On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Virginia Democrats, who flipped both houses of the legislature last year, will realize much of their agenda on July 1, when a slew of laws go into effect. Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-District 13) joined The Politics Hour.
Virginia Black Caucus Calls For Police Reform
- This week, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus released a list of priorities for the special session.
- Among the legislative priorities are declaring racism a public health crisis in Virginia, expanding oversight and accountability for police, preventing law enforcement’s excessive use of force, pushing for criminal justice reform and providing COVID-19 relief and protections.
- “It’s one thing for us to talk a good game. It’s another thing for us to actually legislate it,” Roem said on The Politics Hour. Roem said she is prepared to support the Legislative Black Caucus’ priorities, and in particular wants to see banning chokeholds, mandating body cameras and implementing the Marcus Alert, which would enable police departments and behavioral health authorities work together on answering emergency calls for services relating to behavioral or mental health.
- Roem also said, “We need to take a real serious look with how trans women, especially trans women of color, are treated when they’re incarcerated.”
- House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn has promised action on police reform at the special session, which is expected to be in August. She announced this week that the Virginia House will hold three public hearings on criminal justice matters ahead of the special session.
A Spotlight On LGBTQ Nondiscrimination
- For the first time in a generation, Democrats in 2020 control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the General Assembly. This allowed Democrats to pass many LGBTQ protection bills.
- The Virginia Values Act extends anti-discrimiantion protections to LGBTQ people when it comes to housing, employment and public accommodations (which counteracts the Trump administration’s recent decision to roll back LGBTQ protections under the Affordable Care Act.).
- Roem championed a bill that prevents medical insurance companies from denying coverage to patients based on their gender identity.
- Virginia became the first southern state to ban conversion therapy.
Changing Confederate Names On Schools
- Roem has proposed that the name of Stonewall Middle in Manassas be repurposed to commemorate the Stonewall riots.
- When it comes to Stonewall Jackson High School, she thinks the name should be completely changed.
- Fellow Prince William County delegate (and 2021 gubernatorial hopeful) Jennifer Carrol Foy (D-District 2) wrote a letter to the school board supporting Roem’s proposal.
- The Prince William County School Board votes on renaming changes June 29.
Protests continue in the District, there’s a historic vote in the House and we’re still in a pandemic. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) joined the show.
House Votes In Favor Of D.C. Statehood
- The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill approving D.C. statehood on Friday.
- The expedited vote was due in no small part to the raised profile of the District amid recent protests — and with that, the raised profile of Bowser herself.
- “I think Americans all over our country have been shocked by what they have seen in D.C.,” Bowser said, referencing the federal response to District protests. “It certainly never occurred to them that the United States Army could be used to threaten American citizens because we don’t have full autonomy.”
- H.R. 51 is not expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.
- Under the Home Rule Act, President Donald Trump could seize control of the D.C. police for 48 hours — a potential situation that has been brought up during the recent protests. What would the D.C. mayor do if Trump issued such an order? “I will do anything in my power to prevent that, including not following such a directive,” Bowser said.
The Future Of D.C. Police
- Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, is calling for $15 million in cuts to the Metropolitan Police Department.
- “A $15 million cut in policing would mean that we wouldn’t be able to hire any new officers until 2021,” Bowser said on The Politics Hour. She also said it would also curb the growth of the MPD Cadet Program, which she said has “been very successful for us in diversifying our force, hiring more D.C. residents and hiring more women.”
- Allen’s proposal would also impose a four-year term limit on D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham.
- Bowser called it “legally questionable” and “foolhardy” for the council to try to retroactively impose a four-year term limit on Newsham.
- On June 9, the D.C. Council unanimously passed emergency police reform legislation and submitted it to the mayor on June 22. Bowser hasn’t signed the legislation.
D.C. Enters Phase Two
- The District entered Phase Two on Monday, as COVID-19 cases topped 10,000 over the weekend.
- What’s new in this phase? Among the changes: Residents can gather in groups of up to 50 people; restaurants, libraries and nonessential retail businesses can welcome customers inside at 50% capacity; and gyms can be reopened at a limited capacity.
- Meanwhile, in Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam said the state will enter Phase Three of reopening on July 3. Northam expects Northern Virginia and Richmond to enter that phase along with the rest of Virginia, but he said he’s open to hearing concerns from leaders.
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 is our resident analyst, and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia. Joining us now is Danica Roem, a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates, representing District 13, which includes parts of Prince William's Country and Manassas Park City. She is a Democrat. Danica Roem, thank you very much for joining us.
DANICA ROEMThanks you so much, Kojo. This is my fifth punch on the Kojo loyalty card. I think five more, and I get a pastry, right?
NNAMDIYeah, yup. You certainly do. But before we go directly to issues of Virginia, Tom Sherwood, I'd like to talk a little bit about what's happening with the Purple Line. It would appear that one of the contractors with the Purple Line is threatening to pull out of the deal. Why, and what could be the consequence of that?
SHERWOODWell, it's a consortium of contractors, and they say that the project is too much over budget. Some have suggested it's $800 million over budget for a $2 billion program. This line would run from New Carrolton to Bethesda. But they simply are running out of money. And so they say that if they don't get more money from the state or something from Prince George's in Montgomery County that they can't continue and they will abandon the project within about 60 days. So, just in late summer, if this is not resolved for money purposes, we could see it stop.
SHERWOODLet me just say it's 16 miles long. It's 40 percent complete. It would be an economic boost to the entire suburban metropolitan corridor between Prince George's and Montgomery County. Lots of projects go over budget, but this would be extraordinary if it comes to an end. Tom Hucker of Montgomery County Council said, "Look, let's go ahead and start talking to the other bidders who lost out and keep this project moving."
NNAMDIAnd we lost Allen Lew this week to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, Tom Sherwood, for people who may not know who Allen Lew was as they ride around this city and they look at the number of newly refurbished schools and the convention center, what did Allen Lew have to do with those things?
SHERWOODHe led it all. You know, he was hired in the late '90s by the District government, by the Convention Authority to plan and build a new convention center, which many people in our listening audience have gone to since it opened in the early 2000s. But more than that, he served as City Administrator. He oversaw the renovation of RFK, for the Nats to play there. he oversaw the construction of the baseball stadium, and more importantly, Mayor Adrian Fenti put him in charge of the terrible condition of the schools. And he went about rebuilding or building new schools in every section of the city. Billions of dollars. Very little controversy over it. He did have a blank check. Some critics of his said he had a blank check. He used it well. He changed the face of this city forever and ever.
NNAMDIRest in peace, Allen Lew. Danica Roem, let's start with this week's primaries in central Virginia. Cameron Webb, an African American physician, won the Democratic nomination for the District 5 congressional seat in central Virginia. He'll be facing Bob Good, who beat out incumbent Congressman Republican Denver Riggleman in the general election in November. What do you think of Webb's win and what it says about the direction Virginia is taking?
ROEMSure. So, I think Dr. Webb is uniquely situated to flip this district right now, because what we're looking at in the 5th District of Virginia is a perfect storm brewing. So, we know that the District typically leans a little bit more Republican. But we also know that there are good pockets of Democratic strength in the city of Charlottesville for example and in Danville and in the Albemarle County area, in general. And what we can also take a look at here is the contrast between what Dr. Webb actually brings to, you know, the general election versus what, you know, former Supervisor Bob Good does. In Dr. Webb's case, here, this is someone who as a doctor, and as an attorney, is uniquely situated to be dealing with the two largest issues that we are facing as a society right now between racial strife, and by which I mean injustices.
ROEMAnd, you know, as well as dealing with COVID-19 and dealing with the pandemic. And he is the first African American nominee for this district, as well. And he clearly excited the Democratic base, you know, who participate in the primary. And one of the things that was so incredible to look at is we know Charlottesville is and overwhelmingly Democratic city. But, at the same time, 94 percent of voters who cast their ballots in Charlottesville between the Republican primary and the Democratic primary for -- the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and the Democratic primary for the 5th Congressional District, 94 percent of them cast their ballots in the Democratic primary. That should tell you something about the enthusiasm of Democratic voters who are willing to turn out. And, in Charlottesville, Dr. Webb won big. He won like just about two-thirds of the vote in a four way field. I had to run a four-way primary, so I know how hard that is. And so hats off to him.
ROEMBut one of the other things that makes him, you know, a really good perfect storm is that I love contrast in campaigns. That's really kind of my bread and butter of clear contrast. In Dr. Webb, you have someone who is inherently inclusive, who believes in a big tent, who supports equality, who supports public option, who is, you know, dedicated to making sure that you've actually got good constituent service, and he's managed to unite the parties, so much so, that him and Claire Russo who also ran for that seat, they both met up on Wednesday this week to figure out, "What can we do to work together to win this seat and to flip the 5th?" That's a great sign of unity compared to what happened in the Republican nominating convention, which was not an open primary. I had more people vote in my primary for the Virginia House of Delegates 13th District in 2017 than voted in the Republican primary convention for U.S. House of Representatives in the 5th District, because they closed it off to a drive-in convention.
ROEMAnd they nominated someone who was so opposed to LGBTQ equality that he ran as a, quote, "biblical conservative" end of quote. Well, I love the idea that their party is fractured right now between, you know, an ousted congressman and someone who might now even qualify for the ballot versus a united Democratic Party right now, who has someone who's a proven vote-getter and who can, you know, bring live enthusiasm to the ticket.
NNAMDIWell, I asked you what you thought of Cameron Webb. I did not expect this outpouring of enthusiasm, all around. But, Tom Sherwood, it's your turn.
SHERWOODYeah. That was a good Democratic ad for -- but, you know, that 5th District runs all the way to the North Carolina border from Northern Virginia. And while the Delegate Roem is certainly enthusiastic about who the Democrat could be, it's a pretty conservative part of the middle of the State of Virginia, which is a purple state now. So, we'll see. Denver Riggleman, the incumbent conservative Republican congressman was thrown out because he -- one he had officiated at a gay marriage. And two he was more of -- he wasn't conservative enough for people, even though he's quite conservative. So, I think that's a big deal. But I think that race at best leans Republican. So, we'll see how it plays out to November 3rd.
NNAMDIThis week the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus released a list of priorities that it will advocate for during the summer special session, including banning chokeholds by police, making it a hate crime to call 911 for racial reasons, declaring racism to be a public health crisis and more. What do you think of those as priorities? Danica Roem, do you have any concerns?
ROEMSo, no. I don't have concerns right now as much as I am really eager to see what happen with, you know, the public hearings that are going to be coming up because, you know, Speaker Filler-Corn just today, you know, she announced that we're going to have a series of Joint Commission meetings between the House Public Safety Committee and the House Courts of Justice Committee, which are chaired by two Northern Virginia members between Charniele Herring who is our Majority Leader for Courts of Justice, as well as Delegate Patrick Hope who also represents Arlington and Delegate Herring represents Alexandria. And so at the end of the hearings we're going to have the opportunity to really hear from the public about what it is that they want us to focus on, and I think we can find some really good common ground. I think that the Marcus Alerts for example to, you know, get someone out to a scene when someone is having a mental health crisis that should be something super easy that we should all be able to get behind.
ROEMAnd I think it's going to be really important that we don't just talk about how Black Lives Matter in Virginia, but we actually do something to demonstrate it with our, you know, -- with public policy, because it's in the same way that we had to work to pass bills to prevent gun violence after we said that thoughts and prayers weren't enough. They're a good sentiment, but they don't, you know, put public policy into place. We're dealing with a very similar set of circumstances here, where it's like it's one thing for us to talk a good game, it's another thing for us to actually legislate it. And I'm prepared to support, you know, my colleagues in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus so we can get some really transformative change done.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we only have about a minute and a half left in this segment.
SHERWOODOkay. The Speaker Filler-Corn said, "We have heard the pain and frustration of so many across the Commonwealth in terms of police reform." What changes do you want? Not before the hearings, not for people to say, but do you most want to see the legislation do when it convenes in late August? What do you want?
ROEMSo, this is -- I'm still putting together my legislative priority list. You know, I'm particularly interested in the Marcus Alerts like I was mentioning before. But as I was going through that legislative item -- or basically the topics that the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus brought up. As I really thought about, you know, all the advancement that we made in LGBTQ equally this year. For example, one thing that we did not address in the realm is, basically, criminal justice reform for the LGBTQ community.
SHERWOODExcuse me for interrupting, but we're out of time. Is there something -- do you want body cams on State Police Officers? Do you want -- what do you at this point want? You're knowledgeable enough to know what you want, plus whatever the public tells you.
ROEMSure. I mean, so banning chokeholds obvious. You know, if we're talking about mandating body cams, obvious. Of course, that should be done. And at the same time I also think we need to take real serious look with how, you know, transwomen especially transwomen of color are treated when they're incarcerated, because I've heard -- you know, since I've been in office what's happened to transwomen of color in our system right now, and it's bad.
NNAMDII'm afraid I'm going to have to interrupt. We'll pick that up when we come back after this short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast, we'll be joined by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Currently, we're talking with Danica Roem, a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates, representing District 13. Delegate Roem, the U.S. Supreme Court made a historic ruling this month that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination. Did you expect that from the court? And what does it signal for the larger LGBTQ movement?
ROEMSo, yes. I did expect that ruling from the court, because during oral arguments, for example, in the Bostick case, Justice Gorsuch, he really seemed to be sympathetic to the textualist originalist argument, you know, that was coming before from the plaintiffs. And what I think this signals, you know, it was a pleasant surprise that, you know, Chief Justice Roberts joined, especially, because his descent, you know, on Obergefell, which legalized marriage equality was, you know, scathing in that regard five years ago. So, it's nice to have him onboard along with, you know, our four other justices who tend to vote more progressively. I do think that where we are what things means in terms of society right now is that when you read the actual text of the opinion of the court they recognized Amy Stevens, you know, the late plaintiff in this case, who was basically fired after she came out as being trans.
ROEMThey referred to her as "she" and "her." They were refer to trans people by our actual gender, as opposed to the sex we were assigned at birth. And they actually used that phrase, different sex than one assigned at birth and they even went as far as to even basically say that, you know, sex that was identified at birth, you know, as opposed to who we identify as. That, in it of itself, is remarkably progressive and inclusive from this court. And I think that sends a template across the country not just for the interpretation of the bill -- of Title 7 to inherently include sexual orientation gender identity, because when you discriminate on either account you are inherently discriminating against on account of sex. Keep in mind this only deals with employment though. We still need the equal rights amendment to be a part of the Constitution, which the Trump administration is blocking right now.
ROEMBut what I would also go with that is we are setting a direction for the country to follow in, now, in terms of how we actually talk to our, you know, trans neighbors and family members and, you know, people like me.
SHERWOODThis November, Virginia voters are going to be asked to vote on a non-partisan congressional redistricting commission to redraw the lines for State House and congressional districts. It was passed by the Virginia General Assembly, with Democratic support. But now some people say that Democrats, since they're in charge of the legislature, are pulling a fast one and are telling people to vote against this non-partisan legislative commission. Where do you stand?
ROEMFirst off, the first thing I would say, it's not non-partisan. It's bipartisan. And so what that means this is bi --
SHERWOODOkay. I understand that. Where do you stand? Should voters reject it, like the party is suggesting? It's bipartisan. You're right it's bipartisan. But it's a commission that's opposed to --
ROEMIn one sentence given that it is not independent redistricting and that legislators will still be able to pick their constituents, just a fewer number of them, as opposed to the entire body, I would recommend that we start over again in the process. But in the meantime, have something so that no legislator picks their constituents in the meantime. In 2019, I voted to keep the process going because I was told, "Oh, we'll be able to fix everything in the enabling legislation." But as far as I'm concerned, you know, I've listened a lot and I was not happy with the end product, at the end of the day. And so, you know, at this point, however the Virginia voters vote, you know, we'll be able to adapt one way or the other. But at the same time, you know, I certainly stand by the votes I cast in the General Assembly.
SHERWOODSo are you saying -- are you telling the voter -- do you vote yes for this bipartisan commission or do you vote no? It's not a maybe.
ROEMTo me, it's vote your conscious on it. But I'll be voting no, because it's not independent redistricting.
SHERWOODOkay. The point is -- why this is important is because that means that Virginia redistricting will be totally controlled by Democrats next year.
ROEMNo. I would not -- I will not cast any vote, period. Mark my words. I will not cast a vote to pick my constituents. I will -- anything that we do must be done from an outside actually independent group that does not have legislators. I don't care whether it's 140 of them, like you would have now, or if it's eight of them, as you would this. Neither is a good option in that when you're dealing with the Constitution of Virginia, you look right now at the fact that Marriage Equality passed in 2006...
SHERWOODDelegate Roem, excuse me. I wish every subject could take an hour. But about elections? Is Virginia prepared to -- there's been so many states in the district who are having trouble getting ballots to people. Should Virginia move to an all-mail-in ballot? What do you think should happen in terms of how people will be voting in November 3rd?
ROEMI support us sending a mailed ballot to every registered voter in Virginia so that they have that option of being able to that and while at the same time because you have to make certain accommodations for a lot of different groups of people to still have polling places open on Election Day, obviously, with social distancing, you know, best practices in place.
NNAMDIEarlier this month, the Trump administration decided to end non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people when it comes to health insurance, specifically. The administration decided that gender identity is no longer protected from discrimination under the Affordable Care Act. But one of the bills that will soon become law in Virginia, which you sponsored, offers those protections. Tell us about your bill and how it counteracts the recent changes from the administration.
ROEMSure. So, we knew this was coming three years ago, that as soon as, you know, the Trump administration took over that they were going to trying to gut LGBTQ protections in the ACA from the 2016 interpretation that took effect in 2017. We knew this was coming. And so one of the things that I did was I was the Chief Co-Patron of Delegate Debra Rodman's bill in 2018-2019 to ban discrimination against trans people in healthcare. And I was attacked for that by the Republican Party of Virginia, who called it "unnecessary liberal lifestyle choices," as if they knew a damn thing about my healthcare. And I was attacked for that by the Family Foundation last year. And quite frankly the policy positions of both those groups aligned. One of the West Borough Baptist Church, you know, came and protested against me outside of the State Capital last year, so that when I earned reelection last year, I said, "All right. I'm going to go put in this bill now, and I'm going to go get it passed." And that's exactly what we did.
ROEMAnd in order to do that, you know, what we ended up doing here is we worked out stuff with the providers like Planned Parenthood and the insurers between the Virginia Association of Health Plans to say that we will not discriminate in healthcare for any health plan that is regulated by the Commonwealth of Virginia, which is about 22 percent of health plans. At the same time, we also know that because the Trump administration revoked that coverage -- or, you know, that mandate prior to the ruling that the Supreme Court just had on Title 7, that we now have precedent from the Supreme Court that we are going to be able to successfully argue in terms of saying that they shouldn't have done that. While, at the same time, we also have to be super vigilant in states across the country right now that if you do not have trans protections in your healthcare, then your legislature needs to go and do that.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt because we only have about a minute left. In Manassas, a middle school and a high school are both named in honor of Stonewall Jackson the Confederate General. The Prince William County School Board is holding hearings and will vote on changing the school names. But you had the idea of repurposing one of the names. Can you explain what you meant?
ROEMSure. So, Stonewall Jackson High School, obviously, the name has to change, because it has Jackson in it. It has to change. No dispute on that. Whatever happens, great. What I suggested for Stonewall Middle School, which does not have the word "Jackson" and frankly you don't even see like emblems of, you know, the actual Confederate General who enslaved at least six black folks in the first place, is to repurpose the name Stonewall to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising, you know, that led to the LGBTQ civil rights movement that was led by black and brown transwomen such as Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera. And so I think that would be, you know, a remarkable change from basically celebrating someone who fought for the institution of slavery versus celebrating, you know, liberated and just empowered black and brown transwomen and the people who stood up for civil rights.
ROEMEspecially in that part of Manassas, in a minority majority area, where we should be celebrating the accomplishments of people of color, as opposed to celebrating the people who oppressed them.
NNAMDIJust about out of time. Danica Roem, thank you so much for joining us.
ROEMAll right. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIDanica Roem is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, representing District 13. When we come back, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. You can start calling now, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now is Muriel Bowser, the mayor of the District of Columbia. Mayor Bowser, thank you for joining us.
MURIEL BOWSERHi, Kojo. How are you?
NNAMDII am well, trying to stay safe. Mayor Bowser, today is a historic day on Capitol Hill, as the U.S. House of Representatives is voting on HR51, the D.C. Statehood bill. We know it will likely pass in the House, but it is likely dead on arrival in the Senate. So, why even bother?
BOWSERWell, Kojo, we know that D.C. is ready. This is what's fair, and this is what rights an historic wrong. I personally do not let the Senate off the hook or any members of the Republican Party from doing their job. So, I'm pleased that the House of Representatives will be moving this bill, along with policing reform. And we call on the Senate to do their job.
NNAMDIYou've cited the federal response to recent protests here as a key reason why statehood is needed. What do you think would be different if we were a state?
BOWSERWell, I think Americans all over our country have been shocked by what they have seen in D.C., and have actually started asking themselves, how are residents of Washington, D.C. different? And, in a lot of ways, I don't think it ever occurred to them that taxpaying Americans living in their nation's capital don't have two Senators to speak up for them. And it certainly never occurred to them that the United States Army could be used to threaten American citizens, because we don't have full autonomy. So, we have had the opportunity in the last several weeks to educate a lot of people about why statehood is the only way to correct those wrongs.
SHERWOODGood afternoon, Mayor. Thanks for joining us. On statehood, I would ask, what next? There's been a long history of statehood measures. The last vote was 1993. There are various marches, arrests, etcetera, etcetera. But what do you see going forward in terms of a sustained, pro-statehood effort? Some national advertising campaigns, putting some money maybe behind the effort.
BOWSERYes. Well, let me just say this, because I've been asked that question since we pushed to have the question of statehood on the ballot in 2016 and a push to rewrite the Constitution and push to recreate the boundaries for our new state so that the District of Columbia would be ready when all of the political boxes lined up in a row. And I do believe that we weren't exactly in that place the last time those political boxes lined up in a row.
BOWSERSo, our focus in 2016 was to be ready, and that's our focus in 2020, to make sure that, in a new administration, which we're going to work very hard for, and to get control of the Senate, which all of us need to be working very hard for, that the question of statehood, if it doesn't get through the Senate this year, will be a priority in the next administration's first 100 days.
SHERWOODYes, I'd certainly -- you know, Tom Cotton, the Senator from Wyoming, made that horrific remark about how he has a diverse state. And I looked it up, it's 93 percent white. There's very little diversity in Wyoming. But you do have a big educational effort ahead of you, even if the Senate turns its back on statehood after the House vote.
BOWSERWell, I think that we recognize that, and our charge is to let Americans know that we are fundamentally being treated unfairly and differently than they are. And what know is that when Americans know that, they fully support statehood.
SHERWOODAnd if Kojo will let me, I'd like to -- just ties into this, there were -- we had lots of election problems on June 2nd for the primary the hearings and talks about whatever. Can you assure the citizens, even though the elections board is an independent board, that we'll have a clean election on November 3rd, even if that means mailing out ballots to all the registered voters? Where do you see that happening, so we don't have a repeat of June 2nd?
BOWSERWell, I think that one thing -- and I'm going to spend some time going back and looking at the testimony and reading the report from the Elections Board. I did ask the chairman to provide me with the after-action report. But I think one big thing that needs to change, Tom, is that every precinct needs to be open. The idea of having only 20 precincts open was just ill-advised. I heard them say that they wanted to double that to 40, which is also ridiculous. The number needs to get back up to 144 precincts, because we know the energy around this election is going to be incredible.
SHERWOODThank you. Thank you. I'm glad to hear that.
NNAMDIHere is Heather in Adams Morgan. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HEATHERYes. I'm calling about the closure of 18th Street to two-way traffic for three blocks this weekend. This'll make the riders of buses on the 90 and 96 lines have to travel much longer. They'll have to go around by Columbia Road and Connecticut Avenue. In late May, DDOT proposed to ANC 1C a compromised plan that would've allowed both two-way traffic on 18th Street and more space for outdoor dining. This is really a racial justice issue, given who rides the buses.
HEATHERI hope you'll turn to DDOT's late May plans after this weekend. This is supposedly an experiment. This is (unintelligible) and the bus riders (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWell, your connection is getting worse and worse, but let me see if the mayor has a response to you.
BOWSERWell, thanks for that, Kojo, and I didn't hear all of the question, but I know that she's referring to one of the streetery pilots. And, as you know, the council has been very active around this question that during our pandemic response, are we able to reclaim more street space for non-vehicle use. Our Reopen D.C. Committee also recommends it making more street space available. So, on 18th Street, we see this weekend as a pilot to see what works, and certainly would be open to adjusting it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Heather. Mayor Bowser, the council's judiciary and public safety committee approved a $15 million cut to the Metropolitan Police Department. Your budget provided the police department with a 3.3 percent boost in funding. If the full council approves the $15 million cut in the budget, how will you respond?
BOWSERWell, we're going to work until all -- as long as we can, until their final vote, to make them understand our need. The budget I advanced for public safety certainly includes policing. It includes a lot of other investments, as well, in education, in our social safety net and job training and violence interruption, all of those things. But a $15 million cut in policing would mean that we wouldn't be able to hire any new officers until 2021.
BOWSERAnd, very sadly, what it also means is that it would mean the end to a program and to growing a program that has been very successful for us in diversifying our force, hiring more D.C. residents and hiring more women. And that is our MPD cadet program, which has been very popular with the council, up until this week. And we're going to work very hard to get that back.
BOWSERI was looking at a picture from one of our recent cadet programs, and I saw a class of people who looked like Washington, D.C. I saw more women represented, and I saw an investment in our high school graduates, because we pay them to go to UDC and to join our police academy. So, I'm going to continue to work with the council to make sure we get what we need for policing.
NNAMDIAllen's proposal would also put a four-year term limit on the police chef. And At-Large Councilmember David Grosso is circulating a letter to his colleagues calling on Police Chief Peter Newsham to resign. Would you consider accepting either of these term limits on Chief Newsham or his resignation?
BOWSERNo. And we think this is legally questionable, whether the council can reach back to impose a term on the staff. There's been some lawsuits between the council and the mayor in previous years about another attempt to do such a thing. And so we think that that's foolhardy. And we also don't think that it -- I don't know what they -- what it would demonstrate. The council already has oversight over MPD. The council has to confirm the mayor's appointment, so that every aspect of oversight in the approval process, the council already has at its benefit.
BOWSERI have my view of imposing terms on executive appointees. And what I have found is that that generally advantages the appointee, especially if the executive has to terminate that person. That gives them a lot of advantage in a process where we separate them.
NNAMDIWell, one Twitter user writes: in light of the overwhelming public demand for defunding the police, what is your argument for completely ignoring your constituents, and why do you plan to veto the reform measures passed unanimously by the council of D.C.?
BOWSERI don't know what that question refers to, but what we have -- and, you know, I presented my budget to the council many weeks ago. You have now seen the Public Safety Committee's markup. And I don't know where the full council will land. But we completely embrace evaluating our police department each and every day, looking at how we improve, looking at how we better hold officers accountable. So, I was pleased to see some language in recent measures that gives us more ability to do that.
BOWSERBut I got to tell you, Kojo, I also know what our needs are. I know how many calls for service that we get. I know how we...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Allow me to interrupt for a second, because -- allow me to interrupt for a second because it's along that line. You know how many calls for service you get. Keeping your finger...
NNAMDI...keeping your finger on the pulse of the city, what is your view of how many people, how many of your constituents want to defund the police, whatever that may mean?
BOWSERWell, I'm not sure how to answer that question. Certainly, we hear from people who want to transform the police, who have fair policing, where officers who do the wrong things are held accountable. And we also have our residents who want to make sure that we have adequate staffing and patrols and training in a diverse police department. So, I think the bottom line of what people want is a safe city, and they want good constitutional policing.
SHERWOODWell, Mayor, David Grosso has circulated a measure to have the police chief resign, but I know of no councilmember, even the ones like Robert White and Kenyan McDuffie, that have been very strong in their criticism of Chief Newsham, no other council member has called on him to resign.
SHERWOODBut I do want to ask you, one of the concerns people have is that President Trump, under the Home Rule Act now, has the authority to demand that he take over the police department for 48 hours and direct you to do what he says should be done. And that the law says you shall do what the president says. Delegate Norton has introduced legislation to throw that segment of the Home Rule Act out. But are you concerned at all that President Trump, given his behavior up to now, might do that? And what would you do if he declared he was going to take over the police department?
BOWSERWell sadly, Tom, this is not a hypothetical situation, and we have dealt with it using everything in our power, from powerful persuasion to beautiful art to reaching out to allies to help impress the point. I think that a lot of us were quite surprised by any notion that the mayor of the District of Columbia could be compelled to turn over a 3,800-person force. And I think the roots of that provision in the negotiations from Home Rule were racist then, and they are now. And I will do anything in my power to prevent that, including, you know, not following such a directive.
SHERWOODVery quickly, Mayor Bowser, vice president -- you've heard the speculation, seen the speculation -- I haven't seen what you said about it -- would you -- do you think you're on the list to be vice president under Mr. Biden?
BOWSERTom, what I can tell you, and you have heard me say this...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You took a long time to answer. (laugh)
BOWSERI have the best job in Washington, D.C. I'm the mayor of my hometown. I also regard this election like I regarded the last one in 2016, as one of the most significant for our country and how we move forward. And I certainly would do anything that I can to help our nominee. And I am not being vetted, as far as I'm aware, certainly without my -- not with my participation.
NNAMDID.C. police and officials cleared an encampment at Black Lives Matter Plaza this week, and tensions seem to be rising again between protesters and police. Was that at your direction that the plaza was cleared, and what conversations are you having with Chief Newsham about this?
BOWSERIt is -- it was at my direction that illegal encampments be removed from the middle of the street.
NNAMDIOkay. Here is Rob in Arlington, Virginia. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBYeah, thanks, Kojo, Tom. Madame Mayor, question for you. The federal government provides a great deal of funding to basically support the operations in this district. Would you agree, in exchange for statehood, for that funding to basically go away, and the District would have to stand on its own, financially? Thank you.
BOWSERWell, I'm glad that question was asked, because it reflects on ignorance about how the District operates, that we want to clear up. The District gives more to the federal government than it gets back. We get nothing from the federal government that other states don't get, except for the special operations funding that we get to police federal government events.
BOWSERThere was once a time when the District had a federal payment, but that has long since been gone. Instead what you have is a jurisdiction that operates better than most. We balance 24 budgets. We have a AAA bond rating. We have reserves that, in fact, are going to let us rebound from this COVID pandemic better and quicker than most. So, we feel very strongly about our financial position for statehood.
BOWSERAnd then, you know, if we're using that as a litmus test, there are lots of states who are in much worse financial situations than we ever were, in fact, that haven't -- their admission to the Union hasn't been questioned. So, those are -- that's how I would answer that question in brief, but also recognize that as we move on our pathway to statehood, that we will continue to have conversations with the federal government to negotiate our admission, just like every state that has been admitted to the union after the first 13 has.
NNAMDIOver the weekend, the District surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 cases. On Monday, we entered phase two of reopening. What would you say to those who are concerned that we're reopening too quickly? Does D.C. have sufficient testing and contact traces to enter this new phase?
BOWSERWe absolutely do, Kojo. And, as I look at our -- the way D.C. residents and businesses have been able to blunt the curve, I'm very proud of the joint sacrifice that we've all made. We've reported just over 30 cases today. We have sufficient hospital capacity to deal with our normal levels of illness and COVID-19. But having said that, we want people to remain vigilant, because even with 30 cases, which is pretty small, they're unrelated cases, which suggests to us that the virus is still circulating.
BOWSERWe have greatly expanded testing. Anyone who needs to test can get a test. We've opened up testing at our local fire stations, which has been incredibly convenient for our residents. So, we appreciate that. We are hitting our number of how we contact people who are positive, so our contact tracing program is also working and we continue to build on that, in case we have a spike.
BOWSERSo, we're slowly turning on activity and we're still asking our residents to wear a mask, to be mindful of their hand hygiene, to a 6' distance. And also ask themselves this question when they think about doing an activity. And that question is simply, do I need to do this? Do I need to be there?
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, I need to do this -- I need to do this, because we're out of time. (laugh) Mayor Muriel Bowser.
BOWSERWell, thank you very much. Happy Statehood Day.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us. And happy Statehood Day to you, too. Tom Sherwood, today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, local school districts are trying to figure out how and when students can continue in-person learning. We'll hear about Fairfax County's hybrid plan for this fall.
NNAMDIPlus, on Kojo for Kids, it's New York Times bestselling author Sharon Draper, who is also National Teacher of the Year. Ask her how she came up with Jericho, Melody, November and other characters in her novel. And she might have some homework for you, but don't worry, it's optional. That all starts on Monday, at noon. Until then, have a good weekend and stay safe. Big plans, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWe're off next week, so Happy 4th of July to everyone. Do not go to the fireworks, if Trump has them.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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