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.
It was a big week in local politics. Crossover Day, the date by which all Maryland legislation needs to be passed by either the House or the Senate before crossing over to the other chamber, came and went. Governor Larry Hogan had harsh words for legislators he accused of being “pro-criminal” and said this was “the most harmful General Assembly session ever for Maryland taxpayers.” In Washington, D.C., longtime Councilmember Jack Evans was reprimanded for ethics violations by unanimous vote from his colleagues.
And all of that happened before lunch on Tuesday.
We take a deep dive into all the political news of the week, starting with an update on Maryland politics from reporter Danielle Gaines. Then, we’re joined by Todd Turner, Chair of the Prince George’s County Council. Finally, we hear from D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie.
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.
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, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon. We're doing a lot today. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Kenyan McDuffie, who is a member of the D.C. Council. Already in studio with us is Todd Turner, who is the Chair of the Prince George's County Council. Todd Turner, thank you for joining us.
TODD TURNERGood morning. Good to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone is Danielle Gaines, who is a reporter with Maryland Matters. Danielle, thank you for joining us.
DANIELLE GAINESHi Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIDanielle, before we start directly with you, Tom Sherwood, I wanted to talk about Virginia for a second, because with the repeal of the Kings Dominion Law apparently Virginia schools can now start before Labor Day. There were apparently a lot of controversy and a lot of battles over when school should start. And so it makes significant changes to the so called Kings Dominion Law.
SHERWOODYes. It's been in effect since the 1980s, but just like Maryland the Virginia --
NNAMDIThat's why I brought up.
SHERWOODYes. Virginia is loosening up now. And you can -- now schools will be able to start two weeks before Labor Day. But it still will have to have a four day Labor Day weekend.
NNAMDIWhat's the situation in Maryland now, Danielle Gaines?
GAINESWell, so in Maryland there was a bill that passed both chambers with a veto proof majority that would allow schools to set their own school calendars whenever they want. Governor Hogan, of course, had an executive order that would require them to start after Labor Day. But that has gone up for the governor's consideration.
NNAMDIAnd what do you think the governor's position on it now? Somewhere I heard them say that the governor thinks that local jurisdiction should be able to do this.
GAINESSo the governor said that if this bill in the General Assembly passed, which would give it back to local control, he would seek legislation that would require a vote before they could do that. So the General Assembly has actually added in the language. If this goes to referendum for how that would appear on the ballot into the bill. So it's unclear whether or not they'll be a petition to bring this to the ballot or not. But the governor has said that he would be behind that sort of an effort.
NNAMDIChairman Turner where do you stand on this?
TURNERSo I support local control with respect to that. I know it just had recent meetings with our interim CEO at the Prince George's County Public School Systems and it's been a real struggle over the last couple of the years after the governor did his executive order to be able to fit in all that is needed as part of that. The other concern is that with respect to doing a later start time, there's always information out there that the longer kids are out of school the less they recall as part of that process.
TURNERAnd traditionally we would start a week or so before the Labor Day weekend. As a kid, I know growing up in New York we always started after Labor Day. So I know it's close to my heart in that way. But with having a daughter graduate from public schools in Prince George's and having one now, I would like to have that control at the local level.
SHERWOODAnd Danielle, on the same school issue there's a big disagreement between the governor and the assembly on how much money to put aside for education given how everyone waits for the Kirwan report.
GAINESYeah. And there's actually difference within the General Assembly on that as well. So the Kirwan Commission is this group that's been for the last few years, they have big big visions for how to change Maryland education top to bottom. And at the end of 10 years, they have a plan that would cost an extra $3.8 billion every year. So they asked last year for $325 million additional. This year the governor put in about $236 million. The House passed a bill that has $320 million and the Senate passed a bill that has about $250 million.
GAINESSo that's going to be ironed out in a budget conference committee. The members of that committee were actually being named on the floor as I stepped down to talk to you guys this afternoon. So it's unclear where exactly that will lie. A lot of that is based on whether or not they can find a dedicated revenue stream for that. And revenue means taxes. And so there's going to be a big debate on that.
NNAMDIThere are those of us who remember what happened to the Thornton Commission reports several years ago, lack of funding. And I guess that's what the legislature is trying to avoid on this occasion.
SHERWOODWhat about the $15 minimum wage? The governor has been concerned about imposing that around the state. The House and Senate have come to an agreement that it would go into effect. But businesses with fewer than 15 employees -- 15 or fewer would have an extra year before it goes into effect in 2025.
GAINESYeah. So that bill has now passed. There was a compromised reach between the House and the Senate. And that bill has been sent up to the governor's office. The governor, of course, wanted something different. I think to some degree he saw the writing on the wall that some sort of minimum wage increase was going to pass. So he proposed a smaller one up to, I think $12.20 by 2022. And then would have limited Maryland's minimum wage growth based on nearby states. The governor has indicated that he intends to veto this bill. It did pass both chambers with a wide veto proof majority.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Danielle Gaines. She's a reporter for Maryland Matters about what's going on in the state legislature in Maryland. Joining us in studio now is Todd Turner. He is the Chairman of the Prince George's County Council. Danielle, Governor Hogan had some choice harsh words for the democratically controlled legislature calling spending plans, quoting here, "reckless and unsustainable and irresponsible." He went on to say that if those spending bills passed it would mean this would be, quoting here, "the most harmful General Assembly session ever for Maryland tax payers." What was he so upset about?
GAINESSo there is some nuance there. The governor's office had added up the amount of mandated spending in every bill that was introduced this legislative session. And that added up to, you know, an eye popping figure. But those were sometimes bills that were very similar to one another or bills that stood no chance of passing. So kind of the overall number that he was talking about in that press conference was a little overblown, but he is genuinely concerned about the cost of the Kirwan Commission, especially in light with no changes to revenue, which he, you know, wouldn't support an increase in taxes.
GAINESHe thinks, you know, some of these big money spending ideas that the democrats have, education and, you know, increase in the minimum wage are just going to harm Maryland's economic outlook, especially, because most economists think, you know, the whole country is due for a recession sometime soon.
NNAMDIIf he does run for the republican nomination he's going to learn a lot more about overblown. But here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODAnd I'm wondering if that -- what the effect -- you know, governor has been to Iowa. He's going up to New Hampshire in late April. What is the effect of his, at least playing with possibly being a candidate for president -- how is that affecting the democratic legislature? Is the governor a posturing with all the things you just said?
GAINESI think there have always been attempts, you know, to try for him to put the legislature in the corner of the legislature to put him in a corner. I do think the way he speaks with them, you know, a little bit different. That press conference with the overblown spending and the recklessness, you know, there were national reporters in the room. And so I think overall there's just kind of a little bit of a different vibe. But, you know, he's sticking pretty close to the things that he has advocated for in the past.
NNAMDIOne of the quotes was "the most procriminal group of legislators I've ever seen." Did any of the legislators so accused respond to that?
GAINESOh, absolutely. People were upset about that quote. And, you know, we're talking about, you know, trying to make a more just justice system. And, you know, honker down into the positions on the bills that he was referencing in that quote.
SHERWOODMinimum sentencing is not very popular around the country. Let me ask you about Peter Franchot. He is the most popular politician in the state of Maryland and probably the least popular politician in Annapolis. But his craft beer bill has gotten through, even though he's getting no credit for it.
GAINESRight. So Comptroller Franchot has introduced this legislation reform on tax for the past couple of years or he's been working on it for a couple of years. This year legislative leaders choose not to introduce that measure on his behalf. The various parts of that were broken up into different pieces of legislation. The RND moving forward. Those bills kind of changed the franchise laws, which make it a little bit easier for small brewers to get into and out of contracts. It also allows them to sell more on their premises. And it's moving forward. At the same time actually is a bill that takes a big part of Comptroller's Franchot office out of his office and will put it under a new commission on alcohol and tobacco.
SHERWOODHow do you explain the difference?
GAINESYeah, I mean, there's just -- there's a lot of bad blood there at this point. So, you know, Comptroller Franchot is an ally of Governor Hogan on the Board of Public Works. They have criticized the General Assembly on a number of fronts relating to, you know, fiscal conservatism and the school start date issue. You know, heating and air conditioning in schools, and so things have been brewing for a long time between the two sides there.
GAINESAnd when the comptroller originally started pursuing this beer legislation, you know, he came out at full force with a message that really resonated with Maryland residents, but attacked lawmakers at the same time. And so things just didn't move forward under his agendas or rather other people.
NNAMDISpeaking of not moving forward, legalization of sports betting, recreational cannabis use, why didn't they move forward?
GAINESSo there's a few reasons. So the recreational cannabis use they are putting together a group that's going to work over the summer to kind of envision how a legal recreational cannabis program might look in the state of Maryland to look at what other states have done and to really kind of just fully envision how that would work and kind of craft legislation that could be passed next year.
GAINESThe same with sports betting, it's new. Maryland is not really getting in on the front end of this like D.C. and some other places have. But they're going to study it and both of these items will be going to the ballot. And they wouldn't be going to ballot until next year anyhow. So there's time to -- there's one more session that they could take to figure all this out.
NNAMDIDanielle Gaines, thank you for joining us.
GAINESThank you so much.
NNAMDIDanielle Gaines is a reporter with Maryland Matters. Our guest in studio is Todd Turner, Chairman of the Prince George's County Council. If you have questions or comments for him, shoot us a tweet@kojoshow. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-433-8850. Tom, it would appear that it is entirely possible that the Virginia elections expected in June could be affected by the case before the Supreme Court of Virginia redistricting.
SHERWOODYes. The Supreme Court is hearing this case. And depending whether it supports what the District Court did, rewrote the lines for about 11 districts because the state legislature wouldn't do it. Republicans don't want to be forced to do it by the courts. But if the Supreme Court opposed what the District Court did, well, that would just go forward. But if the Supreme Court agrees that the court went too far, the primary in June will be delayed, while they try to sort out where voters will go. And most of these districts are down around the Richmond area not in northern Virginia.
NNAMDIAnd Governor Hogan has called for a state takeover of the Baltimore Washington Parkway. Todd Turner, do you drive the Baltimore Washington Parkway?
TURNERI have recently actually and I agree with the governor in this sense that it definitely needs additional improvement as part of that. I think the concern that we have in Prince George's County and we did a resolution last year when the governor proposed that the state takeover the BW Parkway not for the intention of doing maintenance. Although that probably is part of it as well, but also the pending review of the high speed Maglev Train, which has going through an environmental impact statement right now and the two proposed alternatives are along the BW Parkway.
TURNERSo I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I think that's one of the reason the governor is calling for the state takeover of the entire length of that. And so we did a resolution last year to our federal representatives saying that we were not supportive if it was for that purpose for the purpose of the Maglev.
SHERWOODIt's embarrassing for the Parks Service.
NNAMDIPotholes, congestion, crashes, debris.
SHERWOODAnd George Washington Parkway is -- part of it is closed today, because of the same problem.
SHERWOODBut the governor wants it for a long term not just to fix potholes.
TURNERThat's definitely I think he's intention is part of that. And we should have a conversation about that. I think one of the things that -- and obviously this is my second term right now -- now first as chair. The conversation that we've had with the state, particularly the Maryland Department of Transportation before has been always cordial and we're part of the process. We go through an annual process of dictating what our transportation priorities are for Prince George's County. Each of the jurisdictions do that in the state.
TURNERBut the communication has been somewhat lacking a little bit recently. Obviously with his announcement of the nine billion dollar expansion of 495, 270, and BW Parkway, I can tell you right now that's not part of transportation priority process. As part of that -- not to say that we don't have issues. But it's a situation where we need to speak together to make sure that we're doing stuff that we all can support.
SHERWOODThe Purple Line is part of your daily wick and it looks like the state can't agree with the contractors for that. It's lots of money, hundreds of millions of dollars behind schedule. There's some doubt that they will open in 2022. This is important to Prince George's inside the Beltway. What's your concerns there?
TURNERYeah. Obviously we share the concerns. We actually just had a briefing a couple of weeks ago at one of our transportation committee with the partner, as well as MDot, MTA as part of that. I understand from their representation to us that, you know, the dispute will be determined underneath the agreement as part of that. That they're trying to in essence play catch up. And the reason for the delay in all honesty was because of the citizen opposition and the court cases that were done. So that slowed down the process for it.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Jim who says, "Where does Todd Turner and the Council stand on Beltway widening?"
TURNERWe have not taken a formal position on that yet. However, I think it goes back to that question of having that conversation with the state to see what's appropriate as part of that. There are definitely some concerns and whether or not we have the land around the Beltway to actually expand it. Literally on Monday afternoon the County Council will be getting a briefing from the Maryland Department of Transportation on their managed study, which is for 495 and 270.
TURNERWe requested that last year and we got a nice letter back saying, "We'll get back to you." So when the secretary of transportation came to Prince George's County late last fall that was an issue of conversation between us. And so they're coming this coming Monday. So we'll have the opportunity --
NNAMDILet me get into some Tom Sherwood territory here, because this is your second term on the County Council. You have been in politics in the state of Maryland for quite a while. You were the Mayor of Bowie at one time.
TURNERI wasn't the mayor. I was mayor pro tem.
NNAMDIMayor pro tem of Bowie. You mentioned earlier about your growing up in New York. Did you come directly from New York to Prince George's County?
TURNERI did. And so I've been here now 18 years. I came in 2001. And as Tom was asking me a little bit earlier, the reason for that is because of love. Met my wife, up in New York, in school. We had our first child and she grew up here in Maryland not in Prince George's County, but up in Baltimore County. And so we made a personal decision after years of lobbying for me to join her coming down to Maryland and her family. And it's been probably the best decision that I've made.
SHERWOODYou know, I've called around to ask about you, because you're in your second term. And I was very disappointed. Every person I spoke to said you're such a nice guy.
NNAMDIThat will change after today.
SHERWOODWell, we'll fix that maybe.
SHERWOODBut there are also -- one person said, "Well, you ought to ask him, Tom. If Angela Alsobrooks runs for governor in three years, will he be running for County Executive?"
TURNERI will say this. This is a challenging year for Prince George's County and the County Council in particular. That's one of the reasons I decided to ask my colleagues to be chair this year. I try to focus on short term goals as part of that. Obviously I will start thinking at some point about what I'm going to be doing next as part of that. Obviously we're trying to develop a good working relationship with Angela Alsobrooks. We're very excited about that.
NNAMDIHave you guys confirmed all of her appointee?
TURNERWe just confirmed her first appointee this week. We have, I believe four more coming next week. We did extend the opportunity under the charter to allow them to have a couple more months. As you can see it's part of a transition. And so so far we have confirmed those that have come through.
NNAMDIThe most controversial one seems to be Melinda Bowling who is --
NNAMDIWho is still acting as the Department of Permitting and Inspections. She's the former director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in the District and her tenure here was fairly controversial. What is your thinking about that appointment right now?
TURNERSo obviously, maybe I'm old school in this kind of way. I give deference to the executive branch to determine, who they're director should be unless there's really some outstanding issue with respect to their qualifications as part of that. We will go through our process. We have those directors come in to our committee and do a public process. They go through a public hearing process as well, as well as individual meetings with councilmembers. I know she has at least come through that as part of that process. She has not been formally submitted to us for the appointment, although we did extend her to give it additional time for the County Executive to submit it.
SHERWOODDerek Davis has a bill to allow the County Executive to collect -- develop her contributions still ban the councilmembers. Where are you on that bill?
TURNERObviously the County Council did not take a position on that bill, because it does not impact the County Council directly.
SHERWOODWhere do you stand?
TURNERListen, we just went through last year a really extensive conversation about public financing in Prince George's County. It was a situation where, you know, I didn't necessarily agree that we were ready to do that in Prince George's County. But a majority of the Council moved forward. So that will be implemented over the next several years going into the 2026 election. So I think that has to be part of the conversation of any change at the state level. Personally I feel if that restriction is going to be lifted, it should be lifted for everybody and not just for one particular person, but that won't be a decision that the General Assembly will make.
NNAMDIHere is Derek in Bowie, Maryland. Derek, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DEREKThank you so much. I'm honored to be able to call into your show, a long time listener and fan. Mr. Chairman, curious about what your position on the project slated for Mount Oak and Church Road. I live in your district and I live near that particular slated project and as you may know, the Bowie Council voted unanimously against that. Your office has not actually laid out what your position is and constituents, of course, have raised concerns about undue burden to tax payers and pollution and congestion. So we'd love to hear your perspective, sir.
TURNERNo, I appreciate that.
SHERWOODWhat is it?
TURNERSo let me explain what it is. There's an application pending for a water and sewer change, which is a precursor to development of a site on Mount Oak and Church Road. There's a proposal for, I believe, a 60,000 square foot church. Church that already currently exists in the Bowie area that's looking to grow in that space. And so the water and sewer category was actually just presented to the Council this week. It has to go to Public Hearing. Go to Committee as a part of that process. I've met with the community surrounding that. I've also met with the church itself.
TURNERThe difficulty here is not to get into the weeds, but a water and sewer category change is not a development. It allows whether or not you can go forward and whether or not you meet the criteria as part of that. So I'm reviewing that now. Obviously I have not received the correspondence from the City of Bowie, but I know they did discuss it as well.
NNAMDIDerek, thank you for your call. Governor Hogan has been pushing for some kind of development at Oxen Cove, the historic farm and parkland northeast of Wilson Bridge. Some people who use that area for hiking and just environmental stuff --
TURNERYeah, there's a working farm there as well. Yeah.
NNAMDIWhat do you think should happen to the site?
TURNERWell, the site right now is currently in federal hands. I know earlier this year or late last year there was a lot of discussion about the use of that site potentially for the football team that we currently have in Prince George's County. Again, this goes back to communication issue. I understand that governor had this communication with the Department of the Interior about potentially doing a land swap with land that the federal government might need in western Maryland, I believe. But Prince George's County has not been a party to that conversation.
TURNERI understand since then Governor Hogan has backed off of that position. We support that. We did obviously speak with our federal representatives about whether it was appropriate for that federal land, which is now open space in that area and whether or not that should be appropriate for development or not, and if it is what is the process for doing that.
SHERWOODYou just said, "The football team we have in our county." Do you not say the name of the team?
TURNERI try not to say the name of the team, because I know it is controversial to some.
SHERWOODDo you want it to stay in Prince George's?
TURNERI think we're part of that conversation right now. Obviously we know the lease will expire I think in 2027.
SHERWOODWhat do you think?
TURNERI think we should have that conversation about keeping the team in Prince George's County. I think, you know, if they play a lot better I think there will be a lot more support for that.
SHERWOODWhat about making the team -- making your condition whether it changes its name or not?
TURNERI'll be honest with you. I think that's part of the conversation that we can have.
SHERWOODThere's too many conversations. I want conclusions.
TURNERWell, listen. I know my place as chairman. I might have my personal opinion, but I don't speak on behalf of the Council as a whole.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, speak on your personally. Do you think they ought to change the name?
TURNERYeah, I think they -- just watching the NCAA tournament the other day -- I grew up in New York. Basketball for me was Syracuse and St. John's. St. John's was called the Red Men. They changed their name to the Red Storm, because of the history. My high school football team was the Curtis High School Warriors as part of that. They have not changed their name, but there was respect with respect to being a warrior as part of that. So I think that's something personally, not speaking on behalf of the Council again. I think that should be part of a conversation if the Red Skins, again, using their name were to say --
SHERWOODWashington Warriors? Washington Warriors?
TURNERI'm a Warrior from true and true from my high school days.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of race issues, last month Harford County Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti used the "N" word to describe a Prince George's County House District. She has since apologized. She's been stripped of her leadership position. She will undergo sensitivity training. How did that incident affect you and your colleagues in Prince George's County?
TURNERObviously we were very upset about that. Obviously we joined with County Executive Angela Alsobrooks to denounce the use of the term. We asked for the General Assembly to take action, which they did. We also asked Delegate Lisanti to give a personal apology to the residents of Prince George's County, which I believe she might have done. I'm not sure. It's kind of unclear, but I think she should make that effort. I know County Executive Alsobrooks has offered that at some point.
TURNERIt does raise a larger issue about the use of that word in particular. I have a teenage daughter and I can unfortunately listen to some of her music sometimes. And listen I grew up back in the '80s, you know. There's certain groups that actually had that name in their title. But I think we should get away from the use of the word no matter, who is saying it. I think that's the ultimate thing that we should try to do. Nobody uses the word no matter what color, race, you are.
SHERWOODTell us about the Prince George's Hospital. You're caught up in the University of Maryland Medical System controversy. Where are you on that?
TURNERWell, before all this broke, I guess in the last week or so, our partnership between the state of Maryland, the University of Maryland medical system to establish the University Capital Regional Health has been a great thing for Prince Georges County, as we're continuing to build the new regional medical facility in the Largo area. Obviously, what we saw over the last week is not something that any of us who are in public office and respect the roles that we have should be part of that. I think the state is undertaking, obviously, a review, and they're considering legislation, as part of that.
TURNERI literally say we just formally put a permanent board for the Capital Regional Health in January. And so we've asked our staff to go back to make sure that there aren't those kind of issues with respect to those who have been appointed to serve on that board.
SHERWOODDo you think board members who had deals making money should be off the board?
TURNERYou know, that's going to be a decision for the state, to be honest with you, because it's a state-supported agency. But yes, you know, basic ethics as part of that issue, you shouldn't -- particularly for a not-for-profit board. I understand if you're in the, you know, private sector, obviously, that's why you're on the board, is to make money. But in the context of it being a not-for-profit board, you should not have that kind of dealings as part of that. Or if you do, it should go through a very strict process as part of that.
NNAMDIPrince Georges County was initially in the running for Amazon's HQ2, didn't make the short list. And, apparently, Governor Hogan would like to think that Maryland is still in the running, which seems unlikely. Do you think there are ways that Prince Georges County can make itself more attractive for large-scale investment and development?
NNAMDI...keep in mind, what John emails: why does Prince Georges County keep adding more residential when there's an excessive amount of residential compared to business? So, John apparently wants to see more businesses.
TURNERGotcha. No, I appreciate that, and that's why we've been very supportive under both the new administration and the new county council. We just recently just sent a letter between the county executive and the county council to Amazon saying that Prince Georges County is open for business, that we have opportunities. Although we were not successful as part of the location of the headquarters itself, we understand the regional benefit that Amazon will have, not only in Northern Virginia district, as well as Maryland, including Prince Georges County. And so we look forward to those opportunities.
TURNEROne of the other things that we've completed over the last two years, for the first time, we've done a comprehensive housing strategy process. We just actually received our briefing on the final report earlier this week. And so we're going to talk about that mix. I think it is fair to say that we want to increase the opportunity for commercial development in Prince George's County. That's why we're so supportive both of the Purple Line, as we mentioned before, as well as the new Regional Medical Center, because we know that will increase economic development, particularly along that corridor and in that part of Largo, as well. So, we're working on it, but we also want to have housing types that meet all the needs of the residents in Prince Georges County...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Only about a minute left in this segment, Tom.
SHERWOODIs the Wilson Bridge working?
TURNERYes. The one thing that we continue -- want to have a conversation. I always appreciate having talks with people. That's a good thing. Obviously, when the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was done there was a conversation about being allowed to expand Metro over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. I think that time is right, particularly with the decision by Amazon to be in Northern Virginia, which is just over the border, particularly from Prince Georges County and having transportation access from them and to them. I think that's one of the benefits that we have in Prince George's County with the Metro stations that we have. We have easy access both ways to get there.
TURNERSo, it has been working, was a good investment, and now we just need to figure out if we can extend Metro service as part of that. Because I serve on the Washington Suburban Transit Commission. That includes the WMATA and the historic deal that came about last year after 40 years for additional funding. Now, we need to get it back to being safe, but then to start about expansion, as well, as we see with the Silver Line in Virginia.
NNAMDITodd Turner, he's the chairman of the Prince Georges County Council. Thank you so much for joining us.
TURNERThank you very much. I appreciate being here.
NNAMDINext up is Kenyan McDuffie. He's a member of the DC Council, representing Ward 5. Tom Sherwood, Cheers at the Big Chair is closing today. It was a Ward 6 -- a Ward 8 sit-down restaurant that, whenever we had an event at the Anacostia Playhouse, I always went to have lunch at Cheers (laugh)...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) A great little spot.
NNAMDI...at Cheers at the Big Chair. A great little spot. And, however, the owner of the spot, Dionne Reeder -- you'll remember she ran for an at-large city council seat in the last election. She says she does not want to close. She's trying to negotiate a new lease with her landlord, but the landlord, the Curtis Investment Group, apparently is not cooperating at this time.
SHERWOODWell, she acknowledges she could do better with that project, but she's not blaming the new Bus Boys and Poets down the street.
NNAMDINo. She said that's bringing in more business.
SHERWOODActually, it is. I went there when she was running for the at-large council seat and had a couple of sodas in the afternoon, not beer. And, you know, it's a nice little place. It's unfortunate if it closes.
NNAMDIIt certainly is unfortunate if it closes. We've been joined in studio by Kenyan McDuffie. He's a member of the DC Council, representing Ward 5. What can you do to keep Cheers at the Big Chair open?
KENYAN MCDUFFIEWe can make sure that we’re paying attention to the things that are happening in those small business areas before owners like Dionne and others reach the point where they feel like they need to close. It's one of the reasons why I really -- in my capacity as chairman of the committee on business and economic development -- have focused on our small business corridors, in particular, making sure there's resources for women-owned and minority-owned businesses like Dionne's.
SHERWOODYou know, Bus Boys, everyone's been very happy it's there. They recognize it can also add to gentrification for that neighborhood, historic Anacostia, but that people are desperate -- well, not desperate. They really want the people who live there to benefit from it. In your work on the council, have you focused on historic Anacostia? It is in the bull's eye of potential gentrification.
MCDUFFIEAbsolutely. It is an issue that is impacting neighborhoods across the District of Columbia, and Anacostia is no exception. In fact, there are a couple of developments that the city is involved in along Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, including some of the development occurring on St. Elizabeth's campus. And working closely with Council Member Trayon White, as well as Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner to make sure that development is being done in a way that is more inclusive than has typically been done in the past.
MCDUFFIEI think that we need to make sure that as we spend government resources to do development projects, that we're doing it in a way that is participatory for the residents who live in those existing communities. We need to focus on housing affordability and inclusivity.
NNAMDIBecause just this week, we heard a new report that said that between the years 2000 and 2013, the District lost 20,000 of its low-income residents who could no longer afford to live here. And Mayor Bowser presented her 2020 budget this week, and I suspect that the major issue coming out of that budget is whether or not it caters to more affordable housing here in the District of Columbia. I know, Tom Sherwood, you looked at the budget. Is that the big issue coming out of this budget, affordable housing?
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, the mayor's put more money -- she's been spending $100 million in the housing production trust fund, and she wants to raise that to 130 million. And she wants to add another 56 million, I think it is, 36 million -- all those numbers start running together -- for homelessness. I don't think -- on housing, all the activists think the mayor should be doing more. I'd like to hear the council member's view of that.
SHERWOODBut I think the issue on the budget is going to be -- because the chairman this morning, talking to the mayor at the session, which I think the council member just came from, the chairman of the council, Phil Mendelson, is worried there's not enough money in there for the schools. But on housing, Mr. McDuffie?
MCDUFFIEYeah, I'll acknowledge that Mayor Bowser has made housing affordability a priority under her administration. She's consistently put $100 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund, which the council has supported, in some cases, even increased. This year, she's increased that, as you mentioned, Tom, to $130 million, which is significant. Frankly, most (unintelligible)...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Yeah, revenues are not raising.
MCDUFFIE...in the country. But she's also doing 20 million, I believe, for workforce housing, which we have to sort of unwrap and dig into that to see exactly how that's going to be leveraged. But I think there are some challenges. I think if you look at the status of our public housing, the inventory within our housing authority, you know, we've got to do a better job of taking care of that, maintaining that and providing quality, clean, safe housing for some of our most under-resourced residents.
SHERWOODThe City Paper did a big story on the Morgan and the Baskin. The story is that there are thousands of units that are just almost uninhabitable.
MCDUFFIEYeah, and it's a shame. I mean, this is public housing that the city has a responsibility for. And the city can't be a slumlord when it comes to how we house some of our most vulnerable. And, you know, I've had situations in my own ward, like Montana Terrace, where we've had some significant challenges. I have appreciated the focus that the director has put on it, though. He did an assessment of the entire inventory, noting the significant challenges that he faces, but also noting how much it's going to take to fix this problem. And the budget that we have before us, there isn't enough investment in that particular housing stock. And I know the federal investment seems to go down more and more each year.
SHERWOODI know -- can I just point out, he said the city can't be a slumlord. A very, very strong statement.
NNAMDIIt's been a dramatic week in the council. Let's start with Tuesday's unanimous vote to reprimand Councilmember Jack Evans. Some people are suggesting, though, that the council should take further action including stripping Evans of his chairmanship of the Finance and Revenue Committee, which you sit on. The Council Chair, Phil Mendelson, said that would be a rush to judgment. You, of course, are a former prosecutor. What are your thoughts on the actions of the council, and should they go farther?
MCDUFFIEIndeed, I am a former prosecutor. And as a former prosecutor, someone who really holds dear the principle of due process and that a person is innocent until proven guilty, I'm also incredibly frustrated that we find ourselves here again as a council with this type of negative scrutiny on the work that we're doing. And to be focused on the longest-serving member of the council, that makes it even worse.
MCDUFFIESo, this week, we voted to discipline Councilmember Evans...
MCDUFFIE...unanimously disciplining Councilmember Evans. We stripped his committee's oversight of two important agencies, the Commission of Arts and Humanities, as well as Events DC. Both are near and dear to the councilmember, and those are now going to be taken out. And we're going to take up where those get sent in our next legislative meeting. But we also, the chairman -- we referred several bills that are in this committee, tax abatements, as well as tax financing measures out of his committee. And now I have those measures in my committee.
MCDUFFIEAnd so, you know, the council has to make sure that we always police ourselves. And we've got to hold ourselves to the highest standard of ethics. And it, you know, sometimes, I think, rings hollow on residents of the District of Columbia when they see this type of thing happening. We've got to make sure that we are good stewards of public dollars and give the public every confidence that we're going to make decisions that are in their best interest.
SHERWOODSome council members have suggested that you would be a good choice to be the new chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, the committee I think Jack Evans has had for 20 years, or something. Would you be willing to take over that post and give up business in economic development?
MCDUFFIEThat's not a decision that I would make on my own. It's a decision that I would make with the Chairman of the Council and my colleagues.
SHERWOODWould you be willing?
MCDUFFIEI'm always willing to put the institution first. I'm willing to serve and make sure that those important functions that are in the Committee on Finance and Revenue have strong oversight. And...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So, yes is the answer, if the chairman asked you.
NNAMDI(overlapping) But at the same time, you're working with Evans on a number of different committees. How do you think these revelations and this vote will affect that working relationship?
MCDUFFIEWell, I think that the councilmember's going to continue to do -- and I don't want to speak for him, but I know I, and I imagine my colleagues would do everything that we need to do to be great stewards of the city's money and to perform our public oversight function, particularly as we dig into this $15.5 billion, to make sure that we're spending money in a way that is efficient and that leaves resources available for the most pressing issue that we face, and that's our schools.
SHERWOODWell, before we leave, I'd like to get to schools, but let's go back to ethics for one moment. There was another report this week that the Board of Ethics fined Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd $4,000 for making his emails he received in his government office available to a candidate for the school board that he supported.
NNAMDIThat candidate did not win.
SHERWOODThat candidate did not win. I don't know if it was the quality of the emails or not, but the fact is, some people are thinking this is -- on a smaller measure, this is exactly what Jack Evans was accused of, using his government email for some private or personal gain. Brandon Todd used it for a political purpose. Should he be reprimanded?
MCDUFFIEWell, I think there's been an investigation. There's been a determination made. I think that when you look at all these type of allegations, the reality is, if you are a resident of the District of Columbia and you see some of the things that are happening to members of the council, it does further erode the public's trust. And so we have to continuously make sure that we hold ourselves to the highest degree of ethical standards so that we are beyond reproach. And that...
SHERWOODSo, the ethics assessment of a $4,000 fine for his campaign, but he doesn't personally have to pay it, do you support the council reprimand, just as you did Jack Evans?
MCDUFFIEWell, you know, I haven't had a chance to read whatever was recommended by (unintelligible). I imagine that it's going to be an issue...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, assessed. They didn't recommend, they assessed a $4,000 fine.
MCDUFFIEAnd I have not had an opportunity to read the decision, but I'm going to always hold myself and my colleagues accountable, because if we don't, then we continue to lose confidence in the public.
SHERWOODAnd speaking of the Board of Ethics, it's a mess. It's supposed to have five members. It's going to soon be down to two. The mayor has sent over a couple of nominees, which the council hasn't accepted. Are you concerned at all that the Central Ethics Commission agency in the city, effectively, is not working?
MCDUFFIEThe Board of Ethics and Government Accountability is a very important agency within our government. And they need a full complement of board members in order to function effectively. And I am concerned that they don't currently have a full complement of members, but I also understand some of the concerns that have been raised by the chairman of the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
NNAMDIHere are some of the concerns of your constituents. Gwen Tweets in: what about the businesses closing on 12th Street in Brookland? Also, how about that shooting at 20th and Newton? Are things going south in Brookland? What are the solutions?
MCDUFFIEThings aren't going south in Brookland. We have a culture of gun violence in the District of Columbia which has persisted for years, for decades, since I was a kid. And although we don't have the same number of homicides that we had back in the '80s and '90s, when we were the murder capital of the country, that culture of gun violence still exists. And, you know, you can support law enforcement as I do and make sure that -- and I'll be the first to tell you that we need to enhance our community policing in areas like Brookland and throughout Ward 5 and throughout the District of Columbia to make sure that the visibility is there, that officers are engaging the residents where they are.
MCDUFFIEBut you cannot police your way out of a problem where young men and women -- primarily young black men -- are carrying guns and using them to resolve disputes. It is outrageous. It is disappointing, and it's incredibly sad that these young men are doing the types of things that they're doing. This was 6:00 p.m. in broad daylight on a Saturday.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, Kate in Brookland says: I've lived and worked in Bloomingdale for over 11 years, had my kids there, and my partner has a small business there. The neighborhood violence is much worse this year than even last year. But her key question, and one we have for you is: what are you doing to help?
MCDUFFIEOh, I'm doing a lot to help. And if you're familiar, Kate, with the NEAR Act, the Neighborhood Engagement Achieve Results Act, it was a bill that ushered in a health-based approach to crime prevention and intervention, recognizing that we've got to get to the root causes of this violence, of the gun violence in order to address it more systemically. While law enforcement is doing increased patrols in areas like Bloomingdale and Hanover Place and Woodridge and Langdon Park, where we're seeing some of the uptick in gun violence, we also are putting violence interrupters in place in neighborhoods like Trinidad, which historically has seen high numbers of violent crime.
MCDUFFIEAnd we have not seen the same level of violent crime in Trinidad over the past year since we've had violence interrupters on a few of the streets in those neighborhoods, on those blocks, wearing yellow shirts, engaging, squashing beefs, doing the work in the trenches to help solve these gun disputes that we're seeing play out in neighborhoods across the District of Columbia. We need more resources for those programs. And the mayor's budget does include some additional resources for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. Attorney General Racine, Mayor Bowser, the council has committed to the NEAR Act's Cure Violence approach. And we need to ramp up those efforts in more neighborhoods across Ward 5 and the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWe've talked about gentrification. It's both a good thing and a concerning thing for those who have lived here and are being pushed out. But, you know, is there any concern that -- you know, Brookland has had a lot of gentrification or economic development in terms of people moving there. Are you concerned at all that even in Columbia Heights -- the night of Kojo's program, there was talk about Columbia Heights stores are closing on 14th Street and the whole GALA Theater audience is changing. Are you concerned at all that maybe the growth of the city is slowing?
MCDUFFIEI'm deeply concerned. Pick your neighborhood, whether it's Columbia Heights or Mount Pleasant where Heller's Bakery used to be, is my mom's favorite bakery. We always got our baked goods from there. Whether it is Eckington, Brookland, Trinidad or pick your neighborhood. There are levels of gentrification and displacement that have occurred over the years. Kojo referenced the recent report that said that 20,000 residents have been displaced since 2000. And it's heart-wrenching, when you think about it. And I am concerned about it, which is why I have championed issues around racial equity, social justice and economic inclusion.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Let me ask about that...
NNAMDI(overlapping) You proposed creating a racial equity tool...
NNAMDI...for the DC government to use in shaping annual performance plans. First, what's the tool, and second, how would a racial equity lens apply to something like transportation?
MCDUFFIESo, the tool is something that's been implemented in cities around the country. And the council has embraced racial equity in such a form that we've actually become a member of the government alliance of race and equity. And the tool essentially says that we need to look at how we govern, how we legislate, our policymaking process through the lens of racial equity. How the decisions that we make as a government impact individuals and groups based on race and other ethnicities.
MCDUFFIEAnd it's very important as we think about the future economic growth of the District of Columbia, so we don't have the next 15 years from now saying that we've displaced 20,000 more residents. And the tool will be used in any sector that you think about, whether it's education, whether it is housing, whether it is employment or transportation. I think looking at transportation to make sure that people in neighborhoods that have historically been under-resourced have access to multiple modes of transportation to get them to job hubs so they can compete for employment.
SHERWOODI went to your racial equity forum in January at St. E's campus. And you have legislation that, as I understand it, would require, for every government action, that there be a consideration of what impact it might have racially on the people who live in the city or work in the city. Where is that legislation?
MCDUFFIEI introduced that legislation in January. It's called the Racial Equity Achieves Results Act. And as you said, Tom, it would do just that. It would require the government to train its employees on racial equity. It would require that we measure performance across agencies through a racial equity lens. And I'm planning on amending it once we have the hearing. And Councilmember Brandon Todd has already noticed the hearing for April of this year.
MCDUFFIEAnd my plan is to make sure that the bill includes a racial equity impact statement for every piece of legislation that gets passed at the council. The idea being that we look at the work in everything that we do, because here's the reality. If you look at education and the fact that black students, you know, average almost five grade levels behind white students in DC public schools, the fact that white students are 1.5 times likely to be enrolled in at least one AP class as black students. The fact that there are gaps in educational achievement, gaps in employment, gaps in health outcomes, gaps in incarceration rates. And the one common thing that weaves them altogether is race.
NNAMDIWell, we're running out of time very quickly, but one part of Mayor Bowser's budget release this week is something you requested, $35 million spread over six years to acquire the Wendy's at the intersection known as Dave Thomas Circle. What do you want to see happen at that site, which many obviously feel is a traffic nightmare?
MCDUFFIEI want to see the mayor negotiate with the property owner, hopefully to purchase the property and to have it redesigned the way that it's safer and more efficient for pedestrians and drivers, and particularly those students who have to traverse that very dangerous intersection at Florida Avenue and New York Avenue. I mean, it is a nightmare, particularly trying to get east and west along that corridor. And if you know anything about it, you likely try to avoid it, as I do, rather than get hung up in that area. And so I'm really happy that the mayor's included the 35 million in the budget, and look forward to have DDOT implement some longstanding solutions to that area.
SHERWOODI mentioned the chairman of the council is concerned there's not enough focus on education. It certainly is a racial equity thing, that some of the schools in the city like Balou and H.D. Woodson are losing students and therefore losing money, when in fact, more money should be put into those schools in order to attract students to them.
MCDUFFIENo, I think you're absolutely right. And, let me be clear, when I talk about racial equity and economic inclusion, I'm not talking about creating winners and losers, here. All right. You don't have to take from Ward 3 to give to Ward 8, or take from Ward 2 to give to Ward 7. You just have to look at our $15.5 billion budget to make sure that we are utilizing all the resources that we have at our disposal to give everybody what they need to be successful and to thrive.
MCDUFFIESo, if students at Balou need certain things, they should be able to get those within our budget framework. If you need your potholes filled and your trash picked up on time, you should be able to get the services delivered in a way that is efficient and routine. And I think that we can do that in the District of Columbia government, but we have to be more intentional and recognize that housing affordability is a real serious issue, and primarily because of historic discrimination and policies that were promoted by the federal and local governments across this country.
SHERWOODLet me just ask you one quick question that involves Virginia, and that's your long-term friendship with Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor. You grew up with him. You've said to me that you're like brothers. You grew up in Washington. How is he doing? It's a very serious issue with him, of course, he's facing in Virginia. Have you talked to him? How is he doing?
MCDUFFIESo, as you mentioned, Justin is one of my best friends.
NNAMDIWe've only got about 25 seconds.
MCDUFFIEAnd I'll just say this: when it comes to politics and the public service, he is one of the most dedicated public servants you'll ever meet. I trust him with everything beyond measure, and I'm really sad for his family, as well as those folks who have made the allegations. And I hope that we get this resolved as quickly as possible.
NNAMDIWe have to see how this unfolds. Kenyan McDuffie is a member of the DC Council, representing Ward 5. Thank you so much for joining us.
MCDUFFIEThank you for having me.
NNAMDILast week on the Politics Hour, Virginia Delegate Kaye Kory joined us in studio. We received a phone call from a listener named Josh who asked the delegate a question about her record on environmental issues. Tom took the opportunity to bring up her opponent in the Democratic primary, Andres Jimenez, who has been talking about environmental issues in his campaign. And Delegate Kory said that's him, referring to the caller. Tom asked if the caller was indeed Andres Jimenez, and when he said no, I said, your opponent says you sound like him. But that was not him. Andres Jimenez called us to correct the record, but we were at the end of the show, and could not get him on the air. We apologize to both Andres Jimenez and listener Josh for the misidentification.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. And if you missed our most recent Kojo Road Show on how gentrification is affecting the arts here in our region, you can find the show we broadcast yesterday at KojoShow.org. Coming up Monday, we'll meet food entrepreneurs bringing their families' food traditions to a wider audience. That all starts Monday, at noon. Tom Sherwood, big plans this weekend?
SHERWOODJust to enjoy the weekend.
NNAMDIWow, that's the biggest plan you've ever announced on this broadcast.
SHERWOODWell, I'm going to some hoity-toity cultural music thing, but I don't want to bring it up.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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