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It was only last Friday that a racist photo from Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook surfaced. Since then, Virginia’s top three political leaders have become embroiled in scandal, as a professor in California accused the lieutenant governor of sexual assault and the attorney general apologized for wearing blackface in 1980.
We’ll discuss the latest news and the potential fallout in Virginia’s top ranks.
Plus, D.C.’s chief of police sits down with Tom and Kojo to discuss the 40 percent increase in homicides this year, and what the department is doing to address it.
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 and Julie Depenbrock
- Toni-Michelle Travis Editor, The Almanac of Virginia Politics; Professor of Political Science, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University
- Peter Newsham Chief of Police, Metropolitan Police Department (Washington, DC); @ChiefNewsham
- Jordan Pascale Transportation Reporter, WAMU; @JWPascale
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to the politics hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with the chief of police or the Metropolitan police department of the District of Columbia, Peter Newsham. But of course first we'll be talking about Virginia. So if you have any opinion or question of comment about the latest events in Virginia over the past week or so you can start calling now.
NNAMDIBriefly first Tom Sherwood let's talk Maryland. It seems that the ever popular Maryland governor Larry Hogan is running into some problems challenging his initiatives both in the House and in the Senate. In the House it has to do with giving counties power, the veto the governor's plan to toll the beltway and I-270. That proposal in the House would essentially give counties the power to veto state toll projects. That reporting in from Luz Lazo, in the Washington Post.
NNAMDIOn the Senate side it is well known that the governor does not like starting school before Labor Day and had a mandate not to do that, but on the Senate side they're voting along party lines to preliminary approve a bill that allows local school districts to set their own calendars. And the Governor in response to that said, heck I'll call for a referendum, because I'm popular Larry Hogan.
SHERWOODWell, Hogan is no doubt popular, but I'm not sure, you know, starting school after Labor Day is necessarily that popular. But you know Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters has also written about the transportation issue. The Senate and the House for to pass this law, it's in affect in other parts of the state. It's not something unusual. But if Montgomery County or Prince George's County, Howard or any of these local counties have the chance to overrule major highway projects like Governor Hogan's nine billion dollar project coming -- what if Montgomery County says yes and Prince George's says no the highway state secretary, Pete Rahn, said it's a recipe for dysfunction.
SHERWOODYou know, so but it just tells you how controversial adding lanes to 270 and the 495, toll lanes, roads that people have already thought they had already paid for through gas taxes, are now having to pay. So that's really a mess. But as for schools I don't doubt that Governor Hogan could get a referendum up pretty quickly whatever the law allows. I'm not so sure people like going back to school necessarily after Labor Day.
NNAMDIBecause not necessarily everybody is running to Ocean City for Labor Day weekend.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) No, and it's called the Ocean City, you know, Staff Bill. But you know, it's an important issue. Some people are saying children should be going to school all year round not just after Labor Day.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio is Toni-Michelle Travis. She's the Editor of The Almanac of Virginia Politics. She's a professor of political science in the Shar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Toni-Michelle, good to see you again.
TONI-MICHELLE TRAVISThank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone is Jordan Pascale. He's a transportation reporter with WAMU 88.5. Jordan, thank you for joining us.
JORDAN PASCALEHey, Kojo.
NNAMDIJordan, you've spent the last few days in Richmond where we have the governor, the attorney general and the senate majority leader all caught up in scandals having to do with blackface, and the lieutenant governor in a scandal having to do with sexual assault. How has that affected the mood there in Richmond over the past week?
PASCALEYeah, well I covered the general assembly the past two years and this week's been really, really different. It's been heavy and emotional. The democrats are really kind of at a loss at this point, because, I mean, you've got those three major scandals to hit you in less than a week. You know, that's just a lot of weight for people. And because of that, you know, I think a lot of people are just sort of in shock right now. Even the folks that, you know, I've known for a couple of years aren't willing to talk on the record just because stuff's moving fast and they don't really know what to say.
PASCALEAnd you've got 40, 50 news outlets clogging the hall from all over the country. So, there's a lot of upheaval. The radio activities are different. There's an annual house and senate basketball game that raises money for charity and Northam and Fairfax played in it last year. Northam played in it for years and neither were there. So, a lot of attention, and I think a lot of lawmakers are, you know, kind of ready to go back for the weekend to their home districts and kind of process what's happened this week.
SHERWOODJordan, Tom Sherwood, you covered the legislature for the Norfolka? What news organization was it?
PASCALEYes, I covered the general assembly for the Virginia Pilot which is down in Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Virginia Beach area.
SHERWOODRight. You know, we have haven't heard from the governor for a while. The attorney general Mark Herring put out that strong statement where he had apologized for what he had done. There is some suggestion that there is unity in numbers and everyone thought the governor was going to resign last Saturday. He didn't, and now he's fighting to stay in office and show that this was not, he had nothing to do with that picture. There's some feeling that maybe all three of them will not be leaving office. Is there any sense of that at all, that they may be--
SHERWOODIs all--Everyone's wounded, but no one's going to be fatally have their career ended.
PASCALEYeah, I think that's what a lot of people are talking about in the state house. That it's almost, you know, given people cover, because there's so much to, you know. There's so much that's been uncovered and it seems like something new every day. And so, the attention is, you know, has shifted away from Northam, and you know, we haven't heard from them since Saturday. So, you know, that's five or six days. And so, I think, you know, his camp is just hoping this, you know, maybe blows over and then he can stay in office and, you know, hopefully go out on some sort of redemption tour. I can't imagine that goes over well.
SHERWOODYeah, very quickly, you know, the only thing he's done that's important for people up here in northern Virginia is he signed the legislation for the Amazon funds, the 750 million dollars. And that's--He did it--Normally, that would be a big PR event. He simply signed.
TRAVISI'd like to ask what is being said in Richmond about the timing of all of this in terms of all three statewide officials being in this scandal?
SHERWOODIn the middle of legislature.
PASCALEYeah, exactly. I mean, you know, Northam's been in politics for more than a decade. Herring's been a known quantity. Fairfax is, you know, newer. But I mean these folks have been around, and for all of this to hit at the same time, you know, there's been talks of how this all started. The big abortion debate last week is kind of what, you know, had the Washington Post had reported that, you know, it was a concerned classmate that was upset about that, and you know, gave that tip to a blog. And then, you know, stuff just kind of started to, to crumble from there. So, I think there's definitely some talk of all right, do we just unload everything while people are down? That's kind of been the chatter.
TRAVISAnd so, my concern was, well, who benefits from this if, if you get rid of--If Northam steps down or if all three step down for any reason.
SHERWOODWhether Kirk Cox, the speaker of the house, would become the governor. Certainly--is it better? I would ask the professor that teaches this and racial matters at George Mason. How does the state get out of this, whatever levels of trouble each person is in assuming they all resign? Or maybe they all stay. What does it do to the state?
TRAVISWell, it really hurts the state, because I think a number of people thought we were beyond this. But the problem is I don't think we're teaching enough history, and in this case Virginia history, as to why something like blackface would be totally unacceptable to the African American community. But it was pretty standard at fraternity parties and Halloween parties well into the 80s at many universities in Virginia.
NNAMDIIndeed, these controversies are a reminder of Virginia's racial history, so I guess this wasn't very surprising to you, was it?
TRAVISNo, it wasn't, unfortunately.
NNAMDIYeah, but let's talk about what's going on with the Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, because all of the other three leaders have been accused of or have admitted to wearing blackface and Justin Fairfax's case there's an allegation of sexual assault that has come from one individual. How does that look at this point?
TRAVISWell, what I would question there is why is it that the voice or the statements of one female do not carry enough sway? Why is it we have to have almost a Bill Cosby situation of repeated incidents of this and 20 women have to come forward before anyone thinks it's a real problem? That's, that's a problem of where do you draw the line. Is it repeated behavior or one-time behavior.
SHERWOODThis is in the Me Too movement which has done a, I think, a terrific job of shaking the nation's assumption well it's just a he said, she said-type thing. And certainly even Justin Fairfax after initially responding -- the lieutenant governor put out another statement where he said, “Let's respect the person who's making this allegation against me. I don't in any way want to demean her, but I want to deny everything she says about it.”
SHERWOODAnd the Washington Post did not do an original story, because it said it could not find any corroborating information beyond what the lieutenant governor said and what the woman said, and it only published its story, because Justin Fairfax put out yet another statement, which mischaracterized why the Post didn't report it. And when he did that, it gave them the opportunity to lay out the entire sordid matter. But how do--If it is she says this, he says it didn't happen and there's no other witnesses, do we have to wait for other instances? Do we have to wait? I mean.
TRAVISI don't think so. I mean this is an awful experience for a female to come public with an accusation such as this, and I don’t think any female would take it lightly. I think she, you know, for whatever reasons, decided this was the time to bring it forward.
SHERWOODAnd she did contemporaneously tell other people in her, in her world. This is not something she just kept to herself all these years.
TRAVISRight. This is another California professor, you know, and it's not.
NNAMDIJordan Pascale, I get the impression that in Richmond just about everybody is tiptoeing around the allegation against the lieutenant governor. Am I correct?
PASCALEYeah, it's a little bit of a mixed bag. I mean some of the colleagues in the senate are, you know, reluctant, waiting to hear more before they comment. But the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Virginia's congressional delegation, you know, Kaine, Warner, those folks, they've both called for a thorough investigation by authorities. But you know, no one really said what type of investigation. You know, it's 2004, it happened in Boston. So, I mean, is this a Massachusetts investigation? Is this a private, you know, person hired by the state? There's no real definition of what that next step will be.
NNAMDIWell, let's hear what Delegate Mark Kaine has to say. Delegate Kaine represents the 35th district in Virginia's house of delegates. He joins us by phone. Delegate Kaine, thank you for joining us.
MARK KAINEYeah, thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhat's your take on all of this?
KAINEWell, first of all, it's been a pretty interesting week in Richmond and I am very, very sorry that all of us as Virginians are having to deal with these issues instead of all the really important things that we have been working on. Just about an hour ago, I came out of our house finance committee where we passed a bill that would deal with our tax conformity. As you know, President Trump and the republicans two years ago pushed through a tax cut which really helps benefit the richest people. So, we've tried really hard to make sure that at the state level we can have some balance.
KAINEAnd so, we just passed a bill that does provide some more balance for the lower income folks, but these are conversations that we were hoping to have and engage out public about it. But unfortunately of course everybody's concerned about the political scandals and rightfully so. I understand that people are concerned about the uncertainties, but the reality is the governing has continued and does continue throughout, and in a bipartisan way we are able to work on policy while we, you know, try to do what we can to deal with the political scandals.
SHERWOODYou're not in the Senate. You're in the House of delegates. But what is your view of the Justin Fairfax matter, which is separate from the racial issues involving Tommy Normand and the governor and the attorney general? Do you have a view on what should happen next? If you were advising the lieutenant governor or if you were opposing him, what would you think or say?
KAINESure, Tom. And this is a very, very tough and sensitive issue, and I want to start by saying I believe that anybody who is willing to come forward as a survivor of sexual assault or any kind of situation like that where they are willing to put their personal reputation and private life on the line to get to the truth, I admire that. I respect that, and I believe Dr. Tyson certainly deserves all of our attention and make sure that she has the right opportunity to air all of her concerns.
KAINEAnd so, I want to see and hear more from, obviously, both parties, but in particular I am very sensitive to where Dr. Tyson's coming from and I thank her for being willing to step forward and come forward and present the evidence. It is, as you've just had the conversation, it's somewhat unprecedented, because number one it happened so long ago and it didn't happen in our state, so we don't have the same venues or vehicles by which we can investigate, because this isn't something that we can call the Virginia commonwealth attorney to do. This is something outside the state. Second--
NNAMDIGo ahead. Go ahead. Finish your thought.
KAINEGiven that it is an allegation so far which, if true, could potentially become a criminal matter as opposed to just a, you know, like a personal scandal. This could possibly raise some legal concerns on both sides. We have to be a little bit more careful then. The governor or the attorney general whose allegations, no matter how horrendous it is, it doesn't rise to the level of a criminal or legal matter.
KAINESo, I think we have to at least in our minds keep those two categories separate, that when we're talking about something that might have legal or criminal implications we can't come out and say things without really making sure that we're not impacting the legal process. Whereas with the governor and attorney general, it's a lot easier for us to say, we think it's abhorrent. It's racist, and that's not the kind of behavior we expect from our elected officials.
SHERWOODThis is the politics hour. Let's get to the politics. I talked to Tom Davis, the former northern Virginia republican congressman, seven terms in the house, as he liked to say, seven terms undefeated and unindicted, you know.
SHERWOODBut what does it mean all 140 seats of the legislature are up this fall, the 40 seats in the senate, 100 seats in the house. Politically, how is this going to--I realize you don’t know the end of the scandal, so it's hard to say. But this seems -- it's got to hurt the democratic party, which has been on a roll since two years ago, 2017 and 2018. You won all those seats. What is happening for the elections? And I also ask the professor to answer that too.
KAINEWell, sure, and that's certainly a good question for all of us to be asking, especially people like me who are going to have our names on the ballot in November this year. Obviously, it does have an impact, but we'd like to really think that voters out there are not single issue voters. And certainly voters out there in Virginia are not looking to see where we stand on an issue that's not directly related to what we've been doing in our office. And so, to the extent that the governor or lieutenant governor or attorney general happen to be of my own political party are having personal scandals around them, I mean that is clearly an issue that people will think about and talk about, but does that matter whether your state delegate or your state senator has done a good job or a lousy job over the last two years or four years.
KAINEThat is really what we are putting our names on the ballot for and I'm proud to stand on my personal record. But at the same time, I want to make sure that voters understand what they will get and what they will not get if they have a democratic majority. And as somebody who would like to see our party in the majority, I can tell you that the policies that we care about, the issues that we're fighting for every day in Richmond are the issues that the mainstream of Virginians and the majority of Virginians want us to fight for women's health.
SHERWOODThat sounds like a campaign speech.
NNAMDIHere's Toni-Michelle Travis.
TRAVISOkay. I think what we're going to see, and I would agree with Delegate Kaine that the voters will look at people as individuals when it comes time to vote in November. And if their delegate, their state senator has been doing what they wish with their priorities in terms of the budget and in terms of other issues, they will be returned. I think it might hurt the democratic party, though, the next time we have to select candidates for those three statewide offices, though.
NNAMDILet's talk about a what if situation. What if all of these three top leaders, the governor, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general resign?
TRAVISThen Cox, speaker of the house, ascends.
NNAMDIWhat happens if none of them resigns?
TRAVISI think we're going to continue to be in turmoil, but I think we can have governance and I think the governor can get through the budget and the substantive issues that are under consideration now.
SHERWOODQuentin Kidd, the political professor from Christopher Newport said that one thing you have to keep in mind is that given the speeded-up nature of our world today, he said there could be plenty more scandals between now and the elections in the fall. He wasn't making light of what's happening now. And also there are voters, suburban women voters, which we've talked a lot about in the last few recent elections. You know, I'm not sure if you take an equivocal answer on Justin Fairfax. Well, on the one hand this and the one hand that, I'm not sure you won't pay a price for that.
TRAVISI would agree. It'll be very interesting to see where the women in the legislature now are on this issue and where women voters are in the autumn.
NNAMDIGot to move on to our callers. Delegate Kaine, thank you so much for joining us.
KAINESure, thank you Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIJordan Pascale, thank you for joining us.
PASCALEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIHere now is EW in Washington DC. EW, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
EWYeah. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo. I'd just like to say that, you know, if any of them are true, it's a terrible situation, terrible thing that has happened. But one thing that it does I think is it poisons the electorate. The population is I think kind of fed up with this kind of politics that you go in the past and you grab things and bring them to the future. You want the people to make a decision on it. And the lady who was talking earlier talked about irregardless on what made her bring forth her issue at this time, irregardless of that, I don't know if the public is willing to just forego that.
EWI mean it seems to be somewhat opportunist. I'm not saying he did it or he didn't, but it could've very well been brought out many months ago, many years ago. I understand this happened some time ago. But it just goes to show you where our politics has gone and politics of the future. Because if we're numb to it, there's not going to be concerned about what has happened in the past. Though I'm not a Trump supporter, I think largely that's what overtook his supporters and --
NNAMDIWell, let me ask Toni-Michelle Travis, because the lieutenant governor himself at one point said, You see the timing of this? Do you think that this is coincidental?
TRAVISI don't in any way. That's a traumatic experience for any female to undergo, and it takes years to process it for yourself and to come to some conclusion about it. And I think maybe she just heard about something and it triggered it in her mind and she came forth. She came forth a long time ago with the Washington Post really.
NNAMDIYes, when he was running for lieutenant governor. This incident, just for everyone to know, 2004 in Boston during the democratic convention where it began as a consensual gathering together and then Fairfax became more aggressive in the sexual context. Here's Vivian in Falls Church, Virginia. Vivian, your turn.
VIVIANThank you. I guess I'm one of those suburban white women.
VIVIANI guess I am. I know I am.
SHERWOODJust to be clear, I said suburban women. I didn't say anything about the race.
VIVIANOkay, okay, fine, fine. Anyway, actually I'm not going to speak to that specifically. I make a general statement. No one should resign. I find -- a question for you. Has anyone in the past week come forward to say that Ralph Northam either in the past 35 years or even in 1984 displayed to them any indication in word or deed that he was abusive, prejudicial in any way? His classmates, who have been interviewed, black and white, are mystified by this. It's not facially self-evident that he is in that photograph, but of course one may ask why is it there? What is it about? And there are facts that we don't know. I don't know if we will ever know them, but I don't think action should be taken on the basis of suspicion or somebody --
NNAMDIWell, Mark Herring, there's no suspicion with Mark Herring. He came right out and said I did it.
VIVIANWell, I don't believe that that is a situation that should warrant a resignation.
NNAMDIHow about the situation of Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor?
VIVIANI think that in that case it's a legal matter. She has--I believe she came forward with a very graphic statement on Wednesday, because he said something on Monday. He actually did threaten to sue her or he threw it out there. And he also was so strong on the consensual thing that she got a lawyer and made a statement.
NNAMDIBut you don't think at this point that he should resign yet.
VIVIANNo, I don't think anybody should resign yet. What people may decide to do is up to them, but the frenzy of it, all of it, is poisonous. I think everybody has become, you know, it's just impossible for people to almost even think straight. A lot of--
NNAMDIWe do exist in a somewhat frenzied political environment these days what with the Twitter president that we have. But here's Travis, Toni-Michelle Travis.
TRAVISI think that's a key question in terms of whether that was a continuing pattern of behavior in all three cases. Certainly with Northam, no one else has accused him of anything.
NNAMDIHere now is CK. And thank you for your call, Vivian. CK in Arlington, Virginia. CK, your turn.
CKI think the distinction in the Ford and Tyson cases should be made. Professor Ford at the time the event occurred allegedly with Justice Kavanaugh was when she was 16. The event in terms of Professor Tyson is this is a professional woman, who agreed on here on, in her own statement to go up to his room. And they started kissing and it led from there. I just feel as though this has been thrown in as part of a feeding frenzy.
NNAMDIWhat do you think the lieutenant governor should do?
CKWell, he's going to have to pursue it legally because she has pursued it legally.
SHERWOODWell, they both have legal representation.
SHERWOODYeah, but even if the woman went voluntarily, this is where we get to no means no.
SHERWOODEven if a woman or a man goes to a hotel room with another person and with the understanding with whatever she or he thinks is going to happen.
SHERWOODThe allegation is that Justin Fairfax forced her to do something she did not want to do. It's not a matter of consent.
NNAMDIOkay, thank you very much for your call. Let's get in Steve in Alexandria, Virginia. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
STEVEHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call, long time listener. I'm really troubled by the fact that the consensus seems to be emerging that somehow three crimes is better than none. We're looking at three people doing these things. All of a sudden, they're all going to survive? I mean that just reeks of just politics. If the fourth guy in line was a democrat, these three guys would be gone. But the fourth guy in line's a republican then all of a sudden we're talking about redemption and all these other reasons why these guys should stick around. I think the whole thing is just a disaster for Virginia. It just makes us look so juvenile, so parochial.
NNAMDISo, you think all three guys should resign?
STEVENot necessarily, but just the suggestion that as this moves forward your guests seem to hint that, you know, that they're bloodied, but not, you know finished. That's disgusting when you think about it. That somehow the three things together are cause for their survival.
NNAMDIWell, there's the senate majority leader, Thomas Norman.
STEVESorry, the other thing about the Me Too stuff here. I'm curious. Where are all these Me Too people that are--Is anyone going to accost (unintelligible) on an elevator here?
NNAMDIWell, the National Organization for Women has called on him to resign, but there's an article in the Daily Beast that says that most of the women's organizations at this point are, well, hedging their bets, so to speak. They're holding back.
SHERWOODYes, almost all, you know, this needs to be further looked into, but just very quickly on the politics hour, it is real politics that if there are three people with various allegations against them, it muddies the water as to what could or may happen next. So, that's just--It's not that we're agreeing that we like it on this show, but we're telling you what the politics are.
NNAMDIThere's one aspect of this that we have not discussed, and I think that Hugh in Hyattsville, Maryland will raise it. Hugh, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HUGHHi, Kojo. Certainly appreciate your show over decades. Yeah, I'm interested in understanding more about the opposition research that led to the accusation against Northam, and whether it was motivated because of his stand on the late-term-abortion issue.
NNAMDII am not sure it was...
SHERWOODYes. The basic answer to that is yes, that the guy who published it first was upset at Northam's comments on WTOP Radio about late-term abortion, and that had Northam perhaps not said anything on that show, this may never have happened.
NNAMDIAnd that guy that you mentioned said that he was approached by an individual who gave him or showed him the photo from the yearbook. But Toni-Michelle Travis, we cannot neglect that many of these scandals have come to light because of a conservative website that gentleman works for called Big League Politics. What can you tell...
TRAVISYes. Well, when you look at Big League Politics, you find that they may have...
SHERWOODIt's one guy, basically.
TRAVISYeah, one person.
SHERWOODJust to be clear.
NNAMDIFormerly with Breitbart, now with Big League Politics. Yes.
TRAVISYeah, may have 500,000 people tuned in. Well, if you have an issue such as this, you can up your numbers pretty quickly, because people say, what other scandals will they uncover.? And to say someone's a concerned citizen sounds a bit questionable, I think, as to why, as you raise the question, the timing of this against Northam.
SHERWOODWell, let me say, as a reporter, it doesn't matter, to me, the motive of the person who is telling me something about a politician. In this case, this may be a very conservative person who's trying to build more political support for the anti-abortion movement in Virginia. But if the information is accurate, then it doesn't really matter where it came from. There's two issues here for the Republicans who are mostly conservative and anti-abortion, is that this could arouse the anti-abortion people in Virginia in this fall's elections. And it could encourage African Americans to stay home.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Jennifer, who said: the allegations against the Lieutenant Governor are those of a violent, illegal act, but it is a routine crime that women have to worry about all the time. I feel this has taken a huge backseat to the black face situation. Why isn't violence or potential violence against women sensationalized as greatly by the media as a ridiculously offensive, but not illegal photograph?
TRAVISWell, women are still -- in ever so many cases -- second-class citizens. What they do, what they say is just never as important as what a male does or says, supposedly.
SHERWOODI think the news media has pretty aggressively covered this ever since it came out. We can say the Post should've said something a year ago or not, but I don't think there's anyone giving the Lieutenant Governor a pass on this. I have a -- do we have another caller? I have another question.
NNAMDINo, we only have about another minute, but go ahead. (laugh)
SHERWOODI was talking to both black and white people about this. What about the idea of returning citizens? You know, we now say when people go to prison, they come back, and we need to do everything we can to support them to give them a second chance. A friend of mine said, how about returning citizens for former racist acts, that if people have conformed and improved their lives and done positive things, can we forgive them and allow them to go forward?
NNAMDIThat's what the Reverent William Barber has been saying. We'll see how this all turns out, but that's all the time we have to discuss it right now. Toni-Michelle Travis, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIToni-Michelle Travis is the editor of the Almanac of Virginia Politics. She's a professor of political science at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Up next, Peter Newsham, the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. Before we start talking to the chief, Tom, the DC Council has gone ahead and approved a sole-source betting contract for the sports gambling in the city. And that sole source is Intralot, which currently runs the city's lottery. The city wanted to get this done in a hurry, so they said, let's do it with Intralot. But Moody's Invested Services has downgraded Intralot from B2 to B3, whatever that means, citing continuing negative free cash flow since 2015, expected to continue until 2020. But this is a done deal, isn't it?
SHERWOODWell, it's not a done deal, but you have to -- I was told that none of the three -- the only three firms in the world that would've bid on this contract, if it were bid -- and all three of them have fairly weak financials. It did pass in the council seven to six on Tuesday. It's probably going to come before the full council on February the 19th, although that date is not certain yet.
SHERWOODBut it looks like the majority of the council members, and seven is the minimum you can have, want to go forward with sports betting supporting Jeffrey DeWitt, the CFO who says he normally doesn't like sole source contracts, but this is the best way for the city to proceed financially and involved. But there are a lot of business people in town, about a half dozen or so of them, who are still trying to get a piece of this. If they can undermine the sports betting thing, they will.
NNAMDIAnd on now to our next guest, Peter Newsham.
SHERWOODWe have a little bit of breaking news. Can I just tell it real quick?
SHERWOODThe Post is reporting that Amazon is having second thoughts about going to New York, unlike Virginia, which approved...
NNAMDIThe legislators in New York, a lot of them have been in opposition to Amazon going there. It has not been the kind of smooth and easy sailing that's been experienced in Virginia.
SHERWOODYeah, Patricia Sullivan and Robert McCartney and Jonathan O'Connell all have been on this show, have reported, and now it's being reported in New York, too. This could mean something for Virginia.
NNAMDIOn now to our next guest. Peter Newsham is the chief of police of the Metropolitan Police Department. Chief Newsham, thank you for joining us.
PETER NEWSHAMThanks for having me. I appreciate it, Kojo.
SHERWOODGood afternoon, Chief.
NEWSHAMTom, how are you?
NNAMDII know you want to talk about homicides, but before we do that, this week Mayor Bowser announced the Felon in Possession initiative. What is that initiative?
NEWSHAMSo, that's a decision that's within the discretion of the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Jessie Liu. And so what she has decided to do is she has decided to take all of the felon and possession cases incrementally and start prosecuting those cases in district court. What it means for the folks in the city is that there's going to be more of a focus on these particular offenses. One of the things -- I don't know if this has been widely reported -- is that we believe very strongly, and the data supports this, that our felons who are in possession of firearms in our community are responsible for a significant number of not only the homicides, but the shootings that are occurring in our city.
NNAMDIWell, why doesn't the city take control of that? Why allow the US Attorney to come up with an initiative that apparently forces the city to collaborate with the US Attorney on this and takes power away from DC's Superior Court in these cases because the US Attorney apparently believes the DC Superior Court judges aren't imposing harsh enough penalties?
NEWSHAMWell, I think that's a mischaracterization of what's going on. I think that there is a resource issue over at Superior Court right now, because of a number of judges that have not been appointed. There's a significant number of vacancies over there. As you know, the DC Superior Court has a large volume of cases that they're dealing with. I look at this more as a resource allocation, which is going to be in the best interest of the city. And I also know that any major city chief or any state in the country is always trying to leverage federal resources to assist with crime in their community. And, you know, for the US Attorney to do this on our behalf, I think, is going to be beneficial.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, how would you respond to this, Chief Newsham? We got a Tweet from James Foreman, who is a former attorney in the District of Columbia, and an author. He tweeted: no, no, don't collaborate, Mayor Bowser. There's a book out there, I can't remember the title. Actually, the title is -- because Foreman wrote the book -- the title of the book is "Locking Up Our Own."
NNAMDIBut that book is about how some black politicians in a previous generation bought into punitive logic and helped facilitate mass incarceration. Some in the last generation of black leaders did not understand the consequences of their actions. But you, Mayor Bowser, cannot claim ignorance. We now know that moving gun cases to federal courts will only bring longer sentences in more distant prisons with fewer programs. How would you respond to that, Chief Newsham?
NEWSHAMYeah, I think when you're talking about over-incarceration, and you just saw the federal government collaboratively pass a reform act with regards to, you know, criminal cases, is that -- what you see is that with over-incarceration is a lot of the incarceration was for nonviolent offenses. I think we have to be very careful to separate those folks in our community who are involved in violent acts.
NEWSHAMWhen you have a person who has been convicted of a felony, they've been afforded all the opportunities that are afforded to criminal justice defendants in our system. And then they subsequently go out and they pick up a firearm. We have seen that a significant portion of those folks that are involved in that behavior of picking up a firearm after they have a felony conviction, that they're shooting and killing people in our community.
NEWSHAMAnd I don't think status quo is where we need to be right now. We had 160 homicides last year. Twelve of those homicides -- including the homicide of Makiyah Wilson -- was committed by a felon who decided they were going to pick up a firearm and shoot it in our community. Sitting on our hands and doing nothing is not an option.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODChief, as I understand it, one of the reasons if the feds take over to prosecute these felons in the subsequent cases, one of the reasons is because of the city's Youth Rehabilitation Act, which if you're in the Superior Court, there are more outs for the defendant to get...
NEWSHAMI'm really glad you asked that question because you have heard that criticism, and that's just not true. If a person is going through the process during their first conviction, they will be afforded the opportunity in Superior Court of all of the benefit of the Youth Rehabilitation Act. In a subsequent felony conviction, which picking up a firearm would be, there is rarely a case where a judge will offer the Youth Rehabilitation Act a second time. So, anyone who's suggesting that these criminal defendants are not going to be afforded opportunities that they would be afforded over in DC Superior Court is just not being honest.
SHERWOODAnother question I asked some people who were involved in the city said, well, is this some kind of new, kind of classic crackdown on crime? They said, look, even Mayor Bowser opposed the council's move to decriminalize fare jumpers on Metro, which is a very minor crime compared to what we're talking about. But when crime goes up, there's usually a push by officials and police to crack down on crime, and that's what we're doing. We're less concerned about, again, the rehabilitation that people like to talk about.
NEWSHAMThis city has been, in my opinion, phenomenal in the opportunities that they afford to our returning citizens. Nobody, I think -- and I don't want to speak for everyone, but I can tell you I am a proponent of affording our returning citizens all of the opportunities that they can have so they can be successful. I am friends with a number of returning citizens in this community.
NEWSHAMI went over to the DC jail to speak to some young guys that are over there who are 24 years of age and younger to discuss with them the importance of when they get out, of seeking out those opportunities so they can come out into our community, return and have a successful life. Show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But we cannot, in this community right now, tolerate a convicted felon who's going to come out here into our community, pick up a firearm and shoot it in our community.
NEWSHAMPeople -- I can tell you, I go across the city, they are tired of listening to gunshots. They are tired of seeing five-year-olds getting shot at bus stops. They are tired of burying ten-year-old girls because convicted felons are picking up firearms...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, Nate...
NEWSHAM...status quo is not -- right now, we can't say we're going to do nothing. And...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Nate in Washington certainly seems to agree with you. Nate, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NATEYes. Thanks for taking the call. I just wanted to commend what the chief is saying. I think we're very -- in my community, we've been hearing a lot of frustration over the idea about folks have been convicted of gun-related offenses coming back into the community again. And it's -- I think, you know, the proof is that we're seeing an increase in homicides, in gun-related homicides. And then I think the discussion about balancing the rights of folks, the civil liberties and making sure that folks who are going through the system have a chance for rehabilitation. It's important but it really needs to be balanced against the safety of our communities, too. And so I'm happy to hear what was reported by the chief today...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Chief Newsham, Nate did mention that homicides in the District were on the rise in 2018. They went up by about 40 percent compared to the year before. What do you think accounts for that uptick?
NEWSHAMWell, you know, we're seeing -- and that's a good question, too, Kojo, is that we've looked back for the past three years. We've had just about the same number of shootings that we've had every year, a little over 500. And the lethality of the shootings has actually increased from a range of about 17 to 19 percent, up to 23 percent. That increase in the lethality of our shootings has contributed to the rise in the homicides.
NEWSHAMAnother piece to last year's homicide number was the fact that we had 13 prior year cases that were included in the 2018 numbers. But with all that being said, you know, you talk about, you know, reducing it down by 13 or whatever the number is. Having as many homicides as we have I our city is too many. This city's too small. There's too few people to have that many homicides in this community. I think when we look at, you know, a category of crimes where we're seeing a group of folks that we've identified who are involved in a behavior and we can somehow change that behavior, I think it's irresponsible of us not to do that.
SHERWOODChief, you talk about the community support that you've got when you go around town, of people want these types of horrible homicides and shootings to stop. There are also others, though, who complain the police department, despite changes in its attitude for the last 20 years -- you've been on the force and know this -- that the police are still not as community-based as they ought to be. The city has the NEAR Act, as you know, and there's concerns about stop and frisk and other issues like that. Is the police department -- I know you go to like events five nights a week, so I'm not saying this is a criticism of you. But is the police department doing enough to understand the changing nature of the community and the concerns people have?
NEWSHAMI think it's a daily effort, and it's our responsibility as a department to be viewed in a positive light. So, you know, like we tell the police officers every day, any negative interaction that you have with the community is going to be amplified. And when you have a negative interaction with the community, you know, everyone who's wearing this uniform is going to be viewed in that light. So, it is a daily, you know, effort by us to improve our relationship in the community, to get our police officers out of the car.
NEWSHAMFrequently, we don't hear the good stories about our police. I hear them all the time. I couldn't be more proud to be able to sit as the chief of this agency, the stories that I hear, the things that our police officers do. Sometimes they go out here and they take a lot of verbal abuse. Our police officers show amazing restraint that other human beings would never show. You have a remarkable police department. We're not perfect. We never claim to be. We're going to continue to listen to those concerns and do everything we can to improve that relationship.
SHERWOODVery quick, I would say Jessie Liu as the US Attorney, I would feel better as a District citizen if the US Attorney for the District actively lived in the District. That's not a requirement. Some have, some have not. I just think -- I don't know how much -- she's fairly new, about a year or more on the job, I guess, now, but I don't know if she's getting out as much as you do in the Washington community to interact with citizens.
NNAMDIWe got a Tweet from mysickyvalentine, who says: what collaboration and data are being used from the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and the NEAR Act to create more progressive policies around policing? Police relations with the black community are crumbling, especially with the rising millennial population. Chief Newsham?
NEWSHAMThe work that the ONSE office is doing and the Violence Interrupters, what they're doing out there in the community, I think, in the long term, is going to be extremely beneficial for reducing violence. You know, you'll hear us say it over and over again, there's no one thing that any organization can do to, you know, reduce the violence in our city. Some of this violence, it's for a host of reasons, probably the biggest reason being a lack of opportunity for folks.
NEWSHAMSo, you know, you watch Washington DC, you watch the way that we have changed from, you know, the late '80s through the '90s into this decade. It's all been in a very positive way. Violent crime has gone down dramatically in the past ten years, so we have fewer victims of violent crimes. I like the fact that we are becoming less and less tolerant of gun violence, and we're all starting to focus on it. So, I am completely accepting of the reforms that were implemented in the NEAR Act. I think that those Violence Interrupters and the things that Del McFadden is doing over at the ONSE office is going to have a lot of positive results in our city.
SHERWOODCouncilmember Allen, the chairman -- Charles Allen of Ward 6, the chairman of the judiciary committee put out a statement, I think today, maybe yesterday, raising some concerns about maybe this harsher move towards prosecution. And Councilmember Robert White at large also has put out a statement. So several of the council members are concerned about this, will there be more work with the council members to get them onboard?
NEWSHAMI think we go back to, you know, the decision to do this is within the discretion of the US Attorney's office. You know, whether you would agree with it or not, I just have to say, I agree. I think the collaboration that we're going to have with our federal agencies is much better for the city. We have federal law enforcement agencies that operate in our city on a daily basis, and they do a lot of different things.
NEWSHAMI have got commitments from the leadership of those federal law enforcement agencies that they are going to assist us with focusing on gun violence. To have the federal agencies focused on gun violence in our city, I don't think anyone would suggest is a bad thing. For the US Attorney to decide to bring a specific category of cases over to district court, you know, where consequences can be more swift and more certain I think is very important for the city.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Running out of time very quickly. Here's Rick in Washington, DC. Rick, your turn.
RICKOh, good afternoon, Chief and good afternoon, Kojo. I'm a defense attorney in DC, and have been so for the last 20 years. I don't agree with a lot of the things the chief is saying here, and he's just not accurate. One, you can get the Youth Act twice from a judge that's on a case -- every case is on a case-by-case basis.
NNAMDI(overlapping) But, like I said, Rick, we're running out of time very quickly...
RICKWell, let me just...
NNAMDI...and we got a Tweet from Seer that said, the chief's stats seem to show that very few convicted felons are committing these crimes. Didn't he just say 12 of the 160 murders were from convicted felons? That's less than 10 percent. Rick, that's one I thought you wanted to raise, also.
RICKYeah, and I do...
NEWSHAMCan I just...
NNAMDIWell, allow the chief to respond, because we're almost out of time.
NEWSHAMYeah, it's got to be clear, Kojo, that's 12 of the known people that were arrested for homicides, about 24 percent. Twenty-four percent of the known homicide offenders last year were felons who picked up a firearm, shot and killed somebody, including Makiyah Wilson.
SHERWOODAnd this is as much to send a message, as you said, to going to talk to people in prison or in jail. You're trying to send a message to people that the sentences are going to be tougher.
NEWSHAMI wasn't trying to send a message to those guys over at DC jail. What I was trying to show them is that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that the DC government is going to do everything that they possibly can to help those young men succeed when they get out of jail. There's no message trying to be sent, and I am hopeful that each and every one of them, when they do get out of jail, becomes a successful returning citizen.
NNAMDIPeter Newsham is the chief of police of the Metropolitan Police Department. Chief Newsham, thank you for joining us.
NEWSHAMOkay. Thank you very much.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we lost Frank Robinson this week. Frank Robinson was the first manager of the Washington Nationals when they first came to Washington and was still playing at the RFK Stadium. We lost a Hall of Fame player.
SHERWOODI encourage people, if you go on BaltimoreSun.com, they have great stories in the Baltimore Sun paper. There are several good pieces in the Washington Post. Remarkable man, tough. You didn't want to get on his wrong side if you were a player or a fan. But he was a tough guy. He said he was only the first black manager in baseball because his skin was black.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. At the end of the month, we'll take our show to Silver Spring and cover school diversity as part of the Kojo 20th anniversary event series. You can register for free at kojoshow.org. In the lead-up to our road show, we'll be diving into education issues around the region. On Monday, we'll discuss school redistricting in Arlington County. Will it solve the District's overcrowding problem -- program? Will redrawing the school boundary lines actually fit the needs of students? Join us Monday at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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