legislature is to figure out how to fund some of these great recommendations and how to implement them. And also how to figure out how much the counties need to pay versus how much the state needs to pay. And I think, you know, Montgomery County has been great in funding education overall. Of course, it's never going to be enough, because of the community needs and the population make-up. But Montgomery County has been very dedicated in making sure that we have world class education for all students.
QII think going forward as a state legislator, my job along with everybody else's job from Montgomery County delegation is to make sure that our colleagues from other parts of Maryland understand this dynamic that you mentioned earlier, which is one in three child in our wealthiest county system is on free and reduced meals program. And on top of that, you know, we have the fastest growing ESL population in our MCPS and we want to make sure we have a fair share of educational resources and the funding.
NNAMDIOur guest is Lily Qi. She's a Delegate Elect representing Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates. Our guest analyst today is Danielle Gaines. She's a reporter for Maryland Matters. Danielle.
GAINESHello. Oh, I get to ask a question? (laugh) Well, I'm wondering what your thoughts are on transportation. There's this, you know, big project that Governor Hogan is proposing that would radically change I-270 and the Beltway and the way that they operate. What do you think is the best solution for that?
QIWell, I adopt all of the above kind of solutions. I am a fan of public transit. I grew up in Shanghai. I think public transit is the way to go to provide not just transportation equity, but social equity as well for a lot of people who rely on public transportation. But public transit has its limit in where the density can occur to justify funding.
QIFor the district that I represent, District 15, we probably have people who have to commute the longest distance to work, because it's most fairly suburban and quite rural at our district. So we need to look at improving I-270. It should not be off the table. And I-270 was built two generations ago. Since then the population has literally doubled in Montgomery County alone. But it doesn't have to be the HOV lane as the only option. We can look at different ways of improving I-270 including interchanges at different choke holds.
QIIncluding, for example, reversible lanes that the County Council thought was a great idea and had been pushing for. The state needs to come up with enabling legislation and MDOT needs to support that in order for that to happen.
GAINESDo you think that tolls are the answer?
QIWell, I don't want to say tolls should not be considered, because we already have infrastructure built like ICC where people pay to move along. And if you need it, it's there for you, you know. It's never crowded and by design. So I think the tolls could be an option. But I haven't looked at it in detail at the governor's proposal. And I'm looking forward to the MDOT study to understand the economic impact and what it actually could mean when you add two tolls lanes.
NNAMDIPut on your headphones, please, because we're about to speak with Ian in Prince William County, Virginia. Ian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IANHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a child welfare advocate in Virginia, who works with the general assembly here to support child welfare and child protection legislation. And I wondered if the delegate could speak to your assessment of child protection needs in your state and are you aware of bills being filed to strengthen the system of response and child abuse investigations? And what do you see as your state's strengths and your state's need?
QIOkay. Thank you for the call. I have to say that I have not looked at that set of issues at this point. But I'm more than happy to take your question and to study that. I am a new legislator. There is so much more to learn on many fronts. And I appreciate your call.
NNAMDIIan, thank you very much for your call. On to Nan in Silver Spring, Maryland. Nan, your turn.
NANHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I want to urge our new legislator, whom I congratulate on her election.
NANTo try to move the study of the transportation options concerning the Beltway and 270 more towards a 21st Century solution involving greater public transport rather than widening, which has been proven over -- you know, after three years, it will fill up again. And it's so not a 21st Century solution. It's not green. It's not smart. And it will disrupt a lot of lives in this county. Thanks for listening.
QIThank you. I agree. I think public transit should be a first priority and I also mentioned that the reversible lanes should be something that we should look at.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Joanna, who says, in local work on behalf of immigrants in Montgomery County who are not documented or who are at risk of losing their lawful status, I have been saddened by the strong feelings of intolerance towards this community that I have seen from the Chinese immigrant community. Can you address this issue and what, if anything, you could do in your leadership position to help the Chinese immigrant -- to help your Chinese immigrant constituents work as allies with these other immigrant groups, so that both communities can benefit from each other's strengths and contributions?
QIThank you for the question. I know this was a controversial issue that was reported by several media. I have to say that we need to differentiate the larger community sentiment toward immigration with a group of people who spoke out. Just because a group of people organize themselves to speak out, that does not mean everybody in the Chinese community thinks the same. And also, just because one group spoke out against the one particular bill does not mean our community in general is anti-immigration, or is not welcoming to our communities.
QII, for one, using my campaign's experience, have been educating our community about the importance that, as a very small subset of minorities in this country, we have to engage with other communities. We have to collaborate, we have to support each other. And that was part of the reason. Many people are Democrats, and they voted in the Democratic primary, because we understand, this is not in China. This is United States. We have to work with many other communities in order to succeed together.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time, but House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, another Montgomery County Democrat, has said that she urges new lawmakers to introduce a bill in their first session. Have you thought about whether you're going to do that? And do you intend to do that?
QII have considered several possibilities. So, are you saying that Delegate Dumais, or just lawmakers...
NNAMDINew lawmakers to introduce a bill in their first sessions, that she wants you to...
QIOh, oh, yes.
GAINESI think orientation...
NNAMDI...hit the ground running.
GAINES...yeah, orientation said -- she said, you know, you learn by doing.
QIRight, right, right. I have considered several ideas, one of which is, for example, an SBIR matching grant. I feel strongly that the Maryland and Montgomery County's flagship industry, the biotech, bio-health industry, which is a 21st century industry, needs to be nurtured so that we can be among the top three jurisdictions, as our goal. And Montgomery County already had legislation, had the supplemental funding to create a matching fund for those companies, early-stage biomedical companies that have qualified through NIH SBIR grant, which is Small Business Innovation Research grant.
QII think it's time for us to compete with other states by creating a state-level matching fund, so that we can attract those executive teams, early-stage companies to Montgomery County and to Maryland.
NNAMDILily Qi is the Delegate-Elect representing Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates. Once again, congratulations and good luck to you.
QIThank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIUp next is Charles Allen. He's a member of the DC Council, representing Ward 6. Our guest analyst today is Danielle Gaines. She is a reporter for Maryland Matters. And Danielle, one of the consequences of the partial shutdown of the federal government that people may not have expected, is that people have not been able to get marriage licenses in DC, nor have they been able to get married at DC Superior Court. We recently did a popup of DC Superior Court and witnessed a wedding taking place there. We couldn't be doing it during this shutdown.
NNAMDIBut DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's apparently going to put forth more emergency legislation to establish the authority to issue marriage licenses during this shutdown. People, I guess, will run over to Maryland to get married (laugh) .
GAINESI guess so. I was a courthouse reporter in Maryland for many years, and the highlight, always, for a dreary day was seeing a wedding take place in the courthouse. Yeah, that's legislation that, I think, is going to come before the DC City Council next week, and it would actually allow her office to kind of issue those licenses so that people can get married.
GAINESThere is this rule that, I think, is not really enforced in DC law that says if you get married without a license or you don't turn in a license within a certain period of time, you can receive a small fine, $50 or something, I think.
NNAMDIDC Councilmember representing Ward 6, Charles Allen, joins us in studio. Councilmember Allen, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
CHARLES ALLENThanks for having me, and I've come straight from the Hill, where our Congresswoman was reintroducing legislation with a record number of cosponsors for statehood. And we talked exactly about this issue, as well, that the federal government shutting down, besides the fact they should just be able to figure out how to keep their lights on, shouldn't impact District lives. And we'll figure this out with the courts, but I would argue actually the fact that our local courts are being essentially shutdown because of federal government is just one more example of the disenfranchisement that we face, and that we've got one more reason why statehood should be our goal, so that we have that self-determination that we all deserve.
NNAMDISpeaking of that disenfranchisement, the press conference that you are arriving here from was addressing the issue of voting rights and stated for the District. Give us an update. What's going on?
ALLENWell, I'm really grateful for the leadership from Congresswoman Norton. She's got a record number of cosponsors which, I think, is years’ worth of hard work to get more and more of the national lawmakers, in particular the Democrats, to put their names on this bill. And it's building itself more and more into just the platform of Democracy. I mean...
NNAMDIIs it a bill for statehood?
ALLENIt is a bill for statehood, yes.
ALLENAnd Congresswoman -- Congressman Cummings has promised that he's going to hold a hearing.
NNAMDIElijah Cummings, of Maryland.
ALLENExactly. That he's going to hold a hearing, and committed to a markup. Speaker Pelosi put out a press release today, as well, signaling her support. So, I'm very optimistic for what we can do in the House. I think that we still, of course, have a lot of work to do in the Senate, because we've got to get to 60 votes on that. And then there's this other small impediment at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but, you know, there's an election in two years. So, we'll see what happens.
NNAMDIThe federal government is, of course, partially shut down. DC is being hit particularly hard. Our Department of Public Works is picking up trash at national parks throughout the District. How does the District decide to do something like that, and will the taxpayers, or will DC get paid back by the federal government for this?
ALLENWe will, eventually. The -- you know, if you remember a couple of years ago, when the federal government couldn't get their act together, the District government would shut down. And I think it was Vince Gray, when he was mayor, just declared everybody was essential, and we just kind of dared him and said, we're not going to do this. And then, frankly, it was with Congresswoman Norton's efforts, they actually wrote it into the appropriations budget. They made sure that DC government, regardless of what happens with folks up on the Hill, we keep running. And, you know, we're picking up the trash right now. You know, we're going to pitch in and do that, because this is our city. I mean, we're going to take care of it.
ALLENWe just wish the federal government could figure this out. They need to open up -- I've got thousands of constituents who are furloughed and out of work right now or they're working without a paycheck. It's just irresponsible, what they're doing, and just this gamesmanship over a needless wall. Let's get government working. Let's work on immigration reform and have the adults in the room show up.
NNAMDIAs a small thank-you for picking up the trash, they should give a statehood with this (laugh). Danielle, it's your turn.
GAINESI know Maryland allows unemployment claims for federal government workers who aren't being paid. And hundreds of people have applied already. Does DC do the same?
ALLENI don't know if we've hit that point yet, because I think the first paycheck miss will be...
GAINES...in a couple of weeks.
ALLEN...in a couple of days. In a couple days, next week.
ALLENAnd so, we'll have to figure that out from then. My hope is they'll certainly have it over with by that point. If we need to, at the end of the day, again, we want to take care of our residents. And so whether that means pitching in to pick up the trash at the parks, or whether making sure that we're looking after unemployment, making sure folks have the benefits they need, we'll take a look at that. I don't know off the top of my head exactly how that unemployment would work, but we'll certainly make sure that our folks are taken care of.
GAINESAnd for the record, Maryland makes them pay it back (laugh) if they get paid.
NNAMDIOur guest is Charles Allen. He's a member of the DC Council representing Ward 6. He is also the chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on the council. Charles Allen, last week was a violent one in the District, and the homicide rate is up around 40 percent from what it was in 2017. What do you think is going on? Why did we see this kind of increase in homicides in the past year?
ALLENYeah, you know, it's incredibly tragic, and I would say every single life that is lost is equally tragic. So, you know, we've got just heart-wrenching stories like Makiyah Wilson and others, who -- gunned down, and their lives have ended. There's a tragedy for them, obviously for their families but really, for their entire communities that circle out from them and from those lives. It's unacceptable, and certainly as the Legislative Branch, my job is to make sure we're having the oversight and funding and making sure that we're pushing where we need to hold our agencies accountable for developing the strategies.
ALLENBut I'd argue that we also have to do a much better job, as a city, of trying to understand what it means for the violence to take place. What I mean by that is that violent crime didn't just come out of nowhere. You'll hear buzzwords like, you know, we have to think about this from a public health approach, but I think we really have to drill down in a deeper way. Because if many of the homicides, as we're hearing, are really from pay disputes between two people that turn violent, there's no amount of just flooding police into a neighborhood that is going to solve if two individuals in their living room are going to be having a fight or an argument, that then one decides to end that with a gun.
ALLENWe've got to make sure that we are getting at root causes of violence, and that means taking a public health approach to look at the transmission of that violence. I mentioned Makiyah Wilson. Think about the experience that every other person on that playground experienced that day, as bullets were flying through the air. A young girl shot and killed, dead. The violence that each one of those people now take from that incident has its own impacts that will be deeply lasting within their own lives and their community. And it is those efforts, I think, where we've got to do a stronger job. I think we need to double down on the type of violence interruption work that we're doing.
ALLENWe're putting a couple million dollars into the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and secure violence models with the attorney general. I'm looking to see how do we dramatically increase the funding and supports that go into that. We say all the time things like, you know, police can't do this alone. Well, the way we've been operating is essentially only with police. We've got to get ahead of this by trying to stop the violence before it takes place, before that trigger gets pulled, before that argument even gets to where it is that someone decides to settle it with a gun or a knife.
ALLENAnd that's where, I think, we have so much more work to do, and that's part of what, as the chair of the committee on this, I'm going to be looking for the mayor's budget to come down with substantially more resources and intention around that violence interruption work. And if it's not there, then I'm going to be looking to find places to find more money and more resources to put into these efforts.
NNAMDIIt seems that much of the gun violence is concentrated in certain parts of the city, mostly east of the river, with a lot of young people there losing their lives. So, when you talk about the mayor targeting violence interruption, are you also saying that you've got to look at specific parts of the city and fund those efforts adequately?
ALLENWell, you've got to have the type of effort where someone has credibility on the street. So, what I mean by that is you've got to make sure that when we're investing these programs -- we've got, for example, with the cure violence model that we're trying to work on with the attorney general's office, it's two relatively small pilot programs, one neighborhood in Ward 5, one neighborhood in Ward 8. It is barely scratching the surface.
ALLENThey're doing good work, no doubt, but they hire individuals from and within a community who have credibility on the street who are able to relate to individuals, both in their own life experience, as well as their relationships with those individuals. And they can make a quantifiable difference in being able to anticipate violence, know when it's coming.
ALLENIt's too late if we're having to look to say, did that shooting that already took place, is that going to contribute with a retaliatory shooting of some type? We should be in front of it and have the type of system that gets built to get in front of it in the first place and know when an argument or a conflict is building before that crescendo and before that trigger gets pulled. That's the type of effective community violence prevention work that we've got to keep moving toward.
GAINESHow much money do you think should be put towards those kinds of efforts? What do you think is a realistic number?
ALLENWell, right now, if you add all of it up, we put about $5 million a year into this, and that's relatively small. The thing about our police department, it's $500 million. Now, by no means, am I saying we don't need to have strong, effective policing. We certainly do, but we need to invest, at the same time. And I would love to see us figure out how can we double that? How can we get from five to 10? That would double the impact, I think, in terms of the ability for communities to be significantly and dramatically improved.
ALLENBut I'd also add one other component to this. If we don’t address the mental health and behavioral health aspects of this, again, violent crime didn't come out of nowhere. There are plenty of examples where there are individuals who have touched our criminal justice system or our mental health and behavioral health system, and we have not intervened in a way that stopped that.
ALLENI'll use another example. Think of the shooting that took place in a grocery store on H Street. There's a guy named Michael Whatley who came in with attempted robbery and shot one of the workers there. An inch or two to the left, we would not be talking about a shooting. We'd be talking about a homicide. When we look back through his story, you see someone who has had multiple interactions with the criminal justice system, with the mental health and behavioral health system.
ALLENHe is going to have to, and should, have the consequences for his actions on that day. But when we do the deep dive, we will also find that there is no system, that there were multiple touchpoints, and we did not intervene in a way that could've stopped that from ever happening. He put hundreds of lives at risk, or at least significantly traumatized at that grocery store. When the police were coming to arrest him, he was in a closet, with a gun. I think he was on Facebook live, or something like that. All those officers' lives were at risk, as they were now trying to apprehend this individual.
ALLENThe number of lives impacted by his decision that day, he's going to have to face consequences for that decision, but we should also be able to hold the mirror up and look and say, why have we failed to build the type of system that recognizes the mental health and behavioral health aspects of this that get to the root causes of violence? That's where...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Indeed, when we went to DC Superior Court, we heard from people in the media, we heard from judges, we heard from judges, we heard from people who have also worked in courtrooms there that way too many of the cases that are coming before them should have been dealt with first in our mental health care system before they got to the level...
ALLEN(overlapping) I think you're assuming there's a system that exists. I think that we don't have much of a system. That, to me, is where -- you know, I come at this job as chair of the committee with a public health background. So, I'm not an attorney. I'm not somebody who spent a career in law enforcement. I'm somebody who comes at it with a public health degree. So, part of what I want to do is I think I have an ability to bring a vision that's a little bit different, of how do we work on safe and just neighborhoods, but how do we start building the bridges between our mental health and behavioral health.
ALLENI've had some great conversations with Vince Gray, who chairs the Health Committee about this. How do we build this in a way that we can actually have it work and start delivering on what it is that we're all talking about. Again, you'll hear the buzzwords and the catch phrases over and over again but it's time for us to really get to work on how we build a system that will actually work and keep our neighborhoods and all of our residents safe.
NNAMDIThe ACLU of DC tweets in: 100 percent agree with Councilmember Allen that we need to drill down and work to address root causes of violence and how we can prevent violence from happening in the first place. To which Black Lives Matter DC responded: absolutely. You mentioned Vince Gray and the Committee on Health. Before the end of the year, there were heated debates over the plans for a new hospital. What is the current status of those plans?
ALLENWell, the Council passed legislation at the end of our session in December, so I think -- I'm not sure if I can use any different health analogies as possible -- it's still on life support. It's moving forward. I think that we've got a operator that is still very interested in doing this. We've allocated and budgeted the dollars to help build a new hospital. I think it's critically important that we improve our health system on the eastern half of the city.
ALLENYou know, Ward 6 represents -- I'm right up to the edge of the river. And when I talk to neighbors, for example, in southeast and southwest, oftentimes, if we had the type of quality healthcare that, I think, all residents deserve on the other side of the river, that's actually closer for many Ward 6 residents than it is to drive across town to GW, or somewhere. So, I think, not only because I believe it's the right thing for our city, but I think I have an interest as the Ward 6 Councilmember. I want to see something that's going to deliver better quality care.
ALLENAnd you just think about the inequity that we talk about in our city, whether you want to focus on education, whether you want to talk about what we were just talking about, neighborhood violence, or in health. We have a duty to do a much better job around our health equity. You know, another intersection of where we try to take our committee is maternal health, maternal mortality. And it's an area where -- because I have over sighted the chief medical examiner -- we're trying to create in which I passed legislation to create a maternal mortality review committee for the first time ever, for us to take a deeper look. Use data, use evidence to help inform us around the policy decisions we make, the budget decisions we make to help save lives.
ALLENWe have a disproportionate impact between black women and white women around what the health outcomes are in maternal health, and it's unacceptable. And I think that we've got a real opportunity in front of us to make great strides in that.
GAINESI think Maryland's passed a maternal mortality review committee. Have you dipped into their work? Do you know what they found? I think they have a report due this year.
ALLENThe idea behind it is there'll be kind of the annual reports, where they do an annual review of each maternal death, essentially. And it lays out recommendations. We heard from experts from Maryland. We have folks who had been involved with New York's effort, where they also see a huge disparity in New York City, in particular, and really got valuable insight about how to craft a maternal mortality review committee that is going to take a deep look at and intentionally look at that inequity, intentionally look at the disparity.
ALLENBecause if we don't look at it intentionally, then it's just going to kind of float behind the surface. We've got to be right up front with it and that's how, I think, it'll then better inform decisions that we make on the Council and then working with the mayor to try to reverse those and make sure that we're helping -- frankly, I don't want a single mom to die. I mean, how do we make sure that there is no maternal death?
NNAMDIWard 6 includes the site of the old football stadium. You have challenged the plan to bring Washington's football team back to the District, saying, quoting here, "Helping a billionaire build a new NFL stadium I just think is a bad idea." What would you like to see happen at that old RFK site?
ALLENWell, I think the experience you'll see from around the country is that building an NFL stadium is a boondoggle and is a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, but it's also a really bad use of land. I mean, we have a great opportunity right next to the Anacostia River where we could extend our city. We talk about solving affordable housing. That means we need to build more housing.
ALLENAnd so one of the things that we have in front of us is an opportunity to build more housing, continue the neighborhoods from Oklahoma Avenue and 19th Street, all the way down to the river's edge. And Kingman Park and Hill East, I think, have an opportunity to extend single family housing, higher density housing. You've got transit right there. We could build retail. I'd argue you'd probably get more economic development and bang for your buck with a new grocery store than you would an NFL stadium.
ALLENThese things don't create economic opportunity. They get eight games a year played, maybe a handful of concerts, and they're over a billion dollars to build. And not to mention all the parking lots they come with. It's just a really bad use of space. It's a bad use of tax dollars, and we could do so much more with a better vision around housing, new jobs being created with retail, new parks and green spaces. And then bring the river back into our community, into our city.
NNAMDIEight games a year, because the team rarely makes the playoffs (laugh). But Polly has an idea for you. Polly emailed: we, in Ward 6, have been waiting for a park. What is happening in this area?
ALLENWell, I am very glad about one thing that's happening at RFK, and that is that I've spend about six years now working toward this. We are ripping up the asphalt parking lots on the northern side of this -- so this is basically from Benning Road South -- and we are replacing that now with new fields and green space. It is going to be athletic fields, multi-sports, so that it can be adaptable. There's a farmers market there, so we're actually going to be making it a bit more permanent, with kind of a market shed, essentially, to kind of give it a more sense of permanency.
ALLENFor the first time, there will be restrooms that exist, which will be something I know every parent would like to see out there. And it really creates a great opportunity to re-envision the space, create more green space and park space. Whether it's a youth league or an adult league, we are desperate for more green space and park space in our city, and this is a great opportunity for that.
NNAMDIThere you go, Polly. The Council passed a red flag gun bill, requiring police to seize weapons from people deemed a danger to themselves or to others. The bill has faced some pushback, including from the Public Defender Service, which said it would allow police to seize guns without giving proper notice or without having a court hearing. How do you respond to that criticism, and do think this is the right approach to tackling -- the one right approach to tackling gun violence in the District?
ALLENWell, I'm very proud of the law, and I think it is one of. It's certainly not going to be the only thing, but it one item that, I think, is going to have an impact. And so what it does, is it allows an individual -- in particular perhaps a family member, or someone who's close to you -- and they know that you have a firearm, and you have expressed an interest in either doing self-harm or harm to others. And you can always -- today, you could call the police and give a tip, and they can come in and try to remove that firearm.
ALLENBut this gives another way where people can come through the courts and be able to have a very quick action that is taken, and then have a civil order, essentially, that allows the police to come in and remove that firearm before you do harm to yourself or to others. I think it's going to be one more tool in the toolbox at helping getting a gun out of the hands of someone who's expressed harm, again, an interest to do harm, either for themselves or for others, but to also do so in a way that gives loved ones, family members, those that are close to them an opportunity to take an action.
ALLENWhat we oftentimes see is that an individual, especially a family member, may not want to actually make that tip, make that phone call to say someone's got an illegal firearm, because they know there are criminal consequences that are coming with that illegal firearm. And one of the novel things that this legislation does is it grants -- in a very limited scope, and for a very, very narrow opportunity for this protection order -- immunity, so that the family member knows, I need to get that gun out of son, daughter, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend's hands. But I don't want them to have to go to jail for it, and that may be the reason why they don't call in the first place. And so, now we have...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, apparently, both Mayor Bowser and the police chief and the US attorney opposed that immunity provision. What do you think is going to happen there?
ALLENWell, this will be one of those areas where we have a bit of disagreement. I think that you'll also hear, though, from, for example, many of the domestic violence survivors organizations that have talked in strong support of this. Because they understand the reality, that we are going to have instances where someone is afraid to make the phone call, is afraid to give that tip, is afraid to take that action that's going to save the life of that individual or others. But if they know that that person's not going to face the criminal consequence for just the possession, they'll make the phone call.
ALLENNow, please remember that immunity does not exist if you commit a crime with that gun, if you have made direct threats. There's plenty of ways in which that immunity does not carry. But for the possession, it will grant that limited narrow immunity. And I think it will have an impact, and I think it will save lives.
NNAMDIIf you have a 10-second question, we only have about less than a minute left.
GAINESThat bill was passed, I think, at the same time as a ban on bump stocks.
GAINESHave there been community meetings? Have you heard from the community other ways that they think gun violence could be curbed?
NNAMDIYou have about 25 seconds.
ALLENWell, the other piece of this legislation also actually extended penalties for extended clips. So, for -- we went from one year to three years for an individual who has an extended clip, because we were seeing that there was increased lethality by more bullets flying through the air. So, the bill takes a comprehensive approach, but I'll bring it back to where we started, which was violence prevention. That's where I hear more voices in the community saying, we want effective policing. We want to have partners with our policing, but we also want to have us focus on preventing and interrupting violence before it takes place.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Charles Allen is a member of the DC Council. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. A quick note about our programming, I'm happy to announce that transcripts of the Kojo Nnamdi Show will now be available on our website. Go to KojoShow.org, and you'll find them under the transcript link on each show space. They'll be posted by 8:00 p.m. daily. Thanks to our audience for your input on making our show more accessible. Coming up Monday, we'll look at obscure government agencies that are affected by the federal shutdown and explore the role of grade inflation at local schools. That all starts Monday, at noon. Danielle Gaines, thank you. Charles Allen, thank you. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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