On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Guest Host: Marc Fisher
At the beginning of October, Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) called out Jessie K. Liu, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, for failing to attend the city’s hearing on prosecuting hate crimes. He called the move “insulting and offensive.”
Charles Allen sits down with Marc Fisher and Tom Sherwood to talk about public safety, hate crimes in D.C., and D.C. statehood.
And Maryland state senator Clarence Lam joins us to talk about Howard County redistricting and the next Maryland legislative session.
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 Julie Depenbrock
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
- Anthony Williams Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Federal City Council; Former Mayor, District of Columbia (1999- 2007)
- Charles Allen Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); @charlesallen
- Clarence Lam Member, Maryland Senate (D-District 12)
MARC FISHERIt's the Politics Hour. I'm not Kojo Nnamdi. I'm Marc Fisher, from The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo. Tom Sherwood is here. He's our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom, I am given to understand that the Nats won the World Series.
TOM SHERWOODI heard something happened. I was going to check the New York Times to see what happened, since they are so good about covering our city. It was a terrific time. I got to go to all the Playoff games and I was watching the games. It was terrific.
FISHERAnd we'll be talking momentarily with former Mayor Anthony Williams about the Nats and them coming to town in the first place. But there's all this talk always about how world championships paper over our partisan divide. Is that true?
SHERWOODI don't think anything is papered over these days with social media. I do think that the Nats have taken the place of the Washington football team that was often seen as a unifying aspect of this region. And I think, because of the team's horrible record, because of the its criticized name I think that they have faded. And the Nats are stepping in for this entire region. The Washington Business Journal did a very long story online, I read -- one of the longest stories I've ever read in a business journal, about what it's meant for the entire region. It's not just the District of Columbia. It's the entire region.
FISHERAbsolutely. We'll be talking later this hour with Clarence Lam, a Democrat from Maryland State Senator, who was representing Baltimore and Howard counties. We'll also have here in studio Charles Allen, the Democratic D.C. councilmember representing Ward 6. But first we're going to talk to the former Mayor of the District of Columbia, Anthony Williams. The mayor from 1999 to 2007. He is Chief Executive of the Federal City Council and more Jermaine to our discussion today, he the mayor who can lay claim to having brought a baseball team back to Washington. Mayor, welcome.
ANTHONY WILLIAMSHey. Happy to be with you. Thank you, Marc.
FISHERSo the team that you --
WILLIAMSAnd I say to my councilman -- I live in Ward 6 so hi to Councilman Allen.
CHARLES ALLENHello, Mr. Mayor.
SHERWOODAnd what about me?
WILLIAMSHow are you?
SHERWOODHow about hello to Sherwood?
WILLIAMSYeah, Tom, I forget.
FISHERThere's also that. So the team that you fought so hard to bring to the District has now won the World Series. This is the Holy Grail. Tell me you saw this coming when you were first talking to Major League Baseball about brining a team here.
WILLIAMSNo. I didn't, I mean, we thought -- we've talked about this. We thought it was important to have a team. We thought it was a great investment for the District both for civic spirit, the economic benefits from the team, that we would be importing revenue from outside the city from bringing a fan base to D.C., all those things. I really thought that we would have a championship caliber team when the Lerners bought the team and they made the decisions they made. Now, how soon we would be in a World Series, like a lot of people I was sometimes often skeptical, but it's fantastic. You know, it's great.
SHERWOODYou know, you were -- I wrote my City Paper story that you are a lifelong longtime St. Louis Cardinals fans. And, of course, the Nats swept the Cardinals to get to the World Series. Any mixed emotions there? Any lingering support for St. Louis that you would dare to admit?
WILLIAMSYou know, to say -- old man Busch St. Louis built a dynasty. They're a great team, but they can't hog all the championships. So I didn't feel that bad for St. Louis, no. But, you know, I've always loved that team, but talk about the Nats now. Man, everybody has got to have one team. You have to make a choice. And I love Nats. They're great. Hey, look, I'm a season ticket holder. I go to every game I can go to. So I think I could say that with conviction with no sign of embarrassment.
FISHERSo take us back to 2004 and the bitter battle over stadium funding. This was the threshold question that would determine whether baseball would come back to Washington after 33 years in the wilderness. Now, you can tell us. Did you at any point in that bitter battle believe that the deal was dead?
WILLIAMSYeah. There were signs that I thought the deal was -- I don't know whether it was on life support, but I knew that, you know, the deal was in trouble. Jerry Reinsdorf invited him to the Council Chamber.
FISHERThe owner of the Chicago White Sox.
WILLIAMSYeah, owner of the Chicago White Sox, representing Major League Baseball, getting a dressing down from some of the councilmembers. I thought, oh my God, this is going sideways. This isn't going in the right direction. Now, I will say that Councilman Allen's great predecessor, Sharon Ambrose, was always a supporter. So, you know, she wasn't one of them. But, yeah, there were some councilmembers, who really thought that it wasn't either or nor. We were going to do the stadium and rob our school and other humans services of support, or we'd do the right thing by people and deny all these oligarchs, you know, this kind of like a pleasure trip.
WILLIAMSI think clearly as it turned out we had the resources both to do the investment in sports and entertainment, which has paid off. And as I was saying to someone earlier, shortly after we did the stadium we embarked on a magnificent -- and I totally support it -- school modernization plan. It's not like that money just turned up. We always had that money available. We just didn't make a good enough case to people that those funds were already in place to do school modernization.
SHERWOODMr. Mayor you've said that to a number of groups that without the money of development you can't have the money for the social services needs and education needs. You know, there still continues --
WILLIAMSRight. I'm criticized by people for gentrification and robbing services for people with need. But if you look at budgets for all of our human services agencies including starting the move to now get them all out of receivership, I'm just saying it started during my time. So, yes. These funds went to places where they were needed. You know, we went out there. We got the field ready. We planted the crops. We harvested the crops. And people are better off to use a farm analogy.
FISHERSo apt for baseball, yeah.
SHERWOODMr. Mayor, let me ask you. Knowing that it's very controversial that the city paid -- initially it was going to spend $400 million.
WILLIAMSSure. Go ahead, yeah. I had to turn my tractor off. Go ahead.
SHERWOODI know you're at some family event. Initially it was going to be about a $400 million stadium. But with all the work and everything it was closer to $800 million. You know, Councilmember Jack Evans has said that the Washington football team ought to come back and build its own stadium there. Under what conditions would you want to see that that team rebuild at RFK? What would be the city's investment in your view? Would it be worth it? And a councilmember here has been opposed to having a football team come back? But what would you say? Would you want this? You tried in 1999. You said you wanted to bring the Skins back to D.C. What would you do to make that happen?
WILLIAMSI think now it would be a number of different things. Obviously the name is contention. That has to be worked out. Another, you've got to look at the economics and satisfy the Council, as we did, that the economics makes sense. That's a burden that, yeah, it has to be borne by the proponents. And undeniably it's harder when instead of talking about 80 or so home games, you're talking about eight.
FISHERSo, Mayor Williams, The Washington Post was reporting this morning that the Nationals are going to the White House on Monday to meet with President Trump. There have been about 20 sports championships since Trump took office. About 10 of those teams have declined to go to the White House or have been disinvited, when it turned out that some players didn't want to be seen with the president. The Red Sox went, but a number of their players refused. The Astros went. But some of their stars skipped the meeting. The same thing with the Capitals. What would you advice the Nationals to do in this instance?
WILLIAMSI think that the Nationals, who are going to the White House are going there because they have received an invitation from the president and I respect that. But I respect players who decide they don't want to go.
SHERWOODWould you go?
WILLIAMSI know that's a boring answer, but that's how I feel, you know.
SHERWOODWould you go?
WILLIAMSI'm not a player. So I can't say.
SHERWOODWell, you know, you mentioned the Lerners and what they've done. President Trump came on Sunday night and the president was booed. But the Lerners didn't invite him. Major League Baseball invited him. The Lerners chose not to get involved with all that and did not invite him.
WILLIAMSI mean, I don't want, you know -- look, I'm here to talk about the Nationals not talk about -- I just think that what we talk about normally, clearly norms have been broken now. So I think back in the day people wouldn't have -- I mean, people always boo politicians. It's hard to sort that out from booing this politician, which clearly there's a difference.
SHERWOODYou're going to miss the parade tomorrow.
WILLIAMSYeah, but if somebody has got a -- if somebody has got a tape of it, just to be able to see a World Series in D.C. imagine that.
SHERWOODStreaming. Streaming on NBC 4.
FISHERWe'll have to imagine Mayor Anthony Williams at the parade, when we're there to cheer on the Nats. Mayor Williams, thanks very much for joining us.
WILLIAMSThank you, guys, yeah. Go Nats.
FISHERSo we happen to have right here in studio with us with Tom Sherwood, our Resident Analyst, we have Charles Allen, the Ward 6 representative on the D.C. Council.
ALLENHome of the Nationals Ballpark.
FISHERHome of the Nationals Ballpark and so what impact has that stadium made on your ward? I mean, obviously, this was an extremely divisive issue for the Council back when this decision was made. You weren't there at the time, but you've had to deal with the aftermath. What have been the up and down sides of that?
ALLENWell, I mean, the ballpark itself, you know, the former mayor I think aptly talked about the difference when we talk about difference stadiums. I mean, the Nats ballpark is used 100 times a year between baseball games and events. It's active all the time. And what we've seen is because of that level of activity, you have business that go up. You have residence that go up. And it's been a great catalyst. I'd also argue, though, the investments the city made in, for example, Yards Park and some of the great public parks along the Anacostia River have been just as catalytic, which have been phenomenal. And have just created this active, vibrant space.
ALLENWhen we talk about an NFL stadium, they get used eight days a year. It is just not even remotely close to the same thing. And you dedicate massive amounts of space for parking lot. So it just doesn't make sense. They're apples and oranges. I do agree with the mayor, though, this is a time to talk about the Nats to help celebrate that and the accomplishments there rather than a conversation around that football team.
FISHERCouncilmember Allen, after decades of steady decline in violent crime around the city there's now concern that the numbers have been creeping up again. And that the streets are not as safe as they'd been in recent years. You serve as Chair of the Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. So what steps are you taking to address this issue of gun violence in particular?
ALLENYeah. You know, I've had conversations with folks all over the city not just in Ward 6, but really across the entire city. And while we certainly have some metrics that are headed in the right direction where we're seeing crime decrease, the level of gun violence has been unacceptable. And that's been a trend over the last couple of years. And I think a lot of us are trying to pull in the same direction to change that. We've done a lot of things on the legislative side. We have created new consequences. For example, we're seeing on the scene where you'll have more shell casings. We're seeing higher capacity guns being used. And so we've increased criminal consequences there.
ALLENBut we've also tried to invest heavily in the violence prevention and violence intervention work. We've stood up in the last year in the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. They're about a year and a half old. And we just tripled the funding going into those efforts. That's just taking effect in the beginning of October. Part of my job is to make sure we are focused on expanding that as much as we can. We're talking about the type of hard work, the relationship building, the credibility to be able to intervene to either break a cycle of violence or to prevent it in the first place. And that's an incredibly important part of what we've got to do.
ALLENThere's a lot of folks that are focused on this and I am as well. That's going to be a significant part of our solution to turning around the gun violence we're seeing and will ultimately -- it's going to be a part of what helps save lives.
SHERWOODEveryone says that, you know, just having police on the street is not enough. You have to address the social issues about crime and gun control laws. But do we have enough police officers? Is it properly -- are we hiring enough and training enough police officers these days? For a long while there we were 3 or 400 below the authorized strength. Where are we?
ALLENWell, I get the monthly report on what our force numbers look like. I'm comfortable with where we are. We've had what's called a retirement bubble essentially working its way through the force. Just this last spring, one of the things I did is extended the Senior Police Officer Program, which helps keep some of our talented officers on the force. But we already have more police officers per capita than almost every other city. And that's not including even some of the federal law enforcement.
ALLENSo I'm comfortable with where we are in terms of our police force numbers. We've really stabilized the attrition that we had seen from retirements and resignations. And so I feel good with where we are there. What we'll see frequently is both an expectation from some in the community not all, but some that they want to see more police officers. That makes them feel more safe. But I represent everybody and I also have communities that talk about how that makes them feel less safe. That says we have a lot of work to do to help continue to build the trust and the relationship between officers and community policing.
ALLENBut if we only look at this from a law enforcement perspective, we are missing a lot of it. We're only waiting till after the crime takes place, after someone has been injured or hurt. We've got to get in front of it. And that's back where this violence prevention intervention work is so important. And we are not investing yet enough in that. We have to continue doing more to grow that and make that a huge priority.
FISHERWe have a -- one of your constituents is on the line, and wants to ask you about juvenile crime. Christian, you're on the air.
CHRISTIANHello, Councilman Allen. My name is Christian. I've been in your ward, Ward 6, for more than a decade. I was calling about recent juvenile crime. The D.C. government, when I've interacted with them in general, I'm always told what they can't do to help or they throw chants in the air to confuse the issue. And I've emailed the D.C. government about this. And you were on the email recently where I had my nanny with a kid that was one years old and another that is 20 months old was chased by three Eastern High students in their uniforms. And luckily they didn't go after her. They unfortunately assaulted a man a block away. Took his bag and ran off. The police were called.
CHRISTIANThe reason I'm bringing this up with you is that the response to this in the emails from the government agencies I've sent the emails to have been one, either telling me what they can't do or two telling me that lots of people wear Eastern High garb even though this crime took two blocks from the high school.
FISHEROkay. Let's hear from councilmember.
ALLENWell, I'm trying to make what Christian's question was going to be. But in terms of largely when we talk about juvenile crime, I've been with in conversation with both the principal at Eastern. I've had conversations with the attorney general that's the office who prosecutes most of our juvenile crime. There's going to be an unsatisfactory answer frequently when we're talking about juvenile crime, because we are not able to as a government to discuss and talk about the specifics of any case when it involves a juvenile. That said part of what we're trying to do is work hard on the juvenile space to have, for example, the programs at the Attorney General's Office that works to help those young people both have accountability, but also to help redirect.
ALLENWe have investments in our Restorative Justice project, for example, where we bring the victim of a crime from that juvenile interaction as well as the juvenile. We're seeing really great results from that when we actually use that Restorative Justice model, and it has greatly reduced recidivism from those young people. Not knowing the specifics of the case that Christian is bringing up here those are some of the efforts that we're taking. But it also speaks to why, you know, violence doesn't just come out of nowhere. When we're talking about a young person, we're talking about economic opportunity, educational opportunity. We have got a lot more that we have to do.
FISHERWhen we come back after a short break, we will continue with Charles Allen and talk about the crime situation in the city, hate crime prosecutions in the District being at their lowest point, and we'll also talk about sex work and the possible decriminalization of that. I'm Marc Fisher from The Washington Post sitting for Kojo Nnamdi. We'll be back after this.
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we are talking with Ward 6 representative on the D.C. Council, Charles Allen, as well as with our Resident Analyst, Mr. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODLet's go back to that and wrap up that issue about crime, because the politics of it is that people can start feeling unsafe with incidents in their neighborhoods. And long-term solutions about better social justice and better support is one thing, but what do you say even in a city where most its crime rates are down -- homicides are significantly up -- But in general crime rates are down. But what do you say to reassure people that you and this government have their backs, when it comes to being safe in their neighborhoods?
ALLENWell, this is where I hate using stats frankly, because I can show people all the stats in the world.
ALLENBut if you have experience crime, a neighbor, a family member --
SHERWOODOr you've heard about it.
ALLENThen crime just went up for you.
SHERWOODAnd what do you say for people, who are afraid maybe to walk to nearby grocery or to go to the library, because they are just fearful? They've heard about a juvenile crime in their neighborhood. They don't feel safe on the streets.
ALLENI think it's really important -- you never paper over what someone is experiencing in their own neighborhood. Part of what we try to do though is make sure that we are talking about, but also demonstrating the different actions we're taking. So, for example, the Council -- last year I worked through the Council to put in a Red Flag law, which in theory I could talk about Red Flag law all day long. But when it comes to action it's about getting an illegal gun out of someone's hand before they do harm to themselves or to others. And we need to be able to help use these tools to help demonstrate to the community how the things that we do are actually translating into improvement in public safety.
ALLENThat to me is part of what is a challenge for any elected official, but also for government in general is to make sure that we're translating these different things. When we make investments in the Office and Neighborhood Safety Engagement I've worked to have make sure our violence prevention and violence interrupters are actually in the community at meetings, for example. I want the community to understand, what does that look like? What does a violence interrupter look like?
ALLENWe've had meetings, for example, where we've had great folks that are returning citizens that are now doing the hard work of -- and they have credibility to help stop further violence, Helen Flowers, Corine Mccraney, in the community. And having people see them and understand this is what that looks like.
FISHERAnother area where there may be a disconnect between the perception of crime and the numbers is hate crimes where there's been considerable around town about the hate crime prosecutions in the District being at their lowest point in a decade. And for some folks that's sign that there's insufficient prosecution. For others it's a sign that there may be fewer hate crimes. What do you think the reality is and why do you think those prosecutions have become a relative rarity?
ALLENYeah, well, I would say there's not a question about the number of hate crimes. So the reports of hate crimes have actually gone up dramatically. And so in the last couple of years -- and there's probably no way to avoid the connection that we see with the current occupant of the White House giving so much space and credence to people to embrace that hate and to act on it. But we have seen hate crimes against our neighbors go up dramatically. And then we have at the same time seen the prosecution using our hate crimes law go to record lows. That to me it does not speak to the values of our city, but it also sends an incredibly chilling message to our LGBTQ neighbors, to communities of color that we are not using the tools that we have.
ALLENAnd so we held a hearing just a couple of weeks ago where we were trying to understand what's going on. The U.S. Attorney's Office, which is the federal prosecutor appointed via the federal government and they prosecute our local crimes. The only place in the country where that happens. They didn't show up. It would have been a great opportunity to have a conversation, though, to understand why is it that we're seeing this, because it's -- the lack of showing up, it's not just insulting to the Council or to me. It's insulting to the whole city.
SHERWOODI agree. I agree with you
ALLENIt's insulting to the ability to have our LGBTQ neighbors know that we're taking this seriously.
SHERWOODI agree with you that it's insulting for the U.S. Attorney, Jessie Liu, not to come herself or not to send someone, but she did put out a statement that said that while the police have a significant number of arrests, they haven't presented them to the prosecution office for prosecution. She gave the numbers, but she says there's hundreds of arrests for hate crimes, but they don't actually make it to the U.S. Attorney's Office for them to be prosecuted. Is there a dropping of the ball by the police department?
ALLENWouldn't that have been a great conversation to have at a hearing? We had NPD there.
SHERWOODShe said just for example.
ALLENAnd the arrests are being made. The charging decisions are made from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
SHERWOODWell, she said of the 204 potentially bias related incidents flagged by police department in 2018, only 59 were prosecuted, which suggests that the police were not forwarding the information. And this is a long time fight between the prosecutors and the police about what information --
ALLENNo. That's not what that says.
SHERWOODBut 59 resulted in arrests that were presented to the office for prosecution.
ALLENCorrect. Presented for prosecution, then look at the next number, which is how many were actually prosecuted, which is about three. So basically what they're saying is that we went from having 99 percent of them not prosecuted to 95 percent of them not prosecuted. That's not a good number and it says a lot to our city.
SHERWOODYou're also fighting -- not fighting. You're having a disagreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office over changing the sentencing of people, who are convicted as youth of reducing their sentencing. The U.S. Attorney's Office went to extraordinary lengths to oppose it saying you were releasing murderers and rapists and all kinds of things. Is there any hope? Have you actually sat down with Jessie Liu? I know the mayor has to talk about gun prosecutions. But have you in fact sat down with Prosecutor Jessie Liu and said, let's work together not just complain to each other.
ALLENYeah. We sit down once a month with the Criminal Justice Court and Council. We've had face to face meetings. The U.S. Attorney's Office has not brought up the issues that you're talking about. So they're not being elevated to the people --
SHERWOODWell, they brought them up to the public. They invited the ANC commissioners in and big meetings.
ALLENThe Second Look Act that you're talking that was another hearing that the Attorney's Office didn't come to. I'll say another one, which is we're looking at how do we get illegal guns off our streets, gun trafficking. We held an entire hearing focused on that on illegal guns that are on our streets. Over 2,000 illegal guns are taken off our streets by NPD. Yet we don't see prosecutions, again, didn't show up to the hearing. We need partners that come to the table to have these tough conversations, because that's how we move toward solution.
FISHERAs part of that conversation about hate crimes, you are proposing something called the Panic Defense Prohibition Act. What is panic defense, and how would this help increase the government's ability to hold people accountable?
ALLENCurrently, there is a defense that exists where someone's able to essentially say that they acted in that violent way in a defense to all of a sudden discovering that someone was gay. That there was this ability to, all of a sudden, because of who that person is, all of a sudden becomes their own defense. We heard testimony from Mark Rodeffer, for example, who was assaulted, and as they were trying to prosecute that, essentially, the argument boiled down to making up a story about how, well, because this person was gay, therefore I shouldn't be held to account.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And that's considered a legitimate legal defense?
ALLENIt has been.
FISHERAround the country, yes, yes.
ALLENAbsolutely, around the country. So, jurisdictions are looking at how we do that, because it is -- it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It also --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So, people were triggered by the mere fact that somebody is --
SHERWOOD-- is a gay person and they feel threatened, and then they act out or something. I mean, it's really so ridiculous, I can't believe we're talking about it.
ALLENIt's one of these things where it seems like it's maybe an artifact that's built into law, but it's not just an artifact, it's a bias that is built into the law. And so we're looking at how we make that change, because that's not a defense that you should be able to make, that, all of a sudden, I am no longer accountable because someone is just who they are. That's something we're going to be changing.
FISHERLet's hear from Carlos, in the District. Carlos, you're on the air.
CARLOSThank you. Thank you, Councilmember Allen, for your leadership on the Judiciary Committee. I was wanting to find out where you saw the bill on the decriminalization of sex work heading, especially after the contentious hearing, and also wanted to find out when you think it might be coming up on the docket, the bill on mandatory reporting. The last hearing was in July, and I'm not aware of anything further happening. And I also wanted to give kudos to Kevin Whitfield on your staff, who's been nothing but helpful and being responsive and informing me of what's going on with the mandatory reporting bill.
ALLENWell I appreciate the shout-out for my staff. I'm very proud of the team that we've built, so I'll -- if he's not listening right now, I'll make sure he gets that. In terms of the decriminalization effort around sex work, we held a hearing about two weeks or so ago. One of the things that I think was very clear that we heard from a lot of people was that further criminalizing sex work itself is nothing but just damaging.
ALLENWhat it does is it creates more barriers, more contacts with the criminal justice system, and for individuals that are trying to leave sex work, it just creates a criminal history that becomes overwhelming in terms of the ability to have further employment or housing or education.
ALLENWhere there was incredibly sharp division was on how and what that path looks like to move forward. So, the legislation that was introduced by Councilman Grasso and others, I think it was a very appropriate thing, to have a public discussion and a hearing. I think there were incredibly sharp divisions about what that path forward looks like. I don't see consensus right now.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You have some of those thoughts yourself about how it would be done, and --
ALLEN(overlapping) Absolutely, the concern --
SHERWOOD-- it's not just people. You have concerns about it.
ALLENYeah, the concerns that I have and that others have is if you completely decriminalize sex work, what you end up doing is -- or what you risk doing is are we making it more difficult, for example, to be able to hold sex traffickers accountable? We already see prosecutions for sex trafficking very low, even though we know that there is a lot of sex trafficking. To have legalization, essentially, of pimping or of brothels, that was one of the concerns that was cited.
SHERWOODWe would be unique in the nation.
ALLEN(overlapping) We would be.
SHERWOODEven in Nevada, there's very limited --
ALLEN(overlapping) But I do think what's important is that there -- again, there was a lot of support for understanding the negative consequences of over-criminalizing the sex work itself. So, the path forward right now, I don't think the votes are there on the council, I don't think they're in committee. There seems to be a lot of contention. There's not a consensus on what that path forward looks like.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But --
ALLENBut it was a very important conversation to have, and to give a lot of voice to a community that is already very marginalized. And we're trying to think through ways to make sure that we're making sure that sex workers themselves are safe, and that we don't further marginalize a marginalized community.
SHERWOODThis bill won't be moved in this year, probably.
ALLENAs of right now, no.
FISHERWe'll have to leave it there. Charles Allen, the Ward Six representative on the District Council, thanks so very much for joining us.
ALLENThanks for having me.
FISHERTom, we're --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I have mayoral questions. (laugh)
FISHERYeah, well --
SHERWOODNext time, next time.
FISHERNext time, next time. But, Tom Sherwood, one of the things that we have coming up on the other side other Potomac River -- the elections on Tuesday in Virginia, will determine which party controls both houses in Richmond. It was an interesting dichotomy this week, where we saw The New York Times run a story reporting on how Republicans running in suburban Virginia districts have taken a turn toward the moderate.
FISHERThey're disguising some of their conservative votes and positions, talking about their support for antidiscrimination legislation, their efforts to address gun violence, to expand Medicaid. And yet the same day, The Washington Post ran the opposite story, saying that although many Republicans in swing districts did moderate their messages and downplay their Republicanism, a number of them have now, in the last days before the election, veered right again, and they are trying to turn out GOP voters by casting Democrats as extremists, calling them socialists, doubling down on their opposition to abortion and to immigration. What's going on there, and will that tactic work?
SHERWOODWell, both are true. You wrote a great story, incidentally, if I can promote what you wrote about Tim Hugo's race in suburban northern Virginia.
SHERWOOD"The Last Standing Republican," it's worth a read for people to understand what's happening in northern Virginia. But the fact is, as you get days before an election, the mailers get tougher, the phone calls get meaner. The Republicans -- all the reporting we've done is -- WAMU has been doing special reports on Wednesdays for the last month on the elections.
SHERWOODIt looks like because of the unpopularity of President Trump, because of the massacre in Virginia Beach, because of the fight over guns, in general, it looks like the Republicans are facing a very tough day on Tuesday, November the 5th.
SHERWOODAnd so some of the Republican in more rural or exurbs, right outside the suburbs, are turning to aggressive, very conservative campaigns, because of the gun fight. You know, Beto O'Rourke saying, "Yes, we're coming for your guns" was a tremendous boost for conservative Republicans.
SHERWOODBut I think, overall, the demographics of Virginia are changing, and you'll see it Tuesday night. Suburban women who don't like President Trump, who are concerned about their families and panic drills in schools, that something should be done about guns. Republicans, you know, junked that special session back on June or July the 9th after 90 minutes, and did nothing about guns. I think you'll see people are going to respond on Tuesday.
FISHERThe race that I wrote about today, the Dan Helmer --
FISHER-- against Tim Hugo, the long-time delegate from House District 40 in Fairfax and Prince William counties, Tim Hugo is literally the last Republican in northern Virginia. Does that make a difference? Should people care that there be some voice in the party that at least for the moment rules Virginia, from the region of northern Virginia?
SHERWOODWell, the Republican Party is -- you know, there are supporting President Trump, and they -- but as you point out in the story, Hugo is a "I'll fix your pothole" kind of politician. He's not trying to play any significant issues. He says, I'm a local politician, and I'm not sure state delegates and senators have to fix potholes.
SHERWOODBut he's trying to say look, I'm not an ideologue here. I'm trying to help my community. Don't vote me out because of this distrust and irritation on the Democratic Party side. It's an uphill battle for him.
FISHERWhen we come back after a short break, we'll be joined by Clarence Lamb, Maryland state senator, reporting Baltimore and Howard counties, as The Politics Hour continues.
FISHERWelcome back, I'm Marc Fisher of "The Washington Post," sitting in for Kojo, and talking with Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington's "City Paper." And, Tom, the District is trying to make it possible for more workforce-class people to stay in the city and continue to be firefighters and police officers, and, in this case, teachers.
FISHERPublic school teachers are going to get help paying for home. It's an initiative that is partly public, partly private. It involves a company in San Francisco that's going to help teachers pay for half of their down-payment, up to a maximum of $120,000, toward a house.
FISHERIn exchange for that help, however, the company will get 25 percent of any increase in the home value when the teacher then sells that property. So, there's some controversy around whether this is really helpful to the teachers or to that company in San Francisco.
SHERWOODThat might be helpful to individual teachers here and there. A similar program the mayor has announced previously has helped police officers. The fact is, the Manhattan-ization of the District of Columbia has made it unaffordable for middle-income people.
SHERWOODIf you don't have some type of government assistance or you're not paid well, you have a hard time finding places to either buy or rent in the city. So, this is another effort in addressing a very large problem. The mayor is -- you know, says we need 36,000 more units of housing by 2025, 16,000 of them need to be affordable.
SHERWOODHousing is a crisis across the country, particularly in urban areas, and we're -- we haven't yet found the right ways to address it, but these are some of the ways that we're trying.
FISHERAnd, of course, it's becoming an increasing problem in some of the suburban areas, and we'll be talking to that -- about that a little later with Clarence Lam. Senator Lam, welcome to the program. The senator is a state senator reporting Baltimore and Howard counties. He's a Democrat, and you represent an area that was part of Representative Elijah Cummings' district.
FISHERAnd the scene at the funeral for Representative Cummings was a powerful reminder of his influence and stature. What did he mean to the people you represent?
CLARENCE LAMHe was a tremendous representative to the folks in my district, and really, someone whose moral compass was always true, someone who stood up for justice, but was always with the people, who recalled where he came from and was really committed to justice and the law. And we will miss him dearly, and having his voice representing us on Capitol Hill.
SHERWOODHe represented your area, your senate district. Was it in his congressional district?
LAMA good chunk of my Senate district was.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So are you running for the -- (laugh) will you add your name to the telephone book?
LAMI am not running for Congress.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Are you supporting anyone to replace him?
LAMI think it's --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You've got state senators looking, delegates are looking --
SHERWOODMaya Rockeymoore Cummings, his widow, and the state party chairman. Go out on a limb here: who are you supporting? (laugh) This is The Politics Hour.
LAMIt is early. There are a lot of good folks that will come out. I think --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Early? They have to get in by November 20th. That's 19 days.
LAMThat's true. There's still a lot of time for people to come out --
SHERWOODI know the calendar.
LAM-- for that, and so, you know, I'm sure there will be a lot of good candidates coming out. I'm focused on doing the --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Will you endorse someone, or will you just stay out of it, since you're not running?
LAMI am not certain yet. I would like to know who is running, and I am focused, though, on serving the constituents of District 12 in the Maryland State Senate.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Is Maya Rockeymoore Cummings doing a good job as state party chair?
LAMShe is doing a very good job as the state party chair. She is certainly making her way around the state, and has made her way around the state, championing many different areas and districts and causes. And so we really are blessed to have her as our state party chair.
FISHERTom would, of course, spend the rest of the hour running you through all the possible candidates, to sort of suss out where you really are on this. But, in the meantime, the longest-serving speaker in the history of Maryland, Mike Bush, passed away in the spring, and now Mike Miller, who is battling cancer, is stepping down from the Senate presidency.
FISHERThat's a lot of change for the legislature that you're a part of. What does the end of the era of the two Mikes mean for Maryland, and particularly for the people you represent?
LAMIt's really a changing of the guard, here. This is a generational change that we have never seen, probably, in the likes of the state legislature, where you have two new presiding officers coming into the House of Delegates, and also new Senate president coming into the Senate of Maryland.
LAMI think a lot of us have a lot of hope that with new folks coming in, with new attention being given to issues and fresh focuses and perspectives being brought into the caucus, I think we are really looking forward to a productive legislative session.
LAMBut as with any new body, when you look through the Tuckman's layers of group development, of storming, forming, and norming, I think we're going to see that all occur very quickly. But I know and have a lot of confidence in both of our presiding officers. I've known them both personally for years, and I know they will be great leaders for both bodies.
SHERWOODThe big news is that the suburban Washington area of Maryland has been charge of State Assembly for a couple of decades, several decades. Now, all the power has shifted to Baltimore and Baltimore City. Adrian, the speaker's --
SHERWOOD-- Jones -- I started to say Washington, because it's somebody I know. She's the speaker. She's from Baltimore County. Bill Ferguson, tell us about Bill Ferguson: 36 years old, from Baltimore County. He wipes away all the opposition, and the Democratic caucus has said he'll be the next president of the Senate, and you'll vote him in in January.
SHERWOODWhat is it about him? What should people in the suburban Maryland area know about Bill Ferguson?
LAMSo, I think it's important to keep in mind that Senator Ferguson was actually born in Montgomery County. He was born and raised there, and --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And he's new to the senate, though, just since, like, 2010 or 2011. He hasn't been in there for a while.
LAMThat's correct, yes, yes.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) He's a newbie.
LAMHe's one of the new generation of leaders coming in to the Senate of Maryland, and --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So are you.
LAMAnd so am I. And you know, even when I came in there were 17 new senators that came in last -- or I guess earlier this year. Folks who were elected last year, but --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) There are 47, right, total?
LAM(laugh) Yeah. There are 47.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Right, total.
LAMSo, 17 out of 47 are new within the past year. But I think that's where we're seeing new perspectives, fresh leadership come through, new energy and enthusiasm for folks to be able to expand our caucus and continue to build bridges with our colleagues.
LAMI think there's a lot of issues that we need to tackle that are really difficult coming up ahead, particularly when it comes to education and the Kirwan Commission.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, yes, I want to mention the Kirwan Commission. The governor has denounced it as a money grab, are the words he's used. But the new president of the senate, Bill Ferguson, is a former Teach for America --
LAM(overlapping) That's right.
SHERWOOD-- teacher, considered liberal, and if the governor has thought he's had trouble with the legislature before, it looks to me if he doesn't bend a little, he's going to have a great deal more trouble.
LAMI think there's going to be a lot to see, and I know that Senator Ferguson will be a champion for education. He's made that a strong priority of his. And so when it comes to Kirwan, the commission's recommendations on how we can elevate and bring up and improve our public school system, Senator Ferguson will be a champion for that.
LAMAnd I know Speaker Jones will be, too. And so I think that's an issue where there is no daylight between the two bodies. I think it will be interesting to see, with new presiding officers, how that relationship will work with the governor. I know that Senator Ferguson is not one who is afraid to go toe-to-toe when he believes in a cause, and I think Kirwan will be one of those.
FISHERWe are talking with Senator Clarence Lam, a Democrat from Baltimore and Howard counties. And Senator, one of the big headlines out of Maryland in recent months has been the school redistricting proposal in Howard County. What exactly is being proposed, and why is it so controversial?
LAM(laugh) Any --
SHERWOODWe have one minute. (laugh)
LAMOne minute -- let me try to capture that. So, school redistricting is basically reassignments of particular neighborhoods within communities to specific schools, right? And so, it is obviously very controversial, because neighborhoods are very used to sending their children to specific schools.
FISHERPeople buy houses with certain assumptions.
LAMI think people buy with certain assumptions. Sometimes these are misconceptions, but, you know, in --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Misconceptions? Ooh. You mean people buy houses --
LAMI think --
FISHER(overlapping) Misconceptions about the nature of the schools, or --
LAM(overlapping) Misconceptions that the schools that they are assigned to when they buy that house will never change. Right? And that's why I have a piece of legislation that I've introduced to make sure that that is made clear to people at their time of closing.
LAMWhen they buy that home, they realize that that home and any students coming from it could be reassigned to any school at any point in time, depending on the Board of Education.
FISHERBut why shouldn't people be able to rely on the idea that I'm buying into a particular school district? Why shouldn't that be something --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That's actually motivation.
LAMRight. Right, so we have a school system. We have Howard County public school system here, and what people are buying into is into a school system, and all of our schools are great. I would put any of our schools within Howard County up against any school, and recognize that it would do phenomenally well.
LAMAnd so I think the concern here is really one of addressing needs within the system. And that includes capacity and balances. Sometimes you have neighborhoods being built in areas where schools are already full, and what you need to do is be able to reassign students to schools that have capacity.
LAMI have a school in my -- Howard High School in my district is at almost 140 percent capacity, and yet we have schools within the Howard County public school system, high schools that are at just about 80 percent capacity. If we don't rebalance some of those seats, we're going to have permanently crowded schools, and that's not fair.
FISHERBut crowding is not the only issue behind redistricting, and while it's certainly nice to say that we love all of our schools in any given system, everybody is -- every parent is glued to those sites that show the test scores and the various metrics that purportedly show whether one school is better than another, however you want to define that.
FISHERSo, obviously, you understand that a lot of people have been up in arms, a lot of people have been coming out to public meetings, saying that they moved to specific neighborhoods because they were zoned for certain schools, and this takes us back to the busing debates of the 1970s and '80s. Obviously, there are race and class issues involved, here. If you were to level with the people who are opposed to this, it's not just about crowding, right?
LAMI think, from the state's perspective, it's mostly about crowding. We, as a state, provide probably about 40 percent of the funding required for school capital construction dollars here in Howard County, and we have a responsibility then to make sure that those seats are used most efficiently.
LAMWe cannot build our way out of the issues that we have in the county. We cannot just constantly build more schools, because schools are overcrowded. We have to use the seats that we have most efficiently, and that means potentially reassigning students to different schools based on capacity needs.
LAMNow, the school system, the Board of Education has the actual responsibility of drawing the lines and assigning specific polygons to specific schools. They've had hours and hours of hearings. They've extended hearings --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) They've got five more, I think --
LAM(overlapping) They've got five more work sessions to work through --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) -- work sessions.
LAM-- how they're going to redraw some of these lines. But they've had hours and hours of hearings to try to gather input from the community, and they've done a phenomenal job in that. And what they're doing now is trying to pull all that together to make the actual hard decisions as to where school assignments will go.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That would be --
LAMWe on the State Delegation level, just to be clear --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) To be clear --
LAM-- do not draw those lines.
SHERWOODRight, you don't draw the lines, but -- and this is also not something we're thinking about looking into later. This is something they're going to do on November 21st, I think.
LAMNovember 22nd, I believe.
SHERWOODTwenty-second, right before Thanksgiving, yeah.
FISHERAnd the debate has gotten quite ugly, and there've been even overtly racist statements made, letters to county officials about black families and destroying school systems -- I mean, just straight-out racist stuff. Has it surprised you how virulent the racist the rhetoric has been?
LAMIt has not, because we went through this process two years ago, in 2017, when the Board of Education also tried to implement a strong redistricting plan. They ended up ratcheting it back because of all the community animosity that came out. And, look, I understand for many folks in the community, this is a fraught decision.
LAMThis is a really difficult decision. They become very emotional and contentious. But it is necessary, as a school system, to have to engage in this process to make sure that we are using our seats most efficiently, because we simply cannot build our way out of the issues that we have.
FISHERWe have just a minute left, so we'll have to (laugh) -- one last thing, it's about the Bay Bridge, which is going to remain closed through the Thanksgiving holiday, meaning some very heavy traffic. The governor wants this process to speed up, and the contractors are working around the clock. What's your take on this? Is that the right time to be shutting down the Bay Bridge?
LAMI'm concerned about that. I don't think it's the right time to be shutting down the Bay Bridge. You know, there have been a lot of community concerns from both sides of the bay about the construction that's been undergoing at the Bay Bridge.
LAMSo, I think they need to take a closer look at that and make sure that we're not hitting peak times, like the Thanksgiving holiday. There's some real concerns there, and there's some real needs for both communities. That's an essential lifeline for so many parts of our state, the eastern shore connecting to central Maryland, whether it's businesses, schools, students, families.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You support a new bridge, don't you? Long-term, do you support a new bridge yet?
LAMI think we --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I'm not saying where, because I know that's a big deal.
LAMI think when you look at the needs of the state, there will be need for additional access points. Now, where that is, you know, that's obviously very controversial and up for debate.
FISHERAnd in the few seconds we have left, what is your number-one priority for the upcoming legislative session?
LAMMy number-one priority is making sure that we address education, the Kirwan Commission recommendations, and make sure that we have funding coming back to our counties for school capital construction dollars. We have a lot of needs in our system and counties, and we need to bring dollars back so that they can improve and renovate their schools.
FISHERClarence Lam is a Democrat representing Baltimore and Howard Counties, a Maryland state senator. Thanks very much for joining us.
LAMThank you, it's my pleasure.
SHERWOODSet your clock back Sunday.
FISHERThat's right, and we're also -- we've also been joined by our clock reminder, Tom Sherwood, the resident analyst here and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming Monday, an update on how local immigrants are being affected by the Trump administration's proposed changes to the Temporary Protected Status Provision. That's noon, on Monday. I'm Marc Fisher from The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo. Thanks for joining us.
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