Virginia is halfway through a whirlwind legislative session. How are new laws going to change the lives of Virginians? And Montgomery County Public Schools are taking the first steps toward redistricting, making some parents and students hopeful and others angry. How might the process end?
Maryland and Virginia kicked off their legislative sessions this week. Meanwhile in D.C., the longest-serving councilmember resigned. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson joined the show to discuss.
- Facing a likely expulsion from the Council, the councilmember representing Ward 2 resigned on Tuesday, effective at the end of the day on January 17.
- Evans was under scrutiny for violating the Council’s ethics rules, namely using his public office to benefit private clients.
- Politics Hour resident analyst Tom Sherwood first obtained Evans’ brief resignation letter.
- The special election to fill Evans’ seat will take place on June 16 — two weeks after D.C.’s June primary election. WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reported that five of the six candidates running for the primary election also plan on running for the special election.
- Tom Sherwood said that Jack Evans has talked privately about running for both the special election and the primary.
- “It’s a long shot,” said Chairman Mendelson on the Politics Hour. “I don’t think voters are going to be forgiving that quickly.”
What Happened To Measures To Help Tipped Workers in D.C.?
- D.C. residents voted to pass Initiative 77 in June 2018, which would have ended the tipped-minimum wage practice, gradually increasing the restaurant minimum wage to match the standard wage by 2026.
- In October 2018, the D.C. Council voted to repeal that measure, but added several provisions aimed at helping improve working conditions for tipped workers.
- Nothing came of these measures, Fenit Nirappil reported for The Washington Post. Neither the mayor nor the Council included a budget carve-out for these measures.
- Mendelson told The Washington Post: “The mayor should try harder this year to include it in her budget, but I would also note the so-called, self-proclaimed worker advocates did not lobby us as far as I know.”
- Kojo said: “Your remarks seem to suggest that, were the Council lobbied about this, then it would have included it.” Mendelson’s response: “There were these advocates who were proclaiming about how important all this stuff was, and then when it came time to remind the Council it should be funded, they were AWOL.”
Is It Time To Break Up The DCRA?
- A year ago, Mendelson introduced a bill to break the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) into two agencies: a Department of Buildings and Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection.
- Now, the Council has renewed interest in the bill after an August fire at an illegal rental in Brightwood Park left two dead, including a 9-year-old boy.
- Mendelson said the DCRA bill will be put up to vote early in 2020.
- A caller who self-identified as representing “the largest construction trade association in the region,” said that “the majority of businesses and business groups, who are the largest users of DCRA, continue to state that this will create more delay, more backlog and create more cost to businesses.”
- Mendelson’s response: “There’s been overwhelming support for the bill. And among business groups, most of them have been neutral. And I think that’s because of pressure that’s been put on them by the mayor to oppose the bill.”
- Mendelson mentioned, to his knowledge, the District of Columbia Building Industry Association (DCBIA) is the only business group to come out in opposition to the bill.
Mayor Bowser Called Some D.C. Councilmembers “Enemies Of Economic Development”
- At a groundbreaking in historic Anacostia this week, Mayor Bowser said some D.C. councilmembers are “enemies of economic development.”
- On the Politics Hour, Sherwood said, “She clearly was talking about Elissa Silverman, with whom she’s had a lot of fights over issue.”
- Sherwood also said Mayor Bowser “added a racial aspect [to her comments], specifically talking about projects in Wards 7 and 8 east of the river.”
- “When I heard that, I gasped,” said Mendelson. “That’s certainly not the phrasing I would use.”
The state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, Aisha Braveboy, has had a busy year. As Maryland legislators start up their session, Braveboy is pushing for some legal changes.
Braveboy Wants To Broaden Maryland’s Hate Crime Statute
- Sean Urbanski was charged with first-degree murder for fatally stabbing Army 2nd. Lt. Richard Collins III in 2017.
- The judge tossed the hate crime charge against Urbanski, saying that prosecutors failed to prove that Urbanski attack Collins because Collins was black.
- Braveboy thinks the attack that led to Collins’ death was a hate crime. Now, she wants to broaden the language in the hate crime statute. Braveboy says she’ll call on lawmakers to change the legislation.
- Braveboy thinks the attack that led to Collins’ death was a hate crime. Now, she wants to broaden the language in the hate crime statute.
- Specifically, Braveboy said that in the Urbanski case, the judge interpreted the hate crime statute to mean that “the state would have to prove that hate was the only factor in the commission of the crime.” She wants to change the statute to specify that hate can be “the motivating factor or one of many factors” in order for prosecutors to seek a hate crime charge.
Should Strangulation Be A First-Degree Felony?
- Braveboy thinks so. She penned this op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, arguing that it’s one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence, and that people who have experienced strangulation are more likely to end up killed by homicide.
- Braveboy also points out that under most states’ laws, strangulation is a felony.
- On the Politics Hour this week, Braveboy said that in the past, legislators weren’t open to making strangulation a felony. She thinks that current leaders in the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates “are more open to this type of legislation.”
Braveboy’s First Year As State’s Attorney In Prince George’s County
- This month marks a year since Braveboy was sworn in as the state’s attorney for Prince George’s County.
- Her office no longer recommends cash bail for defendants that aren’t deemed a danger or flight risk.
- Braveboy has established a Conviction and Integrity Unit, which allows prosecutors to reevaluate prior convictions if new evidence comes to light.
- Braveboy focused on juvenile justice reform. Her office is reviewing cases for juveniles who were served life sentences and have served at least 30 years already.
- She also organized the first “State of Justice Address” in October 2019.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Phil Mendelson, the Chairman of the D.C. Council. We'll also be talking first, however, with Aisha Braveboy, the state's attorney for Prince George's County. She is a Democrat. She joins us by phone. Thank you so much for joining us, Aisha Braveboy.
AISHA BRAVEBOYThank you so much. And I appreciate you understanding I couldn't make it in today. You know I love coming down to your studio. But, unfortunately, today, I couldn't make it.
SHERWOODWe will never forgive you. (laugh)
NNAMDI800-433-8850. If you have questions or comments for Aisha Braveboy, you'd better call now. Aisha Braveboy joins us by phone. But before we got to Aisha Braveboy, Tom Sherwood, Governor Northam of Virginia and lawmakers there have been urging local authority over Confederate Monuments. The Richmond City Council asked the state for authority to decide the fate of its Confederate iconography. But this has been an ongoing debate for a long time, and it would seem as if Democrats in the Virginia Legislature and the Virginia General Assembly are, at this point, disposed to giving this authority to local officials.
SHERWOODVirginia has the authority, the State Legislature and the government has the authority to pass legislation to get rid of them all, or require they be put into museums, or that additional statuary or information signs go up wherever they may be to explain some of the racist history of why they're there in the first place. I think this is a sign -- because some of the African American delegates are also supporting this. This is a way for the Democrats to take a stand against the statues, but also allow the local governments, the cities and the counties, to make their decisions many of which will make them pretty quickly like Charlottesville, Richmond and others to change or move these statues from the public square and put them in a historic perspective. I think it's a compromise that shows many the legislature and the governor are going to work on this and other issues.
NNAMDIOn to Maryland, where the -- I don't know which came first, the chicken or the egg. On the one hand, the Maryland Board of Public Works has approved, 2-1, with State Treasurer Nancy Kopp voting against and Governor Larry Hogan and State Comptroller, Peter Franchot joining Hogan in supporting the expansion of I-270 and the Capital Beltway. I say I don't know which came first the chicken or the egg, because on Monday State Comptroller Peter Franchot announced that he will be running for governor.
SHERWOODWell, the governor, if I can use a word, was railroading his highway plan through the state. And he was going to move quickly and start taking land around the beltway and start changes on 270 and the American Legion Bridge. And Maryland, Montgomery and Prince George's and Howard and other counties said, "Hey, wait a minute. Wait a minute, you're going too fast. You're going to start taking land." And so, Peter Franchot, who we talked about in this program months ago planning to run for governor, and who has now said he will -- there is only three votes on that board. And he and Nancy Kopp voted against -- or delayed. Didn't vote against. Told the governor to delay his plan till now.
NNAMDISo, what changed Franchot's mind?
SHERWOODFranchot, they got some pretty good changes, which will help him when he runs for governor in the Washington suburbs.
NNAMDIIn addition (unintelligible) probably gets support from Governor Hogan.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know about that.
NNAMDIWho is a Republican.
SHERWOODBut we'll see. You know, there a couple just a few key changes in the governor's $9 billion plan. One is that they will not start taking property along the Beltway 495 until the governor in fact has his private-public partnership contract in place. And people will know exactly what's going to happen. People will not be losing their homes. The governor had done nothing on rapid transit, bus rapid transit. And so there's an agreement now. I think to spend something like 10 percent that's raised on transit, that buses will be allowed three and two express lanes. And this plan -- whatever happens on 495, there will be boar environmental protections for Rock Creek Park, for Sligo Creek. I think the thing is called Northwest Park. I can't remember the name of it. And there also will be a focus starting on the American Legion Bridge, which is one of the great bottlenecks. So, it's a very good move for everyone.
NNAMDII don't know if that will change the minds of the Montgomery and Prince George's County officials who have opposed it. But we can hear from Aisha Braveboy about this. How do you feel about it?
BRAVEBOYYou know, you're talking about the transportation project?
BRAVEBOYYou know, I try to stay in my lane. But what I do know is that, you know, mass transit is the direction that we need to go in and that, you know, I support investing in smart transportation projects throughout the state. But I'm going to let the experts, you know, battle it out.
NNAMDIWell, you have been in a lot of lanes. You've been in the General Assembly.
NNAMDIYou've run for governor. You are now the state's attorney.
SHERWOODYou have to travel around a very large county of Prince George's County.
SHERWOODAnd you know what traffic can be on Highway 4 in the Beltway and 50 and all those other roads. Do you have any view at all on these changes?
BRAVEBOYWell, you know, I've really been focused, actually, on criminal justice reform and also public safety in my county. And so, to the extent that, you know, traffic or congestion impacts our ability to effectively perform our jobs and public safety, you know, certainly I have some concern.
SHERWOODNow, can I just say very quickly on this subject, Tom Hucker, he's a councilmember from Montgomery County, he talked about who supports it. Marc Elrich and Tom Hucker particularly put out statements. They do support what's happened. But Hucker has said, "Look, this is a good initial victory for the Metropolitan Washington area." But they have to keep their heat on make sure these changes don't wither away when they start doing details.
NNAMDIAnd that an environmental impact study is done. Aisha Braveboy, this morning, you were at the sentencing for Michael Duvall who was convicted in October 2019 for the stabbing death of a 20-year-old Prince George's County resident. It was a cold case. The attack took place back in 2005. Over a decade later the case was reopened. Is this result what you hoped for?
BRAVEBOYThis is actually the result we hoped for. In fact, the sentencing is going on right now. We'll be doing a press conference right after the sentencing. But Mr. Duvall has been held accountable and responsible for his actions. And, you know, I think that this case really also sends the message that we will never rest until we get justice. Whether it's a cold case or a case that just occurred, we will work with our police agencies, our detectives to investigate, to develop suspects and to prosecute individuals who are responsible.
SHERWOODHe faces, I think, up to 30 years.
BRAVEBOYUp to 30 years, yes.
SHERWOODNow what did the prosecutor -- what did you recommend to the judge?
BRAVEBOYWe recommended 30 years.
SHERWOODAnd maybe while we're even talking to you, you might get a finding on this, or will you have to go back into court?
BRAVEBOYYeah. Yes. As soon as the judge sentences him I'll get an alert from my communications team. And if it happens on this call, I'll let you know.
NNAMDIAnother recent case, the killing of Army Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III. Sean Urbanski was convicted of first degree murder, but the hate crime charge was dropped. You argued that Urbanski's attack was racially motivated. And now you're planning to call on lawmakers to change the state crime statute. How do you think it needs to change?
BRAVEBOYSure. The judge -- and we respectfully disagreed with the judge's decision in this case. But the judge believed that the Hate Crime Statute was very narrow, and it would require us to prove that hate, based on the one of the protected classes, including, African American, someone, you know, who is killed based on their race was the only factor in the person's actions, as opposed to one of several factors that could have been at play in the commission of a crime. And so, we want to make sure that our statute is broad enough that if race is factor at all, whether it's the sole factor or one of many factors that we can prove or that we can make the elements of the hate crime statute. And so we're working with Delegate C.T. Wilson and Senator Joanne Benson, who happens to be a graduate of Bowie State University.
BRAVEBOYAnd, as you all may, recall, Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III graduated after his death obviously from Bowie State University. And he was also commissioned in the Army the day of his death.
SHERWOODMs. Braveboy, do you have legislation already written, because it's difficult to -- I mean, how do you determine what hate is in someone's mind unless they post racist things on websites or are quoted. Because I know you're meeting next week with State Senate President Bill Ferguson, brand new, and this is one of the issues that you're going to bring up with him. Do you have precise legislation you're going to put on his desk?
BRAVEBOYYes. We have language now that really tweaks the current hate crime statute to basically --
BRAVEBOYTo tweak. To tweak.
SHERWOODTweaks, that doesn't sound very strong. What about rewrite?
BRAVEBOYWell, the thing is, the statute is pretty decent. But what it is, is it's too narrow. It is interpreted or was interpreted by the judge in this case to mean that we would have to prove -- the State would have to prove that hate was the only factor in the commission of the crime. And the tweak would be that we would modify the language to say that if hate is the motivating factor or one of many factors that it would meet the elements of the hate crime statute in order for us to seek hate crime in a particular case. So, I think it just really needs to be broaden. And I think if it had broader language like what we are going to be suggesting, we would not have run into the problem that we did with the judge.
NNAMDIAnother thing you're trying to change is how strangulation cases are convicted. Right now strangulation cases are charged and prosecuted as misdemeanors. You want it to be a first-degree felony. Do you get a sense that Maryland lawmakers would be open to making it a first-degree felony?
BRAVEBOYAbsolutely. I mean, we have a lot of great support from legislative leaders in Annapolis around this issue. Maryland is one of only, I think, about four states that...
NNAMDIAnd the District of Columbia.
BRAVEBOYAnd the District of Columbia. That's correct. So, we're going to call on our partners in the District of Columbia to also consider this -- that does not consider strangulation a first-degree felony assault. You know, strangulation is the most lethal form of domestic violence. And if you think about what a person experiences when they are strangled. They can be rendered unconscious within seconds, and they could die within just a few minutes.
NNAMDISo, what's the nature of the opposition to making it a first-degree felony?
BRAVEBOYWell, we have not run into opposition just yet. I think in the past the leaders of the House and Senate Committees that oversaw, you know, this type of legislation were not in favor of it. I believe that we now have leaders in the House and Senate that are more open to this type of legislation.
SHERWOODAre there statistics to show that most strangulation cases involve, in fact, men against women?
BRAVEBOYYes. I mean, because a lot of this is a result of domestic violence. And we know that 75 to 80 percent of domestic violence cases involves a male abuser and a female victim. And it's not to say that men cannot be victims. And so we know that we have a lot of support also of men in the legislature who also believe that it's important for us to pass such a legislation. But I believe that we're going to have the support this year. I know the Vice Chair on the Judiciary Committee on the House side, Vanessa Atterbeary out of Howard County, is our lead sponsor. And Senator Susan Lee from Montgomery County is our lead Senate Sponsor.
SHERWOODLet me -- we don't have a lot of time. So, let me ask you about homicides. You have said guns are a problem in Prince George's County. That you are going to quote, "vigorously prosecute gun crimes." What are you going to different that hasn't been done in the county before?
BRAVEBOYWell, we have continuously prosecuted gun crimes. And, you know, we have an over 90 percent conviction rate. With respect to our homicides, we also have...
SHERWOODAre you looking to changes in the law or are you just going to keep focusing?
BRAVEBOYWhat we need to really focus on is prevention and sending, you know, that message to our community that gun crimes are unacceptable. That having and possessing illegal weapons is unacceptable in our community. That we will prosecute individuals that possess or who possess illegal weapons in our community. And we're going to do our best, again, to hold everyone accountable to the maximum extent. But a lot of it is a public campaign around the dangers of having guns, because a lot of times people who would not make the decision to let's say kill someone or to injure someone -- when they have that gun they believe they're more powerful. And then they make bad decisions because they have that weapon. And so our goal is to send the message to not engage in carrying illegal weapons.
SHERWOODI'm not sure a campaign to ask people -- you know, there was a "Don't Smoke the Brothers" campaign here in the District during the worst days in the '90s. I'm not sure how a campaign would do that. But you do intend to prosecute, and that will be a strong message, too.
BRAVEBOYWe do intend to prosecute. But we are all also about prevention. So, we have to do our part to educate the public, as well. And that's what we're going to do.
NNAMDIYour office announced in September that you would no longer request cash bail as a condition of release. Why was this a priority, and have you seen any changes since eliminating the cash bail system?
BRAVEBOYYes. I mean, it's a priority, because we did not want to, you know, run a system of justice where individuals were treated differently based on their ability to afford a cash bail. And so what we have seen is judges being a lot more thoughtful about the types of pretrial conditions that they are giving to defendants. Certainly individuals that are a danger to the community, we ask that they remain held without bail. And so we've been able to successfully keep violent criminals off our streets. But for individuals who, you know, are not considered a danger to the community, not considered a flight risk, there have been, you know, improvements on their conditions of release. The judge just handed down a 30-year sentence against Michael Duvall. So, the judge did give us what we asked for.
SHERWOODWhat are we doing with marijuana prosecutions in Prince George's County? In the District -- I mean, sorry. In suburban Virginia, there are new prosecutors taking office who say they will not prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases, and will seriously consider trying to move those cases away from prosecution. What are you doing with simple marijuana cases?
BRAVEBOYSure. We really just focus our prosecution on the distribution cases and the interdiction cases here in Prince George's County. So, we're focusing on drug dealers and those who are sending drugs through packages in the mail and things like that. And we're very successful in that, and focusing our efforts in those of the police department on the more serious offenders is really yielding good results for us.
SHERWOODDo you have a candidate for governor yet? We mentioned earlier, before you came on, Peter Franchot is running for governor. I know it's early. Are you supporting Aisha -- no, sorry.
SHERWOODAngela Alsobrooks. You both start with A. Angela Alsobrooks?
BRAVEBOYYou know, Angela is a wonderful County Executive.
SHERWOODYes or no?
BRAVEBOYShe's doing a great job. I don't know what the future holds for her. She has not made any decision. So, I'll just withhold judgement on that until I figure out what the field looks like.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Kyle: What are State Attorney Braveboy's thoughts on recent incidents of small municipal police officer misconduct? He's talking about the former Fairmont Heights Maryland police officer who was accused of a serious breach of public trust, raping a woman who he arrested during a traffic stop in December 2019.
BRAVEBOYWell, our office is prosecuting that case. And we have prosecuted both Prince George's County Police Officers, as well as municipal police officers who abuse their power. And so we will continue to hold them accountable, as well.
NNAMDIFinally, your office established a Conviction and Integrity Unit. What does that unit do?
BRAVEBOYSo, our Conviction and Sentencing Integrity Unit, which is one of the first in the country that reviews both conviction integrity issues. You know, someone who wants to claim their absolute innocence, and also sentencing integrity, meaning that individuals who believe they were disproportionately sentenced have an ability to ask us to review their sentence and to request certain modifications. And so far that is going very, very well. In fact, we had our first juvenile lifer who we reviewed his sentenced and determined that, you know, his sentence was disproportionate. He was 16 at the time of his offense, and he was recently released into the community -- under monitoring, of course -- as he goes through the reentry process. But that's going great, really, really well. We recently also received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to assist us with our conviction integrity efforts.
BRAVEBOYAnd we are in the process of hiring an investigator for those cases. And we have, you know, probably a couple dozen that we're reviewing right now. And we're working with Howard University School of Law and students there to help us review these cases. So, I wanted to give a shout out to my alma mater.
NNAMDIAisha Braveboy is the State's Attorney for Prince George's County. She's a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
BRAVEBOYThank you very much.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the D.C. Council, will join us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Phil Mendelson. He is the Chairman of the D.C. Council. He is a Democrat. Chairman Mendelson, thank you for joining us.
PHIL MENDELSONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIMayor Muriel Bowser, Tom Sherwood, is urging Virginia lawmakers to pass gun measures to help curb city violence. That's because she says that there's a significant decline in the number of guns that enter the District from Maryland and a significant increase in the number of guns that enter the District from Virginia. And now that the Virginia General Assembly will be controlled by Democrats, I guess she feels that she has a better chance of getting those laws passed.
SHERWOODYou know, Virginia is the Home Depot for guns going across the entire MidAtlantic region.
NNAMDII think Home Depot would resent that.
SHERWOODSorry. The Lowes. How about the Lowes? But, you know, it's nice for the mayor to send a letter to the Virginia Legislature. They're going to do some gun control stuff. But it's the issue of illegal guns. You can purchase a gun with straw names. You don't have background checks. And so anything that the State of Virginia -- the Commonwealth of Virginia can do to pass gun control legislation would help the District quite a bit.
NNAMDIOkay. Phil Mendelson, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans resigned on Tuesday. Were you expecting it? Tom Sherwood seems to have been predicting it forever, here.
MENDELSONThere was a lot of talk that that was the route he was going to take. But knowing it for sure, we didn't know for sure until Tuesday.
SHERWOODYes. And when he handed you a letter, which was his resignation, I had thought he was going to say something. But I think he avoided it, quite the scene of people cheering and all that.
NNAMDIHow do become the first person in the media to see the letter?
MENDELSONI made a mistake.
SHERWOODBecause I'm a good reporter.
MENDELSONI made a mistake. I handed it to him.
SHERWOODI haven't said who gave it to me.
MENDELSONIt was me.
NNAMDIIt was just revealed.
SHERWOODHe came out of his office, and he was passing it out to whoever asked for it.
MENDELSONNo. I passed it out to you.
SHERWOODWell, anyway. It was fine. It was public knowledge at that time. Here's the issue. Jack Evans has resigned. And the Board of Elections, this is -- because of its bureaucratic decision making, has decided it will hold two elections. That will be the normal Ward 2 primary on June 2nd. And now it's going to hold a replacement election for the last six months of Jack Evans term two weeks after that primary. Why can't -- it's within the law. I talked to lawyers this very morning. Why can't both elections be on the same day? And could the Council pass legislation to make that happen so that voters aren't deluged by two separate campaigns where candidates have to raise two separate pots of money, have two separate ads, and then run in two elections?
NNAMDIWhere the same candidates are likely to run, anyway.
SHERWOODSo, why not just have two elections on the same day?
MENDELSONI think it's worth thinking about. But I understand what they're reasoning is, and that is that it's confusing -- it's like the initiative a couple of years ago that was on the primary ballot. This is a primary election in June. And at the primary election, only those members of parties are to vote.
MENDELSONSo if you have a special election that's open to everybody.
MENDELSONSo, we're busy advertising that the primary election is on Tuesday. And, meanwhile, actually, there's a special election that everybody can come and vote at. It created quite a bit of confusion a few years ago. And I believe the board's thinking is they want to avoid that. Because it is technically two different elections.
SHERWOODYes, it is. And, again, you have to have two separate campaigns.
MENDELSONAnd there would be two separate ballots.
SHERWOODAnd then the turnout on the special replacement election it seems to me would drop off. People would go vote and then think they've done something. And then they have to vote again in two weeks. It seems to me the city could do a public campaign.
MENDELSONOr they could do a postcard election.
MENDELSONThat might be an approach. I think it's worth thinking about. But that is the reason for not having, at the polls, two elections the same day. Now maybe the negatives, which is what you're pointing outweigh that decision.
SHERWOODIt just seems that they can be done -- Ward 2 is not that big of a geographical ward.
SHERWOODYou could let people know that there's going to be two elections in Ward 2. It doesn't matter whether people in Ward 5 or 6 care and know about it.
MENDELSONThat's true. But it still gets confusing. You got to the polling place, and I give you two ballots.
SHERWOODWell, do you think...
MENDELSONWhy are you giving me two ballots?
SHERWOODWell, because you do an education campaign beforehand. Now, do you think Jack Evans -- well, he's talked I'm told privately about running for these -- for both of these elections. What do you think about that?
MENDELSONI think it's a -- what do I want to say? I guess I'd say it's a longshot.
SHERWOODWell, maybe a longshot, or it might be a slam-dunk. What do you think about it?
MENDELSONI think it's a longshot. And it reminds me of in 1990, after Marion Barry was caught smoking crack, that he ran -- people don't remember this.
SHERWOODFor the At-Large race.
MENDELSONRan the At-Large race, and he lost.
SHERWOODHilda Mason's seat.
MENDELSONYes. I don't think...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) He ran against Hilda Mason. She was the one person he couldn't defeat.
MENDELSON...I don't think voters are going to be forgiving that quickly.
NNAMDIA lot of the...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Oh, wait a minute, did you hear that? "Voters will not be forgiving that quickly" of Jack Evans. But if he wins, will he get his committees back?
MENDELSONOh, I'm not going to talk about committees at this point, but I think that...
MENDELSONI'm certainly not putting it in my calculation.
NNAMDIA lot of scrutiny that Jack Evans faced with the ethics violations was due to the fact that he held an outside job, and now there are two bills before the Council that would limit councilmembers to one job, unless in the case of Brianne Nadeau's bill, it would allow for a teaching job. Kenyan McDuffie's bill doesn't. Where do you stand on councilmembers holding second jobs? Do you have a second job?
SHERWOODNo, he can't.
MENDELSONI'm not allowed to, and...
NNAMDIHis job is full-time.
MENDELSONBut all the time that I was an at-large member, before I became chairman, I did not have outside employment. And I think that councilmembers, to be effective, have to give full time to being a councilmember. But, at the same time, I think there are unintended consequences when we say that those who hold office should not be of the community. That is, that we're going to isolate them and prohibit...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Citizen legislators.
MENDELSONYeah. We are -- we're supposed to be citizen legislators. I do think, though, that we need to tighten up our rules with regard to the kind of employment in the sense that if you're going to have clients, as in consulting, then you're going to have to do additional disclosure, and there are going to be some additional restrictions.
NNAMDII know your job is a full-time job, but does it say specifically that you cannot hold another job?
SHERWOODDisclosure is the...
MENDELSONCorrect, the (unintelligible) Act prohibits it.
SHERWOODIsn't disclosure -- I mean, I've said this on the radio many times. Disclosure is the issue, whether it's city contracting, whether it's campaign financing, whether it's conflicts of interest. And certainly BEGA, the Board of Elections and Government Accountability, it's not that old of an agency, but it needs to be reformed. It's not working very well.
SHERWOODBut it just seems that there is more disclosure, if you're a lawyer and you have clients, if you want to be a public official, too, you disclose the client. Normally, you don't disclose clients if you're a lawyer. There are confidential issues involved there. But one of the things, as well, will -- I think Brianne Nadeau's law will exempt people in education. That's because Mary Cheh is a law professor at George Washington.
SHERWOODBut education is one of the most politically charged issues in the city, whether it's the local schools, the universities. Why would there be an exception to it? You think it ought to be all or nothing?
SHERWOODOr just more disclosure?
MENDELSONI think disclosure is underappreciated, and also over-required. You know, under our current laws, we require almost every employee in the district government, or at least it's thousands and thousands -- I would say maybe 10,000 or more...
SHERWOODEvery year, in May.
MENDELSONAnd I think it's overwhelming. A change I put in the Council's rules a few years ago is that councilmembers have to disclose twice a year. I don't know if folks realize that. But...
SHERWOODBut they're very vague disclosures.
MENDELSONYeah, and I think that...
SHERWOODJust like the Congress.
MENDELSONAnd I think the disclosures should be -- we should look at it, and look at it with an eye of it being more specific.
MENDELSONYou know, the disclosure, in my view, is what's important. When you have prohibitions, then people try to find ways around the prohibition. When you have disclosure, then, you know, it's out there in the open.
SHERWOODWhat about reforming the Board of Elections and Government Accountability?
MENDELSONOh, BEGA? Well, you know, you mentioned --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) BEGA is begging for reform.
MENDELSONBEGA, you noted -- I think you noted. You said it was dysfunctional. Right now, they don't have an executive director. Or they have an acting --
SHERWOODYes, he quit, and with good reason.
MENDELSONAnd the auditor did -- Kathy Patterson did an audit...
MENDELSON...last fall that indicated that there were a lot of complaints that hadn't been acted on, and...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) It's not aggressive enough in just routine things.
MENDELSONI have to say that it did not help us at the Council with the allegations against Mr. Evans that BEGA was supposedly looking into it, but then not looking into it, and which is it? And, you know, they came out with an agreement with Mr. Evans in the summer, which basically just repeated, regurgitated...
MENDELSON...what the council had done.
SHERWOODIt recalls us to when Marion Barry first ran for mayor, he complained about the Walter Washington administration as "stumbling and bumbling."
NNAMDISo, what are your thoughts on how the Office of Government Ethics should be reorganized, or move forward?
SHERWOODOr at least do their job.
MENDELSONI don't know that the law needs to change with regard to the structure, but I do think that the BEGA needs to be much more responsive to the public and to the Council -- I don't want to limit it just to the Council -- when there are complaints and doing these investigations.
NNAMDIThe Washington Business Journal wrote a piece this week about what Evans' departure means for the business community, since he was seen as an ally. You dissolved the Council's Business and Revenue Committee when you removed Jack Evans from his...
SHERWOODFinance and revenue, right.
NNAMDI-- finance and revenue, when you moved Jack Evans from his chair position. How would you respond to those concerned about the city's commitment to local businesses? Among them, one Mayor Muriel Bowser. But we'll get to that shortly.
MENDELSONWell, we are seeing a dichotomy in the Council -- those who are perceived as being very unfriendly to business, and those who are moderate, and I don't know if I'd say business-friendly, but at least not as antagonistic. I've heard, recently, speeches from colleagues that are very critical of individuals because they're tied to large businesses like Amazon, and I've also heard speeches of just the evil is Pepco, because it's a large utility, or part of the Exelon Corporation.
SHERWOODIt's like Dominion, in Virginia.
MENDELSONSo, we're seeing, increasingly, this schism. And I think that's another way of looking at the Washington Business Journal's article, that somebody who was on one side of that schism is gone, and what does that mean for the balance in the Council. And we'll see.
NNAMDIDo you feel the same way about D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's remarks, when she said some D.C. councilmembers are "enemies of economic development?" One Tom Sherwood posted about that on Reddit.
SHERWOODYes, I asked that that question this week at the Martin Luther King Gateway Development Project, which is a great thing for Anacostia, unless you look at it as the beginning of an aggressive gentrification of that region. But when I asked her about this -- because she had not said anything about Jack -- I said, well, he was big on economic development, and that's when she said there are people who are, quote, as Kojo just said, "enemies of economic development."
SHERWOODAnd then she also added a racial aspect of it, specifically talking about projects in Ward 7 and 8, east of the river. She clearly was talking about Elissa Silverman, with whom she's had a lot of fights over issues. But who's an enemy of economic development? Or would you use that word?
MENDELSONWell, when I heard that reported to me -- and I didn't know you were the one who provoked the mayor.
SHERWOODOf course, I -- I didn't provoke the mayor, I asked her a...
MENDELSONWhen I heard that...
SHERWOOD...and she bit it.
NNAMDIHe provoked her.
MENDELSON...I -- (laugh) I gasped.
MENDELSONThat's certainly not...
SHERWOODThat's a good...
MENDELSON...not the phrasing I would use.
NNAMDIWell, there obviously is a more nuanced approach to this issue, because there are clearly some councilmembers -- Tom mentioned one name -- who do not like the idea of the kind of development that leads to gentrification and displacement, especially of people in the African American community. And there are other councilmembers who, it is presumed or assumed, are not that much concerned about it, they just want to see development take place in undeveloped areas in the city.
SHERWOODBut they also were not just about who -- it's who is getting the contracts with very little oversight...
SHERWOOD...and who is making money with sham subcontracting. Subcontracting is a mysterious netherworld, and a lot of people are making money off subcontracting.
MENDELSONWell, the point you make, Tom, is a legitimate point, absolutely.
SHERWOODYes, thank you.
MENDELSONBut I would not characterize that as "enemies of business." I just...
SHERWOODWell, you and the mayor are barely on speaking terms, so I doubt that you'll be talking to her about her choice of words. But it does matter in the Council about the elections in Ward 4 and Ward 7 and Ward 2. Are you concerned at all that the Council may move to a more progressive stance, where it -- like in across the nation and other places -- that it would be so much anti-business, as skeptical of business, at which Tony Williams used to say if we don't have good business, we don't have the revenues to do the social work that we need to do.
MENDELSONWell, I think Tony Williams was right. I will say that again: I think Tony Williams was right in the way you just characterized what he would say. I do have to some concern that the city is doing very well, and it's doing well because of a mix of a lot of social justice work that the government's doing, as well as just a booming economy. We seem to have the right mix, and I think we need to be sensitive to any altering of the balance.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Phil Mendelson. He is chairman of the D.C. Council. If you have calls, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @KojoShow or email to Kojo@WAMU.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Phil Mendelson. He is chairman of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat, and we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Gentlemen, put on your headphones, because I'm going to Eric here in Washington, D.C. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICGood afternoon, gentlemen. My question is for the chairman. Chairman Mendelson, you continue to push the break-up of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, despite the fact that the majority of businesses and business groups, who are the largest users of DCRA, continue to state that this will create more delay and more backlog, and create more cost to businesses. Could you explain why this is the case?
MENDELSONWell, first of all, I don't agree with your premise, that a majority of businesses oppose it.
NNAMDIOn what basis do you make that statement, Eric?
ERICWell, I represent the largest construction trade association in the region. You've had comments from the construction industry, the development industry, realtors and others, who have all stated that this would create problems for them to do business. And...
ERIC...still, the chairman and others have decided to go against the largest users of DCRA...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Your turn, Chairman Mendelson.
MENDELSONWell, my recollection is that I've had two hearings, two public hearings, and that there's been overwhelming support for the bill. And among business groups, most of them have been neutral, and I think that's because of pressure that was put on them by the mayor to oppose the bill. And I believe DCBIA is the only organization -- business group that has come out and said explicitly that they oppose the bill.
MENDELSONThe bill is about breaking up an agency that is dysfunctional. We get an unbelievable number of complaints about how poor a job that agency does in enforcing the housing code, which makes a huge difference with regard to low-income renters, who are taken advantage of by bad landlords and slum landlords.
MENDELSONAnd then that agency has done a miserable job in protecting the community against illegal construction. I was at a meeting last night where there was complaints about a house that is being reconstructed without permits. The city comes out to put in a stop-work order after days and days and days of trying to get the city to -- the DCRA to come out -- and then the workers are right back at work, and the agency doesn't do anything.
SHERWOODLet me say this -- I think DCRA is terrible, although employment services is not much better. But you know, businesses, like the gentlemen just mentioned on the air, they have to hire facilitators who go down and stand in line...
SHERWOODExpeditors, that's the new word.
MENDELSONAnd they get to pay for an expedited permit processing system...
SHERWOODRight, and when the city...
MENDELSON...Velocity, and you pay $100,000 more than you would otherwise...
MENDELSON...to get special treatment for a permit.
SHERWOODWhich, I might add, is a tax deduction on any taxes you pay to the District. So it seems to me the system doesn't work for the big businesses that have to pay a lot of money, and it doesn't work for the homeowner who wants a driveway change. So, if you change DCRA to focus on the process, it would be better for the businesses, not worse.
MENDELSONI completely agree.
SHERWOODSo, where's the legislation?
MENDELSONThe bill -- I reintroduced a bill, and we are working on it this spring.
SHERWOODWhich committee is it in?
MENDELSONIt's in my committee, the committee as a whole, and I'm working on it. I hope we'll be able to look at getting whatever fiscal impact is in the budget.
NNAMDI(overlapping) What do you know so far about the administration and the head of the agency's office to reorganize the agency?
SHERWOODHe's trying his best.
NNAMDII mean, how much do you know about what's actually taking place?
MENDELSONWell, I do think that the new director, the current director, Ernest Chrappah, is leagues better than his predecessor, but the agency is very challenged, And it has a huge responsibility, from licensing to -- they're the ones who make sure that the gas pumps are accurate and the scales are accurate.
MENDELSONBut they're not doing the housing inspections. I actually...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Yeah, they don't go out on a lot of things -- on any kind of -- people can wait -- you talk about waiting for the cable repair person to come, or something like that. If you're a business and you're waiting for someone to come inspect your business or to look at housing, you can wait forever, and it's -- they go out for certain hours of the week. It just seems to me that it makes sense to have a clear-cut business -- ever since Barry was first mayor, there's been an effort to reform DCRA.
SHERWOODBut it's not functioning.
MENDELSONWell, under Barry, several agencies were combined, and for a little while...
MENDELSON...the new agency, the new DCRA, seemed to be doing pretty well.
MENDELSONBut it slipped back, and they're just not...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) The good employees who work there -- I go there are a lot -- good employees who work there will tell me, but not, of course, on the record, that they can't do their jobs because of the bureaucratic structure of the way it's done.
NNAMDIJamie tweets: How does Chairman Mendelson plan on funding bills that have been passed? There is a long history of the council of D.C. passing laws, but having no way or refusing to fund them. Initiative 77, for instance, would have raised tip workers' minimum wage to standard minimum wage by 2026. Voters approved that initiative. In 2018, Council repealed it with the caveat that new provisions be created to help tipped workers, like creating a public awareness campaign about the rights of tipped workers, establishing an anonymous hotline to report wage theft and more. The Washington Post's Fenit Nirappil recently reported that none of these provisions had been budgeted for it, let alone created.
NNAMDIYou told the Post that in addition to the mayor should try harder to include it in her budget, you would also note that the so-called self-proclaimed worker advocates did not lobby us, as far as I know. Does it take lobbying for the D.C. Council...
NNAMDI...to do the right thing?
MENDELSON...let me see, there were several parts to what you just said. The councilmembers, plural, have a bad habit of passing legislation that's not funded, subject to appropriation.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Subject to appropriations.
MENDELSONAnd in the last Council period, that's the last two years, the Council passed something like 90 bills that were subject to appropriations, and at this point, 70 of them remain unfunded. It's a bad habit, and...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) As chairman, would you block that, if you can? Can you change the Council rules to say you have to have a financial impact statement with your legislation?
MENDELSONCouncilmembers would not go along, and sometimes -- no, there is a fiscal impact, always a fiscal impact statement.
MENDELSONBut to be fully funded -- and sometimes, we know that a bill will be funded. So, we don't -- I think there would be bad consequences...
SHERWOODWhat's the solution?
MENDELSON...if we just simply -- well, I think members should be better disciplined and not be reporting out bills that sound good, that I can turn to you and say, oh, I passed such-and-such bill, but it's not funded...
SHERWOODWell, how about we have a Council...
MENDELSON...and it'll never get funded.
SHERWOOD...rule that every time you pass legislation that is, quote, "subject to appropriation," that that's the first thing you see at the top of the bill. That way, everyone knows that it's an aspiration, not a decision.
MENDELSONWell, we do something like that. When it goes through committee to hold for clearance, I ask the budget director if the bill is funded, and she will say...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) No, I mean on the printed document itself. It's subject to appropriation.
MENDELSONIt's on the record that it's not.
SHERWOODOr call it Disneyland.
NNAMDIBut your remarks...
MENDELSONIt's in the committee report, it's in the fiscal impact statement that...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Yeah, but the public doesn't read those.
NNAMDIYour remarks seem to suggest...
MENDELSON(overlapping) But it's also brought up at the committee, as a whole, meeting.
NNAMDIYour remarks seem to suggest that were the Council lobbied about this, then it would have included it.
MENDELSONWell, I did throw that little dig in when Fenit interviewed me for that article...
MENDELSON...and I did because there were these advocates who were proclaiming about how important all this stuff was, and then when it came time to remind the Council it should be funded, they were AWOL. So, and maybe that was not a nice thing for me to do, but that's why I threw that in.
SHERWOODAnd they might be AWOL. They also might just be unable to get the funding. I mean, it's hard enough to get a bill passed...
MENDELSONNo, no, no, no, no. We get plenty of lobbyists at budget time who are telling us to fund this and fund that.
SHERWOODBut they get exhausted trying to get the bill passed, and then they have to turn around and get it funded. It's a two-step waltz, and you can lose out.
MENDELSONI'm not quite sure I'm following you. The advocates for a lot of these bills --
MENDELSON...are not shy and they're not quiet when it's budget time. But on this one, they were not around.
SHERWOODThey're not enemies of...
MENDELSONThey were not around.
NNAMDIThe District plans to...
MENDELSONBut let me add this, as well...
MENDELSON...and that is that with this budget cycle, I'm going to remind the mayor that she needs to fund this in the budget and see that we get this bill funded, because it's important for worker protections.
SHERWOODHow are you going to remind her? You guys virtually don't speak to each other. You going to send her a letter?
MENDELSONYou know, I do talk to her from time to time.
NNAMDIThe District plans to...
MENDELSONAlthough I did send her a letter about the archives building, the new archives proposal?
SHERWOODYes, yes, it's a...
MENDELSONAnd three months later, I still don't have an answer.
SHERWOODRight. Did you hear that, Mayor Bowser?
NNAMDIYou should talk to her about that. The District plans to permanently clear the homeless encampment on K Street Northwest in NoMa. Signs were posted late last week, and they say that starting on January 16th, all property blocking the sidewalk will be removed and disposed of. What do you think of this approach? "I am reluctant to opine on it"...
MENDELSONIt is -- okay.
NNAMDI...is what he seems to be saying. (laugh)
MENDELSONIt's a really tough issue. I'm thinking of the K Street underpass...
MENDELSON...where, you know, we have a law, people can be arrested for blocking sidewalks. It's incommoding.
MENDELSONAnd yet there are tents on the sidewalk, and I think I heard that there were, like, 40 people living -- 40. That's a lot of people living in this underpass.
MENDELSONOn the other hand, the problem here is homelessness, and the solution is to help these folks who think it's better for them to be living on the streets. So...
SHERWOODBut you can't -- you know...
MENDELSON...there's not an easy answer here.
SHERWOOD...not since 1975, the Supreme Court has ruled you can't make someone who is mentally competent, even if you think they're not, get off the street. And this -- there are -- if it's not K Street, it's over on the -- over near the Kennedy Center, those -- the freeways over there, there are all kinds of encampments there.
NNAMDIBecause they keep moving all the time.
SHERWOODAnd -- yeah, it's because the mayor...
MENDELSONAnd the city's struggling with this, and I don't think there's an easy answer other than to redouble our efforts with regard to homelessness.
SHERWOODYeah, but -- you know, homeless advocates will say put people in transitional housing before they can get to permanent housing, and annually...
NNAMDIThe city is estimated to receive $280 million more...
NNAMDI...in fiscal 2019 than --
NNAMDI...initially expected. Where would you like to see that extra money go, speaking about homelessness?
MENDELSONWell, I can tell you that roughly half of that money's going to go to housing, affordable housing. And it's going to the Housing Production Trust Fund, but I think some of it could be redirected to some of what you're talking about, the transitional housing and the permanent supportive housing...
SHERWOODI think that Mayor --
MENDELSON...to help people with homelessness.
SHERWOOD...Bowser's administration has done a lot to try to address homelessness...
SHERWOOD...there's no doubt about that.
SHERWOODBut you cannot make someone go into housing. If people want -- and they live on the street, they go to a housing -- they can't maintain it. They don't have income to maintain it. There's all kinds of issues of why people are out there. I mean, I don't know if this would work or not, but is there a place where you can have an encampment for people to live? They want to be by themselves, they want to...
MENDELSONI don't think that's a solution.
SHERWOODAnd I don't think so, either. I'm just -- there's -- but if you're going to...
MENDELSONWell, I can tell you...
SHERWOOD...take them off the sidewalk, where do they go?
MENDELSON...we're not alone on this problem, by any means.
SHERWOODIt's a -- it's...
MENDELSONLos Angeles is...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Oh, San Francisco is worse, because President Trump likes to make fun of the people who are homeless there. So...
MENDELSONAnd so there are other cities, and they're trying different strategies. Again, we should be redoubling our efforts with regard to homelessness. If a person is mentally ill, to the point where they are a danger to themselves...
SHERWOODBut that's a very...
MENDELSON...they can be taken off the street.
SHERWOOD...difficult standard. Are you going...
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're just about out of time. The District being the only jurisdiction in this region...
MENDELSONWe can't be out of time. Is your clock -- your clocks go too fast.
NNAMDI...that is required to provide homes for homeless people. And I'm afraid, as I said, that's all the time we have.
SHERWOODLet's have him back for the entire hour, so we can grill him.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson is the chairman of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat. Chairman Mendelson, thank you so much for joining us.
MENDELSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, we'll hear reactions from local veterans to the Afghanistan Papers. And the newly crowned Miss America who competed in the pageant as Miss Virginia 2019 will be here to share how she plans to use her national platform to change perceptions about beauty queens and about the pageant itself. Why? Because she is a scientist. She intends to show that a scientist can be Miss America, and Miss America can be a scientist. That all starts at noon on Monday. Until then, you have a wonderful weekend. Plans, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODI'm going to the Anacostia Museum on Saturday to see a documentary on the reshaping of southwest Washington.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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