On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman, (I-At-Large), has served on the council since 2015 and currently chairs its Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. She joins The Politics Hour to talk about some of the latest issues in city government and politics.
- The DCHA has embarked on an ambitious 20-year program, known as the “Transformation Plan” to rehabilitate about a third of its holdings, which tenants and city officials alike deem in dire need of repair.
- Silverman has also questioned the D.C. Housing Authority’s plans to turn its own headquarters into housing for D.C. residents. In a recent hearing, she called it a “giveaway” to developers.
- “In the end we’re not going to get what we want which is deeply affordable housing to make our city racially equitable,” she said on The Politics Hour.”
- She has spearheaded an effort to boost transparency when the city makes loans to developers for affordable housing, but some say the push could backfire.
Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey, who recently filed for bankruptcy, resigned his seat on the Metro board this week after his failure to disclose a $10,000 donation from Metro’s biggest labor union to his campaign.
- The resignation means he will not have to return the donation.
- Last week on The Politics Hour, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said she thought the widely-respected Dorsey had returned the money, that the matter was “settled,” and that he should continue to serve on the Metro board.
- Sherwood said on The Politics Hour that he has since spoken to Garvey, who relayed that she is “deeply disappointed,” with Dorsey and feels he “misled” the board. She said she plans to meet with him to assure his financial problems have not affected his work on the Arlington board though she also said she does not suspect that they have.
- Silverman noted that Arlington Board members, paid about $55,000 a year, make about half that of their District counterparts and that their salary should be raised considering the high cost of living in Northern Virginia. At the same time, she said that there is no excuse for Dorsey’s failure to disclose the donation.
D.C. Council members have strongly objected to the re-election bid of former Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who last month resigned amid an ethics scandal.
- Had he not resigned, the council would likely have voted for his expulsion.
- The rest of the council released a joint statement condemning his re-election bid. “There was a discussion by members of having one voice to say that we don’t support Jack returning to the council,” Silverman said on The Politics Hour.
- “I’d consider it,” Silverman said when asked if she would support one of Evans’ opponents in the Ward 2 race.
Wanika Fisher, (D-Prince George’s), is assistant majority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates and joins us to talk about her new role in leadership and her expectations for the new legislative session.
Despite her leadership role, Fisher is relatively new to the House of Delegates, winning election to the body in 2018.
- She was raised in a suburb of New York City and first came to Maryland to attend the University of Maryland. Her law degree is from Pennsylvania State University.
- Before her election to the House she was a Prince George’s County prosecutor and worked for her mentor, former Del. Jolene Ivey, (D-Prince George’s).
- Fisher, 31, is the youngest African-American woman in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Fisher this week filed a bill to establish a state commission to consider reparations for the descendants of black people enslaved in Maryland.
- Slavery “took out hundreds of years of building black wealth,” Fisher said of the reason she feels reparations are due. Among the possibilities she wants considered by the proposed commission: free tuition at Maryland colleges and universities for the descendants of Maryland slaves, back wages and access to loans at low interest rates.
- The bill does not have a companion bill in the Maryland Senate and provides no sunset date for the proposed commission.
- “We are the state of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. If not Maryland, where on a state level do you discuss it?” Fisher said of reparations on The Politics Hour.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, delivering his State of the State address this week, contrasted the country’s political divisiveness to the bipartisanship which he says characterizes Maryland.
- But the leadership of the Democrat-dominated House and Senate moved to the left after November’s election, making some wonder whether the relatively good relationship between the state’s parties will change.
- Hogan’s speech this week focused on combating violent crime in Baltimore.
- The Democratic response focused on education funding, health insurance and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, among other issues. Fisher said Hogan is responsible for tension between Democrats and Republicans in the state.
Produced by Lauren Markoe
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 at Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Wanika Fisher. She is an Assistant Majority Leader -- the Assistant Majority Leader in the Maryland House of Delegates. Joining us in studio now is Elissa Silverman. She is an At-Large Member of the D.C. Council. Elissa Silverman, welcome.
ELISSA SILVERMANGood afternoon, Kojo and Tom. Great to be here.
NNAMDIBefore we get to matters of the District of Columbia, Tom Sherwood, let's get to matters of Metro in Arlington County where Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey has resigned from the Metro Board. It all started with a $10,000 contribution he got from a union that represents Metro workers and he failed to report that contribution on time. He has still not been able to return the contribution at this point, but because he failed to report it on time he is now a former Metro Board Member.
SHERWOODYes, he resigned this week. The Amalgamated Transit Union represents 13,000 workers and he was on the Finance Board of Metro and he was making decisions about finances that affected the union. And he had not told Metro that he had got this contribution. He did report it on his Arlington County Ethics Report. Well, you know, last week on this program Arlington Board Chairman Libby Garvey was sitting right here. And we asked her about this and she said it was all done. That she thought it was -- that he had taken care of the $10,000 thing and that he was doing a good job as the Northern Virginia representative on Metro. And so he didn't resign.
NNAMDIThat he probably wouldn't have to resign. Yeah.
SHERWOODWell, I spoke to Ms. Garvey on the phone today. She's down in Richmond, but on the way into the studio I spoke to her on the phone. And she said that this was a surprise to her that the check -- he had not cleared up the check. That she was quote, "deeply disappointed." That she is going to have a sit down meeting with him to make certain that his personal financial issues and it appears to be this is what it is. He simply is -- as you know, he filed for bankruptcy. She wants to make certain that he has not done anything that is affecting his work on the Arlington Board not just Metro. She says she's not aware of anything. That she thinks he is -- can still be a good Board member on the Arlington Board.
NNAMDIAnd that's one of the factors here. The members of both the Metro Board and the Arlington County Board seem to have a great deal of respect for Christian Dorsey. And in a way, that's why he was kind of given a pass. Wasn't it?
SHERWOODIt is and yes. Some people who are -- well, I won't get into all those details. Yes, the fact is he is well liked. He was considered a very effective member on the board. But, you know, there's so much the case where a person's public life can be quite sterling and quite praiseworthy and then in private their lives are going off the rails. In this case ...
NNAMDIWell, Elissa Silverman, we talked about the fact that he said that one of the reasons he had to declare bankruptcy was because they don't get paid a great deal in the Arlington County and County Council. Libby Garvey agreed. She said they do not get paid enough. I think that stands in some would say stark contrast to what the D.C. Council is paid because the D.C. Council is more like a full time job than a state position.
SILVERMANNo. It's true. I have worked with Christian Dorsey and was surprised to read both about the public issues and private issues -- private financial issues. The Arlington County Board is a five member board. I think they earn about $60,000 a year.
SHERWOODI think it's closer to 50.
SHERWOODThe chair person may make close to 60.
SILVERMANAnd actually I've had to -- I've actually have had discussions with Mr. Dorsey about this. I mean, it's pretty much a full time job. It's a jurisdiction that has a very high cost of living just like the District. But Arlington County Board Members make about half of -- make less than half of what District council members make. So I think it is a serious issue. He has -- I think all the Arlington County board members and either have part time work or have a spouse that earns a living that helps compensate for their lower salary.
SHERWOODWhatever the salary is he failed to disclose accepting $10,000 from the Transit Union. And I'm -- I still have not heard a good explanation as why. He put it on his Arlington Board Report, but he didn't put it on the Metro. Even after all that with Jack Evans last year he still didn't do it. That's astonishing.
SILVERMANIt is. It is. I mean, I know, Tom, you always say disclosure, disclosure, disclosure.
SHERWOODYes, you've quoted me accurately.
SILVERMANAnd we need to have an open transparent reporting of campaign contributions. And there have been more questions raised I think I read in The Post that he claims he sent a check and now the check is lost. And, you know, those type of answers just raise more questions.
SHERWOODThat's an inadequate response. And now the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which appoints -- picks the person for the person on the Board now will meet in March to pick someone new.
NNAMDINow on to the name of the Washington football team, the Redskins is considered a slur according to the dictionary. But several studies in the past have essentially said that -- several polls in the past have essentially said that, well, only about 1 in 10 Native Americans object to the name. Well, the University of California Berkeley, says that those previous studies had little methodological transparency. The study that they have conducted have shown also 50 percent of Native Americans around the country think both the name and the tomahawk chop that we see by teams like the Kansas City Chief are considered objectionable as far as Native Americans are concerned. Will it make a difference?
SHERWOODWell, it makes a difference. You know, the Supreme Court ruled that, you know, names that are offensive to others are not -- you can't by law tell them you can't have them. But, you know, The Post had a report -- I think I've forgotten the other organization that had a study that said many Native Americans, the majority something like 60 percent or something were not offended by the name. They didn't particularly like it. But they weren't offended by it. And so these two professors one from the University of Michigan and one from the University of Berkeley did a survey. They did 1,000 people who identified as Native American.
SHERWOODBut I must say even here in this study it showed that 50 percent of these folks were not -- were offended by the name and about half were not. But if you drill down in people, who identify as Native American it's more like 67 to 80 -70 percent that don't like the name. I mean, if you watch the Super Bowl and I know, Kojo, you love the Super Bowl and watch it every year.
NNAMDIAnd I was rooting for Kansas City too.
SHERWOODKansas City Chiefs there, you know, it's just stunning to see that crowd.
NNAMDIKansas City, Missouri, that is.
SHERWOODIt is Missouri, Mr. President, not Kansas. But, you know, you saw the crowd do the tomahawk chop. And I always thought the Atlanta Braves, who did it.
NNAMDII try not to look.
SILVERMANKojo, my take on this is that it's an objectionable name and a more objectionable owner. I do want to go back to ...
SHERWOODYou're talking about the ...
NNAMDIThe owner is more objectionable than the name?
SILVERMANOf our team.
SHERWOODThe team -- the skins.
SILVERMANYes. I do want to go back to Metro. Maybe I'm a step slow today. But, you know, Metro is so critical and so I am glad that Mr. Dorsey stepped aside, because we need to have leadership that we can trust at Metro especially at this time.
SHERWOODSo on the team, you know, every mayor since Tony Williams -- well, we did Metro. We're moving on now. Every mayor since Tony Williams has supported bringing the team back if the team spends its own money to build a new stadium at the RFK site. There would be substantial cost to the city to prepare the land if it got permission from the federal government to use the land. Where are you on this? Would you support a team coming back if it built its own stadium?
SILVERMANSo I -- there's a lot that's unknown about building our own stadium. I am not supportive of building an NFL stadium. I think there's a lot of other uses right now.
SHERWOODYou're a big fan of the Washington Nationals and the city spent $800 million on that.
SILVERMANSo I am supportive of having Major League sports teams here, but I think many cities have learned that we don't have to just hand over our checkbook in order to bring teams here.
SHERWOODWould you be willing to look at a potential move here based if it were good for the District first and did not cost an outrageous amount?
SILVERMANI don't want to see the expenditure of taxpayer dollars going toward an NFL team. I would -- certainly I would take a look, but I think that we have a lot of critical issues that we need to spend money on. We need to spend money on education, on housing, making our streets safe.
NNAMDILet's talk housing.
SILVERMANThe NFL is pretty low on that list for me.
NNAMDIElissa Silverman is our guest. She is an At-Large Member of the D.C. Council. If you have questions or comments for her give us a call 800-433-8850. As I said, let's talk housing. More than a third of the housing managed by the D.C. Housing Authority is in need of repair. To address this, the Authority has drawn up a 20 year what it calls "Transformation Plan." In a recent public hearing on the project you expressed concerns about the Authority's ability to redevelop these properties. What are you worried about?
SILVERMANI am worried that the Housing Authority ...
NNAMDIIt would be easier for her to answer what she's not worried about, right?
SHERWOODYes, that's why I was laughing.
SILVERMANI was shown the cough button earlier Tom. So I'm concerned, Kojo, that the Housing Authority is not true to its mission, which is to provide housing for our lowest income residents for working poor in this city. And that in making decisions about how they're going to redevelop their properties they might have the interest of developers more in mind than of the residents, who they are supposed to house in our city. I know this is an issue that a lot of people aren't that familiar with.
SILVERMANSo Metro is actually a very good analogy. The crisis that we're in with our Public Housing Authority is much like Metro. It's absolutely critical to our city especially for the most vulnerable residents of our city. There are declining federal resources. And there are very severe health and safety issues right now. My concern is that the Housing Authority's Board has made some recent decisions that suggest that it is drifting away. Not just drifting away pretty much abandoning what its mission is, which is to provide housing for our lowest income residents. And the example that I would cite is decision making they made around their most -- their recent headquarters redevelopment.
NNAMDIExactly. I'm going to go to both -- I'm going to go to that in a second, but your colleague Councilmember Brianna Nadeau has introduced a bill to do exactly what you want to protect public housing tenants from displacement. She's also introduced a bill to stop the D.C. Housing Authority from being independent and to strip it of its independent status and to make it a part of the mayor's office. And that has a lot to do with the issues that you want to talk about, which is their headquarters.
SILVERMANRight. There's a lot in there. So let me try to unpack this, Kojo. So just like Metro ...
NNAMDIIn two minutes or less.
SILVERMANThe Housing Authority is an independent agency. It's right now not a part of District government. But the problem is that the Housing Authority is making critical decisions about our residents and about our housing stock that really impacts all of us. So the question is what should we do? We need the Authority to makes its decisions in a way that is open and transparent and understandable and in the public's interests. And right now I don't think that's the case.
SILVERMANThere is some -- so they are making decisions about not only their headquarters, which is a very valuable piece of land right next to the new NPR headquarters. In fact, right near Union Station, jobs, Harris Theater and so forth, very valuable plot of land. As well as 14 housing communities -- public housing communities that they say are in urgent need of repair. Now these are not properties -- these properties are very desirable, Kojo, to developers. This is ...
SHERWOODThis is where we get into the politics of this issue.
SHERWOODDevelopers are feasting at the public housing trough.
SILVERMANWell, what I would say, Tom, is that these are properties like Greenleaf, which is right next to the baseball stadium. Areas that look very different than they did 20 years ago. And that under a redevelopment plan might be very attractive to developers. What we need to safeguard is the housing -- what we call deeply affordable housing, housing for our working poor, for people who are critical to our economy. They're working at Pot Belly across the street. They're working at CVS. They're flaggers in construction projects. They need a place to live in our city, Kojo.
SILVERMANAnd the Housing Authority is our best tool to provide that housing. But what's happening, and 1133 North Capitol Street is the example, is that in the end we -- the Housing Authority has proposed a deal which would not benefit public housing residents. I think it's largely a giveaway to developers that could cost the Housing Authority money in the end.
SILVERMANSo we're going to get no housing for our poorest residents. We're going to give money to developers, lease back it's called, $14 million lease back for their headquarters. And in the end we're not going to get what we want, which is deeply affordable housing to make our city racially equitable.
SHERWOODIs this a problem because the federal government has gotten out of subsidizing public housing or is it more that this has been a politically clueless board in terms of providing the services you just described? Is the board itself -- I think there are developers on the board, business people on the board. You suggested it ought to be a board that wants to build public housing not develop property.
SILVERMANSo they're declining federal resources. And the question for the city is do we fill in the gap? Once again, what's much like Metro, we need housing for people, who earn the minimum wage. We have a board that I think hasn't functioned properly. It is not transparent in how they make decisions. The example I'll give is that on this redevelopment decision about its own headquarters even board members were saying, we don't know what's in the deal. We want to talk to the developers to understand, well, what are we getting for this very valuable piece of land. And they couldn't get answers. That's not making decisions in the public's interest.
SHERWOODCan -- do we -- one last question on this.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this discussion with Elissa Silverman, At-Large Member of the D.C. Council. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Wanika Fisher, Assistant Majority Leader in the Maryland House of Delegates. We're currently talking with Elissa Silverman. This week you opposed a resolution to back a local group seeking to operate three public golf courses. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie suggested that you were unfairly rejecting local and minority owned businesses. What's going on here?
SILVERMANOkay. So this is a small issue that gets to a bigger one. One of my core values is having transparent open fair procurement process. So what we're talking about is there are three golf courses and a tennis center that is owned by the federal government and run by a contractor to the Parks Service. Right now there's a competitive bid process, which is generally the best practice of government.
NNAMDIYou're talking Rock Creek East Potomac and Langston.
SILVERMANAnd Langston Golf Course.
SHERWOODIt's a federal competitive process.
SILVERMANIt's a federal competitive bid process in order to determine who will run -- who will operate these golf courses and the tennis center. My values, Kojo, are that we should have an open transparent competitive process, and let that process determine who is the best contractor that will provide the best service for the best price. Right now the bid process is still open.
SILVERMANSo there might be more than one local, black-owned, woman-owned, what we call a CBE, a Certified Business Enterprise that might be interested in bidding on this contract. And what we were doing by -- so on Tuesday we approved a sense of the Council. I voted against it just, because I feel like I don't know if there might be another local bidder. And I didn't want to let's say tip the scales toward one local bidder when there might be several that decide to put in a bid for the contract.
SHERWOODLet's bring the politics into this.
SHERWOODIt's not just a bidder. The Federal City Council, which has been around since the 50s is an organization ...
NNAMDIHeaded by former mayor Anthony Williams.
SHERWOODRun by Tony William now. It put together a non-profit to bid on these -- on these golf courses saying that it's a local person and it could run these golf courses for the benefit of the community and the people who use them. Spend money to fix them up and make them an asset as opposed to a liability. Your concern -- are you concerned about the Federal City Council being involved at all not just an open process? But are you concerned about the Federal City Council being involved?
SILVERMANNo. My primary concern is we don't know, who the bidders are and we don't know what the projects are.
SHERWOODAs I understand it the bidder is somebody from Phoenix, Arizona and not a local bidder.
SILVERMANWell, the process is still open, Tom.
SHERWOODTill February 28th.
SILVERMANThat's my understanding. So somebody might not have submitted a bid yet.
SHERWOODSo would you support it maybe after February 28th?
SILVERMANYes. And that's the point. It's more about the process and that if we're going to have a competitive process we shouldn't foreclose on other local minority owned businesses that might have experience running sports facilities, who might be interested in bidding on the contract.
SHERWOODThe politics of this is that Kenyan McDuffie, the Chairman of the Council, Mr. Mendelson, others have said that when you talked about the Council putting its thumb on the scale to support the Federal City Council that that was an example of how you are viewed as anti-business and you are difficult to get along with, because you see corruption in everything that happens in business. So what businesses do you support?
SILVERMANSo I think ...
SHERWOODAnswer that, you know,
NNAMDIShe mentioned CVS.
SILVERMANSo I think this is a vignette in search of controversy here, Tom.
SILVERMANYeah. It is.
SHERWOODWell, I mean, that's what people ...
SILVERMANWell, I believe in competitive bidding.
SILVERMANI think that competitive bidding ...
SHERWOODAre you anti-business?
SILVERMANNo. Not at all. You know, I think that the comments that were made were inappropriate. I mean, all I said was it's a best practice in procuring government services to have a competitive bid process. That process is open right now. We don't know who the bidders are. So why should we show our bias toward one bidder when there might be another local bidder, who might just have ..
NNAMDIGot to interrupt.
SHERWOODChairman Mendelson said last night that you -- I think she hurt herself a little bit by staking out this position and not supporting the local bid in the city.
SILVERMANLook. Here's my take on this, Tom, is that yes. I believe in a competitive transparent process to procure goods and services and there's a perception among our residents that our process, our government's process is not always fair and open and transparent. That was part of the investigation which led to one of our members being threatened with expulsion. I think we have to be careful, Kojo. I think we have to be careful about this.
NNAMDISpeaking of that here is Chris in Washington D.C. Chris, jump in. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHi. I just wanted to call. Thank you, Elissa, you've been a stalwart worker for the people since your LL times and also with the fair budget -- I mean, fiscal policy institute. I just want to thank you. Bottom line is now that we're post Jack Evans and this kind of corrupt era, will you work to rescind some of the Evan's era terrible land deals such as McMillan Park?
SILVERMANSo I think this is the moment where I say that I'm -- this is Chris Atton. Thanks, Chris for calling. It means that I really am on Kojo's program. I think we have to make sure that all of our land deals, as I said before, there's transparency in the process. That we're getting a good value for our taxpayer dollars, and so moving forward, Chris, I vow to you that that's the approach I will take.
SHERWOODLet me ask about -- he's mentioned Jack Evans. On the Council 12 members, you among them, signed a letter disparaging or being concerned that Jack Evans resigned from the Council on the threat of being expelled and then now is running for the same seat. Who initiated that letter? Was that your idea? Who -- it was sent out by the chairman and all 11 other members. Who's idea was that?
SILVERMANWell, I think there was a discussion among members in a ...
SHERWOODWho initiated -- was there a genesis of the person on the Council ...
SILVERMANThere was a discussion by members of having one voice to say that we don't support Jack returning to the Council.
SHERWOODGot it. Okay. So it's a group decision.
SILVERMANYes, it was a group decision.
SHERWOODSo no one -- you didn't send out an email to everybody saying, let's do this. Are you going to endorse someone in the Ward 2 race?
SILVERMANSo I've met with most of the candidates. And I will consider doing that, but I'm not at that point right now.
SHERWOODWill you campaign against Mr. Evans other than the letter that you put out? And I ask this knowing that last -- in 2018 Mayor Bowser went out of her way to oppose your reelection. And I'm just wondering if you'll get involved in someone else's election.
SILVERMANSo I believe the voters of Ward 2 want ethical government and ethical leadership in the Ward 2 councilmember. I have faith that Ward 2 voters will not return Councilmember Evans to the Council.
SHERWOODDoes that mean you will or won't get involved beyond the letter?
SILVERMANI certainly -- I signed the letter to say that the evidence from our investigations was clear. And that I was 1 of 12 members -- it was a unanimous decision by the Council to take the extraordinary action of expelling Councilmember Evans.
SHERWOODI know. But I'm talking about going forward not what you've done. But going forward would you get involved in a campaign for one of the candidates if you decide that person is the best person?
NNAMDIThat would be a yes or no because we have to get another listener in.
SILVERMANI'd consider it.
NNAMDIHere's Perry in Brightwood. Perry, your turn.
PERRYThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom. And thank you, Councilmember. You have served honorably, and I thank you. Councilmember, I want to ask you about the Wage Theft Prevention Act. Workers file claims, and they have to wait 60 -- well, 60 days is the mandate, but I've got workers who have been waiting six months, upwards of a year. Councilmember, will you support an amendment to the Wage Theft Prevention Act that speeds that process up for workers who, some get evicted while they're waiting to receive money from a wage theft situation with an employer? Would you support an amendment towards strengthening the Wage Theft Prevention Act?
SILVERMANSo, certainly, wage theft is a big issue in our city. And just for listeners to understand, this is when people aren't getting paid properly for the work that they perform. We've been working with you, Perry, as you know, to do strong oversight over our Wage and Hour Office. I'd have to take a look at the amendment to make sure I understand what it would do. But we need to make sure that workers are being paid fairly and properly.
SILVERMANAnd I want to thank the attorney general for his work in this area. He's brought a couple big lawsuits that have resulted in big settlements that have returned money to workers who have been denied the fair payment of wages.
SHERWOODBefore we run out of time, I've got to ask you about the paid family leave. It's one of your biggest achievements on the council, and it's supposed to start in July. You had a hearing recently. For hundreds of thousands of workers who may take advantage of this program, is it going to start in July? Taxes have been collected since last summer. Is paid family leave going to be available to people in July, or will there be a delay?
SILVERMANThe director of the Department of Employment Services says yes, that we are on target to deliver paid family leave benefits. Let me explain where we are. First, we had our tax collection process to make sure that we had money to pay the benefits. I want to say that even the federal city council's representative at our hearing last week said that tax collections exceeded his expectations. Now we're building out the benefit side of the program.
SHERWOODSo, let me -- you're out of time. Summer jobs -- is it going to work this summer? Kojo's raising his hand. Just say yes or no, any concerns about summer jobs working well this year?
SILVERMANSo, we need it to work. And I would encourage everyone who is interested in a summer job to go to summerjobs.dc.gov.
NNAMDIAs I said, we're almost out of time, but this is our last topic.
NNAMDIYou know what that is. This week, the council unanimously voted to make go-go the official music of the District. Is that a good thing?
SILVERMANIt is a good thing. I think we need to celebrate our culture here in the District. You know, I certainly remember seeing Chuck Brown, actually. And it's a great thing to celebrate. You know, we also have other great local music here, as well. It doesn't diminish those genres. Certainly, we have a great punk scene in the District, great jazz. I think we need to work on celebrating our District culture more.
NNAMDIElissa Silverman. She's an at-large member of the D.C. Council. Good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
SILVERMANToo short, Kojo, too short.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with Wanika Fisher. She is assistance majority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Wanika Fisher, assistant majority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates. Thank you for joining us.
WANIKA FISHERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt's back to the future, it would appear, in the Baltimore race to succeed Elijah Cummings in the Congress of the United States, because the individual who has won that primary is Kweisi Mfume, who preceded Elijah Cummings in that position. The Republican winner was Kimberly Klacik. But it's almost assured that the Democratic winner is who's likely to go on to hold the seat.
SHERWOODTwenty percent Republican registration in that 7th District which is Baltimore City, Baltimore County and part of Howard County. You know, Kweisi Mfume, I was watching the election returns from the Maryland Board of Elections. I think that was the same night as the State of the Union address. And I was watching the TV for that and the computer for this. Commissioner Mfume jumped out very quickly in early returns. And the returns did come in, unlike Iowa. Forty percent, and he stayed that way and he defeated some well-known people.
SHERWOODYou know, he held that office from, I think, the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s, and he never relinquished his lead. He beat Maya Cummings, Elijah Cummings' widow and State Senator Jill.
NNAMDIAnd I've heard there's a possibility that if he is ultimately elected to the position, he can fall back on his seniority from the days when he was holding that position.
SHERWOODWell, that's my understanding. You know, he will not be a freshman and he's very well respected, I think, on The Hill. So, you know, Maryland and Baltimore certainly needs a strong member of Congress, just as Elijah Cummings was. And I think, assuming that the Republican doesn't make some miraculous change, he will be back in Congress very soon.
NNAMDIAre you supportive of Kweisi Mfume?
FISHERYes, I am. He's a lovely person. I've gotten to meet him and know him over the years through a couple of my mentors. Jolene Ivy is very close to him, and so I'm very happy to see him this year.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) The next election is April 28th.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we think of lawmakers in leadership positions as those who have been around for a while, but Wanika Fisher took office just a little more than a year ago. She is a fresh person in the General Assembly. How did she get to be assistant majority leader?
SHERWOODWell, I think that's the first question we should ask her. (laugh) You know, you, I think, burst on the scene. You're a lawyer. You're originally from New York, but now you're in a leadership position of the General Assembly there. Some people who stay in the General Assembly for maybe decades and wish they had your position. What happened?
NNAMDIHow did this come about?
FISHERWell, it really happened, based on our new speaker, who's really taken the position and just soared. So, she...
FISHER...Adrienne Jones, who's our speaker of the House, she decided instead of just appointing a House member to the assistant majority leadership position, she would give the freshman class, so the new incoming delegates, a better voice at the table. So, she allowed us to come up with our own process, vote amongst the class. At the time that I ran with my class, there were 41 freshmen. After our next appointment, there'll be 43 freshmen in the General Assembly. And I was honored to be selected by my colleagues. And then the speaker appointed me and here I am.
SHERWOODAnd what is the title again?
FISHERAssistant majority leader.
SHERWOODAnd what do you do?
FISHERMy biggest job is being a conduit for the freshman class and for the speaker to the freshman class. And I'm also there to assist our majority leader, that's in the title, Eric Luedtke. He's doing a wonderful job. And I'm really learning a lot in galvanizing and leading our party's legislative issues and agendas on the floor.
NNAMDITell us a little bit more about yourself. Tom mentioned that you were born in New York. It's my understanding you came here first to attend the University of Maryland. You graduated and left. Why'd you come back?
FISHERI really came back -- I missed Maryland. I think my adulthood has really been here, college and all of my years after. And I was working at the time for John Liu, who's the comptroller of New York. And one of my mentors, I mentioned earlier, Jolene Ivy, was running for lieutenant governor, and she called me and she asked me to come help. I packed up my car...
NNAMDIThe original Mocha Mom.
FISHERYes, the original Mocha Mom. And I packed up my car and next thing I know I was back in Prince George's County, the county that I love, and I just never left.
NNAMDIA Washington Post columnist last year called you Maryland's version of AOC Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Is that how you think of yourself?
FISHERI think that's a large compliment. I think of myself just as Wanika from Hyattsville, Maryland. I think that I have my own ideas, and I try to do things that, in my heart, are the right thing. I did run against an incumbent, so I think there was a parallel there for my current seat. So, I think the compliment is very high but I'm still trying to make sure I produce results for my residents.
SHERWOODYou are a fresh voice, and there are lots of issues -- your district borders a little of I-495 and down close to Hyattsville. And you have issues about what 495's going to be like it. But I want to ask you about the hot rail item that you brought up in this legislature which is reparations. You're looking to have a Maryland commission established to address reparations.
SHERWOODAnd many people would say they're for reparations, but they don't know what they mean by that, how that would work. One, do you have a chance of getting this commission done? Where is it in the legislative process, and what do you hope to see to address systemic racism?
FISHERYeah, so I think for me I put the legislation in to really start a conversation in Maryland. You have one of the largest black caucuses in the country. We are the state of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. If not Maryland, where, on a state level, do you discuss it? I think that all legislation takes time. You know, whether we're doing any kind of bill, it's not guaranteed we're going to pass something and get it on the governor's desk in a second. So...
SHERWOODYou got to start the process.
FISHERYou got to start the process. So, right now, the bill's been handed into the hopper which means it'll get a committee assignment, maybe multiple committee assignments. And we'll have a hearing and it'll go from there. I only did the bill in the House. There's no Senate cross file, so it would have to pass the House actually go over to the Senate. So, I think it's really a process to unpack what Maryland needs to do, you know, systematically.
FISHERSo I think this year in the session we're discussing the blueprint for Maryland's future. I sit on the House Judiciary Committee and...
SHERWOODThat the Kirwan (unintelligible) ...
FISHER(overlapping) The Kirwan commission -- yes. And then I sit on the House Judiciary Committee in which I face and think about systematic issues in our criminal justice system. And I just constantly feel like sometimes we're just talking about the band-aids. When the underlying issue that our nation and our state has not addressed, is the aftermath of slavery and how that's affected our residents in our state.
SHERWOODThere's so many other issues but just for reparation, some people say, well yeah, I understand people have been mistreated, and that's using the word lightly but how does it work? Does it mean there will be preference, racial equity preference for either jobs or for lost wages or for -- I mean, you can't really fix the horrors that occurred under slavery but what would be some of the remedies that you would think could be done?
FISHERYeah, so some of the remedies I proposed was really about -- and the biggest thing that slavery did was you took out hundreds of years of building black wealth, right, and family wealth. No one's inheriting a House if they never owned one. So a lot of it has to do with, you know, free college at Maryland institutions I proposed, back wage pay for your ancestors, access to small business and home mortgage loans at a different interest rate to help those folks. So those are some of the proposals.
FISHERBut really the bill empowers the commission and for more minds than just me to tackle such a big issue to see what would be appropriate for Maryland to move us forward.
SHERWOODAnd that would be a one-year or two-year commission or open-ended?
FISHERIt would be open-ended. I did not put any expirations to the commission in the bill.
NNAMDIMaryland Matters, when you were appointed to this special session, said that you are the youngest African American woman in the General Assembly. And Melissa in Laurel, Maryland has a question related to that youth. Melissa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MELISSABeing the youngest African American woman in the General Assembly, congratulations, once again, on being the assistant majority leader. As the legislature is a lot younger, how is that impacting legislation this session?
FISHERWell, thank you so much for that question. I think that our legislature, more than ever, reflects the great state of Maryland. And it's just an amazing place to work. I think it's really affecting the issues that a lot of young people care about, student loan debt to issues around mortgages, issues around health care. As a lot of the younger members and younger female members are raising children while they're in the legislature, looking to have children while they're in the legislature, so it's really changing the atmosphere. And Speaker Jones has been really great at having all the voices at the table and really coming up with an agenda that fits everyone.
NNAMDIWith the youth and with the AOC comparison and younger legislators in the General Assembly, do you think Maryland should expect an avalanche of progressive legislation coming out of Annapolis this session?
FISHERI wouldn't say an avalanche. (laugh) I think there'll be progressive bills.
NNAMDIYeah, that was my word.
FISHERYeah, we have a House and a Senate. And, again, we have a Republican governor. And as you saw last week, under the great leadership of the president of our Senate, Bill Ferguson, and Speaker Jones, we had great veto overrides from the governor. So, there might be a move to move certain issues more left, but you also have to be prepared to override that veto. And so, I think, with that dynamic I think you're going to see us move in a progressive agenda, but I don't think it would be an avalanche, per se.
SHERWOODWell, one of the big issues is Governor Hogan has attacked the Kirwan Commission report on school funding, the $4 billion over the next 10 years and called it half-baked. And the legislature itself hasn't really quite decided yet how it's going to fund it. But, obviously, education's a major issue. Prince George's County would benefit from this new legislation, but it also...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Has concerns about how to pay for it.
SHERWOOD...how much money, $360 million would have to be raised from Prince Georgians. Where are we -- everyone wants good education for every person, but where are we in funding the Kirwan report?
FISHERYeah, so I...
SHERWOODWhat does the leadership say? Give us the inside scoop.
FISHER(laugh) Well, I think we're all still figuring it out. With all the voices on the table, I think my county executive, Angela Alsobrooks, has been very vocal on this issue. All of us from Prince George's County are very concerned. As I said before, Prince George's and Baltimore City, as in a lot of issues I bring up, are the most hit by the Kirwan Commission and have the people that are most in need. So, I do believe, in my conversations with leadership, they're looking very hard to make sure the formula works for everyone and that we invest in our children.
SHERWOODSo, you could get some dispensation maybe for Prince George's and Baltimore so they won't have the hit financially that maybe Montgomery or other counties might get.
FISHERYeah, and I think they're going to be looking just to make it as fair and as equitable as possible. But, you know, I always say, you know, you either want to pay for the desk or you want to pay for the jail cell, right. And so there's a lot of ways in our society that Kirwan or the blueprint for Maryland's future is actually long term cost-saving. And being in our courts in Maryland, in session not every week, but outside a session every week, it's important to me that we invest in our children and we invest on the front-end of people's future and not on the backend.
SHERWOODSpeaking of that, what type of law work do you do?
FISHERI used to be a prosecutor, but I do criminal defense and personal injury work.
NNAMDISpeaking of Governor Hogan, the relationship between him and Democrats -- he doesn't speak to us at all, but this week, he said that in the State of the State address, he contrasted Maryland's relatively civil political climate with the country's divisive one. Do you think he's right about that, there is goodwill?
FISHERI think in Maryland -- well, I don't think the governor's right, but I think he is giving his perspective, as our constitution makes -- even with the budget and everything else, we're a very governor-heavy state. I do think that, holding the majority, I think we treat Republicans with respect. We try to consensus-build and work together. But when it comes to serving the people of Maryland, we get it done.
FISHERAnd I think that the governor honestly puts out the most animosity and controversy and issues more than the leadership in the House and the Senate when it comes to how he is critical. The issues that he says...
SHERWOODCalling the Kirwan Commission half-baked.
FISHER(overlapping) Exactly. And I don't think -- yeah, exactly. And I don't...
SHERWOODAnd threatening tax increases and things that the Democrats have said they are not going to do. I think the speaker -- I mean, the Senate president, Mr. Ferguson, said there would not be any major tax increases this year.
FISHERExactly. Exactly. So, it seems like the sharp words tend to come from him a lot.
SHERWOODHave you ever sat down with the governor? Has he spoken to you directly on any issues?
FISHERNo. The only time I've ever had...
SHERWOODHe hasn't been on this program, either. We're all in the same boat here.
FISHERNo. The only time I've been around him is big events, so I've never had the chance to personally speak to the governor.
NNAMDIHere is Amber in Maryland. Amber, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMBERYes. How are you? Thank you so much for taking me today. So, actually, I was calling in because I did hear about a bill that was going to be introduced by Delegate Fisher that would stop mass layoffs with our companies. I recently went through something dealing with that (unintelligible), and it devastated a lot of us.
AMBERAnd we didn't actually have severance packages in our contract, so those things had to be renegotiated down towards the end of the line. But it was just devastating to see so many thousands of people lose their jobs, health benefits and things of that sort. So, my question today was, how would this bill be able to help out myself and my fellow associates? And also stop these types of things from happening to workers down the line.
FISHERYes. Thank you, Amber, so much, for that question. The bill is the Economic Stabilization Act that I'm working on with Delegate Davis. It's really in response to shoppers -- Amber, as you stated -- with their mass layoffs. And it's really commonsense protections when a big company like that is laying off workers here in the state of Maryland when it comes to notice, when it come to the severance package.
FISHERYou know, I was saying to someone the other day, in Maryland, we don't break up via text. You need to come to my house, bring my stuff in a box and tell me in person. So, if I have to say in one quick sentence what the bill does, that's basically it. And I think it's the right thing to do, and I'm happy to be the co-sponsor of that legislation in economic matters.
SHERWOODI mentioned transportation earlier. The governor's $9 billion plan, that he's made some adjustments after Montgomery and Prince George's all complained about how he was starting it, what was going to be done first, whether homes are going to be taken. What is the impact on -- again, your district borders part of 495 -- what is the impact that you see on Prince George's County on these changes to 495?
FISHERYou know, it's a lot of congestion issues and finding pathways in our traffic system that work for our residents.
SHERWOODWhat are you for?
FISHERWell, I am not for highway expansion. I'm for us investing in transit that's going to be good for the environment and go forward. We haven't even had Purple Line come out and see the effects of Purple Line and how it's going to relieve congestion. You know, I think you have to address problems as they come, keep our environment in the front of our minds, as we're going forward. You know, we need to also have a change of getting Marylanders out of their cars for their commutes.
FISHERAnd I think that, you know, the governor's proposal isn't the right thing for my district. I know my district is -- we're very turned upside down with the Purple Line construction, but we're happy that it's here. I would say my district's tiny, but mighty. We're very intense...
SHERWOODIt's a very tight small district, 47B.
FISHERWe're a tiny district -- very tight. We're tight -- yes, we're very tight. So, we have an intense residency, and we want to make sure that we're doing the best that we can to move people with the least disruption as possible.
NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left, but one of your House colleagues has introduced a campaign finance bill that would allow some Prince George's County officials to accept campaign contributions from developers. That's allowed in other Maryland counties. What do you think of this idea?
FISHERI have to take more time to look at it. I do think that laws in Maryland should be the same for everyone. If I'm in Prince George's, Baltimore, Wicomico County or Montgomery, we should all be under the same restrictions and rules on campaign finance. So, I do think that we need to look at it holistically as a state and make sure that we're all on the same page.
SHERWOODThis is a hangover from Jack Johnson.
SHERWOODAnd that's what it is, because he was corrupt. This was passed, and you guys are at a disadvantage when it comes to raising money. Angela Alsobrooks may run for governor. Are you going to support her?
FISHERI think Angela's doing a great job as our county executive, and I'm excited to see what she has in the future, for sure.
SHERWOODDo you have a person in mind that you don't want to mention, or she's just on your potential list?
FISHEROh, yeah, for sure she's on my potential list. And I think people are still focused on our upcoming presidential race that there haven't been clear candidates. So, it's really hard for me to comment, not knowing the field, and we're so far away from that.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Okay. Well, what about the president, Democratic primary? Do you support any of the Democrats yet?
FISHERYes, I do. I've already come out in supporting Joe Biden.
NNAMDIAnd that's about all the time we have. Wanika Fisher is assistant majority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates. Thank you so much for joining us.
FISHERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Lauren Markoe. Mark your calendar for the next Kojo in Your Community conversation. We'll talk about changing immigration rules and their impact on local students and families. That's on February 25th at the Columbia Heights educational campus. Learn how to get tickets and more at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIComing up Monday on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, why are D.C. Girl Scouts doing their best to get the endangered little brown bat named D.C. state mammal? Do you have any opinions on this, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODI don't know.
NNAMDIYou don't know?
NNAMDIAnd if the little brown bat gets named D.C. state mammal, what's going to happen to the big brown bat? What do you plan on doing this weekend?
SHERWOODMy income taxes.
NNAMDIOh, really? That shouldn't take long at all... (laugh)
SHERWOODIt's all paperwork.
NNAMDI...because we're not paying you anything here. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Join us at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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