On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
June 2 is primary day in D.C. DCist senior editor Rachel Kurzius joined us for a preview of the D.C. Council races.
The Progressive Fight For The D.C. Council
- In a deep blue town where the primary is more important the general election, all eyes are on June 2. Kurzius describes the election as a fight for the soul of the D.C. Council, as a cohort of progressive candidates could, if elected, push the body to the left.
- At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman has thrown her weight behind progressive candidates in Wards 2 and 4: Jordan Grossman and Janeese Lewis George. Chairman Phil Mendelson is backing more moderate candidates: He endorsed sitting Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, and he’s backing Ward 2 hopeful Patrick Kennedy.
- “It’s so difficult to suss out what this election will look like,” Kurzius said on The Politics Hour. “In addition to the fact that we have these two moderate seats up for election, this is also happening during a pandemic. And if the pandemic wasn’t enough, this is also the first time that we’re seeing the District’s public funding for elections being rolled out.”
- Council seats in Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8 are all contested in the primary.
Northern Virginia is catching up to the rest of the state: Jurisdictions will begin reopening on May 29. Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Jeff McKay, joined us to talk about what that will look like.
Reopening In Fairfax County
- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam gave Northern Virginia jurisdictions the green light to start reopening May 29. The region’s reopening was delayed due to concerns that it wasn’t meeting key metrics to reopen, like a 14-day downward trend in positive COVID-19 cases and increased testing.
- “We still have concerns,” said McKay on The Politics Hour about reopening. “We will be messaging constantly to our public that people are still safer at home.”
- Fairfax County did not meet two of the six criteria for Phase One reopening: increased contact tracing capacity and an adequate stock of personal protective equipment. On The Politics Hour, McKay said the county plans to hire 400 contract tracers in two weeks. When it comes to PPE, McKay says hospitals and long-term care facilities have adequate supplies. “I think the biggest concern we have with PPE is our most vulnerable communities, our residents, being able to gain access to PPE,” McKay said.
- Fairfax County is following the Forward Virginia plan for its first phase of reopening. Restrictions are eased on restaurants, gyms, beauty salons, houses of worship and more.
- In a letter to Northam, Northern Virginia leaders said that they would like the region to enter Phase 2 of reopening in concert with the rest of the state.
Fairfax County’s Budget Stays Flat
- Like all local governments across the country, Fairfax County is grappling with the fiscal impacts of the pandemic. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved its Fiscal Year 2021 budget this month, keeping spending on par with the FY 2020 budget to counter the costs of the pandemic.
- The board nixed the plan to increase the Real Property Tax Rate by 3 cents, instead deciding to keep it the same as last year.
- The budget also adds 20 new positions in the county. Nineteen of those will be in the Health Department and will support the county’s response to the coronavirus.
- “The financial hit: We believe the floor to the county is $165 million,”said McKay on The Politics Hour. “We think that number will go up.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined The Politics Hour to talk about reopening the District.
D.C. Enters “Stay-At-Home Lite”
- The District will begin easing stay-at-home restrictions on May 29, a phase that Bowser unofficially dubbed “stay-at-home lite.”
- Gatherings of 10 or more people are still prohibited. Non-essential businesses can offer curbside service. Barbershops and beauty salons can begin taking customers by appointment only, and customers must follow social distancing guidelines.
- Local restaurants are allowed to reopen for outdoor seating, with a maximum of six people per table, and each table spaced at least six feet apart. Restaurants are required to collect diners’ contact information to help contact tracing if needed. But some restaurants are wondering: Is it even worth reopening?
- The mayor announced plans to lower the speed limit on local streets to 20 miles-per-hour starting on June 1 — a change that will be permanent even after the crisis is over.
- Tom Sherwood asked Bowser if she would go to a restaurant now that they’ve begun to reopen, to which she said yes. “I miss going to restaurants,” Bowser said. “I miss sitting down and having a nice meal.”
D.C.’s Budget During Coronavirus
- The D.C. Council is considering Bowser’s proposed budget, which takes into account the costs of the coronavirus. The $8.5 billion budget relies on a pay freeze for government workers and dipping into rainy day funds.
- The budget didn’t include significant tax increases, but Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said he would like to reverse a tax break for people who make more than $350,000 a year to fund programs aimed at lower-income residents.
- The council is expected to vote on the budget in late July after a public budget hearings.
- The mayor suggested cutting the budget allocated to the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement — the office that has violence interruption programs — by over 11%. On The Politics Hour, Bowser said the office will focus on “the programs we know have worked for us.”
Will Trump’s July 4 Event Take Place?
- President Donald Trump hasn’t called off his second annual “Salute to America” Independence Day event, despite pushback from local members of Congress.
- The National Parks Service hasn’t received details about the event.
- D.C.’s first phase of reopening still excludes gatherings of 10 or more people — and Bowser said that she wouldn’t issue any parade permits during the first phase. It’s unknown whether D.C. will still be in Phase 1 by July 4.
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 Muriel Bowser, Mayor of the District of Columbia and Jeffrey McKay, the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. But joining us now is Rachel Kurzius, a Senior Editor for DCist. And Rachel Kurzius's voice was the background to morning's in my office when were in the building at WAMU. So it's good to hear that voice again. Rachel.
RACHEL KURZIUSKojo, I miss you. Yeah. I'm so glad to be talking to you right now.
NNAMDII miss you too, Rachel. Good to hear your voice again, but, Rachel, the title of your latest piece for DCist is "Is this Primary a Fight for the Soul of the D.C. Council?" It breaks down the races in next week's election. Rachel, what should we know about the progressive cohorts of candidates running for D.C. Council?
KURZIUSSo the thing about this story that's so interesting is that the D.C. Council is comprised of Democrats or people slightly to the left of Democrats, who endorse Democrats in say presidential elections. But the idea that they're all constantly in agreement isn't quite right. And so this piece was exploring the different ideologies at play on the Council and we're seeing it play out in particular in a battle of sorts, dueling endorsements from the powerful Chairman of the D.C. Council, Phil Mendelson, and independent At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who have been endorsing different candidates that they think have their vision of what the D.C. Council should have as its legislative priorities and what it's focus should be moving forward.
KURZIUSSo those distinctions would be the progressive cohort is Jordan Grossman, who is running in Ward 2 and Janeese Lewis George running in Ward 4. Another person in that cohort, who didn't get an endorsement from Silverman would be Anthony Lorenzo Green running in Ward 7. Meanwhile, Mendelson is supporting Patrick Kennedy in Ward 2 and Brandon Todd in Ward 4. Todd is an incumbent, and Ward 2 and Ward 4 have long been seated more moderate members of the Council.
KURZIUSAnd so I spoke with someone, who said basically progressives are seeing blood in the water. They're seeing an opportunity to perhaps move the Council in a more leftward direction. And that's what's playing out right now in the primary. There's been a week of early voting, but the official Election Day is next Tuesday, June 2nd.
NNAMDIWell, the analyst suggesting that progressives are like piranhas that was not a great analogy for me. But there was one sentence in the very long article by a certain well-known resident Analyst who says, "The history of the city is that elected officials don't have very long coattails anyway." Let's ask aforementioned resident analyst, what do you mean by that, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWell, Kojo, thank you, and hi to Rachel. You know, going back into the Barry years as popular as Marion Barry was, he was not able to dictate any kind of election of other people in the Council. In 2006, Tony Williams, a popular mayor ending eight years, campaigned very hard out in the streets and with Linda Cropp, the Council Chairman, to be mayor. And, of course, Adrian Fenty won that year. There just is not a good record of any mayor or even a councilmember or Council chairman with a record of endorsing people who always win.
SHERWOODGenerally speaking they work in the background scenes for the people they want to get elected. But Rachel's story is correct that this is -- it was like five solid votes on the Council that you could call really progressive day in day out, and it's a 13 member Council. So if they win two or three seats in this election in the primary and then in November, then they could have a much stronger control of the Council.
SHERWOODAs the story points out that's not my point of view or Rachel's, although I agree with it. But that's the Chairman Mendelson himself who is quoted as saying that the progressives will make it more difficult to balance with all the budget concerns in the city with the social needs that are also great. But that's why the story is so important.
NNAMDIRachel, you mentioned this briefly before. But we've been using the words "progressive" and "moderate" to describe two different types of Democrats on the Council, but what do these terms means when it comes to the issues?
KURZIUSI love that question, because I think that you'll find that many members of the Council call themselves progressive. For instance, in the 2018 battle between Mendelson and a competitor, Ed Lazere, who is actually running again in November, they both called themselves progressive, right? So how do we decide what that means? And basically the way I sussed it out was in determining where people disagree on key issues.
KURZIUSSo these are those issues. We're thinking about how much businesses and wealthy residents should be taxed. Where they stand on campaign finance whether that means for their own elections in terms of using public funding or not using public funding or what they think about, for instance, whether businesses that get contracts from the city ought to be able to donate to campaigns.
KURZIUSAlso a big question that we've seen come up that's especially relevant now is whether we should use rainy day funds on social services. D.C. has three funds in particular. And for years we saw progressives saying, we have all these funds. Why don't we use them towards affordable housing? Why don't we use these towards homelessness? And now you're seeing some of the more moderate members of the Council feeling really vindicated, when they're looking at the mayor's proposed budget and saying, we now have the money to avoid cuts, because we were fiscally conservative in the years in the past in these boom years.
KURZIUSSome other questions have to do with the regulation of marijuana, sex work decriminalization and policing. But those are really the key issues really have to do with economics.
NNAMDIAre there any races, Rachel, where you think a progressive candidate could unseat the incumbent?
KURZIUSSo it's so difficult to suss out what this election will look like, because in addition to the fact that we have these two moderate seats up for election this is also happening during a pandemic. And if the pandemic wasn't enough this is also the first time that we're seeing the District's public funding program for elections being rolled out. So you're seeing that there are a lot of challengers in the race, who are actually raising a good deal of money based on the city giving them matching funds.
KURZIUSBut that being said, polling is generally based around likely voters. Who's going to come out and vote this year? And people really don't know. And so, you know, the Ward 2 race is incredibly fascinating. I mentioned two candidates, but there are eight in total including Jack Evans himself who vacated the seat and now is running again. And that race seems like it could be anybody's game. Polling I've seen with certainly has been drawn into question doesn't show Grossman ahead.
KURZIUSAnd Ward 4 is also going to be a close one. And again, the same polls that could show Todd winning could show Todd losing depending on, who actually goes out to vote or who sends in their absentee ballot this year. And we just don't know. This is an unprecedented election.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, any predictions?
SHERWOODI predict that we will have far fewer voters than we normally have. The problem is the city has an emergency. It's had to switch to vote by mail. And as, you know, you have to request the ballot and that time is over. Then you have to send the ballot in and on Election Day next Tuesday only 20 voting sites will be open out of the 144 sites in the city. Now, no matter where you live, if you don't vote by mail, you can go any of the 20 sites and cast your ballot.
SHERWOODBut this is -- the vote by mail is just not many people have returned ballots yet that have requested them. So that's a big issue. And I think we ought to say that the D.C. Council has 13 members. Since the 1970s has been center left for most of its time from doing gun control, handgun control in the 1970s to rent control, which is another issue now. The question is are the candidates who are running now to replace some of the councilmembers are far more left than center left, and do citizens want more of that, more action in a time of crisis and budget concerns.
SHERWOODAs some people are saying this is the perfect time to make significant changes in our social justice policies. Others are saying this is a time to be careful. The CFO, Jeff DeWitt, who is independent of the councilmembers and must by law certify any budget that's done, just told the Downtown Business Organization this week that there will be fights over this budget. But that he has to certify it. That it is fiscally responsible at a time of severe fiscal crisis. So we can see some very strong language I think as we discuss the budget before it's voted on in July.
NNAMDIAnd we'll be discussing that with Mayor Muriel Bowser later. Rachel Kurzius, thank you so much for joining us.
KURZIUSIt was a pleasure. Take care.
NNAMDIRachel Kurzius is a Senior Editor for DCist. Joining us now is Jeffrey McKay, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Jeffrey McKay, thank you for joining us.
JEFFREY MCKAYI'm glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIYesterday Virginia saw a record death toll for the second day in a row. And most of the new daily confirmed cases are in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County is beginning phase one of reopening today. Jeffrey McKay, why are you confident that the county is ready to reopen?
MCKAYWell, we certainly weren't two weeks ago. So I'm glad we didn't open with the rest of the Commonwealth of Virginia, but I feel like two weeks later we have solidly met four of the governor's six criteria that he laid out. Two weeks ago we met zero of that criteria. And so I feel like we're in a lot better position than we were two weeks ago. We still have concerns. We will be messaging constantly to our public that people are still safer at home. We believe that phase one, the opening up of the economy in phase one is very limited, very measured. I think people are understanding what phase one means.
MCKAYIt does not mean that we are anywhere close to back to normal. And it does not mean that people should take down their guard. We must continue to place the safety precautions that have been recommended. I'm glad to see the governor put a mask requirement in place as we begin place one, because we have to as a community continue to follow these guidelines if we're ever to get to other phases of our economy opening up. And so we're approaching with tremendous caution. But it is very good news that, you know, we have met the lion share of the criteria that the governor put out. And we have met that over this last two week period of time, which is promising.
NNAMDIYou have met four of the six metrics for moving in to phase one. The two metrics that have not been met are increased contact tracing capacity and stocking an adequate supply of personal protective equipment. We're going to take a short break. Jeffrey McKay is the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Later we'll be talking with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Our guest currently is Jeffrey McKay, the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Jeff McKay, when we took that break I was asking you about how Fairfax County intends to meet the two metrics contract tracing capacity and stocking an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.
MCKAYSo we plan to meet both of those. First with contact tracing, we have setup a system to hire 400 people on top of our existing contact tracers over the next weeks. So in two weeks those people -- we expect to be on the ground working. We started recruiting yesterday. People who want to help us out with that effort should go to the county COVID-19 webpage and sign up to be a contact tracer, because, you know, we'll have 400 more people out doing that within a two week period of time.
MCKAYPPE, of course, has been a challenge for everyone. We in a lot of times are competing with the federal government and others for supply. Supply chain issues have improved dramatically. We know in daily conversations with our hospitals and long term care facilities that many of them have all the supplies that they need at all times. I think the biggest concern we have with PPE is our most vulnerable communities, our residents being able to gain access to PPE.
MCKAYAnd so we are sending funds and supplies out to our community based non-profits so that they can get these into the hands of their clients particularly with the mask order that the governor has put in place. And lastly, because of that mask order business will require people to have masks when they come in and they can turn away people who don't have masks.
MCKAYAnd so a lot of businesses have already indicated that they'll be giving those to customers who don't have those when they come through their door. And, of course, as you know all of our transit operations are already requiring and have been requiring for a while people to wear masks. And so we've been able to test our supply chain. We feel like we're in a much better place with PPE today than we were two weeks ago.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODMr. Chairman, thank you for being on the show. Fairfax County is a county of almost 1.2 million people. You've had nearly 11,000 virus infections and almost 400 people dying. Tysons is also -- it used to be called Tysons Corner. Tysons is also a major shopping and business district. The galleria, which is there, I looked at this website, it's opening today with severe restrictions on how people can move around. Will people be wearing masks inside the shopping centers? And what kind of financial hit has Fairfax County taken with so many places closed, because of the virus?
MCKAYSure. So the financial hit, we believe the floor to the county is $165 million. And obviously we track that daily. We think that number will go up. We've had significant financial impact and one that could last for years, because, of course, 65 percent of our budget is based on real estate taxes. And so if there's a depression in real estate market especially commercial, because of vacancies or people who can't pay rent, that's going to affect us for years to come. And so we're closely monitoring that. And we know that this is frankly a marathon and not a sprint, and we need to plan accordingly.
MCKAYThe question about masks, I certainly hope people are wearing them. The governor has ordered them inside buildings, which includes shopping malls like Tysons Corner. The Virginia Department of Health has been tasked with enforcing that, not our police. And so we certainly don't want to make this a criminal issue. I think the governor is right to focus on the education component of this and why it's important to wear the mask.
MCKAYAnd all of us in the region are putting out information messages about why that's important and imploring our public to follow that gubernatorial order. It's really important that, you know, we do that. And frankly the business community knows that really we need to get to phase two and phase three reopening to really reopen our economy. And the quicker we adhere to these guidelines the quicker we can get to those other phases. And I think that resonates with people.
SHERWOODLet me ask you about the schools. If I can ask you quickly about the schools. You have the 10th largest school system in the country over 188,000 students. You also have a bus system of nearly half the students ride buses to schools. What is the plan? I know you have a school board that runs this. But what's the plan for the 1600 school buses in terms of social distancing and getting children back to schools?
MCKAYWell, right now the governor has a statewide task force, the chair of our school board is on that. And they're going to be putting out I believe standards for reopening schools. We are ready and able to respond to those standards. We have to. We know the importance of reopening school to our families, to our economy and frankly to our kids, who are losing learning opportunities and are falling further behind.
MCKAYAnd so our goal as a board is to work closely with our school board to make sure the resources are there to be able to reopen in whatever way is determined to be safe. But I think the state is going to be putting out guidelines on that. And we will adhere to those because we understand how important it is.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Alexis, "Why won't you reprioritize public road space for safe sustainability, healthy walking and biking space? Please don't just say that VDOT owns the road. I'm aware of the single half mile next to a closed mall that Fairfax County is touting." Jeffrey McKay.
MCKAYWell, first we have done that in an area of Tysons Corner as a pilot. Secondly, I hate to break the caller's wishes, but the facts are the facts. VDOT does own the road. We don't own the property and so in order to do anything on a VDOT road we have to get VDOT permission. And of course that is very different than some of our other regional partners and very frustrating to people in Northern Virginia. But for us to be able to convert roads into pedestrian areas requires a VDOT permit. And VDOT has been very reluctant to want to do that. We are testing it in Tysons Corner, because of the tenacity of our county department of transportation forcing the issue. And certainly if it works well there we will continue to look at more opportunities to do that in the future.
NNAMDID.C. and Northern Virginia are reopening today while Prince George's and Montgomery Counties in Maryland are reopening starting Monday. But it did not seem like there was a great deal of coordination between D.C., Maryland and Virginia leaders in this reopening. Did you coordinate at all with local counterparts in D.C. or Maryland?
MCKAYWe did through the Council of Governments. I mean, you know, largely the mayor and the governors tell us they were in communication with each other. I've stressed the importance of this all along. Frankly I'm glad to see us in closer alignment. One of the reasons why I didn't feel comfortable reopening two weeks ago is because our region wasn't. And we know how many travel in and out of Maryland, D.C., Virginia for work for leisure for dining.
MCKAYAnd, you know, my concern always has been you can't have 10 different rules that people have to interpret when you cross a line. Those people who live in the D.C. area expect this to be a fluid economy, and so the governor has repeated told me in Virginia that he is coordinating with the mayor and Governor Hogan. And I will say from the outside looking in it sure doesn't look like enough of that is happening for my standpoint, which is why we as a local region banded together and say, hey, we're not ready in Northern Virginia yet, two weeks ago, and part of that was because we recognized that this is a region and we should be doing things in lockstep.
SHERWOODMr. Chairman, Fairfax is known as a corporate headquarters, Intelsat, Hilton, Capital One, Booz Allen. Have the big major corporations been supportive of the county? We'll talk in a few moments about Mark Elrich in Montgomery County being heckled by some demonstrators, but are you getting the business support who would like to have their employees come back to work? What is happening with the corporate leaders in Fairfax County?
NNAMDIAnd we only have about a minute left.
MCKAYYeah. The corporate leaders have been very supportive. They knew and they agreed that we needed two extra weeks. They know it's up to them to help us achieve the next milestone. But they've been very supportive of the actions we've taken in Fairfax County. And they know that the safety of their employees is really really important here. And so they've been partners with us. We have not experienced what you described happening in Maryland.
NNAMDIKathy tweets, "Any plans to partially open Fairfax County libraries at least to pick up books on hold?"
MCKAYYes. In fact they already are. They're starting curbside service. If you go the libraries webpage you can see information about curbside service that has started now with this phase one reopening. And the buildings themselves won't be open. But people are able to put books on hold and pick them up curbside.
NNAMDIAnd in the 30 seconds we have left, Karina emails, "Is testing opening up to more people who don't need to prove that they had contact with a COVID positive person?"
MCKAYYes. We have a testing event this weekend on Route 1 in Alexandria, but we also have on our webpage a list of almost 30 individual clinics around Northern Virginia that will test people.
MCKAYAnd I'd encourage people to do that.
NNAMDIJeffrey McKay is the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Thank you for joining us.
MCKAYThank you, Kojo. Good to be with you appreciate it.
NNAMDIUp next, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. If you have questions or comments for her now would be the time to start calling 800-433-8850. Send in a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back Tom Sherwood quickly, before we go to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in Montgomery County, County Executive Mark Elrich said that Montgomery County will begin its first phase of reopening Monday morning. There was a lot of push back at his press conference against both him and his -- the county's health officer Dr. Travis Gayles. People were booing them, calling them "Nazis," interrupting them a great deal. I for one couldn't help noticing that despite the fact that communities of color are the ones most affected by this pandemic that just about all of those people, who were heckling Mark Elrich happened to be white.
SHERWOODYes, that is correct. I think it's very important to note. I saw some of the video of that. It was a handful of people. At one point Mark Elrich kind of chuckled his head, you know, folks these rules are the ones put in by the governor of the state. But around the country there have been people, mostly white people that I have seen, complaining that they don't want to be told to wear a mask, they don't want to be confined to their homes. And there have been a variety of demonstrations, even some, I think, in Michigan. That people brought handguns or rifles.
SHERWOODSo it was a fairly small event in front of Mark Elrich, but it was exceptionally odd I thought that these few handful of people were saying things like "Nazi" and "dictator". It just seemed like there is a willful ignorance by some of them to face that this is a very serious issue where their neighbors are dying.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Muriel Bowser, the mayor of the District of Columbia. Mayor Bowser, thank you for joining us.
MURIEL BOWSERThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou have not been receiving that kind of pushback here in Washington, D.C. to your reopening plans, have you? Or people who said you should have reopened a lot earlier?
BOWSERNo. I think D.C. residents and businesses have recognized a special responsibility that we have to protect the health of our residents, especially our vulnerable populations, and open up when the health data suggests that it's okay to do so. And they also recognize that that's for the economy, too, because a slow opening, a thoughtful opening will give us the best chance of beating this virus.
NNAMDID.C. begins its first phase of reopening today, a phase that you have dubbed stay-at-home light. Did you coordinate with leaders in Virginia and Maryland on this reopening, or was it focused on D.C.'s coronavirus metrics?
BOWSERWe've been working with the governors of Maryland and Virginia throughout our response. And more recently, when the governors started to reopen parts of their states, we worked directly with county officials, as well.
NNAMDII'd like to pivot, for a second, before we come back to COVID-19, because in the wake of demonstrations in Minneapolis and demonstrations in Los Angeles, St. Louis and other places, there are people who are wondering whether there are likely to be demonstrations here. Tom Sherwood, you can pick it up from there.
SHERWOODYes. Thank you for joining us, Mayor. Before you had your press conference this morning, I'd exchanged message with Chief Peter Newsom of the police force. And he cautioned that every -- that the same rules apply in the District that always apply, that peaceful demonstrations will be tolerated. He said, but if you destroy property or hurt someone, you will be arrested. We rarely have to make arrests, but if we do that arrest, it will be done safely and respectfully.
SHERWOODYou, at your press conference this morning, said something similar. How concerned are you that there could be people who want to take advantage of the incidents in Minneapolis and Louisville and elsewhere to maybe cause trouble here, more so than just protests, what happened in Minneapolis?
BOWSERWell, my larger concern, Tom, is that a resident saw a black man killed on the street while he was in custody, by an officer, while three other officers watched. And that sense of rage and fear is palatable. And so that should concern us all. And we want to see a justice in that case and we want to see police departments that have a culture that would tolerate that changed.
BOWSERWe don't believe that's the culture of the Metropolitan Police Department, but the chief and I made clear this morning what we expect from our officers, and also how we need our residents to work with our officers also in a respectful way. We've worked long and hard to build trust between MPD and the community, and we work hard at it every day. So, I don't fear the types of conditions that we see in Minneapolis. Our police department knows how to support First Amendment events, and they're going to do that in this case, just like they would in any case.
SHERWOODMay I just ask you, Mayor, one of the residents of the District, at least part-time residents, is the President of the United States, who's being criticized for tweeting that once the looting starts -- once the shooting starts, suggesting that maybe the police and National Guard should take violent action against some of the rioting or looting. What is your response to the president making that an official tweet?
BOWSERI thought it was gross. I saw it, I think, in the middle of the night, as I was flipping between channels. And, you know, we've been used to some politicians doing a dog whistle to their base to kind of drum up the basest feelings among them, but this is not a dog whistle. It's used with a bullhorn, and it's gross.
BOWSERAnd so all of us have an interest in maintaining the peace, in not having people be looting. Nobody wants to see that in a great American city, but you shouldn't have the President of the United States saying that demonstrators should be shot.
NNAMDIWell, back to COVID-19. There have been concerns raised about the data that the District government used to support this reopening, specifically around the 14-day decline. Well, allow me to have Suzanne in Washington ask the question. Suzanne, you're on the air. We don't have a great deal of time, but go ahead, please.
SUZANNEThank you. I see in DCist on May 26th, and the Washington Post had reported that last week there was a spike from 68 cases to 118, which is an increase of 50. And the mayor seems to have downplayed that and arbitrarily reset the clock from a 14-day sustained decline to a reset of three days. And that date didn't even happen.
BOWSERWell, let me correct the caller first by saying, I didn't reset anything, and nothing was done arbitrarily. And we've explained that our epidemiologists and statisticians at DOH calculate community transmission. And from day to day, there will be ups and downs. Some of them are significant, and some of them are not. And they set the significance level at two standard deviations from the rolling five-day average. And that's how they calculate resetting the peak. And that's what they explained. That's what we explained last Saturday, where if that didn't happen, we would've had 13 days of decline. Instead, we had 11 days of decline.
SHERWOODThank you, Mayor. If I could, I'd like to ask you, you've announced today that the city is going to, around residential and other areas, reduce the speed limit from 25 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour. And I believe you told Mark Segraves of NBC4 that you intend to make those 20-mile-per-hour limits permanent, even after the crisis is over. And then, if you don't mind, I also wanted to get two questions in, here. The primary is on Tuesday. Have you endorsed any candidates in the race?
BOWSERSo, I'll start with your first and, yes, we expect to lower the speed limit on local streets to 20 miles per hour, which is a reduction of 5 miles, which we know saves lives. And we intend to make it permanent. And I do believe that we can do so by a rulemaking, and that's what we're moving to do. Indeed, the primary is this June 2nd, and we want everybody to go out and vote. Many people have requested mail-in-ballots, so we want them to mail those ballots in. And voting is open at 20 locations across the city through Election Day, on June the 2nd.
BOWSERAnd while I have been very focused on the pandemic response over the last 10 weeks, I have been there from day one in endorsing Councilmember Brandon Todd, who is my councilmember, for the Ward 4 council seat.
NNAMDIAt today's press conference, you talked about how the city will start reimagining its useful public space, so that residents can enjoy restaurants, retail and recreation while still social distancing. What should we know about that?
BOWSERWell, you should know that we talked about, in our Main Street and Great Street and bid corridors, we'll be working with those organizations and businesses there to make sidewalks wider, to take some travel lanes. To even do some partial road closures to enhance the ability for people to dine out and walk, and also do curbside pickups for restaurant and retail. And we're calling that idea the streeteries, where you'll have eateries on D.C. streets. So, that's important.
BOWSERWe're also looking at slow streets and those are going to be on local roadways, local streets in the District that can be used for local travel only. And the speed limit will be reduced there to 15 miles an hour, and there'll be a light barrier. So, DDOT now is considering what streets they will be in a rollout throughout the summer.
NNAMDIHere is David in Washington, D.C. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHi. My question for the mayor is, I was wondering if this upcoming calendar year, will private and nonpublic schools follow the DCPS calendar?
BOWSERWe cannot compel private schools to follow our calendar. And, actually, the public charter schools also have autonomy over their calendars, as long as they meet certain numbers of days in seats. I, however, have been having ongoing conversations with public charter school leaders about how we can communicate a more common schedule for everybody. And so I'll continue to have those conversations with them. We've been working on it throughout our pandemic response, and we know that can promote some synergies between employers, families and, certainly, kids.
SHERWOODMayor, I want to give you a chance to say what you've been trying to emphasize virtually every day as we go into this reopening period, that the pandemic is not over, but it's up to the citizens now to be responsible when they go out and around the region.
SHERWOODI want to ask you, I know that the restaurants are opening today, do you plan -- with your schedule, do you plan to go visit one of the restaurants or one of the reopened businesses to demonstrate that it can be done, and it can be done safely?
BOWSERI will. And I will likely go this weekend, or I may go in the beginning of next week. But I will definitely be going -- I miss going to restaurants. And, you know, I miss sitting down and having a nice meal and being able to sit across the table from a friend and just catch up. I think all of us miss that. But I recognize that I want to go when -- I don't want to go when it's too crowded. I want to be able to wear a facemask. I want to make sure I understand from the restaurant owner that they're following the rules. And then I can enjoy a great meal.
SHERWOODAnd the message -- the basic message is, though, that it's now up to the citizens to not take advantage or disadvantage of the limited opening that you're allowing.
BOWSERThat's correct, because it can just send us right back. And I expect that, you know, they're going to do the right things, from all that I have seen. And we also, I should note, will have our ABRA inspectors out across the city, checking in, making sure people have the resources that they need, but also making sure that they're following the rules.
NNAMDIBut the reopen D.C. advisory committee suggested that bars and nightclubs not reopen until stage three of the reopening. Why did you decide to include them in the reopening now?
BOWSERI didn't include bars, per se. We included food establishments. So, if you are a food establishment and you have seating, then you can open. If you are a bar and you have no food, or you have no place for people to sit, you cannot open.
NNAMDIYour budget does not include funding for the Cure, the streets violence prevention program run by the Office of the Attorney General, something the budget helped to fund last fiscal year. You also proposed an 11.4 percent cut to the funding of the Office of the Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which also works on violence interruption out of your administration. Why did you cut back on these areas?
BOWSERI am pretty sure that you're wrong about that, Kojo, that we funded, and someone will correct me if I'm wrong -- but I believe we funded Cure the Streets at the same level that we funded last year, despite the fact that we had a $700 million revenue increase. Furthermore, in our office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, we have shifted some of the programs, and we're focusing on the programs that we know have worked for us.
BOWSEROne in particular is called Pathways. It's a program that identifies very critical people in neighborhoods that have either, we think, could be victims of crime or perpetrators of crime, and also leaders, and brings them into a program with intense services and job opportunities. Because we know if we can change their trajectory, we can change a whole neighborhood.
BOWSERWe're also investing in a model that's been effective for us in Anacostia, called the Anacostia Leadership Academy, at the high school. And we're going to expand that program with credible messengers and the types of supports that DCPS officials identify a cohort of kids at the high school that can benefit from those services. And that has shown great benefits for us, too.
SHERWOODMayor, today, after a long battle over whether to do it or not, the District has sports betting, the D.C. Lottery announced today that you can go online and do betting. The only problem is, all the sports have shut down, so there's really not much to bet on. Have you been briefed on the status now of sports betting, which is live online?
BOWSERI was told, yes, that it was live online, and that there wasn't very much to bet on. I think that they have some overseas leagues that people can interact with.
SHERWOODWould you support -- I know Major League Baseball is talking about possibly a shortened 82-game season, starting in midsummer, July. Would you support careful reopening of the Nats ballpark, the World Champion Nats?
BOWSERWell, we certainly want to see and hear what MLB has planned. And we would consider their plans as part of our waiver process.
NNAMDII'm reading from the mayor's budget on page 236, recurring budget. The FY 2021 proposed budget for OAG, Office of the Attorney General, includes a reduction of $3,812,278 to account for the removal of one-time funding appropriated in FY 2020, of which $3,762,278 supported the Cure the Streets violence prevention program, and $50,000 supported an economic analysis of the District's child support guidelines. It was that that led us to believe that you are cutting the funding for the Cure the Streets Program.
BOWSERI just wonder if that is a change that the council made. So -- and if they did, it may have been a one-time change. I'll have to confirm that with you, Kojo.
BOWSERThere was some one-time funding, I think, that the council added. So, I'm not sure about that.
NNAMDIHere is Carl, in Adams Morgan. Carl, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARLYes. I'm a 76-year-old senior, and it seems to me that a lot of people are not -- you know, a substantial number of people -- there are a lot of people that are great about the social distancing and wearing masks, but there's a lot of people, especially young people, who aren't. And I'm staying in my apartment as much as I can, but I've got to go to the markets. And I get very frightened, practically terrorized when I go into the supermarkets and people aren't wearing masks. And I haven't heard anything about whether they're going to continue to require the masks in the markets and those kinds of places, essential services for seniors.
BOWSERYes. Masks will continue to be required in markets and in other businesses. In fact, what my order says is, if you're not able to stay six feet apart from someone, you need to have on a mask.
NNAMDIAs restaurants and nonessential businesses start reopening, Mayor Bowser, some workers might be a little concerned about going back to work, but they might also be afraid of losing their jobs and their health insurance if they don’t. Does the District offer any protection for workers in that situation?
BOWSERThere are a lot of rules that apply to when people need to go back to work. And I think there are especially a lot of concerns about how that might impact their unemployment insurance. So, I think that there are a lot of ins and outs to that, Kojo, that I can't get into.
BOWSERBut the fact of the matter is, there are some questions that workers need to ask us about unemployment and their employer.
SHERWOODMayor, I don't think you thought, when you started this second term, that you would be the Zoom mayor, being on so many Zoom broadcasts. I listen to you on the downtown business improvement district and also the Anacostia Coordinating Committee. A couple of people have said to me, they've just asked, what about the houses of worship? There are so many churches, synagogues, mosques, places of worship in the city. What is it for people who want to go to their house of worship, what is the rule?
BOWSERWell, Tom, we continue to be concerned about large gatherings. As you know, large gatherings were the first impacted in our shutdowns. In fact, they were the first impacted by COVID in Washington, D.C., large gatherings at churches. So, we know how vulnerable having a large group of people in a communal setting like that can be. So, we continue to ban large gatherings -- any gathering over 10. And, through the phases, that number will increase, bnut they continue to pose an incredible risk for spreading the virus.
NNAMDIHere is Eric in Ward 6. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICHi, Mayor Bowser. I'm an African-American in Ward 6. I'm concerned that the new COVID-19 public health surveillance systems will be weaponized by the government. We have examples of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, Guatemala syphilis experiment, the use of Henrietta Lacks cancer cells without her consent, CIA fake vaccination program...
NNAMDI(overlapping) What is the specific nature of your concern, Eric, about how this information might be used?
ERICOkay. What I want to know is, what safeguards are you planning to put in place to prevent the system from being abused? So, I mean, are there going to be four-year provisions? Is there a right not to participate in contact tracing? Can contract tracing be used in criminal cases? Can you use...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Okay. Allow me to have Mayor Bowser respond.
BOWSERYes. And those are -- and I'm glad he asked those questions, because the information that we are collecting is used by our Department of Health. And it is used only to support containing this virus. And we have a limited number of D.C. government agencies that can tap into the health system or health-related matters.
NNAMDIPresident Donald Trump has made no indication that he plans to cancel his annual Second Salute to America July 4th event. The National Independence Day Parade has already been cancelled, but Trump's event is separate. You've said that you will work with the Department of Interior on this issue, but if the president does decide to proceed with it and it goes against the District's reopening guidelines, is there anything you or we in the city can actually do to prevent it?
BOWSERWell, we're going to keep working on it, Kojo. We haven't given up on making sure that we can have a safe July 4th in Washington, D.C. We have concerns about being able to maintain our police protection in our neighborhoods during a hot July 4th weekend during an unusual summer. And our resources just simply cannot be diverted at this time. So, we're going to keep working on that issue.
BOWSERAnd I also wanted to come back to -- because my budget office has assured me that there were no cuts to Cure in our budget. And there was a small reduction in the violence interruption program. I believe it's under a million dollars, but we invested in other violence interruption programs.
NNAMDIIt's getting hotter outside. Does the District plan to reopen cooling centers anytime in the near future?
BOWSERKojo, we have a plan, as you know, every year, for heat emergencies. Our team at HSEMA is doing that heat emergency planning right now. And we will roll out every necessary component to deal with heat emergencies.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Muriel Bowser is the mayor of the District of Columbia. She is a Democrat. Mayor Bowser, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we leave always a few seconds for your plans this weekend, now that you're shut in.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I'm still battling my refrigerator and trying not to gain weight. That's one of the big, you know, casual issues of this virus. We're all gaining weight.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Stay safe, my friend. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, we examine local community and police relations, including accusations that officers have failed to wear personal protective equipment.
NNAMDIPlus, Kojo For Kids with Judith Viorst, author of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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