Solar energy projects are sweeping the region, from rooftop and community solar panels to large-scale farms. We'll talk about community solar programs, bigger solar projects and how these intersect with state legislation.
Amazon will not be building half of its new headquarters in New York City. What does that mean for Crystal City, the site of the other half of Amazon’s new headquarters? We discuss the latest news with Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol.
Then, we sit down with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks for a conversation about news from her county, including the fact that Gov. Larry Hogan has ended talks with Washington’s football stadium about keeping them in Prince George’s.
Finally, Alexandria City Councilmember Canek Aguirre joins us to discuss transportation, development and public safety issues in Alexandria.
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 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've got a lot going on today. We'll be talking with Canek Aguirre, who is an Alexandria City Councilmember. We will also be talking with Angela Alsobrooks, who is the Prince George's County Executive. And first up we'll be talking with Katie Cristol who is a member of the Arlington County Board who joins us by phone. Katie Critol, thank you for joining us.
KATIE CRISTOLMy pleasure. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
NNAMDIAmazon announced yesterday that it would not be opening half of its second headquarters in New York as previously planned. What does that mean? What does that imply for Crystal City where the other half of the headquarters is stated to go -- slated to go?
CRISTOLThe short answer is nothing really. We've had opportunity to confirm with Amazon executives in short order after the announcement was made. We have confirmed that we are moving forward exactly as planned with their intended headquarters in Arlington. Our current schedule to consider the performance agreement in March hasn't changed. The terms of that performance agreement 25,000 jobs and four million square feet of office space haven't changed either, so definitely lots of headlines, lots of news, but in terms of the impact for what we're planning here in Crystal City (word?) city in Arlington County no changes at this time.
SHERWOODYou know everyone wants the government to move quickly. It makes sense that Amazon and the county and the commonwealth of Virginia would say, Nothing has changed. Our agreements are in place, but in the weeks and the months --
NNAMDIMeanwhile that swishing sound you hear in the background is them rubbing their hands in glee, but go ahead.
SHERWOODYou know, Montgomery County in Maryland has indicated it would try again to get Amazon's attention. But it just makes practical sense that you go forward with what you've signed and agreed to now in what you're agreeing to. But this does have perhaps an opportunity in the future.
CRISTOLI think that there are probably a lot of communities that are seeing that way exactly as you just noted either in our region or even, you know, we see some new coverage suggesting as much nationally. What we've heard from Amazon at this time is that they're not planning to reopen the search. They have something like 17 different offices. I believe they call them tech hubs around the country and they're planning to, you know, sort of see organic growth across the 17 different sites at this point. Obviously I can't speak for them in how their plans might change.
CRISTOLYou know, we anticipate with any major corporate tenant in Arlington County that there might be, you know, natural plans for growth over time. So, you know, I'm not going to rule out what might happen 5, 10, 15 years down the road into the future. But for now, you know, what we want to be clear about with interested Arlingtonians, who you may have already had some concerns about how we might be observing 25,000 employees that that is still very much the plan.
SHERWOODIs there any danger that Amazon could run into a brick wall in Virginia like it did in New York where the state -- where the governor and the mayor of New York wholeheartedly endorsed Amazon but members of Congress and local legislators rose up against it. Do you see anything like that on the horizon at all in Virginia?
CRISTOLYou know, I think salient that the terms of the deal with the state have already passed the general assembly, right, we had a different mechanism at the state level than I think New York did. And as far as what we've seen in Arlington I think the most important thing is to just note that the terms of the deal were pretty different with that New York location than they are here in Arlington County. We've been pretty parsimonious I think in terms of the incentives offered for example. And I think that was really -- you know, I'm no expert in New York City politics but I think --
SHERWOODNo one is.
CRISTOLI know. Maybe not even New York politicians, but I think that that seems to be a big part of what was motivating on and the pushback was just the size of the incentives and whether the people in that community would be benefiting as well as Amazon would be benefiting. And I believe that we really can make the case that people of Arlington County stand to benefit from this location decision here in Arlington.
NNAMDIKatie Cristol is a member of the Arlington County Board. Katie Cristol, thank you so much for joining us. Stay tuned on Monday, because we'll be talking with residents of Arlington County some of whom still have some concerns about the Amazon second headquarters being located there, but thank you so much for joining us.
CRISTOLMy pleasure. Thanks again.
NNAMDITom Sherwood joining us in studio now is Angela Alsobrook. She is the Prince George's County Executive. Angela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.
ANGELA ALSOBROOKSThank you. Good afternoon.
NNAMDIIn the meantime, Tom Sherwood, Angela Alsobrooks was in town for the inauguration of our mayor Muriel Bowser. But the Washington Post -- the Washington City Paper reports that the Bowser inaugural committee took in nearly a million dollars. And that a lot of that money came from lobbyists, developers, people, who have contracts with the district government and people seeking contracts. There was a lot of brouhaha about that. And since then the City Council has taken action. Since then the Council has taken action. They hate to be called the City Council.
SHERWOODIt's not a City Council. It's city, county, and state affairs. It would be like calling you some kind of CB radio host.
NNAMDIIt's not them who hate it. It's he who hates it.
SHERWOODI hate it. Yes. Well, the mayor has made a huge money grab here. She was easily reelected. The law in 2020 changes and if you give inauguration that maximum now is 10. It's going down to four. So the mayor put out the word apparently. We want money. And she raised all this money. Much of it came after after the inauguration was over. Not just to pay some outstanding bills. But to provide a mailer that went out to a lot of people in town. She took $150,000 left over in her campaign account and put that money in an inauguration account, which is fine.
SHERWOODBut the problem people have said -- this reminds too many people of FreshPAC. Back in 2015 when she was first elected mayor she created a Political Action Committee, because there was loophole in the law that during non-campaign years you could raise unregulated amounts of money -- unrestricted amounts of money. And even the Washington Post editorial page, which likes virtually everything she does, lobbied against it.
SHERWOODSo I'd to say I had a little bit to do with the -- Mitch Ryals, he's the new Loose Lips with City Paper and putting that story together. But he worked on it very hard to show there's just a lot of money there. And the mayor hasn't really explained why she's raised so much money after the inauguration.
NNAMDIOur guest is Angela Alsobrooks. She's the Prince George's County Executive.
SHERWOODI have a campaign finance question that segues perfectly into our guest.
NNAMDISo you say.
SHERWOODThere is a legislation, Derek Davis -- Delegate Davis has legislation pending from the Prince George's delegation in Annapolis that would take away the ethics restrictions on accepting campaign contributions from corporations. And you have not taken a public position on that. Many people believe that Rushern Baker's campaign for governor was severely restricted, because he could not take corporate contributions and he was outspent by Ben Jealous terribly even though he was leading in some of the polls.
SHERWOODWhere are you Ms. Alsobrooks as the County Executive on getting rid of the restriction on corporate donations to campaigns and perhaps your campaign for governor or attorney general should that happen in a couple of years? Welcome to the program.
ALSOBROOKSWell, thank you so much. I'm glad to be here. So we have not taken a position. We haven't.
ALSOBROOKSThis was a bill that the delegate put in without conferring with us about it. Prince George's County is uniquely situated. The rules and restrictions that we have in Prince George's County do not exist any place else in the state. We have taken very aggressive stances there, ethics reforms. The Council also recently passed also campaign finance legislation as well and we were not a part of that, but we agree with that legislation to provide funding for candidates who are running for office. And so these are areas that we believe are best, of course, handled by the legislators both the campaign finance and the bill that the delegate put in. And we will abide by whatever the decision is.
SHERWOODSo if the law is changed -- this all as we know all came about, because of the corruption of Jack Johnson. Rushern Baker helped him put these laws in place with the Council, because of the corruption in the county. As you and he cleaned up the county on so many different levels. But you're not philosophically opposed to taking corporate contributions if they are legal contributions.
ALSOBROOKSRight. You know, we will follow whatever the campaign finance laws are. We've been careful to do that. We will continue to be careful to follow whatever the campaign finance laws are, whatever the restrictions are. And we are most focused on governing at this point. So whatever the laws are, we will follow them.
NNAMDIEarlier this week Governor Larry Hogan announced that he is ending his efforts to persuade the Washington Redskins to stay in Prince George's County. What does that mean for the possibility of the team staying in Prince George's after its current lease at FedEx Field expires in eight years?
ALSOBROOKSSo it doesn't change our positioning at this point. You know, we believe that the Washington Redskins presence in Prince George's County is a great amenity. Our citizens have enjoyed it. I am a Redskins fan. The governor is a Redskins fan. And so we -- it's an amenity that our community has enjoyed. And so the possibility -- we would love to have the Redskins stay in Prince George's.
ALSOBROOKSWhat we have said, however, and I had an opportunity to meet with the governor yesterday is that we have some priorities in Prince George's County that are very clear for us that we are focused laser like on investments and education and investments in our inner beltway areas, eliminating food deserts. And so we have a long list of priorities, transportation and infrastructure projects. Would we love to have the Redskins stay? Yes. We believe that we are an ideal location for them, but we're also staying focused on the priorities that we've set for ourselves.
NNAMDIGovernor Hogan said that he's still seeking to get state control over the Oxon Cove Park side adjacent to National Harbor, which had been tapped as a site for the new football stadium from the federal government, which currently is in possession of it. What would you like to see happen at Oxon Cove?
ALSOBROOKSWell, what we'd have to do is first of all to have a transparent process that includes public input. That is not a decision that I think should be made in a vacuum. It is one I think that requires first of all lots of transparency, but also it requires public input. So we would be interested in not only studying it. That would require lots of studies to determine the best use of that property. But we would not make a single decision without the appropriate input from the communities that are impacted.
NNAMDIWell, I'm not sure I understand James's email. But you might better than I do. He says, "On Oxon Hill National Park waterfront land and Antietam National Park Hogan land trade, Governor Hogan told the Washington Post that he negotiated his land trade memo of understanding with Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke has been fired as Secretary of the Interior by Trump. Park service cannot accept Antietam land without an act of Congress. Why does the governor think he has a deal?"
ALSOBROOKSI don't know, you'd have to ask the governor. (laugh)
SHERWOODAnd let's be clear. The governor's statement -- a lot of the media reports left the impression with headlines and first paragraphs that Governor Hogan had abandoned his plan to swap Oxon Cove land with land in Western Maryland. He has not abandoned it. His own statement said that quote, "At this time he is not doing anything." He still is going forward with this land swap, because there is a feeling and the County Executive maybe could respond to this is that that land why everyone loves natural park land and all of that with MGM -- with the casino there and National Harbor, a new football stadium or some major development in that area respectful of the land would bring more economic development to the county.
SHERWOODAnd so it's not -- a lot of people don't think it should be kept wilderness. Others do. And that's part of the political battle. But the governor at this time has pulled back his proposal and I think he's doing that according to the people I've talked to until he can get a better understanding if this land swap will go forward. And have you talked to like Dan Snyder or the beloved owner of the Redskins? I say that facetiously, because it seems like everyone I talk to hates him.
ALSOBROOKSI have not talked to the owner regarding this. I met the owner just at a Redskins game. But I have not talked to Dan Snyder about it. I have had an opportunity as I mentioned as of yesterday to talk to the governor about this. And, again, we agree that Prince George's County is a great location for the Redskins. Where? We'd have to talk about that. But we'd love to keep the Redskins. But we will not do anything that is not in the best interest of Prince Georgians. And we'll make a decision based on that.
NNAMDIThe Supreme Court decision last year that legalized sports gambling has pushed jurisdictions to start their own legal sports gambling systems. D.C. is in the mist of developing its own. And one argument that people on the D.C. Council have made for fast tracking the process is that they want to get out ahead of Maryland and Virginia and be the first to launch. How do you think this will affect National Harbor? How do you think it will keep National Harbor as an attractive and competitive destination in light of this new gambling landscape?
ALSOBROOKSMGM is a beautiful site that's hard to rival. It really is. It stands out in the state and across the country. It's a beautiful site. As I understand it, sports betting is moving through the legislature in Maryland. The expectation from those I've spoken with is that it will pass in Maryland. And so I believe that MGM will remain not only an attractive site, but one that is also very very profitable, if I'm honest about it.
ALSOBROOKSIt has been a real asset revenue wise in Prince George's County and throughout the state because the dollars that are generated at MGM go into the lockbox for education. And because of the success of that particular casino and the others, we've had a good deal of dollars that are now available for education. And so we expect it to continue to be profitable.
NNAMDIIn other words, bring it on D.C.
ALSOBROOKSBring it on.
SHERWOODDo you think there ought to be a state referendum to allow sports betting? Or do you think if the legislature and the governor signs it --
ALSOBROOKSI think if the legislature and the governor sign it, then it will go forward.
SHERWOODBut we should point out that the District of Columbia has -- the Council has passed one version of starting sports betting. Now it looks like it will be on the agenda for February the 19th. So the District is moving a lot faster than Virginia and Maryland.
NNAMDISpeaking of sports, you're pushing statewide legislation that would place youth sports under the responsibility of a single public agency, The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Why? And what are some of the challenges that youth athletes in the county are facing?
ALSOBROOKSSo we are so excited about this. And by the way youth sports is not necessarily about developing athletes. It's about developing strong children. So as a part of our education agenda we have decided that investing in youth sports allows us to develop children with strong character, who are not only emotionally strong but also physically. We are concerned about the physical health of our children. And so making youth sports more accessible to more children says to us that we build a whole child, a child who learns perseverance and team -- how to work with a team, learns how to concentrate. So that's what youth sports is about. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning does it well. But we believe that we can do even better.
NNAMDIWhat's wrong now?
ALSOBROOKSWell, what we find now is that some of the centers -- we have 84 of them in the county that we have not worked as well as could with the school system to coordinate the use of those facilities. That sometimes we have whole sports teams that find it difficult, quite honestly, to get time to practice at those facilities. We want to make sure that the process is seamless so that our kids are not locked out of any facility in Prince George's County. We have a beautiful sports team. We have track teams. And what we've heard from parents -- and I met with those parents recently is that there is great frustration over the fact that too many of our centers, the Boys and Girls Club are dying on the vine as they try to find a way to operate.
NNAMDISome high school facilities are not available to them.
ALSOBROOKSExactly. So we want to make sure that we are coordinated in a way that benefits children. And we believe a long-term impact -- if we invest not only in the classroom, but invest in our kids outside the classroom, we're going to continue to build strong kids, strong students, strong citizens and this is what youth sports does.
SHERWOODIt's more effort to try to find a field or a plain gym or something like that than there is actually doing it. So I have a quick round robin.
ALSOBROOKSWhich is -- and if I can just say, Tom, and that's disgraceful. If you want to know what I'm really trying to get at, there should be no facility in Prince George's County with tax dollars that's not available to a child, who desires to play a sport in Prince George's County. We should not have to go to Potomac, Maryland like I did with my daughter, who played PG -- lacrosse with PG Pride. And her lacrosse games were in Potomac. Our kids need to play on fields that are befitting of them in Prince George's.
SHERWOODOkay, politics. Hogan for president. Where do you stand?
ALSOBROOKSI'm a democrat. So, you know, I'm a democrat. But I have to be honest with you. I think it's better than the guy who's in the White House right now is my thought on that.
ALSOBROOKSFor sure Hogan would be much better than the guy there.
SHERWOODSee that was an easy question. There's a nice news service in Prince George's, Route 1 News service that Mitch Theis does. He reported this week online that there is a poll going on in the county asking extensive questions about one Angela Alsobrooks. Detailed lengthy polling and he says that he tried to contact your office to find out if that is your poll or if it's not your poll. Can you tell us if that poll which asks extensive questions about policy issues in Prince George's County and Angela Alsobrooks, is that your political committee's poll?
ALSOBROOKSIt is. And our political committee --
SHERWOODThere you go. Mitch, you're welcome.
ALSOBROOKSThank you so much. In our political committee, it is not a government poll. But what we're concerned about is making sure that we're not only communicating with our citizens in the best way that's possible, but we also want to know what they care about. As we make policy decisions and move forward in areas, we want to make that we are in line with what citizens care about. And so that -- it helps us not only as we communicate, but as we form policy to make sure that we're not only meeting with our citizens, which we have done through community conversations and regular meetings. But we also take the opportunity to use the other tools that we have to make sure that we're hearing from citizens.
SHERWOODI haven't heard any criticism of the poll. In fact, people think it's a really good poll and it's giving you important information. One of the questions is, you know, I ask you this every time you come. One of the polling questions is should you legalize marijuana. Can you tell us what the results are? Or are you still getting the results?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what? I think the results are in line with what I think. And let me just tell you what I think. I think that what adults choose to do in their time be it smoke it, sprinkle it on cereal, do whatever it is they do is their business. I am concerned about kids and the impact, the developmental impact, the ability to get a job. Those are the things. And so I think most people believe that adults and what they do with marijuana is the business of that adult, but they don't want any -- they want us to regulate that portion of it.
ALSOBROOKSBut I think most people are concerned about the impact on youth and that we communicate clearly with them the developmental impacts and how it affects their ability to get a job. You can't test positive for marijuana in Prince George's and get a job.
SHERWOODMay I ask one more political question and this one is kind of party painful. You have -- your career has been a fight against domestic abuse with having women be respected when they are attacked -- that any person attacked not just women. I believe you are a personal friend with Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. You have looked across the boundaries. You have seen what he's going through now. Have you said anything publically or have you wanted to say anything publically about what he's facing?
SHERWOODYou can comment on the governor and attorney general's black face issues. But I know you both went to Duke with Justin Fairfax and that he showed up at your events. I think you've been to his. Where is your feeling about what's happening with the Lieutenant Governor in Virginia given your personal relationship with him and the politics of what he's dealing with plus the women, who are making these allegations?
ALSOBROOKSSo to be honest with you, nobody is inquired about what I thought about what was happening in Virginia. So the question hasn't been asked to me. But I can tell you this. That sexual assault is a very serious crime. The allegation is a very serious one. And I agree with everyone including Justin, who says that it ought to be investigated. And that there ought to be a thorough investigation conducted to be able to not only hear from and respect the victims in this case, but to make sure that justice is served in whatever that is. And so I believe that it --
SHERWOODFor everyone involved including him.
ALSOBROOKSFor everyone including him. I believe in the justice system. I also believe that victims ought to be respected and heard from. And I believe that that's what ought to happen in this case.
SHERWOODHave you talked to him at all since this all happened?
ALSOBROOKSNo. I have not talked him.
SHERWOODI know you've both been very busy.
ALSOBROOKSNo. I have not had a chance to talk to him.
NNAMDITwelve Prince George's police officers are suing the department over allegations that officers of color are denied promotions and are retaliated against for reporting misconduct involving white officers. Your office told us that you cannot comment on the case directly as it's still pending. But this is not the first time the department has faced such allegations. What do you think the department is getting right and what do you think it's getting wrong when it comes to race and racism?
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know, that's what we have an opportunity to find out. You're right that this is now a legal matter. I believe that it will be resolved and I think it should be resolved in a court house and not in a court of public opinion. I want to know the truth about it. And what I know is that when the case is resolved if we find, for example, that there is a pattern of discrimination if that's what the lawsuit reveals then we will take action and we will correct whatever they find. If they find something different than that, we'll use that.
ALSOBROOKSBut I believe that it ought to be resolved in a court. But I also know that right now we are conducting reviews of all of our agencies including the police department. That is the police department, the Department of Public Works and Transportation. And we are looking at the culture throughout government to discover what that culture is. And we will be making adjustments throughout government to improve what we do. And that includes whatever we find with respect to race relations. I have not worked in the police department as you know. And so I'm not intimately aware, but I'm interested in knowing. And if we find that there is something that ought to be corrected, we will correct it.
SHERWOODThis is a systematic review of the county. Have you -- is that something you've announced? Does it have a name or is it a program? Are you calling it something that people--
ALSOBROOKSNo. You know what about. And it's not just inside government. It's outside. I believe that we ought to address making sure that the culture is one that has high standards, accountability, transparency, and performance. And I have made that clear to every single director that I have hired and the ones that we have retained is that we're looking in those agencies to make sure that they are operating in an optimal way that best benefits our citizens. And we're finding that there are adjustments that can be made. And I think this is good news.
SHERWOODYou have like 1500 sworn officers in Prince George's County. I think there's something like 300 people, who are civilians, support staff. The ACLU has sided -- or has helped these 12 officers. While you can't comment on the case itself, is there any concern at all that the ACLU thought it was serious enough to be involved.
ALSOBROOKSIt is. But you what? You just made the optimal point, 1500 sworn officers. They said that we're talking about 12. I think it is so important not to overlook the fact that we have 1482 by that -- I'm sorry. It's something more than that.
ALSOBROOKS88 -- 1488 who have not been a part of this and who do an exceptional job. Find a jurisdiction where you cut crime by 50 percent in eight years and you'll find that it is an amazing department. Again, if we find -- and I am totally -- whatever we find to be honest about it and address it. But I think it is so important and fair to the 1488, who are working so hard and are performing an excellent service for our community that they agree is an excellent service not to lose sight of that as well.
SHERWOODI think a lot of people -- a couple of decades ago particularly 50s, 60s, 70s, the Prince George's Police reputation was horrific.
NNAMDIBack in those days when there were civil rights actions that were taken.
ALSOBROOKSIt was. And thanks to the consent decree that happened in the late 90s, we've had an opportunity to correct a lot of those things. And we're still -- we're going to keep working until we get it right.
NNAMDIBut the problem they're having right now, Tom Sherwood, people, who are stealing handicap parking placards. Last week Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski announced that his department would crack down on such thefts. How widespread of a problem is that?
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know, what the chief tells me is that in the last six months we've had at least one placard per day that's been stolen. These are being sold for $100 on the street. This is what the chief calls tomfoolery. I think I agree with it, as well. It's just a silly crime.
SHERWOODThat's abuse of my name. No, sorry.
ALSOBROOKSIt's a silly -- well, no, not -- but it is a silly crime. We're cracking down on it because we believe that all crimes are important, and this is the kind of thing that leads to more -- but theft is important to us, but it's a really ridiculous crime, that we've seen one per day.
SHERWOODAnd the people who are differently abled, it's not only that people would steal these placards, which are vital to the person using it, but the District of Columbia has a problem in that people have fake ones that they maybe get a doctor who's not in the District to sign form. So, it's a real issue that people who do get legitimate placards ought not to be deprived of them by either theft or people who have fake ones.
NNAMDIAlmost out of time. Earlier this week, we discussed legislation in Maryland that, if passed, would give Prince George's County more say in the expansion of the Capital Beltway. What do you think about that, and, more generally, what do you think of Governor Hogan's plans for expanding the Beltway, adding four toll lanes?
ALSOBROOKSSo, we're looking forward to having a briefing on that. I have not been briefed on it. The governor's transportation secretary and Cabinet members are coming to give us a briefing on it, so that we will have more information and so we can have a more informed position. We have not taken a position on it, because I've not been able to hear the details of that plan, and will be glad to take a position on it when we have more information.
SHERWOODBut you generally think local jurisdictions should have veto authority over -- the way it is in other parts of the state that you...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Eight counties. Eight counties have veto authority over the state's plans to run highways in their counties. Is that something you would want for Prince George's County?
ALSOBROOKSAnd, again, you know, when we have more information about what the plan is, I'll be able to have a different opinion about it. But eight out of the -- you said eight out of 24 jurisdictions have that ability now.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Most of them on the eastern shore.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, this is Governor Hogan's plan. Your predecessor wanted to run for governor against Larry Hogan. He didn't make it past the primary, but what is the nature of your relationship with the governor?
ALSOBROOKSWell, we're developing a working relationship, you know, and the governor is a native Prince Georgian. So, we're glad about that. I'm looking forward to working with him. And to be honest with you, with all of our electives, federal electives, the state, we need all of those partnerships and relationships to make sure that Prince George's agenda is fulfilled. And so I did not have a previous relationship. But I am really glad to build a relationship with the state, with the governor, with his Cabinet, as well, again, with our federal officials to make sure that we are really making sure that huge accomplishments occur in Prince George's County. We want success to happen in Prince George's.
SHERWOODAnd next time you speak with the governor, would you please tell him his invitation to appear on the Politics Hour remains open, or any day of the week for Kojo, Monday through Friday? He has never been here.
ALSOBROOKSHe's never -- oh...
NNAMDINever been on this broadcast.
ALSOBROOKSWell, I have been here. I enjoy coming. I'm glad to be invited, and enjoy always having the opportunity to talk to your listeners.
NNAMDIPass that on to him. Angela Alsobrooks is the Prince George's County Executive. Thank you so much for joining us.
ALSOBROOKSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIUp next, Canek Aguirre. He's an Alexandria City Councilmember. If you have questions for him, start calling now: 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood, the federal court has approved the Virginia redistricting plan, a plan that would put six Republicans into districts that would probably become majority Democratic. And one of those Republicans is the House Speaker Kirk Cox. Now, the House Speaker has appealed the redistricting to the Supreme Court, but the three-judge panel said that the proposal, the plan approved by University of California Irvine Professor Bernard Grofman, should go ahead. My questions to you is that, is it likely to go ahead before November elections in the Commonwealth of Virginia, or is the Supreme Court likely to act before that?
SHERWOODI think the court would act quickly, if it's going to act. The question is whether it would even take this up. The District Court has dealt with this for some time. It's had the independent person from California to look at it. It has resisted suggestions that there's anything political about it. So, I think probably it will go forward. And now, it is interesting that the Speaker of the House, a Republican, would be one of the people who would see his district -- most of these districts are in the middle of the state -- would be significantly changed.
SHERWOODJust have to remember that the House is Republican only 51 to 48, and the Senate is 21 to 19. So, any in these six districts suddenly become Democratic and nothing else changes, the Democrats would take control of the House and the Senate this fall. But, of course, they have these ongoing issues with the governor, the lieutenant governor and attorney general, which has a big question mark over how Democrats will do this fall.
NNAMDIAnd bucking the trend in which the majority of states have repealed or reformed their mandatory minimum laws, the legislature in Virginia seems to be going in the opposite direction, asking for mandatory minimums of life in prison for 15 crimes. And there are those who say that, well, these are very serious crimes, and therefore, they deserve life in prison, but others who say, you're taking away discretion from judges. Why have judges if you're going to just pass mandatory...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, I think we're talking about -- fortunately, I think we might be going back through it if these types of crimes issue ebb and flow. And we might be heading towards a tougher approach to crime...
SHERWOODThe president today talked about how China takes care of its drug problem by killing the drug dealers. In the District, the mayor has agreed to let the US Attorney prosecute some crimes, gun crimes and murders that would move those crimes outside of a more lenient DC rehabilitation law. And so I think what you're seeing is around a lot of places, people are objecting and reacting to homicides, even though they're down.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Canek Aguirre joins us in studio. He's an Alexandria City Councilmember. Canek Aguirre, thank you for joining us.
CANEK AGUIRREGood to be back.
NNAMDIIs this trend that was just voted into the Virginia legislator of more mandatory minimums of crimes, one that you approve of?
AGUIRREYou know, I think we would have to take a look at it again, because I feel we're going the right direction. We're looking at, you know, restoration rights across the state, and really trying to improve outcomes for minority communities across the state. So, I think we need to reengage in discussions around this.
SHERWOODSome of the -- I'm not going to read off 15, but one them is, if you're over 18, if you kill a police officer, I think, or any other public safety person, it would be life without parole. If you were to kill a pregnant woman in an attempt to kill the fetus, if you kill a child under 14 -- although I don't see how you sit in a legislature and say, okay, a child under 14 is mandatory life in prison, but if you kill someone who's 15, that's not. I thought that was an odd part of the law. So, you want to look at more of these.
AGUIRREYeah, I think there should be a little bit more discussion around it.
SHERWOODMurder-for-hire, maybe life in prison for murder-for-hire, I might agree with.
NNAMDIYou were raised in Los Angeles, went to school at the University of North Carolina, but have been active for quite a long time in Alexandria. What brought you to this region?
AGUIRREWell, they say Virginia is for lovers, and I'm no exception. I basically followed my fiancé, girlfriend at the time. I followed her up here. Her prospects in terms of employment were a little bit better than mine, so I said, let's go try our luck up in northern Virginia.
NNAMDIYou seem to have done pretty well with your own prospects of employment, since you have been here (laugh) .
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You were here right after the primary, right? You won...
SHERWOOD...fourth out of six, or fifth out of...
AGUIRREYeah, yeah, fourth.
SHERWOODI think you were fourth, yeah.
AGUIRREBut the City of Alexandria's been really good to me, so, you know, they invested in me, and I'm investing back in the city.
NNAMDILast month -- go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, this is a silly question, but I was watching the video of the inauguration on January the 3rd. And please don't email me or text me or Twitter me, folks, but I thought that was one of the longest series of bagpipes when you guys marched into the auditorium. They played, everybody went up on the stage. And I like bagpipes, you know, like the blue service downtown for police officers.
SHERWOODBut (laugh) had you ever been exposed to that much bag piping in your life?
NNAMDI(laugh) Not since he lived in Scotland.
AGUIRRERight. Exactly, yeah. No, but, you know, we have a rich history in Alexandria, and the bagpipes have definitely been a part of that story.
SHERWOODTri-cornered hats and bagpipes.
SHERWOODOkay, that's it. Go ahead, Kojo.
NNAMDILast month, Greater Greater Washington reported that between the years 2000 and 2017, Alexandria lost 90 percent of its affordable housing. What do you think accounts for that drop?
AGUIRRESo, some of it is that we're -- some of our market-affordable housing was going out of stock, right. So, they had agreements up to a certain amount of time that they were going to be affordable, but they've reached the limits for that. A really nice thing that we did, we tried to get ahead of this. We have Route 1 South affordability. I think it's now known as the South Patrick Henry Affordability plan that we're looking at. And we're trying to get ahead of some of these things to say, okay. Well, we know something like this is about to happen. How can we try and preserve affordable housing within that area?
AGUIRREAnd we did a great amount of community outreach, but, you know, we also have to be looking at our zoning ordinances and what we're doing to try and protect some of our housing in the areas that we have. And, of course, you know, the elephant in the room is Amazon and the impact that that's going to have, as well.
NNAMDISome are pushing for increased density in new housing development. How much of a dent would that make in addressing the affordable housing crisis?
AGUIRREI think density is going to be an important aspect that we have to look at, because we have opportunities around some of our metro stations to try and increase density. And it seems counterintuitive to a lot of people, but by increasing density around some of our transit hubs will actually alleviate some of the traffic and create more housing opportunities, overall.
NNAMDILet's talk Amazon. Many people in the region see the Amazon second headquarters coming to Crystal City just north of Alexandria as a potential threat to the building and to the preservation of affordable housing. Do you share that view, and, if so, what do you think can be done to counteract it?
AGUIRREYeah, absolutely. I think a lot of people are saying, oh, it's going to be very minor. It's a $25 increase in rents or prices, and it's a small blip in the statistics. But we have to realize that small blip in the statistics and that $25 increase, those are peoples' lives. We're talking about, you know, first-year police officers, first-year teachers, service industry workers, restaurant workers. And we have to make sure that we're creating housing opportunities, like I said, for everyone.
AGUIRRESo, we have to make sure that we're paying very close attention and mitigating the impact that's coming from Amazon. You know, it's no secret, I was the board president of Tenants and Workers United, which is a leading group, a leading voice representing the community, because (unintelligible) neighborhood will be one of the most impacted in the region because of its proximity to where the headquarters will be going in. So, we have to make sure that we're not only preserving our diversity, but also the opportunity for our families to gain access to...
NNAMDI(overlapping) How do you do that? What's the plan?
AGUIRREYou know, it's having conversations with the community. It's looking at our zoning ordinances. It's trying to put in protections around looking at, you know, what historical aspect we have within (unintelligible) neighborhood.
SHERWOODWell, can you put a little more, call it the meat on the bones from this? Minneapolis faces a -- everyone likes to -- the good news is, jurisdictions like Alexandria are having to manage increasing prosperity, that is things -- and Mayor Justin Wilson said, we have to manage redevelopment. Otherwise, the homeowners will get more and more taxes on them, if we don't have reasonable development.
SHERWOODMinneapolis got rid of single-family zoning and said any residential property can have up to three housing units on that property. There'll be no more single-family development. I don't think Alexandria's going to do that. But is there anything specific you would do -- Kojo was asking, anything specific you would do to change zoning? Or are you just now starting to look at it, and it might be years before you change it?
AGUIRREYeah, I mean, there's different conversations around accessory dwellings that we're having right now to see where we can try and do some add-ins, especially in the (word?) and Potomac area. But, you know, we might eventually have to come to this conversation. Minneapolis is really kind of the avant-garde with what's going on right now.
SHERWOODWell, how long will these, quote, "conversations," unquote, continue? Because accessory dwellings -- the District changed its zoning laws. And if you have a garage in the back, you can turn it into an accessory dwelling. But is this a conversation that people will have into next year? Because it's only a two-year term, right?
SHERWOODThree-year term, okay. Another odd thing about Virginia (laugh), three-year terms. But conversations can only go on so long. One of the criticisms of the previous Mayor Silverberg was that she would talk too much about issues rather than taking action. When can the people of Alexandria expect this largely new council and new mayor to take action?
AGUIRREWell, I think that's part of it, right. Having such a new council, we're all still kind of getting -- settling into our roles, right. But I think that because we have such a new council, we're going to be able to move forward with some changes. So, it's conversations with my colleagues, as well, to try and create a timeline around this. When do we want to see this happen?
SHERWOODAre we talking 2019, 2020?
AGUIRREI'm saying within our first cycle, within our first term, so within our first three years. I think we definitely have to get some motion going.
NNAMDIYou serve on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and on the Council of Government's Transportation Planning Board. There's currently debate over the rail service hours for Metro, with officials here in DC looking to extend them, and officials in Maryland and Virginia trying to keep the current hours in place. And yesterday, there was a vote to keep the current hours in place. What do you think about the current hours for Metro rail service? The DC officials...
NNAMDI...including Jack Evans, who's chair of the board, as Tom said, folded. But they're saying, look, we're losing business here in the District of Columbia. And a lot of our employees who would be working in those businesses can't get home from work late at night.
AGUIRRESee, I think it's also a balance, too, because we have to think about the public safety issue around this, as well. I stand with the letter that we sent from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission in that the maintenance improvements and the reliability improvements that we've made, because of the reduced hours, are extremely important. Now, I think once we get a little further along in our maintenance and reliability issues, then we could reconvene around that discussion to look at the hours again. But at this time, I mean, I think we have to maintain the maintenance schedule that we're on to make sure we're making the proper improvements. Because in Alexandria, we're about to lose all of our Metro stations south of the airport.
SHERWOODI was going to say, this summer program that Metro is doing -- I was looking at it this morning on the website -- something like 20 stations are affected. Are you confident -- although you're new to your job -- that alternative transportation from vans or bus service or clearing the express lanes, is there anything that you -- or do you think that Alexandria is ready for all these shutdowns that's going to severely affect Metro ridership?
AGUIRREYeah, this is a huge deal. You know, it's totally unprecedented. I like what I've been seeing. There's still more to be done. We have a couple other options that we're exploring right now, potentially using Landmark as a hub to put folks on shuttles to get them into DC and to other areas. So, we have a plan in place right now, but there's still some tweaks and some improvements to be made -- that need to be made. And it's going to be extremely important to make sure that we get the word out to everyone, because we want to...
SHERWOODIs there any thought that Metro -- everyone wants Metro to be repaired, but is there any thought that Metro plan is just too -- has too much of a negative impact on Alexandria, that it ought to be lengthened or changed in some way?
AGUIRREWhat do you mean, lengthened?
SHERWOODWell, just do some of this work later. Spread it out so that you're not -- the whole system is not shut down.
AGUIRREWell, I mean, part of it is, we don't want to just keep on kicking the can down the road, right. So, some of it just -- we just have to get this done.
SHERWOODI just remember when Adam Tuss at Channel 4 several years ago reported that Metro was going to close down the Red Line from Rockville to DC, people had hard attacks. And, of course, it didn't happen.
NNAMDIWell, traffic deaths -- speaking of heart attacks, traffic deaths, and especially pedestrian deaths are up across the region, despite jurisdictions like yours taking on this Vision Zero Initiatives for Pedestrian Safety. What's Alexandria getting right about pedestrian safety, and where can it improve?
AGUIRREYou know, unfortunately, we actually just had a traffic death not too long ago. It was a couple weeks ago, I believe, up on Beauregard. But we have to be looking at our overall infrastructure, right? We have to be looking at are we creating safe walkways? Are we creating safe bikeways? Are we improving pedestrian safety at intersections so that it's more visible for drivers?
AGUIRREYes. We're in the process of doing that now. We've actually just started putting no-turn-on-red restrictions on certain intersections where we know there's going to be issues. We're looking at other intersections where we create more visibility for pedestrians, little bulbs that come out.
SHERWOODIs that part of the Vision -- does Alexandria have a Vision Zero program?
AGUIRREYep, absolutely. Absolutely.
SHERWOODThat's exactly the types of things that the city of Washington is doing and other jurisdictions are doing. The general complaint -- you might agree with it -- is that they're not being done fast enough in Montgomery County or -- I think Montgomery County has a whole bicycle plan, and that DC has one, Alexandria.
AGUIRREWe're actually updating our mobility master plan currently, so we're definitely looking at all of that.
SHERWOODYou're looking at a lot of things and having a lot of conversations. When are you going to have legislation and bills? That's what -- you know, that's what people want to hear.
AGUIRREWant to see action, absolutely.
SHERWOODLet me ask you another issue. You've got school issue in terms of crowding in Alexandria schools. Both Maryland and Virginia legislatures are looking at allowing schools to open before Labor Day. Do you have a view on that and what that would mean?
AGUIRRESo, I believe our school system is in favor of that. We have slightly different situations that we're dealing with in terms of our student population. We need to be able to lessen the summer loss learning, and also try and get some of our English language learners a few more resources, as well. So, I think it's important -- at least to us, as a locality -- because other jurisdictions might not need this. But at least in Alexandria, I think it's going to be important. I think our school board and our superintendent will be behind that, as well.
SHERWOODGiven the (unintelligible) limits, which you can do without the state's approval, can you go to year-round schooling, where you have four quarters of school during the year, and there's just small breaks between the quarters, as opposed to the agricultural system of shutting down for the summer?
AGUIRREThe legislation's still there. They haven't voted on it yet, so won't know until then (laugh).
NNAMDILast year, the city permanently took over the former munitions factory turned arts base, the Torpedo Factory. And there's been some questions raised in light of the Torpedo Factory takeover around the language of quote, unquote, "vibrancy." The editorial board of the Alexandria Times wrote, quoting here, "At what point on the graph do we move from the positivity of vibrancy to the negative of eroding livability? They also raise the concern: "The city is pursuing development to compete with National Harbor on the wharf without properly considering the things about Alexandria that make your city unique." What do you think about that, and is there tension between vibrancy and livability?
SHERWOODThere's only a certain number of scented candles that you can sell at the Torpedo Factory.
AGUIRRESo, first of all, in 2019, we're going to be at the 100-year anniversary of the Torpedo Factory and the 45th-year anniversary for the artists being in that space. Number one, I'm a huge supporter of the arts. You know, we're starting our district just north of the Torpedo Factory, as well. And the Torpedo Factory has a long history, so I'm a little bit more new to Virginia and to Alexandria. But at the same time, we have to strike this balance, because we still have to be competitive in the region. We're still vying for visitors and for tourist dollars. So, I think we have to make sure that all stakeholders are at the table and that our voices are being listened to when we're having this difficult conversation about balancing vibrancy versus arts.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Oh, there's that word conversation again (laugh). I'm going to start monitoring your art of conversation (laugh).
AGUIRRENext time, you're going to have to get the clicker and see how many times I say it.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Yes, I'll have a little clicker. You're going to hear the click.
NNAMDIWhat do you think the city's role in general should be in promoting arts and culture in Alexandria?
AGUIRREI think we need to take an active role. Personally, you know, I was just at John Adams Elementary School a few weeks ago, and we have a great collaboration between our Alexandria Symphonic Orchestra, which is a real gem in the city. If people don't realize it's there, definitely go check it out. But we're working with the elementary students at John Adams, and they created original music, and they had a little concert going, “Concerto Simpatico,” I think they called it. It was really great.
AGUIRREWhen I was at the ribbon cutting for Patrick Henry, we had a great dance presentation. I was able to tour the black box that they have, black box stage that they're opening within the school. So, you know, we have opportunities, not just within our school system, but also out in the community, to do artwork. I remember the power boxes that, you know, those green or black or gray, they look really dull. We had an artist go out and paint all of them, you know, and so it's really great. Little things like that make a big difference.
SHERWOODThe Newseum is looking for a home. You know, it's having to -- because of cost, giving up its space on Pennsylvania Avenue. It says it wants to stay in the region, have maybe a smaller project. But given Alexandria's history and early colonial days, news reporting and the vibrancy of Amazon coming in now, maybe there's a spot in Alexandria for a reduced, but still relevant Newseum.
AGUIRREThere might be.
NNAMDI(laugh) It used to be in Roslyn.
SHERWOODIt was in Roslyn at that little Circular Spectrum, or whatever it's called now.
NNAMDIBefore it came here.
NNAMDISo, who knows? Canek Aguirre is an Alexandria City Councilmember. Thank you so much for joining us.
AGUIRREThanks again, Kojo and Tom.
SHERWOODWe're out of time already? I was going to ask him if he's still a University of North Carolina fan, because I'm a Duke fan. They're playing next Wednesday.
AGUIRREOh, Heels all day.
NNAMDIAnd Duke is not, as you know, well-liked in this region (laugh).
SHERWOODThat's the only reason I like them. I only like them because there is so much hate going against Duke, I've got to be for them.
NNAMDIAll right. Before we go, one of the reasons there's hate against Duke is because they played for so many years in the ACC against the University of Maryland.
NNAMDIBut speaking of Maryland, the DC attorney general has accused three families of fraudulently enrolling children in city schools, and is seeking more than $450,000 in unpaid fees and penalties. Apparently, one of the parents is a teacher at a DC high school, but it looks like the attorney general is taking this matter quite seriously.
SHERWOODI think Attorney General Karl Racine is sending a message. This has been a classic case, even when the district schools were notorious, working families have always found a way to send their children to the elementary schools because they have longer school days in the suburbs, and they try to do it without paying the 10, now $14,000-a-year tuition if you're an out-of-state person. People claim a grandmother's residence or uncle's place or -- and it's just terrible.
SHERWOODAnd so, we had that issue at Duke Ellington, where the city first overstated the number of people who were not residents, but there's still 70-plus or so who aren't residents. And it costs -- if you're a parent and you have a child who wants to be at one school, and he or she can't get there because other people are there and it turns out they're in the suburbs -- they're from the suburbs, that's terrible. We should provide education for our students. And I'm glad Karl Racine is doing this.
NNAMDIThat's all the time we have. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. This week, we had a conversation on regional recycling that was so popular, we continued the conversation after we went off the air. So, go to KojoShow.org/blog. You can read all the answers to listener questions about what you can and cannot recycle. Coming up on Monday, we'll check in with Virginia activists on how Amazon's decision not to move half of its new headquarters to New York likely affects our region. And we'll talk with Montgomery County students who are organizing around gun control and school diversity. That all starts Monday, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. Any special plans this weekend?
SHERWOODIt's President's Day weekend, Monday.
NNAMDIWe get to work on President's Day.
SHERWOODWe're going to pay attention to the current president for about two minutes.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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