Pandemic relief may be coming to Maryland, and to the nation. What do the plans look like?
D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) filed for re-election this week and faces a handful of challengers. We’ll talk about his re-election campaign.
After the release of the D.C. Council investigations into Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Gray is one of only two councilmembers who has not called for Evans’ resignation publicly. (The other is D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.)
Also on the agenda: healthcare access east of the Anacostia. We’ll talk about the latest with United Medical Center, St. Elizabeths hospital going without water for 28 days, and Whitman-Walker planning a new healthcare center at the St. Elizabeths East Campus.
Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-District 5) joins the Politics Hour. The County Council and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced a new economic development platform on Tuesday.
The Montgomery County Council also championed a sweeping racial equity bill. The Council unanimously passed legislation that bans discrimination based on natural hairstyles — the CROWN Act — earlier this month.
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.
Please note: This week’s Politics Hour will be streaming only online at kojoshow.org. WAMU 88.5 and wamu.org will be carrying live coverage of the impeachment hearings.
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 the contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Tom Hucker. He's a Councilmember for Montgomery County representing District 5. Joining us in studio now is Vincent Gray. He is a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 7. He's the Former Mayor of the District of Columbia. He is a Democrat. Mayor Gray, thank you for joining us.
VINCENT GRAYThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIBefore we start talking about the District of Columbia, Tom Sherwood, let's talk a little bit about Virginia after the historic election that took place a couple of weeks ago. I was there last year, last Tuesday as a matter of fact. They have decided -- the Virginia Democrats now that they control both houses of the General Assembly they have made choices for House Speaker, Majority Leader, and now the House Speaker has made her own choices for certain committee chairs.
SHERWOODWell, the bottom line is that two things. One is that Northern Virginia, which has been the cash cow for the State of Virginia for some time now is now has the legislative authority that it's never had in the General Assembly. Two, all the progressives who have been elected since 2017 and 2019 should note that Eileen Filler-Corn from Fairfax, who is the new speaker of the House will be voted when she's voted on officially in January is not nearly as progressive and liberal as many of the progressives, who have been elected in the last two cycles. And that she will be more likely to support Ralph Northam, the governor's more go slow or go moderate speed rather than a push to get lots of things done quickly.
NNAMDIAnd the people she has appointed to committee chair, some of this also as I said historic, three African Americans, three women and two delegates who hail from regions outside Northern Virginia.
SHERWOODWell, you know, the Commerce and Labor Committees Jeion Ward is from Hampton and the education person -- you know, just like in Maryland and the District and around the country, education funding is a huge issue. And the Education Chair is Roslyn Tyler. She's from south of Petersburg. But the major party jobs inside the Democratic House in Virginia or Northern Virginia people.
NNAMDIAnd in the Commonwealth of Virginia now that it's Democrat control, when it was Republican control Governor Ralph Northam called a special session to discuss gun control legislation. The Republican leadership of the General Assembly essentially aborted that session after 90 minutes or so and said, all of the recommendations should go to the Virginia Crime Commission. The Virginia Crime Commission has now pondered all of the recommendations. Some 78 proposals and said, we don't know what to do. We're going to send it back to the General Assembly.
SHERWOODOh, the Crime Commission knows exactly what it's doing. You know, it's political that in the summer once the governor called that July non-special session and the Republicans tanked it after 90 minutes, they said, okay. Well, we're not going to do anything now, but we're going to send all these proposals 78 proposals to the Virginia Crime Commission and let them report back to us in November.
SHERWOODWell, since the Democrats took over in the General Assembly in the elections, the Virginia Crime Commission is not going to come out with a bunch of proposals now. They want to talk with the new leadership. See what's happening and if I can just quote what the commission said. It said its staff determined that "inconclusive evidence exists to develop recommendations." The evidence was that Democrats took over and their new sheriff is in town when it comes to legislation on gun control. And the Crime Commission will take a side seat again.
NNAMDISo we'll see what happens in the General Assembly. As I said, our guest in studio is Vincent Gray. He's a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 7. He's a Former Mayor. He's a Democrat. This week you officially -- oh, Vincent Gray, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
GRAYThank you. I'm delighted to be here again.
NNAMDIThis week you officially filed for re-election for the Council. You did confirm that you were seeking re-election in July in an interview with the D.C. Line. So it was entirely unexpected, but so why are you running for re-election and what do you feel you have left to do on the Council?
SHERWOODAnd can we just point out politically before you give your public policy answer that when you ran for the Ward 7 seat four years ago you waited to February the 4th of 2016 to run. You always normally wait. But you announced much earlier than in the past when you've run for something. So what's the politics behind announcing so early?
GRAYWell, it's just to let people know so there's no question about the fact...
SHERWOODAnd you did that on The Kojo Show, too, four years.
GRAYI did. That's exactly right. I'm delighted to be able to do the work that I do, to have the privilege of being able to do it. And I'm looking forward to continuing. We do have a number of things that have to continue to be done. One of the things I'm delighted about, Tom and Kojo, is that even before I was seated again as a Ward 7 Councilmember we did a summit bringing together people in the ward. We hoped to get 50 or 75 people who'd show up. Four hundred people showed up. And that has shaped the agenda for us that we worked on for the past three plus years. We've gotten a lot of that legislation introduced. And we continue to work on that agenda. There's still major pieces of that that we need to work on. And I want to be able to be there to make that happen.
SHERWOODCan we ask about -- the biggest issue is healthcare. You're the Chairman of the Health Committee. When you were mayor before 2014, you put money in the budget to start a new hospital east of the river on the side of the town that desperately needs healthcare.
NNAMDIThe east end that is.
SHERWOODEast end as you call it, east of the river.
SHERWOODBut where does it stand now? You and Mayor Bowser have had some of raw approach after that bitter 2014 race. But where is the hospital? People who need a hospital, what can you tell people about where is the hospital?
GRAYWell, first and foremost let me make sure it's clear that the hospital is in the context of trying to create a real healthcare system for Wards 7 and 8 where 160,000 people live.
GRAYThe mayor -- because it's an executive process -- the mayor selected the George Washington University Hospital to be able to run the new hospital when it's finished. We have continued to work with the current operator, Mazars that was selected to take over when Veritas was removed.
SHERWOODThat's the United Medical Center.
GRAYYeah, United Medical Center exactly.
SHERWOODIt's kind of a hospital.
GRAYYeah. It is indeed certified -- accredited as a hospital, but we need to replace that. And we are looking forward to being able to have an operator selected hopefully within a matter of the next several months. That's going to depend upon the mayor sending over a proposed contract, a proposed agreement with the entity that was selected. And that is George Washington University Hospital.
SHERWOODBut it will be a new hospital built on the St. Elizabeth's east campus.
GRAYBrand new. That's right, Tom, built from the ground up.
NNAMDIAnd that's supposed to be done by 2022. Is that on schedule?
SHERWOODOpen by 2022?
GRAYWell, we think earlier than...
SHERWOODYou better get out there with a shovel and start helping.
GRAY(laugh) Well, I hope early '23 that it will be open. And we can do that. We've worked very hard. We've worked with our staff on this. And we've come to the conclusion that if we move this forward at the pace that we can do this at, this can happen. In fact, you mentioned it earlier about me having, you know, name the figure. But 400...
NNAMDII thought it was 300.
GRAYIt was actually 300, that's right, $336 million that was in the budget. Had that stayed on course when I was mayor we would be opening, cutting the ribbon on that hospital this year. We're long overdue to have a real healthcare system for people who live in Wards 7 and 8. And we have to make that happen. So we're putting the pedal to the metal to make this happen. There's some work that has to be done with an existing male shelter that's on the grounds. But once that's done, we'll be ready to move the pace to get this finished.
NNAMDILet's keep talking healthcare for a while. Patients at St. Elizabeth's Hospital went without clean water for 28 days last month. The water contamination will be part of an oversight hearing next week. Was that incident in your view handled properly by the hospital and the city? And what are you hoping will come out of that hearing?
GRAYWell, what we hope to come out is that the public will be fully informed on how this happened in the first place. And then we thought that the problem had been solved only to find out that the tests that had been done showed that there was continuing contamination in the water and more work had to be done. We're doing this hearing coming up on the 20th. And we'll have the relatively new director, Dr. Barbara Bazron, who actually worked when I was the mayor, she was working in the top position in DBH. She left them, went to Maryland to talk on behavioral health there. So we're hoping to be able to focus on that as well as a number of other issues that need to be elevated and talked about.
SHERWOODCan we ask about the water before we got to the other issues? As I understand it the hospital -- it's not something that the hospital did. They didn't turn a valve or do something different to have the contaminated water. But what the hospital officials didn't do was let people know in a timely way. They kind of sat on the information. They tried to adjust it. They tried to make bring in some different temporary showers and things like that. Instead of simply embracing it by letting the people know so you could get emergency service in there to help the hospital. It seems the more -- the failure was the reaction to the contaminated water and not that the water had somehow had gotten contaminated from outside the hospital.
GRAYNo. We believe too that this should have been done more rapidly, that the public should have been advised to what was going on. And we had any number of suggestions. One was to relocate all the patients. Now that's just not practical at all to be able to do that. And so there were accommodations made as you talked about, Tom, with the showers, with the drinking water. Bottled water was brought in. And it took, unfortunately, too long I think to be able to inform the public of what was happening at the hospital. It is now solved. There are new tests done on the water. That has all proved to be fine at this stage.
GRAYBut we want to know specifically from the director, from Dr. Bazron, exactly why this happened in laymen's terms. And then what is it that's going to be done to be able to prevent this from happening again in the future.
NNAMDIHere is Taylor in Washington. Taylor, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TAYLORHi, Vince Gray. This is Taylor Neval. We have been on email chains. We work with D.L. Humphrey. And I'll calling about our building, Park 7 Apartments, which is located at 4020 Minnesota Avenue Northeast and this is a tax credit building. And it was developed under Vince Gray under his tenure as mayor. We have reached out to you numerous times about the conditions at this building. And you issued a letter in September through the Washington City Paper you released it telling Chris Donatelli that he had till September 30th to complete the outstanding issues. It is October the 14-15.
NNAMDIIt's actually November.
TAYLORI'm sorry. It's November. Thank you for that. It's November the 15th and I can show you the video footage of the mice, of the roach infestation and there's ongoing retaliation and harassment.
NNAMDIAnd you'd like to know what the councilmember is going to do about it since he wrote that letter. Councilmember Gray?
GRAYWell, we have worked closely with Mr. Donatelli and we made it very clear to him that our interests are the concerns, you know, of the residents in the building. And we worked hard to try to make improvements. I've been there since. My staff has been there on a regular basis. You mention D.L. Humphrey who is on my staff. He's there probably one or two times a week. He's done photographs. He's done other inspections of the building, and I've come away from -- you know, in talking with him with a view that there have been vast improvements in the building itself. We're looking now to have in place what is a routine maintenance program. There's a new management firm that has been put in there. There's new maintenance staff that has been hired.
GRAYSo there have been improvements. I've seen those improvements myself. If there are continuing issues, I certainly want to know what they are. Please advise Mr. Humphrey and we'll be glad to try to work as hard as we can to continue to improve conditions.
NNAMDITaylor, have you seen any of the improvements that the councilmember talked about?
TAYLORNo. And I, you know, I'm tenant advocate here and I've had to work very hard with other tenants to get under this new management, which started in January, Mr. Gray. I don't know if you realized that. It's Donatelli's Management Company. The building is now managed by Donatelli and not Edgewood. Things have gone from bad to worse. D.L. has walked this building recently as two weeks ago and said that those carpets need to be shampooed. There is a roach infestation.
NNAMDIWhat do you -- Taylor, what do you think should be done next? The name Karl Racine comes to mind, but go ahead, please.
TAYLORYeah. So we have reached out to Karl Racine. I actually had conversation with him. And they're looking at opening a conditions case.
TAYLORBut I think it's kind of disingenuine of Vince Gray to tell these stories, which we haven't seen Vince in over a year. He hasn't been here. And if he would sit down and talk to us, we have a meeting tonight at seven o'clock in our building in the community room.
NNAMDIOkay. Let me have the councilmember respond, because we got to take a break very quickly. Go ahead.
GRAYFirst of all, this is not correct that I haven't been there in over a year. That is not correct. So I take exception to that. And we've worked very hard. We made it very clear to Mr. Donatelli that our interests are in making sure that the residents are treated properly in that building, the conditions are improved. And we have seen based on my staff's weekly inspections there, we have seen improvements there. If there are continuing improvements that are necessary and Ms. Neval wants to document those, give them to us. We'd be happy to receive them.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray who represents Ward 7. He's a Former Mayor, former Chair of the Council also. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. We are talking with D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray. Joining us later will be Tom Hucker. He's a Councilmember for Montgomery County. You have announced your campaign chair, Carrie Thornhill. She's an old friend. Have you decided yet who your campaign manager is going to be?
GRAYWe have in mind somebody who is going to be -- I'm not ready to announce it yet.
SHERWOODChuck Thies is going to be your...
SHERWOODTreasurer. Well, you know, everyone who knows Chuck, he's going to be doing more than counting dollars and cents.
NNAMDIHe's going to be sending tweets and emails a lot, too.
SHERWOODDon't tweet me now, Chuck.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you won't be using D.C. Fair Elections Program, which offers public funds to candidates who swear off big dollar contributions. One of your challengers and there are four, Lorenzo Gray is using the programs.
NNAMDILorenzo Green. I'm sorry. Why did you decide not to go...
GRAYNo. He's not named Gray.
NNAMDIWhy did you decide not to go the public finance route?
GRAYWell, we looked at the, you know, what's required in order to do that. It's a little bit cumbersome. I think it's a great idea to open this up to others to be able to access resources that they otherwise couldn't access. But, you know, you've kind of got to raise some money and get out there. And, you know, get the petitions done, get the filing done, and all of that process. It's going to be easier for me. Even though, I support -- because I introduced campaign reform legislation myself and we support it. But it's going to be easier for me, I think to be able to raise the money in the ways that I've raised it in the past.
SHERWOODWill there be any groups that you will not accept money from? Some people who have said like Petco, Exelon and a different, you know, high powdered interest in the city. Do you have any limitation other than the legal limitations?
GRAYI haven't identified anything. Maybe some time and we'll be happy to announce that when that moment comes, but I haven't pinpointed anybody yet.
NNAMDIIn addition to Anthony Lorenzo Green, you've got Veda Rasheed. You've got Calvin Brown. You've got James Jennings. Are you worried about the competition?
GRAYWell, you always worry about competition. I've never taken lightly anybody who runs for office. And they may bring new ideas to the table, which I'd be happy to hear. I don't think, however Kojo, that's there anybody who matches my record. I mean, you look at the accomplishments that we've made during my time in public office first as a Ward 7 Councilmember, then as a Council Chair, then as the Mayor of the District of Columbia and of course, now again as the Ward 7 Councilmember. So I'll put my record up against anyone's in terms of what we've accomplished.
SHERWOODWe have to talk about Jack Evans, the Ward 2 Councilmember, 9 of your colleagues, of the 13, have said that he should resign or called on him to resign. Yet you put a strong statement, page and a half, saying that you're not going to call on Jack Evans to resign, because the Council is considering what to do with him about the various allegations of ethics violations. And you don't think the council members should be saying what they think should happen to Jack Evans until after the process is completed. It takes 11 votes of the 13 member Council to expel Mr. Evans, to remove him from office. Are you even considering that step? Are you looking more at possibly censoring Mr. Evans or where are you?
GRAYWell, I'm looking for the process, you know, to continue on. The Council has a committee that was established by Chairman Mendelson that has every member of the Council who's on this committee.
SHERWOODExcept Mr. Evans.
GRAYYeah, except Mr. Evans, of course. And that committee has met one time. Our next meeting is on the 19th and this will be an opportunity I think to continue to flesh out the details of the report. We didn't -- the one time we met, we didn't even have the report yet, the O'Melveny report. And then Mr. Evans with his attorneys has now responded himself with a report. So what I want to hear is, you know, people's reaction to the report, the questions that the committee may have, what the options are that are available to us. So I think it's incumbent upon us to be able to make sure the process plays out.
SHERWOODHow much is that affected by the fact that when you were mayor and there was an investigation of people in and around campaign and you were never charged, but there were many people and some of the council members who are serving now, called on you to resign. I think the current mayor did. And you didn't resign. You kept doing your job. You were never charged. There's a federal investigation of Mr. Evans. Does your personal experience affect your policy now on Jack Evans?
GRAYWell, certainly to some extent. I mentioned it in the document that I released that some know the importance of -- very few people know the importance of due process more than I do given what I was subjected to. And given the fact that at the end of the day there was no charge brought against me, because it was exactly what I had said. I had done nothing. There was no reason to bring any charges.
SHERWOODSomebody asked me in a message to me asked this question, the Democrats on the Congress or many of them are just flat out saying that Trump should be impeached and be removed from office. You're a Democrat. I'm sure you have very little regard for President Trump. But do you think the Democrats on the Hill should be calling for the impeachment of Mr. Trump or President Trump...
NNAMDIBefore the process.
SHERWOODBefore the process is done?
GRAYWell, the process is underway as we all know. Some of us watch it daily and I think there's been, you know, a lot evidence, you know, brought now, being presented that raises questions about Mr. Trump's performance and whether he should continue as President of the United States. I do think, however, that, you know, at the end of the day I would hope those who are responsible for this impeachment inquiry and the impeachment process itself, you know, should and will hopefully present evidence. And, of course, if he is impeached by the House it has to go to a Senate, which isn't likely to do anything.
NNAMDISpeaking of due process, Jonetta Rose Barras wrote in the D.C. Line yesterday that there's a group of quoting here, "African Americans who believe that Jack Evans is receiving special treatment drawing a contrast to the experience of former council members Harry Thomas Jr., Michael Brown, and Kwame Brown. Thomas and Michael Brown served substantial time in federal prison." Do you think race is playing into how the D.C. Council is treating Evans?
GRAYI don't have any reason to conclude that. I think the committee that's been set up needs to do its work. It needs to move along with a pace to get this done. And make clear exactly what our findings are and move forward on a basis of what we conclude to be the evidence. I mean, you read the report. There's a lot of questions about Mr. Evans's conduct in that report. And, you know, the way things were done, the way this company was set up, who the clients were, not revealing who those clients. But I think we should go through the process to make sure that was has been concluded in this O'Melveny report and then whatever Mr. Evans's response is in his report...
SHERWOODAlso we have known if those three council members that Kojo just mentioned all were charged by federal authorities with crimes, felonies in I believe for all three. So if the U.S. Attorney's Office, which has been investigation Mr. Evans for more than almost two years I think, if it were to bring charges between now and the time the Council's administrative review is done, would that change your mind depending on what the charges are?
GRAYWell, it depends on -- yeah. It depends on what the charges are and what we know about what underpins those charges, Tom. So it wouldn't change my mind, however, about continuing on the path that we're on now. And that is with the ad hoc committee that's been formed, giving that committee an opportunity to work. I don't have any reason to think that there's any untoward influence being accorded Mr. Evans, you know, vis-a-vis some of the other folks who have been subjected to punishment as council members.
NNAMDIDo you think that Jack Evans should be allowed to vote on the disciplinary actions that affect him? Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has said that he's not required to recuse himself from these votes.
GRAYWell, I think he should recuse himself. I think it would send a powerful message to the people of the District Columbia that, you know, he is as he said he is that he's not, you know, guilty of having done anything, any wrongdoing. And I think him not voting on it would send a powerful message in that regard. So I think he should recuse himself.
SHERWOODDo the Council rules require that you disclose potential conflicts or conflicts of interest and not vote, or does it simply -- the rules say you have to disclose those conflicts and then you can vote once you've disclosed them?
GRAYWell, I think you certainly should disclose those conflicts such as they exist. And that's been one of the allegations, those conflicts have not been reported on.
SHERWOODDo the Council rules require that you disclose potential conflicts or conflicts of interest and not vote, or does it simply -- the rules say you have to disclose those conflicts, and then you can vote once you disclose them?
GRAYWell, I think you certainly should disclose those conflicts, such as they exist. And that's been one of the allegations, that those conflicts have not been avoided.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Let me ask you, because you're not taking a public position, can you tell us -- because you've known Jack Evans for several decades -- have you spoken to him? Anita Bonds, a councilmember, was here last week, sitting right where you are. She said she has offered Jack Evans her advice in private. And she went ahead and publically said, she said he should resign. (laugh) So, it's a little bit confusing. But have you spoken to, I think I can say your friend, Jack Evans, you worked with closely when you were mayor, and suggested to him what he should do?
GRAYNo, I have not. I have not offered him any advice at all in regard to the situation before us. When he saw my statement, which he, of course, got a copy of, he had never seen that statement, nor had I even talked to him about it beforehand.
NNAMDIThis past week, Mayor Muriel Bowser led a 70-person delegation to Ethiopia for a five-day diplomatic and trade mission. The mayor renewed the Sister City agreement with Addis Ababa, an agreement that you started when you were mayor, in 2013. Exactly what is a sister city agreement?
GRAYIn substantial part, it's a ceremonial relationship that exists. When I was mayor, you indicated -- that's exactly right, Kojo -- that we reached an agreement with Addis Ababa -- in Ethiopia, of course -- to develop a sister city relationship. It means that you, you know, do things like just happened. That is, go visit the other city. You may involve in student exchange types of programs.
SHERWOODBusiness and community and cultural, too.
GRAYThat's right. That's right, and business. In fact, the delegation that just went had a substantial number of business representatives from the District of Columbia who we hope will then find ways to work with Addis Ababa and, you know, maybe other areas of Ethiopia, but certainly Addis Ababa, to be able to facilitate those business relationships. And hopefully it will be a mutual benefit.
SHERWOODIt irritated me, though, that when the mayor put out her press release about going on this five-day trip, her press release only named the six or seven or, I think, maybe nine officials from the District government who were going. I said, this can't possibly be the only people who are going. And so I asked for the list, and there's something like 70 people who went. And now, supposedly, all those people paid their own way, and the District government paid 70-something thousand dollars for the mayor's trip. But it seems to me they should've just been up front and said, here's all the people who are going. Apparently they've said the D.C. Chamber of Commerce helped select who went.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) It seemed a little bit cozy to people between the business and government that this was being done without a full light shining.
NNAMDIWithout full disclosure of all of the people who were going.
GRAYYeah, and I think that should've been done, of course. And, you know, I even got information from the mayor inviting me to go, as well, recognizing, I guess, that I was involved in the...
NNAMDI(overlapping) See, if you would have gone, you could've got a street named after you, too. (laugh)
SHERWOODI noticed you -- speaking of -- could we ask about the -- the football team is playing again this Sunday. They're one and eight, I think. When you were mayor, just like Tony Williams before you, just like Adrian Fenty and Mayor Bowser, all the mayors of the city since 1999 have wanted the team to come back to the District at their own expense to build a stadium at the site of RFK. It's kind of faltering right now whether that's going to happen or not, but where are you? RFK is in your Ward 7 district. Where are you on that?
GRAYWell, I have been very clear, going back to when I was mayor, that I would love to see the team come back and play. I don't know how you can be the Washington, you know, whatever the name is, Washington team and, you know, you practice or have your practices in Virginia.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) It's a business in Virginia that plays in Maryland and uses the District name.
GRAYYeah, it's an awful conflict to try to ask people to make those distinctions, which people often don't.
SHERWOODWhich you like Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, to buy the team and change the name and then move it to town at his expense? (laugh)
GRAYWell, I will say this -- that being yes. But I will say this, that Mr. Snyder said to me -- some time ago, now, when I was mayor -- he said that he would be willing to pay for the stadium himself. He wasn't going to ask the District of Columbia...
NNAMDI(overlapping) We'll have to see what happens with that, because we're just about out of time. Vincent Gray is a member of the District of Columbia Council, representing Ward 7. He's a former mayor, former chair of the Council. He is a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
GRAYThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIUp next. another Tom, Tom Hucker. He's a councilmember for Montgomery County, representing District 5. Tom Sherwood, Maryland's black caucus says it's tired of the ongoing back and forth between the HBCUs and the governor of the state, Larry Hogan, over the compensation that the HBCU should be getting for the fact that the state of Maryland duplicated courses that were being taught in those schools at other schools, and therefore deprived them of some of their prospective revenue.
NNAMDIThey had reached a figure of $577 million. Governor Hogan first said $100 million, then later he said $200 million over a period of 10 years. And now the Legislative Black Caucus says, you know what? If you don't reach a decision by January of next year, we're going to introduce legislation in the General Assembly to get all $577 million.
SHERWOODWell, the bottom line about this is, is that the historically black universities and colleges had been mistreated. I don't think anyone denies that. The question is, what's the remedy? The governor has proposed very little money comparatively to what the decades of discrimination have been. And the legislators are rightly saying that the legislature now is changing hands. There's new leadership in the House and the Senate that sounds like it would be more favorable to a better deal for the colleges and universities. And the mayor ought to -- I mean, excuse me, the governor and all ought to get on the same page and try to right this wrong. It's a glaring wrong, and it should be righted.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, Tom Hucker, councilmember for Montgomery County will be joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us in studio now on The Politics Hour is Tom Hucker. He's a councilmember for Montgomery County, representing District 5. Tom Hucker, thank you for joining us.
TOM HUCKERThanks for having me.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, before we get specifically to Tom Hucker, the vote by mail system implemented by officials in Rockville -- which, of course, is in Montgomery County, double turnout from the 2015 elections. And, apparently, they didn't use any polling places at all. They just mailed ballots to about 38,000 registered voters who could have the choice of mailing them back or dropping them off. And it nearly doubled. And, of course, there is legislation in the District of Columbia, I think, being proposed for a voting-by-mail system.
SHERWOODYeah, I think it's Washington and Oregon out West are the states that have voting by mail. Rockville did it, the first in the state to do it. And Mr. Hucker may have some thoughts about it. The good news was, and they sent -- the bad news was, it cost a lot more money to send these ballots out. But people responded. They had hoped that the turnout would be around 20 percent, which would be more than normal, but it turned out to be 28 percent.
SHERWOODThe problem came in that they had all these ballots, kind of like absentee ballots. They had thousands of ballots...
NNAMDI(overlapping) It took longer to count them.
SHERWOOD...had to be counted -- first had to be certified, hand certified, each one, that it was properly submitted. Then they had to open it and then tabulate them. They didn't count the votes until 1:30. We should point out, Mayor Newton won her third term, and I think there are two new of the four Council members. But it's interesting. We should know -- if everyone says people should vote, then it seems to me the government and the citizens ought to make it easier for people to vote. And by mail works.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about it, Tom Hucker?
HUCKERWell, you know, apparently, it worked. I'm for anything that makes it easier for people to vote. I think I've -- I'm sure I voted for and co-sponsored the bill in Annapolis years ago to authorize vote by mail and same day registration and many other things that have made it easier. I've been fighting for an early voting site in White Oak in Montgomery County that the State Board has denied, unfortunately. So, apparently, the evidence shows that it's working for people, so I'm all for it and congratulations to Mayor Newton.
NNAMDIMontgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro and County Executive Marc Elrich announced a comprehensive new economic development platform on Tuesday. It lays out four sections, housing, transportation, business development, workforce development. But Marc Elrich criticized the housing goals of this plan, which asked the Council to meet housing targets established by the COG, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that he pushed back on some of the increased targets. According to the Bethesda Beat, Elrich said, quoting here, "that report presumes the county's job growth is going to include 10,000 households making less than $30,000 a year. But that's not the kind of growth we want here." What do you think he meant and how would you respond to his criticisms of the housing goals?
HUCKERWell, first I think we had a very successful, you know, press conference and rollout of this economic development platform. There's other important areas like transportation, workforce development and business development. But the housing thing, yeah, the county executive got into a little bit of a difference of opinion on what our housing goals should be. The resolution that we recently adopted comes from a multijurisdictional study just done by the Urban Institute at the behest of COG, the Metro Washington Council of Governments. I serve on their board, as does Council President Navarro.
HUCKERSo, we both voted for that resolution at the COG board. We are supporters of the resolution at the county. You know, I think the county executive's entitled to his opinion. I think we all can agree, we need a lot more housing. We have a housing crisis. We are in a prosperous area, and the rest of the country isn't that way. Thousands of people are moving here, and we need all type of housing. We need affordable housing. We need workforce housing. We need senior housing. And we need to get started building it. We'll find out in the future what the market decides the target should be.
SHERWOODYou're not unique. The District of Columbia, the mayor has proposed a plan for 36,000 more units of housing, 16,000 more affordable housing by 2025. Fairfax County is struggling with it. In addition to housing, they're struggling with what comes next, schools and related things. If you could more clearly say, what is the county executive, Mr. Elrich's, objection or concern?
HUCKERWell, and again, I don't want to speak for him, but having spoken to him about this, as I understand it, is the target that COG set for us is 41,000, they want to see in Montgomery County by 2030. And the Council has adopted that. Compared to our sister jurisdictions in the area, we have more of a gap in the lower income area, you know, than Mr. Elrich thinks is necessary.
HUCKERWell, you know, whether low income workers are moving to Montgomery or moving to Fairfax or moving to Prince George's or D.C. isn't entirely up to us. It's really up to them. And we need more housing. And, you know, whether we need 10,000 or 20,000 more low-income units, I think we should get started building some and making sure all our programs are working well. And the market will decide, you know, what we need in the future.
NNAMDIHere is Isabella in Rockville, Maryland. Isabella, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ISABELLAHi. This may be a weird question to ask (unintelligible), but I was wondering what the status of that (word?) bill is that Councilmember Tom Hucker talked about the last time he was on the show.
HUCKERThanks, Isabella. So, that bill requires working air conditioning in all our rental units. There's 300,000 tenants in Montgomery County. The bill has a majority of the Council co-sponsoring it with me. I'm grateful for that. I'm confident that it's going to pass. The committee's done a couple work sessions. They have one more to go, and then I think we'll get it out and in front of the whole Council.
SHERWOODThere's something coming up on Tuesday, some type of hearing on Tuesday at 9:30 in the morning. The Planning and Housing Economic Development Committee is going to have a work session on the bill.
HUCKERThere you go. The Fed Committee will have their final work session in it, yes.
SHERWOODYou can't say Fed, though, because that sounds like the federal government.
HUCKERThat's true, and it's just too nerdy. It's Planning and Housing Economic Development.
NNAMDILet's talk transportation. Governors Larry Hogan and Ralph Northam announced on Tuesday that Maryland and Virginia would partner to rebuild and widen the American Legion Bridge. Construction won't start until 2022, and the bridge will be built using public-private partnerships. What is your response to that news, and what do you think it will mean for Montgomery County residents?
HUCKERWell, nothing anytime soon, first of all. People think it'll just -- you know, they'll wake up one morning, and there'll be a new American Legion Bridge. This is 10 years away, just to set expectations. The Legion Bridge, everyone knows, is a major chokepoint in our regional transportation. And I chair our Transportation Committee so we spend a lot of time complaining about it. It's owned by the state and operated by the state -- so Montgomery County, for at least eight years I can think of -- has been asking the governor, multiple governors to address the Legion Bridge.
HUCKERSo, I'm glad we have a plan to address the Legion Bridge. And I'm glad Maryland isn't paying for the entire thing. However, it would've been better and cheaper, in my opinion, less expensive, like all construction projects, if it had been started eight years ago or five years ago, with the beginning of the Hogan Administration. And if it had been paid for by regular GO bonds, general obligation bonds...
SHERWOODGeneral obligation bonds.
HUCKER...rather than as a sort of risky P3, which now we have to do because so much money has been spent from the Transportation Trust Fund.
SHERWOODSo, people can keep up with us, the P3 is Public-Private Partnership, where private entities pay for the construction. And then they get access to the money from easy pass lanes and -- is that right?
HUCKERCorrect. Thank you. Yes.
HUCKERAnd many of these around -- hopefully...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But aren't we just -- every transportation person I heard from -- of course, they're all complaining, because they know I like to hear the complaints -- say this is another example of outdated induced demand. That if you build all these new lanes on the American Legion Bridge, they simply will be filled up in a matter of a short time, and then you'll be right back where you were.
SHERWOODThe region is growing, and adding two more lanes or four more lanes or even six more lanes, will not solve the crisscrossing between Maryland and Virginia, that there's not enough for rapid bus transit, there's not even enough for -- I don't even think there's going to be a bike lane or anything like that. Is there enough micro-transit or mass transit that will be part of this bridge which will ease some of the car-centric stuff that we're doing?
HUCKERNo. There's not nearly enough mass transit in the governor's plan, generally. And this is the first -- we have a consolidated transportation plan that is the state's official plan for where we're going to spend transportation money looking out, you know, a decade. This is the first time anybody can remember where there's no transit projects whatsoever in the CTP, the Consolidated Transportation Plan.
HUCKERThe governor recently killed and decided not to fund something that's been on the books on that plan for 20 years, under four governors of both parties, the Corridor City's Transit Way, that would provide real, high-quality transit for our longsuffering residents in up-county Montgomery County and Frederick County.
SHERWOODWhere would that have run from? That's an important thing that's now not going to be built.
HUCKERRight. That's like Clarksburg through -- there's a couple different proposed routes, but Clarksburg through Germantown, major population centers up there. And then down to the Shady Grove Metro, where people could pick up the Metro.
NNAMDIAn article in the Washington Post this morning reported that vape stores in Montgomery County are seeing business plummet amid the panic over vaping. Vape retailers are saying that some of the Montgomery County's proposals are misdirected. And there's also Joe in Bethesda, Maryland who has been waiting patiently on the phone since even before you joined us. Joe, thank you for waiting. It's now your turn.
JOEYeah, thanks for taking my call. Yeah, I just wondered why the County Council's trying to, you know, crack down on vape stores. You know, a lot of these are small businesses, you know, selling a legal product. And I think there's about like 30 of them in the county. I was just wondering, why is the County Council trying to shut them down?
HUCKERWell, vaping, you know, came about, really, with very little regulation, was sort of rushed to the market by the FDA. And, you know, it's a nicotine delivery device, just like a cigarette, but it's not regulated that way. So, it's marketed, you know, directly to our children, unfortunately. For decades, tobacco companies have not been able to advertise cigarettes in magazines, in newspapers, on radio and TV, in bus stops. But vaping, they can do all those things. They can even give away free samples in the malls, just directly to kids.
HUCKERSo, it's no wonder that there's an epidemic of vaping by our young people. There's way more young people in high school vaping now than using tobacco products. They call bathrooms in high schools vaping rooms now. And kids are dying of it, unfortunately. So, you know, if adults are using this, that's one thing. Stores that are sited near a high school and depend on high school students for part of their business model, they shouldn't be there in my opinion. That's why there's a bill to that effect.
NNAMDIJoe, thank you for your call.
SHERWOODYou know, if they're going to be sold in the District or in Virginia or in Howard County or Prince George's County, it seems -- are you trying to stop something that you can't stop?
HUCKERWell, I mean, you know, like all levels of government, we can only control what we control. And every time you pass lots of regulation in the marketplace, people say, well, people will just go elsewhere to get that. We do need our partners certainly in D.C. and Prince George's and Fairfax to make it harder for students to get access to vaping products, because they're dangerous.
SHERWOODOne of the big issues in every jurisdiction around the country -- in this region, for sure -- has been the Airbnb issue. The Montgomery County Council, I think two years ago, passed legislation limiting how private homes or non-private homes can be used for temporary overnight rentals or short periods. But I was reading Bethesda Beat from Bethesda Magazine that the staff position to enforce that, the one staffer, has not been filled. And the enforcement of Airbnb rules in the county is lagging. Where do we stand on Airbnb? Is there still a problem?
HUCKERWell, I learned about it when you did, when the Bethesda Beat came out with that. People were using Airbnb before we legalized it, for sure. And that was one of the arguments is, you know, a lot of these internet-based businesses -- the same was true with Uber and Lyft -- just come about and start operating in the marketplace without authorization. And then you have to pass regulation to sort of reign it in and make it safe.
HUCKERAnd that's what happened with the Airbnb law that was passed. It's unfortunate that our Housing Department hasn't staffed the enforcement staffer, and we probably need more obviously, because there's multiple violations. I think there were violations, plenty of them before the law. Now there's clear enumerative violations, and we're going to have to staff that. We recently hired a new Housing director, who's great, in my opinion. And he has some other vacant staff positions he needs to fill.
SHERWOODHere's an easy one. The legislature changed the law in Maryland so that local jurisdictions can decide when school starts, before or after Labor Day. Baltimore and other places are starting to say, look, we need to start after Labor Day. Where are you in Montgomery County on such a big statewide issue with a governor wanting schools to start after Labor Day just to protect summer employment, Ocean City and other places.
SHERWOODWhere are you on when should schools start? I think School Board has a big say in that, but where...
HUCKERYeah, the School Board...
SHERWOOD...you spend half your budget, like most counties do, on schools. So, when should they start?
HUCKERWell, I think it should really be driven by the academic needs of students, and not by the economic needs of business owners in Ocean City. So, I'll leave that decision of which day it is to our School Board, but I'm confident that they're going to be moving it up to before Labor Day, where it was before the governor, through his executive order, ordered all the school districts to move it back after Labor Day to help the businesses in Ocean City.
HUCKERAnd, really, there's a lot of academic evidence and studies about the summer slide, how much students forget over the summer. And it's especially acute among lower income and moderate income populations where their kids don't have access to tutors and summer camps and other things like that that keep their minds active.
SHERWOODLet me (word?) just very quickly. Baltimore is moving it before Labor Day, which is where they wanted to be before the governor intervened.
NNAMDIAt the end of October, a resident and his young son donated a thin blue line flag to a Montgomery County police station, sparked some controversy. It's a wooden American flag adorned with a thin blue line. Some see it as a symbol of respect for law enforcement. Others as a part of the Blue Lives Matter movement, which is a pro-police movement that developed as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
NNAMDICounty Executive Marc Elrich said the flag will not be displayed. Governor Larry Hogan says he was offended and disgusted by Elrich's decision. Where do you stand on this plan? Just step right into the middle of the controversy.
HUCKERYeah, I can't wait. Well, I think our new chief, Marcus Jones, has taken the right approach, where he's actually convening meetings and bringing both sides together to talk about their perceptions of that flag. You know, let me say at the beginning, I'm a big supporter of our police...
NNAMDI(overlapping) He's bringing the Black Lives Matter groups together with the people who support the Blue Lives Matter?
HUCKERI'll leave that to him, but he's bringing folks who have concerns about the flag...
NNAMDI(overlapping) I'll be at that meeting.
HUCKER...he'll -- well, I can get you an invite, I'm sure. But he'll bring together people who support the flag and its display with people who have concerns about it, so they can actually talk to each other, which I think is a good approach in most things. I'm very supportive of our police and sensitive to the sacrifices that they make, you know, for the county and the sacrifices their families make. At the same time, all of our county employees work for the whole -- a very diverse population of residents. And they have to be sensitive to what perceptions, symbols that they might use are perceived by people who look at things differently than they do.
HUCKERAnd there's two key issues with that flag. One is some people associate it with violent white supremacist protestors. It was waved around in Charlottesville. Yeah. And then, quickly, the supporters of the flag denounce that protest. So, I don't question their intentions and the motivations when they put it forward, but it is offensive to some people.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Tom Hucker is a councilmember for Montgomery County, representing District 5. Thank you so much for joining us.
HUCKERThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, deadline alert, federal workers have until December 9th to make changes to their health insurance. We'll tell you what you need to know to make the best choices. And Andrea Chamblee, the wife of sports reporter John McNamara who was killed in the Capital Gazette shooting, managed, despite her grief, to publish his last book, "The Capital of Basketball." She'll be here to share that journey. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Tom Sherwood, it's going to be warm today, and then it's going to get cold over the weekend. Are you going to hang around?
SHERWOODThis weekend, I have nothing to do. I am going to do nothing.
NNAMDIThat's a welcome relief. You all have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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