Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld talks about the future of WMATA and what reopening will look like. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray walks us through city budget and gives us an update on building a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
At the beginning of this year, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser set a goal to bring 36,000 new homes to the District, including 12,000 affordable housing units. Last week, she announced where the affordable units will be built.
Mayor Bowser joins Kojo and Tom to talk about the housing plans, the latest with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and Washington’s wild success in sports.
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
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 and contributing writing for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDIAnd our guest this entire hour will be the Mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser. Madam Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.
MURIEL BOWSERThank you and this week everybody is calling me the mayor of the sports capital.
NNAMDIThe Sports Capital and I wonder why. If you have questions or comments for the mayor call us at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. Even as we speak Mayor Bowser and Tom Sherwood, funeral rights are taking place in Baltimore for the late Elijah Cummings, the congressman from Baltimore, who is being fondly remembered by a number of people. I just thought we should begin by having an observation of a moment of silence for Elijah Cummings. Okay. Care to comment, Tom.
SHERWOODI think the moment of silence should be longer. But, you know --
SHERWOODRight now the former President Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama are all at the Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore for a funeral. People are lining up since three o'clock this morning to be there. And it's quite the scene out of respect for a congressman, who did so much for Baltimore and in Congress. Mayor?
BOWSERYeah. I was proud to represent D.C. residents at the ceremony in the Capital where the congressman lay in repose. I understand he's the first African American member of Congress to be so honored. I was proud also to see that our Speaker of the House, a woman of Baltimore, child of Baltimore herself, really pay a special respect to the congressman. I was seated with Mayor of Baltimore and you could see it was a real coming together of that town. And so I think he represented the spirit of the city, similar to ours of kind of getting up and pushing ahead, and making sure that officials represent for the city and that was certainly Elijah.
BOWSERAnd he was a friend of ours in the District. I had an opportunity to meet with him over the summer to talk about where we are, our fight for statehood. And it was then that he committed to me that there would be a hearing on Congress woman's bill. And he laid the groundwork to get us a vote in the committee and on the House floor. So we're grateful.
NNAMDIOn statehood for the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODThe hearing was in September. And Elijah Cummings was unable to chair the hearing so he had Eleanor Holmes-Norton do it. And Speaker Pelosi, who you mentioned also is at the funeral today.
NNAMDIThe other news coming out of Maryland today is that Mike Miller, who has been serving as the Senate President for some 33 years is stepping down from his post. He's battling cancer. And so he says he's going to continue to be in the Senate. He just won't be the Senate President anymore. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODSenator Mike Miller, Calvert and Prince George's County has been the speaker since 1987. He has stage four pancreatic cancer. He says his mind is sharp, but his body is weak. He stepped down. The democrats have selected State Senator Bill Ferguson of Baltimore to replace him when they vote in January when the legislature reconvenes, but Mike Miller says he'll try to be as active as he can be for his district. We ought to recognize he's been -- the new speaker was in kindergarten when Mike Miller became speaker.
SHERWOODBut, you know, he has such a long history of issues with stricter gun laws, casinos throughout the state, the Chesapeake Bay restoration, same sex marriage equality --ven though he did not personally support it he did not stand in the way as he could have -- education funding, the Kirwan Commission, which we've talked about here and will be a big issue going forward for the new speaker, abortion rights, immigration reform, just so many issues. Mike Miller has been there and is a truly historic figure in the politics of this since this is the Politics Hour is that there's now a dramatic shift with the death earlier this year of Michael Busch as the House Speaker.
SHERWOODAll the power has shifted to Baltimore and Baltimore County. Adrianne Jones is the Speaker of the House. She's from Baltimore County. Bill Ferguson is from Baltimore City. He has promised Cheryl Kagan of Montgomery County State Senator -- spoke with Ferguson for several hours this past week. She says he's promised to keep regional impacts in mind when he appoints committee chairs. And she says even though she might have wanted someone else -- Cheryl Kagan says that Ferguson is fair minded, respected by all. He's only been in the Senate since 2010. That she expects he will do a good job. And the formal vote will be in January.
NNAMDIBill Ferguson was of about four years old when Mike Miller became senator.
SHERWOODYes. He was in kindergarten.
NNAMDIAnd Miller became the Senate President. On to the business at hand with Mayor Bowser, Tom Sherwood, as you may recall, Mayor Bowser gave me the honor of announcing "Kojo Nnamdi Day" as a result of my 20 years at this station a couple of months ago. So I'd like to say publically for the first time thank you very much for that Madam Mayor.
BOWSEROh, that was my pleasure. You know, I was speaking for a lot of Washingtonians in thanking you for the service that you do here at WAMU.
NNAMDIAnd in return I'm going to make this Mayor Muriel Bowser uncomfortable day in the District of Columbia. But we'll start off with something that I suspect we can agree on, D.C. is finally having its sports moment. The Nationals are on World Series up two games to zero against the Houston Astros. This follows the Mystics stellar WNBA Championship and uptick in success for the Washington Spirit, D.C.'s woman soccer team. D.C. is becoming a bona fide sports city it seems. Tom Sherwood, I know you have tickets for tonight's game; is that correct?
SHERWOODI have tickets for tonight, Saturday and Sunday if that game is necessary. I'm hoping with the mayor that we'll wrap this up Saturday night, but I am a believer in one pitch at a time.
BOWSERYeah, me too.
NNAMDIWe'll have to see what happens. You guys don't have your boxes that you have during the regular season anymore. So where are you going to be sitting tonight?
BOWSERI'll be the stadium. And I will be celebrating. I invited Congresswoman Norton to join me as well as the former Council Chairman Linda Cropp. So we will be watching the game very closely.
SHERWOODMayor, where the people are for this region -- not just the city, but for the region, as you know, 60 percent or so of the fans who go to the game are people spending discretionary dollars from Virginia. Many come from Maryland. As the Mayor of the City this is chance for you to represent the whole region for this historic sports event.
SHERWOODWhether you're a baseball fan or not. Whoever you might be --
BOWSERNo. I'm a Nationals fan. Let me be clear. And I am -- we know the history of baseball in this city. And to have baseball back is really the culmination of a vision laid out by my predecessor Tony Williams. And he deserves a lot of credit with fellow leaders like Linda Cropp and members of the Council at that time, who made tough decisions. People don't remember that and they probably really don't remember it this weekend. It wasn't a homerun down at City Hall during these discussions, but I'm glad that they all persevered.
BOWSERWe built a beautiful stadium. And the team itself has spent some years building and now we get to today. We also see that the area around it has developed with office and residential. And it is able -- the stadium has allowed that area to pay back with the PAC taxpayers invested. And it is also very good. I was just at Payne Elementary School with the team, with the Capital Hill Little League and to see the resurgence in Little League sports because of the team's presence and success is also very heartening.
SHERWOODPeople forget that there were many seven-six votes that were crucial in 2004 and '05 for this, but also that the stadium, the ballpark itself opened in 2008 in the midst of a national recession, when things were really terrible.
SHERWOODAnd some of the very buildings that are up now and filled with people were slowed in part by the financing.
BOWSERThey absolutely were.
SHERWOODAnd so it was a dicey economic moment for the city. And because so many people come from outside the city the District is a net win. And I think Councilmember Evans told me the other day that the city is like 15 years ahead in paying off the bonds and making the whole area thrive. Now, I have to admit I do have tickets. And I moved to that area 12 years ago, because I knew when I retired I wanted to be able to walk up to the games. So I have a personal interest in it too.
BOWSERWell, you were smart.
NNAMDIAnd you haven't been banned from the stadium yet, so that's really good news. Speaking of sports, Madam Mayor, you mentioned in the D.C. Chamber of Commerce's press conference this month that you would eventually like to bring the Washington football team back to the District. Are you in talks with the team and considering the RFK site as a place for them to play?
BOWSERWell, what I also mentioned at that event -- and thank you for bringing it up -- because I'm always perplexed that the fascination with talking about the Redskins whose record is really not good.
SHERWOODHorrible last night.
BOWSERAnd the fact that we don't spend more time talking about the Washington Mystics, and at that time I think they were about to play the final game. And they won and they won big. And so our focus, Kojo, is RFK. And our focus is on how we reclaim that land over 100 acres of land sitting in the heart of this city on the banks of the Anacostia that is unused now. And we knew from the beginning of my tenure almost five years ago that we were -- our soccer team would have its own stadium. We would have an empty RFK stadium and just loads of asphalt. And we had to have a plan. So Events D.C. has worked on that plan over the last five years. Had a massive amount of community engagement around what can happen at RFK. And so my commitment is to make sure we get RFK into productive use.
BOWSERWe need to get control of it from the federal government. I fully support the congresswoman's bill that will allow us to buy it at fair market value without any restrictions on its use. Right now our RFK can only be used for sports and entertainment. So a stadium is really all that can be built there. But we need to have that restriction removed. We want to buy it. Clean it up and get it into productive use. All of the plans show what it could be with the mix of uses, parks, a hotel, residential, commercial uses and a stadium and their versions without it. And so we are prepared to make sure that parcel is in productive use with a mix of uses.
SHERWOODAnd it could be like the Wharf. It could be like the ballpark area. But I think you've said this before, if you were to negotiate with the Washington sports, with Dan Snyder, that the team would build the stadium. This is not something you would -- like the baseball ballpark. The city built the stadium. But in this case if you were to entertain a proposal to bring the Redskins back to that RFK site it would be paid for by the Dan Snyder.
BOWSERYes. It would be closer to the model use for the soccer stadium where we supported the infrastructure, the city did. And the team built the stadium, the construction costs.
SHERWOODAnd also because you already have some -- if there's room in that space over there where D.C. (unintelligible) and all that. So every city amenity that anybody who lives up there or wants to go there can have could be there. In addition to a ballpark it won't be 10,000 parking spaces. In fact, you already have some plain fields on the ground.
BOWSERYes, yes. Earlier this year we opened fulfilling a long time commitment that I know the community has been focused on from when I was a councilmember on building soccer stadiums for use by the community. And it's being managed by Events D.C. They have a local partner, who's actually managing the use, and I think it's been a huge win.
SHERWOODSo the people up there shouldn't fear that there will a massive Cowboy style stadium up there.
BOWSERI would never support anything like that, because we need housing, and I think you know that that's my focus. And part of the reason why we pushed the feds so hard is we can't sit there looking at 100 empty acres of land knowing the housing crunch that we're in right now.
NNAMDIAt the beginning of this year you set a goal to create 36,000 new housing units by 2025, 12,000 of those units would be affordable houses. Here's Michelle in Washington D.C. with a question about that. Michelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHELLEYes, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to ask you, Mayor Bowser, what are you planning to do for native Washingtonians, existing residents, in terms of affordable housing here so that we can stay in our city?
BOWSERWell, thanks for that question, Michelle. And what we've been doing over the last five years is building more units, putting more money into our housing production trust fund and pushing across the city on building more units. And we're targeting our approach. We're refining it a bit more because we know across the region we have a shortfall of housing. The Council of Governments estimates that we need 240 units by 2025 across the region.
SHERWOOD240,000 -- how many?
SHERWOOD240,000, you said right now 240.
BOWSER240,000. Our share of that in the region is 36,000 units. And so we know our existing tools, our existing toolbox is inadequate to produce that number of units by then. So we've started with setting a goal across the city. And each planning area, 10 planning areas across the city, and saying, planning area one you're responsible for X units, let's call it 900, planning two you're responsible for another 1100, and that's how we get to 36,000.
BOWSERWe also have to look at all of the incentives that we currently offer to see if those are adequate. If the housing production trust fund will get us there. Will the low income tax credit get us there? Will our investment in permanent support of housing get us there? Will our investment in workforce housing and how we build more housing for working people that may even work for us so that they can afford to stay in the District? And we'll continue to do that. Now that's -- having said all of that we're also building on our work with Homeward D.C., our plan to make homelessness rare, brief and none recurring in the District.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come we'll continue this conversation on housing and whatever other topics you have in mind for the Mayor of the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIYou can give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website kojoshow.org join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest today is Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia. Our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. When we took that break we were talking about housing. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODMayor, two quick things. When you gave your inaugural address for your second term, I think you mentioned development is a key issue in your second term, and I think you mentioned a height limit. We have as everyone knows there's a limitation on how high buildings can be in the city. But it's possible that we could maybe change the height limit in other parts of the city not the downtown historic core and build higher. I'd like to get your view on what you think about that.
SHERWOODAnd also you announced your affordable housing plan this past week in Tenleytown. I used to live in that neighborhood in northwest Washington and it has been one of the biggest critics or opponents of development along Wisconsin Avenue where there's condos on top of the library at Tenley Circle or whether it's -- 32 condos ended up being six single family homes, all the development by Western Avenue Wisconsin. All that stuff across was Western has been built, Bloomingdales, etcetera. Some of that could have been on this side of the city if the citizens up there hadn't opposed it all. How are you A, going to deal with the height limit? And B, how are you going to deal with people, who just don't want D.C. to look like a modern city with bigger buildings and bigger spaces?
BOWSERWell, sure. Well, first we have to be very thoughtful about the height limit. And I suggest that not without great seriousness. It would require an act of Congress to change our height limit. But as I said before we went to break, if we really want to really deal with the housing crunch that we are experiencing we have to explore new tools. The tools that we have won't get us there or it will be too late. Our city will become so unaffordable that we'll be like other towns where people, who live in the middle of incomes and just have regular jobs and regular people who want to send their kids to great schools and have safe neighborhoods, they won't be able to afford to live here.
BOWSERSo we have to be willing to explore every option. We wouldn't be talking about towering over any of our monumental areas, but looking very carefully at some of our greater outer streets to see if they could accommodate taller spaces.
SHERWOODAnd what about the opposition like Tenleytown, all of Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest Washington. We do not want additional development of any size.
BOWSERWell, I think many times if we talk in the abstract people will be opposed to more of anything. So I think that we have to put in front of people projects that they can embrace. That add housing. That are close to amenities. That are close to Metro. And that they think add value to their quality of life. So I think frequently when we talk about these things they are so abstract that people may have a kneejerk opposition. So we want to give folks great projects that they can support.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Peter who says, now that the City Council has overridden your veto of the legislation reaffirming the independence of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, are you willing to step back and let the commission do its good work or will you continue to play petty politics with the organization? Madam Mayor, what's going on here?
BOWSERWe've always been very supportive of the commission, and we'll be continue to be very supportive of the commission.
SHERWOODThe Attorney General this week office put out an opinion that your effort to move some of the activities of the commission under your office, your Creative D.C. Arts -- whatever the agency you created in your office under you, was misguided. It said that you can appoint the members of the Arts Commission, but you cannot control the day to day operations of the Arts Commission.
BOWSERI don't -- that wasn't a question. I don't know whose question that was, but we recognize that.
SHERWOODWhat is the source of the fight between you and the chairman over at the D.C. Arts Commission? We've heard varying issues here, but I'll let you say it yourself. What is the fundamental issue?
BOWSERI'm not having a fight over the D.C. Arts Commission. We did not support changing the organization in the Budget Support Act.
SHERWOODTo an independent agency.
BOWSERWe didn't support that happening in the Budget Support Act and we continue to not support that.
SHERWOODThese are related issues, because I was asking about this fight over the Arts Commission, because it's a little obscure to some people although there are --
BOWSERIts' very obscure. And let me --
SHERWOODAlthough, there's $25 million in grants every year.
BOWSERWell, we have a $15.5 billion budget that I'm responsible for, 37,000 employees and very serious issues that face the District. This is a relatively small agency, but very important to the life of the District. Nobody wants to live in a town where the arts aren't flourishing.
NNAMDIBut, Madam Mayor, clearly you are dissatisfied with the way the Arts Commission has been operating so far. What is the source of that dissatisfaction?
BOWSERI'm not sure what you mean. Are you talking about last year?
NNAMDINo. I'm wondering why you sought to place the new office that you have created as a kind of -- well, arbiter so to speak, in what the Arts Commission does. You would be able to appoint all of the members of the Arts Commission yourself.
BOWSERI always have been able to appoint the Arts Commissioners.
NNAMDIWhat was the purpose of creating this new office?
BOWSERI have to make sure that all of the arts affairs that come to me that I have staff that can support me, and let me just be very clear, that's not going to change, because of organizational change that the Council made. We will continue to get requests to support events, to be present at events, to speak for the city and to advance programs and projects across the city.
SHERWOODYou're going to be the mayor.
BOWSERWell, that is my job. I have been elected two times, after all.
SHERWOODLet me add, these are very important. These are more important than maybe the Arts Commission, in the grand scheme of things. You've nominated Lucinda Babers, your deputy mayor, to be your representative on the Metro Board. I have been told that Chairman Phil Mendelson has returned that nomination, saying he won't move forward with it. I've also been told that -- you just mentioned Events D.C. and all the work that needs to be done around RFK -- that Max Brown's extended appointment is about to expire next month. And you've been told Max Brown will not be allowed to continue in that position. So, Metro, Events D.C., those are two really major parts of the city. You're getting resistance from the Council on appointees there, or nominees there.
BOWSERWell, let me just say this, Tom, and I think you know my approach to working with the Council is not to speak out of school. And when I have private conversations with councilmembers, I don't retell those accounts. I will tell you why I think Lucinda Babers is important to have on Metro. Currently, we have two alternate members serving. Metro is a huge agency that we commit millions of dollars to. It has an incredible responsibility for moving a million people a day in our city, and the safety and growth of that system is vital to our economy.
BOWSERSo, having strong voices on Metro is key. I appointed Lucinda after more than 20 years of service to the District. She started with Mayor Williams, I believe, as the deputy mayor for Operations and Infrastructure.
SHERWOODShe reformed the DMV office, that's for sure.
BOWSERShe reformed DMV.
SHERWOODBut why did the chairman say no to her? I mean, people know her record. Why did he...
NNAMDIShe's going to say, you'll have to ask the chairman that. (laugh)
BOWSERWell, you know...
SHERWOODDid he tell you?
BOWSERHe said -- well, listen, as I told you, I'm not going to discuss conversations that I had with the chairman. I know that they do it with you, but I'm not going to do it.
SHERWOODWhat about Max Brown, though? I mean, these are hundreds of millions of dollars of issues, and Metro can't be any more important.
SHERWOODMm-hmm. Max has been an exceptional leader at Events D.C. And I continue to know that he will do a good job with his leadership. We've built the stadium. We've transformed the Carnegie Museum that sat fallow for a good amount of time and breathed light into the Historical Society.
SHERWOODWill you come up with alternate appointees? Will you come up with alternate appointees other than these two, Lucinda Babers...
BOWSERThese two are fine appointees, and I want the council to vote on them.
NNAMDIHere's Gordon, in Edgewood. Gordon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GORDONThank you, Kojo. My question, Madam Mayor, has to do with street safety. Your office has been holding on a project for street safety on 6th or 9th Streets Northwest. Your budget, the current fiscal year has money to finish the design and implement it. So, my question is, what is your plan to implement it, and why has it been delayed for several years?
BOWSERI do think it's a matter of street safety and making sure that any chosen alignment will be safe for all users. And I think that we haven't figured that out yet.
NNAMDIHere is Leslie's email. Regarding the lack of prompt coordination by the Office of United Communications and the D.C. Police and Fire Departments and Metro, what have you done to improve operations at office -- I don't know what that means -- a quality call is not enough.
BOWSERAt what, a quality...
NNAMDIWhat have you done to improve those operations? A quality call is not enough. I don't know if you said -- if you used the words quality call on some occasion.
BOWSERThe question is about our 911 call center, it sounds like. And we've been able to attract a wonderful leader who's working hand-in-hand with Chief Dean on all of our protocols. We've hired 911 call-takers after a period where there were none hired, and we have provided them the type of training that they need to be successful. So, after any critical incident, we dig deep to make sure that everything was done properly, or if there are any opportunities to make some corrections. And so that's what we will continue to do with our 911 call center.
SHERWOODThat's a good transition to the homicide rate. Homicides are at 143 now. It was, I think, 132 last year. There were 160 overall, I think, in 2018. Hate crimes are up. The Councilmember Charles Allen had a little to do this week with the U.S. Attorney's office over coming to testify about hate crimes. You, earlier this year, met with the attorney general to do more about illegal guns and tougher prosecutions of repeat offenders...
BOWSERU.S. Attorney, yep.
SHERWOOD...U.S. Attorney, Jessie Liu. And you've had a couple of public safety walks, several of them, this week in Ward 2 and Ward 6. First, about the homicides, what are your thoughts about it, other than we all know a lot of illegal guns come from Virginia, what you're doing and just the general attitude of the relationship between the Council now and the U.S. Attorney's office and maybe your office. Are we all on the same page when it comes to fighting crime?
BOWSERWell, let me just say, we have an unacceptable level of gun violence. It's largely concentrated in several areas that I have targeted with our fall crime initiative. You know, Tom, covering D.C., that we've used the summer crime initiative for the last 11 years, and we've seen -- just this past summer, we saw a 24 percent decrease in violent -- in homicide in those five areas. So we have identified five new areas for the fall. They will have more intense police supervision, resources along with that of our other agencies.
BOWSERBut you have hit the -- you know, you've hit the problem on the head. We have too many people using illegal guns. And we know that the people who demonstrate a willingness to use those guns have to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
NNAMDIAbout a month ago, you moved the city's Automated Traffic Enforcement Program -- which is in charge of things like red lights and speeding cameras -- from the D.C. Police to the District Department of Transportation, DDOT. The D.C. Council opposed this move, but after the Council nixed multiple requests to move this program, you signed an executive order. Why was it important to you to move the program to DDOT?
BOWSERYou heard already a caller about Vision Zero and traffic safety in the District. What we've seen across the country is the incidence of traffic fatalities and pedestrian fatalities included in that increase. And we all have to do more to make sure we're keeping our streets safer. Speed certainly is a big factor in fatalities related to traffic incidents. And so getting people to slow down is top on our agenda.
BOWSERWe know that the traffic engineers and planners at DDOT can be more nimble in deploying our automated traffic enforcement to respond to traffic safety issues. And so that is where it belongs. And what we researched is that we didn't really need to do anything to change the law to do that.
SHERWOODI need to point out that Charles Allen, chairman of the Public Safety Commission, says he actually supports the idea of moving the cameras. But what he didn't like is that, for two years, you sought to change the law. The Council said it did not want to change law at all, and so it didn't act on your legislation, and that you have found an administrative way to do something that the council said they didn't want to do. And, once again, that's a friction between you and the Council.
BOWSERWell, the Council didn't really say that. Staying silent on something is not changing the law about something. And when it doesn't go to the -- I'm not sure we had a standalone piece of legislation. Perhaps we did. That's saying something different.
NNAMDIHere's about traffic, Ken, in Washington, D.C. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KENHello. My question relates to...
KEN...sidewalk traffic. And I am wondering, with all of the money and effort and space dedicated to bicycle lanes and better traffic management, I'm wondering what the rules are related to bicycles, scooters and now mopeds that I'm having to compete with on the sidewalk here. Specifically, I'm very concerned about the safety of myself, fellow pedestrians and especially children and pets who are unpredictable on the sidewalk.
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Mayor Bowser.
BOWSERMopeds are not allowed on the sidewalks. I'm pretty sure about that. Now, the scooters, we are getting increasing questions about scooter use on the sidewalks, especially in the CBD, the Central Business District area, where they're use, I'm almost certain, is prohibited on the sidewalks.
SHERWOODEven bicycles on the sidewalk downtown.
BOWSEREven bicycles on the sidewalks are prohibited. So, I share your concerns, and we want to continue to work on the regulations, actually, that I think that DDOT put in front of all the ANC commissioners just recently to make sure they are addressing the proper use of scooters. They are motorized. Not everybody should ride them. Not everybody should ride them in the street. Everybody who's using them should wear a helmet. Nut they do not take priority on the sidewalk.
SHERWOODAnd they should park them somewhere, so they don't block the sidewalks.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with the Mayor of Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser. If you have comments or questions shoot us a Tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. You can also call 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Our guest is Muriel Bowser, mayor of the District of Columbia. She joins us in studio. Enrollment in the District's charter schools declined slightly this academic year, the first time it hasn't seen growth since 1996. On the other hand, traditional public school enrollment increased with now more than 50,000 students in the system. And so what do you think these numbers say?
BOWSERWell, it says that taxpayers have invested over 10 years in transforming our public schools and D.C. families are responding. D.C. public schools are a 4 percent increase over last year. They're actually at 51,000 kids. And I think that's great news for a city. I say frequently that the transformation of our city has directly been tied to our investment in public education.
NNAMDIHere is Allison in Ward 2, speaking of schools. Allison, your turn.
ALLISONHi. Thank you so much for taking my call. I wanted to ask you about the recent bill that came up on a hearing the other day on October 21st about dyslexia and other reading disabilities screening and prevention pilot program here in D.C. There are about 65 people who spoke at this hearing over the course of six hours. And it seemed to me that there was just a tremendous problem in the D.C. Public School system about parents and kids getting help for their children, evidence-based training and instruction.
ALLISONEven just to say the word dyslexia, it seemed to be that the school system had, instead of saying dyslexia, they would say specified learning disability. Or they had -- the parents found that the kids had to be two years behind before they would get an IEP. Just, basically, what kind of help can D.C. provide the DCPS school system and the special educators? They mentioned that one out of five kids has dyslexia, and about 5 percent of the kids getting special ed instruction are only at grade level.
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Mayor Bowser.
BOWSERI will certainly look into that. Actually, after that hearing, Councilmember Todd mentioned to me some of the testimony that was given. So, I'm happy to look more into that. We have invested quite a lot in early detection of learning differences in our children. We have a fantastic Early Stages program. And it sounds like the caller agrees with our approach, that the sooner we know what children need, the better we are able to serve them in our public schools, and most often in our neighborhood schools. So, I'm very interested to hear what is being offered, and to see if we can work that into our approach.
SHERWOODMayor, a couple quick things on schools. It's good news that schools are getting more students. Charters are slightly down. There's a debate about whether the charters should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Do you think that charters, in terms of who gets paid what, should they be subject to the Freedom of Information Act?
BOWSERI think that the charters have some work to do with data transparency. Actually, what I've recommended to them is some of the under-enrollment budget that they're going to see, that we're going to return to them, could be dedicated to improving financial, especially in data transparency.
SHERWOODSo, they can do that. And now, it's a small issue for the whole region, but the Jelleff School, your Department of Parks and Recreation renewed a contract at Jelleff, which is over off of Wisconsin Avenue. And Maret School has been criticized because it spent millions of dollars to fix up the facility and has majority use for it. Do you have any views at all on what your rec center said about Jelleff?
BOWSERWell, I think our director at the hearing was very clear about the process that they engaged in. It was a regular process to renew the agreement. It was contemplated at the outset of their first 10-year arrangement. There was community engagement in the process. And Jelleff is, indeed, a very special asset. And I think we have some opportunities, more opportunities in the neighborhood to make additional investments in other parks. And we intend to do that.
SHERWOODOne more thing on it, the city has spent billions of dollars, I think, on renovation of schools. Some of the school activists are telling me that all the schools west of the Anacostia River have been renovated. But only half the schools in Ward 8, about 15 or 18 schools, still need to be renovated east of the River, where a lot of great need is. But there's no real plan to do, I think, 15 of those 18 schools. There are like three on the books to do, 15 there's no plan at all, and that there might be some unfairness that the renovations are not being done across the city.
BOWSERI would agree with them, except I would point to many, many years of the Council's committee that had oversight over DGS prioritizing wards...
SHERWOODDepartment of General Services, that does that work.
BOWSER…prioritizing Ward 3 schools to the detriment of Ward 8 schools.
SHERWOODSo, the Council has done this.
BOWSERYou go back and look. It's no, I think, coincidence that Ward 3 schools have been finished, and that committee was chaired many years by the Ward 3 councilmember.
NNAMDIDobermare tweeted us to ask: what's the mayor's plan about the opioid epidemic and the open-air drug market happening every morning in front of the methadone clinic on Good Hope Road?
BOWSERWe have a very comprehensive plan that is being championed out of our Department of Behavioral Health around the opioid problem. And I think you know our focus has been treating people where they are and getting more people into medically-assisted therapy that we can. We have gotten a number of complaints in the area of Good Hope Road, and we have a lot of people in need. So, we're going to make sure our behavioral health teams are reaching out to those folks to make sure that clinic is being operated properly.
NNAMDIWAMU's Martin Austermuhle reported this month that some of your staff members and aides are using WhatsApp to communicate. WhatsApp is a private messaging service, one that's becoming more commonly used in general. But open government advocates are concerned about government businesses being conducted over a private app, since this makes them harder to reach by the press or public through open-record laws. Is your office planning on rolling out any kind of best practices policy regarding WhatsApp or other platforms like it?
BOWSERWell, we certainly, Kojo, have a data transparency policy that everybody on my staff adheres to. And we make sure and we have a very robust effort at responding to a lot of FOIAs, and we do that, too. And so we will continue to make sure that our data transparency policy is contemporary.
SHERWOODWell, Mayor, you're in your first year of your second term. Are you going to run for reelection?
BOWSER(laugh) You know, I find it strange that it is only my first year in my second term, and I'm proud that we got a big turnout for our reelection. I was proud to say that the first mayor reelected in 16 years. We put together a great team. We're responsive to the initiatives that our residents want and that our city needs. And I'm going to focus on doing a great job for the residents of the District. And when the time comes, I'll make that announcement, but it'll be a lot closer to the election.
SHERWOODAnd we do have some elections, but do you have any thoughts about the recall effort for Jack Evans? The deadline to turn in the petition signatures is next month. There's no clear understanding of how many there are, 5,200, I think, are needed. It's not clear that they have enough in order to have a recall. Do you have any thoughts about the recall?
BOWSERWell, we have a number of processes. I was proud to put one in place when I created the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. The voters, of course, have the option of a recall when they're dissatisfied with a member. So, I know the Council had some actions this week to -- they always have, at their disposal, disciplinary action, as well. So, all of those three mechanisms are put in place to make sure we have the type of government that we want.
NNAMDICivil rights groups are bringing a lawsuit against the District and to individuals over the conditions at St. Elizabeth's, the city's only public psychiatric hospital. At the end of September, a water test showed harmful bacteria in the water supply. The hospital's patients and staff had to rely on only bottled water, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and portable showers for over a month. It seems that that crisis is over for the time being, but one of the people in the lawsuit, the law firm Arnold and Porter, said, quoting here, "We are deeply concerned that Mayor Bowser has not publically commented on the dire situation that St. Elizabeth's patients are experiencing." Why did you not comment?
BOWSERWe have been -- and I have commented, and we have been working very hard at understanding what exactly happened at St. Elizabeth's. Let me say here that we responded to a periodic test. There was nothing outwardly that showed that we had a problem with the water. No one was sick. There was nothing -- just looking at the water, smelling the water that would indicate that there was something wrong with it. So, we had a periodic test.
BOWSEROur hospital staff worked very quickly and, in my view, out of an abundance of caution in shutting down the water as soon as they knew that that test was problematic. In testing for these bacteria, I've learned, is not an overnight thing. They can't test it or treat it and test it immediately, but it takes some days, sometimes over a week to see if the solution actually worked. And so that is why we have seen many, many days go by after the treatment to see if the test took effect.
BOWSERSo, two chlorinations have happened. We've had tests that demonstrate that there's nothing wrong with the water. And in the next several days, I'm doing a deep dive with my staff to make sure that those processes for turning off the water in the first place -- because that's the question that we're going to want to ask. But we coordinated with our HSEMA to make sure...
SHERWOODThat's the emergency agency.
BOWSER...our emergency agency to make sure that we're properly dealing with food and sanitation for our residents there. And I'm deeply sorry that it took this many days to resolve. And I can commit to making sure that the protocol for turning off the water in the first place, or having it tested just as fast as possible is done, should we ever encounter that problem again.
SHERWOODI was told -- I got a tip that that had happened, that the water was contaminated. But the criticism I have heard is that the St. Elizabeth management -- whoever that is who runs all of that -- was slow to let the public know. That had it just announced that there was a problem -- it's not like St. Elizabeth did something wrong, and so, suddenly, the water's contaminated, but they were silent and they didn't want to go public. There were reluctant to answer reporter questions.
SHERWOODAnd, as you said, transparency can be so important. If they had just said, yes, we've got this problem. We are looking for all the help we can get. We're looking everywhere we can. We'd asked the mayor for help, and they didn't do it. They were slow to reassure the public that they were doing something. And then at last they got all that bad publicity, too.
BOWSERI would agree that we could've done a better job at the outset of communicating, and throughout.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly, but Brent emails: could the mayor please address the current state of the Reunion Square TIF? What's TIF?
BOWSERIt is a tax increment financing tool...
NNAMDI(overlapping) In Anacostia. Many residents of the neighborhood would love to see the mayor's leadership to restore the original funding amount, which was stripped from the project by Councilmember Trayon White.
BOWSERWell, let me be very clear about this. I introduced the TIF as the first-ever TIF east of the River. I think it's necessary to have the development that we want to see that will bring a mix of incomes, that will bring jobs east of the River, and especially in historic Anacostia. So, we will continue to work with the Council, who let it die in committee, by the way. It died last year in the Finance and Revenue Committee, and...
SHERWOODAnd you brought...
NNAMDIHow about restoring the original...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) We're almost out of time. You brought Trayon White back into the fold and understood his issues, and now it's on track again to go.
BOWSERWe would. What the resident is complaining about is the councilmember does not want a hotel to go there. It was our view that a hotel brings more daytime jobs and traffic, which brings more retail, which the neighborhood desperately needs.
SHERWOODThis is around there, where the big chair is, right?
BOWSERYes. And so the fact that the TIF is lower is because the use has changed. So, to get the TIF amount up, we have to bring the hotel back, which I'm happy to continue to talk to Councilmember White and McDuffy, who now chairs the committee about it.
SHERWOODAnd now more on the Nats, or are you going to close the show?
NNAMDI(laugh) More on the Nats?
SHERWOODYou know, we can talk more on the Nats, and the mayor's very excited. (laugh)
NNAMDIWe're going to close the show. Muriel Bowser is the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
BOWSERThank you. Thank you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up on Monday, we'll be digging into the history of baseball in D.C., and we need your help. We want to know, do you remember the Senators, the Homestead Grays or the arrival of the Nats? What's your favorite memory of being a D.C. baseball fan back in the day?
NNAMDIRecord a voice memo, no more than a minute, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll play a selection of your responses on Monday. Until then, have a great weekend. What's your plan, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODSeries, series, series. Go Nats.
NNAMDIGoing to the game. Going to the game. Have a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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