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.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine joins us to talk about anti-violence initiatives, lawsuits against slumlords and a verbal exchange with President Trump this week that had some people very confused. Then we speak to Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Libby Garvey about a multi-million dollar package for Amazon that the Board will soon be voting on. Plus, we hear about the biggest regional political news stories of the week.
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'll be talking with Libby Garvey who is the Vice-Chair of the Arlington County Board. Joining us in studio now is Karl Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia. Karl Racine, welcome.
KARL RACINEGood afternoon, Kojo. Good afternoon, Tom.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, obviously the big story in D.C. politics this weeks has to do with Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. But I wanted just briefly to talk about the unanimous Council vote backing Lewis Ferebee as School's Chancellor before we don't have an opportunity to talk about it at all. What struck me about that is the unanimity of the vote. There's usually at least one or two members of the Council who are dissenters, the ones who will be able to say if anything goes wrong later on, "Well, I didn't vote for him." What do you think was the reason for the unanimity on this occasion?
SHERWOODThis is a vote of more hope than facts. There are some disquieting thoughts about the new chancellor. But I think as David Grosso, the Council Education Chairman said, you know, this school system is making progress whatever the problems, but it needs to stability. It needs to move forward. And the mayor nominated Mr. Ferebee. The Council thoroughly investigated him, a seven hour hearing. Phil Mendelson, the Chairman of the Council, went to Indianapolis. I think they're ready to move forward. They are hoping that Mr. Ferebee will bring some order and discipline to the school system, be a little more transparent. There are all kinds of issues, but we'll see.
NNAMDIDo you share that sentiment, Mr. Attorney General?
SHERWOODWell, reporters are always skeptical, not cynical, but skeptical.
RACINEYeah, I'm not so sure about the hope versus facts line to be honest. I think the mayor should be accorded a deference in regards to the people that she puts up for cabinet officials. Mr. Ferebee is a gentleman, who has seemingly done a good job not without controversy. I've met him. You know, I was struck by his commitment and understanding after just a few weeks of being in D.C. to the issues of D.C. So I'm rooting for his success.
SHERWOODI think we're all rooting for his success.
SHERWOODI just hope that he is -- I'm sorry I was getting a phone call about our other matter, but I'll have to hold on to it. Anyway, let's hope he does well and he has a very strong background. And if he does well that will be great for every child in the school system.
NNAMDIOur other matter that Tom Sherwood is referring to is the fact that over the course of the past few weeks and over the course of the past few days seemingly over the course of the past few hours, new details of what's going on with Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans keeps coming out. Tom Sherwood, what's the latest?
SHERWOODWell, pardon me. I was doing a tweeter on this matter right now. Here's the deal, we just learned that in additional that all the subpoenas that the Washington Post first broke on Jack Evans and his dealings with a digital company, we just learned moments before air that a subpoena has gone to the D.C. Council demanding that all council members preserve all documents. I don't know the quite legal language -- maybe the attorney general can help me on that -- but not to dispose of any documents relating to Councilmember Jack Evans.
SHERWOODAnd again, just a moment ago I learned that the subpoena, which was distributed to the council members just within the last hour that it actually came into the Council to the Council Chairman, Phil Mendelson either yesterday or late the day before and he is now sent it around to the council members saying, "Preserve all documents in the Jack Evans -- whatever he's done."
NNAMDIThis is an ethical matter, Mr. Attorney General. Is it one that you would have an interest in?
RACINEWell, as a D.C. resident, of course. I'm concerned whenever there are allegations of misconduct on the part of elected officials. But in terms of my scope of authority, the office actually does not have jurisdiction to conduct an investigation. If I could make a couple more points, I think it's important for us to, you know, recognize that Jack Evans has not been charged for a crime. He's not been indicted. What we know is that there's a grand jury investigation. So Jack Evans should be presumed innocent.
RACINEThe Council has reprimanded the councilmember. The councilmember, you know, has apologized. The Council, you know, will revisit whether they have to go forward with an investigation, but hold your horses here. He's presumed innocent.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he's the longest serving member on the D.C. Council, probably the longest serving elected official in the District of Columbia at this point. He's a graduate at the Wharton School of Business in addition to being a lawyer. And it looks as if at this point he has apologized both to his colleagues in the Council and to the D.C. democratic state committee. So he feels that whether or not he is guilty of any form of criminal or civic activity that is prosecutable that he acknowledges that it doesn't look good.
SHERWOODWell, yes. There's no question, he is the longest serving councilmember, something like 29 years. He's been an influential person, a strong supporter of the business community. Without Jack Evans's support probably the new Convention Center would not have been built, the Verizon Center would not have been built, the Nats Ballpark would not have been built. People can argue whether the money was properly spent -- not properly, was a smart investment or not?
NNAMDIAll the houses that Jack built.
SHERWOODAll of those things. That's true. Now he has apologized after -- on Tuesday he apologized in a scrum of reporters, but not for anything specific. He said he's made some major mistakes. That he's going to work hard. And he told the democratic state committee last night that he's going to work hard to regain his reputation. But he hasn't said what he apologized for. Now it's clear that he used his Council resources to send out emails asking or looking for jobs with various law firms and people in the city.
SHERWOODThat is a violation of the ethics rule to the Council. The Council Chairman says, we don't need to have a hearing on that. But the federal investigation, the grand jury investigation that the attorney general referenced is the significant issue here. The Council will vote in two weeks on the reprimand. Some of the council members -- Councilmember Grosso in particular has said that Jack Evans should be stripped of all his committee assignments including chairmanship of the Finance and Revenue Committee.
SHERWOODSo this is an ongoing daily story and we're kind of dependent on upon what happens with the federal grand jury. As the attorney general says he hasn't been charged with any crimes. This is an investigation.
NNAMDIThis week President Trump spoke to the National Association of Attorneys General thanking Karl Racine and his colleagues for their help in passing what is known as the First Step Act. So in brief, what does the First Step Act do?
RACINEThe First Step Act that passed by Congress, signed into law by the President of the United States is a piece of legislation that Jared Kushner and others worked on at the White House really is focusing on reentry, the returning citizens. And it's incredibly important that we do everything we can while men and women are incarcerated to give them the support educationally as well as skill wise so that when they're ready to come back that they can go out and live a productive life. So that really was what the First Step Act was all about. And I got to tell you our colleagues at the National Association of Attorney General on a bipartisan basis -- I think 42 attorney generals, went ahead and supported it. And we pressed Congress really hard.
NNAMDIWe discussed it on this show and in particular there were women on the show, who were ex-offenders who were particularly supportive of the First Step Act. You'll be hearing more about that. But at the conference at the White House one moment in particular from this week's gathering of attorneys general got attention national wide. Here's President Trump.
PRESIDENT TRUMPAnd a special thanks to Attorney General Karl Racine. Where's Karl? Karl, Karl, hi Karl. Great job. Thank you very much. You were very helpful. Everybody said, "Karl". I feel like you're -- like I know you. That's pretty good.
RACINEI feel like I know you as well, Mr. President.
TRUMPKarl, really was fantastic from District of Columbia.
NNAMDIWhat you heard in the background was our Attorney General Karl Racine responding, "I think I know you pretty well too, Mr. President."
SHERWOODWas the president clueless as to what you've been suing him over?
RACINEWell, I don't think that was --
SHERWOODHe was reading from notes.
RACINEHe had his notes. And I don't think the subject matter of our suits against the president was the one he was complimenting me on. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt on that. I think he was just really focused on the advocacy on the part of the association for that piece of legislation. I've got to tell you, you know, we always appreciate a compliment. And while many thoughts were running through my head as to how I might respond, I'm happy that I responded the way that my mother would have liked, which is to greet the compliment, you know, with levity.
SHERWOODAnd a little respect. You were on the front row. Is that right? Was that by design? Did you have an assigned seat or did you purposely go up and sit on the front row?
RACINEYou know, no one's asked that.
SHERWOODThat's why we have the Politics Hour. We ask the questions that people don't ask.
RACINEYou ask the questions. It was actually -- I was quite surprised. As soon as I walked in, Kellyanne Conway's assistant introduced herself to me and told me that I would be sitting in the front row. At that point I decided to make sure I had my thinking cap on. I will say in addition to what you saw, what you didn't see is that the first half an hour to 45 minutes was a very interactive conversation led by Kellyanne Conway and a wonderful individual named Jaron Smith, African American at the House White.
RACINEWe talked about issues related to the opioid crisis. We also talked about criminal justice reform. And Kellyanne knew about some of the reform and innovation that the office of attorney general is putting forward. She cited some of our work and asked me to explain why we're doing that work.
SHERWOODThis is good example of work getting done despite the chaotic atmosphere around the White House, despite your legal muse, and what the president said to you. But I know that you not just politically, but personally have been concerned about the president. You told the Canadian Broadcasting System last year that you were quite concerned about his description of Haiti and African countries. That it both touched you in your brain and in your heart about his racial animus towards people of color. That was in January of 2018, a year and several months ago when you spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting System. What is your thought now about the president's overall racial animus?
RACINEWell, I, you know, I've always been taught to look at someone's words and then also look at their actions. I think by his words he sought to vilify a whole categories of people by mislabeling them in terms of the Mexicans and individuals from Latin America and South America. He wants Americans to believe that those people are incredibly criminal and they would be dangerous when the statistics show just the opposite, that the immigrants that come to this country violate law at a far lower level than Americans.
RACINESo I take umbrage at his comments. I think they're dangerous. I've got to tell you, Tom, a man like President Trump, he's got all the power in the world literally and he also has a powerful brand of charisma. He is using that power and the brand of charisma to divide us and I think that's dangerous. I used to work for Bill Clinton, '97 to 2000. That's another president, who had powerful charisma. Bill Clinton never used that power and his charisma to divide us.
NNAMDIWell, when I heard your response to the president in terms of the fact that you feel like you know him too, I couldn't help thinking that a lot of people hearing that response were thinking that, well, you probably know him very well because you've been suing him a lot. Just last week you subpoenaed Trump's Inaugural Committee requesting documents related to D.C.'s Trump International Hotel. Why did you subpoena the Inaugural Committee? And I'm not sure it had to do with the Trump International Hotel, the Inaugural Committee, but why do you think that matters to District residents?
RACINEI think it matters a lot to District residents. First and foremost, the Office of Attorney General has specific oversight investigative and enforcement responsibility over the proper conduct of not-for-profit organizations and charities. Here we had public reports that a significant not-for-profit, charity, this is the Inauguration Fund, raised over $100 million and there are reports that a lot of millions are missing, gone unaccounted for. There are further reports suggesting that money may have gone in into other places including the Trump businesses. For us to have the authority to investigate not-for-profit organizations and charities like the Inauguration Fund and just decide to walk on by would have been a dereliction of duty.
SHERWOODWhat did -- can you tell us the status of the case suing that President Trump is making profit off his hotel downtown against the Constitution's emoluments clause. Try to ask a question without saying that word, but what is the status of that lawsuit that you and Brian Frosh of Maryland filed?
RACINEOn March 22, about 10 days from now, the District of Columbia and Maryland will be arguing several issues before the Fourth Circuit as I said down in Richmond. We'll be arguing whether or not we should be able to proceed with the case. We'll be arguing whether or not we should be able to continue to receive documents from the various individuals that we've subpoenaed. We're very much looking forward to that argument on the 22nd.
NNAMDIHomicides and violence have been major problems in the District lately. Your office started a program recently called Cure the Streets that hires returning citizens and former gang members to help deescalate and mediate conflict. How has the program been going in the few months since it started and what are you hoping a violence interruption approach like this can accomplish?
RACINESure. Let me just tell you about the program first and I'll tell you how it's going second. The violence interruption model that Cure the Streets is following comes out of the University of Chicago. It's been implemented in over 1,000 jurisdictions both here in the District – excuse me District of Columbia, of course, now -- in United States as well as outside of the country. It's proven successful because it focuses on training trusted mediators to actually go into areas where there's high crime and try to deescalate the violence.
RACINESecondly we also try to connect willing members that maybe involved in violence to the kinds of services, opportunities for jobs, treatment, and other things that they need to hopefully get them to stop committing violence. Lastly Cure the Streets seeks to empower the communities in which it operates to allow the community's voice to be heard loud and clear. That is that the community is tired of violence.
RACINEAnd so Cure the Streets personnel hold piece rallies. They offer safe passage to the schools in those two sites. And as far as the results go, I can't say there hasn't been any crime. There has been some crime. There has also been some shootings. But zero, zero murders in six months in the two sites in which we're operating. And that is in an environment where we're seeing a dramatic increase in gun violence and murders.
NNAMDITom and I have seen this movie before. It was called Peaceoholics. This occurred during the Fenty Administration. What you are discussing now is an initiative. How does that maintain itself? How is that going to continue and expand? And will that continue to expand in your office even if you are not an occupant of that office, because I think that's what people in these communities want to know. Why do these things go away?
RACINEWell, I'm really happy that you mention that. And to be sure, you know, there a Peaceoholics. There was another group before them. A lot the Peaceoholics men and women came from a group called, you know, Stop Shooting, you know, the Brothers.
NNAMDIDon't smoke the brothers.
RACINEDon't smoke the brothers. You know, Al Malik is a great guy. And look Cure the Streets program to be sure has a lot in common with those other programs. What I would say is the difference and I'm not at all trying to bad mouth those other efforts is that the training is quite rigorous. The maintenance of data is quite rigorous. There is clear oversight with respect to how moneys are spent and accounted for. And so I think what we're doing is setting up a process that is going to be transparent and accountable and we hope the goal -- the goal here is that these two micro pilots will prove successful so that the city can make an educated decision as to whether it wants to continue to invest in this.
RACINEI would note, quite substantially, we were able to get two million dollars from a private funding source, Altagas, the company that merged with Washington Gas, to extend the program for another 16 months. We're going to really have a true laboratory experiment to ascertain whether we should go all in. The early results are excellent.
SHERWOODThat's the positive approach to this. Mayor Bowser got together with the U.S. Attorney Jesse K. Liu recently to have the prosecutor -- the U.S. attorney more vigorously prosecute instead of violent criminals so repeat offenders, violent criminals associated with guns. Well, we've just learned that Jesse K. Liu, who has only been in the office since September of 2017 has been nominated by the president to be the number three at the Justice Department. I'm not sure why any lawyer would want to go join that circus over there, but so be it. She's going to go. What do you expect now? What do you want to see in the next U.S. attorney assuming that wouldn't be you?
SHERWOODThat's an important position given the prosecution authority that it has unlike anywhere else in the country.
RACINEAbsolutely. And if I could first comment on the change strategy.
NNAMDIFelon in possession initiative.
RACINEThat's right. Okay. So there's one aspect there that I completely agree with. That aspect is the one that calls for greater collaboration, greater resources from the ATF and the FBI working with NPD. That's a good thing. Where I disagree is I've not seen the data that supports the notion that moving these cases away from D.C.'s superior court would actually result in more convictions and longer sentences.
RACINEI'm also concerned that the decision was made by apparently the mayor and Jesse Liu without Charles Allen, the judiciary chairman, weighing in, without there being hearings. Charles Allen is an excellent councilmember. And he's an evidence based individual who will let the evidence decide where policy should go. And so I'm concerned that, you know, the District was not really involved in that process.
NNAMDIDo you think you should have been involved in that conversation?
RACINEYou know, I certainly would have liked to have been at the table. I would have shared my views. I've shared my views today and I've shared my views prior to today. We should be driven by data. We should be concerned when folks make decisions without supporting data.
SHERWOODWe've had a huge spike in homicides this year. The critical view has been that the mayor was reaching for things she could announce, things she could do to show that she's taking the homicides seriously. So maybe they just rushed it a little.
RACINEYou know, I think here a process is important, because process brings in, you know, again, data. It brings in the views of D.C. residents. I mean, here we are passing HR1 today is a great thing. But we've just decided to hand over a large swath of cases that were going to be prosecuted in D.C. courts to the federal court. And we decided it through a process that did not invite D.C. residents to participate in that decision making.
SHERWOODI've got ask you a political question, because everyone knows the name of the show now. I don't have to say it.
SHERWOODYes. Politics. You have publically endorsed Camilla -- Some people say --
SHERWOODKamala -- say it correctly, Tom -- Harris for President of the United States. You have shown your interest nationally, but you also have been talk endlessly about a candidate for potentially for running for mayor certainly before you ran for reelection. You were encouraged. You thought about it. You decided not to. You sought reelection as attorney general, saying you had more work to do.
SHERWOODWhere are you now in terms of looking at national politics with endorsing Ms. Harris and would you still consider running for mayor or are you setting your sights maybe on national office, attorney general's office or something like that should she win or should any democratic win and consider you? Have you expanded your horizons beyond maybe running for mayor? It seems that might be in your background.
RACINELet me be real clear on this.
SHERWOODI hope so.
RACINESo on the attorney general. I ran for the job the second time. We won. We also garnered more votes than any elected official in the District of Columbia for an office that didn't exist four years before. We have a lot more work to do at the Office of Attorney General. So that is my focus.
RACINEAs to whether opportunities might come up should there be a democratic president elected and if that's Kamala Harris, of course, I would consider opportunities that might arise as I would consider opportunities in the private sector when my term is over. And with respects to, you know, the mayor job, to be honest, that's not on my mind at all.
NNAMDIHere is Dustin Canter in Washington D.C. Dustin Canter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DUSTINHi. Thanks, Kojo, appreciate you having me on. How are you doing, Mr. Racine?
DUSTINHey, so, Mr. Racine and I got to know one another when I was running for mayor and on the ballot here in Washington D.C. last year, gathered seven percent of the general election vote as an independent.
NNAMDIYes, Dustin. But I assume you have a question.
DUSTINYes. The question is, Karl, I sent you a text message last month in regards to the Cure the Streets program that you started. Last year we launched Entrepreneurship in the Boxing Ring, which was covered by WJLA, ABC 7. And will you make the commitment to including entrepreneurship opportunities and teaching young people how to put more money into their pockets as part of the Cure the Streets program? And I'd love to work with you on that.
RACINEWell, thanks for the question, Dustin. Let me answer that more broadly than your question, but I will answer your question directly. So, again, the Cure the Streets program focused on interrupting violence in two sites is doing a terrific job, no murders in those two sits. We are actively looking at partnerships within those sites that I think are going to be interesting and frankly it's going to help those communities.
RACINEThe specific partnership that we're looking at is partnering with a group medical professionals at Georgetown led by Dr. Biel really focusing on kids from zero -- literally one day old to five years old in the area of those sites. What we would is we would identify those kids between zero and five. They would receive regular pediatric visits and assessments. Most importantly, their mothers and their fathers would also be encouraged to receive parenting skill training and other supports.
RACINEWhy are we thinking about doing this? Why are we going to do this? We're doing this because the data is overwhelming. The most important period of time for a young person is from day one to five years old, to bond and attach in a positive way with their parents and with their family members. That's a way to embolden kids with strength and love so that they can grow up and be more resilient, especially if they reside in areas as they do that have significant violence and trauma. I'm looking forward to that opportunity with Dr. Biel.
RACINEAnd as to Dustin's point, I think, Dustin, you make a good point. There should be more activities, extracurricular activities like boxing. There should be entrepreneurial opportunities and job-training opportunities. We can turn sites around. We can turn communities around. We can turn neighborhoods around. All we've got to do is be creative and focused and, frankly, put some money where our mouths are.
SHERWOODOn that very issue, the mayor announced a summer jobs program, the Marion Barry Summer Jobs Program. Does the Attorney General's office take people for the summer jobs program?
RACINEWe do, and we look forward to it every year. We are creating -- for the first time this summer -- a specific summer program for high school kids focused on improving their writing skills, their reading comprehension skills, their analytical ability and their ability to be oral advocates. It'll culminate in a moot court. And Tom, I see you nodding your head. You're agreeing right now to be a judge.
NNAMDI(laugh) You got nothing else to do.
SHERWOODWell, I'm not -- over to you, Kojo.
NNAMDILate last year -- and we only have about a minute left -- your office created the Special Victims Unit. The division is trained to prosecute crimes committed against vulnerable people, children, the elderly, people who are disabled, survivors of sex trafficking. For those who have watched it on TV, most people would assume DC already had an SVU, a Special Victims Unit. How were these cases handled in the past, and what issues does this new unit address?
RACINESure. Prior to establishing that unit, we certainly had prosecutors who were experienced in that area. But with the unit now, what we're doing is we're identifying three or four prosecutors who will handle those cases from beginning to end. When we deal with a special victim, the criminal justice system isn't all that welcoming, okay, or supportive. And, of course, if we're dealing with the prosecution, where there's been a child victim or a senior citizen victim or a victim of a hate crime, we want to give them all the support we can. That's the goal of the SVU.
RACINEI want to get to Tom's earlier question about Jesse Liu.
NNAMDIYou've got about 30 seconds.
RACINEI want to thank Jesse Liu for being a terrific partner with the office of Attorney General. With Jesse's partnership, we've placed lawyers, OAG lawyers in the US Attorney's office, including most recently, a prosecutor who will solely focus on prosecuting cases involving financial exploitation or other physical exploitation of seniors.
NNAMDIThat would be the role that the prosecutors in your SVU unit would play, wouldn't it?
RACINEThere's a difference. Currently, the office of Attorney General can only prosecute juveniles.
NNAMDIThat's what I thought.
RACINEMost adults are prosecuted by the US Attorney's office. Because we think there's a greater need to protect seniors -- and frankly, we think there's more that can be done -- we persuaded Jesse to allow our people to become special AUSAs and use our resources from the purge of the US Attorney's office to provide more prosecution resources to a problem that we're seeing increasingly in our town.
NNAMDIThat answers that question in my mind. Karl Racine is the Attorney General of the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
RACINEThank you very much, Kojo.
SHERWOODAnd maybe someday, the District of Columbia will have control over its own prosecution, the appointing of judges so they don't have to depend on the president, etcetera.
NNAMDIUp next is Libby Garvey, Vice Chair of the Arlington County Board. Tom Sherwood, the Maryland House has voted in favor of physician or medically assisted death, the Right-to-Die Bill, as it's called in Maryland. It still has to go before the Senate. It has been killed several times before it ever got to the House floor. This time, it made it to the House floor and passed. It's going over to the Senate, which is also majority Democrat. Nobody knows at this point what Governor Hogan's disposition on it is, as yet. But if he vetoes it, I don't know that they have a veto-proof majority at this point in the House, but...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You know, we have a death with dignity bill in the District of Columbia. This is an emotional moment. There was certainly an emotional debate in the House, and in Annapolis. But I see that, nationally, this is a move where people are saying that you must be able to control your life. If you're -- most of the laws, including the Maryland law, are roughly within six months of at least two doctors saying that you are going to die, that you are allowed to administer drugs to yourself in order to end your life. It's a very difficult thing. I wish we had had time to talk to Karl Racine about it, but it seems to be moving now in Maryland, and I think it's picking up steam across the country.
NNAMDILibby Garvey joins us in studio. She is Vice Chair of the Arlington County Board. Libby Garvey, thank you so much for joining us.
LIBBY GARVEYI'm delighted to be here, and I can wish you a happy 20th anniversary again.
NNAMDIThank you very much. If you have questions or comments for Libby Garvey, start calling now, 800-433-8 Amazon (laugh) -- talk about a Freudian slip.
GARVEYOh, my, Kojo.
SHERWOODI hope that's recorded for future...
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments about the Amazon deal, 800-433-8850. You can send us a Tweet @kojoshow or email to Kojo@wamu.org. Before we get to Virginia, a quick note about what's going on with Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot. It would appear that Democrats in the House -- and he, of course, is a Democrat himself -- are a little tired of fighting with Peter Franchot. So, they're stripping one of his crucial regulatory roles -- or attempting to do it -- having to do, of course, with alcohol.
SHERWOODAlcohol and tobacco. Let me just say, Peter Franchot is probably one of the most popular statewide officials in Maryland. He gets more votes than anybody else. He's up there almost with Governor Hogan, who has 70 percent approval ratings. Peter Franchot is wildly popular everywhere except in Annapolis, where the Democratic leadership -- Mike Miller in the Senate and Mike Bush in the House -- find him obnoxious and offensive and always doing something they don't want him to do. He has been -- Peter Franchot has been the sole person trying to get craft breweries in Maryland to be treated with an equal footing. The big wholesale beer industry has opposed him on that.
SHERWOODAnd so, in this, they had a commission or the state legislature had their little group put together to decide whether they should take this alcohol and tobacco enforcement away from Peter Franchot. And it looks like they're going to do it.
NNAMDIWe'll see what happens with that. I think we're looking forward to getting Peter Franchot on this show. Libby Garvey, the Arlington County Board is set to vote on an incentive package for Amazon, worth $23 million. This is in addition to the commonwealth's package worth three-quarters of a billion dollars. What do you see as the benefits for Arlingtonians in offering Amazon this incentive package?
GARVEYWell, it's typically done, that you do incentive packages. But when you look at the incentive packages, they actually are simply helping to pay for projects that we've already wanted to do and long-wanted to do. So, the state package, for example, a number of transportation improvements, those improvements are already in our CIP. We've been wanting to do them...
NNAMDIIn your what?
GARVEYIn our capital improvement program.
SHERWOODThank you very much.
GARVEYMm-hmm, yeah. And we've been wanting to do them for a long time. We haven't had the money to do it. And so it's the -- and the small bit that we are providing that we're going to be voting on, the 23 million, that's what they call performance-based. It's up to that -- in other words when Amazon comes, we anticipate increased revenue, quite a bit of increased revenue overtime. And Amazon gets a small little -- we share a little bit of that with them for about ten years, and that's it. So, it's simply -- and if Amazon didn't come, we wouldn't have it. And if we do not make a certain amount -- it's on a percentage, so it might not even be that much.
NNAMDIWell, I was about to say, what activists in Arlington are saying, but I'll let Don in Rockville speak to that. Don, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DONHi, Libby. It was so good to hear you (unintelligible) and say the words climate change...
GARVEYYou've been watching our work sessions.
DONYes. Once the ink is dry on this first agreement with Amazon, and they start the planning process and such, what plans does the board have, or the county have to manage what I consider to be the biggest monopoly in the country right now, as far as economical housing, their development plan, transportation in the Crystal City area?
NNAMDILow-income housing, transportation...
NNAMDIAll of those things will be happening this week.
GARVEYYeah, all of those things. They're actually all issues that we've been dealing with for some time. Affordable housing has been an issue for a long time. Whether Amazon came or not, that was going to continue. What I have been happy to see is that, all of a sudden, everybody realizes affordable housing, that's a problem. And, actually, we've been talking with JBG -- the company that owns the property that's going to be working with Amazon to build the buildings -- and others to put together kind of a new, maybe a new way of funding affordable housing.
GARVEYThe state is putting in money. We've committed to put in some more in affordable housing. So, it's brought attention to an issue that's always been there. And while Amazon will add a little bit, I don't think it's -- Amazon's not as big -- yes, Amazon's a huge company. I will say that managing a monopoly is probably a federal issue rather than a local issue for us to deal with. But when it come to the effect that they're going to have, this is a very big area and very big region. It's not that big, but what they do bring is a lot of attention and a lot of resources, which we've long needed.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Let me just very quickly tell people, under the agreement with the state and with Arlington in terms of getting these various tax incentives that are available, this is how quickly Amazon expects to ramp up in Arlington. Next year, at least 60,000 square feet. In 2021, 560,000 square feet. By 2026, 1.8 million square feet of space. And by 2028, 2.6 million square feet of space. So, this is a huge, fast-moving development project.
GARVEYIf I can put that in perspective, we have quite a lot of empty buildings that they're...
SHERWOODWell, I know the base realignment of commission devastated Arlington. I know that. I'm not -- I’m just giving a sense of what we're talking about. Some of the people are complaining -- not some people -- a few of the people in the county are concerned that Amazon has, for the last two years, hasn't paid federal taxes. In your technology zone law, in Arlington, may mean that Amazon won't pay Arlington taxes, and the amount of money you get from all this development will be far less than what people are expecting.
GARVEYYes, they will be paying taxes. That incentive zone is there for any business, and Amazon can take advantage of it, if they want to, and we work that through. So, we're really treating Amazon -- as hard as it is to believe -- basically, like any other business. So, we're not telling them that every other business can make use of this tech zone incentive that we have and you can't. We're not doing that. We're treating them like every other business.
GARVEYAnd back on the people, just the number of people that are coming -- because I think that's one of the big concerns -- Arlington lost 35,000 jobs in the last 20 years. Amazon's saying they're bringing 25,000 job to Crystal City, and that's about what we have lost. So, when Amazon is fully built out the way this agreement goes, we'll be back to where we were, like, 15 years ago, as far as people go. So, people can get really carried away with the size of Amazon. It really -- for where we are here and the position we're in, it's not that big. It's big, but it's not that big.
SHERWOODThe expectation is that Amazon -- and, obviously, there are all kinds of economic spinoffs from Amazon coming, so I'm not minimizing that. But it is the idea that in a year or two years from now, when we say, oh, Amazon doesn't pay Arlington any taxes, either, that's one of the concerns.
GARVEYWell, you're not going to say Amazon doesn't pay Arlington any taxes.
GARVEYAmazon is going to be paying taxes, and the federal issue -- again, that's a federal issue. There's part of me that would love to be able to play in that field, but I can't. I've got to handle my Arlington local government.
NNAMDIYour colleague, Christian Dorsey, the chair has said that the board can still put pressure on Amazon to provide benefits for working class and poor Arlingtonians. Even if this package passes -- which it seems that it will -- how would that work, if the deal is already sealed?
GARVEYWell, Amazon -- this is just the beginning of our relationship, so Amazon -- like any other business that's coming in, except they're bigger -- they are then going to be coming back to us to build their buildings. They have a whole site. They're moving into buildings that are empty right now. You know, and I was just looking, Tom, at your -- when you were giving your statistics, put in perspective again, 2022, it looks like about 5,000 employees. It's not that big over time. It's going to be a gradual ramp-up. So, as they come to us for wanting to have permits and wanting a little extra height, as any business does, that's when we do a lot of negotiating on, say, contributing to our affordable housing fund.
GARVEYI also have found that Amazon really wants to be part of our community. They have met with our nonprofits. They have meet with civic association folks. All of my interactions with Amazon -- and, in fact, all of my colleagues and our staff -- have been quite positive. They want to be part of this community. They were attracted to our community because we are a diverse, welcoming community. We're not changing who we are, and Amazon is going to fit in. And to be part of our community, they need to care about the most vulnerable among us, just as we do.
NNAMDISo, you're saying that Amazon is going to have to go the Arlington way, as opposed to Arlington going the Amazon way.
GARVEYI guess, in a sense, that is. But I actually think it's going to happen naturally.
SHERWOODAlthough it is unusual, part of the agreement is that, I think, starting in 2022, Arlington will have - not may have, might have -- will have an annual meeting with Amazon so it can express its concerns about going forward, what it needs, so that you're up to speed. That's unusual. You don't have -- maybe you have it with other companies that you will meet once a year to discuss the needs of that company. That's unusual for Amazon, isn't it?
GARVEYI don't know about Amazon. For us, it's somewhat unusual, but we often have -- when there are various groups and businesses doing things that we are concerned about, that we meet with them regularly. It's not only their needs, but I think it's our needs, as well. And, again, we're trying to form a partnership, here. You know, I'd like to just say, Amazon, I think, chose Arlington and this entire region because they were looking for who we already are, which is, again, diverse, high education. We value the environment.
GARVEYOur values, what we want to do, that aligns with what they want to do, and that's why they chose us. And when they come they're bringing resources that are going to allow us to achieve our vision for our community faster than we would have, and in a more organized fashion than we would have without them.
SHERWOODIt seems like it's going to be, overall, it's going to be a very good thing for this region, not just for Arlington.
SHERWOODBut what is the chance, one to 100, that Amazon will pull out, like it did in New York?
GARVEYOh, heavens. I don't know. I'm not a mind reader for Jeff Bezos. I think it's probably fairly low, because I think we're doing exactly what -- you know, unless everything they've been doing is like that's not really what they want. What they've been working on for a year is what we are offering. Everything's moving forward. I don't see -- I see very little chance of them pulling out, but...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Here's Paul from...
GARVEY…let's put it in the 1 percent. How's that? Does that make you happy (laugh) ?
SHERWOODWell, nothing makes me happy, but go ahead.
GARVEYI have discovered that, Tom.
NNAMDIHere's Paul in Arlington, Virginia. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULHi. I'm coming to this discussion a little late, and I hope this hasn't been discussed, but one of the frustrating things about running a business in Arlington is the business tangible property tax, which requires that you account for and pay tax on anything that could be considered a capital good rather than a supply. So, in theory -- an there's no limit on the smallness of the thing, so they don't say account for every object in your business that you use that is worth over $10 or over $50. It's everything.
PAULSo, in theory, you have to account for every pencil and every paperclip and put it on a list and pay tax on it, which is obviously insane. I'm wondering, do you think Arlington might be willing to consider a change to its business tangible property tax requirements as a result of, or in preparation for Amazon moving in?
GARVEYVery interesting. I wouldn't say just because of that, but I think we're always looking at ways to improve what we do. And one of the things we're doing in our -- we're also in the middle of our budget session -- we're adding one person to our small business group that is working to support small businesses. And you may fall into that, and it could be, as that group moves forward. And we also have an Economic Development Commission that you might want to be a part of, if you're not already, and to bring that forward. I think we're open to things.
GARVEYI actually do -- I'm not familiar enough with the law to know if we even have the ability to change that. Sometimes there are things we are required to do by the state of Virginia.
SHERWOODProperty taxes going up, and you have to vote on a property tax increase.
GARVEY(overlapping) We vote on the property tax rate.
SHERWOODThere's been a proposal to make it 2...
GARVEYIt's 2.75 cents on...
SHERWOODRight, right, right.
GARVEYYep, and I wouldn't call that a proposal.
SHERWOODWhen does that go into effect?
GARVEYSo, that's when we adopt our budget. I believe it's the 23rd of April, and I wouldn't say it's a proposal. In Virginia, we are required to add what they call advertise a tax rate. And then when we adopt our budget several months later, it cannot go over that rate. It can go below it. So, I think we're all working to go below it. I've always, in my public life, wanted to set the tax rate higher than I think we're probably likely at all to do to give us the flexibility as we get more information. I think we're all hoping to bring it down, and I suspect we will.
SHERWOODOne sensitive thing that you also have to decide is whether to give the board members in Arlington a pay raise or not, and just a modest one. I think you're all paid in the mid-55...
GARVEYFifty-two, 55 -- yeah, 55, I think, for the chair, 52. Mm-hmm.
SHERWOODRight. And do you think the board will raise that to, like, 59,000, or something?
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That has to be decided now, or you can't do it again for four years.
GARVEYSo, that's a good question. We can raise it by the cost of living. And I suspect we will do that. I think the managers put that in as budget. Again, in Virginia, the only time we can vote to raise our salaries by a significant amount is when there are two of us running for office. That is this year. If we don't raise it this year, it will be another four years. I am beginning the discussion, as you may have heard. I'm the one talking about it the most, because I think I've been around the longest and feel the most comfortable bringing this up.
GARVEYI actually think it's very important that we do that, because we are still being treated as a part-time, five-member board with the smallest board in the region. It's part-time. We have a $1.4 billion budget. You see, all of these issues that we are handling, and we're supposed to do it as a part-time job. When I got on the board in 2012, no one had really, effectively, an outside job. This was -- they all had spouses to support them.
GARVEYWe've had a complete change in generation. I'm the only baby boomer left. I happen to have a widow's pension, and I'm very lucky to have that. It makes it comfortable for me. All my colleagues are trying to support families and trying to keep jobs going to earn enough money to just put food on the table. Last thing...
SHERWOODMedian income in Arlington is, what, 110, 120,000, so...
GARVEYIt's about that, 52,000 for a family of four makes you qualify for, you know, supportive housing. And I think we need to start, in Arlington, thinking a little bit about what kind of representation we want on the board, because they're very high expectations for us which we try to fulfill. I do worry about some of my colleagues who don't seem to be able to sleep enough.
NNAMDIOne final Amazon question. I saw Pat Sullivan's report in the Washington Post, that one stipulation in the agreement says that Amazon be given two days after a public records request having to do with the company to, quote, "take such steps as it deems appropriate with regard to the required disclosure of records and disclose only such records as are subject to mandatory disclosure." Many see that as giving Amazon a heads-up about any coming FOIA or Freedom of Information requests, and that raises concerns. What kinds of discussions were there on the board about that?
GARVEYThere were really none until recently, because this is what we always do. So, we're simply -- what we always do, it's written with any agreement, it's just kind of common courtesy to let somebody know that there's a FOIA request, and to give them a couple of days. We are totally following the law. We've always followed the law, and this is our practice. It's what we've always done. Again, it's like when I started out, we've had these issues of housing. We've had, you know, a lot of issues that, all of a sudden, people are really focusing on as if they've suddenly discovered these issues. This is another one. This is the way the FOIA has always worked for us.
NNAMDIWhat has this intense focus on Amazon be causing us to miss that's really important to the board in Arlington County?
GARVEYOh, how interesting. I will say, for the region, what is causing us to not think about enough is the Innovation Center, which is actually in Alexandria. The Tech Innovation Center that the state has committed, I think it's 375 million matching funds. They're going to match with GMU and Virginia Tech. I think that is going to actually, for the region, be a bigger game-changer than even Amazon coming in. Amazon is the impetus. It's a catalyst, but it's everything else that's going to happen, and that's very exciting.
GARVEYI'm excited about that, and it's just we're really becoming who we've been trying to be for a long time. We've been working on this for a very long time. We get a real jump with Amazon and an ability to do things in a more holistic way and faster, and that's a really good thing.
SHERWOODAnd right now, your big issue I was interested in is your public space or your (clears throat) master plan for park space, and not only making more space available, because you're growing, but deciding who is going to use your public parks and spaces. That's a major issue before the board.
GARVEYWell, and that's just the use of the fields, and it's a very in-house argument about how you calculate how much the fields are used.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That's very political and very aggressive. Who gets to use a field and who doesn't?
GARVEYIt is. Well, it's whether -- it isn't even -- it's not who. It's how we calculate the use on the fields and what we're working towards, so people are allowed to reserve the fields. Anybody's allowed to reserve the fields. Under certain calculations, for sports teams and things, what we found is that sometimes someone reserves the field. They don't actually end up playing on it, for some reason, and the field sits empty, which is extremely frustrating to people who might want to do a pick-up game. And we're going to be working on that.
SHERWOODYou need more green space.
GARVEYWe need more green space. With Amazon coming, we'll get some. We're 26 square miles, so, you know, one of the things I'm looking at is I'm trying to figure out a way we can -- can we deck over part of 66 and put a park on top? And we're looking for at green roofs, because there's only so much you can do. We do work a lot to make sure that there is a park within walking distance of just about all of our population, and we're really just about there. We've won awards for the number of parks we have. It just doesn't feel like a lot, because we're tiny.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Libby Garvey is the Vice Chair of the Arlington County Board. Thank you so much for joining us.
GARVEYThank you for having me.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. Coming up Monday, we'll continue our conversations about the relationship between DC's arts community and gentrification, and we'll explore how artists are using nontraditional spaces to exhibit and perform their work. It's all in preparation for our next Road Show. That's on Tuesday, March 19th at Arena Stage, where we'll be discussing these issues with an audience on hand. You can learn more about how you can attend by going to KojoShow.org/20. Tom Sherwood, you got a weekend coming up. Any plans?
SHERWOODEvery weekend should be embraced, although with the Jack Evans controversy, I don't know that I'll get one.
NNAMDII don't think so, either. You were at the Democratic State Committee meeting last night?
SHERWOODI did not go, but Mitch Ryals, the Loose Lips from the City Paper, was there, and he reported in the City Paper.
NNAMDII saw the report by both you and Mitch Ryals today. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have. You go out and have yourself a very pleasant weekend, and thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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