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.
Maryland has a new Speaker of the House, Del. Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County). She is the first woman and African American to hold the position in Maryland. The race for the speakership, though, was contentious. We’re joined by Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings for a look at the race and an update on Maryland politics in the aftermath of the 2019 legislative session.
Then we’re joined by Arlington County Board Member Erik Gutshall for a look at some of the biggest political news from the county, including the push to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration in Pentagon City and the proposed expansion of Crystal City.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Got a very busy day today, so I'm not even going to bother to introduce Tom Sherwood, our Resident Analyst and Contributing writer for Washington City Paper.
TOM SHERWOODAnd I'm not going to even going to say, "Good afternoon."
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be joined by Erik Gutshall, who is a member of the Arlington County Board. Joining us in studio right now is Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, thank you for joining us.
MAYA ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGSPleasure to be here.
NNAMDIBefore we get to the chair of the party, there's some other political business that took place in Maryland this week that we need to get to first. So joining us by phone from Baltimore is Dominique Bonessi. She is the Maryland Reporter for WAMU 88.5. Dominique, thank you for joining us.
DOMINIQUE MARIA BONESSIThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIDominique, it was a dramatic couple of weeks in Maryland politics as the House prepared to choose a new speaker, and that drama culminated Wednesday with Baltimore County Delegate, Adrienne Jones, being elected unanimously. You were there in Annapolis, can you briefly tell us about how that special session and the process for electing a new speaker works?
BONESSIYeah. So the two candidates that were up for grabs. We saw it where Prince George's County Delegate Derek Davis and Baltimore City Delegate Maggie McIntosh. In a rare flip of events -- turn of events that, you know, Derek Davis called, you know, "House of Cards" got nothing on us, the Democratic Caucus was in session for about five hours. They couldn't seem to come to an agreement among Derek Davis or Maggie McIntosh. So they decided to elect Adrienne Jones.
BONESSIAnd Adrienne Jones previously last week had dropped out of the race to make way for Derek Davis. So once the Democratic Caucus elected Jones, they went to the floor and Republicans quickly got on board with it. I mean, they said -- Nic Kipke, Anne Arundel County Delegate said, you know, she even a more moderate choice for the House of Delegates. So that's sort of a nutshell of what happened last week.
NNAMDISo that's how House members reacted in general. House Republicans surprised a lot of people by flexing the limited political muscle that they have as the minority party in the legislature. What kind of impact did they have on the ultimate decision to elect Speaker Jones?
BONESSIRight. So the big thing was Democrats needed -- either Democrat coming out of Democratic Caucus needed 71 votes. They needed to get a majority of the party to agree with them. There's 98 people in the Democratic Party in the House, and what they didn't want -- the sort of muscled that the Republicans flexed was they were voting in block, 42 votes for Derek Davis. And if, you know, the Democrats came out of that meeting saying they were going to have a divided party, well, then the Republicans would have had the final say in who was elected. And that would have caused a very big split within the Democratic Party.
NNAMDISo the Republicans played a role so to speak in the Democrats coming together?
BONESSIIn a way, yeah, I mean, I guess you could say that, you know, the pressures of, you know, of partisanship sort of helped people be a little more bipartisan.
NNAMDIWell, we'll be talking with Maya Rockeymoore Cummings about this just a little later in this broadcast, but Dominique Bonessi, thank you so much for joining us.
BONESSIThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDITom Sherwood before we get back to the politics of Maryland, let's talk a little bit about what's been going on in D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has unveiled a bill to legalize recreational marijuana sales. This despite the fact that the republican dominated last Congress said, Yes, you people can vote to make marijuana use legal recreationally in D.C., but you can't regulate it.
SHERWOODThat's right. That was because Andy Harris from Maryland -- boy, Maryland's got a lot of news lately. Anyway, Andy Harris put a provision in the federal budget that the city couldn't spend any money, federal funds or local funds on marijuana. The mayor and Delegate Norton have decided, well, now that the democrats control the House they're going to go ahead as much as they can to prepare for the time when they think Congress will overturn this ban and setup a regulation of marijuana. Allow a 17 percent tax. Make it a age 21 and allow the city like other states in the country to regulate, tax, and benefit from marijuana sales.
NNAMDIBut they have put off the date on which this will become law?
SHERWOODRight. This is just the beginning. They need a little more support in Congress, perhaps somebody from the Senate.
NNAMDIOne of the more controversial aspects of the mayor's decisions here is that she wanted restructure the city's arts commission. Now we've held a number of broadcasts with members of the arts community, who find it difficult to stay here, who find it difficult to be able to afford housing here and the like. So there's a big brouhaha going on about what needs to be done. The mayor apparently wanted to take the arts commission, so to speak, under her wing.
SHERWOODYes, the arts and humanities commission, which has long been under Jack Evans committee. And he's been a big supporter of the arts and humanities in the city with grant money available. The mayor for some reason decided she wanted that to become a department of the city, which meant she would decide, who gets the money. And that's very similar to the sports betting proposal where the mayor -- seems the bottom line on this is the mayor wants to control all of these aspects of the city government.
SHERWOODBut the arts and the humanities commission Chairman Mendelson, who's overseeing it now said it's stupid to make it a department. I thought that was a strong word. And so he had supported the arts commission in that they will continue to give grants. You know, in your town hall you did at Arena Stage and other places, we have a lot of cultural organizations, who are barely making it. Have to pay low wages, keep ticket prices low and so these grants are lifesaving grants to expand and to keep those types of events in town. And they were concerned that the mayor would make these not grants, but loans where they would have to pay the money back, another trouble for them.
NNAMDISo Chairman Phil Mendelson has stepped in.
SHERWOODMendo with his strong words and I think the Council is going to support him.
NNAMDIAnd that would mean that the mayor won't necessarily get her way.
SHERWOODShe will not. It's a $15 billion budget. The mayor is going to get her way on 98 percent of the budget. But on these crucial things that affect various constituencies around the city, the Council is going to change some things.
NNAMDIIn studio with us is Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. She is Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. If you have questions or comments for her, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. First, what do you think of the choice that the House made to make Adrienne Jones its new speaker?
CUMMINGSI congratulate the House of Delegates for that choice. I really congratulate the democrats for actually sticking together and basically coming together to decide how they were going to vote. And they made the choice of the first African American and the first woman Speaker of the House. And that is a fabulous, you know, and a historic event.
NNAMDIWe'll talk a little bit more about her, but after Republicans announced that they would vote as a block for the speaker's race, some democrats met with Republicans in the hopes of brokering a deal. You criticized this sharply, why?
CUMMINGSBecause in the 2018 election the voters of Maryland made it clear, there was a blue wave all over Maryland, but especially in the state legislature. And so for Democrats to actually be seeking to caucus with Republicans in order to elect the next Speaker of the House and if they would have moved forward with that strategy, they would have in effect nullified the will of the Democratic voters, who actually, you know, elected a record number of Democrats to the legislature and many of them progressive. And so, you know, instead of, you know, having a Speaker of the House, who would be beholden to Republicans straight off, I think that it was very important to intercede and make sure that I was doing my job as the party leader to make sure that Democrats stuck together so that they could protect--
NNAMDIWell, Delegate Barnes called working with Republicans a way to quote "break tradition" and set a view quote, "It is distressing that our party leader chose to threaten our members with punishments for being bold enough to do something different to get historic results." You were accused of bullying, threatening party members. What happened?
NNAMDIAnd threatening. Is there a riff that you need to heal? What happened?
CUMMINGSI called him immediately after I heard that he was calling me a bully for doing my job, which is to actually make sure that Democrats stick together and that we're making sure that we're, you know, being faithful to the democratic voters of the state.
NNAMDIHow did that conversation go?
CUMMINGSIt was fine. He was -- I made it clear that he misinterpreted my memo and that the memo was split into two parts. The first part was to encourage the Democratic members of the House of Delegates to stick together and to support the will of the Democratic Caucus. And the second part was actually focused on the general elections and Democrats, who have chosen in the past and hopefully will never again choose to do this, which is to basically use Democratic resources in order to explicitly or tacitly support Republicans in general elections. And so many people misinterpreted that second part of my memo as a rebuke of the House of Delegates and their speaker race.
CUMMINGSBut to make it clear, the speaker race was an internal race to the House of Delegates. They would have not used party resources in order to pursue their objective. So it would not have applied to them. So I just wanted to make that clear to Delegate Barnes and we got off the phone in a cordial manner.
SHERWOODWell, the letter does say -- I heard a lot of -- I was calling around about it. The letter that you wrote, was it a party letter or a letter from you, the chair?
CUMMINGSIt was a letter from me, the chair, a memo.
SHERWOODYou said the Maryland Democratic Party, quoting here, "Is prepared to penalize any elected official, who is caught using party resources to promote Republican candidates and or who worked to block the ascension of Democratic nominees duly elected through official democratic processes." But when you spoke to Barnes, has that been since the speaker's vote or had you guys patched up things before that final vote?
CUMMINGSIt was the day that he made the accusation. So what was that?
SHERWOODAbout being a bully.
CUMMINGSIt was the Thursday before the vote. It was a week before.
SHERWOODThe reason I ask is because there was another letter that was sent around that got far less media coverage, because, of course, it wasn't as strong. But it was written by somebody in the Democratic House, who said that the party should work across party lines to get things done. But when you come to the caucus of who's going to be the leader, then the leader ought to be from the majority Democratic Party, but it didn't have any threats and lots of delegates signed on to that letter, but you got a lot of pushback on your letter.
CUMMINGSHey, I did my job and, you know, frankly if I got pushback for it, I'm willing to take the hits. But, you know, to be clear, that second part was not about the speaker's race. It was about future general elections to make sure that, you know, Democratic elected officials are actually not using party resources to help a Republican win.
SHERWOODWell, you do have a problem, because as you know, a lot of Democrats didn't support Ben Jealous for governor. Many democrats -- although, he's very popular in the state didn't support the Comptroller Peter Franchot. So you do have a lot of weakness in unity in the Democratic Party, which you have been addressing.
CUMMINGSAnd that is precisely why I added that.
SHERWOODNow can we just -- one thing. You know, the Democratic Caucus, they say they cannot discuss what happened within the caucus as part of the party rules. And I tried to get Erik Luedtke, who's the party caucus chairmen, he would only say that it was an astounding display of statesmanship, what happened after those five hours, but other people have said to me that Delegate Jolene Peña-Mel--
SHERWOODMelnyk from Prince George's County was a crucial person, when she stood up in the caucus and gave a riveting speech about reaching compromise and supporting Adrienne Jones, because she herself, the Delegate from Prince George's had been considered maybe a possible compromise candidate.
CUMMINGSI understand. I've only heard second hand what happened in deliberations.
SHERWOODDon't let that stop you.
NNAMDIDoesn't stop us.
CUMMINGSBut from what I understand Delegate Joceline Peña-Melnyk, who is held in high regard by all of her colleagues was actually considered a consensus candidate. And then she actually was selfless at herself in urging the caucus to actually come together around now Speaker Adrienne Jones. So that was an interesting twist, but certainly I think there was a lot of statesmanship and stateswomanship that actually occurred within those walls.
SHERWOODI've got to ask you, even though, it's outside our listening area, but online you can be anywhere. The Mayor of Baltimore, historic week in the state of Maryland with the speaker decision. I would like your view on Catherine Pugh, who resigned after weeks of controversy. Baltimore Sun first reported controversies over her book and now she's out. And Jack Young, the Council president, is now the acting mayor. You live inside Baltimore.
CUMMINGSI live in Madison Park or smack dab in the middle of Baltimore.
SHERWOODSome folks have suggested, you know, you considered running for governor. You could possibly run for mayor of Baltimore. But you know the players in Baltimore. What happened there? I mean, what is your feeling about Mayor Pugh having to resign? It's been made national news. I watched it on CNN this morning. And going forward with Jack Young, who says he doesn't really want to be mayor. He's like to return as president of the Council.
CUMMINGSI think that you said it best. I mean, it's just incredible that we had the first ever female African American Speaker of the House elected and then less than 24 hours later an African American woman stepped down from the mayorship of Baltimore City. I'm kind of glad and sad for the situation. I do think that the mayor is obviously very compromised. That, you know, there were years of her not reporting, you know, on the ethics forms, you know, and other violations with regards to how she was actually receiving the money that she received and that's simply unacceptable.
CUMMINGSThere are so many things that Baltimore needs right now and what it does not need is a compromised mayor. She took her time, but she ultimately made the right decision to step aside. It's sadly, you know, it's just always a bad thing.
SHERWOODWhat about Jack Young?
CUMMINGSAnd Jack Young -- I think Jack Young, you know, he's stepping into the -- I think people think that he's doing a good job stepping into the void and showing leadership across the city. He made some early decisions about suspending people that no one seems to have disagreed with. And he seems to be doing his due diligence with making sure that the trains run on time. He will be in the office for the next 20 months and there are people who are lining up to actually run for mayor.
SHERWOODAnd you're not in that line?
CUMMINGSI am not in that lineup.
NNAMDIHere's Moondancer in Silver Spring, Maryland. Moondancer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOONDANCERHi. I would like to know what the difference between the Democratic committee and the Our Revolution people.
CUMMINGSSo we are the state arm of the Democratic Party. So usually people say the DNC, the Democratic National Committee. We are the state party, the Maryland Democratic Party and then we have local affiliates that we call central committees all around the state. Our Revolution is a separate group separately incorporated I presume, 501C3 probably that's more aligned with one political candidate. And that is Senator Bernie Sanders. And so, you know, it's a separate organization. Now are there members of Our Revolution who comprise elements of the Democratic Party? Absolutely. But they are not the same and they're not to be conflated.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Moondancer. But that brings up the issue of ideological, if you will, differences or philosophical differences within the party. Speaker Jones has represented the western part of the Baltimore County since the late 90s. But she's less familiar to people in the Washington region. What should people listening in places like Prince George's and Montgomery Counties know about the new speaker, because I saw where some member of the Republican Party said that, well, they're really happy with her, because she was the most moderate of all the candidates.
SHERWOODAnd all 42 Republicans voted for her.
CUMMINGSYeah. So I think that they were really opposed to Maggie McIntosh and they were really for Derek Davis. If I were to, you know, surmise they thought that probably that Speaker Jones was the lesser of the two evils if it came down to Maggie McIntosh or Adrienne Jones. And so she absolutely was the compromise candidate for the Democrats. She is a consensus candidate, but get this. I mean, she's wielded the gavel as Speaker Pro Tem for quite some time. She's been a steady hand on the helm of the ship and she has basically stood in the gap while former and late great Speaker Bush was ill during these last few months in office. And so she's not an unknown quantity to, obviously, to the Democratic Caucus or to the Republican Caucus. And they just seem to find her more acceptable.
NNAMDIMarcus tweets in, "A green new deal would benefit Maryland. Considering protecting the Bay is economically vital and green jobs are growing. Some other state democrats are implementing their own before the feds. Will Maryland democrats craft their own? What will it entail? And how will we get centrist Democrats and Governor Hogan onboard?"
CUMMINGSWell, that's a great question. I think it's vitally important -- by the way. I've traveled all over this state over the last several months. I've actually gone to every county except for one. And climate change seems to be one of the most, you know, top of the ticket issues that people are concerned about. When you have global leaders, experts saying that planetary extinction is what we face if we don't deal with this, then you know that this is a problem. So, yes, we need to be prioritizing solutions to climate change. And, you know, fortunately, you know, we have in this last session the Clean Energy Jobs Act was actually passed. It has not yet been signed into law by Governor Hogan.
CUMMINGSWhat it seeks to do is to make sure that the state's energy providers actually move more aggressively towards renewable energy by the year 2030. It ups the percentage of energy that has to be from renewable sources. In terms of other options, we're in the process of actually creating a party platform. And I sincerely suspect and expect that a green new deal and a vision for how we actually deal with climate change will be at the top -- will be one of the top line items to be considered in that party platform.
SHERWOODQuickly on that. A brief support of Maryland Matters reported this morning that Governor Hogan has delayed a meeting next week with the Board of Public Members, the three member board that runs the state, will not vote on his plan to widen I-495 and to change the lanes on I-270. Now that's a big traffic issue in the Washington suburbs, which I'm sure you put up with by being stuck in the traffic.
SHERWOODIt was, because Treasurer Nancy Cobb is out of town. She's out of the country.
NNAMDIFifty year wedding anniversary celebrating.
SHERWOODYes, 50 years, going to Japan. And she wanted to be part of it because she's concerned about several aspects of the 495 additional lanes being added. But is this a place where democrats can also stand up more on what the Washington suburbs need out of the governor?
CUMMINGSI think so. I think, I mean, to be frank with you Montgomery County Democrats seem to be -- I mean, they seem to be laser focused on climate change as well. And a lot of people are upset that, you know, widening lanes and increasing the flow of more -- even more gas guzzling, carbon emitting cars on our roads is not the answer. And that we need to actually come up with another strategy that's greener, that's more climate friendly, that's focused on how we can actually address our traffic problems without actually imperiling our children's ability to actually have a planet they can live on.
SHERWOODMore national politics, this week Attorney General Barr was for the Congress. Chris Van Hollen's work on the issues surrounding the Miller report were prominently displayed, because it appears now that the Attorney General had advanced knowledge that Mueller did not like his characterization to report. You guys have got to prepare for upcoming elections including the presidential election. As you look over the thing, what is it, 21 candidates for president right now and the first debates are going to be in June, I believe, late May and June. Do you have a candidate? Where do you see candidates in Maryland, Democratic candidates?
MAYA ROCKEYMOOR CUMMINGSI actually want to start with the Mueller report, because I think that what we've seen here is that Attorney General Barr is compromised. He actually came to the U.S. Congress, said that, you know, he had no knowledge of Mueller having any kind of sense about his characterization in that four-page memo. And then it turns out that Mueller had indeed sent him a letter objecting to his initial characterization.
SHERWOODWhat that allowed him to do, as the Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice, was to sway public opinion in a way that actually created more support for Donald J. Trump, and basically undermined, I think, the content and the character of what was actually in the Mueller report. Now we have people in Congress actually calling for his resignation, which I think is more than appropriate to call for.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Speaker Pelosi says he lied. Do you agree with that characterization?
CUMMINGS(overlapping) I agree that he lied. And we've got a problem. We've got a deep problem here in the United States of America. And that is that we have a lying president, a lying attorney general, and we have Republicans who are quiet as church mice.
SHERWOODWell, what about the candidates? You've got 21 candidates. We're not going to name them all today, but do you have a person favorite at this point? I know you're chair. You have to be balanced. But also, who's making inroads? Who should we be watching? I think Pete Buttigieg. I always say his name wrong.
SHERWOODButtigieg. It's, like, he's got a big speaking engagement in Virginia coming up. What about Maryland?
NNAMDI(overlapping) And Kamala Harris set up her East Coast headquarters in Baltimore.
CUMMINGSIn Baltimore. She's in Baltimore. The fact of the matter is that, you know, as the party chair, I'm actually not supposed to actually articulate my preference. But I will say this. You've got, you know, Biden, who came out already ahead. You've got Kamala Harris, who is throwing her punches and actually carrying her weight when it comes to fundraising. You've got Senator Warren basically throwing down the gauntlet on policy left and right, and nobody seems to be able to keep up with the number of proposals she's setting out there.
CUMMINGSYou've got Buttigieg, who is absolutely, I think, enthralling the public, particularly with his call to actually make sure that we create a fully developed religious left in this country. And, of course, you've got Bernie Sanders who is out there, saying the same thing that he's always said, that we cannot give up on the social safety net. That we have to be for making sure that everyone has access to universal healthcare in this country and other benefits, of course, through our collective action and social insurance.
CUMMINGSSo, with that, we've got a wealth of candidates, all of whom are highly qualified. And so, what I tell people when they express concern about how to make a choice is that, you know what? You know, this is a contest. People are going to -- there are going to be viral moments where people are going to, you know, rise. There are going to be moments that are going to be disqualifying. We go along with the process, and that whoever wins at the end of the day is who we all get behind.
SHERWOODVery quickly, the progressives and the traditional Democrats, moderate Democrats are worried that the split will allow Trump to win.
CUMMINGSSo, there should be no split. Get this. There is nothing like we saw in 2016, where people who were Bernie-ites got upset and said, we're going to take our marbles and go home. We are at the zero moment of our country right now. We can either sink, or we can swim. And it's going to take all of us, everyone, to come together and coalesce behind who the eventual nominee is, regardless of whether they were your top choice or not.
NNAMDIAnd quick, finally, Maryland has a relatively late primary, doesn't always get much attention from presidential candidates. DC Councilmember Jack Evans is pushing for rescheduling DC's primary, currently the last in the country, to an earlier date. Would you ever considering advocating for Maryland to do the same?
CUMMINGSSo, we considered it. Ours is April 28th, but the fact of the matter is, because there are so many people in this primary, we actually do think that Maryland, even at April 28th, will still be in play. Because, you know, if we're talking about just a three-way race, you know, the early states matter. But this is a contest where we've got 21 people, currently, and possibly more. And it's likely to go and last a longer time than it's traditionally been considered. So, we think we're just fine in Maryland April 28th, and so far, we're going to keep it where it is.
NNAMDIMaya Rockeymoore Cummings, the eternal optimist. She is chair of the Maryland (laugh) Democratic...
SHERWOODThat's the description of her job.
NNAMDI(laugh) She's chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. Thank you so much for joining us.
CUMMINGSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIUp next is Erik Gutshall. He's a member of the Arlington County Board. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Erik Gutshall. He is a member of the Arlington County Board. Erik Gutshall, thank you so much for joining us.
ERIK GUTSHALLIt's great to be here.
NNAMDIBefore we get to Arlington County, specifically, Tom Sherwood, Governor Ralph Northam says, no mandatory sentencing minimums in the state of Virginia. He vetoed two bills on Tuesday that would have imposed mandatory minimum sentences. His reason is that this, of course, disproportionately affects people of color, and African Americans, in particular.
SHERWOODThat's correct. One of the bills was supported by Attorney General Mark Herring, but Governor Northam is busy trying to have much more racial sensitivity on things the state is doing.
NNAMDI(overlapping) This is the black-face makeup, you're talking about, here?
SHERWOODWell, that's what happened. I mean, because of that, he has pledged that he will have a much broader view of what things mean when legislation is passed and policies of the state government. And so, he said that African Americans and minorities are unfairly affected by minimum sentencing, and he didn't want to approve it.
NNAMDIErik Gutshall, what's your view of mandatory minimums?
GUTSHALLI think they're counterproductive. And I think, actually, I would argue that what the attorney general is doing is actually -- yes, there was the political events that may have catalyzed a little bit of abolition of thinking. But truthfully, I think that our community, the Commonwealth and certainly in Arlington, our community, we're looking at equity -- we're looking at lots of things through the lens of equity. And I think criminal justice is certainly one of those that is -- there's a new realization of what it means to have white privilege, and how we can better serve the broader community.
SHERWOODMandatory sentencing strips judges, the governor said, of their discretionary ability to make sentencing.
GUTSHALLBut it's also that, you know, it's what the -- it's the whole system. It's who the police pull over, who the police then charge, who the Commonwealth's attorneys, who they choose to prosecute and what level they're willing to, you know, negotiate and plead to a lesser sentence. So, you have to look at the entire system. To just say, well, it's mandatory minimums, or I'm just following the law, or it's this or that, but that really is just an oversimplification that doesn't serve the broader goals of blind justice.
NNAMDIOn to Arlington County. Last week, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to giving an $11.5 million grant over the next 15 years to CSHV Lincoln Place LLC. That's the landlord that houses the Drug Administration, DEA, which is headquartered in Arlington. Why was this a priority for the board right now, and why did the LLC landlord need the money?
GUTSHALLWell, this is -- it's a priority for the board right now, because it happened to come to the board. This is the end of a three-year competitive bid process. So, all of this was really set in motion in 2016, which was a much different environment for Arlington and for the Pentagon City area, in particular. So, I think that what the board saw in this vote is that we were following through on the competitive bid process that we have participated in. It's not something that I think the board, that any one of us, you know, was thrilled to do. But the reality is, is that we still have an office vacancy that we are trying to solve.
GUTSHALLThe reality is that this is still a net win for the county. It's still going to put money in our coffers. So, why do we have to do it? Why is it even called upon? Because in the era that when we didn't do these kinds of deals, we saw federal tenants and other tenants walk out of the county and leave the county. And that's what created this office vacancy crisis that we had. And so now we're working our way out of it.
SHERWOODSo, according to the county, you put up $11 million, you get $31 million back over 15 years. You keep 3,000-something number of employees in.
GUTSHALLThree thousand jobs.
SHERWOODIt's $450,000 a year in ancillary benefits, restaurants and other things that occur when those employees go out into the community. But I was thinking in the broader sense of this, I've seen a lot of development issues, but I don't see a lot of money going to private landlords to keep federal tenants. And I'm just thinking if the General Services Administration, which handles all of these federal leases, is listening to this program, I mean, I'd be wondering if they would say: why don't we do the same thing? Why don't we ask for benefits that Amazon gets and the DEA got? It could cost the local governments lots of money.
GUTSHALLWell, GSA had their fingers in this all the way through, and this is part of the competitive bid process.
SHERWOODTrue. This is a very small agency compared to the federal footprint in the region.
GUTSHALLIt is. And, of course, you know, you saw all these battles over the FBI headquarters, which ultimately was cancelled. There's going to be, I think, a competitive atmosphere around securing federal tenants. It's not only these 3,000 jobs that are directly with the DEA in Arlington that we are retaining. It's also all of the contractors and all of the other work that goes around it.
GUTSHALLSo, you know, federal tenants, we have worked very hard to diversify our tenant base, and we are doing that, but that doesn't mean that federal tenants aren't still important. And this was still an important tenant. So, the machinations of how it works out is so that we give something like $2 a foot basically back to the landlord, or at least the grant that we're giving them allowed them to drop the rent to GSA. So, it's all part of the competitive bid process. They have their fingers in it, absolutely.
SHERWOODSo, what is the largest federal agency in Arlington?
GUTSHALLWell, far and away, is the Pentagon, right. I mean...
SHERWOODSay other than the Pentagon.
GUTSHALLOther than the Pentagon? Actually, I don't know the answer to that.
SHERWOODWe'll leave it at the Pentagon.
NNAMDIArlington County has allocated $23 million in incentives for Amazon, which is building -- as everyone knows -- a second headquarters in Crystal City. What do you think about the precedent that that sets for other potential employees thinking about setting up shop in the county?
GUTSHALLI think that it -- we're in a period right now of, as I mentioned just a few moments ago, that there was an era where Arlington simply refused to -- when this idea of incentives came online, you know, ten, 15, maybe 20 years ago, Arlington said, no, we're not going to do that. We are in an attractive enough of a place, we don't have to do that. Then we started to lose some key tenants, started to lose -- we saw our office vacancy go up. So, we decided that we had to change our outlook.
GUTSHALLI don't think that this is a permanent thing. I think that we're going to see that a lot of communities are going to realize that there's no reason to race to the bottom. So, if I were other companies, I think that we've got a fantastic deal. When you look at that deal compared -- the Amazon deal to the DEA deal, it shows you how absolutely fantastic the Amazon deal was. You know, are we going to do a couple more of those deals and keep working to get the tenants that we need? Yes. But do I think the fundamental, the market, if you will, for doing these incentives, I think it's running its course, and it's not going to be the main game of the future.
NNAMDISpeaking of Amazon, this week, Amazon announced that it would hire its first employees in June. They only have five public postings, but still, they're ahead of schedule. The company said it was able to accelerate the timetable -- according to a report in the Washington Post by Bob McCartney -- because state and county officials were quick in approving multimillion dollar incentives packages. And somebody just told me that there's a report in the Washington Business Journal saying that the Arlington County Board is just way too cozy with Amazon. And Amazon's response here seems to think this was just, oh, we like these county officials because, well, they like us.
GUTSHALLLet's be very, very clear about something, that we absolutely look forward to our partnership with Amazon. They're joining our community. We are going to work, and I would expect nothing less of our county staff than to work with Amazon, to get them in here and get them up and running as fast as they can. What the caveat is that we are going to expect of them -- as we've made clear throughout this process -- that when we get into the land use decisions, they're going to follow our public process. There's going to be plenty of opportunity for the community to weigh in.
GUTSHALLWith respect to the incentive deal itself, far and away, it was very, very clear to all of us on the board that this was an overwhelming net win for the community. Son absolutely, we're very proud of the decision, and there's no question about it. This is a very good thing for Arlington.
SHERWOODWhat about housing? Every person I know in real estate I talk to, and we say, what about Amazon coming over? They say, it's already driving up the price of housing in Arlington, and the economic forces will overwhelm the county's efforts to preserve or even provide new affordable housing.
GUTSHALLWell, I would defy anyone to explain to me how 400 new jobs is overwhelming the housing market of Arlington, meaning that's what's happening this year, in 2019. What I would say, though, is housing, there is no question, and you're talking to professionals. I think what is so exciting about what's happening in the housing forum, the debate that we're having and the discussions about what we need to do, not only as a community in Arlington, but across the region. There's so much excitement going on, because everybody sees -- and, in particular, the private sector -- sees that there is huge opportunity. There is unmet need. And where there's unmet need, there's the opportunity for profit and the opportunity to innovate.
GUTSHALLOur county staff just announced at our meeting this past month, major new umbrella housing Arlington initiative. Our county manager Mark Schwartz announced to the world in the meeting there said, where, in the past, you had had ideas and you'd come to Arlington looking to do something innovative and creative and maybe you were told no, come back. Because everything is on the table. We're open to ideas. We are going to innovate. We're going to fundamentally transform the way that housing is delivered and built in Arlington, and I think the region is going to do that.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Which all sounds great, but do you have any idea, any specifics that you would like to see the county manager put into this package? How do you think the county should tackle this problem?
GUTSHALLIt all comes back to our zoning ordinance. If you look at why we have the housing that we have and why we have the shortage of supply, it's because we have a very, very restrictive 1950s-era zoning ordinance. It's so hard to do even where we have updated our zoning ordinance and our metro corridors. There's so much administrivia, so many miniscule little details that make it so hard for anyone...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What was the word you just used?
GUTSHALLAdministrivia. There's so much that...
SHERWOODOkay, goodbye. (laugh)
GUTSHALL(laugh) There's so much that, when anybody has any kind of idea about how to do something a little bit different, they run into this bureaucratic red tape. We've got to clear the red tape which exists in the form of the zoning ordinance.
NNAMDIHere is Jude, in Southwest Washington. Jude, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUDEHi. Thanks, Kojo. My question -- I know you've been focusing a lot on the housing issue and the corporate properties issue, but my question is, how is Arlington working with other jurisdictions in the region, as well as just locally, to alleviate all of the congestion and the new drivers and bikers and commuters? What's the plan there with all these extra people coming into the area?
GUTSHALLWell, the main way that we work is there's several regional agencies. Many of them are tied back to the Council of Governments. There's the Transportation Board. Some of them are at the state level. It's an alphabet soup. You know, I could go on about all of the different groups that get together that Arlington officials sit on that have various pots of money that come from a variety of funding streams. But we're all working on congestion.
GUTSHALLBut what I would say to you, the better way to think of it to get out of that sort of technocratic way of looking at it, is to think that, fundamentally, the growth that comes to this region, it has to be about people and not about cars. Which means we have to invest in transit. We have to look at more ways. If we're going to reduce congestion, it's not about building more lanes of roads. It's about building more miles of track and more opportunities for bus and other transportation.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But in the short term, Metro's going to be closing the Blue and Yellow Lines south of Regan National Airport.
NNAMDIThey're trying it out this weekend, too.
SHERWOODAnd this weekend, all the lanes are going to be shut down. That means more traffic in Arlington.
GUTSHALLIt could. The silver lining sometimes of these -- which we saw a little bit with Safe Track. It was difficult on Metro, but we also -- you get folks -- so when the Blue Line closes at some of those stations south of Arlington, you're going to have people that might explore other opportunities. We're going to increase bus service. So, they might discover that, actually, there's a bus route that works well for them, and with any luck, some of those folks will then stick to the bus service because they'll find out that it's reliable, safe, affordable, convenient, gets them where they need to go, when they need to get there.
NNAMDIWell, Mark emails: in light of Arlington's recent adoption of the update to the bicycle element of its master transportation plan, is the Arlington County Board truly committed to Vision Zero? Unfortunately, it's just been lip service in DC. Can Arlington become a leader again and make sure it actually means something?
GUTSHALLI sure hope so. So, our county staff will be coming forward to the board this summer with specific proposals about how to implement a Vision Zero strategy, making sure -- and this is really important -- the board could adopt a resolution that just says we want Vision Zero. But if it's just a resolution, then it is just words. We need actionable policies and ideas about how to actually put it in action. And that's what the staff is working on and will come forward with.
NNAMDIAnd here's Alice in Arlington, Virginia. Alice, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALICEYes, hi. I just have a question about Arlington's energy. I know right now, the community energy plan is being updated, but with the urgency of climate change we need to be thinking more long term and set goals and operations that won't be included in that plan. I think Arlington County is also positioned to be a leader for the whole state of Virginia on this issue. One-hundred-and-thirty-three cities around the U.S. have committed to 100 percent clean energy, including Washington, D.C., along with four states and Puerto Rico. So, my question for you, Mr. Gutshall, is: will you support a similar commitment to 100 percent clean energy for us here in Arlington County?
GUTSHALLI absolutely will support it. I've already said so, stated as much in my campaign. And what we are looking forward is we will be having a work session, the county board with county staff, on the community energy plan. And I look forward to having that discussion with my colleagues at that time. But similar to what we just talked about with Vision Zero, just a resolution and just having it be words aren't really going to get the job done. What we need is we need to make sure that we have a clear path to actually affect change. And I look forward to some exciting things in Arlington to do that.
SHERWOODDo you need state approval to get to 100 percent energy efficiency?
GUTSHALLThere is likely to need to be some state legislation, yes, in order to do things. Like, we had this past General Assembly session. We were able to get through and build that. Delegate Rip Sullivan got through his bill that allows Arlington County to -- if we install solar on any of our facilities, and if we generate more electricity than we use on that site, we can then transfer that credit to another county site. Those are the kinds of things that help to make it financially viable, which allows it to happen.
SHERWOODLet me -- we don't have a lot of -- let me go back to transportation for a moment, because all the people who complain to me in emails and words about bicyclists in the District, they now complain to me about scooters. So, what is the policy in Arlington on these scooters now? Do they ride on the sidewalks, are they street vehicles, are they legal, are they -- what are you doing, because there seem to be more and more of them.
GUTSHALLWell, under state law, they're not supposed to be on sidewalks, because they're considered a motorized vehicle, under state law. So, state legislators are, I think, looking at some of that. We are in the midst right now of a pilot program, so the county itself has not really established the long-term policy. We're going to let the pilot program work out. We're collecting tons of great data that's showing how people are using, and where they are. We certainly have all experienced. I've been, you know, nearly run over on the sidewalk, and I see folks using them unsafely and inappropriately. So, we're going to have to come up with some ways to properly regulate the bad behavior. But we certainly want the good behavior, which is they're a great solution or some section of the population for that last little bit...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But, at this moment, if I take a scooter into Arlington and stay on the roadway, then I'm not violating any law...
SHERWOOD...just by being there.
NNAMDIThe county's public spaces master plan was approved last week as the first update since 2005, but one major source of tension was the scheduling process for local sports fields. Some people argue that there was an artificial appearance of demand, because of overbooking the fields. Others feel that there really is a need for more athletic spaces, and they're pushing the construction of an indoor athletic center. Where do you stand on the question of sports infrastructure in the county?
GUTSHALLWell, where I stand is that the more that we can get, the better it is, but the reality is we need to balance that also against -- there's a large number of folks that also want to be able to have access to nature and have more casual use space. So, we have to balance that and make sure that there's something there for everyone of all ages and all desires.
GUTSHALLSo, what we need to do is we need to look for more opportunities for public-private partnerships. We will be opening our aquatic center in 2021, which will be a major new facility. And we have to keep at it, because we're going to keep growing as a community. We're going to add more population. More people coming means more demand. We've got to be smarter about how we allocate the resources that we have. So, if we have fields, we've got to make sure that they're being, you know, scheduled efficiently, so that if people want to use them and they're available, they know they can get to them. But we still need to be -- we have to add...
NNAMDIWe've got about 30 seconds.
SHERWOODIn Clarendon, I went by Lyon Park. Is that a county park, or is that a private park?
GUTSHALLThat is a privately owned...
SHERWOODOkay. Then my question is not relevent.
GUTSHALL...jewel of a community facility.
SHERWOODYes, I've been there.
NNAMDIErik Gutshall is a member of the Arlington County Board. Thank you so much for joining us.
GUTSHALLWell, I hope you'll come and see us on May 18th at the Lion Park Spring Fair.
NNAMDITom Sherwood plans on being there.
SHERWOODWill there be booze?
GUTSHALL(laugh) Not that I'm aware of.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, I'll send you an email.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. Coming up Monday, we'll look into local high school rankings and whether they're a good indicator of the quality of education students are receiving. Plus, what does family reunification look like for unaccompanied migrant children who have arrived in Washington from Central America? We'll learn about a program developed by Fairfax County's Public School System. That all starts Monday, at noon. Is the weather going to keep being as unpredictable as it is this weekend, Tom?
SHERWOODI don't know. I don't know anything about the weather.
NNAMDIGo out, it's sunny. And next thing you know, there's a major downpour, and the sun's out again.
SHERWOODIf it rains, it's called climate, atmosphere.
NNAMDI(laugh) Well, thank you all for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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