Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld talks about the future of WMATA and what reopening will look like. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray walks us through city budget and gives us an update on building a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
Nine months into his term, we check in with Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich about some of the biggest news from the county, including his pick for police chief, reports of high absenteeism in public schools, and upgrades for the county’s emergency communications system.
Virginia Delegate Ibraheem Samirah is yet to serve for a regular legislative session, but he made national headlines this week when he disrupted a speech President Trump was delivering in Jamestown. He joins us to talk about his protest and his agenda for 2020’s General Assembly.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood, I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Ibraheem Samirah. He's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, who got a lot of attention recently because he interrupted President Trump's speech in Jamestown, but I guess he'll tell us that he should be known for a lot more than that. Joining us in studio now is Marc Elrich. He is the Montgomery County Executive. He is a Democrat. Marc Elrich, thank you so much for joining us.
MARC ELRICHHappy to be here.
NNAMDIFirst, Tom Sherwood, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney finally got some attention in the debates this week. The first time around he got none. This time around he got some attention, but does that necessarily mean traction and what did he get attention for?
SHERWOODWell, he got attention for being on that stage one of the moderates in saying that Medicare for all and other kinds of programs were not a good way to win the presidency against Donald Trump. But, you know, the true test is he's virtually nowhere in the polls in terms of not even one percent. The next debate is in September. He really does have to show some substantial gains in some of the polling or he'll be out of this campaign.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Marc Elrich?
ELRICHI think I agree with your assessment. And I think people actually want to see more creative solutions. Actually they'd like to see the party put forward actual solutions. So I think this saying stick with the old ways what got us in trouble. We need to rethink ourselves.
NNAMDIAnd Maryland Governor Larry Hogan seems to have been trying to avoid making a comment on President Trump's tweets about Congressman Elijah Cummings and Baltimore in particular, but last night he was on Late Night with Seth Myers and Seth Myers pressed him on the issue. Said he thought he was wishy washy on it.
NNAMDIYes. And so how does the governor come out on this?
SHERWOODWell, unfortunately the governor didn't come out strongly and authoritatively at the first time. It wasn't just a tweet. The president attacked the State of Maryland and attacked the City of Baltimore and aggressively did so. And so when the governor's spokesman put out a first statement saying, Well, it won't do any good for politicians to go back and forth with each other. That was roundly criticized by any number of people. So the governor since then has said on, I think Fox News and other places that the president's tweets were -- and statements were unacceptable, inappropriate and outrageous.
SHERWOODBut it's kind of after the fact on round two or round three or round four, the president continuing to attack like he did in Cincinnati last night Baltimore and its crime issues. No one says that Baltimore is in a great place necessarily, but it's nowhere near the kind of waste bin place that Trump has said. And it's surprising to people that Governor Hogan has not taken a clear forthright stand about his state his city and not get into a Twitter war, but just to stand up for his state.
NNAMDIUnusual, Marc Elrich, for an American president to attack an American city.
SHERWOODAll cities. He's been attacking all the cities in fact.
ELRICHYeah, pretty odd, but it's his narrative. I mean, I think if you want to drive your base, you're trying to drive more rural base against the cities. And whether it's immigrants or whether it's folks, who are lower income and --
SHERWOODIt's people of color.
ELRICHPeople of color that this is what drives. And I think he is totally a political animal. And that's a bad thing for leadership.
NNAMDIMontgomery County schools have an excellent academic reputation, and that's why the news this week that nearly one fifth of all Montgomery County Public School students are chronically absent came as a surprise. It's co-related with the decrease in reading proficiency and higher high school dropout rates. What's going on?
ELRICHI think this should have been less of a surprise than it is because issues with literacy and with math achievement actually are long standing. And there's an achievement divide that we have talked about my entire time on the Council. When I was a school teacher I spent 17 years teaching in the school. All these things in terms of least achievement were well known, and we've throw innumerable changes in the curriculum at it, but not been able to move it very far.
SHERWOODIn this city there was a great deal of consternation and anger outrage and surprise when WAMU did a report saying that Ballou High School had such a horrific absenteeism rate. This report also as a surprise to me showed that even Montgomery County absenteeism something like 28,000 students have been chronically absent. That is they have missed 15 days or more during the school year. I think that was the 15-16 school year the latest record available. It does seem that whatever the achievement gap is it won't close if the students don't come to class.
ELRICHThat's true. You don't learn if you're not there, but I think it's also true -- and, you know, we have been slow to focus on pre-k to third grade literacy. You know, when I was a teacher our focus was on middle school and high school intervention. I taught elementary. When we taught supplemental classes after school for kids to get them ready for the tests we picked kids, who either barely passed the test or barely failed the test. The kids who absolutely weren't achieving actually didn't get any additional support, which kind of tells you philosophically where the system was.
ELRICHNow this is pre-Smith and I haven't taught it the last 12 years, so I don't know if that practice has continued, but it's endemic of the system that's not focused, I think as much on raising up the bottom starting early. And, you know, there's a new initiative I've put forward in early childcare education initiative. We have a lot of support for it. And I'm a big believer that if you fix this problem early and you get kids literate by third grade then the outcomes turn out differently.
SHERWOODThe District has the preschool at three years old. And so it does help to focus children early on so that they can begin to understand reading and writing at the earliest moment rather than try to catch up with them, because I remember one of the teachers here was up for being the superintendent the school system. She said, Tom, if you don't get them essentially by the first or second grade you've lost them.
ELRICHAnd it's hard for a student. I mean, to go into class and continually fail is depressing. To be in a room where you see other people moving forward and you're not, you know it. Nobody has to single you out and you know it. And sometimes, you know, it's if you don't try you don't fail. That's not just a kids' lesson. That's a lesson that a lot of people take through life is if I don't make the effort and I'm not pushing then nobody sees me trying. Then there is no failure.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us. Tut-tut, you're late, but you can catch up. Our guest is Marc Elrich. He is the Montgomery County Executive. And if you have questions or comments for him give us a call. Starting early is one thing. But Superintendent Jack Smith has said that the attendance policy in Montgomery County has not helped with the absentee rates. Do you agree with him? Apparently there were problems at Albert Einstein High School where students missed classes dozens of times, but still graduated. Something that WAMU has been following for a while. What do you think about the attendance policy?
ELRICHI think there are a number of places where if there are no consequences then people take the path of what works best for them, if there's no consequence for not showing up, no problem. If, you know, you don't take a test seriously at the end of the year the school system bags the testing. And there's something to be said for saying, these are our standards, these are our expectations. I was a big believer that you had to set expectations. You should set high expectations and I think the students feel like the expectations aren't high. They will meet the lower expectations.
SHERWOODOne more comment on this. You know, people do say this is not a case of necessarily where they were just absent parents, who are not enforcing the rules for the kids because there are many children who might be homeless. There are children who take care of their siblings. There are students who have obligations outside of the school just to support their families or to be with their families apart from just, you know, truancy. So it's not just a simple, you come to class or we'll expel you, type situation.
ELRICHLook, I appreciate you wandering into that because the truth is --
SHERWOODI went directly into it. I didn't wander.
ELRICHKids don't get where they are late in life. If you struggle with poverty and all the consequences of poverty it is an extra load toward being successful. If you come to school without the background knowledge you need it's an extra load in being successful. And we've had the tendency to put all school problems on the school system instead of recognizing their larger social problems that impact how kids are going to perform in school. This is why I'm very interesting in the affordable housing pieces and minimum wage and anything that helps support families, because better supported families will produce stronger children, I think.
NNAMDIChristine emails, I think that the focus on IB, International baccalaureate programs has drowned out all attention on the regular and suffering students. It's been that way for a while now. Mr. County Executive, do you have faith that the current public school leadership can turn around this whole problem of the absenteeism and the dropout rate?
ELRICHI think it can be turned around. I think that his creating, you know -- people working on this and having a focus on it is important. I think that they've got to be willing to examine everything that's been done with an open mind and to ask, you know, ask the question, is what we're doing effective? And if it's not effective you got to be willing to change and look in a different direction. I think he can do it. They need strong board support to do it.
SHERWOODCan I ask you about your poor choice for police chief? Can we move to that?
SHERWOODYou've nominated Tonya Chapman, who was late of Portsmouth, Virginia, had worked in Arlington and then some in Richmond. You've gotten some criticism about her. How did she come to your attention? And, you know, there's some issues that she -- she was the head of Portsmouth and had trouble there and was asked to resign. It's 255 officers. Montgomery has 1300 officers. How did she come to your attention? And why did you pick her?
ELRICHWell, first of all she applied. So she came to my attention that way. I picked her, because she went through, you know, a pretty rigorous review.
ELRICHBy different groups, you know, we even had both Police Management and Police Laborer was, you know, part of the people who've talked to her. And by and large she was the first or second choice of virtually everybody. And they were impressed with her. I did not put my fingers on the scale. I didn't make an effort to --
SHERWOODDid you interview her yourself?
ELRICHAnd I interviewed her at the end. I was given a short list of people that had been -- that had gotten the most support. And I interviewed her. And I was pretty impressed with her. And I think the Portsmouth thing is interesting, but maybe it shouldn't be surprising. She was the first female black police chief in Virginia. She came in to a force that had, I would say a lot of issues. Sometimes somebody, who is a changed agent and is trying to deal particularly with racial issues isn't always welcome.
SHERWOODDo you need change agent -- Tom Manger was the police chief for 15 years. There were some issues -- there are some issues with the police department like in most every police department, but what is her -- what is the mandate? The poll of the county was people wanted someone with integrity, forthrightness and all that. But what is your goal for her to address the issue of how minority communities see police and also just to see that we have in Montgomery County good police work?
ELRICHSo I think the county has good police work. I think we have struggled at times with our relationships with the communities. And we've had these set of incidents that have I think really upset a lot of people it the community. And, you know, the things -- I tell people that I know the individual officers are going to make mistakes or behave badly. Not all behavior is a mistake. Sometimes it's just bad behavior. And, you know, Manger was fond of saying, You know, we hire from the human race. The human race is imperfect, and there are not test that can weed out anybody who's going to do anything wrong. It's just not possible.
NNAMDIHowever, one of the things we should mention, because we mentioned that Tonya Chapman was the head of Portsmouth Police Department in Virginia. She quit earlier this year alleging that she was forced to resign after some members of the department resisted her efforts to change what she considered a racist culture. Do you see a need for any changes to the culture of Montgomery County's Police Department?
ELRICHSo I was going to say one of the things that bothered me most about the incidents was the number of officers, who were present, who didn't do anything. And it is absolutely clear to me that everybody has to have everybody's back. And that includes when someone is either saying something inappropriate or acting in an inappropriate way that the other people there say, you know, you need to step back and we'll handle it. And those things didn't happen, and that's concerning. And this issue of pretextual stops, I mean, I was told, you know, this is -- we only do it in the case of investigations. I've had all officers tell me that. That's actually not true. We do it as part of policing, and it's not an appropriate use. It's an okay investigative tool. It's not okay on the general public.
SHERWOODOne of the criticisms --
NNAMDIBefore you go to that, here is Tim in Silver Spring, Maryland on that issue. Tim, your turn.
TIMHi. So I'm a longtime resident of Montgomery County. And I think we can all agree that most police officers do a great job serving our community. However, I'm concerned that when certain officers behave badly or violate people's civil rights how does any chief of police hold their officers accountable in the face of the police union and the law enforcement officers' bill of rights? And I'll take my answer off the air.
ELRICHI'll give you part of an answer on there. I mean, I think even with the law officers' bill of rights you can hold people accountable. It's obviously very protective of officers, but it's not -- doesn't put an iron dome around them. And we've been able to discipline officers before. You'll see that, you know, our State's Attorney John McCarthy has filed charges against one officer. We can do things. We are capable of disciplining people, but you've got to be sure, you know, it's not appropriate to say, well, we've had a problem with an officer here. So we're going to move him. Moving an officer -- I think there's another institution that had a habit of moving people who were problematic and that's not a good model for dealing with issues.
NNAMDIDominique Bonessi from WAMU asked, is it true you did not choose Marcus Jones for police chief, because when you interviewed him you had disagreements about incidents about police use of force?
ELRICHI can't say. No. I can't say we had a disagreement about police use of force.
NNAMDIWhat can you say?
ELRICHWhat I can say, I do think we need better training and need a more proactive --
SHERWOODYou need someone from outside the force, you believe?
ELRICHWe need somebody from outside the force, I think who can bring in a fresh look at how we do things. You know, I hear too much about friendship and relationships coloring practices, and every once in a while you can kind of a glimpse of stuff that I wish I could say I didn't see. And I think somebody from the outside is going to have a better chance of managing it. Marcus was, you know, he told me that he thought the pretextual stops were just part of investigations.
ELRICHAnd I've had people tell me flat out they're not.
SHERWOODThe Council is going to -- now you've made the nomination. They will review her, maybe do interviews. They'll probably vote at least in September by then. No one has come out strongly praising her nor condemning her that I'm aware of in the nine member Council. But one of the criticisms of her is the email she wrote back in May of 2018 to the force, because she's the leader. And she's trying to address issues of racial bias and discrimination and get the officers to do a good job. But she wrote this general email to the force in which she said that some of you have complained morale was low before I came, and I'm sure you'll complain it's low when I depart. Stop blaming others and look introspectively as to why you run through so many police chiefs and employees.
SHERWOODAnd so it was kind of a public criticism of her entire force. That doesn't sound, like, you would learn that -- she has management degrees from Virginia Tech I think. It doesn't sound like the kind of management thing you would do if you're trying to run a force.
ELRICHI think she was at a point where she knew she wasn't going to be --
SHERWOODIt was a year before she left.
ELRICHI think that she was having issues with people there at that point.
SHERWOODBut the whole force, she addressed this.
ELRICHUh, yeah, and I think -- well, you should get a chance to ask her.
SHERWOODI will have it when she's in Council confirmation. I'm sure one of the councilmembers will ask her.
ELRICHYou know, I felt that, you know, she was in a really difficult situation there, and it was a situation that had persisted for a while. I think she felt the same way.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation with Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Later we'll be talking with Ibraheem Samirah. He is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Democrat. Joining us in studio right now is Marc Elrich. He is the Montgomery County Executive. He is a Democrat. And, Tom mentioned about who might have vetted your nominee for the next police chief, Tonya Chapman, but why did you nominate Tonya Chapman in the first place?
ELRICHWell, at the end of listening and reading all the comments that people had, because I'd had a lot of people vet her, I was impressed by the impression that she had left on folks in the community, a pretty wide range of people in the community.
SHERWOODWant to name some names?
ELRICHWell, I'll name some names who have written in endorsing her. One is former governor Terry McAuliffe, Brian Moran who is the secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security in Virginia, Roxie Holder who's a judge in the Portsmouth General District Court, and most interesting Lisa Lucas-Burke who's actually the vice-mayor today of Portsmouth City Council. But, you know, there are three social justice groups that have come out for her. She had pretty strong support, and I think in some ways she's kind of a policeman's police chief.
ELRICHShe spent a lot of years on the force and, you know, working her way up, and then she was a deputy in Richmond. One of the other things that impressed me is they plucked her from her deputy job to actually do a human services job, when they got rid of management in their human services department. They brought her in and said we need you to run this. That spoke to me about her breadth of administrative skills that I thought was actually impressive.
NNAMDIYou mentioned former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. He's going to be our guest here on Monday talking about his book about what we may have learned from the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where there was a white nationalist rally. Contentious piece of legislation passed unanimously recently zoning change allowing more so called in-law or other accessory dwelling units. You opposed that legislation saying it creates more problems than it solves. What did you mean by that?
ELRICHWell, it's a distraction from the real affordable housing discussion, number one. And, you know, some of the supporters of the bill, you know, didn't support requiring more multiple family units. I should say multi bedroom units and affordable housing. In Bethesda, we just did a major zoning plan. Eighty percent of the units are going to wind up one bedroom units. So all this happy talk about integrating the west side of the county when we have the ability to mandate family sized units and things that would help, you know, bring different families to the west side of the county we take a pass. And this is totally voluntary.
ELRICHAnd as The Post pointed as much as they didn't like what I did as they were talking about, you know, you might get 100 units. The thing that, you know, struck me there is no urgency to decide to go to this yet, because we already have a law that sets -- though it sets distances hardly any units have been built. And there are zones where people can actually build freestanding units. And hardly any of those units have been built. So to tap this as an affordable housing measure is just to me a joke. And we've got much bigger problems. And this to me is a distraction.
SHERWOODI think the Council voted for this unanimously.
SHERWOODBecause it sounds like you think it's feel good legislation. It's not going to do anything. But it doesn't go into effect until the end of this year January 31st. I mean, December 31st. You initially opposed it. Did they make any changes that made it more palatable to you or are you opposed to it as it is now?
ELRICHLook, I thought they should have at least had some objective measure of when a street actually had no room on it for additional cars. I mean, there are streets in Montgomery County that you could put a unit in every house probably. There's streets where you couldn't. They should have left an objective measure of that. I thought if they were going to allow somebody to build a separate freestanding unit there should have been a requirement that that unit be priced at the MPDU price range.
SHERWOODAnd what's MPDU?
ELRICHSorry about that, Moderately Priced Dwelling Units.
ELRICHSo, would get units that were actually affordable to a population we're trying to serve. There's no guarantee that this stuff will be affordable. Other jurisdictions that have done this haven't necessarily found what they get is affordable housing. I think it would have been useful to actually -- if you have an objective put some constraints on it that would help you achieve your objective. And so I suggested some changes. They weren't taken. We're going to -- you know, what we've got left is making sure that that environmentally these things don't become problems for their neighbors. And that's about as much as we can do.
NNAMDIBrenda, who couldn't stay on the line, called in to ask, when updated about the cell tower that's going to be built near ONI, Elrich had agreed to have it relocated, but Hogan pushed back. The county's emergency communication system has had some serious lapses over the past few months, including a major disruption in May that lasted 12 hours. County councilmembers say your objection to the location of two of towers needed to update the system delayed things, potentially, up to a year. Where do things stand now, and when will the new system be in place?
ELRICHI mean, if they actually said that, that's totally untrue. I walked in, and I was told we could get a system up and running by the end of 2020. We are still on track. Nothing got delayed. No other parts of the system got delayed. What happened was there are two places where community meetings that were supposed to be held, particularly the Georgia Avenue one, never got held. And, last year ,when Ike was there in the spring, when they were supposed to be held...
NNAMDIIke is Ike Leggett, the former Montgomery County executive.
ELRICH...if they had held the meeting, they would've had an opportunity to look for alternative sites. When I came in I asked my staff to see if they could find alternative sites to adjust people's objections. And we were trying to stay within the goal of getting this done by the end of 2020. The failures in the system don't have to do with the towers. This is really the part about this that makes me angry.
ELRICHThis system was obsolete in 2009. There are no new parts being replaced for it. The system is failing, because the boards, I can't replace the main pieces of equipment. And they don't make them anymore. And the new board for the new system won't work with these towers, so I can't even put in the new board, because it won't work with the towers I'm dealing with. They should've done this five years ago.
ELRICHAnd some of the same people who are talking about the towers knew perfectly well that the system was doomed to fail, and that they should've spoken out earlier about the need to stop dithering on the system and get a plan done earlier.
SHERWOODI want to ask you about immigration. The county's rapidly changing. This week, you signed an order that the county officials will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE.
NNAMDIBanning all Executive Branch departments from using local government resources to assist federal agents in civil immigration investigations. It's being called the strongest government action taken in support of undocumented immigrants in this region.
SHERWOODAnd the Republican Party of Montgomery County -- which is not particularly large, I don't think, anymore -- but they came out and said that this is a stunt, a political stunt to win favor and to interfere with the federal agents who they say are going only after criminals, not just immigrants. Your response, sir.
ELRICHThey are not only going after criminals. They are taking in people who haven't committed any crime. The warrants they serve are not judicial warrants. We would have to honor a judicial warrant. They're administrative warrants, and the county's not going to get involved in civil enforcement. Like I said, we do have to honor judicial warrants.
ELRICHBut what this is does is basically put an executive order form, what had been the previous administration's policy. We didn't change our police policy. We didn't change Corrections policy. It did make it clear to the other departments that there was to be no cooperation. But the truth is that over the years, practices have been put in place that would make it not possible to cooperate.
SHERWOODOkay. I want to ask you, very briefly, because I want to ask you about the Beltway and the governor's plans. But just very briefly, National Philharmonic has had a horrible time at Strathmore. It's closing, and now it's gotten some money to stay. A businessman, Jim Kelly, has offered $500,000 if he's put in charge of it. But where...
NNAMDIWell, he plays in the orchestra.
SHERWOODOh, I didn't know that. Okay. Well, apparently, I haven't been. But, so, what is your expectation? Will this orchestra survive at Strathmore?
ELRICHI hope that the Philharmonic board takes Mr. Kelly up on his offer. I think it's reasonable. He's willing to put his own money on the line to make this work. He's suggested changes that I think would help make the organization more sustainable. I had put a small amount of money in my budget, and the Council didn't support the small amount of money I put in. So, I didn't think it was worthwhile going back and trying again.
NNAMDIBefore we get to transportation, here's Gretchen in Takoma Park, with her own transportation question. Gretchen, your turn.
GRETCHENHi, there. Marc, it's Gretchen.
GRETCHENHow are you?
GRETCHENGlad we could bring you two together, but we only have a couple of minutes left, so we can't afford for you to socialize. Go ahead, please. (laugh)
GRETCHENOkay. So, I live in Ward 6 in Takoma Park which is the former PG County portion of Takoma Park. We've got the Purple Line coming through, presumably, at some point. And we're right at Langley Crossroads, which is where Langley Park, Takoma Park and Hyattsville come together, as well as PG County and Montgomery County.
GRETCHENAnd I'm wondering what you're doing to facilitate dialogue among jurisdictions to make the development that's going to happen around the Purple Line thoughtful, sustainable, pedestrian-friendly. Because...
GRETCHEN...as far as I know, so far, there really isn't any of that.
ELRICHSo, I've had some conversation with folks in Prince Georges County. The New Hampshire Avenue corridor actually has enough traffic, that it should attract substantial interest in terms of improving the corridor. And with the Purple Line, there are now two reasons to improve that corridor. So, I plan on working with folks in Takoma Park and with Prince Georges County to think about what we can do to really enhance it and take advantage of the Purple Line.
SHERWOODOn the Beltway issue, you mentioned the Post editorial page a few moments ago. It hasn't been that friendly to you. It did do an editorial, I think, this week, saying that when it comes to transportation Virginia is in the fast lane, and Maryland, not so much. However, Governor Hogan, who has proposed a $9 billion change to the Beltway, widening and taking homes and other -- his administration has now said it will look at the objections that you and others have raised , maybe not widening the Beltway. Do you think the governor's administration is serious about this, and do you see some real changes, what might happen to the Beltway?
ELRICHI think there's real opportunity, here. I think that--I know the governor's people listen occasionally. When he originally put his plan out there, I had made a comment that if he were serious, he'd start at the American Legion Bridge. And a month later, they announced they've changed their mind, and they're starting at the American Legion Bridge.
ELRICHI do think they're looking for solutions. I know his transportation people, particularly folks in State Highway. He's got some really good people working for him, and I think they're solution-driven. And I'm optimistic that they're going more than listening to our complaints. They're actually evaluating a model that we put together. It uses the ICC, which was intended to bypass the Beltway. It actually helps it bypass the Beltway. We think we've got an opportunity to make some progress.
NNAMDIWe have one minute left.
SHERWOODThe ICC is going to raise that. People coming south on 95. You're saying that they can could go over ICC over to 270 and ease traffic on the Beltway. But, generally, people are not that smart. They just want to go directly, and they go onto the Beltway, regardless.
ELRICHSo, both things are essentially direct. You get to the Beltway, and you make a right turn, and you start heading around, or you can take the ICC and hit 270. The difference is going to be this. If he puts the reversibles that we're suggesting on 270, you can get two reversible lanes on 270. And you go from the ICC to the western side of the Beltway and across the bridge. It is going to be a hell of a lot faster than staying on 95 going to the Beltway and creeping around to the western side, than to the bridge. And we think people will look at the time difference.
ELRICHAnd, you know, his whole assumption is people will spend money for time. And the time difference and the money's going to make it worthwhile...
SHERWOODWhen will this be all decided, do you think?
ELRICHI'm hoping in the next three or four months, they can do a serious evaluation.
NNAMDITwo quick questions. Anabella Tweets in: is there any plan for a second bridge across the Potomac between Montgomery and Fairfax Counties?
ELRICHNo, and the Council of Governments reviewed that, and the Transportation Planning Board, and they didn't think that was a worthwhile project.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, Governor Hogan is withholding $56 million from Metro allocated by the General Assembly. Do you want them to get up off of that?
ELRICHYeah, I want them to let it go, and I think that their concerns can and should be addressed, but you should not hold Metro hostage. This is not an appropriate way, I don't think, to do policy. He should work with them to get his concerns addressed. We've got people on the Metro Board. We can work with him, and I think we should get to yes on this.
NNAMDIMarc Elrich, who has overstayed his welcome by one minute, but thank you (laugh) so much for joining us. Marc Elrich is the Montgomery County Executive. Good to see you.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be joined by Ibraheem Samirah, who is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to the Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Joining us now by phone is Ibraheem Samirah. He's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, in the news recently for interrupting President Trump's speech at Jamestown. But we are also interested in his priorities for the General Assembly and his overall philosophy. Ibraheem Samirah, thank you very much for joining us.
IBRAHEEM SAMIRAHKojo, thank you for having me. I've been listening to your show forever.
NNAMDIThank you for doing that.
SHERWOODYou're not old enough to say forever.
NNAMDIThat's true. But if you have questions...
SAMIRAHI went to American University. No, I can say that.
NNAMDIThis week, Virginians and others gathered in Jamestown for an event honoring the 400th anniversary of the commonwealth's General Assembly, the oldest legislative body in the U.S. Many of your colleagues chose to boycott that event, because Governor Northam invited President Trump, who gave a speech. You chose a different tact though, disrupting the speech. What did you say, and why did you go that route?
SAMIRAHWell, all the Democratic lawmakers found their own way to show their displeasure with the president's presence. I chose what, for me, was the only sufficient option. I waited for the president's speech, stood in front of his podium, and told him to his face that he can't send us back. Virginia is our home. There is nothing else I can do to satisfy my own desire to protect my own, my community at large, the people I represent and the values that we all stand for, here in Virginia and across the states.
NNAMDISome years ago, Representative Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama during a State of the Union address, shouting: “You lie.” How is what you did any different?
SAMIRAHWell, that's different, because we're not dealing with the same president. This is -- the office of the presidency was fully respected in my disruption. I started off my disruption with, Mr. President. And it is to acknowledge that the presidency is to be held in a matter of respect. But this particular president is not somebody who is exactly the type of president that we expect for this office. This president is a racist, a bigot. That's the uncomfortable truth.
SAMIRAHHe tells black and brown American citizens to go back where they came from. He has called the majority black Baltimore rat-infested, and African countries, excuse my language, (censored). He has used hateful rhetoric against Muslims. He has demonized immigrants and compared them to vermin. Even worse, his rhetoric translates directly into policies, such as family separation, the Muslim ban, the criminalization of those seeking asylum, the abuse of innocent children. He has overseen the stripping of healthcare protections, accelerated destruction of our environment, proposed slashing food stamps and presided over the machinery of mass incarceration. All of which disproportionately affect brown and black people.
SAMIRAHThe president's behavior and rhetoric add up to demonization and the normalization of that demonization. There's no room for that.
SHERWOODDr. Samirah -- you're a dentist, for folks who may not know. Your sign that you unfolded, the first thing it said, “go back to your corrupted home.” And then it also said, “deport hate and reunite my family.” When you say go back to your corrupted home, what were you saying there to the president? I didn't understand that part. I understood the rest of it.
SAMIRAHSure. Well, the sign had the Trump Towers in it, but I'm happy that nobody really notices the Trump towers in it. It was a direct signal to the president that he has a home, and we know all about it. We know all about the crony activities there and all the corruption and all the scandals that have taken place in that building, in his offices, in all sorts of different ways. And I wanted to call it out, as it is.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What has been -- excuse me -- what has been the reaction? Obviously, you've gotten a great deal of national media, some international media attention. You've got some condemnation by some folks. I'm sure you've gotten some praise. But now that you have done this, is this something you would do again, should the president come, if you were to go near his golf course say here in Northern Virginia? What do you do now that you've gotten this burst of attention?
SAMIRAHLook, now, we start pushing for the end of systemic discriminations of all kinds. We just spoke about all the different policies that the President of the United States has been pushing against. As a state lawmaker, I can only do so on the state level. I will continue to do that in the realms of public health of all kinds...
SAMIRAH...breaking it down into healthcare, education, transportation, our environment. We've been submitting a lot of good policies for that.
SAMIRAHThat's how will combat Donald Trump's hate.
SHERWOODI actually looked at your campaign website, and you say all of those good things. But just for some people who may not know, because you're fairly new to the scene, you were elected last February in a special election. And if I read the documents right online today, you're unopposed in November. You represent the 85th House seat in the Virginia General Assembly. That's Loudoun County and Fairfax. Tell us a little bit about your district. It's Herndon. It's Sterling. A little bit of where you're from and who you're representing.
SAMIRAHSure. Well, I live in the town of Herndon. It's a town in the middle of metro politics (sounds like). This is a place that was able to maintain its history, its rich history across Virginia's history, of course. Yet it still lives in the modern day, the DMV as we know it, a diverse city of backgrounds, of economic statures.
SAMIRAHOf course, being sort of in the wealthier part of Fairfax County, you can imagine that people have a higher level of education. They're more intellectually minded. They're more cognizant of the macro effects of our policies at a state level. but also on a national level. And very in tune and very activated people. My supporters are very much involved in canvassing and door-knocking and talking to voters and donating and doing all sorts of very productive activities for our society. And they understand that there are systemic discriminations that we need to face.
SHERWOODAnd let me just ask, you are unopposed. Is that correct?
SAMIRAHCorrect, I am unopposed.
NNAMDIGetting back to the protest, we got an email from Randy from Montrose, Virginia who says: how do I donate to Delegate Samirah's election campaign? I'm not in his district, but anyone who stands up to a bully should get some support. That may not be the reaction of some of your colleagues. I read where the chair of the Black Caucus -- and they were trying to have a separate event on this -- said he didn't want to discuss you or your protest. Hadn't given it much thought. What have you been hearing from the colleagues on your side of the aisle, the Democrats?
SAMIRAHLook, I come from a part-black background. I come from a Palestinian background. I am a Muslim. I look up to the likes of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. These are people I see every day at my kitchen table. Their pictures are right there. The Black Caucus has its own way of presenting its argument, and I support it. I support all that they did on that Tuesday in Richmond, where they commemorated the arrival of the first slaves from Africa to the Americas. Well, excuse me, to Jamestown.
SAMIRAHAnd, look, at the end of the day, everybody chose to present their way of protesting. I felt the urge and need to make sure that, on a monumental occasion -- like the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in Virginia and in the Western Hemisphere -- to be the occasion where we stand up against a massive injustice of our time. Systemic discrimination has been lasting for 400 years. And to say that, no more. We're going to change course.
SHERWOODYou represent the 86th District, I believe, not the 85th. Is that correct?
SAMIRAHCorrect, 86. Yes.
SHERWOODYou talk about issues in your campaign. I looked at it, you know, traffic and tolls on I-66. Do you think this kind of national and international attention will distract you from the day-to-day live issues that you've actually been spending your time addressing as a candidate and as a delegate to the General Assembly?
SAMIRAHNot at all. I think we live in a very interconnected world now, where the international is national, is local. And, for me, all politics is local. And to say that we are disconnected from what is happening nationally is to not really see our democracy for what it is today, in the year 2019.
SHERWOODNow, I'm just thinking, if you want to address the issues like the toll roads on I-66, and maybe can address that right now, what you think could be done there to help the people who have to pay, sometimes, very expensive tolling. Just that these national and international issues could detract from people coming to your side on other issues. But you're saying no. So, what about traffic...
SAMIRAHNot at all. Not at all.
SHERWOODAnd what about traffic?
SAMIRAHOne of my signs that I posted was: “and an end to all those shattered by systemic discrimination.” Part of the systemic discrimination is this traffic problem that we have in the DMV. It is causing massive troubles for people to travel back and forth between jobs, between hospitals, between their family, to be able to be with their families for an extended period of time. We need to make sure that there's more lanes.
SAMIRAHWe need to make sure that there are more buses going throughout the Virginia side of the DMV. Making sure we expand the Metro system in the DMV, and making sure that we are doing more to find multimodal transportation methods, whether that be bicycle lanes or all sorts of creative ideas out there. Also, just keeping in mind that we need to also do that for the sake of our environment. Environmental justice is extremely important.
SAMIRAHThere is increasing asthma rates all across the DMV for all sorts of reasons, of course, but transportation is integral to all of that. And we need to make sure we do it really quickly, because those roads are extremely congested and they're costly.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Tom mentioned this earlier. You were elected in a special election in February. You haven't sat for a whole legislative session yet. You have a lot of issues on your mind. Do you see the incident this week affecting your reelection campaign? Do you see it affecting your working relationship with fellow Democrats and with Republicans, some of whom have begun to bring up the anti-Semitism charges that were leveled against you when you first ran for office?
SAMIRAHLook, I think Jewish Americans and myself, as a Palestinian American, are fed up with anti-Semitism being used to divide us on our own issues. That is separate from state policy. For state policy purposes, look, in 2017, there was a huge wave for Democrats in Northern Virginia, and Virginia as a whole, really. And the reality is that there was a big Trump effect there. We were able to say that we are going to respond to Trump through the first election of the -- since his presidency started. And we did so.
SAMIRAHAnd that same energy is hopefully going to be carried over. These actions that I did and others did in my own caucus to stand up to Trump, his attempt to fight against our democracy here in Virginia, was one that fit right in place with our overall agenda. Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn made sure -- excuse me, minority leader made sure to say that we're going to stand up against Trump's hate. And we did that.
SAMIRAHAnd, look, there were some Democrats, and I want to speak to this, there were some Democrats that didn't see it befitting. And I will say to them: shame on you. Shame on you for making it less united of a front against Trump. Trump is overwhelmingly unpopular. Trump, by the majority of Americans, is racist. Trump is a major problem for our democracy.
SHERWOODLieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax attended. He said it was important to attend to stand up for the very things you're talking about here today, to believe in them. Not to boycott, but to stand up, just as you went and protested. The lieutenant governor said he needed to go to stand up. Do you approve of his going?
SAMIRAHI approve of every way a person of color chooses to present themselves in a democracy. Justin Fairfax is a descendant of slaves that were brought to Virginia. He deserves to show his values how he pleases. I do not have any concern with the way he presented himself at all. Again, this is a united front, and everybody presents themselves in a different way.
NNAMDIGot about 30 seconds left.
SHERWOODVery quickly, Senator Tim Cain this week said that he supports ending the Federal death penalty. Would you support ending the death penalty in Virginia?
SAMIRAHI think the death penalty is part of a symptom an injustice of the criminal justice system that we have. We have been making sure to do reforms up and down the aisle in Commonwealth attorney races. Steve Descano was somebody I supported heavily in the Fairfax County race for Commonwealth attorney. And we made sure that he got the primary nomination for the Democratic Party. And we look forward to criminal justice reform, a significant criminal justice reform.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Very quickly, yes on the death penalty, abolish it?
SAMIRAHYes to abolishing it, of course.
SHERWOODOkay. Thank you.
NNAMDIIbraheem Samirah. He's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
SAMIRAHThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIThat's it for this show today, but remember, there's always more happening online. If you missed our town hall in Anacostia on Tuesday, you can listen to the broadcast version on our website, kojoshow.org. Don't forget to meet us back here Monday. We'll be talking with former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe about his new book on the white nationalist march in Charlottesville. Until then, have a great weekend, and thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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