It's been two years since an unarmed man, 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar, was shot and killed by police in Fairfax County. Kojo sits down with Bijan's family to discuss their quest for answers.
We check in with Arlington County Board Member Katie Cristol about efforts to close the achievement gap in public schools and what the arrival of Amazon means for affordable housing and transportation in Northern Virginia. Then D.C. Council Member Vince Gray joins us to talk about homicides in the District, the future of health care East of the River, and the development of a new supermarket in his ward.
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 Fenit Nirappil. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is away. Our guest analyst is Fenit Nirappil. He's a Reporter covering D.C. government and politics with The Washington Post. Fenit, good to see you again.
FENIT NIRAPPILGood to be back on.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be joined by Vincent Gray, Ward 7 councilmember and Former Mayor of the District of Columbia. Joining us now in studio is Katie Cristol. She is a member of the Arlington County Board. She's a Democrat. Katie Cristol, thank you for joining us.
KATIE CRISTOLWell, thank you. It's great to be here.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Katie Cristol you can start calling now 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can go to our website kojoshow.org ask a question or make a comment there. Your first question might be who is Carrie and why is he here?
CRISTOLSo Carrie is my five month old son, one of the newest Arlingtonians. Child care formally starts the day after Labor Day for our family. So he's been spending the August recess learning about municipal budgeting and storm water management, and today about operating a local radio show.
NNAMDIWell, maybe he should be the guest on this show right now, but congratulations.
CRISTOLThank you so much. Thanks to your team for welcoming him.
NNAMDIOh, yeah. We're taking care of Carrie today or rather Carrie is taking care of us. 800-433-8850 if you have questions for Katie Cristol. Fenit Nirappil, I'll let you start.
NIRAPPILYeah, so there's been a lot of interesting news this week. We've been having a push back to the prospect of the Trump administration putting shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children in the Washington region. And then over this week in Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order that he hopes would expedite the placement of thousands of acres of solar farms across the Maryland, but away from fertile farmland that Maryland has been trying to protect. And you're seeing now that several jurisdictions have been passing renewable energy targets. But now we're getting the tensions of how are we going to meet those goals and what's that actually going to mean for consumers.
NNAMDISo that's what's happening in Maryland. Let's talk about what's going on in Virginia, where according to a report by your colleague Laura Vozzella, the Human Rights Campaign is making a huge investment in some 27 Virginia House and Senate races, and they're particularly targeting Speaker Kirk Cox. What is this expected to do in an election in which all of the seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs?
NIRAPPILRight. So in November control of the state legislature of Virginia is up for grabs and if Democrats are able to flip both the chambers, Democrats have complete unified over the state government in Virginia. And so you've seen outside groups getting involved in Virginia politics for a while now. The 2017 cycle was the hottest game in town before the midterms for 2020. And now this is an opportunity for Democrats to show that they're serious about not just the presidency, but state legislatures, Congress, Senate and the other governmental bodies that make policies that shape the lives of their constituents. So the HRC is a big donation here. It's part of a trend of national groups getting involved in these state legislative races that they normally would have sat out, but it has implications for laws like anti-discrimination on the basis of being LGBTQ.
NNAMDIWell, the very slim margin that Republicans hold in both the House and Senate in Virginia Democrats are hoping to see overturned. That would include you, wouldn't it, Katie?
CRISTOLIt does include me among the Democrats, and I think many localities actually. You know, Virginia is a Dilan rule state, which basically means that localities only have the powers explicitly delegated by us to the General Assembly. So when you have a jurisdiction like Arlington, for example, that's pretty progressive that would like to do a lot of things. Whether it's better wages for working people or common sense gun protections, we don't have the authority to do that without the General Assembly's support, so changing the nature of the General Assembly would have huge consequences for places like Arlington and Alexandria and other jurisdictions in the region.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, if you have questions or comments for Katie Cristol. Fenit mentioned the immigration shelters. There's one planned for D.C., which we'll discuss later with our guest Vincent Gray. And another one planned for northern Virginia, how do you feel about that?
CRISTOLWell, we've been very clear. As the Arlington County Board, our Chairman Christian Dorsey released a statement on behalf of all of us just last week. And I know others across northern Virginia from the chair of Loudoun County to the Alexandria City Council and the mayor have as well. You know, in Arlington we have a big enough challenge trying to find facilities for the types of activities that actually support families. We are very uninterested in finding or making room for the type of facility that would further the goals of the Trump administration in removing children from their parents' care.
NNAMDIThere's a lot going on around the development of Amazon's H2Q including discussions about what it means for transportation. Bike advocates want Amazon to put in protected bike lanes, and those advocates include the Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt. He says Amazon should be upgrading bike lanes to protected lanes as long as they're pouring concrete and moving dirt they might as well go ahead with this. But how much of a say does the county have in that regard?
CRISTOLSo with regard to the specific site around H2Q there is a fair bit of oversight for the county. This is really the mechanism, the site plan that allows us to seek the maximum community interest and community goals. So that site plan that Amazon has proposed along with their development partner JBG, they've submitted their plans. And it's now going through what we call our Site Plan Review Committee Process. That is exactly the opportunity that we have to talk about things like transportation demand management, which is a wonky way of saying, will they have bike parking, etcetera, and it also allows us to talk about the infrastructure around and bike lanes are a great example.
CRISTOLSo that won't reach the county board until after it makes its way through that citizen advisory process. But I do suspect that not only bike lanes, but transportation management around the site is going to be a key topic.
NNAMDIWhat if Amazon simply says, Hell no?
CRISTOL(laugh) So, you know, we generally find what's helpful about the Site Plan Review Committee Process is that everyone whether it's citizens or the applicant in this case Amazon have the incentive to come to the table and participate. You can try to wait out that process. You know, say, we're not changing a thing about our Site Plan submission, but it generally isn't looked as favorably upon by the County Board. So as far as I can tell we've seen a lot of willingness to come to the table to comprise to iterate with the community in the part of Amazon and JBG, its development partner. So I hope that will continue.
NIRAPPILOne of the things we've heard from Amazon supporters is the impact in the community may not be too much if you have 25,000 employees who are coming in overtime and not overnight. But we have seen some early evidence of the housing pricing rising in anticipation of Amazon's arrival. Do you have concerns about that? And can you tell us more about what you're doing to prevent displacement of people?
CRISTOLIt's a great question.
NNAMDITwenty-five percent increase in the 22202 zip code in the past couple of months.
CRISTOLAnd in terms of home price listings I think.
CRISTOLSo I will that this occupies more of our thinking than almost anything else. This is a huge priority for us. I remain confident in the long term that if we are aggressive in adding the housing that we need not only in Arlington, but throughout the region and there's a lot at play to do that. We can talk about that a little bit more. That overtime we will see supply keeping up with demand for new housing to house either incoming workers or for people who may already be in the region that are interested in living closer to where they may be working. In the short term it's a little bit less necessarily about those microeconomics supply demand functions, and sometimes more about human behavior.
CRISTOLSo what we're seeing, for example, is a lot of individual homeowners deciding to pull their houses off the market until Amazon builds out. They think they have the opportunity to get a more favorable price, and they may be right. But what that means is our supply of homes for sale has constricted really dramatically pretty fast. And that's led to spikes in the listings prices, which we've seen.
CRISTOLI would note that where homes are being listed and what they actually sell for is a little bit different. Anecdotally I live not too far from the 22202 area. We had a home on the market that was listed next door to me and it was listed well below -- or excuse me well above what we thought might have been market price. And it stayed on the market until the price was actually lowered closer to what we might have seen, you know, a year ago before Amazon's announcement.
NNAMDIThe county is doing a study to look at affordable housing and as part of that may consider new zoning and financial incentives. What's the idea? And is this just a study at this point? How far off are likely changes?
CRISTOLAbsolutely, so we launched Housing Arlington a few months. And the idea was to create an umbrella under which we could bring a whole bunch of initiatives related to housing. I could talk all day about it. But I'll talk maybe most specifically about one spook in that wheel of Housing Arlington is thinking about what we call missing middle housing. And that's often times the zoning reform. I know you had a caller a few weeks ago from East Falls Church interested in what might be afoot for zoning reform in Arlington or elsewhere in the region. The idea simply is that we have a dramatic under supply of housing in the region.
CRISTOLCOG estimates -- Council of Government estimates right now it's probably about 45,000 fewer homes than there are people needing homes. That has huge consequences for affordability, etcetera. And so we need to be able to tackle not only the type of hyper dense development that you've seen in Arlington concentrated around the Metro quarters, but allow for addition creation of lower density home forms like duplexes or triplexes.
CRISTOLAnd that's a big area for Arlington to be begin to explore and that will be a key component of Housing Arlington.
NNAMDIHere's Nancy in Arlington, Virginia. Nancy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NANCYThank you for taking the call. Katie, just wanted to ask what is the county going to do about scooters? Hopefully ban them. They are such a problem. Most people I talk to hate them. They live them parked in the middle of sidewalks. I know somebody, who was hit by one and broke her nose as a result of the fall.
NNAMDIWhat do you think the county should do? You think the county should ban scooters, Nancy?
NNAMDIWell, let's hear what Katie Cristol thinks about that.
CRISTOLWell, Nancy, thank you so much for calling in. We have, as you might know a pilot underway about scooters to allow them to continue to operate in Arlington under some restrictions on maximum speeds, etcetera. While we study the issue, while we takes comments just like the one you shared with us, if you can believe it, we've had an open public comment forum on scooters. And it think we've received something like four times as many comments on electric scooters than we did on Amazon. That's how salient an issue it is to folks like Nancy. And really I'm sympathetic to the concerns about safety above all. Those are some of the top things that we are studying that we are listening to feedback on.
CRISTOLWe are considering a set of regulations that would be things, for example, like capping the top speeds at which they could go. Whether we want to cap the total numbers thinking about where they can go. Do we want to keep them, for example, off sidewalks and only allow them in bike lanes to, you know, protect pedestrians, etcetera. So there's a tremendous amount of study underway.
CRISTOLI don't know that it's likely that we are going to pick one extreme or the other in terms of regulation either outright banning all of them or allowing them to operate unfettered. You'll likely see something in between to try to balance the, again, tremendous amount of community interest in some very strongly held opinions.
NIRAPPILWhat do you see is the benefit of scooters?
CRISTOLSure. So they're definitely part of a multi module system, right? One of the things that we find that's really striking in Arlington is in the areas where our transit options are richest, you almost can't layer on too much transit, because when people can't take the Metro they are also more likely to take buses. And when they are more likely to take buses they are more likely to use bikes to connect that last half mile. And if they're more likely to use bikes then they're also more likely to use scooters. And all of those work the reverse way too.
CRISTOLSo there is a goal of having -- being able to accommodate more people without more cars in Arlington, I'd say that's actually one of our primary objectives these days to maintain quality of life, fight back against climate change, etcetera. And I think scooters can potentially play a role in that. However, exactly as Nancy indicated they can also be devils in some of our other community goals, like a safe environment for users of different mobility levels. You know, people who might, for example, use a wheelchair or me pushing a stroller around. So we're really trying to balance that interest serving those kind of multi module goals while also protecting the safety of everybody out on our sidewalks and streets.
NNAMDIIn other words, Nancy, no ban, at least not yet? Flooding has been an issue in Arlington including serious flash flooding on July 8th. Recently Arlington announced a local recovery center to help people navigate the resources and even provide loans. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
CRISTOLAbsolutely. So we've had a lot of Arlingtonians either homeowners in some cases businesses owners affected at a pretty devastating way by that flash flooding on July 8th. And so we have been trying to work with the federal government to make as accessible as possible the options that can help folks. That includes small business administration low interest loans, for example, to some extent some grants. Other supportive services and we've created a local outreach center a four mile run drive. If folks go to arlingtonva.us on our home page you'll see a link to all of these resources. You can go. Meet somebody from the federal administration, the recovery team as well as local support from Arlington County to try to help you as you maybe, for example, consider rebuilding.
CRISTOLOne of the things we've done at a local level is designate an expeditor in our Permitting and Zoning Office to really help anyone who's been affected by flooding, who may be trying to put in a new HVAC system or a larger rebuild and needs the permits to do that.
CRISTOLWe want to make sure that we are clearing a path to do that as expeditiously as possible.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. I have to go check on Carrie. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Katie Cristol. She's a member of the Arlington County Board. If you have questions or comments for her give us a call at 800-433-8850. Our guest analyst today is Fenit Nirappil. He's a reporter covering D.C. government and politics with The Washington Post. Coming up later in the broadcast, D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Our guest analyst is Fenit Nirappil. He covers D.C. government and politics for The Washington Post. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with D.C. Councilmember and Former Mayor Vincent Gray. Joining us in studio is Katie Cristol, a member of the Arlington County Board. If you have questions or comments for her, give us a call 800-433-8850. We've talking about the flooding recently in Arlington County. Many residents are frustrated about sewer overflows during that flood. County says it's not going to pay for the cost of cleanup for backups into people's homes. Why not and might these loans that we're talking about help home and business owners with this issue?
CRISTOLSo the second answer is the easier one. Yes, absolutely. So if your property has been damaged, you are likely eligible for some of the supportive services we were just describing before the break, and really would encourage you to pay a visit to our local flood assistance center to see what you might be eligible for and how we can help. The capacity of our sewer system -- excuse of our storm water system generally and our storm sewer system has been a huge topic of conversation since the flooding on July 8th. Folks want to make sure that we have the appropriate infrastructure to serve a community, and particularly a community that's growing.
CRISTOLYou know, essentially in a nutshell, we have a sewer system that is in a state of very good repair. We've devoted a lot of resources to maintaining it that way, extending the life and reinforcing our storm system. It's been a huge priority in our Capital Improvement Plan, etcetera. But our storm sewer system is designed for a ten-year storm. That's a storm that has a 10 percent of a probability of occurring in each year. And, you know, I think the jury is still out on whether it was a once in a 250 year or 500 year storm that we experienced on the 8th.
CRISTOLAnd I think the hard question that is before us is with climate change with increased flooding do we need to be taking a hard look at redesigning a storm sewer system for -- or excuse me a storm water management system for floods where, for example, in July 8th, I think we got something like five inches of rain in an hour. And what would it cost in terms of the property implications and certainly in terms of our capital dollars to build out a system that way.
NIRAPPILYou are among the dozens of elected officials who came out and called for Ralph Northam to resign after the disclosure of the racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, and his own admission that he did dress up in a blackface when he was performing in a dance competition. He didn't resign. He's still in office. So where do you stand? Do you still think that he's fit to lead the state of the Commonwealth of Virginia or were you too quick to call for his resignation?
CRISTOLNo. I remain disappointed actually. You know, I joined with others and one of the reasons that I thought it was important for him to resign and that I still is that he'd lost the confidence of many Virginians of color that he could represent them in their interest. I think about our agenda right now as Virginia Democrats. Whether it's trying to advance educationally opportunity, create more housing affordability or provide good paying jobs and economic opportunity and all of those things ought to be motivated by the idea of racial equity. And to have a governor who does not have credibility on those issues I think undermines that agenda.
CRISTOLSo I do remain disappointed. My note of optimism is that in 2017, we elected an extraordinary slate of candidates, who actually do represent the full diversity of Virginia racially, also economically in terms of gender, etcetera. And I'm very excited about some of our candidates for the General Assembly in 2019 who I think will continue to carry that message forward. I think they really will represent the future of a more diverse and inclusive Virginia Democratic Party.
NNAMDIHere's Rob in Arlington. Rob, your turn.
ROBHi. Thanks for taking my call. I have a couple of concerns about all this additional housing. I know all these people are coming in from Amazon. Where are their kids going to go to school, because the schools are already overcrowded? And our park land is very stressed as well. What does the County Board want to do about those things?
CRISTOLSure. Thanks for the question, Rob. Absolutely, and I think Amazon has put a pretty fine point on this question about how we are going to provide housing for more folks coming to the region for jobs. But one of the things that we've emphatic about is that this region has had a dramatic under supply of housing as has Arlington County well before Amazon and it likely would have without. So the question becomes, I think exactly as Rob is asking, how do we make room in our public facilities for more neighbors in Arlington County. Schools is one of the biggest components of that. It's been a huge area of emphasis for us in the County Board partnering with our school board to find the facilities and the land.
CRISTOLWe have three new schools opening just a couple of weeks after Labor Day, which is going to help alleviate some the capacity crunch, allow more growth. And we're also starting to try to plan out for a longer term, maybe even 30 or 40 years. We have, for example, a comprehensive that guides how Arlington will grow in terms of housing, park land, etcetera.
CRISTOLBut we don't have one yet for public facilities like schools. That's something that we've been working on.
NNAMDIRob, thank you very much for your call. This week results of standardized tests across Virginia came out. And they show in some cases continued gaps between black and Hispanic and white and Asian students. Arlington County was no exception. Arlington Public Schools responded saying, closing the opportunity gap is a top priority. How is the county supporting that effort?
CRISTOLThat's a great question. This has been a major topic of conversation. We also have an advocacy group, the Black Parents of Arlington who've published school by school data, which I know has received some coverage as well about where those gaps are and how they look. Not only in a performance on the standards of learning, but also in students identified for opportunities like advanced placement or gifted and talented. We strongly support our school board, which I think is focused on the right issues. They're focused on trying to get a better bead on what the data means. For example, I know our chair of the school board is very interested in how do we disaggregate data between English language learners and Latino students, what can that tell us?
CRISTOLAt the county level, I really believe the most important thing that we can be doing is focusing on the kind of housing strategies that will diversify our neighborhoods because right now our school board when they make boundary decisions have to choose between walkable schools or integrated schools. And that's the result of housing patterns in Arlington County. And that's something they don't have authority over.
CRISTOLOnly the County Board does. So, you know, again, when I talk about the need to introduce different housing forms throughout neighborhoods that have been historically segregated through redlining or racial covenants. Part of the opportunity is to introduce some demographic and economic diversity into all of our neighborhoods so that our schools reflect that as well.
NIRAPPILAre the schools too segregated right now?
CRISTOLI think they are. I don't think it's too strong of a comment to say exactly that. And I will tell you actually, I hear that as often from parents whose kids are in majority white schools as I do in kids' parents whose kids are in more diverse schools. We're a pretty progressive place in Arlington. Most folks like the diversity of our community and I frequently hear from folks whose kids' school might be 80 or 85 percent Caucasian that they'd like to see the school reflect some of the rich cultural heritage that the rest of Arlington does.
NNAMDIHere's Rich in south Arlington, Virginia. Rich, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHHi, Katie. Hi, Kojo. I live on the Columbia Pike Corridor and it's the busiest bus route in the State of Virginia. And I'm wondering what is the Board's plan to improve (unintelligible) on Columbia Pike as we were promised after the streetcar was rejected? Thank you.
CRISTOLRich, you're my neighbor. I live in Douglas Park myself off of Columbia Pike. So I'm very personally invested in this interest as a bus rider and Columbia Pike resident too. So there is a plan that we adopted shortly after I joined the Board in 2015-2016 for what we're calling premium bus service along Columbia Pike. Some of that the more kind of programmatic side has been implemented in terms of improving the bus routes so that we get people more effectively to the District and to Pentagon City with a one seat ride, but that's not as visible. And I know that I and a lot of my neighbors in Columbia Pike are looking for a symbol of that investment, and so that is I'm happy to say on the way. We've created a system -- or plan rather for a system of transit stations. Sometimes folks say, these are bus stops, why are they expensive? But the reality is they are transit stations.
CRISTOLAnd if you know the transit way, for example, in Crystal City, you can picture what those look like. Raised curbs so that you have folks able to level board, get on the buses faster, the idea that you can load two or three buses at once, so you don't have that situation where two buses are queued up behind the first waiting for it to load and unload. The goal really is to be able to get people on and off those buses. Reduce -- term is called dwell time. If you can make it so that each bus has to quote/unquote "dwell" at each station for three to five minutes less that starts to add up to 20-30 minutes along the Columbia Pike Corridor just in Arlington. And we start to see more buses moving through faster and more effectively to get folks where they're going.
CRISTOLSo you should start to see shovels in the ground on the first of those transit stations later this year. We just awarded the contract. And there will be a lot more to come. So thanks for bearing with us, Rich. I as a Columbia Pike resident agree it's been a little slow.
NNAMDIDon't have a lot of time left, but here's Catherine in Restin, Virginia. Catherine, your turn.
CATHERINEHi, thanks for taking my call. I'd like to talk about the center for children. I wondered if rather than, you know, not allowing it to be in the area why not negotiate terms where it could be a more humane place for children to live. Could they have community support? Could they -- you know, could we negotiate for them to have school while they're there? And sort of become an example where if this has to happen, which it's going to happen anyway unfortunately, how can we do it in the most humane way possible?
CRISTOLKatherine, thank you so much for this question. I know this has been raised by others, too, in terms of can there be access for attorneys, for example, to folks who may -- or children who may be detained here. The reality that I think we have found -- whether it's negotiating the future of Arlington National Cemetery, or anything else -- is, unfortunately, localities have a relatively weak bargaining position with the federal government, if we're going to let them into our communities to operate a facility like this. I don't know that it is, I don't think it is realistic that we could negotiate the terms to create a facility that would reflect our values about how children and how immigrant families ought to be treated.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Katie Cristol is a member of the Arlington County Board. She's a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
CRISTOLIt's been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with Vincent Gray. It's the Ward 7 Councilmember in the District, a Democrat and former mayor of the District. And, of course, our guest analyst, Fenit Nirappil, is a reporter covering D.C. government and politics for the Washington Post. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. This is the Politics Hour. Our guest Tom Sherwood is away. Our guest analyst is Fenit Nirappil. He's a reporter who covers D.C. government and politics with the Washington Post. Fenit Nirappil joins us in studio. And joining us now in studio is Vincent Gray. He is the Ward 7 Councilmember in the District. He's a Democrat, and the former mayor of the District of Columbia. Vince Gray, thank you so much for joining us.
VINCENT GRAYThank you, Kojo. I appreciate it. Fenit, how are you today?
NIRAPPILI'm doing well. Good to have you on.
GRAYThanks a lot. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIThere's news in the Washington Post that broke at about 11:45 this morning having to do with one member of the D.C. Council who was also the chair of the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Fenit Nirappil, could you kindly describe exactly what happened?
NIRAPPILSure. So, we have a new development about Councilmember Jack Evans. So, as some of our listeners may be aware, Jack Evans has been under scrutiny for his private business dealings over the past several months. The D.C. Council reprimanded him and launched their own investigation. And WMATA launched an internal investigation into his consulting dealings and his actions on the WMATA board.
NIRAPPILAnd so what our latest report shows is that during this investigation, Jack Evans had threatened the jobs of several employees for WMATA for their role in the ethics inquiry and trying to publically disclose the conflict of interest that they unearthed during this investigation. So, this report shows, behind the scenes, what was happening during this WMATA investigation and how Jack Evans was trying to put (unintelligible)...
NNAMDI(overlapping) How exactly did he threaten their jobs?
NIRAPPILAccording to the notes from board members, he had made references to the potential of them getting fired. And this is the Metro's general council and a board secretary, specifically.
NNAMDIMm-hmm. 800-433-8850. Vince Gray, I know you're just hearing this information, like most of the public is, but what do you think this means for Jack Evans' future on the Council?
GRAYWell, I think it, you know, continues to raise questions. As you know, Kojo, the Council has authorized an investigation, which is ongoing at this stage. And Chairman Mendelson has asked -- and I appreciate the fact that he has done this -- he's asked that they complete their investigation by early September. I think that information will be very important to councilmembers as we try to make decisions as to what's next with Jack.
GRAYAs you might imagine, it's very disconcerting for a member who's been on the Council for 30-plus years, to find themselves in the set of circumstances that he's in. You know, then to hear this latest information about the story that was just released by the Washington Post is even more disconcerting. So, we'll look forward to getting the report, and then the Council will make some decisions in the aftermath of that. The Council comes back after recess on September 16th. And based on this latest information, and whatever report we get, I'm sure that'll be at the top of the agenda in terms of discussion.
NNAMDII was just about to ask, how is it likely to affect Council business when you're back in session in the fall? It'll move to the top of the agenda.
GRAYIt probably will, Kojo. In fact, this has been an agenda item now for a number of weeks. The Metro issue was a further part of helping to establish the agenda around this discussion. And whatever the information is we get back from this report, I'm sure will be at the top of the agenda, as well.
NIRAPPILSo, there have been multiple revelations already. We know that Jack Evans used Council email to send business proposals to law firms, where he laid out all of his connections as an elected official as a reason for them to hire him, in addition to his duties on the D.C. Council. We know that he tried to use his position on the WMATA board to get WMATA to launch an investigation into a parking company that was a competitor to one of his paying clients.
NIRAPPILSo, we have all this information that's already unearthed. So, what are you looking for from the D.C. Council's investigation? What kind of information do you need to come to a conclusion on what needs to be done with Jack Evans?
GRAYI think the investigation will help to answer questions around, you know, specifically what kind of wrongdoing there has been. And, frankly, in part, whether there'll be any criminal wrongdoing found for Jack's behavior. The U.S. Attorney's office, obviously, is involved in an investigation, as well. They raided his home, you know, a number of weeks ago. And I suspect, I don't know, but I don't what the scope of the investigation is. And I suspect that the firmness in conducting this investigation will gather all the information that's available to them and put it in the report, which I know many members are looking forward to reading, and probably don't look forward to any revelations that may come out.
NNAMDIOnto another topic, Mayor Bowser pushing back against a planned shelter for unaccompanied migrant children in Washington. She says the city has no intention of accepting the facility. And her administration is the one that issues the licenses needed for such shelters to open. What do you think about this whole idea of a shelter?
GRAYWell, I support the mayor in terms of the fact that she's not supporting putting a shelter. I mean, we have enough people who are homeless in the District of Columbia now, families who are homeless in the District of Columbia. There are many children who find themselves without a permanent place to live. So, I support the effort not to establish another shelter in the District of Columbia.
GRAYYou know, and it raises the question, of course, about the Trump Administration, because they've created so much of the problems associated with this. You now, his stance on immigration is absolutely reprehensible to me. And he needs to step up and show how the federal government will address this issue.
NNAMDIBut you've been to the mayor. Does the mayor have the power to simply say, we're not issuing this license? Can the city stand up to the president in that way?
GRAYI think so. I think we have -- I stood up to the president on more than one occasion when I was the mayor at one time, of course. You know, standing up to efforts to try to stop the District of Columbia from having rights that we knew we were entitled to. And I think the citizens of the District of Columbia by and large will support the mayor's efforts. I suspect that many councilmembers will probably feel the same way. I know this councilmember does feel that way, so we'll see.
NIRAPPILCouncilmember, how would you describe your relationship with Mayor Bowser? And for some of the listeners who may not know, Mayor Bowser unseated you in 2014. And you considered a rematch in 2018, but you passed on it. How would you describe the way you two get along now?
GRAYWell, we're trying to work together. You know, we have mutual interests in terms of -- and this specific instance, for me -- being able to move forward the needs and address those needs of people who live in Ward 7. And we certainly have tried to work together on some of these issues. For example, we just had a ground -- a topping off ceremony for Skyland, which is a town center that I worked, you know, mightily on as mayor. And we had a topping off ceremony that also announced, again, the fact that Lidl -- which is a grocery store -- will be coming to Skyland.
GRAYSo, I think we both recognize the importance of us being able to work together, the importance of us being able to get things done on behalf of the people of the District of Columbia. And so, in that regard, I think we've been working pretty well.
NNAMDIHere is Shari, in Northeast Washington. Shari, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHARIGood afternoon, Kojo and Councilmember Gray. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo.
SHARII was calling to ask about the status of the negotiations to build a new hospital on the grounds of St. Elizabeth Hospital. Is the company that owns DW Hospital -- I think it's Universal Health Services, which is based in Pennsylvania -- are they still in the picture? And just what is the status of those negotiations? And where are we at in terms of progress in terms of building a...
NNAMDI(overlapping) I know it's been one of Councilmember Gray's priorities, but go ahead.
GRAYYes, it is. And as mayor it was one of my priorities, also. The Universal Health Services, which operates George Washington University Hospital, is still very much in the picture. We've worked pretty hard to try to get that contract delivered to the Council so that action can be taken on it. I know that there's been a lot of effort with Howard University, also. We've had lots of expressions of interest on their behalf.
GRAYSome may have realized that Howard is just incident to an arrangement with Adventist Hospital, to operate their hospital on Georgia Avenue. What that probably means is that they will not have, you know, the same level of interest in operating a hospital on the grounds of St. Elizabeth's. So, the process of selecting the contractor to operate the hospital was in the mayor's ballpark. And that's what they did.
GRAYI got involved in it because I have such strong interests in healthcare. And people should understand, it's not just building a hospital. It's building a health care system, which really doesn't exist, for the most part, in Wards 7 and 8 where 150,000 people live. So, the hospital is very much alive. We were able, to the caller, that we were able to get the timetable moved up by a year. It had been slated for 2023, to be finished. Now, we got it moved up in the budget to be finished by the end of the calendar year, 2022.
NNAMDIBut what kind of hospital will it be? You're pushing for a community hospital that wouldn't include specialty services, while Councilmember Silverman wants to see a hospital with specialty care. What are you hearing from your constituents about what they want from a new hospital?
GRAYWell, we're trying to be clear about a community hospital. A community hospital includes many of the services that people want. I think what people want is a real health care system. They want to be able to have the services that they would be able to find in any community.
GRAYYou know, we have clinics, for example, in Wards 7 and 8. We are looking to bring -- there'll be a medical building that will bring additional doctors to where the hospital is located. There will be a lot of services that people don't necessarily associate with a hospital.
GRAYIn addition to that, GW, as many people know, operates a number of specialty services itself. And those services will be available, as well, to people who are living in Wards 7 and 8. So, there won't be a lack of services at all. There'll be lots of services that will be available to the people of 7 and 8, and we look forward to that.
NIRAPPILWhat's the backup plan for your constituents if negotiations for this new hospital fall apart and they're left with United Medical Center, which is the public hospital that’s funding a subsidy decrease?
GRAYWell, I don't know that we have a -- we don't have a finalized backup plan, Fenit, at this stage. The issue will be trying to continue with the negotiations with Universal, with GW, to be able to get this done. I mean, we could always start all over again, but nobody wants to do that. We think that a good operator has been selected in Universal Health Services. They continue to express their strong interest in doing this, and we're glad that they are. So, we're going to continue to work with them to try to bring finalization to this.
NNAMDIEarlier this summer, Unity Health Care and Sibley Hospital joined forces to partner on a new cancer care clinic east of the river, or, as you like to say, in the east end. What will that look like?
GRAYActually, Sibley has stepped up. I've been working very closely with them also, Kojo. They obviously are on the west end of the District of Columbia. They're now operated by one of the finest health providers in the entire world, and that's Johns Hopkins. They're owned by Johns Hopkins, and a lot of their services, of course, come through Johns Hopkins, at this stage.
GRAYWhat this will look like is there will be oncology cancer services, ontological services, a variety of cancer services will be provided by Sibley Hospital, initially, and an agreement's been signed initially in the Parkside Unity Clinic. And we're hoping that they will expand their services beyond that. I participated in a program with them just a few weeks ago, in which -- they have this program called Infinity, which is reaching out extensively to the community to learn what people's needs are, how they feel about adding additional services.
GRAYIt was incredibly well-attended. There must've been a couple hundred people who were there. They're happy that Sibley's bringing these additional services. And I think what it does -- to go back to your question, Fenit, what's the backup plan -- it's being able to develop a panoply of services like this, like bringing Sibley and bringing others to the table who are health care providers who can augment what we're trying to do at this stage.
NNAMDISpeaking of health care, that's what Starr in Washington wants to talk about. Starr, your turn.
STARRThank you very much for taking my call. With all due respect to Councilmember Gray, I'm wondering why we, as citizens here, should have confidence in his commitment to health care, given his abject failure to really defend the community's interest in keeping Providence Hospital open. As I understand it, the committee that he headed, when it held hearings on the situation at Providence drastically curtailing services, they never even called the owners or the new owners to testify at the meeting, which shows a lot of contempt for the community.
STARRAnd I believe that a community activist named Angela Mitchell made a very good point in asking why imminent domain didn't obtain in the case of what was...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Allow me to have Councilmember Gray respond.
GRAYI think we fought very hard to keep Providence open. As a matter of fact, we had not one, but two hearings, one in October and another in November, about the threat to close. This was sprung very inappropriately and quickly onto the community. It was last July when they announced that they were going to close the hospital. We were given no warning. Our committee got no information on it. And that's when we called a hearing.
GRAYI called a hearing with Kenyan McDuffie, in whose ward, of course, Providence is located. So, I would take exception to, you know, the assertion that we were not successful. As a matter of fact, they were going to close the hospital completely on December 14th, and we got the hospital to stay open until the end of April, continuing to provide services, some of which were inpatient services. Providence has now announced that they are going to operate a health village at the same site. And they've now opened an urgent care center, of which there is a great need in the District of Columbia.
GRAYSo, I would take exception again to the assertion that, you know, we were not successful in what we tried to do.
NNAMDI(overlapping) What about the eminent domain issue that Starr raised?
GRAYWell, eminent domain would require the city to take over operating what used to be Providence Hospital. There would have to be costs associated with taking over the buildings. We actually did that when I was mayor -- when I was council chair, and did that with Skyland. That's how we got control of the properties at Skyland. And then we had to pay out, you know, the costs that were associated with the buildings that were on the site, at that point.
GRAYI don't think that that's a good idea at all for the Council to do that, or the city to do that. It'll be very expensive. And what we need to do is get a healthcare system in place, as we're working to do in Ward 7 and 8.
NIRAPPILIt's summer now. This is the time that we usually see spikes in homicide in D.C. And there's been several in your ward, as well. Do you think the police are keeping up with their commitments for the east end of the city, and is the city on the right track for its approach to homicides?
GRAYWell, one of the things that I have argued for as others have argued for, and that is making sure that we have the NEAR Act properly implemented, putting in place violence interrupters, people who can work with folks in the community, you know, in order to try to stop things from happening in the first place. I was one of those who argued at a point -- not solely, but argued for adding additional police officers. But I want to make sure it's clear that that's in concert with having violence interrupters working in our communities, as well.
GRAYThere's a commitment that's been made to add additional police officers. I think we're somewhere in the neighborhood of -- I'm not sure exactly what the number is now. We have 100-plus homicides in the District of Columbia, at this stage. We've had an increase in homicides in Ward 7. This time last year, we had -- we have about 60 percent increase in Ward 7 of homicides, at this stage. So, that's disconcerting, but you're seeing gun homicides especially increasing all over the country. I mean, look at what happened, you know, in Dayton, and look at what happened in El Paso, what happened in areas of California.
GRAYSome of this, frankly, is the rhetoric coming out of the White House, in my opinion, also. This president needs to slow his rhetoric down. I really think he is encouraging people who otherwise might be predisposed and not do something. I think it's emboldening some of them to do the things that they're doing at this point. And so it would be helpful if he stopped some of the rhetoric in which he engages. I would hope that we get some legislation coming through, you know, gun checks. That we get the red flag legislation coming through the Congress which I think will facilitate being able to close some of that down.
NNAMDIWe only have about three minutes left. Your colleague, Councilmember Charles Allen, has proposed the bill which you cosponsored that would allow incarcerated individuals who are convicted of violent crimes they committed before the age of 25 to apply for resentencing. It's been attacked by the U.S. Attorney's office, as well as the Washington Post editorial board, which says that an example of D.C., quoting here, "going too far on criminal reform." What's your view?
GRAYWell, one of the things that concerns me, Kojo, is the number of people -- especially in the District of Columbia -- who wind up incarcerated for lengthy periods. If we can responsibly do something that will give people a chance to be back in their community -- and this will have to be responsibly done, there's no question about that. It will take, you know, in depth understanding of the personalities of the people we're talking about bringing back to our community. And it needs to be done on a case-by-case basis. But where there's opportunities, I think, to effectively reintegrate people into a community in a responsible way, I think we should do it.
NNAMDIHere is Elaine in Falls Church, Virginia. Elaine, your turn.
ELAINEHi, Mayor Councilmember Gray. I appreciate your dedication to Ward 7.
ELAINEI'm an attorney, and do you remember my name? I worked on the Skyland project.
ELAINEI represented some of the original property owners.
ELAINEAnd you mentioned how expensive that was. It certainly was, but the District used millions of dollars of HUD money, Community Development Block Grant funds. And I think they've also now used the EB5 funding. Anyway, as far as I know, the District never met the HUD requirements to, quote, "benefit low or moderate income persons." And, as far as I know, HUD's still reviewing that. That's still an open matter. And, also, I don't know what the status is of affordable housing at the Skyland project.
NNAMDIStatus of affordable housing at the Skyland project.
GRAYYeah, there will be affordable housing at Skyland. There will be -- when Skyland is finished, there will be over 500 units of housing. The first phase will have about 250 units of housing. And, in addition, there will be lots of amenities that will be available to people. Elaine, I'm sure you will remember what happened with Walmart. That was a horrific situation, and with Lidl coming down to Skyland Town Center, that's going to help to compensate for the amenities that people deserve and didn't get, as a result of that.
GRAYAs far as the HUD situation's concerned, I don't know what the status of it is, anymore. I was under the impression that that had been settled. But if it's not, I will certainly look at learning more.
NNAMDI(overlapping) You only have about a minute left, Fenit.
NIRAPPILYour ward opened up a new medical marijuana dispensary this week. Would you like to see the legalization of recreational dispensaries? And if so, under what conditions?
GRAYYeah, I don't know if I have a specific answer on the conditions under which, but, yes, you know, medical marijuana, of course, is an important part of treatment for lots of folks in the District of Columbia. I've had conversations with a number of people who are medical marijuana users. And most of them support recreational marijuana, as well. So, yes, I would suppose having recreational marijuana opportunities available to people. And this is a first in Ward 7, to be able to open a medical dispensary. And we'll see where it goes from there.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Vincent Gray is the Ward 7 councilmember in the District. He's a Democrat, and the former mayor of D.C. Mayor Gray, thank you so much for joining us.
GRAYThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIGuest analyst, Fenit Nirappil. He's a reporter covering D.C. government and politics with the Washington Post. Fenit, always a pleasure.
NIRAPPILThanks for having me.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff. Today is Ingalisa's last day as the managing producer of The Kojo Nnamdi Show. She's been with the show for nearly a decade, and from the very beginning, her hard work, her keen intellect and her kindness have been a cornerstone of this team.
NNAMDIOur Kojo 20 year-long celebration would not have been possible without her leadership. But she's not going far. She'll be joining the WAMU newsroom in a new role that I think is perfect for her, but she will always be a part of The Kojo Show family. So, Ingalisa, thank you for bringing us so far. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. We'll be back here Monday, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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