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.
We check in on the latest news from the D.C. Council, including updates on the future of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena and the fast-tracking of the District’s sports gambling program, with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.
Then we hear about a recently released poll that gauges Marylanders’ opinions on everything from Gov. Larry Hogan’s chances for a presidential run to Old Bay, the ever-popular condiment.
Finally, we meet Howard County Executive Calvin Ball III, who joins us to talk about his plans for some of the county’s biggest challenges, including flood mitigation for Ellicott City.
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
- Phil Mendelson Chairman, D.C. Council (D); @ChmnMendelson
- Mileah Kromer Director, Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and Associate Professor of Political Science, Goucher College; @MileahKromer
- Calvin Ball III Howard County Executive (D)
- 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 and he's here better things to do than gossip, which is what we were doing before the show.
TOM SHERWOODMaybe we got some political gossip.
NNAMDIWell, yes. We will trump up some political gossip pretty soon. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Calvin Ball III. He is the Howard County Executive. We'll be also talking with Mileah Kromer, Director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and Associate Professor of Political Science at Goucher College about a poll, a fairly interesting poll of the residents of Maryland and how they feel about a variety of issues. Joining us in studio first, however, is Phil Mendelson. He is chairman of the D.C. Council. Chairman Mendelson, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
PHIL MENDELSONIt's good to be here. Thanks, Kojo. Tom.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, let's talk about what's going on with Mayor Bowser and her nominee for the D.C. Ethics Board. Apparently she is in a bit of a conflict with Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen over her picks. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, Charles Allen, who is the chairman of the committee that oversees the Board of Ethics -- what's BEGA stand for Mr. Chairman?
MENDELSONBoard of Ethics and Government Accountability.
SHERWOODYes. Didn't like the nomination of Charles Nottingham last year, and didn't move it. And the mayor for some reason has resubmitted it. And Charles Allen has said again that while Mr. Nottingham is a fine person, he doesn't meet the standard for the vacancy on BEGA, which is someone who has experience with open government issues. So it looks like Charles Allen is not going to move it again.
NNAMDIHow is this likely to be resolved Mr. Chairman?
SHERWOODWell, can we also -- may I just say Mr. Chairman --
MENDELSONThe question was --
SHERWOODThe problem is one of these seats has been vacant since Carol Schwartz left it in like 2017. This is a five member board. Only three members have been there. It seems to me that Ethics and Government Accountability requires a full board.
MENDELSONWell, I would agree. It does require a full board. Last year there was -- or two years ago there was legislation that went through and part of the issue at the time for the Council was whether to split the office of open government off from BEGA. And the decision was made not to split it off, but instead the size of the board was expanded. And there was a seat set aside for an open government person.
MENDELSONSo Mr. Nottingham -- in my conversations with Councilmember Allen, Mr. Nottingham is a very capable individual and would even be capable or qualified for the board except for the open government seat.
SHERWOODA general seat.
MENDELSONYes, for a general seat. And as you know there is a general seat available. So that's where the issue is is that there's one seat set aside for a person with these qualifications. And Mr. Nottingham could be appointed for a different -- nominated for a different seat on the board.
SHERWOODIf the mayor changed her nomination.
NNAMDILater this month, the Metro Board is voting on whether or not to return to late night rail hours. D.C. is at odds with other jurisdictions in this region when it comes to Metro rail hours. The Federal Transit Administration announced that it might just pull $1.6 billion in funding from the region if Metro does extend its hours. Is there any kind of compromise that can be reached here?
MENDELSONWell, I think something is going to get worked out. The tension here is that the District as the core of the region is the jurisdiction that benefits the most or hurts the most by the cutback in the hours.
MENDELSONYes, it's the hospitality industry and it's the folks, who work late at night. The folks who late night serving the hospitality industry as well to customers. And, you know, just so everybody remembers, the Metro used to have longer hours than it does now. Opened earlier in the morning and closed later at night. And that's a good thing, because that's what you want public transit to do. Look at New York City, which is open 24 hours a day. But the differed maintenance with Metro was so bad that the general manager continues to insist that they need longer working time at night, which is why he wants to continue with the shorter hours, the shorter operating hours.
MENDELSONThat's where the tension is. And, you know, I will back Councilmember Evans and the District representatives on the Metro Board. At the same time, we've had conversations about whether there is some way that we can continue to ensure safety and improve the state of the good repair of the rail system while at the same time trying to get to longer hours.
NNAMDIAnd I forgot. I said the hospitality industry. Among the forgotten in this are the people, who clean all of these buildings that we work in all around the city.
NNAMDIUntil late into the night.
SHERWOODThat's a significant issue of who's affected by Metro not working, because the whole point is to have Metro so people can use it to get to work not just the nine to five commuters.
SHERWOODBut another big issue and the city councilmember is the school system. You thought it was so important that last year when you reorganized the Council committees, you took it upon yourself with your committee as a whole to share jurisdiction with the Education Committee.
SHERWOODThe mayor has nominated and he's gone through a variety of hearings in the nine hour hearing the new chancellor, Lewis Ferebee. Have you decided whether you're going to vote for or against Mr. Ferebee?
MENDELSONWell, with the revised jurisdiction, the committee as a whole, which I chair has sequential referral or jurisdiction over the nomination. So it's not just a question of whether I'll vote for him, but whether I'll move forward the nomination. The Education Committee is scheduled to mark up next week and I expect they will move it favorably. And I intend to move it favorably as well. I went out to Indianapolis a week ago before the hearing to meet with stakeholders on all sides of the issues with regard to public education in Indianapolis. That was very helpful to me. And it gave me -- not only did it give me some reassurances, but it also helped me to better understand the nominee.
SHERWOODWell, Mr. Ferebee has said a number of things that he is looking at and suggesting some changes. But my email and Tweeter feed was filled this morning with people wondering about at-risk funding that the D.C. auditor has said in a recent finding that money that is supposed to be set aside to help schools that have at-risk students is in fact not really being used for their at-risk students in the way it should. The broad issue is whether this school system can be properly managed. As the Chairman of the Council who's taken on joint oversight of the schools, what do you intend to do to make sure the school system operates rather than gives us a bunch of what I call aspirational garbage?
MENDELSONWell, there was a lot in your question and I take it we've moved beyond talking about Dr. Ferebee.
SHERWOODRight. Well, assuming that he's going to be confirmed next week, what will you be doing going forward?
MENDELSONWell, let me say, I don't want to quite leave Dr. Ferebee yet, because one of the criticisms I've heard here about him was that he quote on quote "privatized" the schools in Indianapolis. And I got a better picture of that. What he really was pushing was for more autonomy within the schools itself, and I think that will make a difference. You mention the at-risk funding and David Grosso, who chairs the Education Committee and I had a joint hearing on that issue a couple of weeks ago, and there'll be another hearing on that issue of the at-risk funding. At-risk means it's additional dollar. It's over $100 million in public education both DCPS and charters combined.
SHERWOODIt's supposed to go for additional support for schools that have significant at-risk students.
SHERWOODBut in fact it just kind of filled some holes and stuff.
MENDELSONYeah, I have in my mind that something like 40 percent is actually going to at-risk resources and the rest is going to just I'm going to say business as usual. That's probably an unfair way.
SHERWOODWhy don't call the school system in and just say --
MENDELSONWell, we had a hearing on it. We're going to have another hearing on it. I think it's important.
SHERWOODI mean, hold them to the fire -- feet to the fire, I think is the cliché.
MENDELSONWhat's behind this is I think the school system has got to sort out its finances and figure out how it's going to get more resources into the classroom. We're paying over $900 million a year for DCPS.
SHERWOODNot counting the charter schools, which is another $800 million.
MENDELSONCorrect. And so how they spend that money, how much is going to central administration, how much is being held back and not going to supports for at-risk kids, and it absolutely is an area that I intend to push the chancellor on and the school system on. That's one of the reasons why there's the joint oversight is that I want to give much more focus to what's going on in the classroom and how we're going to improve outcomes for kids. And in particular kids in the lower grades, because if kids aren't ready -- if they're not at grade level for reading --
SHERWOODThey fall behind.
MENDELSONThey fall behind and they fall behind very quickly.
SHERWOODWe have a lot of issues to get to. So I'm going to leave this, but it seems to me that people who are in education burocracy as public school system, if they can't account for the money, why are they there? Rather than reassessing and rebooting and re-everything, but firing.
MENDELSONWell, I didn't say they -- I didn't say they can't account for the money.
SHERWOODWell, not properly assign the money.
MENDELSONThey're not spending it the way we intended.
SHERWOODAnd I would ask, why are they there? Let's ask about sports betting, big issue.
SHERWOODIt passed the Council, but it only passed the Council in part, because back when the committee, the Finance and Revenue Committee passed, Vince Gray decided he didn't want to vote on it on that day. And so he didn't attend the committee meeting. So you attended as an ex-official member of all the committees and without your vote sports betting would have died.
MENDELSONMaybe, maybe not, I think that, you know, sometimes votes reflect the circumstances of the moment.
SHERWOODTrue. The only fight was whether or not the bid, the contract for this sports betting around town should be single sourced to the current lottery operator, Intralot or whether it should have been competitively bid. And a lot of people said you were -- the city was not fairly putting it out to bid. The chief financial officer, Jeffrey Dewitt said, look, I've done this for 30 something years. Usually I'm for competitive bidding, but this is a rare case where we can get this done quickly properly and for the benefit of the city.
MENDELSONYeah, benefit to the tune of about $60 million. I have a lot of respect for Jeff Dewitt. And Jeff Dewitt is the person behind the proposals that the Council considered, modified slightly, and ultimately adopted. So I think we're on fair footing there.
NNAMDIWell, I don't know Mr. Dewitt, but I do know that Intralot was recently downgraded by Moody's to B3 status, which is according to Councilmember David Grosso a speculative grade and considered a high credit risk. Was that of concern to the Council at all?
MENDELSONWhen I learned of that -- and that actually happened last fall, but somehow it hit the news last week, two weeks ago. I spoke with Jeff Dewitt, who subsequently sent a memo to the Council explaining why this was not of as greater concern as it would appear. You know, there are three international companies that do this work. And we require in the District that whoever it is for the District has to partner with a local business.
MENDELSONIn a sense what is going on is that we are extending a current contract. Now lawyers please don't shudder, because technically and legally we didn't extend it. We are going to enter into a new contract, which is why you referred to it as sole source. But it's the incumbent contractor with the minority partner. And in that sense it's an extension and it's new only, because it's a substantially different line of business, the sports betting.
SHERWOODRight. And the plan is --
MENDELSONThey've been with us since 2010.
MENDELSONAnd we have I would say a satisfactory track record. Some would argue that if we competitively bid it we would get a better price. That may be. There certainly is a value to competition. At the same time, when I talk to Mr. Dewitt about it he noted that the costs that we're incurring are among the lowest when compared to other states. There's a lot of controversy in here, but a lot of that controversy is ginned up by the competitors, who want a chance at the market.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of competitors there's one aspect of this that I didn't quite understand. And it says that sports betting can be conducted at arenas, also with bars and restaurants, but those facilities cannot be within two blocks of any stadium or arena where sports betting occurs. Why are you trying -- it would appear to protect the profits of the owners of the arenas?
MENDELSONThis was part of the legislative compromise that was adopted in December. There is a -- I want to say a wider variety of services available at I think the law authorizes five facilities, but you mentioned it's the National's ballpark and the Capital One Arena and I'm forgetting the others. And to ensure their business there's this, what do I want to call it? A barrier around.
MENDELSONCushioned barrier around them. It's that two block radius. That's what the thinking was there.
SHERWOODAnd just to be clear if this works as everyone says it will work is by the football season this fall sports betting around town will be up and running.
MENDELSONI believe that's correct, this fall.
SHERWOODOkay. All right.
MENDELSONIt will be the mobile app as well as the online. And all of this just in case anybody missed it is because the Supreme Court ruled that a federal prohibition on the states was unconstitutional.
SHERWOODI'd like to bet right now where Bryce Harper is going to go, but that's a whole different subject.
MENDELSONYeah, that's a different subject.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Abe who says, "Please, ask Chairman Mendelson about the City Paper article on DHCD's failure to spend millions of dollars on federal grant money on lead paint remediation resulting in loss of ability to apply for future funds."
MENDELSONThis a problem that we've seen repeatedly with some agencies and DHCD is one those where there --
SHERWOODAnd DHCD is?
NNAMDIThe Department of Housing and Community Development.
MENDELSONI wasn't the first one to use that acronym.
SHERWOODI know. Kojo was.
MENDELSONAnd, well, criticize him. I don't think you will. The agencies, like, DHCD, do not tap all of the federal dollars that are available to them and sometimes there's an answer and explanation. I don't completely buy it that money is granted on a multiyear basis. So that it's not all spent in the first year and therefore some is left over. I don't think that's the case here.
NNAMDIBut this affects the people most economically challenged in the city and we see this cycle of lead paint and kids over and over again for decades. You would think that somebody would make this a priority at some point.
MENDELSONWell, DHCD and the executives should make it a priority. I mean, we have related to that is the issue of housing inspections and slum conditions for some apartments. And that's an areas where DCRA, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs --
SHERWOODWhich is also under you.
MENDELSONYes, and it has the housing inspectors and I reintroduced legislation to break up that agency. And to have a new agency that's focused just on permitting and housing inspections. So that there aren't distractions and there can be better attention to ensuring that housing in the District is up to code.
SHERWOODThis is just like the school system where you have the people, yes, at the top who lead it, but then there's the upper echelon of managers and then the middle managers who are not doing their jobs.
NNAMDIYou also introduced legislation that would help protect renters from mold in the District. What's the process like now and how would your legislation change that?
MENDELSONWell, the process now is that, well, the housing code is clear that landlords can't have mold in the apartments that they rent. And we're talking about substantial mold and we're talking about there are kinds of mold that are very harmful to individuals. And the process is that the tenant complains that there are bad conditions including mold and DCRA, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs sends out inspectors. And they see the mold and they say, We don't do mold. That's the Department of Environment.
MENDELSONAnd so then the Department of Environment actually when the legislature was passed a few years to avoid a cost to the District for hiring we require that the landlords would go to a third part, who is certified for mold inspection and remediation. You can see right now that the process is complicated. The bill I introduced says that DCRA inspectors need to be trained with regard to mold and have to have the authority to cite housing code violations for mold.
SHERWOODIt just seems to me the city government is now $14 billion has moved beyond its crisis of not having enough money. Now the crisis is whether the money across the board, across any number of agencies is being properly tracked to see that it's been properly spent the way the Council and the mayor have said it should be.
MENDELSONWell, I would say yeah, but with regard to the mold, I don't think that's it. I think it's that it was bureaucratically designed in a way that no tenant can easily get there problem solved. And this legislation is intended to make it simpler.
NNAMDIOn to the phone. Here is Patrick Mara who is a well-known activist in the District of Columbia who has run for office as a republican. However, he is calling from Belize. Patrick Mara, what are you doing in Belize?
PATRICK MARAHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me on. Well, it's, you know, it's -- school vacation week. And, you know, you've got to get your family out of Dodge. I heard it was snowing and got a good flight. We got a good four flights to Belize and so here we are.
NNAMDIWell, the snow is now gone. So you wasted your time.
SHERWOODYeah, other than bragging about where you are, why are you calling?
MARAWell, I'm calling for two reasons. First of all, I haven't had an opportunity to listen to the show, because I'm at a beach. But I just wanted to weigh in on behalf of Chip Nottingham the republican nominee to BEGA. He is -- you know, I read one article. But I just wanted to note that he is a highly qualified nominee, former chief of staff to Congressman Tom Davis who the listeners of your show would recognize. He also handled ethics for the congressman. And as you know, Congressman Davis was a highly ethical member of Congress. But just wanted to (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWell, I'd like to hear Phil Mendelson comment on that.
MENDELSONWell, as I indicated earlier I talked with Councilmember Allen earlier and I would agree that Mr. Nottingham appears to be very very qualified to be on the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. But the seat that he was nominated for specifically requires open government experience and he doesn't have that experience.
SHERWOODAnother big issue that's facing the Council right now last March, a year ago, the Council had over 300 plus witness to address changing the comprehensive plan. Not to get bureaucratic, but the comprehensive plan is the format for which all the development in the city is done, zoning and building, how big, how wide, how many, all of that. There was a huge hearing last December. The mayor is upset that the way the law is written now is that planned unit developments, which are those big massive developments are all stuck, because there is flaws in the comprehensive plan that doesn't allow them to go forward without expensive and time wasting court challenges.
SHERWOODI spoke to the Office of Planning director Monday night, Andrew Trueblood and I said to him, when is this revision in the comprehensive plan that oversees everything in the city virtually for development, going to come for a vote in the Council? He said he didn't know, you should ask Chairman Mendelson. Chairman Mendelson, when is this major comprehensive plan legislation coming before the Council for a vote?
MENDELSONWell, first let me say, thanks Andrew. What's before the Council is not the entire plan. It's only the introductory --
SHERWOODThe framework as it's often called.
MENDELSONIt's called the framework, but it's the introductory chapter. And it was sent down a year ago by the mayor, because she saw this as a way of stopping the litigation that was holding up the planned unit developments. A planned unit development is a discretionary approach toward development. A developer can develop matter of right. That's a different process and doesn't involve going to the Zoning Commission for approvals. A planned unit development does require going to the Zoning Commission.
MENDELSONNow there's no question in my mind that the legal challenges to the planned unit developments have been excessive. If there were a half dozen a year for a decade or two, there have been something like two dozen in the last couple of days.
SHERWOODMr. Chairman, I appreciate the backstory.
MENDELSONWell, that's important to this. So the framework --
SHERWOODCan we get to the headline is when are you going to bring it up? Then tell me why it's taken so long. You're explaining why.
MENDELSONWell, I hope to bring up -- well, your question was when am I going to bring up the plan. I don't have the plan. I only have the framework.
MENDELSONAnd I'm hoping to bring that up before the summer recess. We're about to go into budget. So I can't say this spring, but my plan is to bring it up before the recess.
SHERWOODAnd it is complicated.
MENDELSONAnd see. Now you're not letting me go into the backstory. Thank you.
SHERWOODI was hoping you wouldn't.
MENDELSONWhat the mayor intended when she sent the framework down was to so generalize the definitions if you will in the land use zone and the comprehensive plan that now nobody could sue. Well, that actually hurts the plan. It no longer is a planning document. Instead it's just this general gibberish. So that's not a good approach.
MENDELSONAlso what she sent down did not reference housing as a priority. Although, I will say that her administration last summer sent a letter saying, No, no, housing is a priority. So we're going to move that this -- we're going to move it the first half of this year. And we're going to address housing as a priority. We're also going to try to reconcile how everybody can interpret the plan, but, again, this is an introductory chapter.
NNAMDIGot a lot of guests today, running out of time, but I wanted to get Mike in Washington in. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHi. Mr. Chairman, I'm just wondering what happened with the Air B&B bill. Were you able to secure the funding for the administration of the bill? And also were you able to change the zoning with the Zoning Department?
MENDELSONWith regard to the funding that has to wait until we have the budget, which will be next month, but my intent is to fund the administrative costs for the short term rental housing. That's what you're calling about. What was the other part of the question?
NNAMDIMike, what was the other part of the question?
MIKEYou had to get the zoning correct in order to have the bill basically.
MENDELSONWell, actually most of the short term rental housing units today on the market violate zoning. It's just that people don't have permits for them. And I got all the Councilmembers to sign a letter to the Zoning Commission requesting that the zoning regulations change. And I talked to Andrew Trueblood at the Office of Planning about this a few weeks ago and they're planning on making their recommendation, which will recommend changing the zoning. And that should move forward this spring.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson is chairman of the D.C. Council. Thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOODOoh, are we out of time for him?
NNAMDIWe're out of time for Chairman Mendelson.
MENDELSONWho scheduled this for --
NNAMDIBecause we have two other guests who still have to join us.
SHERWOODOh, that's right. We have three guests today. I'm sorry. You'll have to come back.
SHERWOODWell, I'm sorry that --
SHERWOODWell, no, I'm glad that we'll have Mileah on in a moment.
NNAMDIIt's always a pleasure to see you, Chairman.
SHERWOODWe had so many issues, I apologize. Lots of issues we were going to bring up.
NNAMDIYes. Tom Sherwood, the Washington Post is reporting that Virginia Republicans are planning hearings into sex assault allegations against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, and that they plan to invite both Fairfax and the two women accusing him of sexual assault to testify. I don't know whether they've gotten any Democrats to go along with them on that panel. That was their effort, at this point.
NNAMDIBut one of the difficulties of conducting the investigation, and according to polls that were conducted, apparently, most people feel that Fairfax should not be removed without an investigation. The problem, of course, with the investigation is they're now in Virginia, and both of these alleged assaults apparently occurred, not only a long time ago, but in other locations.
SHERWOODAnd the legislature's adjourning next week. Some question whether the legislature should be looking at legal issues of whether or not sexual assaults occurred. And the worry is that it could just turn into a terribly political mess, something that Virginia clearly doesn't need for now.
NNAMDIThat is absolutely correct. Joining us now in studio is Calvin Ball III. He's the Executive of Howard County. Thank you so much for joining us.
CALVIN BALL IIIThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone is Mileah Kromer, Director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and associate professor of political science at Goucher College. Mileah Kromer, thank you for joining us.
MILEAH KROMERThanks for having me.
NNAMDII wanted Calvin Ball in on this conversation, because it's all about Maryland. And so, Mileah, what did you learn about Governor Hogan's approval ratings in the poll that you conducted, and what do Marylanders think about the rumors of the governor's run for president?
KROMERWell, in a lot of ways, we learned nothing new about Governor Hogan's approval rating --
SHERWOODOkay. Bye. (laugh)
KROMER(laugh) It's been a steady, mid-60s to upper-60s since he basically took office back in 2015. He continues to have, I think, a coalition of support from Democrats, Independents and almost unanimous among Republicans. But even with the support for his work as governor, you don't see a majority of the state saying he should run for President of the United States. Only about a third of Marylanders think that he should.
SHERWOODWell, you said the numbers were 55 percent said he should not run --
SHERWOOD--even though this poll showed that Marylanders find the governor likeable, 85 percent, honest and trustworthy, 70 percent, and that he runs the management of the state government 80 percent approved. Those are pretty good numbers.
KROMERThose are really good numbers, and those indicators are typically, as for presidents, those are the Gallup indicators that they've been asking about, all the presidents from, obviously, the modern era. And he does substantially better than President Trump does on a nationwide sample on those indicators, which is really not surprising, given how poorly President Trump does among Democrats and Independents.
SHERWOODGovernor Hogan, as you know, he's played coy about whether or not he would challenge the President in primaries, but --
NNAMDI(overlapping) This week, he was critical of the Republican National Committee, of which --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Very critical --
NNAMDI--he says he's blocking challenges in the primaries.
SHERWOODAnd he's traveling to Iowa or New Hampshire, or both. I can't remember. This poll is not going to discourage him from doing this. Anybody would like to be seen as a potential candidate for President.
KROMERWell, the poll shouldn't discourage him from doing so. In a lot of ways, first and foremost, that Maryland doesn't really play a big role in nominating a president. And secondly, these are the very similar numbers that we see to people like Cory Booker among New Jersey residents, as well as Elizabeth Warren among Massachusetts residents. They essentially get -- these questions like should they run have been asked about both of those candidates with their home state voters, and they put about the same numbers.
NNAMDICalvin Ball, should he run?
IIIWell, yeah, frankly I think that's a decision he has to make.
NNAMDIWell, would you encourage him to make that decision?
SHERWOODWell, you're a Democrat. He's a Republican.
NNAMDIThat's why I'm trying to push him on this issue. (laugh)
SHERWOODI know. So, do you think he would be -- no, you talked about already -- you just got elected as County Executive of Howard, but, you know, you're talked about as potential candidate for governor. Do you think the governor should be out playing presidential politics, instead of doing the job?
IIIWell, thank you very much for having me, and I think you're right. I did just get elected, and Governor Hogan just got reelected. And I think, frankly, all of us should be focused on doing the job first.
NNAMDIMileah Kromer, Governor Hogan got a higher approval rating than Maryland's General Assembly. How did responders think the legislator was during the session?
KROMERSo, I mean, that's not an uncommon thing for an institutional body to receive a lower approval rating than an individual. And you see this all the time with Congress. The Maryland General Assembly is, what we would say, above water with public opinion. So, around 40 percent approve of the job that they're doing. Around 30 percent say they disapprove, but around 25-ish percent, they just are not -- unable to rank the Maryland General Assembly. If you compare that with Congress, the Maryland General Assembly is much beloved, compared to Congress.
SHERWOODIsn't it just part of our DNA as Americans as to be exceptionally critical of political people and organizations? I mean, people are critical of journalism, too, but I think we come just above used car dealers. I'm not sure where --
NNAMDI--and lawyers, bottom feeders.
KROMER(laugh) I think that's right. I always think that -- I try to look at, like, one positive takeaway from our polls. Maybe it's my sunny disposition, (laugh) but I think it's great for Maryland's state government that, by and large, the majority of Marylanders trust the Maryland state government to do what's in the public's best interest, versus the opposite is true for Marylanders' opinions towards the federal government --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Yeah, that was 73 percent. I thought that was a pretty high number.
KROMERThat's a pretty good -- I think it's a great number, and I think it demonstrates the fact -- listen, Marylanders voted in divided government. I think Marylanders generally like the governor. And then I think, by and large, Marylanders are satisfied with the direction the state's going. And more Marylanders than not approve of the job the General Assembly's doing, and that's a pretty good overall picture.
NNAMDITwo-thirds of the people you polled say they disapprove of President Trump's performance in the White House, one-third approved, roughly corresponding with the partisan split in the state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by about two to one. But do these numbers tell you anymore specifically about where Maryland's GOP might be politically in the lead-up to the 2020 elections?
KROMERSo, you mean nationally, or just among -- in Maryland?
KROMERRight. So, this a blue state. There's no really indication to me that President Trump has made any inroads with any Democratic voters in Maryland anymore than he's made inroads with Democratic voters nationwide. These are some serious disapproval numbers from Maryland Democrats about the -- given to the President.
NNAMDIAnd, lastly, what did you learn about how Marylanders like to season their food, especially their crabs?
KROMER(laugh) Oh, right. This is the most -- this is the only question I've ever asked in the Goucher poll that I didn't get a single sort of pushback on. Marylanders, by and large, absolutely love Old Bay Seasoning. It has an 83 percent approval rating, so I think anybody would -- any politician would love to have that kind of approval from the public.
NNAMDIYeah, Old Bay should be running for governor of Maryland, (laugh) at this point.
SHERWOODLet's not ask Mayor Bowser what she thinks about sauces.
NNAMDIWell, that's how the whole thing came up, as a matter of fact.
NNAMDIIt was supposed to be a joke, at first, but people began to take it seriously in Maryland, and so it became a part of the poll. Mileah Kromer, thank you for joining us.
KROMERThanks for having me.
NNAMDIMileah Kromer is the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politic Center and associate professor of political science at Goucher College. If you have questions or comments for the Howard County Executive Calvin Ball III, start calling now. He's only been in office for a short while, but are you already dissatisfied with his performance? (laugh) 800-433-8850. You can send us a Tweet @KojoShow or email to Kojo@wamu.org. We love the disgruntled, but if you also favor his performance, you can call, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Can I just -- one update from Bruce DePuyt? Oh, I apologize. I stepped on the number.
SHERWOODBruce DePuyt from Maryland Matters said that Governor Hogan will be in Iowa in March, and he'll be in New Hampshire later in the spring.
NNAMDII wonder what's the significance of those visits? (laugh) Nobody's planning to do -- Calvin Ball, first, congratulations on your win.
IIIThank you very much.
NNAMDIWe talk a lot about Montgomery and Prince George's County on the Politics Hour, not quite as much about Howard County. But what do you think people in the D.C. region really need to understand about your county, and what do you see as its biggest challenge?
IIIWell, I tell you, Columbia was frankly just recently ranked as number one safest city in the US according to WalletHub. And, you know --
SHERWOODOh, oh, the Wallet -- okay.
IIIExactly, safest city in America. And, you know, even USA Today, at one point, had us as one of the most technologically advanced communities. And Rolling Stone even looked at Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of the top amphitheaters in America. You know, Howard County is not only in between Baltimore and D.C., but it is a great place to live and work and play. And I think that we are on the rise and on the move.
NNAMDISo, that should make your job pretty easy, but what are the biggest challenges facing --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And why did the voters turn out Allan Kittleman --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Your Republican predecessor.
SHERWOOD--if things were so great?
IIIWell, I said on the rise and on the move. I think Howard County residents want us to be the very best, and they look for us to have not only a very good school system where we have about 93 percent graduation rate, but we're a county that looks at that 7 percent. You know, how can we help all of our children, all of our educators? They look toward leadership when it comes to the economic divide. And although we have companies growing, more companies and more entrepreneurs look for opportunity.
IIIAnd I think, you know, as we look at some of the statistics over the last few years, when we look at the FBI data and the state police data and we see hate crime and bias crime on the move, I think Howard County wants a leader who will not only stand up, but speak out.
NNAMDIYou mentioned schools. While Howard County high school students took advanced placement exams last year, more than the year before, there has been an increase in the gap between the highest participating group, Asian students, and the lowest participating group, African American students. How are you working towards closing that achievement gap?
IIIYes. I'm glad that you noted that there is a growing achievement gap, and that frankly we do need to make sure we look out for all of our students, high-performing, those who have challenges and, frankly, those who are right in the middle. And so not just when it comes to resources, but support, when it comes to advocacy, when it comes to making sure that they have the community partnership so that they can see themselves, all of themselves in those excellent positions of the future.
SHERWOODCan we -- this is your first time on the Kojo Show, isn't it?
IIIYes, and they told me you will be extra nice to me the first time.
NNAMDIThey were wrong. (laugh)
SHERWOODOnce again --
SHERWOOD--you know -- let me ask you about you, because when you did -- you've been on the -- you were on council in Howard County how many terms?
SHERWOODThree terms. You're in your early 40s?
SHERWOODAnd a lot of people just don't know you. You decided to run against Allan Kittleman, who has a long history in the county, his whole family does, dating back to his father. But you won, even though a lot of people thought you were, you know, wait out-classed in terms of money and experience. You did win. But people don't really know much about you. What were you doing for a job before you became county executive, or tell us something about you. I know you have a wife and two teenage daughters, which ought to be a full time job. But something a little more about you, personally, that isn't on your notes over there.
IIIWell, I didn't decide to run against anyone. I decided to run for Howard County Executive, because as an educator, who has my doctorate in education, and a certified mediator, I saw that there's so much more opportunity, not just for my two children, I have one in middle school and one in high school, but for everyone's children.
SHERWOODAll right. But about you, Bachelor of Arts and Philosophy and Religion from --
IIIYep, from Townsend State University.
SHERWOOD--Townsend State, Master of Arts, legal and ethical studies from the University of Baltimore and a doctorate of education at Morgan State.
SHERWOODAnd this has nothing to do with politics. I thought it was interesting. Your father was in the Air Force.
SHERWOODBut you came along afterwards, so you're not a military brat, like me. But he worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
SHERWOODAnd you have said, in your various talks that I've seen, that you used to travel with your father to reservations. And that that schooled you on how people are treated, how people are different. Tell us just a little bit about that.
IIISo, my father's probably my first hero, and not only because he is a sharp and smart guy, but he's incredibly caring and thoughtful. And so we would travel around to Indian reservations, and it helped me understand not only about diversity, but inclusion, about opportunity, about people who, on those reservations, needed help and needed a government who cared about their future.
IIIAnd so, learning from my dad, learning about that opportunity to be a better person and how being a better person helps society be better was something that formed part of my foundations of who I am.
NNAMDISpeaking of diversity, we got a Tweet from Candace, who says: Calvin Ball has appointed female leaders for fire and police chiefs. Pretty unprecedented. He's making strides in the name of diversity. Was that a conscious decision on your part, in the interest of diversity, or were these just the two best candidates?
IIIBoth. I wanted to send a message that, with my leadership, those who are qualified, those are work hard, those who aspire to be excellent will have as much opportunity as anyone else. You know, these were two leaders who had nearly 30 years in their careers and had worked in just about every division, were well-respected, beloved, but frankly, had never really been thought of as chiefs. And now that they are chiefs, they are doing a great job making sure that everyone sees themselves in their leadership, and every part of Howard County recognizes that, you know, we care and we want to serve.
SHERWOODNow, one of the biggest issues -- again, people in the Washington and immediate area don't know that much about Howard County -- Merriweather Post Pavilion is there, of course, but more importantly, Ellicott City is there. It's had those terrible floods the last two years. The last County Executive, going through your notes, now, over there -- you should see this notebook he's got.
NNAMDII see it.
SHERWOODIn the event --
IIIAbout half the size of yours. (laugh)
SHERWOODNo, mine is only a couple of wild pages. The previous County Executive had the plan -- $50 million plan, I think, included tearing down 13 or so historic places. You've come in and said, did you want to rethink that? You have a save Ellicott --
IIISafe and Sound, EC --
SHERWOOD--Safe and Sound which is a website.
SHERWOODBut have you decided whether any of the historic buildings must be torn down in whatever plan is done to save Ellicott City?
NNAMDIYou apparently cut the demolition from your plan.
SHERWOODYou held it up.
IIISo, one of the things that I heard along the campaign trail and since I got in is that people were concerned about a $50 million, five-year plan that would still leave four to six feet of flood water on Main Street. And frankly, the first phase was funded outside of the budget process, and a lot of the money was actually taken from other projects, including a first station. And what I heard was that people wanted us to ensure public safety. They wanted us to support businesses and property owners, but they also wanted us to -- to the extent possible -- keep the historic nature and the charm that makes Ellicott City a national treasure, and respect taxpayer dollars in a transparent, community-driven process.
IIISo, we moved with a sense of urgency to continue the project's upstream, bringing people together, as you noted, creating the website. But we also wanted to reevaluate whether or not we needed to demolish a lot of the character in lower Main. And so we asked our Department of Planning Public Works to look at reevaluating the models and at least consider preservation as a factor when it comes to the best model for Ellicott City.
NNAMDIWell, you should know how important it is to Ryan. Ryan says, as a longtime resident of Ellicott City, I was ready to vote for Allan Kittleman until the second flood. Not enough was done in the 22 months between the floods to help save the historic district. I voted against Jon Weinstein for the same reason. You seem like a great guy, but if you don't save old Ellicott City, you may be a one-term Executive, as well. I'm rooting for you though, he says. (laugh)
IIIWell, I'm glad that everybody's rooting for me, and I think if we come together, not only Ellicott City, Columbia, Savage, every part of Howard County will thrive.
NNAMDIKaty in Silver Spring has some questions about Howard County. Katy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATYHi. So, I am a resident of Montgomery County right now, but my husband and I are thinking of moving to Howard County. And my biggest concern is just the connection between Howard County and the D.C. Metro area for jobs and, you know, being able to kind of have flexibility in changing jobs and having a young family. So, I was just wondering if you have thoughts about future improvements and connecting Howard County to D.C.
IIIGreat question. So, a multimodal transportation system is a top priority of mine, and that is, and what I see, is not only things like the connection of Baltimore and D.C. through things like bus rapid transit, but improved mass transit and better walking and biking paths. As we look at a lot of workers who are looking to go to different cities, they want to be able to connect to their jobs in an efficient and safe manner. And having a much improved transportation system that connects us to other surrounding jurisdictions, D.C. and Baltimore is a key to that, and it's a top priority.
SHERWOODI would say when you were running for office, for this seat, one of the question and answers, you said, unfortunately, we have one of the worst transportation systems in the region. I don't want to discourage this couple from moving to the county, but it does seem that's a major statement to say about somewhere that's equidistant almost between Baltimore and Washington. You can benefit from both areas.
IIIYeah. So, it shows we have a lot of opportunity to improve.
NNAMDIHere is Greg in Columbia. Greg, your turn.
GREGHello, Calvin, this is Greg.
GREGI have a question for you. One of the reasons why I'm glad Ken is gone and Allan's gone is because of the overdevelopment of Howard County. And the result of it is my ninth grade little daughter is now in classes that are 130 percent overstuffed, basically, as a result of the nonstop overdevelopment of Howard County. I mean, you've got -- you know, on 108, you've got multiple townhouses going up. You've got, on Hanover Road, just overbuilding, and it's nonstop. And, you know, you're talking about in keeping the schools improved, I don't see how we're going to do that when, you know, like I said, we're 130 percent over capacity --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Overcrowding, and then I'd like to talk to you about the school budget. How are you going to deal with the overcrowding?
IIISo, I think that that is one of the top issues that people raise, and all of our residents should expect adequate public facilities and the right infrastructure. And we are several years behind, as Greg indicated, with overcrowding. So, we need to find school sites, and not just school sites after the overcrowding. One of the things that I'm going to be working on over the next year is thinking about where we need to go with school sites and identifying some of those school sites ahead of time, and making sure that, frankly, developers pay their fair share.
IIIThere's legislation before the state to look at the surcharge and make sure that, you know, everybody chips in as far as making sure that we move forward in Howard County.
NNAMDIDo you support that legislation?
IIIOh, well, yeah --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Because Jennifer Tweeted in: does Calvin Ball support current legislation being considered at the state level to increase the school surcharge on new development to fund the schools?
IIII do, and I've testified for the last couple years. However, they're going through the process, and I know that there are several amendments afoot, so I'm very anxiously waiting to see what actually comes out.
NNAMDIHow about the budget? The Howard County Board approved a nearly $1 billion budget. Two school board members voted against it, saying they were concerned about the overall cost. Well, if Superintendent Michael Martirano -- how do I pronounce --
NNAMDIMartirano, if Superintendent Michael Martirano had gotten the full amount he requested, the budget would have been nearly $26 million larger. What do you think of this budget?
IIIWell, when Dr. Martirano first came in, there was an ask of about $60 million over maintenance of effort. And most of the community thought that that was a ridiculous ask. And even Dr. Martirano recognized the fiscal realities. His request this time was twice that and it's a record number when we're frankly heading toward recession. So my hope is that the county council, the delegation, the board of ed., the school system and I can come together with a multiyear plan on how to address the many years of deferred maintenance and challenges that frankly will not be addressed in one year's budget.
SHERWOODYou've had this (clears throat) -- the caller brought up the same issue that the County Executive of Montgomery County brought up and the City of Alexandria has brought up in the changes in that it's not a question whether you're going to have development, because you're going to have it. The question is how do you manage it so that you can provide the services.
IIIExactly. I mean, having the public facilities that people expect for the quality of life is really what it's about. And frankly, most people who I hear who have concerns aren't antidevelopment per say. They just want to make sure that we have the infrastructure that we should have.
SHERWOODNow, you guys also were affected by the government shutdown, the federal government shutdown. I think you said in one of your talks, that one in ten, one in eleven employees within Howard County, which I think has about 350,000 people, something like that. But of the employment, 10 percent or so of the jobs are federal jobs, Fort Meade and other places. Are you recovering from that now?
IIIYeah, so the government shutdown was very unfortunate and it adversely impacted Howard County, more so than many other jurisdictions, because of us having that one in ten federal workers. And it's not just those who work directly for the federal government who hopefully will get that money back. It's federal contractors who may not see those dollars back, who work with Fort Meade, NSA and what have you. So there is an adverse impact. We had to put in a lot of things to help and support them, whether it was not cutting off water, not suspending library funds. But, you know, hopefully we learned from it and we won't have that happen again.
NNAMDIDuring the past decade Howard County has gained around 12,000 new residents who immigrated from other parts of the world. In 2017 when you were on the council, you co-introduced a bill that would have made the county a sanctuary county for undocumented immigrants. That bill failed. Where do you think Howard County voters and county council are now at on this issue two years later? You've got about thirty seconds.
IIIWell, Howard County schools are majority minority schools and we are quickly diversifying. And I think, you know, in talking with our chiefs and many others, they want to make sure that we are a welcoming county where everyone feels safe, everyone feels comfortable and everyone feels supported.
SHERWOODAre you going to run for governor in four years? Angela Alsobrooks from Prince George's and the Anne Arundel County Executive, you're all being talked about as candidates for governor.
IIIMy goal in four years is to be the very best Howard County Executive ever.
SHERWOODThere you go. Welcome to the Politics Hour. (laugh)
NNAMDICalvin Ball III is Howard County Executive. Thank you so much for joining us.
IIIThanks for having me.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. In case you missed it, check out the video of my visit to D.C. Superior Court. We interviewed newlyweds, judges, clerks and more. You can find that at KojoShow.org. Coming up Monday we'll explore Maryland legislation that will allow medical aid in dying for terminally ill patients. Then we'll get a preview of next week's road show by looking at what school diversity looks like in our region. That all starts Monday at noon. In the meantime, Tom Sherwood has got a bang up weekend planned.
SHERWOODThat's true, I'm going to do nothing.
NNAMDI(laugh) Okay. Yeah, that's his idea of a bang up weekend. Actually that's mine too. Until then, Monday at noon, thank you for joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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