How are undocumented students in the District dealing with the effects of changing immigration policy?
You shouldn’t say hello to 2020 until you’ve bid a proper goodbye to 2019. And that means taking a little time to remember the momentous news, the unexpected stories and the weird trends that defined the Washington region during its most recent trip around the sun.
We hear from local journalists who cover sports, arts, food and more on what they consider the most memorable stories of the year.
And we always want to hear from listeners — what stood out to you about 2019 in the DMV?
Produced by Maura Currie, Julie Depenbrock, Cydney Grannan and Lauren Markoe
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Before we say "Hello" to 2020 we're bidding a fond farewell to 2019 and all the momentous news, unexpected stories and weird trends that define the Washington region during its most recent trip around the sun. And as always we'd like to hear from you. What do you remember about this year in Washington? And what perhaps would you like to forget? Give us a call 800-433-8850. What stories or headlines from this year have stuck with you? You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. You can also go to our website kojoshow.org, join the conversation there, the number again 800-433-8850. Joining me in studio is Jackie Bensen, who is a Reporter for NBC 4. Jackie, always a pleasure.
JACKIE BENSENAlways good to see you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Lori McCue who is an Arts and Food Editor for DCist. Lori, thank you for joining us.
LORI MCCUEThanks, Kojo. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIMore with Lori later. Also with us Rachel Sadon is the Editor-in-Chief of DCist. Rachel, glad to see you.
RACHEL SADONNice to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIRachel, we began 2019 in the midst of what would be a 35 day government shutdown. More than 300,000 federal employees in D.C. were out of work for more than a month. And while the shutdown cost D.C. almost $50 million in revenue the impacts for individual families were even more pronounced. Remind us, Rachel, what local businesses and charities did to try to soften that blow for furloughed federal employees?
SADONSure. Yeah. I mean, it's hard to believe this was really this year, but it was. It started actually right around this time last year, and, you know, it started out kind of a little joke-y. We saw cocktails like the Hard Times Cocktail going on discounts. We saw a lot of like food and drink deals. And when we missed that first paycheck or a lot of Washingtonians missed that first paycheck and it started to get really serious. It started to get, you know, people got really afraid. We saw banks sort of extending some loans. We saw cellphone companies waving late fees, and we when we saw Jose Andres coming in from disaster areas to setup a kitchen downtown.
NNAMDIHow about what &Pizza did?
SADONYeah. They certainly made the headlines. They started with offering a free pie at lunch time. And they saw huge lines. Tons of people came out for that deal. And it got to be so much that they moved it to dinner. They changed the hours. And they made it a $5 pie. And then finally by the end of it they said, we're just going to work with Jose Andres. By the end they had given away more than 20,000 free pies.
NNAMDIThat's amazing. Jackie Bensen, we discussed Virginia politics in 2019 at length on last week's Politics Hour. But just briefly, how do you think everything that happened in Virginia politics this year from the top leaders being embroiled in scandals to the historic blue wave victory in the November elections. How do you think that will shape politics in Virginia as we move into this election year?
BENSENWell, let's start with that scandal, because certainly the night I got the call that a media outlet had found and published a photo of Ralph Northam, the governor in black face in his medical school yearbook is one of those things where you sit there two, three, four times, this cannot be real. And, of course, we ultimately saw not only the unfolding of the governor. First, you remember those two days right after he acknowledged that he was deeply sorry, and said he did not believe that was him, but does recall that over, you know, there was an incident in which he did appear in black face in a Michael Jackson contest. And it just started to get wilder from there.
NNAMDIHe almost tried to do the moon walk, but that was another story.
BENSENHis wife stopped him. Yes.
NNAMDIHad to be held back.
BENSENSo people assumed and I did too from having seen this over the two plus decades of my career that he would resign. He did not, but at the time we were thinking he was going to. Of course, next in line Justin Fairfax. He has dealt and is currently dealing with allegations of sexual assault accused by two women, I believe. And he has sued CBS for $300 million over the coverage of that. Third in line, now we're talking about we may lose the governor and the lieutenant governor. Number three up, the Attorney General Mark Herring, who called for Governor Northam's resignation, but then released a statement acknowledging that he had appeared in black face as the rapper Kurtis Blow at a party in his past.
BENSENAnd I just want to very quickly Dave Barry's year in review summed this up incredibly. But he talked about how the good people of Virginia when they got down to the point of the line of succession that it could be and these are Dave Barry's words and I just died laughing when I read that, "They could end up with a Labrador retriever or worse a Republican. And just like that Virginia's scandal of scandals of 2019 went poof. It has -- we have seen no further results."
NNAMDIDave Barry had to keep saying in the piece, "This is actually true. This really happened."
BENSENThis really happened.
NNAMDIAnd then the Democrats come in a blue wave in the election later in the year.
BENSENWell, it's interesting. I don't often cover politics and it's why I take my hat off to you and to our dear late friend, Mark Plotkin, who we lost this year. And I feel close to him. 2017 when I watched Danica Roem defeat Delegate Marshall, I remember being -- and they set us up in a brewery and it had one tiny TV for the election night results in the parties. I could not see the TV. So I was not getting -- because our news outlets don't update quickly now. They're careful not to call a race. So my people kept saying to me, "Well, you know, get out on the air. What's happening? What's happening?" I'm like, "Tell me what's happening. I don't know."
BENSENBut I watched them march into this brewery that just had picnic tables one after the other after the other. Women who had won their races stand up on that picnic table, and I realized that night that the face of Virginia politics had changed. And, of course, in the next election changed again, we have the blue wave and some of the recent coverage I have done of the Second Amendment sanctuary cities has been the result of that. People are concerned about gun laws coming. People are certainly eyeing rolling back some -- or reproductive rights an area of concern, and also passing an ERA in Virginia.
NNAMDIWe'll have to see what happens, because there's obviously going to be pushback. Rachel Sadon, for the first time in decades the House Oversight Committee held a D.C. statehood hearing. Walk us through that hearing and what happened and why was it significant?
SADONYeah. This was a big deal for D.C. But I'll note that this started out rescheduled for Robert Muller's testimony. So there's definitely some sort of metaphor in that. But this happened in September. We saw a huge turnout from the city in terms of, you know, a lot of city pride. They mayor, she replaced the flags on Pennsylvania Avenue with ones that had 51 stars, and then we sat down and watched the hearing. There was, you know, people dressed up in the hallways at the House. It was the first statehood hearing for D.C. in the House of Representatives in 25 years. And they really wanted to make it about Jack Evans. And they really wanted to make it about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.
SADONAnd there wasn't maybe quite as much talk about the disenfranchisement of 700,000 residents as I think a lot of people might have liked to hear. Certainly the mayor said that. There was even talk about, you know, what would this mean for parking for Congressmen. That was Thomas Massey.
NNAMDIWell, what's next for HR51, the D.C. statehood bill? Should we be expecting statehood anytime soon?
SADONWell, I wish I could say yes. Right now there's a little bit of in fighting about -- at the House whether or not they can actually markup the bill, because, you know, they're taking it back to Jack Evans. They're saying, "You know, we need to talk to him. We need to find out about this local corruption." But should it make it through markup, which it should eventually and get to an Oversight Committee, and then it should pass the House. You know, the majority has signed on, all of them Democrats, and then from there it will go to the Senate where it will die.
NNAMDIJackie, this year saw the murders of two transwomen, Zoe Spears and Ashanti Carmon in the span of months. The murders were mere blocks from each other in Prince George's County. They appeared to be random. Both rocked the local LGBT plus community. The Human Rights Campaign counts 24 murders of transwomen nationwide for 2019 and cautions that these crimes often go underreported. Has any progress been made since these murders took place?
BENSENWell, I can tell you that I have seen a growth in the effort to want to do something to solve these murders not only in D.C. where we long had a strong unit within the D.C. police department that has a good connection to the LGBTQ community. But what we've seen is a reach over from Prince George's County. It's heartening. Let's just say that. The numbers -- the 24 transgender people murdered in the United States last year, two of them in D.C. Think about the statistic on that, Almost 20 percent.
BENSENThe rest, there's been no concentration in any other city in the United States that's been 20 percent of all these murders. Most of the murders have occurred in cities south of the Mason Dixon Line. One of the things that I note that every transgender woman and those murders predominantly transgender women of color what I hear is jobs. You will not be forced into survival sex work, which is what I call it if you can get a job in another way.
BENSENAnd the discrimination faced by transgender women that they have shared with me about trying to find employment that will be the key to keeping people out of those dangerous areas. There's a wonderful man, Mr. Alvin Bethea, who is the stepfather of a transgender woman, Deoni Jones, who was murdered in 2012 who has tried to work with the District to get a specific program recycling is the area that he's interested in where transgender women and men could get jobs. And he has struggled mightily for seven years now trying to get this program because he gets the thing, we can't have a program just for one subset of people, you know, it's sometimes I wonder. But he keeps struggling. He keeps pushing.
NNAMDIIn D.C. the year's overall homicide count has exceeded 2018. But after a record breaking surge in violence this summer the difference between years really isn't that dramatic. D.C. saw 160 homicides in 2018. We are now sitting at 163. The Metropolitan Police Department has stepped up crime prevention initiatives over the past few months, but what initiatives are they working on and what's the thought as to how well they'll work in the coming year?
BENSENYou know, I have very mixed feelings about the initiatives primarily, because I do not believe more police will solve the problem. We had a murder on December 23rd two days before Christmas, a beautiful young man, 27 years old with two tiny little girls. He's an installer at a D.C. solar panel company. He was coming home from work, steps from his front door when he was shot and killed.
BENSENThere was a -- police have some indication in an exchange of gun fire. He may have been standing near someone who was a target. We don't know right now. But that's the type of thing you cannot police your way out of because police had come through that intersection seconds before that shooting. Someone put down their gun and waited for that police car to roll through. I don't believe that saturation, more police is the answer. There have to be deeper.
NNAMDIAnd you're speaking as someone who has been covering this for more than two decades here in the District of Columbia.
BENSENI estimate that I have conservatively covered or conservative estimate that I have covered 10,000 murders and that number is probably much higher.
NNAMDIRachel Sadon, it was a huge year for go-go music. It became the centerpiece of a movement that was about more than just music. Remind us about what "Don't Mute D.C." is and how it started.
SADONYeah. We'll take a little turn here. If you've ever been to the corner of 7th and Florida you know it. You know the sound of that corner. It's go-go music. It's go-go music really joyfully blasting from a couple sets of speakers. And all of a sudden one weekend it was noticed that they had gone silent. And so actually this was my colleague Rachel Kurzius called over there. And Don Campbell the owner of that store -- it's actually a cellphone store. It's a Metro PCS. Although I think -- who's getting cellphones there? Everybody I know is going there for go-go's CDs and whatnot. So anyway he said that their parent company T-Mobile had received a complaint and asked him to -- or told him really to shut it down.
SADONAnd really from there it was quick. We saw people mobilizing at that street corner. We saw protests. We saw politicians get involved. And pretty quickly he got the call back saying, It's okay. You can put that music back on. But it really ignited a much bigger conversation about gentrification, about people getting pushed out of longtime communities. It became a real rallying cry not just for this, but for all sorts of other issues, housing, education. We saw really huge crowds and concerts on U Street. And I think that it's not -- we'll hear it again this year. This one isn't done.
NNAMDIWell, Jackie, you can remember how law enforcement played a role so to speak in pushing go-go music out of the city.
BENSENI -- it is something that is still very current, up until recently it went into Prince George's County. It went into hotels because people could not book venues in D.C. And those hotels began charging fees that were so exorbitant that the bands were not able to pay it to perform. So it is essentially killing the opportunity to perform.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll talk a little bit more about what happened in 2019. But still willing to hear your calls at 800-433-8850. Were you affected by that government shutdown at the beginning of 2019? Did you get a chance to say goodbye to D.C.'s beloved panda, Bei Bei? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDILooking back at the events of 2019 with Jackie Bensen the Reporter for NBC 4. Rachel Sadon is the Editor-in-Chief of DCist. And Lori McCue is Arts and Food Editor at DCist. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Well, Amazon came to town this year. Jackie Bensen, what Amazon story do you think was most important this year and what should we expect from them in 2020?
BENSENWell, I had a look at what Amazon's plans are -- the physical plans for the buildings and what things are going to look like in the National Landing area. And I don't think that people can conceive of how the landscape not just of this National Landing area in Arlington, but the ripple effect that it will likely have through our area if it reaches the capacity that they believe. It is going to change the landscape of this area.
BENSENAnd I predict that 10 years from now when I'm in the old reporters' home we may see a ripple effect into the Prince George's County suburbs. When you look at geography, location, location, location, parts of Prince George's County right across the river, you know, ferry service, things like that, Oxon Hill could be the new Brooklyn 10 years from now, 15 years from now. You know, a place people are drawn to to live for the quality of life and good prices.
NNAMDIAnd they'll be looking for affordability. Rachel Sadon, if there's one thing in D.C. that traditionally is apolitical is the annual Fourth of July celebration. But that changed this year with President Trump's Salute to America event he championed and spoke at. You'll recall that it brought tanks, extra fireworks, Baby Trump balloon to the National Mall. It also brought ire from D.C. officials, who say that the event cost us $1.7 million. In hindsight, did the Salute to America really upend that apolitical tradition as much as we worried about it at the time or were critics right to worry about this setting a new precedent?
SADONWell, it was certainly unusual. And what I remember most about, you know, June was basically a lot of uncertainty. The Fourth of July had been basically the same for years on end. And all of a sudden we were all asking what was going to happen, how many firework shows were there going to be, was this going to be a de facto campaign rally? I think that that was the thing that was really getting at people the most was was the president really going to use this to bolster his own political aims or was he going to use it to celebrate the country and the military. And I think what we saw really was that that was what he did. He didn't turn it into a campaign rally.
SADONIn terms of the Mall, the Metro ridership, which is probably the most reliable measurement that we have for crowd size was up a little bit from a normal Fourth of July. Certainly it was strange to see, you know, the huge Trump Baby balloon. We saw some clashes near the White House with Proud Boys. So definitely not a normal Fourth of July, but I think maybe not quite as -- you know, there wasn't quite as many none firework fireworks as we expected.
NNAMDI800-433-8500. Joining us now by phone is Rhiannon Walker, who covers the Washington's football team for The Athletic. Rhiannon, thank you for joining us.
RHIANNON WALKERKojo, thank you for having me.
NNAMDIRhiannon, it seems like there's a big announcement that the Washington football team made this morning about Team President Bruce Allen. What's the news?
WALKERSo Bruce Allen was completely fired from the team today, and not just reassigned to handling the stadium and trying to work out a new deal for that, but just completely fired from the team today by Team Owner Dan Snyder. It has been an eventful 72 hours since Saturday when NBC Sports Washington JP Finlay initially broke the news that he was going to be relieved of his football operation duties, but we did not know until today that it was just going to be a complete firing.
WALKERAs I said there was thoughts that he might continue to work on the stadium considering that had been something he had been working on for a while. That was interesting in it of itself when you consider the fact that obviously Larry Hogan and his staff took a deal or working with the team off the table in February saying that they were not working with them on a new stadium deal at the moment in time. Virginia was not in it necessarily as well too, which means the only local that was working with the team was D.C.
WALKERAnd in recent weeks they have sort of backed off on that as well too. And they don't exactly have a great deal of support in the area near RFK stadium where they were thinking about possibly brining the new stadium. So it was one of those situations where this is a fresh start for the team. Dan Snyder has overseen a team that has not had any playoff victories in the last decade, multiple losing seasons. This last one 3-13. Yesterday at AT&T Stadium in Dallas there was a lot of awkwardness and tension. You often say "Fake it till you make it." But Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen could not really fake the fact that there was just something off.
WALKERAnd when we left the stadium Dan Snyder walked to his caravan with a police escort with Quarterback Alex Smith, who got in the same car as him. And Bruce Allen walked right passed him, did not break stride, did not look at him, did not speak to him and that was it. So that was the news for today. That's the reason why I could not join you all unfortunately in studio today is because we had to attend to this news.
WALKERThis is major for the team as many thought that Bruce Allen would never lose power with the team even when Scot McCloughan was fired from the General Manager position. Bruce Allen eventually took that back over as well too immediately after that. This is seen as an opportunity for a fresh start for the team. I've been dealing with Ron Rivera the news of him potentially signing within the next few hours, the next few day or so. This is a chance for the team to bring some fans back. Create some new fans and possibly turn over the culture in Ashburn.
NNAMDIRepeat that again, because they're interviewing for a new head coach today. Tell us about that. Any indication about whether that's going to happen or not?
WALKERSo my colleague Jourdan Rodrigue (unintelligible) with The Athletic in Carolina, we reported that Ron Rivera would like to sign with the team. And matter of fact, he's not planning to leave Ashburn or the team facility more specifically until the deal is worked out. That is what we have gathered from sources talking to us. I had sources telling me yesterday that they were sending people to go get him, when they brought him into the facility as well today, and that this is the real deal. There's no question about it.
WALKEROne of the things that I was going to write about later is the fact that Ron Rivera is somebody who is of extremely high character. He is very well liked within the NFL. He commands respect from anybody, who works with him or any of his players. He has been able to manage any scandal that has come the way of the Panthers.
WALKERAnd of one of the things that, you know, that I talked to a source about was the fact that when Jerry Richardson was under investigation for sexual harassment it was Ron Rivera, who was holding the organization together internally and externally, because the team owner was obviously being looked at and was in the process of selling the team, retiring as well, too. He's somebody who knows how to handle that. He's somebody who doesn't need to be babysat either when it comes to changing over the culture of the team.
WALKERAnd that is something that he is very strong about, culture building. He wants good guys in there, high character guys in there, guys that are going to work hard. And one of the things that if you read my co-worker, Jourdan's article she talked about the fact that he didn't want the big fancy office that you typically get with the head coaching job on the second floor. He actually took a -- it's almost like a janitor's closet next to the locker room so that he could get a better sense of how his players are as people. What they like to talk about, what are their interests, who they are as people because more than what they can do for him on the field, he cares about people just as people and what they're doing in their lives outside of the football field.
WALKERSo, again, he is somebody that you can get behind. He is a defensive-minded coach. He will be the second one that Dan Snyder has hired under his 20 years as the team owner. He's just a very good guy. I've not heard a bad thing about him. And he is military family. He is no-nonsense. His wife used to be an assistance coach for the Washington Mystics, so there's a tie there. He is a former Super Bowl champion with the 1985 Bears. He would be the first minority coach hired full time for the team, as well. He is Puerto Rican and Mexican descent.
WALKERAgain, it's just, in terms of that -- and he also is looking at who he can bring in as a defensive coordinator, as well, too, because he really believes that this team has a number of talented guys. It's just about getting the right coaches in place, the right system in place to allow them to succeed at their maximum level.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Rhiannon, I don't know how many times we have heard that during the course of the past 20 years, that there's going to be a makeover of this team, that we're hiring new people. We just got a Tweet from some guy named Tom Sherwood, who says: sell the team. There's a lot of sentiment in this region, Rhiannon, about the ownership of this team. People feel that that's where the problem starts. Did that come up today at all?
WALKERWell, yeah, I mean, I've had several players say that. It's a culture issue, and it's about being on the same page. It's about being one united front. It's about not having an ego and doing things based on that ego. It's about doing things in the best interest of the team. That is something that I continue to hear about, is that you can't have somebody overriding the coach. You can't have somebody who doesn't necessarily understand football operations in its entirety, trying to make football decisions. That's not how this works.
WALKERYou can't have somebody trying to override the football people's opinion on who to bring in personnel-wise. All it does is create discord and discontent. And that is why Washington has set the way they have for so much of the last two decades. It's on Dan Snyder to go out and make changes that are going to make people believe. He's not going to do it overnight. Firing Bruce Allen is just a good step in the right direction. But he has to bring in a coach that is of high character. He has to bring in a coach that is going to fix the culture here.
WALKEROne of the things that I reported earlier this year was about the changes to the practice. I had players who had been at other teams telling me that this is not how this is run. There's just too much freedom, there's too much flexibility, there's no level of consistency. It's too much fun, to a certain extent. You come to practice to work, so that when you go to play on Sundays, you can succeed there.
NNAMDISorry to interrupt, because we could go on and on about this. So, let's talk about what the good news was. The Mystics won the WNBA championship at home. The title had been a long time coming for a team that Coach Mike Thibault has methodically been assembling for years. Tell us about the secret of that success.
WALKERLong-term success. All the other D.C. teams -- I mean, you could say, except probably the Wizards -- have consistency when it comes to bringing in people that understand their players. They understand what they're trying to do. They understand what they're good at. And then keeping them accountable, making sure that they are never complacent with the fact that, you know, we make the playoffs on a regular basis, the Mystics, the Nats, the Capitals, especially.
WALKERThey continue to make the post-season, but having those goals that we want more than to just be consistently here. We want to win championships, which is what they did. You bring in Elena Delle Donne. You find the one piece that you're missing in order to achieve that, obviously. You know they went to the finals last year. They weren't able to pull it out. You learn from that adversity. And they took it with them. Like you said, they were able to bring the championship home this year, as a result of all of those times where they came up short. All those times where they had that post-season success, but they wanted more out of it.
NNAMDIThe MVP, Elena Delle Donne, played the last two games with three herniated discs in her back. Never seen a player on the NBA do that in the championship and go on to win. But talk a little bit about the Nationals, making history this year by winning the World Series. But the season did not being like that, did it?
WALKERNo. Nineteen and 31 at the 50-game mark. And everybody wanted Dave Martinez to be fired. You can go back and look at articles. You can look at the comments. You can look on social media. They had no faith that this team was going to get it together. And it's one of those things where, you know, we often talk about injuries play a part in a team's success, but when you have some of your starters not available to you, it makes a world of difference. It also gives those players that are coming in for them in relief support, an opportunity to learn how to play, how to step up and things of that nature, so if anything else does happen, you know, you don't have to worry about what's going to happen if you lose this guy again.
WALKERThis team just absolutely fought for it. They came in, and I believe it was Stephen Strasburg who said that, in all these years, we've had these high expectations. We've finished first in our division. We've been that top team, and we've run into the buzz saw. Well, maybe this year, we are the buzz saw. You come in on a wildcard. You come in with no, you know, there's no, like, what's the word I want? There's no stress necessarily involved with being a top team. It's, like, you have to fight. You have to go to other teams' houses.
WALKEREvery single one of those teams that they played, they're on the road. They always knew that if it came down to a, you know, final game in those series, they had to go on the road. And they did. It toughens you up. Again, just going back to the first few points.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Amazing. You lose all of your home games and win all of your road games and end up winning the World Series. Sorry to interrupt, but we do have to move on. Here's Robert, in Northern Virginia. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBERTYeah, hi. Two really quick comments. I just wanted to mention, as someone who lives in Northern Virginia, I'm very thrilled about the blue wave. I was the first openly gay man to ever run for Congress in the state of Virginia way back in 2000. So, I'm really thrilled that Democrats are taking over. But this question involves my time in the District. My husband and I bought a place in Bloomingdale years ago, and I disagree with your commentator's assessment of not adding more police, and that it doesn't have an effect.
ROBERTI think that anecdotal evidence you cited was not really let out in that, you know, that very person, that criminally minded person that killed somebody, that person, if there had been more police, may have been caught before they ever had the opportunity to do that.
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have Jackie Bensen respond. That is a fairly popular sentiment, the more police you have, the less crime you have.
BENSENAnd, again, the reason I use that as a microcosm was because it was so immediate, that the police had passed through that intersection seconds, not minutes, seconds before. After the shots were fired, they had returned to the scene within seconds. And, unfortunately, they did not catch the shooters.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Robert. Rachel Sadon, roughly 180 people were killed in traffic fatalities in the region this year. D.C. experienced 25 traffic fatalities this year, the first time in three years that the number has gone down, but other jurisdictions, like Prince George's County, have not seen similar results. The Vision Zero Project challenges jurisdictions to reach zero traffic deaths and serious injuries. What were the successes and shortfalls of Vision Zero this year in our region?
SADONYeah, so, D.C. signed onto this back in 2015, and this is the idea that we're going to eliminate traffic fatalities to get them down, actually, to zero. And for several years thereafter, we actually saw the numbers go in the opposite direction. And, you know, there was a lot of activism around that this year. We saw protests. We saw people really coming out and saying this is not acceptable. These are preventable deaths. We want to see the city doing more, doing more faster.
SADONWe saw a huge protest on Pennsylvania Avenue, where all of these bike activists laid down in the street to memorialize the folks that had been killed this year. And, at the end of the year, we actually did see a decrease for the first time in years. But everybody, up to and including city officials, say it's not enough, that there's really still a lot more work to be done. And, correspondingly, we've also seen a number of jurisdictions around D.C., Arlington and Prince George's County sign on to adopt Vision Zero efforts. But there's definitely still more work to be done here.
NNAMDIAnd this year, Jackie Bensen, environmental activists took to D.C. streets. Shut Down DC, an activist group focused on the global climate crisis, has made a name for itself by blockading major intersections. If you were on the road during the morning rush in late September, you likely remember the impact. Jane Fonda has been arrested five times this year protesting climate change at the Capitol. Students from local students continue to take the lead on climate change activism. Jackie Bensen, what was different about the activism we saw in 2019? Was it those young people?
BENSENI think it is, and I think that it is fascinating that -- and I may not have it 100 percent correct, but I believe one local major school district has now agreed to give students one excused absence a year in order to be able to protest. Now, could you imagine something like that 10 years ago?
NNAMDIThat's because the young people are being very vocal. Got to go to break, but first, Lynn emails: I just heard you say the Washington football team, obviously to avoid using the team's ethnic slur nickname. I agree with you, but it's awkward. I think I have a better idea. I recently started referring to them as the Snyders. (laugh) The team's problems trace to their owner, who interferes with running the team in so many destructive ways, that it is truly Dan's team. Oh, and I've stopped rooting for them until Snyder sells the team, because until that happens, there is no hope. A sentiment shared by way too many people.
NNAMDII'm going to take a short break. When we come back, arts and culture. What were your most memorable culture experiences in the D.C. region this year? Give us a call: 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We've been reviewing events in 2019 in this region with Jackie Bensen. She's a reporter for NBC4. Rachel Sadon is the editor-in-chief of DCist. Rhiannon Walker covers the Washington football team for The Athletic. And now we're going to turn to arts, culture and food, which is the cue for Lori McCue. She is the arts and food editor at DCist. Lori McCue, what was the biggest story on the arts and culture beat this year?
MCCUEI think, undoubtedly, it's what's been going on between the mayor's office and the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities. And it's been...
NNAMDIWe only have a few minutes left. (laugh) It will take hours to explain it, yes.
MCCUEDo you have, like, an hour? Because I could get into this. So, it's been this sort of this tug of war for almost a year, now, that has been mostly about money, unsurprisingly. It started earlier this year, when the mayor proposed in her budget to replace the commission's dedicated funding stream with a mayoral appropriation. So, she would decide how much the commission got. Then artists fought back, and Phil Mendelson shut that effort down.
MCCUEIn August, the mayor proposed creating her own Creative Affairs office, which would act as this liaison between her office and the Commission on Arts and Humanities -- which, by the way, became an independent agency this summer. It's been a wild year. (laugh)
NNAMDIWhy did this dispute get so bitter?
MCCUEWell, I mean, we're talking about a lot of money, here, and a lot of jobs. According to the Cultural Plan -- which was released earlier this year, too --we're talking more than 150,000 jobs and $12 billion in wages. And it isn't just the city's big arts institutions that are affected by how this money is doled out, right. It's smaller artists. It's independent artists working and trying to make a living doing what they love. So, this is pretty bitter. This is how people make their lives.
SADONMy prediction is that we haven't heard the end of what happened here.
MCCUEI totally agree, yeah. This is not over.
SADONIt's not over, and we also don't -- I think we don't fully understand the contours of how this got to be so bitter.
NNAMDIThis all unfolded about the same time that the mayor unveiled the city's first-ever Cultural Plan, a 224-page document.
MCCUERight. It's big. (laugh)
NNAMDIWhat's the plan?
MCCUEIt's this long-promised document, which was supposed to basically lay out how the city is going to protect its artists, and to really propel the growth of the city's arts community and make this a place that artists want to make their home and make their living.
MCCUEAnd, you know, like I said, it's been years in the making, more than five years, and it was this sort of joint effort between the Commission of Arts and Humanities and the Office of Planning. A bunch of artists weighed in, experts, professors, what have you. And there was a lot of controversy, because one of the biggest proposals in that plan was to replace a lot of the arts grants that go to institutions and, again, those smaller artists, alike, with loans. And a lot of artists were not thrilled about that, so that spurred almost a year of disagreements about how this money is doled out.
NNAMDIThere was another cultural event that was perhaps more, can we say, monumental.
MCCUEOh, boy. Oh, boy.
MCCUEThat's right. (laugh)
NNAMDIThese bad puns are killing me, but go ahead. (laugh)
MCCUEIt's a rough one. So, yes, the Washington Monument, the big, tall, pointy one, it reopened to the public this year. It's been under construction for more than three years. It's had a temporary security facility in place since 9/11 to make it more secure. And now they've replaced it with a more permanent security situation, and updates to the elevator, which has been a little on the fritz for a while.
MCCUEThat's right. And it's been closed since 2016. So, this fall, for the first time in a very long time, people could go up to the top and see one of the best views in the city. But I also want to mention that before that even happened, one of the biggest cultural events this year that the monument hosted was that huge projection over the summer of Apollo 11. That was in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
MCCUEThe National Air and Space Museum put that on, and it wasn't just this static projection of this rocket. They put on this big show over one weekend at night that incorporated all of this archival footage and sound. So, they had the, like, t-minus 10 seconds, or whatever, (laugh) and original music and screens. And it was beautiful. It was really something to behold. And the Smithsonian said that about half a million people came out to see those shows and to sit on the National Mall. And keep in mind, that was in July, and we all know that it is hot as I'll get out in July, (laugh) so people must've loved it.
BENSENAnd it was free.
BENSENIt was free. The whole point of having vibrant (sounds like) is to make it accessible to everybody.
MCCUEAbsolutely. It's definitely something special.
NNAMDIThe magic word, free. In many ways, Lori, the arts and culture scene this year was defined by openings and closings. Let's start with museums. What are we losing?
MCCUERight. I think the biggest one is actually happening right this week. The Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue is closing tomorrow. Tomorrow's your last chance that you get to go and see all of the things inside, including, like, a piece of the Berlin Wall and part of Tim Russert's Meet The Press desk, I believe is still there, and all those Pulitzer photographs and the front pages. So, yeah, it was announced earlier this year that that building is being sold to Johns Hopkins. So, that's leaving us.
NNAMDIAnd what museums opened?
MCCUEThere are a few big ones. There was the Spy Museum, of course, the huge reopening of that facility in L'Enfant Plaza. It's enormous. You can't miss it. (laugh) But also the Anacostia Community Museum reopened. That's the only Smithsonian Museum east of the Anacostia River. And their exhibits are mostly about local change, urban change and documenting the city's history. They have a new outdoor space with a plaza, and there's a nice garden now, new lighting and infrastructure changes, as well.
NNAMDIAnd how should we describe The REACH at the Kennedy Center?
MCCUEOh, that's another big one. That was seven years in the making. It cost more than $250,000 to put this giant annex on the side of the Kennedy Center, which, you know, if you've ever been inside the Kennedy Center, it's ornate, it's stately. But The REACH is very spare. It's very white. It's all JFK-themed, so they have rooms, like, named after his horses and stuff. (laugh) But it's meant for learning. There are lots of classroom spaces. There's lot of rehearsal space, events, as well.
MCCUEAnd they're really hoping that this makes the Kennedy Center into a destination where people will just come and hang out, you know. There's a nice outdoor area that I imagine is very nice and relaxing on a nice spring day. So, I think it remains to be seen whether the Kennedy Center will be where we're all hanging out.
NNAMDIRhiannon Walker, speaking of new spaces, the Mystics were playing at a new home this season, the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast Washington. How does that change things, what the atmosphere is like at those games?
WALKERWell, when you had -- last time that they were playing in the finals, they were playing at George Washington, which isn't really their home, per se. Now they have a new stadium. It's nice, tight comfy confines. It feels very full, which is what you want when you need a home field advantage type of situation. But also just makes it feel like there are a lot of people there to support them, as well, too. You can't discount how much fans are important to sports. All those things, changing the tide of the game, any of those things, it's really important in a game.
NNAMDIIt's also an indication of how that section of the city if likely to be changing, isn't it, Jackie Bensen?
BENSENAnd I love to see it. That's the thing is just I love to see the change, because I've loved this city for the three-plus decades that I've lived here.
NNAMDILori McCue, there were also some major appointments and shakeups in Newseum leadership this year. What happened to the Smithsonian?
MCCUEYeah, the Smithsonian has a new secretary. It's Lonny Bunch, who was previously the head of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He is the first African American to hold the position and the 14th secretary that the institution has ever had. And he said that, in his first year, especially, he wants to increase the diversity of visitors. He's now in charge of 19 museums across the city, and...
NNAMDIAnd there's the National Zoo. (laugh)
MCCUECan't forget the zoo. But that's his big mission, is to have a more diverse museum-going audience.
NNAMDIWhat about places to hear live music? Tell us about some closings and openings.
MCCUEYeah, we had a few that closed kind of late in the year, actually. I'm thinking of Gypsy Sally's in Georgetown, which hadn't been open very long, less than 10 years, for sure. And it had become this home for Americana music. I don't know if we have any Deadheads out there, but it became like this Grateful Dead hangout. There were lots of concerts there.
MCCUEI'm also thinking of The Pinch, which is a dive bar in Columbia Heights that hosted a lot of punk bands that also closed earlier this year. And then Villain and Saint in Bethesda is another one that closed down. But Truxton Circle got a new spot. Seven Drum City is now hosting concerts. as well as being a really beloved rehearsal space and a place for bands to just kind of hang out and jam.
NNAMDILet's talk about movies. D.C. served as a set for some big name productions this year. Were we ready for our close-up?
MCCUEWell, perhaps you've heard of Wonder Woman. We don't have time to tell her whole story, but her new movie -- her movie, I assume, is “Wonder Woman 1984,” and it's mostly set in D.C. And, actually, the first trailer for the movie came out less than a month ago. And you can spot a lot of D.C. institutions in there. There's a scene where they're having a glass of wine at The Watergate. There's a part that looks like it's maybe set in the White House, but there's a particularly good joke at the end, outside the Hirshhorn Museum. And they filmed here earlier this -- or last year, rather. They filed here last year, and in Georgetown, as well.
NNAMDILet's move on to talk about the big stories you're looking out for in 2020. I'll ask each of you about this, but, Rhiannon Walker, I'll start with you. What's the big sports story you're looking forward to in the year 2020?
WALKERThis team I'm covering. Obviously, The Nats have their championship, but The Capitals got theirs in 2018. The Mystics got theirs last year, as well, too. Maybe you can say the Wizards, but right now, I mean, I said this in my post about the biggest moments of the decade. This team is still the favorite team. They just hurt their fans terribly, and they are trying to bring them back.
WALKERAnd, Bruce Allen, like I said to start, being gone is huge. People thought that he would never leave, so this is something that you want to see this next year. Is this going to be a different decade than what has gone on the last two decades, or at least the last decade since Bruce Allen took over as team president and as the executive within the organization?
WALKERThat's going to be a major storyline, is can this team return back to glory? Because I know you all have seen how big the championship parade was there for the Capitals, Nationals. And, eventually, I'm sure the Mystics, they'll have one, as well, too. But, I mean, anybody I've talk to who's been a fan for a very long time will tell you that they pale in comparison to those Super Bowl parades that the team used to have back in the day, last one being in the 1990s. So, that's going to be the biggest story in sports to this area.
NNAMDIYeah, that team used to own this town. What's the biggest story you're looking forward to, Jackie Bensen, in 2020?
BENSENPolitics, politics, politics.
SADONOh, you took my answer. (laugh)
BENSENFederal, state and local. They gave the old gal the question first, sorry. (laugh)
NNAMDIBut. of course. in Virginia. you're looking forward to a Democratic-led General Assembly, and how the Republicans are going to respond being in the minority in the General Assembly. And then you're looking for elections next year, here in the District of Columbia and in other places. How about you, Rachel Sadon?
SADONYeah, that's where my head went, pretty immediately. June 16th is the Democratic primary here. And, in D.C., that's generally tantamount to the actual election. And there's a number of local races that are really consequential. David Grosso stepping down from his at-large seat, so that's open. We've got whatever is happening in Ward 2 and the fallout of Jack Evans.
SADONBrandon Todd faces a credible challenger in Ward 4. Vince Gray is running for reelection. I mean, we've got an interesting D.C. election coming up this year.
NNAMDIWhat are you looking out for, Lori McCue?
MCCUEWell, I also cover food, as well, so...
NNAMDII was about to talk about food, so go ahead.
MCCUE...I'm a busy gal. But (laugh) one that I am absolutely keeping an eye on, because he's already had a heck of a year, is Kwame, Kwame Onwuachi. He has sort of bounced back from a pretty notable setback in the Shaw Bijou a few years ago. And he has opened this lauded restaurant on the wharf called Kith and Kin. He had two outposts of his more casual restaurant called Philly Wing Fry, which had the most incredible French fries. And I'm so mad that it's closed.
MCCUEBut, moving on. (laugh) He won the James Beard Award for the Rising Star Chef this year. He released an acclaimed memoir called "Notes From a Young Black Chef." And I think next year is also going to be big, because they're making a movie based on that memoir starring Lakeith Stanfield, who is another rising star. So, we have not heard the last from him. I think he's one that I'm excited to keep an eye on in 2020.
NNAMDIAnd let me tell you about that memoir. People like Jackie and I who have been covering D.C. for such a long time, when I read the memoir, I read where he was sent to stay with his grandfather in Nigeria, and that his grandfather is Chike Onwuachi. And I said, Chike Onwuachi, who used to teach African studies at Howard University? He said, yep, that's exactly who my grandfather was. (laugh) So, he does have that Washington connection, going way back.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Rhiannon Walker, thank you so much for joining us.
WALKERNo problem, Kojo. Sorry I couldn't join you, but thank you for having me.
NNAMDIRhiannon Walker covers the Washington football team for The Athletic. Jackie Bensen, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIJackie Bensen's a reporter for NBC4. Rachel Sadon is the editor-in-chief of DCist. Rachel, see you upstairs. (laugh)
SADONYes. Nice to be down here.
NNAMDIAnd Lori McCue is arts and food editor at DCist. Lori, thank you so much for joining us.
MCCUEThank you. Delighted to be here.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Maura Currie, Julie Depenbrock, Cydney Grannan and Laura Markoe. This is our last show of the year, in fact, for the decade. You can take a look at our guest picks for the biggest stories of the decade on our website, kojoshow.org. We'll be taking a break for New Year's, but join us on Thursday, when we'll talk about the rising number of deaths among the homeless in D.C., plus the loss of live music venues in the region. What does that mean for musicians and their fans? In the meantime, thank you for listening. Have a Happy New Year. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Most public schools conduct active shooter drills, but are they causing more harm than good?
The affordable housing crunch is everyone's problem in the Washington region, threatening the economy, education and environment. Who's trying to tackle the crisis, and what new initiatives are on the table?
Until recently, the monuments commemorating historical figures in state capitals had been predominantly white and male. That's changing.