D.C. voters will see 24 contenders on their ballot vying for the two At-Large seats up for election on the D.C. Council. One candidate on the ballot, Rick Murphree, has dropped out of the race. But how will voters parse through the other 23?

DCist’s voter guide is a great place to start. And Julie Zauzmer, a D.C. politics reporter for The Washington Post, joins the show to walk us through the candidates and the issues.

Then, we sit down with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. The county recently made a $20 million settlement with the family of a man killed by county police. Alsobrooks weighs in on the settlement, policing, COVID-19 and more.

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

Guests

  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
  • Julie Zauzmer D.C. politics reporter, The Washington Post; @JulieZauzmer
  • Angela Alsobrooks County Executive (D), Prince George's County; @CEXAlsobrooks

Transcript

  • 12:00:09

    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. The latest episode of the What's With Washington podcast 51st dropped earlier this week. This season it's about the District's fight for statehood, and the current episode looks at the civil rights movement and where it fit in to the District's push representation. And it features two somewhat disreputable, but familiar characters. Both of whom have been around for a while. One of them shall remain nameless. The other is Tom Sherwood. Tom Sherwood, welcome.

  • 12:01:01

    TOM SHERWOODWell, if we were putting a calendar in front of our faces, your calendar is larger and longer than mine.

  • 12:01:09

    NNAMDITom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst.

  • 12:01:11

    SHERWOODHello, everybody.

  • 12:01:13

    NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Angela Alsobrooks. She is the County Executive for Prince George's County. Joining us now is Julie Zauzmer, a D.C. politics reporter for The Washington Post. Before we dive into the crowded At-Large race with Julie, I wanted to acknowledge that, Julie, you've joined The Kojo Show twice before and both times I have not been there. So it's nice to finally meet you even though, this time I can't see you because I'm broadcasting from home, but welcome, Julie, to the conversation.

  • 12:01:47

    JULIE ZAUZMERI am so excited that you're here this time. It's been a goal of mine throughout my seven years at the Post to finally get to talk to you, and I finally achieved that goal today. Thank you so much.

  • 12:01:59

    NNAMDIThere is going to be a bill to establish a task force to study reparations in the District of Columbia. It's being introduced by Council member Kenyan McDuffie of Ward 5. And I do have to tell people who do not know, the reparations is not just about slavery. It's about a great deal of the organized discrimination in housing and other areas that went on after slavery. But, Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:02:23

    SHERWOODYes. It's a historic and ongoing effects of slavery as you say. This is a bill proposed by Ward 5 Council Member Kenyan McDuffie. It will setup a nine member panel. Five persons appointed by the mayor with some expertise in the subject matter. And four persons appointed by the council members, possibly some council members themselves. This is not a quick moving thing like the police reform measures that we have seen over the last several months.

  • 12:02:59

    SHERWOODThis commission, once it's approved by the Council and signed by the Mayor, would work until 2023 a two year window to do a comprehensive review of all the ways that the slavery and segregation has impacted the ability of African Americans to compete equally in American society. And only then would it propose -- this commission would propose various solutions of what might be done. So it's a comprehensive long time effort by Kenyan McDuffie, who's made racial equity a signature of his to address this beyond the daily hum of politics.

  • 12:03:42

    NNAMDIWell, Julie Zauzmer, there are 24 names on the ballot for the two At-Large Council seats. We should note that one of the candidates, Rick Murphy, has suspended his campaign, but his name still appears on the ballot. Tom Sherwood, who got his mail-in ballot is impressed or -- I don't know if impressed is the proper word to use. Maybe awed by the length of the ballot. Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:04:08

    SHERWOODYes. I actually -- when I got it in the mail and I opened it and I (word?) hadn't sent it back in yet, because I had to get a wooden ruler from school days out of the desk drawer to measure the damn thing. The names of the At-Large candidates only takes up an entire foot in small type of all the candidates. I just can't imagine given the already COVID induced problems with voting, mailing in and making sure you've done it correctly, going this. The ballot itself is a foot and a half long. Three pages. I'm just worried that for some of the candidates, who are in the middle of this ballot of the 23 active candidates, it's going to be very difficult for people to cast their ballots. And it could have an effect on this election.

  • 12:04:55

    NNAMDIAre you suggesting that you have such a short attention span that by the time we are halfway down this over foot long ballot we will have lost interest? But let's not go there. Julie Zauzmer, why are we seeing so many candidates?

  • 12:05:08

    ZAUZMERWell, there's a few reasons. First of all, the new public campaign financing program that the District setup for this election. This is the first time that if you get enough signatures to you run you can get public funding. So many candidates who might not have had the money to run a Districtwide campaign are able to campaign for this seat this year. Second, because of the pandemic, the number of signatures you needed to get on the ballot was reduced, because they didn't want people going around collecting signatures in person. And it became easy to get on this, you know, foot and a half long ballot.

  • 12:05:44

    NNAMDIWell, how many of the At-Large candidates used the public finances spring program and have any of the candidates been critical of it?

  • 12:05:52

    ZAUZMERYes. There's been a little bit of criticism in particular from Vincent Orange, who as you know, is a formal member of the Council who is running to rejoin the Council in this election. He has been critical of a number of ways that the Council has spent money since he departed including the paid family leave programs, discussion about whether we should subsidize Metro cards in the District. He's been critical of that kind of spending including the fair elections program.

  • 12:06:21

    NNAMDIThe only registered Democrat in this race is incumbent At-Large Council member Robert C. White. Is he considered among the favorites?

  • 12:06:30

    ZAUZMERYes. The way that this works, we have four At-Large seats on the D.C. Council, two of which are up for election in each election cycle. And one of those seats is required by law to go to a member of a non-majority party. So essentially not a Democrat. It can be the Republican candidate. There's one in this election. It can the Statehood Green Party, Libertarian. It's very often an independent as 20 of these candidates are independents. Robert White, if he wins the other seat, that's the Democratic seat.

  • 12:07:04

    NNAMDIWell, you cannot help -- go ahead, Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:07:07

    SHERWOODYeah. I wanted to just clarify and add a little information to that. The home rule chart allowed for four At-Large Council seats. And it states that no party can hold more than two of the four seats at any time. And so that invariably leaves -- often leaves a chance for the list that Julie just mentioned, Independent and other candidates to compete. Many people in this heavily Democratic city have said, you know, it's really a ridiculous to have this restriction, because Democrats routinely drop out of the Democratic Party and run as independents when they find their path blocked in the Democratic Party. So it's a quirk in D.C.'s election law.

  • 12:07:56

    NNAMDIAnd I have to mention that it had to be noticed that Robert White was not one of the two candidates endorsed by The Washington Post. Of course, I have to point out that Julie Zauzmer has nothing to do with the editorial page or the endorsements of The Washington Post, but what do you understand is the reason why he was not endorsed?

  • 12:08:18

    ZAUZMERAs you said, I have no idea what goes on beyond their closed doors. I'm often sort of mystified by what they write, but there were a couple of things in their endorsement that surprised me. One was that they really gave as their reason for not endorsing Robert White the fact that he is opposed to mayoral control of the public school system in D.C. And of all the issues before the Council, we have a pandemic right now. We have a major budget crunch. We have discussion about policing. They're big issues.

  • 12:08:49

    ZAUZMERI don't think that mayoral control of the schools is coming up as a big issue before the Council anytime soon, but that was the one issue that they gave that they said based on that they did not want to endorse Robert White for reelection.

  • 12:09:03

    SHERWOODI think they have shown an inclination to think that Robert White, even though he's been a member of the Council, has not really been able to point to a lot of successes in their view. Robert White is in the middle of the ballot incidentally, but he has many endorsements across the board in different organizations. So as the Democrat in an election where the Democrats cannot wait to get to the polling place or fill out their ballots to vote against Trump and vote for Democrats, I think Robert White is logically expected to win one of those seats.

  • 12:09:39

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 12:09:40

    SHERWOODAnd he's acting like it.

  • 12:09:41

    NNAMDIHe's been endorsed by at least two of his fellow council members, Elissa Silverman and Anita Bonds, both themselves At-Large members. But, Julie Zauzmer, who else is considered to be a front runner or who else are considered to be front runners in this race?

  • 12:09:57

    ZAUZMERI would say that after Robert White there's a next group of four people. There's Vincent Orange, the former council member. Ed Lazere, a longtime activist who's running. Marcus Goodwin who's a real estate developer. And Christina Henderson who has been endorsed by David Grosso, the outgoing council member.

  • 12:10:16

    SHERWOODAnd the Post.

  • 12:10:19

    ZAUZMERAnd the Post. Yes, the Post endorsed Christina Henderson first followed by Marcus Goodwin for their second vote.

  • 12:10:26

    NNAMDIJulie, after the protests this summer, policing is on the mind of D.C. voters. Has there been a lot of conversation here about the notion of what's to be done with the police, especially the calls to quote/unquote "defund the police?" Have any candidates for instance called for Chief Newsham's resignation or for significant defunding of police?

  • 12:10:49

    ZAUZMERYes. I believe the only two I know of who have called for Chief Newsham to resign have been Jeanne Lewis and Markus Batchelor, but several others have called for a reduction either in the size of the police budget or in the number of police officers we have working in the city. Ed Lazere, Monica Palacio, Christina Henderson, Ann Wilcox, many candidates are running on that platform. On the other hand, there's very significant opposition including Marcus Goodwin has been very vocal saying that we need the number of police officers we have. We have rising crime in terms of homicide and gun crime in the city. And we should not be cutting the police budget in this opinion.

  • 12:11:32

    NNAMDITom Sherwood, one -- Go ahead.

  • 12:11:34

    SHERWOODI think the defund the police slogan has morphed in some local jurisdictions like the District into let's do more to provide social services in communities troubled by crime rather than increasing the police force budget on and on and on. But even now we've seen the Council in the Charles Allen and the council members sitting in the office now are having trouble really saying we're going to slash the police budget. They found that they don't really want to do that, but they want to be certain as they go forward and they change the budget around that money is spent on a broad range of services and that police are better trained. And what they do do and maybe stop sending police on some of the chores that they are given in social circumstances. I think they're saying, let's rethink police rather than defund police.

  • 12:12:29

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. You can still call us 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:52

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Julie Zauzmer of The Washington Post who reports on D.C. politics about the 23 people in the At-Large race for the D.C. Council and taking your calls 800-433-8850. Got an email from James who says, "Are any of these At-Large candidates particularly focused on acting to counter climate change. Climate change is the existential threat of our time and D.C. would be such an appropriate and manageable place to go carbon neutral." Julie Zauzmer, has that issue come up much?

  • 12:13:24

    ZAUZMERYes. And can I first say before I answer that I want to say that I said a couple of minutes ago that the only candidates I had heard calling for Chief Newsham to be removed were Jeanne Lewis and Markus Batchelor, and as soon as I said that, I got a response from Ed Lazere, who's listening in saying he is also calling for the chief to be fired. So let's add that to the record.

  • 12:13:45

    ZAUZMEROn climate change, one of the big discussions in D.C. about what we can do locally to reduce some of the impacts of climate change in D.C. has to do with congestion pricing whether we would charge commuters a tax to drive cars downtown in D.C. And there's been significant disagreement about that issue. I believe that Christina Henderson, Alexander Padro, Ann Wilcox, a few of the candidates have been in favor congestion pricing. Others have said, well, this might not be a very progressive way to approach the issue.

  • 12:14:21

    NNAMDIAnother quick question on endorsements, and I looked down the list of endorsements. I see Christian Henderson, Marcus Goodman, Markus Batchelor, Alex Padro, Robert White, Ed Lazere, but I don't see any or many endorsements for former Council member Vincent Orange. Do you know anything about that?

  • 12:14:38

    SHERWOODWell, Vince Gray has endorsed Vincent Orange.

  • 12:14:43

    NNAMDIOkay.

  • 12:14:45

    SHERWOODHe's a council member. I thought there was another too. I have a quick list here. I'm just going to read it really quickly. Council member Robert White has been endorsed by council members Anita Bonds, Elissa Silverman and the Ward 4 Democratic nominee Janeese George and the Greater Greater Washington organization. Interestingly Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has not yet endorsed anyone, but I'm hearing that he might. Marcus Goodwin has been endorsed by Council member Anita Bonds and former mayor Gray. Christina Henderson has been endorsed by Council member David Grosso, who's leaving the Council and the Post. Ed Lazere has been endorsed by Elissa Silverman and Attorney General Karl Racine and Greater Greater Washington.

  • 12:15:38

    NNAMDIAlex Padro has been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund. Have LGBTQ issues played a significant role in this campaign, Julie?

  • 12:15:50

    ZAUZMERNot to a large extent, but he has made the point that there has not been a gay council member in several years, and he would be the only gay member of the Council now if he were to join the Council. He also is one of several candidates who would be the first Latino council member ever in D.C. Monica Palacio, Franklin Garcia, there's several people, who could take that role of the first Latino council member.

  • 12:16:18

    NNAMDIIndeed.

  • 12:16:20

    SHERWOODAlso Randy Downs is openly gay and running in Ward 2 against Brook Pinto as an Independent. So that's an issue there. But the Latino vote unfortunately -- it's one of the great, I think sorrows among many people in this city that the Latino population of the city, which is strong and vibrant, has never really broken through in the Council elections. But in this case there are several Latino candidates and in terms of splitting votes and getting attention, we may not see it happen again this time.

  • 12:16:53

    NNAMDIWe an email from Janney who says, "I'm endorsing Monica and Franklin Garcia. Representation matters and Latinx voices need to be represented." Here now is Ernest in Bowie, Maryland. Ernest, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:10

    ERNESTYes. The reason I called I wanted to make a comment about defunding the police. I don't think it's that they want to take the money away. I think they want to hold them accountable for their actions and remove some of the automatic protections that they see.

  • 12:17:28

    NNAMDIWell, you're breaking up on us, Ernest. But Ernest was attempting to say what he thinks people means when they talk about defunding the police. Julie Zauzmer, housing affordability is a huge issue in D.C. Did that come up a lot in the campaign and what are some of the more significant contributions from candidates to that discussion?

  • 12:17:50

    ZAUZMERYes. One of the things I think has been very interesting has been discussions about, okay, if we want to make housing more affordable, which almost everyone agrees that we do, how to do that. And there have been discussions about what restrictions that the Council may have put in place on housing they could get rid of. Whether could lower some the parking requirements or change zoning restrictions especially west of Rock Creek Park where there's a lot of single family zoning. We've heard candidates talking about whether they could build more dense development there.

  • 12:18:23

    ZAUZMERThere's also a candidate named Will Merrifield, who I don't think we've talked about yet today, who is a housing attorney who has a proposal I've never heard from a candidate anywhere before proposing a new form of public housing called social housing that he says is working very well in Vienna. So he's looking far off field for his housing ideas.

  • 12:18:44

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:18:45

    SHERWOODWell, you know, housing, all these issues, we have several candidates. And again, it's just horrible when you can't mention some without trying to list them all, who have very strong resumes within their communities, but not citywide and canvases a citywide race. And so whether we're talking about housing and zoning, of course, zoning is a huge deal, because the Council will be taking up the comprehensive plan on the city's future for the next many years in November and will be voting on it probably before the end of December. And it changes ways how planned unit developments, the biggest controversial thing will be done.

  • 12:19:26

    SHERWOODBut these members -- whoever gets elected now won't be voting on that comprehensive plan. But it's time to start working on the next comprehensive plan in 2021. So it's an ongoing battle about how the city is going to treat people of low income and no income compared to the high income people. It's a fascinating story.

  • 12:19:48

    NNAMDIWell, it's fascinating, Tom Sherwood, and I wanted you to address one of the broader issues there because when we look at endorsements from The Washington Post and a number of other endorsements there's been the conversation about whether or not the Council that we currently have is too progressive or too left. And whether or not there need to be people on this Council, who tend to balance it by bringing a more, if you will, business oriented view of things. Is that what's playing out in this race here?

  • 12:20:15

    SHERWOODWell, that's exactly what Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who prides himself as being a progressive says that the Council, he is concerned with some of the changes in candidates, who are campaigning that the Council could become a bit too liberal in spending money now on pressing social problems that we have and maybe push the city back into the financial troubles it's had before.

  • 12:20:44

    SHERWOODNow obviously, several of the progressive candidates who hear that say, no. That's not what we want to do. We want to spend the money wisely on progressive things. And, yes, we want to make changes in the tax laws and start taxing people with high incomes. I think $250,000 in the city above is what they're talking about mainly. And they want to be a more progressive city in a city that has many needs. The chairman, some of the business leaders are concerned that the city could be heading towards another financial problem and that's the debate.

  • 12:21:23

    NNAMDIIs that an issue, you've heard about, Julie Zauzmer? I know, for instance, that Vincent Orange opposes paid family leave and people believe that some members of the Council are too progressive on issues like that.

  • 12:21:34

    ZAUZMERYes. He certainly does and he has made the argument that he is the council member that we need in a time of a budget crunch, because he's been through that before all the back in the 90s and early 2000s. Marcus Goodwin has said -- he says, "We don't have enough legislators," who in this words, "understand basic economics." He's also arguing that they're free spending and not looking at balancing the budget.

  • 12:21:58

    ZAUZMERBut D.C. does require a balanced budget by law. And there are many progressives running who say that's not a problem. The problem is how we're spending the money. And, you know, arguing. For example, Robert White has been the main proponent of cutting the spending on the streetcar saying, "That's not a good use of our funds. Let's put these funds to use for more progressive purposes."

  • 12:22:20

    NNAMDIAnd we're almost out of time. But we do have to remind you that there is a Republican in this race. There is a Libertarian and there is a member of the Statehood Green Party all among these 23 still running candidates in this race. So look at your foot long ballot and make your choice. We're going to have to take a short break. Julie Zauzmer, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:22:41

    ZAUZMERThank you.

  • 12:22:43

    NNAMDIJulie Zauzmer is a D.C. politics reporter for The Washington Post. When we come back, Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks will be joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:05

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now is Angela Alsobrooks, the county executive for Prince George's County. Angela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:23:14

    ANGELA ALSOBROOKSThank you so much for having me. Good afternoon.

  • 12:23:16

    NNAMDIGood afternoon. If you have questions or comments for the Prince George's County executive, now would be the time to call. (unintelligible), there's a belief outside of Washington that the people who are in Congress and the White House live in a completely separate enclave from the rest of Washington, but that's not true.

  • 12:23:33

    NNAMDISo, health officials in this area are concerned about the incidents of coronavirus among White House employees and people who have been attending functions at the White House after the president and others have gotten it. And our own Margaret Barthel and Jenny Gathright of DCist did a piece on what the White House coronavirus outbreak means for not just D.C. residents, Tom, but residents of this region, right?

  • 12:24:02

    SHERWOODThat's correct. I was going to cite that article, because it's very good. It points out that human beings live in the Washington area, although our national politics tend to dehumanize the people who live here. The White House has been very bad at disclosing information about the coronavirus outbreak within the walls of the executive offices, and so that's been a problem.

  • 12:24:23

    SHERWOODThe mayor and all the county leaders from around the jurisdictions and states wrote a letter saying, look, you've got to give us more information. Our people live and work in and go to the executive office functions, the White House, the executive office building, federal agencies. There's lots of interactions. They work with Secret Service agents. They need to know, we need to know. We need to do contact tracing, all this type of stuff.

  • 12:24:49

    SHERWOODThe White House, only this week, Mayor Bowser said, has given some limited response to that. It's just a good example of how this national plague is having a real impact on the people right here in our own region. And the White House has done very little, if nothing, to help. President Trump certainly has not, in one moment, said anything about the people in this region.

  • 12:25:13

    NNAMDIAnd that's also got to be of concern to you, Angela Alsobrooks, because so many of your residents in Prince George's County work here.

  • 12:25:22

    ALSOBROOKSYeah so, you know what? So, actually, we -- at this point at least -- do not have any information through contact tracing that confirms any positive COVID cases from the White House to Prince George's. But you're absolutely right, Kojo, that so much of the federal workforce is housed in Prince George's County.

  • 12:25:40

    ALSOBROOKSThat combined with essential workers and others contributed to having Prince George's as the hardest-hit jurisdiction, really, in our region and in our state, because of our geographic location. But, at this point, at least, the contact tracing does not tie any of those cases directly from the White house to Prince George's. But we're right there in the area. You're right.

  • 12:26:01

    NNAMDIPrince George's -- go ahead, please, Tom.

  • 12:26:04

    SHERWOODI want to ask, even though I know she's a Democrat, I know she looks at the entire region of her county who lives there and what -- regardless of their political party. I just think the president's behavior in the last week since his COVID diagnosis and the way he's talked on various TV shows in the last couple of days, including last night, as an elected leader who -- I want to get your opinion of what President Trump is doing, in your opinion.

  • 12:26:35

    ALSOBROOKSWell, you know, I think it's unconscionable, the conduct that we've seen. It is not the conduct of a leader. You know, leaders care at the very core, but the reason that all of us are in public service is because we care about people. And an important characteristic of any leader is empathy. And I think that the thing that we have seen missing the most in this president is the quality of empathy.

  • 12:26:59

    ALSOBROOKSSomeone explained to me what he's displayed instead, to me, is ruthless, a person who doesn't care about anyone but himself. These are human beings who have contract COVID, human beings who have died from COVID, who have relatives who are critically ill. It is just breathtaking to see any person minimize the impact of this virus or try to convince people that they should not be concerned about becoming ill, being hospitalized or dying. It is really just breathtaking to watch.

  • 12:27:30

    NNAMDIPrince George's County remains in phase two of reopening, while the state of Maryland is in phase three. What metrics will the county have to hit before entering phase three, and where do those number stand now?

  • 12:27:41

    ALSOBROOKSSo, part of what we looked at is our positivity rate, which has lagged behind the state, as you might imagine. We have done a tremendous job of catching up. We were at a 43 percent positivity rate in April. We now hover around between 4.2 percent and 5. And 5 makes us at moderate risk. And so, we would like to see our numbers much lower than the 4.2 percent. We did manage at 3.5 percent for the week of September 20th, but it's fluctuating. And that's of concern. We also will be looking at that infection rate, how many people are infected by a positive COVID case.

  • 12:28:17

    ALSOBROOKSAnd, finally, the other item we look at is the average daily case rate. So, in other words, how many cases per 100,000 residents. We believe that the number should be below 10 cases per day. We're not there yet. So, those are some of the metrics we look at to tell us how the virus is spreading through our community. And what we know now is we're still at moderate risk, and the virus is still spreading, and so we're remaining in phase two.

  • 12:28:43

    NNAMDIHalloween is right around the corner. What are you recommending for families to do or not to do?

  • 12:28:49

    ALSOBROOKSOh, my gosh, I love Halloween, but I have to -- as heartbreaking as it is, I hate to confess that I look so forward to it every year. My daughter and I dress up. But this year, we discourage families from taking their little ones to go house to house for trick or treating. Instead, what we've done is to organize something we call "Boo Thru" through Maryland National Capital Park and Planning, which will be a number of places where families can actually drive through and pick up candy and toys and other things.

  • 12:29:19

    ALSOBROOKSSo, we want that to be done in a safe way. It's so popular that we've already filled up the first few sites we have, so we're going to have to extend that and add additional sites. But activities like that that allow us to be safe and to do things in your home, virtual costume parties and that kind of thing, we encourage. But we do not encourage the traditional trick or treating. But we think there are a number of other safe activities that will be advertised on the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning website for families to participate in.

  • 12:29:54

    NNAMDIHere's Carmen in Hyattsville, Maryland. Carmen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:29:59

    CARMENHi. Thanks for taking my call. (unintelligible) Alsobrooks, what's the incident rate of COVID among the incarcerated population in Prince George's County?

  • 12:30:09

    ALSOBROOKSWe currently -- as of a few days ago, we don't have any positive COVID cases in our Department of Corrections. We tested and didn't have a single positive case. Now, that's not to say we haven't had them, but the case rate has been very low. It's about 1 percent. We believe any positive COVID case is serious to us, but the rate of infection has been at about 1 percent, which, compared to other facilities across the country, really does speak to the seriousness of it. I think that the personnel at the Department of Corrections is taking it very seriously, and we're going to continue to do that.

  • 12:30:47

    NNAMDICarmen, thank you for your call. Tom Sherwood?

  • 12:30:50

    SHERWOODMs. Alsobrooks, Governor Hogan has encouraged the jurisdictions to start going back to in-person classroom learning. There's been some pushback to that in some areas. I want to ask you, have you gotten enough support from Governor Hogan on what the county needs to do to continue fighting this pandemic?

  • 12:31:19

    ALSOBROOKSSo, we've been able to get the personal protective equipment that we've needed. We've been working very closely with the state and with our federal partners, as well. And so, right now, we do have what we need in the way of supplies.

  • 12:31:32

    ALSOBROOKSI think what we also need is seamless communication. So, for example, the announcement about transitioning back to classrooms came four days before schools were set to open. I think anyone looking at that would say we would've liked to have had a different situation. You know, teachers and administrators have been planning for months to go back in distance learning. And then to have the governor, four days before school opens say, oh, you know what, now we think just sending them back into the classroom really did put some of our administrators and families at a disadvantage.

  • 12:32:04

    ALSOBROOKSBut what we're doing in Prince George's is continuing to follow the advice of the medical professionals and scientists. And in our county, because our positivity rate is not at the point that we would like it at at this point, we're not taking any chances. One infection and one death for us is too many. And if we can avoid it, we're going to stay as safe as possible. So, we're going to stay through this first semester in a distance learning posture. We will revisit the issue in January.

  • 12:32:30

    ALSOBROOKSAnd our school CEO says they expect that they will be able to begin to do some hybrid learning, beginning then. We know that this doesn't work for every family, and so we're going to have to do what we can to get our kids back in school when it's safe to do so for our students who suffer with disabilities, with a learning disability. It's very difficult for younger learners, and we understand that. So, we want to get our kids back to school. They want to go back to school in person, but we have to make sure we do so when it's safe to do so.

  • 12:32:58

    SHERWOODWhen that happens, will you announce schools that have had COVID outbreaks? There's some concern within the state and other places that there's no requirement that the schools announce publicly any COVID infections, that they have to report to their state health officials and county health officials, but do not have to make it public. Do you think that information should be made public?

  • 12:33:24

    ALSOBROOKSOh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely, Tom. You know what? As a parent myself, you know, we need to know that information. This is not a situation where we are interested in hiding information. We want the public to have as much information as possible so they can make good decisions for their families. And the only way you can do that is to have full information, full and complete information. So, absolutely, we would share whatever we learn. We did that at the beginning of the pandemic when we had a few of our schools that had positive cases. We reported it right away. And we'll continue to do that.

  • 12:33:56

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for our Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Here is Sarah in Fort Washington, Maryland. Sarah, your turn.

  • 12:34:08

    SARAHThank you very much for taking the call. My first comment is that I believe our county executive has done a very excellent job in handling the terrible situation we're all in, and I applaud her efforts. My question is, because it will be a very difficult fiscal financial year for everyone, will the office county stat be up fully staffed so that everyone can see, with full transparency, where the money is being spent and how much is coming in?

  • 12:34:48

    ALSOBROOKSSo, thank you, first of all, so much there for calling in. And you know what I have to say to you, I've been complimented for the job I'm doing, but I have to tell you, Prince Georgians have done an amazing job, really. And so, thank you for what you all are doing as well to follow the guidance of our medical professions.

  • 12:35:04

    ALSOBROOKSYes. Information regarding county stat will be public. Information regarding our budget will all be public. You're right, this is going to be a difficult year for us. We're already anticipating as much as $100 million revenue shortfall for this fiscal year. We're expecting that each year will be a little bit more difficult, but we're expecting to be able to fully recover. We really are.

  • 12:35:27

    ALSOBROOKSWe're seeing very positive signs that our economy is going to be able to stand up. All of our projects are moving forward, economic development projects. So, we're keeping an eye on all the indicators. We still have a perfect credit score through the rating agencies who renewed our triple-A bond rating. So, all the indicators are positive for us to be able to recover, but we're going to share all this information with the public. You have a right to know how we are doing. This is taxpayer money, after all. And so, yes, indeed, we'll make sure you have that information.

  • 12:35:58

    NNAMDISarah, thank you very much for your call. Prince George's County agreed to pay the family of William Green $20 million in a settlement. Green was shot six times while handcuffed by a county police officer. It's one of the biggest settlements ever awarded in the country involving a black man killed by an on-duty officer. What were your priorities when negotiating this settlement?

  • 12:36:18

    ALSOBROOKSSo, the settlement, you're right, is an historic settlement. And, unfortunately, the facts and circumstances in this case were egregious. You have reported already that William Green was shot without justification six times as he sat handcuffed in a car, unarmed. And those facts became apparent to us within the first 24 hours of the case, resulting in the officer in this case, Corporal Owen, being charged with second-degree murder.

  • 12:36:46

    ALSOBROOKSWe start there, that we knew that he was culpable. We also knew that there were other problems relating to the early warning system that the county had been upgrading for the last several years that should have flagged an officer like Corporal Owen, who had contacts, who was involved in critical incidents and who had, as it turns out, a history of mental health concerns that were not reported to the police department so that they could make the requisite changes in time to prevent him from killing William Green.

  • 12:37:18

    ALSOBROOKSSo, working with our county attorney, as well as working, in this case, with the media, we knew that we were exposed to a judgment that would have been in excess of $20 million, had this gone to court. So, in the interest of justice, because we were concerned about doing -- not taking William Green's family through undue mitigation when we understood already what they were suffering, as well as what was in the best interest of the county, to make sure that we did not expose the county to greater liability.

  • 12:37:51

    ALSOBROOKSI believe that it was in the best interest to settle the matter for the $20 million and to take action to make sure that this never happens again. Twenty-million dollars of taxpayer money, I have to tell you, I do not take lightly. It gave us no pleasure to have to settle at that number. And we just hope that, you know, all the measures we put in place, we expect, will make sure that this never happens again. This was horrible. It was just egregious, the officer's conduct, and it was criminal.

  • 12:38:21

    NNAMDIWas there any pushback from your police department about that settlement?

  • 12:38:26

    ALSOBROOKSNone. None. You know what? Good cops don't like bad cops. That much I have learned. And that it helps the trust that we hold with the public is critical. And you can't maintain trust with public if you don't say you're wrong when you are. So, we were wrong. We have accepted responsibility.

  • 12:38:43

    ALSOBROOKSAnd, in this case, also, officers have unique authority. There's nobody else in the community who has the authority to take a life. And so, when the trust is abused, we have to take swift and decisive action. And that's what we've done in this case.

  • 12:38:57

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:38:59

    SHERWOODLooking ahead, the Maryland Legislative House Committee is proposing a whole series of police changes and reforms to address these issues of police brutality. Have you made any suggestions to the state legislature yourself as to what you'd like to see in the law, or are there things in there that you were very happy to see?

  • 12:39:26

    ALSOBROOKSWell, I have established a police reform workgroup that consists of 23 individuals. They have been working very hard. They're from diverse backgrounds. They will come forward with recommendations on December 4th. Those recommendations will be ones that I use to craft our suggestions around legislation. And we will go to Annapolis and request changes in legislation that are consistent with the recommendations brought back from that workgroup.

  • 12:39:54

    ALSOBROOKSI can tell you, I know that there will be a lot of movement around this issue in the next legislative session to make sure that we are able to remove from our ranks police officers who should not be there. That's really the long and short of it. And, like I said, this is in protection, not only of the public, but this is in the best interest of our department. So, we'll be looking forward to working in Annapolis to close any loopholes and to make sure that we have policies that allow us to police our communities in the way that they deserve to be policed.

  • 12:40:27

    SHERWOODHave I missed it? What is the status of getting a new county police chief?

  • 12:40:32

    ALSOBROOKSWe are still in the process of accepting candidates. The applications for -- we are accepting applications until the end of October. We're working with a talent acquisition firm that is helping us with a national search. But we are still accepting applications, and we are continuing to see interest there. So, we'll begin that interview process, and it will go through December. And we expect, hopefully before the end of the year, to be able to announce a new chief of police.

  • 12:41:03

    NNAMDII guess Sherwood and my applications have been lost in the mail. (laugh) Here is Nancy in Green...

  • 12:41:08

    ALSOBROOKSOh, my goodness, we'd love it. We'd love it. Get in your application. You have till the -- a few more weeks.

  • 12:41:14

    NNAMDI(laugh) Here is Nancy in Greenbelt, Maryland. Nancy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:41:20

    NANCYYes. I just, about five days ago, mailed in my mail-in vote, early. I applied for the mail-in ballot as soon as it came out. And I got it about October the 3rd. And two days later, it was in the mail. What I would like to say to you is that it could be screwed up by people because the instructions are, fill in the little oval box with your little black pen, and don't make any marks outside. Plenty of people will probably put an X on top of that box, and that would be thrown out.

  • 12:42:03

    NANCYNow, here in Maryland I don't think too many of those will be rejected, but God help you, if you live in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama or, you know, to the Midwest. I mean, they're going to throw you out if you don't have everybody's signature and everybody's witness and notaries and all this other stuff.

  • 12:42:25

    NANCYBut, on the other hand, there are instructions, and you really need to abide by them. And it would be a good idea if there's people on the ground helping people to follow those instructions. Because, in the future, they may have to do the same thing again, and they need to know how to do it.

  • 12:42:46

    NNAMDIIndeed. According to a recent Goucher poll, 59 percent of people surveyed in Montgomery and Prince George's County said they would vote by mail. Angela Alsobrooks?

  • 12:42:58

    ALSOBROOKSWell, 96 percent of Prince George's voted by mail in the June 2nd primary, so we expect that there will be a very high volume of people who vote by mail. Nancy, you are on the one. I want to thank you for voting early. And you know what? And you raised great points is that we are concerned about the confusion that can ensue right now because there have been so many mixed messages given.

  • 12:43:18

    ALSOBROOKSOne was given, unfortunately, that the United States Postal Service was not reliable, so people are very concerned about that. But we have done – really, we're just continuing to try to get messaging out. I hosted, last night, a virtual session to talk about all the things you need to know about voting including, like you said, how not to have your ballot invalidated, making sure you return it with a signature, making sure you follow all the instructions on it.

  • 12:43:44

    ALSOBROOKSBut we're continuing to let people know, if you need help filling out your ballot, that they can contact us, and we will assist them to make sure that as many Prince Georgians -- and we want Montgomery County and everyone else -- to be able to vote in this election. But, you're right, there's quite a bit of confusion there but there is help for anyone who needs help with their instructions. But we agree with you, and we thank you for voting.

  • 12:44:10

    NNAMDIJuan from Hyattsville wants to know about another kind of help. Is the county planning to help out with voting by providing transportation to seniors or others who need it?

  • 12:44:20

    ALSOBROOKSSo, we are definitely assisting seniors. There will be transportation that will be provided. Now, what I have to tell you is we don't want to transport. Let me just be clear. I don't want to transport seniors to the polls, if we can help it, because of COVID. We would like as many people as possible to vote early, to vote by mail, which we believe is the safest way to vote, at this point.

  • 12:44:41

    ALSOBROOKSAnd if they don't want to use the United States Postal Service, we have drop boxes around the county. We'll have 42 of them, 42 different locations where you can drop that ballot off. We have 24-hour security around those drop boxes to preserve the integrity of it. But we are also assisting, already, seniors in making sure they get their ballots. We're making sure they get those ballots returned back.

  • 12:45:04

    ALSOBROOKSBut, if at all possible – seniors, who are a very vulnerable group, I prefer, if at all possible, for them not to be in person at these polling places and to instead utilize either early voting, if they want to go in person, to avoid the lines and to avoid the congestion, or please try to use those drop boxes around the county or mail in their ballots. But now, we'll be there on Election Day for those who want to come in person, because some just do. We're going to make it as safe as possible but we're just urging people, vote early and be safe.

  • 12:45:35

    NNAMDITom Sherwood, we only have about a minute and a half left.

  • 12:45:38

    SHERWOODOkay. Very quickly, the D.C. ballot ovals are too small, also. The governor and Brian Frosh, the attorney general, just announced $12 million more in state funding to help jurisdictions with evictions, avoiding evictions. What is the concern about the possible looming evictions in Prince George's County after this pandemic?

  • 12:46:00

    ALSOBROOKSWe’re concerned about evictions. We're concerned about housing. We have launched, in the county, a rental assistance program, because so many of our neighbors and friends who have lost income due to COVID are struggling to pay their rent. There are others who are struggling to pay mortgages.

  • 12:46:16

    ALSOBROOKSAnd so, we're making sure we do what we can to provide, in our case, three months of rent at up to $1,800 per month. That fund, we're still accepting applications for. We are hoping, really hoping that we can continue to get assistance from the federal government, that we'll get another tranche of the Cares Act funding. We don't know, because the president -- everybody can see that he said he's probably not going to support that.

  • 12:46:42

    ALSOBROOKSBut this is something we're going to have to really work on together to make sure that housing insecurity does not grow. But Prince George's is not unlike any other jurisdiction, and we're all facing the same challenges around housing, food insecurity. Daycare is a challenge. Forty percent of them have been wiped out, as a result of this pandemic. So, we're going to have to really do everything we can to support families.

  • 12:47:05

    NNAMDIAngela Alsobrooks is the county executive for Prince George's County. Angela Alsobrooks, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:47:12

    ALSOBROOKSThank you so much for having me. You all stay safe, and I look forward to being able to come back into the station at some point and have our conversations. But thanks so much for having me today.

  • 12:47:21

    NNAMDIYou're welcome. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, area school districts like D.C. and Fairfax have announced plans to start limited in-person instruction. What will that look like, and is it the right move?

  • 12:47:34

    NNAMDIPlus, you may have caught him on TV or at the Kennedy Center or at Wolf Trap, award-winning musician and PBS Kids host SteveSongs joins Kojo for Kids. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend and stay safe. Any big plans, Tom Sherwood?

  • 12:47:52

    SHERWOODMonday is Indigenous Peoples Day. I'm going to celebrate that.

  • 12:47:57

    NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for reminding us. I am Kojo Nnamdi.

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