Pandemic relief may be coming to Maryland, and to the nation. What do the plans look like?
After his accusers made their first TV appearances this week, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax maintained his innocence and requested an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault against him.
In Baltimore, Mayor Catherine Pugh is on medical leave following a scandal over selling her self-published “Healthy Holly” books to a local hospital network and Kaiser Permanente, the city’s health insurance provider.
We’ll discuss all that and more with political analyst Tom Sherwood. Plus, we’ll hear from in-studio guests like Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot on his political battle with the state legislature. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh also joins us in studio to talk about the District’s concerns over legislators holding multiple jobs and more.
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 Ruth Tam
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 and a contributing writer to Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Mary Cheh, she's a D.C. Councilmember representing Ward 3. But joining us in studio right now is Peter Franchot, he is the Maryland State Comptroller. Peter Franchot, thank you so much for joining us.
PETER FRANCHOTIt's great to be here and my best to all your listeners. I haven't seen Tom Sherwood in a couple years, so --
SHERWOODHas it been that long?
FRANCHOTHe's an icon.
NNAMDII'm sure you haven't missed him. Tom Sherwood, before we get to Maryland, let's go to Virginia where the Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax says he has asked both the cities of Boston and Durham, the two cities in which he is accused of sexual assault to conduct investigations. And on Sunday he realized a statement saying that he took and passed two polygraph tests demonstrating that the accusations were false. As a former prosecutor he knows for sure, of course, that polygraphs tests are not admitted in court.
SHERWOODAnd, of course, polygraph is such a nice way of saying a lie detector.
SHERWOODThat's a nice thing to do for public relations purposes. But, you know -- and he picked a former FBI agent, I believe to do the test. But that's really not going to solve this issue for him. Asking for the investigations in Boston and Durham is not going to solve the problem for him. The state legislature wanted to hold hearings, but the democrats didn't go along. The two women have said that they would attend the public hearings if they were held by the General Assembly. But they would not attend a partisan hearing with just republicans only. So we're -- after months now of this controversy in Virginia we're nowhere near resolving the issue.
NNAMDIBoth of them were on CBS this week.
SHERWOODYes. And the two women spoke on CBS about their complaint. He's been -- Mr. Lieutenant Governor Fairfax has been suspended or on leave from the law firm that he joined just in the last year. It's an unresolved issue. I'm not sure how it's going to be resolved. I do note that Governor Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, who had issues of blackface have continued in their jobs. Even Senator Mark Warner has rescinded his call for Ralph Northam to resign. This trifecta of controversy in the state of Maryland seems to be limping along without any resolutions.
NNAMDINot going any place at this point.
SHERWOODI want to just say that we don't have a picture of the comptroller's notes. Just look over there, all those notes.
NNAMDIWell, he won't refer to those notes. He just brought those notes along just so that you could say something about them.
SHERWOODThey're not legible any way best I can tell from here.
NNAMDIMaryland's legislative session ends this Monday night coming up, but so far they've been passing some bills and one of them includes funding for the Kirwan Education Commission to the tune of $325 million. The bill would implement the commission's first year recommendations to update schools. We all remember the complaints about the former Thornton Commission not being funded. It seems that the state legislature is trying to avoid that this time of around.
SHERWOODWell, they're certainly putting money up at $700 something million I think for the two years. And the Kirwan Commission report is still to be released. It's delayed. But it seems like politically -- and the comptroller could speak to this in general I believe. That the state has decided that it has woefully underfunded education and it's going to do something about it. The Maryland state rankings have dropped a little in the last few years. Every school system whether it's the District of Columbia or Virginia is having to recalibrate what we're spending for our school education not college. But to senior high school and of that where the school have not been reformed and time is moving on. We need more modern schools and we need them now.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about this, Mr. Comptroller?
FRANCHOTWell, I was there in the legislature, Kojo, when we approved the Thornton Commission. I remember asking my colleagues there how exactly are we going to pay for this? And they said, well, we don't have the money now, but next year Catheline Townsend is going to be elected governor and we're going to raise the sales tax. I said, okay, great. That's why we all voted for it.
FRANCHOTLook, on education I've been a 40 year resident of Montgomery County. I was a 20 year legislator. I was on the Appropriations Committee the whole time. We all support education funding. But too often what happens down there -- and trust me, I'm a recovering legislator, we vote for things, because spending money is how we measure our success. So if we increase the spending, we're supposed to be more in favor of the kids' education and if we spend less than we're, oh, republicans or something that don't like the kids.
FRANCHOTWe all like the schools, but what we need are better results. We need to measure our success by whether the schools are getting better and then fund those practices that are improving the schools rather than just voting for a whole bunch of money that doesn't exist and then washing our hands of it.
SHERWOODHow then do you get more -- oversight of the school system? If you give them the money what would you do more in order to have the oversight you just suggested is lacking?
FRANCHOTWell, previously it was a lot of it for school construction was centered in the Board of Public Works where I served in a three member board with the governor and the treasurer. And we -- the governor and I are and continue huge advocates of accountability. That's not saying, don't spend money, don't allocate new dollars. It simply means make sure the new dollars that we're asking from the taxpayers actually have some measurement as to whether they succeed or don't succeed. And that's a problem that's kind of generic to Annapolis. I'm not sure how you change that.
FRANCHOTBut in response to the governor's concern and my concern about school construction costs that are largely unexamined, what did the legislature do last year, but strip the authority away from the Board of Public Works the only transparent accessible live stream body in the state down there. And they striped the authority away and said, we don't like you two fellows budding your noses into our legislative business.
NNAMDIThe other bill I'd like to comment on is the bill that would require an environmental impact study and financial disclosure statements before soliciting contracts that would widen I-270 and I-495.
FRANCHOTYeah. I was Chair of the Transportation Environment Subcommittee for many years in the legislature before I became comptroller. And as a longtime resident of Montgomery County I am acutely aware about the impact of congestion, how it hurts the economy both in Montgomery county and elsewhere around the state. So what is my response to the proposal to do highways? I'm not sure it's going to come before the Board of Public Works. It's a very expensive private public partnership.
FRANCHOTWe're going to look at it and examine it very very closely. But do we need an all hands on deck approach to transportation, because it's obviously not succeeding right now in the Washington region that would include transit that would include Metro that would include all sorts of connecting buses, etcetera, to get people from one transit area to another. Yeah, we need all that. But I -- that specific plan you alluded to, Kojo, is going to get a very close examination by the Board of Public Works. We have already appropriated significant amounts of money and I'm sure -- well, I'm not exactly sure what the legislature is proposing or why they're doing it. But I can guarantee you the contracts are going to be looked at very closely.
NNAMDIWe have a coordinated -- clearly coordinated campaign of calls about this issue.
SHERWOODI'm shocked, shocked.
NNAMDIAll of our calls so far are about this issue. But I'm going to take one of them. Chaz in Silver Spring, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHAZOh, yes. This is Chaz Miller. I live in Silver Spring inside the beltway. And first of all I'd like to thank you, Mr. Franchot, for the work you've done in protecting public moneys and in protecting the taxpayers of Maryland. And that sort of leads to a concern I have. This contract seems to be rushed through with doing everything at once instead of in an orderly fashion. And it seems to me that we need, for instance, an independent taxpayer analysis -- impact analysis before these proposals are submitted to the Board of Public Works. The DOT has pointed out that many highway public private partnerships needs financial restructuring, because of what they call optimism bias. So that's my concern.
NNAMDII'll ask Peter Franchot what he thinks about that.
FRANCHOTYeah. I'm not in charge of the legislation so I don't really understand Chaz's exactly what they're doing. Thank you for your kind comments. What I can guarantee you is that any contract for this P3 widening of 495 and 270 is going to get an extremely rigorous examination by the comptroller, myself and my staff. And I think everybody agrees that the one thing about Franchot is the only thing silent is the "T" at the end of his name.
SHERWOODAnd let's just be clear, when you refer to the 3P, that's public private partnerships.
SHERWOODJust very quickly. I didn't hear any personal view in your part about whether you want to see more lanes on 270, I-495 and do you want the state to take over the Baltimore Washington Parkway, which is like crater city on the moon now.
FRANCHOTYeah, I suggested to Governor Hogan on Wednesday at Board of Public Works meeting, maybe he and I could go out and have a truck with some asphalt, a couple of shovels and actually begin filling some of the potholes at BWI Parkway. And I'm really not involved in all that because that's the federal officials, who are working on that, but whatever would accomplish some ordinary maintenance for the BW Parkway, yes. As far as widening the beltway and 270, we have to take a look at it to see exactly how it integrates with all the other transit and other modes that are going there. I think the citizens that are calling in are upset that they have a sense that it's a done deal. It's not a done deal.
NNAMDIBaltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is now on indefinite paid leave. She says she's taking time to recover from a bout of pneumonia that she had. But this happens in the middle of a scandal involving her children's book called "Healthy Holly." She sat on the Board of the University of Maryland Medical System, which paid her a total of $500,000 for 200 copies. And then Kaiser Permanente also $100,000 paid for copies of her books, and she awarded Kaiser a $48 million contract. You tweeted earlier this week, "The mayor has to resign now." You called her actions brazen, cartoonish corruption. But the mayor has not yet resigned. So what's next for Baltimore.
FRANCHOTWell, I anticipate that she will down the road, because it's just untenable. This is a cartoonish corruption that has had a corrosive effect on Baltimore's politics on Maryland's politics. It's become a punchline around the country. It will go down in my view sadly and unfortunately, because I am a big champion of Baltimore. I love the city. I love the neighborhoods. I love its economic potential. This scandal goes right up there with the all-time national scandals. So I anticipate that she will be leaving.
FRANCHOTWhat do we need do in Baltimore, Kojo? We need to get someone like Anthony Williams. Remember when he came in after Mayor Barry had caused so much disruption and so much damage to the District's reputation. In comes Anthony Williams, people trusted him. They saw him as an adult that they trusted his experience even when they disagreed with him. He had integrity and he corrected the ship of state. Baltimore needs an Anthony Williams. Where is he by the way?
NNAMDIHe's still here in Washington D.C. He heads up the Federal City Council.
SHERWOODFederal City Council. Well, Pugh wrote the book, "Healthy Holly" is that?
SHERWOODDo I have the right title?
SHERWOODWhat do you know about the current President of the Council or head of the Council who's now the acting mayor? Do you know him at all?
SHERWOODHe has said that he will try to write the ship of state and simply run the city while this all gets sorted out. But also this book was bought by the University of Maryland Medical School Board. She was on the board. There was a lot of self-dealing. General Assembly wants all the members of that board to resign now and start over, but aren't the Senate President and the House Speaker members of that board?
SHERWOODHow did it happen that she could self-deal all this money and the leaders of the General Assembly, who you're so close -- I say that, you know, sarcastically, allowed it to happen? Don't they share some of the blame?
FRANCHOTI just remind people. The difference between Mayor Barry and Anthony Williams was night and day. All of a sudden people settled down and they could see good competent government with integrity. And what's going on in Baltimore is also going on in Annapolis. It's called the dissolution of those political machines in Baltimore and in Annapolis. And what's happened over the years, frankly the decades is that too few people have accumulated way too much power and been able to essentially set up these corrosive corrupt sidebar practices.
FRANCHOTAnd so I think what's going on up there in Baltimore and in Annapolis are connected, because we're seeing that down in Annapolis there's always been kind of a permanent shadow government down there as there has been in Baltimore. And I think people are beginning to sense that the solution to all of this self-dealing and self-enrichment, which is so corrosive to the reputation of our state and the city. The solution is to get new people in office that are not -- don't have that kind of baggage.
SHERWOODCan we --
SHERWOODYou have been the comptroller since 2007, is that right?
SHERWOODAll right, 2007. There have only been three comptrollers in 60 years in Maryland, Louie Goldstein, of course, and mayor former governor, William Donald Schaefer. Last year you got 1.6 million votes in your re-election. Hogan got 1.2 million. And Ben Cardin, the senator, got 1.4 million. You seem, as I like to tell people, to be popular throughout the state of Maryland. You seem to be popular everywhere except in Annapolis. Your fights with the legislature are --
SHERWOODLegendary. But you've made some progress this year on craft beer and a couple other issues. But they are trying to take away and did in fact vote to take away -- overrode a veto to take away your authority over alcohol and tobacco sales, one of the biggest things in the state of Maryland. What does that mean for the state? Do you think it will hurt the enforcement of those two issues or do you think it will just be just political retribution to you?
FRANCHOTWell, it's called the Get Franchot Bill. And it's just political payback for my advocacy for craft beer. You mentioned Speaker Bush and Senate President Miller. Speaker Bush on the cartoon book scandal up in Baltimore where we don't even know if the books were printed. They're up to about $800,000 in payments. It's probably going to get a lot more than that. People are going to go to jail. Who is the chairman of the board? Mike Bush. Who's been on the board for 16 years? Mike Bush. Who for 30 years the Senate President's been there -- I guess he's been sending some of his lieutenants up there more recently.
FRANCHOTBut the point is they obviously dropped the ball. It's strange credulity that they were not aware of not only Mayor Pugh, but also the eight or nine other trustees that were doing self-serving deals with this system. Let me just emphasis right here. No not for profit in the country allows board members to compete for contracts with the institution they supposedly are overseeing and protecting the taxpayer.
FRANCHOTNobody allows their Board of Trustees to interact on commercial transactions. It's not whether it's competitively bid or single bid. It's just wrong.
SHERWOODYou're suggesting the story is more than Mayor Pugh. It's state government itself.
FRANCHOTYeah, this is the shadow government that I mentioned. These big boards -- this is a $4 billion not for profit, absolutely indispensable institution to the state of Maryland, Maryland Medical Health System. It is crucial to our citizens' health. It was founded by the state of Maryland. It was funded by the State of Maryland. It gets God awful amount of money from the State of Maryland right now. For this institution to be put into this position with the cartoon books that may or may not exist, I assume they're unreadable, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.
FRANCHOTYou really haven't even broken the skin of the apple until you do a deep dive. You mentioned independent assessments. This issue in Baltimore cries out for an independent review of the state prosecutors getting involved. But we need a deep dive into what exactly happened with the trustees.
NNAMDITwo aspects of the issue Tom raised about craft beer. We got an anonymous Facebook message from someone who says, "How does Peter Franchot plan to support craft alcohol businesses? Especially those that bring business to Montgomery County's agricultural reserve?"
FRANCHOTYeah. No, I love these Maryland owned, Maryland employee microbreweries and craft beer that use Maryland agricultural products. They don't sell more beer, because people are concerned about alcohol consumption. They're simply substituting for out of state Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. They're a terrific manufacturing sector, could be four or five billion dollars in economic activity. But the legislature is owned lock stock and barrel by the big beer companies. They have managed to basically control the place much like they control big boards like UMMS. I mean, I talk about the shadow government.
SHERWOODThat's the medical board, UMMS. You weren't clearing your throat. That's the medical board.
FRANCHOTYeah. They're all mixed up in this same kind of chicanery. And so they came up in addition to doing some reforms this year, which I assume I should get -- at least, I don't -- not interested in the credit. But it was my advocacy that brought the issues to the forefront. But the legislature said, "Okay. We're also going to waste $50 million of taxpayer's money by setting up a duplicate agency that will regulate alcohol and tobacco."
NNAMDIAlcohol and Tobacco Commission.
NNAMDIStriping you of your oversight of beer and alcohol regulation.
FRANCHOTYeah. It doesn't hurt me a bit, Kojo. I have a big big agency. We do a tremendous job for the taxpayers.
NNAMDIHas this become personal with you and members of the legislature?
FRANCHOTIt was called the Get Franchot bill. It has nothing to do with anything that the proponents were saying it did. It's going to waste $50 million. It's going to lower the review of tobacco and alcohol products. The governor vetoed it calling it "petty payback." And I don't think it will ever be implemented, because it's so poorly written. We're certainly going to examine taking it to court and litigate with the legislature and, boy, those will be some depositions you guys might be interested in.
SHERWOODWell, you have been a -- you first were elected to the State House of Delegates in 1987. And you were competing against a power structure then. People forget that you also ran against Connie Morella, the congresswomen from Montgomery County in 1988, which was the only political race you've lost. Again, I go back to the overall feeling, which always surprised me and I did see you up in I think 2017 up in Frederick where we were doing one of the craft beer stories for Channel Four. It's that everywhere you go you get treated like a rock star but your personal relationship with leaders of the legislature, you're basically calling the state legislature corrupt. Do you have any personal relationship at all with House Speaker Bush or Senate President Miller? If you called either of them on the phone, do they take your phone calls or are you just persona non grata with them?
FRANCHOTMaybe not recently.
SHERWOODI'm trying to understand Maryland. People I don't think realize how personal some of this stuff appears to be.
FRANCHOTWell, look, I came into the legislature in 1986 -- 1987 with Speaker Bush. I have a perfectly cordial relationship if I see either of them. It's not that. It's the fact that I have decided to raise the flag on issues for the right reason, when the so called Annapolis machine is abusing their authority. That's what gets under their skin. That's why they and their chief lieutenants come after me. If you go and talk to average rank and file delegates and senators, which I did in opposing this bill to a person they said, We hate this bill, Peter. It's stupid. It wastes money. It's going to hurt alcohol and tobacco review. You guys do a great job. You're nationally recognized. But we have to, we're being forced to vote with the Speaker and with the Senate President. That's what I complain about that total control. You know, they say absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yeah.
NNAMDIYou mentioned your love of Baltimore. In other Maryland matters, the owners of the Preakness are considering to move that iconic event from Baltimore's Pinnacle Racetrack, which is in need of repair, to the more upscale Laurel Park in Prince George's County, a move that you oppose. Is there more that can be done to level out the investments between the two parks or as you once said on this topic, hindsight is useless.
FRANCHOTNo. Well, you know, my favorite movie is "Sea Biscuit" who won the great Pimlico Race against I think it was War Admiral back in the 1930s. I happen to think the Preakness should stay in Baltimore. I'm not sure we have to spend X amount of money that's been talked about. That seems like a lot. But I'm --
FRANCHOTYeah. So let's cut that in half and let's figure out a way to keep the Preakness in Baltimore.
NNAMDIWhat do you got against Laurel?
FRANCHOTI like Laurel. It's, you know, a great area. I drive through it all the time.
SHERWOODThe Senate Budget and Tax Committee is supposed to vote on this Pimlico thing today. Are you up to speed on that? Have you heard anything today?
FRANCHOTNo. I haven't. Yeah. I've got other irons in the fire. We're processing three and a half million tax returns returning $2.5 billion in refunds as we speak and all the time defending ourselves from this harassment from the legislative leaders.
SHERWOODWell, I think we've explored that subject. Let me ask you about those tax returns because, you know, this is the first year where citizens across the country are filing their income taxes under the Trump Tax Bill from I guess last year and with limits on state and tax local deductions. Are you finding people are getting smaller refunds, bigger refunds? How is it affecting the State of Maryland in your revenues?
FRANCHOTYeah, there are a lot of unhappy Maryland taxpayers right now, because they didn't adjust their withholding. I know this is kind of technical, but they should have adjusted their withholding and now they're having to -- although they get a big tax cut perhaps at the federal level, because of the doubling of the standard deduction. They're paying more to the State of Maryland and they don't like. Now in a net basis most of them are still getting a tax cut, but I sympathize with them or at least some of them not the super wealthy ones, but the ones that are genuinely surprised for this. They're going to have to make adjustments in their withholdings so that they don't have this experience next year.
SHERWOODIs there an estimate of how much in revenue? How many more millions of dollars the State of Maryland is collecting, because of this failure to adjust withholdings?
FRANCHOTYes, I delivered a billion dollars in unanticipated tax revenue in the 12 months that we're in. This is new money, on top of all the other revenue increases that are normally expected. I urged the legislature to put it in the state's bank account and save it for a rainy day, at least a year, before they spend it. It's all spent.
NNAMDIHere is Elspeth in Laurel, Maryland. Elspeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELSPETHHi. Quick question, quick comment. The question is, I could've sworn there was something about lottery money originally being intended to pay for the schools. The quick comment is that if you want to deal with traffic, make the MARC system make sense. Since I live in Laurel and we still need to take the MARC train up to BWI, and I couldn't figure it out for the life of me.
FRANCHOTThat is such a great question, because we have a lot of transit, for example, up in Baltimore City, which is state funded. But they haven't connected the dots, so it takes -- people kid and say it takes weeks to get from one place to another on mass transit in the Baltimore region. That can be corrected without necessarily a whole new system. And the point you brought up about the MARC schedule and the difficulty and frustration you have, if you would contact me offline, I would be grateful, and we will see if we can get someone to at least patch the problem that you're talking about.
SHERWOODSpeaking of this issue and bringing in Peter, I'm planning, this month, to go up to the Guinness Brewery there near Baltimore, and my friend, who's a big beer expert, is going to guide me on this. We thought we would take public transportation to get there and back from DC, because we didn't want to be driving. He attempted to figure out how to get there on the MARC trains, and whatever. And we could get there, but we couldn’t get back, because there's just no service available.
NNAMDIHow do you make the MARC trains make sense?
FRANCHOTYeah, that's a little above my pay level right now, but (laugh) no, seriously, it's a big problem, the connectivity. The Purple Line is going to help a lot in this region, because that's going to go around the spokes of Metro. If Metro can right itself and get its popularity back with the citizens, which I think they can, then we can at least improve things in this area. Not so much as far as heading up to Baltimore County right now.
NNAMDIPeter Franchot, he is the Maryland State Comptroller. Thank you so much for joining us.
FRANCHOTIt's a pleasure to be here, and thank you, Kojo, for what you do for our community, because you at least allow us to have a conversation about things that most people would just assume sometimes ignore.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
SHERWOODThat's very nice. That's true. We didn't ask him about the oysters, though, and it's a big deal.
NNAMDIWe don't have time.
SHERWOODOkay. Next time.
NNAMDIUp next is Mary Cheh. She's a DC councilmember representing Ward 3. Tom Sherwood, there's a big congressional fight again over DC's private school voucher program. We have seen this movie before. The city's delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, opposes the voucher. She thinks tax dollars should be used to improve public schools instead, but it would appear that both Mayor Bowser and the DC council chairman who supported it the last time around might be supporting it again this time.
SHERWOODWell, the Trump Administration has suggested raising the amount of money for this private school voucher program for poor students to go to private schools from about 45 million to $90 million a year. Betsy DeVos is the education secretary, is a big fan of these private schools and monies. So, it has passed in the past, but, you know, the Democrats control the House now. I just don't know if it will get -- Eleanor Holmes Norton has had a pretty good track record on these things with the Democrats. We'll see what happens.
NNAMDILast time around, there were several members of the council who signed a letter supporting Delegate Norton's position. One of those who did not sign was our current guest, Mary Cheh, DC councilmember representing Ward 3. Welcome.
MARY CHEHThank you. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIHow do you feel this time around about the voucher program?
CHEHWell, I really think we ought to put our money directly into our public school system. And this is a distraction, I think, from improving our public schools.
NNAMDISo, you are not for the voucher program.
CHEHI'm not, no.
SHERWOODWell, let's go right to politics.
NNAMDIWell, allow me...
SHERWOODOh, I'm sorry.
NNAMDI...I want to stay with education for a while.
SHERWOODThe host wants to be more responsible. I want to get right to the raw politics. But...
NNAMDIWell, I just wanted to talk about the fact that DC official missed AmeriCorps application deadline, putting almost $4 million worth of funding at risk. But Delegate Norton seems to feel we can make up for that.
CHEHWell, I hope we can, because that's an unforgiveable mistake, and there was even...
SHERWOODIt's an outrage.
CHEHThere was even, you know, a further mistake. They could've asked for an extension of time, and they did not. So, I don't know who's responsible for that, but that's really horrible. And, in some ways, that's a segue to what I hope we get to talk about, namely the shelters and meal services for shelters.
NNAMDIYes, we'll talk about that, also. But Tom Sherwood has a Politics Hour question.
SHERWOODWell, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, this week, introduced a bill that would require all councilmembers to forgo outside jobs, just like the chairman can't have an outside job. And there are only two council members who have outside jobs, you as a professor at George Washington University Law Schools and Jack Evans, who's an attorney. Brianne Nadeau's proposed bill, though, has an odd exemption. It says, well, you can have an outside job if you're a teacher.
SHERWOODAnd I asked them why that exemption, because teachers are one of the most political organizations. Whether you're in Maryland, Virginia or DC, teachers are heavily involved in politics, and I thought it was an odd exemption. And someone said to me -- not her -- well, this protects Mary Cheh's job as a law professor. You don't like this -- you think there should just be more disclosure on outside income. You don't want a prohibition on outside jobs. Where are you on this?
CHEHWell, first of all, in terms of the teaching thing, just about every legislature in the whole United States allows members to teach. In addition, the judiciary allows judges to teach. In fact, not only do they allow it, they encourage it, because there are great benefits that arrive from that experience both for the students, of course, but also for either the legislature or the courts. I don't think it's responsive to the problem. We have a problem when you have somebody who is using one's position to gain something in another position. Teachers don't have clients.
CHEHAnd so, if what you're really worried about is a lack of time to do your job, then each situation really should be viewed on its own. My children are grown. I'm blessed with great energy. I am probably, forgive me, but I think among, or if not the most productive councilmember on the council. So, that's one thing. The other thing is this conflict issue. But in terms of conflicts, again, teachers, professors, we don't have any conflicts, because we don't have clients. And every so often, if something...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, legislation has come before the council involving George Washington University. Have you...
CHEHYes, there has. I...
CHEHNo. Well, I have no connection to them, but in those few instances, maybe a handful, I have recused myself. And it's been open and available for anyone to see. Not to mention, when I first ran, people knew that I was a law professor. In fact, a lot of people were very pleased that I was a law professor, and I made no bones about the fact that I was going to continue. And in every election since then, people have tried to say, my opponents, well, this is horrible, or whatever.
CHEHThe work product that I have and my involvement in the community belies any worry about what I'm doing. So, I think it's too blunt of an instrument to get at conflicts, because it was caused by this situation with Jack Evans. We have conflicts laws. That's why he's in trouble now. So, you know, I don't see this as a solution. And I think, not only is it not a problem in many instances -- for example, if someone were a doctor, and that person wanted to maintain something of a practice while they were on the council, I say hallelujah, because there are benefits for people to connect with the community, to remain connected and to have perspectives. I believe in the citizen legislator.
SHERWOODHow about the answer, then -- I've always said this, what we need is more disclosure. We have limpy, weak, puny disclosure laws. Why don't we have more disclosure, and therefore, we would know more about what job you might have, or Evans or any other councilmembers. And you would have citizen legislators.
CHEHI have no problem with that, whatsoever. And, in fact, you know, that was my point, too, about the conflicts. If you reveal where you may have conflicts -- and, as I said, in a handful of cases, there have been things. And, in fact, I've been overdoing it, I think. There was someone who was nominated to a board who was a professor at GW. This came up recently, and I recused myself from that, just so that it didn't have any connection to me. Yeah, we should be totally open, and, as I said, I was completely open with my voters, and I have always been.
NNAMDIBefore we get to other issues, here now is Alan in Tacoma, DC. Alan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALANHi, Mary. It's Alan Cohen, and thanks for all the hard work you did staying the course with Quiet Clean DC in getting your gas leaf blower ban passed. That was just tremendous. And in going in the same direction, I was just at Tudor Place Gardens yesterday, where I had spoke to a very frustrated facilities manager there who wanted to get goats in...
NNAMDI(overlapping) All politics is local. Go ahead.
ALAN...goats, yeah, goats. And so this woman, Mary Bone from Maryland, said she doesn't have to go through any of these hoops in Maryland. She had to have deworming and she said she doesn't deworm her animals, because they're building up immunity. And she had letters from her vet and recommendations from the University of Maryland about this. And all these hoops that made it really hard to bring two goats into Tudor Place, just to do a demonstration. And they've already...
NNAMDI(overlapping) It's two goats, Mary Cheh.
CHEHWell, you know, I would have to see what the objection is to having goats. I mean, we have, you know, certain kind of animals that can't be kept within the District. There was a big fight about chickens. There's been fights about other kinds of animals. If somebody wants to keep goats, I mean, I can look into it and see what the problem is.
NNAMDIAlan, thank you very much for your call. Another ethics question related to the DC Council. Homeless Services-provided DC Central Kitchen was cut out of a longtime partnership with the city when DC awarded local caterer Henry's Soul Café the deal to run meals at local homeless shelters. You called for an investigation into that contract. What questions do you have that you'd like answered?
CHEHWell, information is out there, and it was available publically, that made me start to wonder about what was going on. The DC Central Kitchen, for a long time, had most of the contracts to provide meals. And in the recent contract, they were displaced, essentially, by Henry's. And when you look at it even more closely about why that may be so, it becomes even more perplexing, because Henry's was being paid more, much, much more than DC Central Kitchen was asking for.
CHEHAnd going back even further to Henry's, what they were getting for a smaller piece of what they had in the past, they were far outstripping DC Central Kitchen in terms of the amount that they were being paid by the community partnership, which is another contractor by the Department of Human Services to provide homeless services. So, there was that, but then on top of all of that was the fact that Henry's is listing itself as a CBE, a Certified...
NNAMDI(overlapping) ...Certified Business Enterprise.
CHEH...Enterprise, right. And to be a Certified Business Enterprise, you're supposed to have your principal place of business in the District, and the CEO and the top management people are supposed to work outside of that. Well, it turns out that Henry's is registered to an address where there had been previously a question about that address and the owner of that address about being kind of, if you will, a front for CBE Enterprises to claim that as their address. Whereas Henry's, in fact, on the tax forms, shows that its main office is out of the District...
SHERWOODPrince Georges County, I believe.
CHEH...Prince Georges County. And, in any event, the information that I had was sufficiently worrisome, that I thought it ought to be looked into. And so I decided to send what I knew over to the attorney general to ask him to investigate it, because I don't have the capacity to really get underneath this. And there's enough there to worry about, I believe. And so I sent it over to the attorney general. He has acknowledged my letter, and I have yet to, you know, know anything further.
SHERWOODI have made a few calls about this, and I got some calls about this, some people who were supporting Henry's. And one of them said that Henry's has a record of having done some work in the city for homeless food service, and that DC Central Kitchen -- revered as it is for all the work that it has done and for the years it has been in place -- has been falling down on the job. I'm not making that decision myself. I'm just telling you what people have told me.
SHERWOODOne of the councilmembers who I asked about this on the DC Council said that there are, in fact, severe issues with DC Central Kitchen's ability to provide the service that it says it provides, and that Henry's has stepped in several times and fixed it. I don't know if all of that is true or not, but I'm just wondering, are you aware of the criticism of DC Central Kitchen, which everyone loves, but may have some problems?
CHEHWell, the spokesman for Henry's, with whom you may have spoken...
SHERWOODI spoke to Rod Newman and a couple of other people on the same subject.
CHEHBut what I told him, and you...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And he's a business partner with Henry's on some other issues.
CHEHRight. But in any case -- but what I told him, we had a long conversation. What I told him is that actually underlies (clears throat) another major point about this. You have the Department of Homeless Services contracting with the community partnership, which then contracts with other people. Nobody, I don't think, is sufficiently managing these contracts well. At the end of the day we want a proper price and good food served to the residents. They're the recipients here. And so if DC Central Kitchen was falling down on the job, why wasn't that managed better?
CHEHAnd the whole point of this is to make sure that whatever operation we have actually serves District residents well. And whether Henry's, you know, should get the bigger contract, whether their payments were so robust beyond what DC Central Kitchen was getting or warranted, that's what I'd like the attorney general to look at.
NNAMDIHere's Kerry in Crystal City. Kerry, your turn.
KERRYHi, Ms. Cheh. I've been bringing to the Council, since 2014, reports on the failures of the DC securities regulator, the Department of Insured Securities and Banking. The woman I reported to them and the organization's (unintelligible) failure, well, that all finally ended in a conviction in Maryland, when it was a DC matter. I have been asking the Council to hold hearings on the failures of the Department of Insured Securities and Banking. More so even their (unintelligible), it appears, paying memberships to private businesses, the NASAA, North American Association of Security Administrators, who is a private business and is allegedly translating for the securities regulators what the laws are. So...
NNAMDI(overlapping) What would you like the councilmember to do?
KERRYAs I said earlier, I've been asking for hearings on the Department of Insured Securities and Banking.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Councilmember Cheh, what should our caller do if she wants such hearings?
CHEHIn fact, I'm not -- I don't have the information right now whose committee has that agency.
SHERWOODProbably Jack Evans, maybe?
CHEHNo, no, I don't -- no, I don't think so. So, only the committee chair can call a hearing, and so we would have to figure that out. And so if you want to call me later, if you want to talk to me later, I can get that information for you. But, in addition, if you have information -- and like my letter to the attorney general, there are other sources of investigation that you could bring your information to. I want to tell people out there something that's quite important. You know, we can't have eyes and ears on everything in terms of the Council, but we count on people like you -- thank you very much -- to bring forward information about activities that are not quite correct, or may even be illegal.
CHEHSo, let's talk offline. I'll find out who the chairman is of that committee. Tom Sherwood is quickly looking it up on his phone.
SHERWOODBusiness and Economic Development.
CHEHOh, Business and Economic Development. So, then it's Kenyan McDuffie, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. He's the chair of the committee that has that under him. So, he would be the one to enlist for a hearing.
NNAMDIThat you want to contact. Kerry, thank you for your call. Here's Peter in Washington, DC. Peter, your turn.
PETERYeah, hey. This is Peter Lindstrom, Washington, DC. I'm a Ward 3 resident, and I'm also a teacher. And I was just hoping to hear from Mary Cheh how she can justify time spent away from DC and the Ward with all her teaching duties. And thank you.
NNAMDIYou got to teach. You got to grade.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Didn't we discuss that already?
CHEHYes, we did, but, you know, he's also been in touch with me, and I've emailed with him, so he's quite familiar with what I have to say. But just in brief, I'm a law professor, a tenured law professor at George Washington. I teach two courses in one semester, and one course in the other semester. And, actually, the hours of teaching, as such, are six per week in one semester, and three per week the second semester. And I do much of my preparation, in any event, on the weekends.
CHEHBut here's something. If you look at the time I spent and my productivity, I would match it against any other councilmember. So, I have no problem, nor should anyone else, and I don't think my voters do -- as they've illustrated by reelecting me time after time -- with my commitment to my Council work.
SHERWOODLet's go back to schools, because it's important. We had the big issue in the last couple weeks, and when Kathy Patterson, the DC auditor, spoke before the Council -- and she's appointed by the Council -- she criticized Mayor Bowser's budget. And Mayor Bowser's administration issued a statement saying, Kathy Patterson's opinion and $2 would get you a ride on a Metro bus. I asked the mayor about that. She kind of fluffed off the criticism of it. But I'm just wondering, where are you on the budget?
SHERWOODThe Council chairman has been very public in saying that the budget the mayor has proposed politically doesn't do nearly enough for schools, and she's mucking around with some taxes. Where are you, first of all, on the criticism of Kathy Patterson? Who preceded you, I believe.
SHERWOODShe had three terms on the Council. The mayor said she's not a budget expert. Where are you on that?
CHEHWell, Kathy Patterson's observations, I think, were fair and important, which is to say that the mayor has been the beneficiary of certain new taxes that have come around. One, we're allowed to tax internet sales. Two, we're going to be getting taxes from gambling. And three, the mayor took advantage of the fact of President Trump's tax changes and applied them, in effect, to the District. And so there's certain deductions that are no longer available, meaning more taxes will come in.
CHEHAll of that has redounded to the benefit of the mayor spending more. But much of the spending, as we're going over the budget, is one-time-only money, nonrecurring money. So, what happens when the money is not coming in at the same rate? What happens when, you know, we start a program? Are we just going to stop it? What kind of commitment are we making to the future, with these funds?
NNAMDIWhich was Kathy Patterson's point, that much of this is unsustainable.
CHEHExactly. Right, exactly.
SHERWOODBut what about the personal level of criticism of Kathy Patterson, she doesn't know what she's talking about when it comes to a budget, because she's not a budget expert, that $2 will get you a bus ride. I mean, where does that fit in, trying to figure out the budget?
CHEHWell, that was -- I think, you know, that was the mayor's spokesperson. That was unfortunate. I mean, that's kind of a childish, juvenile thing to say.
SHERWOODOkay. That's what I wanted to hear you say. Thank you.
CHEHOkay. I'll stop there, then.
NNAMDIWell, the mayor just released her 200-page-long cultural plan, and because it's 200 pages long, I don't have enough time to ask you about it. We'll probably be discussing some aspects of it next week. But speaking of the District's arts, of the more than 100 statues in the District, few of them feature women, even rarer women and Washingtonians of color. Your Ward 5 colleague, Kenyan McDuffie, is introducing a bill to bring eight new statues to the city, one in each ward. Who would you want to see erected in Ward 3?
CHEHOh, gee. I haven't given that thought. So -- but I'm very pleased that he's doing that, by the way, because I know maybe -- some people have said, you know, we're making too much of, you know, naming of entities and statues and stuff. I don't think so, because I think it shows something about the culture and it shows something about our values. So, I'm pleased that he introduced that legislation.
SHERWOODYou're chairman of the transportation committee. This week, there started a distracted driving campaign between AAA, the police department and DDOT to get people off their cell phones. Why does that need to be a campaign? Why can't that be a daily occurrence in this city?
CHEHWell, it ought to be a daily occurrence, because it's very problematic. We're never going to get to the goal of vision zero, you know, no deaths or serious accidents by -- I think it's 2025, or something like that -- unless we control that. And it's not just distracted driving. I have to say, there's distracted walking and there's even distracted cycling. When I see people, you know, their heads are down, they're working on their phones, and they're crossing the street without looking, that, too, is a big problem. So, you're right, Tom. I mean, we have to look at this as an everyday thing. Otherwise, we're not going to get those numbers down.
NNAMDILet the record show that Tom Sherwood was not among those who booed when Bryce Harper showed up...
SHERWOODI did not boo.
NNAMDI...for the Phillies. That's what I'm saying. Let the records show that you were among those who did not boo.
CHEHBut the Caps, last night, clinched their division.
SHERWOODWell, they've got home field -- home court -- what do they call it, field advantage?
CHEHHome ice advantage.
SHERWOODHome ice advantage. But I did not boo, but there was a terrific moment at the baseball game Tuesday night. It's a great rivalry with Philadelphia. I think they come back 16 more times this year.
CHEHI know. People were having -- you know, in their homes, they were having watch parties.
NNAMDIMary Cheh, she is a councilmember representing Ward 3 in the District. She is a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
CHEHThank you for having me.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Ruth Tam. In case you missed it, we covered the gender pay gap in Washington earlier this week. For takeaways from our conversation, head to kojoshow.org/blog. Coming up Monday on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Pope Francis has appointed Wilton Gregory -- the only living African American Bishop -- as the 7th Archbishop of Washington. What does his appointment signal for the church? Plus, we'll hear from interim director of DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Ernest Chrappah, about his efforts to digitally transform the agency. That all starts Monday at noon. Until then, you can hang out with Tom Sherwood on the weekend. What are you doing?
SHERWOODI'm going to be listening on Monday, because that's -- I'm going to read up. That's a very good program for Monday. Not that you don't have good programs regularly.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The D.C. economy is typically unfazed by recessions, but not this time. We'll find out why.
The inauguration of President Joe Biden will happen under military lockdown amid a pandemic. The Washington Post's Marc Fisher joins us to discuss this extraordinary moment in our country's history. Plus, computer scientist Jen Golbeck on what's most worrisome about the chatter happening in the darkest corners of the web.
For Martin Luther King Day, we hear from an artist who makes civil rights heroes leap off the page.