D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) at D.C.'s inauguration and swearing-in ceremony in 2015.

D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) at D.C.'s inauguration and swearing-in ceremony in 2015.

Political science professor Rachel Bitecofer joins us to talk about her forecast for the upcoming Virginia elections. Will the Democrats win control of the General Assembly? How will the “Trump bump,” redistricted areas and scandals in Virginia’s leadership impact the November 5 elections?

Then, we talk with D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) about an amendment to the First Source law, the latest with D.C. sports betting, medical marijuana use in schools and more.

Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Produced by Cydney Grannan


  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
  • Rachel Bitecofer Assistant Director of the Wason Center and Political Science Professor at Christopher Newport University; @RachelBitecofer
  • Elissa Silverman Member, D.C. Council (I-At Large); @CM_Silverman


  • 12:00:21

    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 writing for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.

  • 12:00:40

    TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.

  • 12:00:41

    NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Elissa Silverman. She is an at-large member of the D.C. Council. Joining us in studio now is Rachel Bitecofer. She is the Assistant Director of the Wason Center and a Political Science Professor at Christopher Newport University. Rachel, good to see you again.

  • 12:00:56

    RACHEL BITECOFEROh, thanks so much for having me back.

  • 12:00:58

    NNAMDIBefore we get to Virginia, Tom Sherwood, the Montgomery County Executive Mark Elrich has finally picked a new police chief, and it's not a new police chief. This is the individual who has been acting as police chief for the longest while, the individual who Mr. Elrich indicated at some point was not going to be chosen for the position. But after several of the candidates he had been favoring declined or withdrew from consideration, he has now landed on the current acting chief, Marcus Jones.

  • 12:01:31

    SHERWOODIt's been a difficult time since long-time Chief Tom Manger announced retirement in January, and then retired in April. And the county executive had said that while he thought Manger had done a great job and been in place for a long while, he wanted a chief from outside the county, someone who would come in and maybe, with fresh eyes, address the issues of police de-escalation tactics, whether that should be done more in the changing county and racial profiling and other issues that had been raised as issues within the police department. So, he did look at two other people, Tracy Chapman from Portsmouth and Darryl McSwain, who's a former Montgomery police official who now works in the Capital Parks. I don't know his official title. It's too long for me to ever remember it. And he had told Marcus Jones, "You're a great guy, but I'm looking for someone outside the force." Well, now he has done his -- Elrich said he will nominate -- is nominating Marcus Jones.

  • 12:02:31

    SHERWOODJones has a good reputation among the councilmembers. I suspect he'll be approved with very little conversation. But then he also will address the issues Elrich is concerned about, which is racial profiling and de-escalation of events between police officers and citizens.

  • 12:02:48

    NNAMDIAnd, yesterday, the entire nation and perhaps much of the world watched the hearing that was taking place in the U.S. House of Representatives over the inquiry -- the impeachment inquiry, I guess it's inquiry -- into President Donald Trump. A lot of Democrats who signed to that impeachment procedure didn't sign on until late in the game, and at least two of them were from Virginia, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger and Representative Elaine Luria. Is that because they are in swing districts and were concerned?

  • 12:03:24

    SHERWOODWell, they are, in fact, part of swing districts. They defeated Republicans to win those seats in the big election results of 2018. But, you know, all this discussion we're getting into maybe a short time later about Ukraine and Trump and what he did or didn't do has galvanized some Democrats who are reluctant to go forward, far more so than the Muller Report did. And so every sitting member of Congress in the Washington region now has come out in favor of an impeachment hearing by the House, except for Rob Whitman. He's from the First District. He represents roughly around Fredericksburg, down to Newport News. He's a Republican. He has not endorsed this impeachment hearing. But it clearly -- that Ukraine -- and we'll get into this in a moment. The Ukraine matter has significantly changed the table setup.

  • 12:04:19

    NNAMDICare to comment, Rachel?

  • 12:04:20

    BITECOFERYeah. No, definitely. I think it's really important that we separate the previously impeachment atmosphere, the question about it, members' positions on it.

  • 12:04:29

    SHERWOODThe Mueller part.

  • 12:04:29

    BITECOFERYeah. We separate the way that people were assessing, you know, what Democrats should do and whether Trump should be held, you know, into this impeachment inquiry with these events of the last week, because this scandal is very different. We're talking about a sitting president with allegations of a massive criminal, you know, cover-up involving, you know, presidential powers to ask -- pressure a foreign president into election interference in the next election. And I think that's why you see people, you know, doubling nearly in the Democratic caucus of people who say, "Look, we can't not impeach." So, keep thinking about this, I think, in the wrong way.

  • 12:05:11

    NNAMDIThere's a message on our website that really mirrors what is in Tom and my head to ask you: How does Professor Bitecofer think the latest news about Trump, Ukraine and impeachment might impact the November 5th Virginia General Assembly elections?

  • 12:05:24

    BITECOFERI figured that question would come up. And I'll tell you what this is going to -- so, there are two parts, I think, of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters. There's part of the coalition that says, "Look, you know, we look at the Mueller Report, we have an unindicted documentation of obstruction of justice." And that was enough to them to warrant removal from office. And they were frustrated that the Democrats were putting electoral politics ahead of action. And then you had, you know, the ones that were making the electoral calculus and saying, "Yeah, those are not great activities, but we're not going to move forward." Right? Now that caucus is no longer divided. It's all together. And the people who wanted action along with the people who were reticent understand now that we're facing a real environment of corruption in the White House. And what's going to happen with Republican state office holders will probably mirror what we're seeing for Republican member of Congress.

  • 12:06:23

    BITECOFERThey're going to take the position that the real issue was the exposure of the wrongdoing, not the wrongdoing itself. I think that's going to further complicate things for the GOP.

  • 12:06:33

    SHERWOODYou've done in your reporting, in your research and the report you did on the upcoming Virginia elections, that Trump is a drag on Republicans. That they're -- many of the independent voters don't particularly like him. He has never been that popular in the state, to begin with. How important is it to the Republican State House, people running in the House and Senate, to distance themselves at least a little bit from Trump? Or do they go whole-hog all in with him?

  • 12:07:00

    BITECOFERSo, it would dependent on whether they're in a deep red district or a marginal district. But these -- you've really got to emphasize with these marginal district members, because this has not been a great week for them. They had to tow this line between not angering Republican voters who universally love Trump. But, you know, independents are -- you know, his strongly disapprove is bigger than his somewhat disapprove numbers among independents. Much bigger. So, people are much more passionately aligned against him than they are, like, meh, against him. And that's a big problem when you're trying to run, you know, in the middle and get over those persuasion voters.

  • 12:07:38

    SHERWOODYou said, obviously, turn out matters, whether it will be an emotionally driven move by Republicans or Democrats could make obviously a big difference. You also have said that you have a new poll in the field. I don't know if it's still in the field, and that you were going to release the poll at the end of September. I point out that today is late September. When is the new poll going to come? Over the weekend, or early next week?

  • 12:08:00

    BITECOFERSo, yeah. That's the mercy of running a small academic survey research lab with a 24 student seats in it. We had some technical problems from a software upgrade that destructed our workflow, and we got a late start. So we'll be putting at the beginning of October, instead.

  • 12:08:16

    SHERWOODBut early October.

  • 12:08:17

    BITECOFERYeah. For sure.

  • 12:08:18

    SHERWOODFor the November 5th election in Virginia.

  • 12:08:19

    BITECOFERYeah. We're going to be doing a couple polls, though. This one is a bigger, packaged poll. So, it asks -- along with the horse race and the control of the Assembly and generic ballot questions -- it also asks about some of the issues that will be, you know, under consideration by voters in the election.

  • 12:08:37

    SHERWOODWill Ukraine your poll?

  • 12:08:38

    BITECOFERNo. Ukraine won't be, but President Trump's approval rating is tracked in this poll. And so, we will be able to see what happened pre and post this scandal in his approval rating.

  • 12:08:47

    NNAMDIBefore we dive into your predictions, can you set the scene for us? How has Virginia's General Assembly changed since the last off-off year election in 2015?

  • 12:08:56

    BITECOFERSo, the General Assembly has changed dramatically, and it's all about Donald Trump. I mean, Trump has been the worst thing that could have ever happened to the State Republican Party in Virginia. His election basically knocked them out of competition for statewide office. But it also had this dramatic effect on their power of distribution in the House of Delegates in the 2017 election, where they lost 15 of their seats. And they went from a, you know, really robust majority to just a two-seat majority. And they really only survived that on a drawing for lots, right? And the State Senate has not yet been subjected to the Trump bump electorate. So, in this 2019 cycle, we've got a State Senate that's never seen this new electorate, and we've got a House of Delegates that there was ground -- Democrats didn't press -- really understand their advantage in 2017 and press properly. But, more importantly, a redistricting from the courts that is going to make some of those House Delegates -- including the Republican Speaker Kirk Cox's own district is one of the most competitively drawn districts now in the state.

  • 12:10:04

    SHERWOODNow, you're not a Democrat. You're a pollster -- or what is your own political? Some people say, "Oh, she's just some Democratic pollster." Tell us a little bit about you before my next question.

  • 12:10:14

    BITECOFERYeah. Sure. I'm happy to do that. I'm pretty frank about my political affiliation. So, I've long been an independent, and I haven't really changed my political views all that much over the course of the last 20 years. But the parties have changed quite a bit, especially the Republican Party, which has been pushed to the right. And then, you know, underwent, really, a civil war.

  • 12:10:35

    SHERWOODAnd If they Google you, they're not going to find that you're some advocate for this or that?

  • 12:10:39

    BITECOFERNo, no, no. I don't engage in partisan politics. You know, I don't do any paid work for political parties. Our polling center at CNU is an academic outfit. So, we do none-profit work for people, you know, groups like civic groups, or what have you.

  • 12:10:53


  • 12:10:53

    BITECOFERBut we don't do any political work, at all.

  • 12:10:55

    SHERWOODThe reason I ask because you've mentioned the Trump bump.

  • 12:10:57


  • 12:10:57

    SHERWOODBut you're also say in your most recent report that the redistricting that took place in the middle of the state and changed 25 different seats looks to be -- using your word -- catastrophic for the Republicans if they don't do something miraculous to turn out.

  • 12:11:17

    BITECOFERYeah. I mean, certainly, when we're looking at a turn out election, though, of 30 percent, it does not take much, right? So, in theory, you know, if the Democrats were doing impeachment over the Mueller Report, I would say the impeachment politics could play out in the favor of the state GOP, because we're talking about an off-off year cycle when no one is paying attention to politics, and it's going to be the side that gets most galvanized. And the right-wing media sphere is obviously going to be instrumental in that. But what we're talking about instead is a really much more clear-cut and transient, obvious, you know, issue that happened in the office, and it involves the attorney general. I think the politics are less clear as to who it's going to excite more, especially as we see Republicans line up in support of the president. But when we're talking about moving from 29 percent turnout in 2015, the last off-off cycle, to where we're going to be here, 32, 33.

  • 12:12:20


  • 12:12:20

    BITECOFERWhatever percent turnout it might be, definitely the side that turns out their high propensity voters in bigger numbers is going to have better day.

  • 12:12:29

    SHERWOODThat's a record turnout.

  • 12:12:30

    NNAMDIHow about independent voters? How much impact will they have?

  • 12:12:33

    BITECOFERSo, independent voters, number one, fall off in these off-off year elections a lot in their participation. Number two, most independents are independent leaners, and that means they're basically embarrassed partisans or closet partisans or just, you know, the party politics have such a terrible brand, that nobody really wants to be associated with it. So, there is a social benefit to saying, "I'm above that. I'm an independent." And so we see a lot of people who do that. But when we look at their political beliefs, if they admit to being a lean Republican or lean Democrat independent, their behavior really mirrors being just a Republican or a Democrat. So, when we talk about pure independents, that's where the deciding factor is going to layout. And an environment like this, with a scandal of this magnitude, I just have a hard time imagining the GOP benefitting.

  • 12:13:21

    NNAMDIRob, in Alexandria, Virginia has a question. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:13:26

    ROBYeah, hi, Kojo and Tom. Thank you for taking my call. Really important topic to me for your guest is gun control. If the Democrats -- if we have a Democratic both houses in Virginia, and, of course, with our governor being a Democrat, is there going to be really, really, you know, an attempt at gun control? And let me just finish, because this morning, also, they announced the NRA is under investigation for some kind of strange stuff. If they are sort of hamstrung, will that allow more what I call draconian, but I mean solid, really strict gun control legislation to be crafted and passed?

  • 12:14:04

    NNAMDIMight take more than that to hamstring the NRA. But go ahead, Rachel.

  • 12:14:07

    BITECOFERI'm really glad that the way you asked this question, because if you read my analysis, which is posted on the Wason Center website, and it breaks down my, you know, my first race analysis for these competitive House of Delegates and State Senate races. One of the things that I harp on is the Democratic messaging strategy, and how that's left me uncertain as to how good their turnout will be. And that's because your caller just had to ask me, "Will Democrats emphasize gun control?" Right? And, you know, I give unsolicited political strategic advice to both parties at all times on Twitter. And so, you know, I am not shy about doing so. And I have told the Democrats, if they were smart, this caller would know Democrats were running on the issue of gun control, of taking control of this assembly so that they could go in, you know, day one of General Assembly session and pass it.

  • 12:15:01

    SHERWOODBut the Democrats are running against the fact that Republicans went to the special session the governor called, and then adjourned it 90 minutes later. That's their campaign issue for gun control.

  • 12:15:10

    BITECOFERI mean, it's certainly something that you would want to highlight, right? Because, I mean, in the state polling that we do -- which has been pretty stable across time -- background check bills poll into the high 80s. They have robust support even among Republican voters. People want action on that especially if it's effectively messaged, right? So, you know, the fact that this voter is wondering would Democrats actually take that action and control, that should not be happening in an effectively messaged environment.

  • 12:15:38

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Rachel Bitecofer. She is the Assistant Director of the Wason Center and a Political Science Professor at Christopher Newport University. If you have any questions about the upcoming election in Virginia, now is the time to call: 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:16:11

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Elissa Silverman, at-large member of the D.C. Council. Right now, we're talking with Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center and a political science professor at Christopher Newport University. This might be a little wonky, but I'm hoping you can summarize for us laypeople how your prediction model works. You are staggeringly close to perfect in your predictions of the 2018 elections. And it's my understanding that you're using the same model here.

  • 12:16:34

    BITECOFERYeah. So, I am bending a bit of my model to these Virginia elections, and I'll clarify exactly what that means. But what my election forecasting for 2018 and 2020 does, along with opining a new theory of electoral behavior that's pertinent to the polarized era in which we live in, arguing that party ID -- which has always been an important predictor of vote choice -- is now extremely dominant, right? And that's why in Alabama, you know, you saw Republicans down in the State of Alabama willing to send Roy Moore to the Senate, even though he was under credible allegations of child molestation, because he was the Republican candidate, and they were voting for that platform and the Supreme Court nomination stuff that goes with it. So, you know, a lot of the election analysis is not updated to that environment. I mean, we are living in a very different environment that we lived in the '80s and the '90s, even though the '90s might have seemed a little rough-and-tumble.

  • 12:17:29

    BITECOFERSo, I build a model that can predict where Democrats are going to have big turnout surges in the Trump era. And I used that to be able to identify in Virginia. Retroactively, I didn't formalize the model, but in Virginia, in 2017, I was running around the state, telling everyone, "Oh, it's going to be this giant wave." And everyone was, like, "Oh, no. You're not from here. It's not going to be this big wave."

  • 12:17:54

    SHERWOODAnd it was.

  • 12:17:55

    BITECOFERAnd it was.

  • 12:17:55

    SHERWOODFifteen seats.

  • 12:17:57

    BITECOFERYou guys might remember from such episodes as me being very insufferable on election night. So, I designed the model to identify -- to quantify, like, how -- where and how. And I had a good idea that it was going to be this massive realignment of college-educated voters, right? Which, now, everyone has accepted as fact. But which was pretty revolutionary in terms of, you know, anticipating it in 2018 at the time. And also these PVI scores, which if you go to the analysis --

  • 12:18:23


  • 12:18:24

    BITECOFERYeah. So, I'm going to tell you guys what those are.

  • 12:18:26

    SHERWOODPartisan Voter Index.

  • 12:18:27

    BITECOFERThey are called Partisan Voter Index scores. They come from the Cook Political Report. They've been around for decades. And what do is they tell you how good is the party competition in a District. If it's got a high R score or a high D score, it means it's a safe district for that party. But if it's somewhere down five, six or under for the parties, that means it could be theoretically competition. And I use it as a proxy to measure polarization in my model. And in the Virginia data, what we really care about is this PVI scores, because when we look at the northern Virginia flips, you'll see on my website I documented, here's what those PVI scores looked like, and this is why they got hammered so bad when the turnout, you know, inspirational turnout of the Trump bump hit. And then, you know, I use them to anticipate where we might expect Democrats to pick up these seats in the next cycle.

  • 12:19:21

    SHERWOODKojo, was that not specific enough? That's really something. Let's bring it home to two things. This past spring and winter, Governor Northam had the blackface episode. Mark Herring, the attorney general acknowledged -- volunteered he had a blackface incident. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has faced two allegations of sexual assault against him. The Republicans thought that was a gift. I think you thought it was a gift to the Republicans, too, because it would depress maybe African American vote and women vote for some Democrats. It seems that has failed in some respect or has gone away as a big issue. Where do you see that kind of scandal as we go to November 5th?

  • 12:20:09

    BITECOFERWell, number one, we don't know if it's going to suppress African American voters, okay, because we haven't had the election yet.

  • 12:20:15

    SHERWOODBut some polling shows African Americans support for Ralph Northam is still pretty good.

  • 12:20:19

    BITECOFERYeah. Support is there. But, again, like, the secret sauce of an analyst methodology and what's making it, you know, so on the cutting edge is that I'm arguing, at the end of the day, it's that turnout percent and the partisan composition of it that matters. So, we don't know for sure if, you know, there's going to be a good turnout of African American voters. And I can tell you this now, the wave that rolled through northern Virginia had easier water to roll through, because the education rates were higher. Down in Hampton Roads -- which is the epicenter of the 2019 wave, if it's going to hit -- the terrain is tougher, and it cannot happen without strong African American turnout. So, could the scandal still end up biting Democrats in the butt? It potentially could, if African Americans don't feel inspired to vote. That said, as I talk till I'm blue in my face, what matters to these voters is the national conditions.

  • 12:21:14

    BITECOFERThe reason the GOP in Virginia can't capitalize on that scandal is because of Donald Trump and Republican Party's brand on race issues, in particular, is so abysmal, that a non-contemporaneous history like that is not going to override a contemporaneous assault on voting rights and other issues of concern. I mean, his rhetoric around police shootings, whatever, right? So, black voters are not dumb. They are some of the most well-informed voters in the electorate and some of the most highly engaged voters in the electorate. And the Republican brand amongst race right now is just deplorably bad.

  • 12:21:50

    SHERWOODIt's white men.

  • 12:21:52

    BITECOFERYes, right.

  • 12:21:52

    NNAMDIHere is Charlie. Charlie, does that answer your question?

  • 12:21:56

    CHARLIEA little bit. So, the question that I had was from your polling, what historically has tended depress voter turnout or boost voter turnout among the base of each party?

  • 12:22:12

    BITECOFERGreat. That's a great question. And so what I'm arguing in my research and my forecasting work, like Nate Silver would argue, "Well, you know, what we need is polling and we need the generic ballot." And my research argues, "No. I can actually predict the generic ballot, right?" And I'm predicting it based off of a -- I mean, the composition of the electorate. And Democrats have an advantage. So, it's not probably going to be the case in 2022, say Democrats control the White House, where Republicans will have a generic ballot advantage, necessarily. But the generic ballot advantage Democrats have will look similar to 2014, and on Election Day, it won't be enough to help them, electorally. So, my argument is we can know which base is fired up by knowing which party is in control in the White House and, you know, given what the party's strategies are, Republicans are very good at electioneering and turning out their base.

  • 12:23:08

    BITECOFERAnd that's one of the reasons it doesn't deviate as much. The rest of it is due to their coalition being more homogenous. But the Democrats are very, very sensitive to surge and decline from emotion and enthusiasm, particularly because their electioneering strategy does not tap into it.

  • 12:23:26

    NNAMDIOnly have a few minutes left, and we'll be looking at this throughout the month of October. But let's start with northern Virginia. What seats are you keeping an eye on there?

  • 12:23:35

    BITECOFERThe last man standing, certainly, Mr. Tim Hugo, who held his seat by a narrow 100 votes in 2017. I will say, you know, he is --

  • 12:23:46

    SHERWOODWhere is his district? So people will know who we're talking about.

  • 12:23:48

    BITECOFERHe probably knows a little bit better than me.

  • 12:23:52

    NNAMDIHe's in District 40, Fairfax and Prince William.

  • 12:23:54

    BITECOFERYeah, he's in 40, but I don't know --

  • 12:23:55

    SHERWOODFairfax and Prince William.

  • 12:23:56

    BITECOFERYeah. But Fairfax and Prince William. I only know the numbers ,I'm sad to say, since I'm not from up here. But, yeah. So, where he's in trouble is that the Democrats underinvested in that race the first time around. He has a better opponent this time, with more money. And, you know, they didn't really appreciate that he was vulnerable in that cycle. And now they do. And he's the last guy. They were trying to pick up seven or eight seats up here last time. And now he's, you know, he's got a lot of resources being devoted. But I will say, you know, his fundraising -- when we look at all of the endangered incumbents, Hugo in the VPAP data has been looking pretty good in terms of his fundraising staying on par. But, ugh, I mean, if there is a Trump bump, I don't see how he can survive it.

  • 12:24:44

    NNAMDIYou're also looking at Danica Roem's incumbency in District 13 that might be threatened.

  • 12:24:49

    BITECOFERYeah, well, so, she's being re-challenged, right. She's a re-challenge from a Republican incumbent. Those three districts have very tight PVIs, and I know that Danica Roem is convinced that transportation focus on route 28, is it, right...

  • 12:25:06

    SHERWOODYes, more so than the facts of a transgendered person.

  • 12:25:09

    BITECOFERYeah, more so than enthusiasm was a critical component. But I, you know, as an election expert I'm here to say, it was -- you know, enthusiasm is really important. And, yes, she did well among independents. I expect she will do well again. I think Democrats, in general, are doing well right now with pure independents, because of the Republican brand issues. But she needs to turn out her base voters if she wants to hold that seat.

  • 12:25:34

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) Bottom line, there are two seats difference in the House and the Senate. So, turnout is huge, results whoever keeps or gets control of the legislation.

  • 12:25:42

    NNAMDIIn the minute or so we have left, House Speaker Kirk Cox.

  • 12:25:45

    BITECOFERYeah, and to sum it up, I mean, Kirk Cox went from an R plus 12 district to a R plus 1.6 district. So, I cannot emphasize...

  • 12:25:55

    SHERWOODHe's around the Chesterfield and Richmond area.

  • 12:25:56

    BITECOFERRight. And I think that, you know, within these two political parties -- since I've been doing a lot of work with both of them and kind of, you know, hanging out with some insiders -- I think they get insulated. And I don't think he fully appreciated how much trouble he was in during that special session. Or I imagined maybe a different approach to it, but he's in trouble up there. And the more people who have begun to realize it, the more money has pulled in.

  • 12:26:20

    BITECOFERBut I want to leave with one last comment. This 2019 election will be decided as much by people who do not show up and vote as it will be decided by those who do.

  • 12:26:30

    NNAMDIRachel Bitecofer. She's the assistant director of the Wason Center and a political science professor at Christopher Newport University. So glad you could drop in.

  • 12:26:37

    BITECOFERYeah, thank you so much for having me.

  • 12:26:39

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with DC At Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:27:00

    NNAMDIWelcome back. It's not often that we'll pause in the middle of the show to pay our respects or reminisce about someone. But Mark Plotkin, who died this past weekend, has a special relationship to this show. He created it, along with then-program director Steve Martin, as the D.C. Politics Hour in the early 1990s. As a matter of fact, with no radio experience, he walked into the station one day and persuaded Steve Martin to hire him. It's why I often say that Mark Plotkin invented himself. He certainly took credit for inventing me. Here's a clip from his appearance on this show a few years ago.

  • 12:27:31

    NNAMDIOur guest analyst is known as Mark Plotkin. He is a political analyst with Fox 5 here in Washington, D.C. However, he is also the founder of the D.C. Politics Hour that aired here on WAMU 88.5, which I joined in 1998 as his co-host on that broadcast. It's now, of course, known as The Politics Hour. Mark, welcome back.

  • 12:27:56

    MARK PLOTKINWell, Kojo, it's a high honor and tribute to be invited back. And I thank you for that comment. I must say that my other accomplishment was -- which you're so modest, characteristically -- I recruited you. You were an absolute nobody operating in the periphery until I elevated you to your prominent status, which you now so richly deserve.

  • 12:28:18

    NNAMDIToby, please shut off (laugh) Mark Plotkin's mic from here on in.

  • 12:28:23

    NNAMDIToby Schreiner, the engineer I was talking to, also passed recently, and he and Mark are both hopefully in a better place. Tom Sherwood has known Mark for more than three decades, and our guest, At Large D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman was a journalist. She was the Loose Lips columnist for the Washington Post. And she once wrote an entire column about Mark Plotkin. They can share their memories about Mark Plotkin. Elissa Silverman, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome.

  • 12:28:46

    ELISSA SILVERMANThank you, Kojo. So, Mark always joked that he was a major peripheral figure (laugh) in D.C. politics. But I think it's fair to say that his imprint on this city is huge. Not only for starting The Politics Hour, of course. From my perspective as a D.C. Councilmember, he almost singlehandedly saved the Wilson Building for being the seat of District government. And for that, we owe much to Mark, as well as I will just add in that when I was a young journalist here, I learned so much about D.C. local politics, as well as national politics, from Mark.

  • 12:29:26

    ELISSA SILVERMANAnd also, I will add in that he gave me a tip that I use every single meet-and-greet in Ward 3. He came to one of my first meet-and-greets in Ward 3 in 2013, and he was apoplectic, as Mark could be. (laugh) And he said, you know, Elissa, you made a major mistake. And, you know, of course, I froze, and I said, what did I do? He said, well, whenever you're in Ward 3, you should say that you graduated from Brown University. He's like, no matter what the situation. (laugh) So, every meet and greet, I start off saying, I'm here in Ward 3, and Mark Plotkin has told me to say I graduated from Brown University.

  • 12:30:06

    SHERWOODThat was a snippet of Mark Plotkin you just heard there, but, again, if he were here, he'd say why didn't you have him at the top of the show?

  • 12:30:13

    NNAMDIExactly right, yes.

  • 12:30:14

    SHERWOODAnd partly we did it because we knew Elissa was coming. And I knew Mark, and he just complained. I can't use the words he used.

  • 12:30:23

    NNAMDITom just did a column for him, a column called "Me and Mark."

  • 12:30:25

    SHERWOODYeah, I did a column for the City Paper this week, because, you know, he would fuss about my Southern politeness. And he said, you're just all that smooth, Southern BS, he would call it. (laugh) He said, it's just outrageous. You know, you've got to be like he was, from Chicago, to the point, get in people's faces, and all of that. And I try to do some of that, but with a Southern gentility.

  • 12:30:45

    SHERWOODHe once came to my house when my son was only like five or six years old. And Mark drove up in a car that was as messy as he was. And my son, who just looked at the car, said, dirty car, just two words. And Mark, for decades, would say, see, even your son doesn't do all that Southern BS that you do. He got right to the point, and my car was dirty.

  • 12:31:08

    NNAMDIIndeed, Mark made as many enemies as he made friends. One has to remember that.

  • 12:31:13

    SHERWOODYes and let me say, Kojo, you were one of his closest friends, so I know Elissa would join me in our personal condolences...

  • 12:31:19


  • 12:31:19

    SHERWOOD...to you for his passing.

  • 12:31:20

    NNAMDIThank you very much. He stopped speaking to a lot of people. A lot of people stopped speaking to him. But as Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a Tweet that she sent out, she said, Mark loved D.C. and its politics more than its politicians, especially me. (laugh) But she nevertheless said -- offered him thanks for all of the work he has done for D.C. and for statehood in the District of Columbia, and expressed some happiness that he was at least alive when we had that statehood hearing last week.

  • 12:31:46

    SILVERMANYes, Kojo. I think, you know, in Mark's honor, you know, making the statehood fight a top priority for our city is a great way to honor Mark.

  • 12:31:56

    NNAMDIAnd I've got to say that he wanted to rest in repose at the Wilson Building. We're still trying to see if we can make that happen. We know that you're one of the people who favors it.

  • 12:32:05

    SILVERMANYes, that's right.

  • 12:32:05

    NNAMDIWe'll pass on information as we get it.

  • 12:32:06

    SHERWOODI think we should just go into the Wilson Building, and just do it. We don't have to stand on...

  • 12:32:09

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Do it like Plotkin. (laugh)

  • 12:32:10

    SHERWOODJust don't have to stand on formal ceremony. Certainly, Mark wouldn't. He would take his own urn and walk up those steps, right into the lobby of the John Wilson with that big photo of John Wilson, and say, here I am, and I want you to acknowledge me.

  • 12:32:23

    SILVERMANI support that, Tom.

  • 12:32:25

    NNAMDIThe spat that's occurring between the mayor and the Council over arts administration, apparently, the Commission on Arts and Humanities was made an independent body by the Council. But over the course of the past week, the commission board chair sent an email to staff, directing them to suspend all major business. And then, apparently, somebody in the mayor's advisory group, John Falcicchio?

  • 12:32:55

    SHERWOODFalcicchio. He's chief of staff and deputy mayor now.

  • 12:32:57

    NNAMDIYes, apparently didn't like that. What's going on?

  • 12:32:59

    SHERWOODLet's help with the listeners. This is a fight between the Arts and Humanities Commission -- this is a fight over the $23 million and the prestige of being on that board. $23 million a year, it gives out in grants to arts communities that desperately need the support of the city. The mayor wants to control it. Phil Mendelson wants to control it, wants the Council to control it.

  • 12:33:24

    SHERWOODWhen the mayor started mucking around with it earlier this year, the Council passed legislation to make it an independent body. It becomes an independent body on Tuesday, October 1st. The mayor, this week, was asking Mendelson to ask all of the Board commission members to resign from that so she could appoint new members. He's not going to do that. So, we'll turn it over to the councilmember. Where are we?

  • 12:33:47

    NNAMDIWhere do you stand in this brouhaha?

  • 12:33:49

    SILVERMANOkay. So, let me break this down for listeners with a technical term: WTF. (laugh) Now, I don't want to get you guys in trouble with the FCC. Okay. So, we have homeless encampments, inequity in schools, a housing affordability crisis, and we're spending our energy on this, over $23 million? Really? Okay. But what this comes down to is money and power, as it always does.

  • 12:34:14

    SILVERMANSo, there's a power struggle, as you, Kojo, said, and Tom said. And it involves the cable TV director for the city who is a -- I'll use another expression...

  • 12:34:25


  • 12:34:26

    SILVERMAN...a BFF of the mayor, best friend forever, for Mayor Bowser. So, right, $23 million is a drop in the bucket. So, what really is going on? Well, our major arts organizations in this city, Shakespeare Theater, Studio Theater, Symphony...

  • 12:34:43

    SHERWOODArena, all the...

  • 12:34:44

    SILVERMAN...Arena, they're all struggling, financially. They're all unstable financially, and it's because we're streaming Netflix and e-gaming, and all this other stuff. But it's important to think about well, who's on the boards of these very important organizations? Well, the power players, right? The developers in the city, venture capitalists, David Rubenstein, people who attend black tie events with Mayor Bowser. So, the mayor wants to have as much control as she can over how this money is handed out now.

  • 12:35:19

    SHERWOODAnd to do this, she created her own Office of Creative Affairs, or whatever, to simply run over or run around or run through the Arts Commission.

  • 12:35:27

    SILVERMANRight. So, this is a dispute, really, between the mayor and the arts commissioners who actually went to the Council and said, we need to have an independent commission, as it was envisioned. And we need to have a way of handing out our arts funding that is equitable and fair, in that we do have a vibrant arts community in our city. And it's very important. Often, there's an emphasis on the economic impact. I mean, there certainly is, but I would argue, there's also just a cultural value to having a vibrant arts community in our city to tell a narrative of our city.

  • 12:36:03

    SILVERMANAnd Chairman Mendelson, in the budget, strengthened the Arts Commission, made it more independent. It came up with a scheme on how to distribute the money more equitably, and the mayor is challenging it. I have to say, I am -- let me say this for emphasis -- with Chairman Mendelson on this. (laugh) But I am very much with the chairman.

  • 12:36:24

    SHERWOODAnd the mayor -- and Mendo and Bowser have -- you know, they're not that close, anyway, and so this has been a real rift between the two.

  • 12:36:32

    NNAMDIYesterday, a D.C. Superior Court judge blocked the District from moving forward with its sports betting contract with the Greek company Intralot. You have been vocal about your concerns over this no-bid contract with Intralot, and you asked D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine to look into it. What are your concerns?

  • 12:36:47

    SILVERMANYes. Well, let me sum this up very succinctly, Kojo. This stinks, continues to stink. My concerns are a basic one that came across yesterday in court, which is that we need to make sure when we're spending District taxpayer dollars, that we're doing it in a way that gives value to our taxpayers, and that when we bid -- or when we contract, we're doing it competitively, unless there's absolutely only one company that can provide that service.

  • 12:37:23

    SILVERMANThere have been additional concerns, as well, that has been reported in the pages of the Washington Post, that, by law, we have a minority small local business law. And the point of it is that when we spend our money, when we spend our taxpayer dollars for services, we want to make sure local businesses benefit, and there's an effect and impact on local businesses. What the Post reported, when it came to a lottery contract, is that the major local small business partner looks to be a shell company.

  • 12:37:59

    SHERWOODWell, can I just interrupt for just one brief moment? I got a text message from Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio, who's involved in this Arts Commission thing. It's very short. He says, no, it is not a dispute between the mayor and the commissioners. The council chair, and apparently Councilmember Silverman, want influence over the grants, the $23 million in grants. That you want the influence, not the mayor.

  • 12:38:24

    SILVERMANNo. We want to have an independent Arts Commission, so that our arts funding is distributed equitably and removed from political power. And I'll just give an example.

  • 12:38:34

    SHERWOODWell, wait. Let's go back to sports betting.

  • 12:38:35

    SILVERMANOh, oh, we got -- okay. Fair enough, Tom.

  • 12:38:37

    SHERWOODThat sounds like too long of an introduction.

  • 12:38:38


  • 12:38:39

    SHERWOODSports betting, also, it's not clear exactly what the Council did illegally -- is what the lawsuit alleges by this person who didn't get to bid on the contract, because it was a no-bid contract. But you asked the Attorney General Karl Racine to look into this contract and what the Council did. But now Karl Racine has the city's lawyers in position, having to defend the city against this lawsuit. What have you heard, if anything, from Karl Racine about did the Council and did the city misstep in going forward, not politically, but legally, with this contract?

  • 12:39:15

    SILVERMANSo, as a non-lawyer, here is my understanding of where we're at.

  • 12:39:19

    SHERWOODWe're all non-lawyers in this room.

  • 12:39:20

    SILVERMANYeah, so great. So, we're going to say all kinds of legal terms with abandon. So, my understanding is so yesterday's action...

  • 12:39:28

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) Has he spoken to you?

  • 12:39:29

    SILVERMANI have been in communication in a very millennial way with him, so I've not spoken to him. (laugh) But I've been in touch with him. So, yesterday, the plaintiff asked for a temporary restraining order. It was granted. The argument was that there was a violation of the Home Rule Act, based on our procurement law. Now, my understanding is that a different judge will actually take a more in-depth look at this issue.

  • 12:40:01

    SILVERMANAs you mentioned, Tom, and you said at the top, Kojo, this contract has concerned me from day one, that we weren't doing the right thing by District taxpayers. I asked Attorney General Racine to examine whether Intralot -- who is the main vendor, as well as the local business partners -- were in compliance with what's known as our CBE law, Certified Business Enterprise, the local minority business contracting law.

  • 12:40:32

    SILVERMANBut given that I knew a lawsuit was coming, I have also asked, now, our D.C. auditor Kathy Patterson to examine the same question. By law, she looks at the lottery and examines whether we're getting a good value for that contract. And as part of that review, I've asked the auditor to examine the issue of CBE compliance.

  • 12:40:58

    NNAMDIA lot of people are interested in this issue. We have several calls, and so I'll try to get through it. The D.C. Department...

  • 12:41:03

    SILVERMANAre you sure it's not Chris Otten?

  • 12:41:05

    NNAMDINo, no, not that issue. This other issue, the Jelleff Field.

  • 12:41:09

    SILVERMANLet's make sure Chris doesn't slip in here.

  • 12:41:11

    NNAMDIThe D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation extended its agreement with the Maret School to allow the school exclusive access to Jelleff Field during prime hours. You wrote a letter to the Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter, as well as to the D.C. Department of General Services Director Keith Anderson, expressing your concerns and asking for more information.

  • 12:41:30

    NNAMDINow, before we get to you, we got an email from Mede: I'm a parent of four D.C. Public School children, one of which attends Hardee Middle School. I'm concerned about Jelleff Field's usage, or lack thereof. Is Attorney General Karl Racine the right man to get to the bottom of how the most recent no-bid lease was signed for Jelleff Field? And then there is this, Maya in Washington, D.C. Maya, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:41:55

    MAYAHi, Kojo. Thank you so much for taking my call. I think there is much misinformation being circulated surrounding the partnership between Maret and DPR. And it's particularly upsetting to me to see these arguments that pit public and private school children against each other. The majority of Maret students come from all over the city, and one in four of our students receives need-based financial aid. And we are very proud of our equitable and inclusive community.

  • 12:42:22

    MAYAIt should be also noted that Maret pays 100 percent of the field, fencing and light, and Maret has preferred permitting, not exclusive rights to...

  • 12:42:34

    NNAMDIOkay. I have to interrupt you, because there are a couple other people who want to get in on this. Kishan Putta, you're on the air, Kishan...

  • 12:42:41

    SHERWOODThe candidate for Ward 2 Council.

  • 12:42:42

    NNAMDII know this, and is an ANC in Ward 2. But, Kishan, could you make your remarks as brief as possible?

  • 12:42:49

    SHERWOODI spoke to him earlier today. I said, he can't talk longer than a minute if he gets through.

  • 12:42:53

    SILVERMANWell, you're cutting into his time, Tom.

  • 12:42:53

    NNAMDIThirty seconds.

  • 12:42:55

    KISHAN PUTTARight. And thank you all, and thanks, Elissa, as well, for your support. It's not about public versus private. It's about one school getting all the hours. They've had them for the last decade. We want to stop that happening for the next decade. We just want sharing and fairness. My constituents are suffering. Their kids are having to travel an hour across the city for home games, when there's a field right across the street. There's a Boys and Girls Afterschool Program right there, with black and brown kids, low income, from across the city. They're having to play in the basement, when they can't play on the field after school...

  • 12:43:30

    NNAMDI(overlapping) My kids, who are now adults, were a part of the Boys and Girls Club.

  • 12:43:33

    SHERWOODSo were mine. But we ought to tell, for people who are out in the suburbs or elsewhere...

  • 12:43:36

    NNAMDIWe're running out of time real fast.

  • 12:43:37

    SHERWOOD...it's the playground above Georgetown in Northwest Washington...

  • 12:43:41

    SILVERMANIt's right next to the Social Safeway. So, I don't mean to cut you off, Tom, but I do. So, what the issue is here -- and let me be really clear, because I've been disappointed with the Maret parents making this issue about divisiveness. This is not an issue about divisiveness. This is an issue about Maret did what it was supposed to do under the current contract. There's no issue with the current contract. The issue is whether we should extend another nine years to Maret.

  • 12:44:13

    SILVERMANAnd let me make just two points, Kojo. First, this is structured in a way, why would you have a nine-year extension? Usually, you do things like five and 10 years, well, very purposely, because it would avoid Council approval. It was designed so that it wouldn't come back to the Council. Now, we are a very different city than we were even only 10 years ago in that we are growing. The demands for recreation space are much more than they were 10 years ago.

  • 12:44:44

    SILVERMANAnd there's an issue, when it came to this extension, about transparency and also having our residents -- not Maryland and Virginia residents who attend Maret -- be able to weigh in and say, I think the best use now of the Jelleff Fields is for District residents.

  • 12:45:05

    SHERWOODWell, it -- I'm sorry, we've got other subjects.

  • 12:45:08

    NNAMDIYou didn't expect her to be that brief, so go ahead. You have about two minutes left. (laugh)

  • 12:45:13

    SILVERMANCome on, we've got a lot of topics here, guys.

  • 12:45:15

    SHERWOODYou had a hearing on marijuana and a law to protect people, I think city government employees, from being unfairly harassed over doing legal marijuana at home, and then coming to work and testing for THC. But I watched the hearing, and the key point I came away from is, there's no way to test whether someone is impaired by marijuana. So, how are you going to write a law that will protect workers, but also protect the workplace in case of any activity?

  • 12:45:44

    SILVERMANSo, let me be clear that we are looking at two bills. So, one bill involves our public employees who are participants in our medical marijuana program. And the issue there, Tom, is do we look at carving out certain jobs? And, actually, right now, there's a broad brush of who's in what's called a security-sensitive job.

  • 12:46:09

    SHERWOODAre you going to narrow that exemption?

  • 12:46:11

    SILVERMANWell, the mayor has issued an order in which she has instructed all agency directors to look at what jobs are considered security-sensitive. The second bill involves pre-employment drug testing.

  • 12:46:23

    NNAMDITwo minutes.

  • 12:46:25

    SILVERMANAnd I want to be clear here, this is a bill from Councilmember Trayon White. It does not get rid of drug testing. What it does is just say that it would ban pre-employment drug testing for marijuana or for THC. And what he does in the bill is carve out certain jobs. So, construction jobs, CDL commercial driver's license jobs and any jobs that would be under federal funding in which you have to have a drug-free workplace.

  • 12:46:52

    SHERWOODBut the key issue is it's just hard to tell who's under the influence of marijuana.

  • 12:46:56

    SILVERMANOh, to that point, yes.

  • 12:46:57

    SHERWOODBut let me ask you a political question. A year ago, Mayor Bowser was on the campaign (word?) trying to defeat you. Dionne Reeder was her candidate. Her supporters gave money. Have you, in that one year since, have you spoken one-on-one with Mayor Bowser in any way...

  • 12:47:14

    NNAMDIOr have you spoken to her in a millennial way? (laugh)

  • 12:47:16

    SHERWOOD...or in a millennial way, or in any way...

  • 12:47:17

    SILVERMANI definitely have spoken to her in a millennial way.

  • 12:47:19

    SHERWOODAnd, anyway, have you -- is there any (unintelligible) are you distant still? Has she acknowledge what she tried to do to you? Where are you guys?

  • 12:47:27

    SILVERMANWell, I believe I was on this program when we talked about how Mayor Bowser and I got together after the election. You know, we remain -- we are elected officials, and we both want to serve the District residents as well as we can.

  • 12:47:41

    SHERWOODWell, that means you're not having any routine kind of conversations with her.

  • 12:47:45

    SILVERMANI don't know if I'm, like, the first on the mayor's Christmas card list.

  • 12:47:47

    SHERWOODIf you called her right now, would she answer your call if you called her?

  • 12:47:50

    SILVERMANI imagine she would answer my call, yes. I hope so.

  • 12:47:54

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Elissa Silverman is an at large member of the D.C. Council. She is an independent. Elissa, always a pleasure.

  • 12:48:01

    SILVERMANIt's always a blast to be here, Kojo. And I just want to say to those celebrating Rosh Hashanah this weekend, L'shana Tova, and to all, a sweet and happy, prosperous year ahead.

  • 12:48:13

    NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, an in-depth discussion of life after surviving gun violence. We'll have a look at "Shattered." That's a new WAMU and Guns in America series profiling the survivors of bun violence as they navigate a new reality fraught with physical and emotion trauma. That all starts Monday, at noon. What are you doing this weekend, Tom?

  • 12:48:34

    SHERWOODI'm doing something with the Theater Lab.

  • 12:48:37

    SILVERMANAnd we got to say go Nats, Mystics and D.C. United, our three teams headed to the playoffs.

  • 12:48:42

    NNAMDIMystics will bring home that WNBA title. Have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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