What’s in a name? For the part of D.C. that is east of the Anacostia River, a lot. D.C. Councilmember and former Mayor Vincent Gray joins us to discuss the idea to rebrand “East of the River” as the “East End.” We’ll also talk about the 2020 budget, education and the fate of United Medical Center, the District-owned hospital that is slated to close.
Virginia’s legislative primaries are less than two weeks away, and every seat in the House of Delegates and State Senate are up for grabs. We get a preview from the Washington Post’s Gregory S. Schneider.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everybody.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray. He represents Ward 7. He's the former mayor of the District. And joining us by phone is Gregory Schneider. He's a reporter with the Richmond bureau of The Washington Post. Gregory Schneider, thank you for joining us.
GREGORY SCHNEIDERWell, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIWe'll be talking some other politics before we get the Virginia politics, Gregory. So bear with us. Tom Sherwood, I'd like to start with the fact that Prince George's has apparently passed a budget of more than four billion dollars with not the great deal, it would appear, of controversy. It seems that one of the more significant thing -- things about more significant aspects of this budget is big raises for public school employees after a couple of really turbulent years in Prince George's County Public Schools.
SHERWOODTeacher pay school funding in Prince George's in Montgomery, in Anne Arundel, and all of counties and the state itself is the number one issue in the State of Maryland now. And you're right, the Prince George's budget is news in fact mainly because it isn't news. This is a big win for Angela Alsobrooks, the County Executive, who started out working with the councilmembers. And there's been very little flash or fire over the budget. There's more police -- there's money in there for more police and more firefighters. There are only minor clashes over the timeliness that some of the budget proposals. But on the whole you have to think, well, Angela Alsobrooks and the Council did what they said they would do earlier this year, which would be work together.
NNAMDIAn interesting political tactic in the state of Virginia. And that is according to Antonio Olivo's report in The Washington Post, the national group The Future Now Fund is going to be steering money to Democrats seeking state office across the country. But what they're going to do is that the people who knock on the most doors who are seeking office in Virginia will get an additional $20,000 to the $5,000 they'll be getting. So that's a reward for shoe leather so to speak.
SHERWOODYes, but who's going to count. How are they going know --
NNAMDIThat's a good idea.
SHERWOOD-- whether you Kojo Nnamdi knocked on 1500 doors and I, Tom Sherwood knocked on 1700. And I get the money and you don't. This is Adam Pritzker's national entrepreneur Hyatt Hotel Chain. This is his baby. And, you know, it's good. It just shows -- here's the deal, as we'll talk with Gregory Schneider about this, Virginia is in an off year election. You know, other states have even year elections. Virginia for a long number of reasons doesn't. Has them on odd years. And so there's national political money available and they're putting it in Virginia. But it sounds like a lot of bean counting for me about who gets what, if you're a Democratic or independent funding groups, then why don't you fund the Democrats, who need help knocking on doors as opposed to someone who's already doing it? It makes no sense to me, but maybe Gregory knows something more about it.
NNAMDIGregory, knows -- go ahead, Gregory.
SCHNEIDERWell, I was just going to say -- I mean, it just gets to the root of the biggest issue in some ways for Democrats this year in Virginia and that's just getting people to come out and vote. You know, these off, off year elections in Virginia typically have a very low turnout. And the people who do come out to vote tend to be older and more conservative and white. And Democrats -- to keep the blue wave of the past couple of years going, are going to need a lot more than that to show up at the polls. And then, of course, they've got the scandals from earlier this year that could potentially, you know, dampen enthusiasm and keep people away. So I guess in their eyes anything that would get people out there knocking on doors and trying to keep that enthusiasm level up is worth a try.
SHERWOODAny indication so far with all the races taking place this year whether the enthusiasm level is up at all?
SCHNEIDERI think it's up on the Republican side. The Republicans have a couple of things that help some of their voters. And one is, of course, the scandals from February when, of course, Governor Northam admitted his blackface incident from his youth. And Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax dealing with allegations of sexual assault from two separate women, which he strongly denies. And then Attorney General Mark Herring confessed his own blackface incident from his youth. And that's left the top of the party in disarray and hurt their fundraising. And I think strengthened the message that Kurt Cox, the Republican speaker of the House of Delegates has been working hard to get out, which is that the Republicans, who control the legislature are steady and no nonsense and scandal free.
SCHNEIDERAnd at the same time they had a sort of slip up from Northam and some other Democrats earlier that same week that the scandals broke at the beginning -- into January beginning February. They were talking about an abortion bill and Governor Northam made some comments speaking as a doctor that were taken to mean -- taken by some by critics to say that he favored killing babies after they were born, which is not what he was trying to say, but that's what his wording sounded like.
SHERWOODIt sounds -- I was going to say that was one of the reasons that some people say the whole scandal about Northam broke, because conservatives had access to that information and broke it. But also with all these votes around the country on abortion Alabama, Georgia, very strict abortion laws. I was thinking that would give the Democrats here something to campaign against. Terry McAuliffe was going to run for president, the former governor. He announced earlier this year that he would not, but he would also step into the breach and campaign for the State Legislators. Have you gotten any sense, Gregory, that Governor McAuliffe's actions have had some impact or not or how busy actually he has been?
SCHNEIDERHe's been pretty busy. I think he's been quietly hosting fundraisers all over the state for a lot of Democratic candidates. I've been trying to get into some of those. They tend to be closed to the press, but he's held them all over the state. He was down here I think in Richmond or Petersburg just earlier this week. He's done a number around Northern Virginia. So he's been active raising money. But, you know, Governor Northam has been, well, slowly stepping out a little bit himself even more low profile.
SHERWOODAnd so has Lieutenant Governor Fairfax. Back to Terry McAuliffe briefly. There's some suggestion -- maybe you've reported it more firmly than this that Terry McAuliffe, who decided he couldn't run for president is keeping one eye on maybe running for Governor again in 2021.
SCHNEIDERThat's been out there and he hasn't discouraged people from saying that. Some I talk to in the Democratic Party -- I mean, he's got a lot of fans. He, you know, had a very successful politically run as governor. But there was a sense earlier this year that it was a turning point for especially women of color in the Democratic Party in Virginia. And that it was their time to come forward. And so there's a little bit of chaffing at the idea that with some young new candidates on the horizon that Terry McAuliffe would come back and big foot over them. I think that would not be an easy coronation in the Democratic Party, but who knows.
SHERWOODBut Democrats are going through a lot of readjusting for progressive across the country in various races. What about here in Northern Virginia, the various progressive candidates running against the -- Dick Saslaw, the longtime Democratic leader from Alexandria. Is he in any measure on his race and other races, I think with Barbara Favola and other races where they're being challenged by more progressive Democrats or people who present themselves as more progressive Democrats.
SCHNEIDERRight. I do think it's pushing them to campaign hard, and Saslaw in particular has been working probably as hard as ever.
NNAMDIHe's been challenged by Human Rights Attorney Yasmine Taeb.
SCHNEIDERThat's right. And she's made an issue of Saslaw is kind of role as someone who's been well funded by big corporations in Virginia and Dominion Energy in particular. That's kind of a hot topic this year. And Saslaw has never concealed that fact. He worked on some of the big legislation that some have said favored Dominion over the past few years. So he's been out campaigning very hard, and so we'll find out here before long. The primaries are coming up on June 11th. There aren't that many of interest around the state, but the ones that are interesting are pretty interesting including -- I've put Saslaw's up high on that list.
SHERWOODAnd just to be clear the vote totals right now. The Republicans control both the House and the Senate by only one or two votes. What's the balance right now?
SCHNEIDERYeah. It's two votes in each House. So the House is 51-49 Republicans. And the Senate is 21-19 Republicans.
SHERWOODAnd the Senate is -- they are four year terms. The House members run every two years. The senators run every hour years.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Gregory Schneider, who's a reporter with the Richmond bureau of The Washington Post. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Go ahead, Gregory. I interrupted you.
SCHNEIDEROh, no. That's okay. Just it's narrow margins in both House and Senate for the Republicans and the Democrats had been coming into this year, of course, with a tremendous amount of momentum after big gains in both the past two years of elections. And helping them is that there's a new map for a number of the House seats that, because of a court ordered redistricting over racial gerrymandering looks to shift about six districts in Hampton Roads in Central Virginia to a more favorable position for Democrats that are currently held by Republicans that now at least statistically look like they're more friendly to Democrats. And that's under appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but every week people are watching to see if the Supreme Court rules on that case. And every week that goes by that they don't leads people to think that it's not going to change this new map.
SHERWOODYeah, aren't we too close to the June 11th prime -- I mean, they'll announce their decision may be at least late June. But would it be wrong for them to kind of announce it now on the eve of the primary?
SCHNEIDERThat's what most people think. The court knows very well the schedule that Virginia's on and had a chance early on. The Republicans in the House in Virginia had asked the court to put a stay on the election schedule and they didn't do it. So that leads people to think that it's not likely that anything is going to disturb the current setup, which is under the new map, which is friendlier to Democrats.
SHERWOODRight. If we can go back to Northern Virginia for a moment. Loudoun County, you know, a lot of Democrats have won county seats there. John Whitbeck the former State Party Chairman for the Republican Party is running for the County Executive. Seems to have run a pretty strong campaign. I don't know how well he's going to do or not do. But any thoughts about areas like Loudoun County? Is it really as Democratic as it appeared in the last elections? Are you seeing anything there that we should watching on election -- on primary night?
SCHNEIDERWell, I think that he's -- yeah. Whitbeck has raised a lot of money. And I think those are the battlegrounds now. It's pushed farther and farther out. Loudoun is certainly one of the big battle grounds in addition to that race, of course, the longtime State Senator Dick Black --
SCHNEIDER-- from out that way has retired, and so there's an open scramble for that seat. And we'll sort of take the measure how much things have shifted. If the Democrats can make some gains up there. You know the other --
SHERWOODWe don't see -- I'm sorry go ahead.
SCHNEIDERWell, I was just going to say another interesting factor that I've been hearing about a little bit lately is I've gotten a glimpse at -- or at least been told about some internal polling among Democrats about the governor and his popularity. And it continues despite the scandal to be pretty strong around the state, in fact, very strong in some parts of the state. But it's weakest in Northern Virginia, which, of course, is the most, you know, populous and crucial area for Democrats to hold onto or expand a little bit if they hope to take the majority. So it is weakest in Northern Virginia whether that plays a role in some of those elections like you're talking about out in the X service outside D.C. You know, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
SHERWOODThat polling shows African American voters in Virginia are still pretty much sticking with him too unless you know of a change that I'm not aware of.
SCHNEIDERNo. They are. And in fact, down here in the Richmond and the Petersburg area I've gone out canvassing a little bit with some candidates and talking to African American voters and, I mean, if that's anecdotal. But what I've heard has been pretty strongly supportive of Governor Northam. Of course, they don't like at all what he did when he was young darkening his face. And, of course, there are questions about the photo in the medical school yearbook, which have been left hanging. But for the most part they're saying to judge him on what he's done since then and what he's talking about since the scandal and he's getting fairly high marks on that.
NNAMDIYou mentioned earlier some resentment against former Governor McAuliffe kind of big footing his way possibly into the governor's race. And we know that State Senator Jennifer McClellan of Richmond and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy of Prince William have both launched political action committees signaling their considering statewide runs. Who are these two potential gubernatorial, I guess, is what they've looking at, candidates? Tell us a little bit more about them.
SCHNEIDERYeah. They're very interesting. Both very serious I think about this and I think both are aiming to run for governor, coming from different angles. Jennifer McClellan, the State Senator from the Richmond area has been in state politics for some time. She was a delegate for several terms before becoming a senator a couple of years ago. It has long been groomed as someone with a bright future. She's fairly young. She's a corporate attorney for Verizon. She's somewhat soft spoken, but when she speaks she's a pretty surprisingly effective speaker given that her personality is pretty low key. It's not Ralph Northam level of low key. But she's not, you know, nowhere near a Terry McAuliffe end of the spectrum.
SHERWOODNo fire and brimstone on the campaign trail.
SCHNEIDERNo. But she's a very studious and solid lawmaker, who is respected by, I think, colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Jennifer Carroll Foy is much newer. She was part of the 2017 wave in which, you know, so many -- 15 Democrats unexpectedly switched, you know, one what had been Republican held seats in the House of Delegates. She was a -- she had been a defense lawyer. I guess she still is a defense lawyer in Prince William County. Also young, probably about 37, more outgoing than Jennifer McClellan. She's been one of the quickest of that crop I think to make her mark in Richmond. She was very prominent this past session in trying to push for Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment or to have a vote on doing that.
SCHNEIDERAnd, of course, failed, but garnered a lot of attention. She carried some -- I think it was some criminal justice reform legislation for the governor even as a freshman. And she's been -- she's gotten some national attention. She was a finalist for a big award, I think, from Emily's List. She's gotten some attention among national Democrats and is seen as, again, somebody with a really bright future, but come in on the scene much more recently than Jennifer McClellan, but arguably with a little more heat around her.
NNAMDIBoyd emails in, Jennifer Carroll Foy and Jennifer McClellan have both created pacts that indicate they may be running for governor. McAuliffe may indeed find a changed landscape as he took plenty of money from Dominion and supported pipelines that are now snared in legal protest. Carroll Foy is the only one of the three, who has not taken money from Dominion. So she has my support, says Boyd. We got another email from Lanny who said, I would love to hear your guest's take on the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney primary between Ray Morrow and Steve Descano.
SCHNEIDERI'll leave that to Tom, that's not one I have followed.
SHERWOODI haven't been following that one very much either. I have to say. So I don't want to say anything incorrect this close to the election. But everyone -- you know, Dominion is the big bad spirit, in Virginia it seems like in every election now everyone has to take a pledge not to take money from Dominion and that's the -- tell us for a moment what and who Dominion is.
SCHNEIDERWell, Dominion Energy supplies electricity to most of Virginia. There's part of the state -- I can't remember the exact percentage. There's part in the southwest that's supplied by Appalachian power. But Dominion overwhelmingly serves most of the state. They get pretty high marks as a utility for the reliability of their power and for their rates. But they've been under increasing scrutiny, because they are very very influential in Richmond. They've got a lot of shareholders around the state. They've got a lot of retirees around the state. So there is a built in constituency all over Virginia. Thousands of people who support, you know, Dominion's goals as a company. And they've been the top corporate donor to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for many years.
SHERWOODThey cover all their basis. It's a good time to mention that Virginia -- if you list all 50 states in the District of Columbia for how tough your ethics laws are and what limits there on campaign financing, Virginia is pretty much at the bottom in terms of just pretty much allowing unlimited contributions and unchecked special interest, putting money into races; is that correct?
SCHNEIDERYeah. That's right. Even after -- it tightened up a little bit after the scandals from a couple of years with the governor, who -- how can I blank out on the Republican governor who had the scandals.
SHERWOODYou're welcome. That's why I'm here.
SCHNEIDERYeah. It's Friday. I guess I'm already in weekend mode. But even after some tightening there, Virginia has some of the loosest requirements in the country for disclosure or for limits on campaign contributions.
SHERWOODIt's pretty much suggestions as opposed to rules.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Gregory Schneider is a reporter with Richmond bureau of The Washington Post. Gregory, thank you so much for joining us.
SCHNEIDEROh, I enjoyed it. Thank you.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. Up next, Vincent Gray, councilmember representing Ward 7 in the District and the former mayor. If you have questions or comments for Vincent Gray you can start calling now. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back joining us in studio is Vincent Gray. He's a councilmember representing Ward 7 in D.C. He's also the former mayor of the District of Columbia. Vincent Gray, thank you for joining us.
VINCENT GRAYThank you very much, Kojo. And thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Vincent Gray start calling now. Before we get to Councilmember Gray or Mayor Gray, Tom Sherwood, according to the headline contentious teachers' union race draws attention to incumbents DUI. That has to do with the fact that in the Washington Teacher's Union there's an election coming up. And Nathan Saunders, who was the president of the union that was replaced by the current president Elizabeth Davis managed to put up in his campaign materials information about a DUI that Liz Davis apparently got back in, oh, January of this year, but that just underscores how contentious a race this is.
SHERWOODYes. I did not realize Nathan Saunders, who had been the president was defeated back in 2013 by Elizabeth Davis was still active in trying to be a leader in the union. But, you know, Elizabeth Davis is running for her third term. Nathan Saunders wants to defeat her. It took years for the city and the teacher's union about 4,200 teachers to reach the most recent contract. It took so long that that contract is now set to expire in September. So the teachers are looking for the new leadership or the continuing leadership to head into once again contract negotiations. It's -- you know, the allegation of drunk driving, Elizabeth Davis has acknowledged that she did this. And I think it that today or yesterday she was supposed to plead guilty in Prince George's and she'll be fined or something, have to go to maybe a class or something like that. She says that that doesn't affect her ability to run.
NNAMDII was about to say Saunders seems to think that might be a disqualifier. I don't necessarily think so.
SHERWOODWell, you know, there is a certain image that she should project is you are a leader and, you know, drunk driving is a serious issue in the country. But she says, you know, she made a mistake. There was some confusion about the traveling. She's acknowledged her guilt and she's taking care of it. I'm not the sure the teacher's union wants to decide who's going to lead them based on that one incident. But, you know, the election is coming up.
NNAMDIOkay. Two quick ones. Who is Paul Smedburg?
SHERWOODFormer Alexandria councilmember and now the Virginia representative to the Metro Board, who seems to be the consensus at this point. Robert McCartney, if you can -- his reporting in The Washington Post -- he has most said this, that Smedberg appears to be the choice among the voting members of the Metro Board to succeed Jack Evans, who, at the end of this June, will have served three-and-a-half years as Chairman of Metro.
NNAMDIWho is John Fanning?
SHERWOODJohn Fanning is a longtime ANC member from the Logan Circle area of the District of Columbia, who has worked for every mayor since Marion Barry, Tony Williams, Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray, whoever that is, (laugh) and Muriel Bowser. Sorry, Mayor Gray. But John's got a long history of being involved in city issues. That's good, on one hand. On the other hand, people are thinking, well, if you want to have a reform candidate or somebody to knock Jack Evans out, is that the right background to have?
SHERWOODSo, there are three people running now, at this point, against Jack Evans for next year's election. And they all say they'll take public financing for the first time in elections next year. Jack Evans has not said what he will do, but, you know, he's waiting to see what happens with the US Attorney's investigation with him. He thinks it'll end with nothing charged against him, and he'll be good to go for reelection. We just don't know yet.
NNAMDIAnd, Mayor Gray, you're probably happy to hear that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says he would like to see the District become the 51st state, because he has long opposed statehood for the District of Columbia. For the first time in over two decades, there will a hearing in the House on statehood for the District of Columbia. What do you think persuaded Congressman Steny Hoyer to change his mind?
GRAYWell, hopefully, knowing it was the right thing to do. We don't know that, of course, but Steny is a very -- he's been a good leader in the House. He's been a good friend, for the most part, to the District of Columbia. And, frankly, it is exciting for me to know that he has come to the point now where he's saying he supports statehood.
SHERWOODHe's the last regional elected federal official to get onboard.
GRAYThat's right, Tom. It's exciting to know that, and this is a major step forward for us to be able to now solidify what should've been done a long time ago. And that is to make sure that the people who live in the District of Columbia can be enfranchised in the way that Americans are. You know, we've heard so many time that we have more people living in the District of Columbia than the entire state of Wyoming, the entire state of Vermont, that, per capita basis, our federal tax payments substantially exceed virtually everybody else in the nation. So, this is an exciting step forward, and it really, I think, reinforces and underscores the importance of the work that's being done.
NNAMDII want to get to some of the issues that you find yourself in the middle of. D.C. passed the fiscal year 2020 budget this week. One of the hottest topics was the fate of funding for United Medical Center. The mayor proposed spending $40 million on an operating subsidy for the hospital. You proposed cutting it to 15 million. The Council landed on 22.1 million. What were your concerns about fully meeting the mayor's funding request for UMC? It seems to me that what you're saying is that you would like to get UMC replaced as quickly as possible, so you don't want to prolong UMC's existence.
GRAYWell, not only that. We also know, if you look at the history of this -- and I'll go back, you know, when I was mayor -- we had subsidies that were provided to the United Medical Center that characteristically, Kojo, were substantially less than the $40 million that was being proposed. As a matter of fact, if you go back to, you know, '12, '13, when I was the mayor, and in the years thereafter, they typically came in less than $15 million. And when we had a situation with the leadership that was then at the hospital -- a gentleman by the name of Mr. Davis, who was then the CEO -- we started to see an escalation.
GRAYAnd then we had deaths at the hospital, under the then-operator. We had deaths that led to the suspension of obstetrical services. The health director at the time -- who's still the health director, and who I supported in this -- essentially took the position that it was dangerous to have babies being born at the hospital. And those services were suspended. And that's when you started to see the escalation.
GRAYWe've now got a situation where, last year, we had a $48 million deficit that had to be filled in one way or the other with a subsidy, and is now, Kojo, projected to be anywhere from 40 to $70 million for this fiscal year. That is absolutely unsustainable. And, you know, we don't run the hospital, obviously. We now have a new operator with Mazars that's running the hospital. They committed themselves to being able to get the spending under control in ways that it had been in the past. And that's what we expect them to do.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But this has been -- Mayor, this has been a money suck for a long time, but it seems to me that, Kojo suggested it, is when you were mayor, you had $300 million in the budget for a new hospital at Saint E's to service the full east of the river -- or if I may say east end of the city -- for so many people who are in desperate need of just routine medical care. But it was taken out of the budget, and we won't get into all of that. But the fact is, you want to close United Medical Center. You and the mayor both want to open a hospital at Saint E's, a general hospital.
SHERWOODThe Washington Post editorial page says: do you really need an old fashion-style hospital? Can you do something more progressive, forward-looking with urgent care and all the hospital things without a massive hospital bureaucracy? But have you and the mayor reached any agreement on how to move forward with this? I know you guys had a difficult time, since she won the election against you. Because the reason I ask is, on another hot issue, the Banneker school and the Shaw school, my understanding is when you were in Las Vegas, that you and the mayor met...
SHERWOOD...to specifically talk about Banneker and Shaw. And you switched your vote to move Banneker to Shaw, and some people have suggested to me, and I'm asking you, did the hospital fight come up in that political agreement that whatever you guys -- what did you guys agree to in Las Vegas?
GRAYWell, let me go back to the issue you raised about building a new hospital.
SHERWOODOkay. But don't forget my question, because that's a political question.
GRAYOf course not. I'm sure you won't allow me to forget it. (laugh)
NNAMDIWe only have 20 minutes left in this broadcast. (laugh)
SHERWOODNor will there be a filibuster to get -- can you work backwards, answer my question, and then go back to...
GRAYHow long does he get to do his questions? I mean, it's difficult to remember.
SHERWOODUntil I get an answer.
GRAY(laugh) No. I want to go back to the issue of the hospital. The fact of the matter is, and you put your finger on it, we had $336 million in the budget to build a new hospital. But I've tried to underscore this time and time again, Tom and Kojo, and that is, we're not just building a hospital. We're trying to build a healthcare system. So, it isn't that I disagree with what the Washington Post said, but I don't think they contextualized the conversation properly, because there is no urgent care center either in Ward 7 or in Ward 8, or even now in Ward 5, which is unconscionable.
SHERWOODWhat about the Prince George's Hospital, which is just over the line?
GRAYWell, that's just not going to happen. I mean, I even talked to Rushern Baker when he was the chief executive for Prince George's County about what he was planning there, and were there ways in which we could work together. And, I mean, you may as well have said crickets, because there was nothing in terms of response. And that's not even close to the District of Columbia. It's probably a good 20-plus miles outside of the city, which is not going to work for people who live in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODCertainly for urgent care. All right. So, can we get to the political questions, since this is the Politics Hour?
SHERWOODYou met with the mayor in Las Vegas at the shopping center convention, and you talked about...
GRAY(overlapping) To talk about bringing the...
SHERWOOD...and she persuaded you, or something, and you switched -- you were the key vote changing -- you had signed a letter supporting the Shaw Middle School in the Shaw neighborhood, and you had done all that. But when you came back from Las Vegas, you changed your vote at the Council, and you were a deciding vote to move Banneker, which everyone likes -- it's a great school, it needs a new facility -- to Shaw and then to move Shaw -- leave Shaw a little bit hanging in the air. And so I'm just wondering, did you guys reach agreement?
GRAYNo, we did not.
SHERWOODDid she agree anything on the hospital? What did she say to you to change your mind? Because, you know, it was a racially tinged vote. All the black councilmembers voted to be...
NNAMDI(overlapping) We don't have a lot of time. Let him respond.
SHERWOODWell, there's so many elements to it. I want to get them all in, so he doesn't...
NNAMDI(overlapping) The show will be over by then.
GRAYWell, the first question was, did we strike a deal on Banneker and Shaw in Law Vegas. The answer is no. We had a very good discussion about it. You know, I made sure...
NNAMDISo, why did you change your vote?
GRAYI changed my vote, because I felt, ultimately -- and I still feel this way -- we could put both Shaw and Banneker on the same site.
NNAMDISo, we're now uncertain as to where Shaw Middle School will be, whether it'll be on the same site, or whether it'll be on the old Banneker site.
GRAYWell, I was...
NNAMDIWhat will determine that?
GRAY...I was prepared to introduce in the Budget Support Act -- which we still have to vote on over the next two, three weeks -- I was prepared to introduce language. And I had worked with the administration around, you know, the location of the Banneker site -- the school, if you will -- and talked about, you know, what we could do with that site. That conversation, which included the deputy mayor of education and the chancellor -- who I talked to extensively about this -- had yielded, based on architectural work that they had done, that we could fit both on the same site. And I'm still convinced of that. What happened...
SHERWOODWell, the people -- the Ward 1 councilmember and the Ward 6 councilmember think that's not possible, and the chairman of the Council thinks that's not possible.
GRAYBut what I watched happen in terms of that discussion, that debate was the two councilmembers you just mentioned actually -- because Alex Padro, who has been a key player in this for the Shaw community, was asked by them, across the counter, if you will, from the dais, would they accept the -- would they be acceptable to having the current Banneker site then modernized for purpose of Shaw being there. And he nodded yes, which stunned me, because I was prepared to do language that would say, we're going to put them both on the same site, based on the conversations I had had with the chancellor, with the deputy mayor for education, and based on my own sentiments at this stage.
NNAMDISo, that is still a possibility.
GRAYYeah, still a possibility, yeah.
NNAMDIWe got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on this and other issues. (laugh)
SHERWOODSkip the break.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Vincent Gray. He is a councilmember representing Ward 7 in the District of Columbia. He's a former mayor. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODVery quickly, people who support the Shaw Middle School -- everyone agrees both schools should be built, but they are concerned that even despite the Council saying that Shaw could move to the Banneker site near Howard, is that what the mayor really intends to do is to redevelop the Banneker site with mixed-use housing and development and all kinds of things, and then send that to our developer friends -- I'm talking politically, here -- just like the D.C. auditor this week put out an audit that housing -- we've lost nearly 400 housing units because the Housing Authority here in town has given contracts to people who could've built more, if they hadn't been so political about it.
SHERWOODSo, I'm just wondering, is the Banneker site going to be redeveloped, as far as you know? Did the mayor mention that to you in your private tete-a-tete with her?
GRAYShe did not. She never talked at all about redeveloping the Banneker site in any form or fashion.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, I just think we should have our developer influences alerts high on the list.
GRAYWell, it may be...
NNAMDILet's get to the...
GRAY...that was not part of the conversation that we had, Tom. My conversation was around -- and let me just go back.
SHERWOODOkay. We're almost out of...
GRAYLet me just do this quickly, okay?
SHERWOODHe's the host.
GRAYWhen I was the mayor, I worked with the people who were supporting rebuilding of the Shaw Middle School. And I indicated to Alex Padro, when I voted the first time, that this is a commitment I had made to him and the Shaw group, and that I would do the best I could to try to stay with that commitment. And that's really as far as it went. I mean, I told the mayor that, when we had the conversation. She gave me her reasons, which were, I thought, pretty sound, as to why she wanted to reestablish the location of the Banneker school. I don't know of any -- you know, there's also all kinds of conspiracy theories. That's the nature of being in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know of a conspiracy, but...
GRAYWell, it may be, I don't know but...
NNAMDISpeaking of conspiracies...
GRAY...I know of no information that would corroborate the...
SHERWOODPlan for Banneker site.
GRAY...yeah, that the modernization -- as housing -- of the current Banneker site.
NNAMDIAnother controversy. The Council of D.C. Tweets: since the Anacostia River runs at roughly a 45-degree angle to the northeast, isn't the area to the southeast of it as much south of the river, south end, as it is east of the river, east end? But no one ever says that. Another addition to this contentious debate that's going on here that probably should end pretty soon, shouldn't it?
GRAYWell, I don't know.
NNAMDIAbout what to call...
GRAYIt may never end. Who knows? I mean, we've had lots of conversation about should there be a rebranding or renaming of east of the river.
NNAMDIYou started it.
GRAYWell, I didn't start it. (laugh)
SHERWOODWell, you've arbitrarily...
GRAYI participated in it.
SHERWOODYou have arbitrarily said the part of the city on the eastern southern side of the Anacostia will be called the East End, because you thought east of the river had gotten a connotation of being something bad, because of the crime and issues that have occurred there. And with all the changes that are occurring now, you wanted to refresh the area in people's minds. You had a meeting just in the last week...
GRAYWe did. We had it just days ago.
SHERWOOD...and there were some people who said that you're changing the name, when we should just change the policy. And we like east of the river. We'd like to keep it.
NNAMDIDid you ever expect it to be this contentious?
GRAYI had no expectation, whatsoever. For me, Kojo and Tom, it was really a matter of raising the question in a context where people could have a civil conversation. We had a meeting just two nights ago with folks from Ward 7 and Ward 8 to raise this question. There were a number of people who were there who seemed to be happy with east of the river. And you know what? My position was that, you know what, if you like east of the river, I'm not going to fight you over that. Let's stay with east of the river.
GRAYBut the more important issue -- which I think everybody agreed to -- and that was we need to focus on the challenges that exist in Ward 7 and Ward 8. We have violence issues that are hugely, you know, problematic in both Ward 7 and Ward 8. We have situations where you can't even -- you have such a paucity of grocery stores. We have the healthcare problems that we know about. Those are the issues that I think that we...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And the budget cuts for schools...
GRAYAnd the budget cuts for schools, absolutely.
SHERWOOD...despite the mayor's administration's statement that the schools aren't being cut. In general, they're not, but in Ward 7 and 8, they are. But what are the answers? We've talked about this for many years. What are the answers to all those?
GRAYWell, part of the answer is...
NNAMDIDon't give the answer now, because I've got callers here who are getting mad at me, (laugh) and so they are going to be in this conversation right now, starting with Dua in New Carrollton, Maryland. Dua, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DUAYes. Thank you Kojo and Tom for uplifting these issues with the councilmember. I represent 1199 SCIU United Healthcare Workers (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIYou've been on this broadcast, yep.
DUA...and I have been on this show before, discussing the issue regarding the hospital at United Medical Center. And, you know, I think I can speak for our partners in this issue, the D.C. Nurses Association, when I say that we are very disappointed in the councilmember's position on making the decision to take money from the mayor's budget and cut the subsidy to United Medical Center, specifically because of what this would do to quality of access...
NNAMDIWell, Dua, we don't have a lot of time, and so I don't get the impression or give listeners the impression that you would like to see United Medical Center continue indefinitely. What do you think should be done?
DUASo, I think that there should be a tapering down of the closing of United Medical Center, which these cuts that the councilmember proposes were too abrupt. And the fact that money was put back into the budget...
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have the councilmember respond to that. Tapering down should take a longer time.
GRAYWell, it is going to take a while, and we've indicated that. We got the construction of the new hospital moved up to 2022. And, frankly, you know, there's some information that was put out there that we want to close the hospital before the new hospital is done. That's not going to happen. We're not going to close UMC before the new hospital is finished. We're just trying to accelerate something that desperately needs to be accelerated, and that is the improvement of healthcare.
GRAYI'm sure the gentleman from 1199 and the other, you know, groups that are represented in this process hopefully would agree with us, that we need to improve healthcare on the east -- in Ward 7 and Ward 8 of the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODOn the East End.
NNAMDIHe has got his union members to think of, and they are concerned about their jobs in that situation. And, I'm sorry Dua, but we do have to move on to Sid in Edgewood, who raises a completely different issue.
GRAYDoes he live on the East End? (laugh)
NNAMDISid, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SIDYeah, thanks. Many of the mayor's former associates, including Thomas Gore and Jeanne Clarke Harris, among others, all served time in response to federal inquiry. But the councilmember was never indicted, thanks to Jeff Thompson's pedophilia. I'm curious to how the councilmember would compare a failed investigation...
NNAMDINo, I'm sorry. You told us that you were calling about bike lanes in Ward 7 and Ward 8. I thought this was going to be a unique conversation.
SIDI changed my mind. This is more important. Does Vince think that Jack Evans will be let off on a technicality, like he was, too?
GRAYI'm not going to answer something like that.
SHERWOODWell, that's -- having covered all of the issues around Mayor Gray being mayor...
GRAYIt's a cheap shot.
SHERWOOD...I think that's a mischaracterization. We don't have enough time for that, but I do have a question.
NNAMDIOh, I was going to say, finally, one more. Gabe sent us a message through Facebook: what is Councilmember Gray doing to improve voter registration and turnout in Ward 7?
SHERWOODAnd in the context of that, are you running for re-election next year?
GRAYWell, I certainly am happy with the work that we're doing. I came back, in substantial part, as you know, Tom, in order to work on the healthcare problems, healthcare challenges that exist in Ward 7 and Ward 8. And, you know, unless something changes, I intend to continue that work.
SHERWOODAnd the voter question of getting people to make sure they can vote, and are you -- you got remarried recently. Somebody -- are you living in your house there on Broad Branch, or are you...
GRAYNo, Branch Avenue, Tom. Not Broad Branch. Broad Branch is in Maryland, okay?
SHERWOODI knew I was saying that wrong, but your new wife actually lived, I think, somewhere else, right?
GRAYShe did. That's right.
SHERWOODAre you in your house now in Ward 7?
GRAYI'm in my house. That's right. That's right. (all talking at once) I'm not going to Broad Branch, okay.
NNAMDIOne persistent problem east of Anacostia River is access to healthy food. Last week Lidl -- or is it pronounced Lidl, do you know? (all talking at once) Well, whatever it is, it's a German discount grocery chain. They announced that it would open a supermarket in your ward at the Skyland site, where developers once planned to build a Walmart. How did that deal come about, and what do you think it means for food deserts in your part of the District?
GRAYI think it's a major step forward.
SHERWOODAnd is Lidl going to do it? They're not going to back out, like Walmart did, and leave us holding the bag?
GRAYHopefully that won't happen, Tom. You know, I've worked closely with -- you know, it was very disappointing, what Walmart did, to walk out. And they wound up -- which a lot of people don't realize, they wound up stuck with a lease they're still paying for. They negotiated an agreement with the city to buy them out for the Skyland site. But they're also still paying for the other one that they walked out on.
GRAYYou know, my hope is -- and, you know, we have great developers there with Chris Smith and Gary Rappaport, who have been there (clears throat), stayed the course the entire time. My hope is that we will get that built, and that we can really start now to make the kind of progress we had hoped to make with new grocery opportunities in Ward 7, and then ultimately in Ward 8.
GRAYWhat needs to be said, and I don't mind saying this again, and that is, there's some wards in the District of Columbia where they have eight, nine, as many as ten grocery stores. Between Ward 7 and Ward 8 combined, where we have 150,000 people, there are three grocery stores, two Safeways, and I'm glad that they stayed the course, and we have one Giant. This Lidl, Lidl, you know, whatever pronunciation you want to use, will bring additional competition, but additional opportunities for people to do the grocery shopping that they would love to be able to do.
GRAYAnd jobs, that's right. And that's one of the things I've worked hard on, and that is how do we get, you know, more opportunities for people who want to be able to grocery shop in a very convenient way. And that's been a big part of what I've done, in addition to healthcare. And you allude to the fact that we just got some additional budget support for groceries, for food in the budget that's coming up in 2020. The reality is that people deserve that, and we are contributing to good healthcare, but people deserve that as much as they deserve good healthcare services.
NNAMDIWell, over Memorial Day weekend, 20 people were shot in the District, two of them fatally. This four weeks after the city launched its annual summer crime initiative. Chief Newsham said, quoting here, "This will not be the new normal" and yet homicides continue, with 64 so far this year. What do you think is happening here and what do you think the District can do to curb gun violence? We only have about less than a minute left.
GRAYWell, one of the things that I've done, and I did it with some of my colleagues, was to put more money into Curb the Violence in the Streets programs. And I think doing more of that is going to have an important contribution to make, Kojo, to how we stem this. We actually are at about the same place today as we were a year ago, which is not good. I mean, we still have 60-plus murders having occurred in the District of Columbia, homicides having occurred. But I think the more opportunities we have of people who can be out on the streets to be able to work with folks around the possibility of doing this, it will make a difference.
GRAYI was glad that we continued the Roving Leaders in the place that we were in. That was an important part of the budget.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. We'll be back Monday with our summer book show, and we'd like to hear what's on your summer reading list. Tweet us @kojoshow or send an email to email@example.com. And we're less than a week away from wrapping up our Kojo celebrations with a party at the Howard Theater on June 6th. There's still time to get tickets, and we'd love to see you there. Find all the details at kojoshow.org/20. That's all for today. Tom Sherwood, have a great weekend. All of you do the same. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.