Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) talks about the county's vaccine rollout and making the tax code more progressive. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) talks about disparities in the District's vaccinations and how the pandemic has affected plans to bring a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
Last week, Virginia lawmakers wrapped up a special session that focused on drafting a new budget, as well as police and criminal justice reform. We’ll hear from Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) about how the session went and his take on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s response to the coronavirus.
Plus, lawmakers on the D.C. Council had a busy week: They passed bills that would extend unemployment benefits and allow some kids to get vaccines without parental consent. Councilmembers also threw their support behind efforts to rename Woodrow Wilson High School. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson gives us the latest news. And we’ll ask him about his concerns that the D.C. Council could move too far to the left after the election, where crowded At-Large races could determine the future of the body.
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.
Aliscia Andrews, the Republican nominee for Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, was originally scheduled to join today’s program. She withdrew from her appearance. Her opponent, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, joined The Politics Hour on October 16.
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 Phil Mendelson, who is the Chairman of the D.C. Council. Originally scheduled to join us today was Alicia Andrews the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in Virginia's 10th District. She withdrew from her appearance two days ago. Her opponent Congresswomen Jennifer Wexton joined The Politics Hour last week, which was one of the reasons we wanted Alicia Andrews on this week, but she withdrew without any explanation. So we don't know exactly what's going on.
NNAMDIHowever, joining us today is Dave LaRock, a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing District 33, which covers part of Loudoun, Frederick and Clark counties. He is a Republican. Delegate LaRock, thank you for very much for joining us.
DAVE LAROCKMy pleasure to be on with you, Kojo.
NNAMDITom, before we get to the knock around as we call them topics, what have you been able to dig up about Delegate LaRock? He served in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2014, but somehow he's never been on this broadcast. So, again, Delegate LaRock, welcome to The Politics Hour, and before I ask you to tell us a little bit about yourself, as I said, let's see what Tom Sherwood has dug up about you. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWell, you know he's a builder. La -- I can't say the name, LaRock Construction. But he's from -- how do I pronounce the New York State Oswego -- how do you say this, your home town?
LAROCKYou got it right so far.
SHERWOODThat's a little community on the Lake Ontario. It's up near the Canadian border. It's north of Syracuse. And I did a Goggle search of it and I wanted to move there. Why did you move? Why did you go to Loudoun County?
LAROCKWell, Tom, you're like a lot of students that come to the state university on the shore of Lake Ontario in the beautiful fall weather and see all this picturesque scenery. And then a month or two later they're in the middle of a blizzard coming off the lake and then they realized they're locked down for two or three months. And that's at least ...
SHERWOODFifty feet of snow in the first three months.
LAROCKYeah. Good place to be from.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for telling us a little bit about yourself. Tom, let's talk about what the most Black powerful -- politicians in Maryland seem to be focusing on the protections that have existed for so long for police in Maryland and specifically the law enforcement officer's bill of rights. Both the Speaker of the House of Delegates and the President of the Maryland Senate seem to be going after these laws and they have the votes to do it.
SHERWOODWell, I don't think may is the right word. I think they do have the votes. Ovetta Wiggins wrote a really good story in The Washington Post examining this issue and talking to how Speaker Adrienne Jones from the Baltimore area, Black woman, first Black woman Speaker of the House. She recounted an incident where she was stopped by police for I think a taillight out or something like that. And she was surrounded by police one of whom officers had a gun -- had his hand on his gun.
SHERWOODAll this summer there have been hearings and discussions about what to do about reforming police officers and the stages it has been in Virginia and other places. So Adrienne Jones said that she will move and move aggressively in the January General Assembly to get rid of the law enforcement officer bill of rights. That's been around since 1974. And while it's supported by many police associations others see it as a hindrance to bringing bad cops to accountability.
NNAMDIAnd, Delegate LaRock, the budget that you just looked at in the Commonwealth of Virginia looks at the police and criminal justice reform issues. It also funds police and criminal justice reform bills. I know police reform is on everyone's mind since the killing of George Floyd. What changes if any do you think ought to be made to policing?
LAROCKWell, Kojo, Tom -- it is, right -- his comment. Tom, your comment brings to mind to saying in the House of Delegates especially in the legislation overall that good stories -- or interesting stories don't necessarily make good legislation.
SHERWOODI've heard that.
LAROCKYeah. And so that particular story may indicate that there's a clear need to change something. What we don't know and we would find out if this idea were vetted through a legislative process would be testimony, perhaps studies if they've been done. We'd find if there was some unique aspect of that police stop such as maybe that person's car looked the same or closely resembled a dangerous criminal who was -- you know, that police didn't want to escape. So all that sounds kind of farfetched. But kind of bridging over to the special session that we just finished, ideas were kind of pushed through in a hurry fashion and not properly vetted. Very often the public wasn't engaged much if at all. And so it's just really the opposite of what should take place, which is a slow and careful well thought out approach to changing laws.
LAROCKAnd certainly the bigger question that you're addressing is whether or not there needs to be changes. And I would say no system is perfect. And I'm more than willing to go along cooperating with whatever changes need to be made. But they shouldn't be made in the proper fashion so that they're -- they accomplish what they're intended to accomplish and don't harm other people in the process of changing the dynamic to benefit one person, not harm another.
NNAMDIDenise from Loudoun County, speaking of policing, sent us an email, "Why is Delegate LaRock against sentencing reforms?" Are you?
LAROCKWell, I haven't taken official position on sentencing reform. I think -- so I'm not sure I understand what that question is based on. Again, changes that have been vetted might be in order. The bills that were before us, again, if there's a specific one that the caller has in mind, I'm not sure, but I think one of the worst bills in session was Senator Joe Morrissey's, which eliminated the option of having a jury participate in sentencing. So that might be called sentencing reform, but I think that it's going to upset the 200 and 20 some year tradition of involving juries if there is a jury trial. That's worked well, I think.
LAROCKAnd if the only reservation was the economic impact of it, you'd probably have to oppose it because -- without making appropriate budget provisions for the workload that it's going to put on courts then it's a -- it wouldn't be rolled out properly. So rather than just go on with that -- a little hard for me to answer the question because I'm not sure what -- yeah.
NNAMDIOkay, that person is talking about. But we're going to get to the upcoming election and obviously there was a debate last night. I know Tom wants to ask you about that. But there are also people concerned, Tom Sherwood, about the possibility of voter intimidation. The Attorneys General both of the District and of Maryland say they're looking for any instances of voter intimidation. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, this is an issue that actually in every jurisdiction in the country virtually. Some voter intimidation by some Trump supporters got national attention on Fairfax and the Trump train and Prince William. But, you know, here in the District of Columbia some protestors were going through the street accosting people at restaurants and other places trying to get them to join. And while that's not directly voter intimidation, I think it does show that emotions are running quite high in this unusual election.
SHERWOODBut Mark Herring, the Democratic Attorney General of Virginia, Brian Frosh in Maryland and Karl Racine in D.C. and other places have said that, you know, it's against the law to intimidate voters. Now some people would just say these are just aggressive supporters of President Trump demonstrating with their right to demonstrate within confines of an election site. But people are worried. People are scared. And more people are voting early now than ever before in the history of Virginia.
SHERWOODSo I'd like to hear the delegate, what he thinks about it. There's just a tremendous amount of voting going on now. How is he feeling about it himself?
NNAMDIWell, before you respond, Delegate LaRock, here is Diane in Loudoun County who has a similar concern. Diane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANEThank you. Hello, Delegate, it's nice to speak to you today and have access to ask you a question. I am a suburban housewife. And I care greatly about safety and law and order. And I also care greatly about what's happening in our community. And the tension in the nation as everyone knows is palpable. And it's ripping our communities apart with so much hate.
DIANEAnd I'm very concerned about the upcoming election specifically I've witnessed voter intimidation. And I'd like to ask you, you know, in regards to the peaceful counting of all the votes and if Biden wins, potentially the transfer of power, you've been no secret an arid supporter of Trump. And I want to ask you specifically and unequivocally to denounce the Proud Boys and all the white supremacists or any other acts of violence.
DIANEAnd I would like you to say exactly how you will call upon Sheriff Chapman to protect the citizens of Loudoun and their votes so that I can know next time when you are up for reelection whether you can count on my vote.
NNAMDIDelegate LaRock, you only have about two minutes in this segment.
LAROCKYeah. Well, thank you. Thanks for the question. I don't follow all these groups. I certainly understand what the phrase white supremacist means. And I denounce anyone, who is overtly racist or even subtly racist. I mean, but we're not perfect any of us. Now, you know, I appreciate the opportunity to earn your vote. I don't think Mike Chapman needs to be called on. Mike is very conscientious and very alert as to what challenges there would be. But I, you know, maybe it wouldn't hurt for me to call him and just to verify that.
LAROCKAs far as voter intimidation absolutely against that in any shape or form. I want everybody's vote to be cast. Any legitimate voter should cast a vote freely and without intimidation and their vote should be counted. So we should also put a very specific focus on avoiding voter fraud. Many initiatives make it through the legislature that are very common sense, down to earth and they are typically shot down if the Democrats are in power --things like purging voter role of duplicates and so on. But before I drift too far from the question, I don't know who the something boys are. Excuse me if I seem a little out of touch with certain groups.
LAROCKProud Boys. Yeah, again, maybe I seem a little bit out of touch with national news.
NNAMDIOkay. Got to take ...
LAROCKIt's bad people. I don't like them. Yes.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Delegate Dave LaRock. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Dave LaRock. He's a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing District 33, which covers parts of Loudoun, Frederick and Clark counties. He is a Republican. As I mentioned earlier, Delegate LaRock, there was a presidential debate last night. And one wonders what effect this is likely to have on Northern Virginia, which has been getting more and more blue. But your District has had a Republican member to the Virginia House of Delegates for decades. I'll have Tom Sherwood take it up from there.
SHERWOODWell, yes, the debate was interesting last night. But also, you know, The Washington Post, which has pretty good polling. But everyone might think about their reporting. Polling shows that Biden is winning in Virginia at this point 52 to 41 and is doing quite well among women. But in -- and then in Northern Virginia, you're right, Delegate LaRock has won very well in the last elections. I went back and looked at the election results. But Loudoun County has switched to the Democrats. Prince William County -- both of these counties very important to the State of Virginia. The state party ...
NNAMDIWe seem to be losing Tom Sherwood. Delegate LaRock, I think where he was going is whether or not you feel this is likely to have an effect on your district. Tell us a little bit more about your district and where it fits into this picture.
LAROCKYeah, Kojo, sort of lost Tom there. The 33rd House District is about 65 percent Western Loudoun, which is a little bit different than Loudoun overall in that it is probably more conservative leaning. The western part of the district is a portion of Clark County, which is a fairly rural county and a portion of Frederick County. So I'm very happy and blessed to say that the voters of Loudoun have supported me, and then maybe even to a higher percentage as you go to the west.
LAROCKSo it's a beautifully mostly rural district. And much like the 10th Congressional District it has a more mixed -- more Democrat leaning to the east and as you get to the west it's very Republican. So the debate -- you know, it certainly covered a lot of topics, a lot of topics that I think that perhaps could have been covered, questions that weren't asked. Big emphasis on COVID action and that's probably one of the differences that will affect everybody, certainly Northern Virginia in a significant way.
LAROCKAs we all know the governor has taken some pretty severe measures in shutting down businesses and limiting gatherings. And the effect on the economy is very, very pronounced particularly on certain segments of the economy I know. And also churches, the church that I attend regularly has been very limited in how it can conduct itself. And I think the policies are very different. President Trump I think wants to cautiously approach this, but in a way that allows things to return to some degree of normal. And I think, you know, I want to be careful in kind of paraphrasing anybody's quote. But I believe that Vice President Biden certainly wants to continue masks and distancing.
LAROCKAnd perhaps rely very heavily on a vaccine. I'm not a big fan of this experimental vaccine that may be a mandatory vaccine in Virginia if the governor chooses to. So, you know, COVID is going to have a big effect on, you know, what direction our country turns and certainly a big effect on Northern Virginia since we're fairly populated.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is back with us. Tom.
SHERWOODI don't know how much I got dropped out there. When I asked about the conservative much of the Republican Party. But I want to stay on the COVID for a moment. The Post did a poll. Results today that shows 65 percent of the respondents in Virginia, 65 percent are very or somewhat worried about the impact of the COVID virus. Women 72 percent. Men 58 percent. Republicans 51 percent, a bare -- a majority. It does seem that the virus and the downturn in the economy is associated with it makes it difficult for the Republicans.
SHERWOODVirginia has been seen as a purple state. You've been very solid in your support in your district, but what about the kind of turn to Virginia becoming a blue state? And as I mentioned earlier, I don't know if I got cut off. Prince William and Loudoun County two major counties in the State of Virginia are both now in Democratic hands when they used to be solid Republican.
NNAMDIDo you feel threatened?
SHERWOODNot personally for me. Looking at his results, but just a tone in the future of the Republican Party. You guys go into elections next year, statewide elections.
LAROCKWell, Tom, I have distinctly avoided or tried to avoid calculating what I do based on its effect and my ability to be reelected. I think when one does that it starts to resemble political ambition. And I think that is the downfall of many potentially good public servants. So, you know, I feel there's a question in your comments. I'd like to focus on it. But we have a shifting demographic for a number of reasons. But I would definitely say that the extreme measures that have -- that took place in this recent special session and what's going on in Washington, you know, for example, this Biden controversy. And you probably don't want me to go into details.
LAROCKBut, you know, the media is losing credibility. And I think that people are starting to be more critical thinking. And hopefully that's going to fair well for Northern Virginia as well as the economic concerns. If Trump handles this virus going forward in a responsible way and we can see our economy thriving again that helps everyone at every economic level. And that's what we all want. I think we want to see people have opportunities to better themselves.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the -- go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, I just -- you are a solid, conservative Republican. People know that. Some people think you're too one way or the other. It doesn't matter. I'm looking at the future of the Republican Party. You changed party chairman this summer. You're a leader. You used to be a vicechair I think or a co-chair in Loudoun County of the Republican Party. What do you see as the future of the state party going into the 2021 elections next year? Do you have candidates for attorney general or lieutenant governor or for governor? Are you going to play it on the statewide level for the Republicans can make a comeback. You guys have been out in the desert now since I think 2009.
LAROCKWell, one thing I'll give the Democrats credit for is they're unified. But unfortunately, some of the things that they unify around are not good policies. I am not involved in selecting candidates. Although, I do occasionally talk to people and if they sound like they would make a good candidate, I let them know it would benefit the Republican Party overall if we challenged in as many seats as we can. But, you know, we really just have to focus on the issues that matter to people and communicate them in a way that they understand. Not a lot of abstract conversations and theoretical outcomes.
LAROCKYou know, people entrust us to look out for their wellbeing. And to the extent that we do that on small, local, what we call kitchen table issues and do it well and acquire the confidence of our voters will prevail. But we also -- I think it's important. People want us to be uncompromising. And I do my best not to compromise on what I feel is right and wrong. Second amendment is pretty clear and concise. It shouldn't be compromised. There's not a lot of room for compromise on the life issue. If you know, if an abortion takes a life, that life is gone. You can't kind of find a happy middle ground there.
LAROCKSo I think people like -- even if they don't agree with you, they want to know where you stand. And they appreciate being communicated in a straight forward manner.
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Doris in Falls Church. Doris, we only have about a minute and a half left, but go ahead, please.
DORISYes. I wanted to ask -- thank you for being here Delegate LaRock. And I wanted to ask you what you feel are going to be the hardest issues for the upcoming regular general assembly session and for the election coming up in 2021, a statewide election and all members of the House, of course, are up for reelection.
DORISAnd I'm really concerned as a disability rights advocate about the fact that many of the COVID deaths and infections have occurred ...
NNAMDII have to interrupt because we only have about a minute left. Delegate LaRock, you only have about a minute left.
LAROCKYeah. Well, issues vary regionally and they vary from group to group. In Northern Virginia I spent an awful lot of time on transportation. I view that as the one issue that affects a lot of people's lives, you know, when they get up in the morning and go to work. When they come home at night or when they're just driving back and forth to the place they do business. And it gets a little bit in the weeds and awful lot of detail. But I do my best to stay abreast of that and that's certainly a hot issue as we know in Northern Virginia.
NNAMDIWell, I'm afraid we're about out of time. And, Doris of course was concerned about disability rights. You may want to write to the delegate yourself. Delegate LaRock, thank you for joining us.
LAROCKThank you. Thank you, Kojo and thank you, Doris and Tom.
NNAMDIUp next Phil Mendelson, Chairman of the D.C. Council. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat. Council Chairman Mendelson, thank you very much for joining us.
PHIL MENDELSONThank you for inviting me, Kojo.
NNAMDIIn Montgomery County -- and Tom Sherwood, I know, is interested in this, and you might be, too, Councilmember Mendelson. The county executive, Marc Elrich, has vetoed a tax incentive for high-rise buildings above Metro. He's saying that in the middle of this COVID financial situation, we cannot be busy providing tax breaks for developers to build high-rise buildings above Metro stations. Tom Sherwood, are you there?
SHERWOODI am here. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
SHERWOODOkay. Thank you. Well, the big issue just -- Montgomery County, like everywhere else, we need more housing for people. In Montgomery County, it's been estimated that they need to build at least 320,000 more housing units by 2030. And that's about 75,000 more than people expect to be built. But Elrich has said that he doesn't want to give developers 15-year, no-tax credits for building on top of Metro stations. If Metro area development sites are not good enough or development by the developers, what good is it? You would think that'd be a prime spot.
SHERWOODBut the council voted seven to two to give developers this 15-year tax break. And they are expected early next week to meet and override Mr. Elrich's veto, which would be -- this is his first veto. It's a question of how you spend money and who's going to benefit and will help enough middle and lower-income people.
NNAMDIWell, Council Chair Mendelson, let's pivot to the Washington, D.C. Council, where you have expressed some concern that the council may be moving too far to the left and heading to a kind of tax-and-spend mentality. But I suspect that there are council members in D.C. who would say, look, as Marc Elrich has pointed out, these developers are going to make money building on top of Metro, anyway. Why do we have to give them tax breaks to do it?
MENDELSONWell, I'm not familiar with the Montgomery County legislation. I was afraid you were going to ask if I would vote to veto or override, (laugh) support or override. Let me say this. The challenge with tax abatements for developers is, what is the economic equation? Are we reasonably taking a percent of the profit, or are we actually giving away when we don't necessarily have to? We offer a lot of incentives for affordable housing, starting with the Housing Production Trust Fund, that even in the midst of our economic crisis, we're still funding it more than $100 million a year.
MENDELSONSo, we are looking at benefits. We're providing benefits, and we actually have used some tax -- they're called tax expenditure strategies. We just approved this year a tax benefit for maintaining affordable rental housing. That's not new construction. So, really, each proposal needs to be carefully evaluated to see whether we're taking the right amount of money, too much money or not enough. Oftentimes, the concern is that we're actually giving away to developers when we don't have to.
SHERWOODThis is The Politics Hour. Let me get right to the election on November the 3rd. People are voting in the District. Some of your council colleagues have endorsed candidates. You have not in the at-large race. You have been critical of one of the candidates, Ed Lazear, and his left-leaning policies on spending money and taxing. Are you going to endorse in the at-large race?
MENDELSONI am not planning on endorsing, publically endorsing at this time. But you are correct, that I have been critical of Ed.
SHERWOODOkay. Any other races have you – obviously, you're supporting Robert White, the Democrat.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, do you have any sense of how this race is going? Would you say are the frontrunners, whether it's Christina Henderson who's been endorsed by The Post, Vincent Orange, who's trying to make a comeback, Marcus Goodwin, who supported -- he's making his second run for the council, Ed Lazear (unintelligible) ...
MENDELSON(overlapping) Well, first, people should remember...
SHERWOOD...as you see it.
MENDELSONWell, first, voters should remember that they have two votes in the at-large race. And, unfortunately, there are -- I believe it's 25 names on the ballot...
MENDELSON...and that you get to vote for two. I guess I'm off by one. And -- but generally the frontrunners are seen as the Democrat, and that's Robert White. The two who have been endorsed by the Washington Post, Marcus Goodwin and Christina Henderson. Vincent Orange, who has a great deal of name recognition and a lot of support around the city, and Ed Lazear.
SHERWOODOkay. Pointing this out, we can move on after this. Politically, you have expressed concern that the way of the leftward tilt to the council, even though you're a progressive yourself, that it might be too much. Would it be to your benefit to support someone to stop the very thing you think is happening, that the council's going to be tilting too far to the left? Why not endorse...
MENDELSON(overlapping) I would say yes, but voters need to make up their own mind. But I think, generally, voters don't look at the council races from an ideological perspective. But they do, at some point, say, hey, the council's gotten too far to the left. I think, generally, electorates prefer a more moderate legislative body, and they should be aware of what the differences are between the candidates.
SHERWOODOne last ballot question, magic mushrooms is on the ballot, to minimize the police enforcement of magic mushrooms. Are you a yes or a no on that Initiative 81?
MENDELSONYou know, I've not said publicly, and I think that the...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, this is your perfect chance.
MENDELSON...that initiative actually speaks of what a priority is. And I think it doesn't have a whole lot of consequence one way or the other. But you are going to ask more questions about the election, Mr. Sherwood, or for The Politics Hour we're leaving the election?
SHERWOODWell, I'd like you to answer yes or no on magic mushrooms.
MENDELSONI think I gave you my answer, but I am very concerned, as you noted, about whether we're going to elect someone -- I've been critical of Ed, because he has testified publically before the council as recently as May 29th that he wants to cut our reserves in half, and that the CFO's concerns about whether we jeopardize our ratings is speculative. And that he would be shocked if we were to -- our bond rating was at issue. And that's just irresponsible and we can't afford to risk going back to deficits and the control board.
SHERWOODWhat about the -- some of Ed's supporters, the Sunrise Group, who have, you know, got some criticism when they went to Councilmember Anita Bonds' home and demonstrated 10:00 to past midnight. She's compared it to a KKK meeting. She's a black woman. Have you -- is that playing any role at all? He has said -- Lazear has put out a two-page statement saying he supports public demonstrations, as long as they're lawful and respectful of people. Is that an issue (unintelligible) ?
MENDELSON(overlapping) Well, I think we have to -- I think we have to go a little bit beyond just whether they're lawful or respectful. Let me say this. You know, I'm elected, and so I kind of bought into if people want to demonstrate in front of my house, and they have. And I still have the paint on the sidewalk in front of my house to prove it. I would say at 11:00 at night, my neighbors did not buy into it. If there are noisy demonstrations in front of my house, my neighbors didn't buy into it.
MENDELSONAnd I don't know that it's appropriate to frighten somebody. Now, you know, everybody has a different threshold, and so there isn't -- you know, that's not a -- that's more subjective then objective standard. But demonstrators should be respectful, but it's something that is occurring. And when there've been demonstrations, if I've been home, I've gone out and talked to the folks.
NNAMDIHere is Chris in Washington, D.C. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHi. Thank you. I'm an excited and enthusiastic Ed Lazear supporter. And I'm also a big supporter of ranked-choice voting, which has gotten a lot of momentum in D.C. recently. I was curious if the chairman has a position on ranked-choice voting, and I would encourage him to support it. But I'd be eager to hear his thoughts.
MENDELSONI've not taken a position on it, but that means that I'm not an enthusiastic supporter of it. I don't know how that will necessarily improve our candidates. You know, our elections are really about representing the community. And I would say, generally, even though you can criticize members here and there, that our council is representative of the community. And so, are we really getting something better, or is this an experiment that looks good?
NNAMDIWell, one of the reasons this at-large council race is so crowded is because of the requirement requiring some seats to go to the quote-unquote "non-majority party." So, just about everybody who's running, except for the -- with the exception of maybe one person in this race, is basically a Democrat who has dropped his or her affiliation and running as an independent. It's it about time to change that rule?
MENDELSONWell, that's a rule that was imposed on us by Congress and the Home Rule Act. It was the price of getting limited home rule, which we can revisit once we get statehood. But I wouldn't say that's why the field is crowded. The field is crowded because we reduced the signature requirement and we have the public financing, which I supported. And therefore, it's been much easier for two dozen people to get on the ballot.
MENDELSONHaving just said that, I have to note that when I first ran, I think there were maybe -- I'd have to check this -- 20 people. So, maybe I'm even wrong in what I'm saying about reducing the signature -- number of signatures required. I think we need to look at the trend over a few years.
SHERWOODYeah, you won with 17 percent of the vote, I think. Are you going to...
MENDELSONIn the primary.
SHERWOOD...are you going to run for reelection in 2022? I was thinking maybe your reluctance to endorse now is that this is a fraught atmosphere. And next year, you'll have to start preparing your run in 2022. Have you said whether you're running for chairman again in 2022?
MENDELSONI actually think, Tom, that the last time I was on this show -- which, by the way, was too long ago -- that I had said I would be running again, and that made some news. But I'm okay with you asking me again. Yes, I am planning on it, but that would -- you know, I have a relationship with voters, and I think it's good. That's what will be tested in the next election, because that's what elections are about. And I'll stand on my own then, put my case before the voters. So, my actions today are not influenced by concern about two years from now.
SHERWOODIf Kojo will let me, there's an immediate concern in this city about the reopening of schools. The mayor and the Chancellor Ferebee are going to have a hearing this afternoon at 3:00 on how this school system is doing. But there's great concern that the mayor wants to bring back some students on November the 9th, I think it is, but the teacher's union said that they were not properly consulted. An arbitrator or someone agreed with them.
SHERWOODIt seems like quite the mess and parents are worried, not only about their children going to a public school, but whether or not the school system in the city is prepared. What are your thoughts as you go into this hearing this afternoon? Are there major roadblocks ahead or...
NNAMDI(overlapping) And as you're going -- as you're going to that hearing, you will probably witness a protest by the teacher's union, because it's slated to be outside the Wilson Building. So, tell us, what role does the council have and what's your thinking about this reopening plan?
MENDELSONWell, the council's role is one of oversight. It has been. And we should exercise that oversight. So, I worked with...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You're chair of the Education Committee, which is in your -- in your...
MENDELSONYeah, and I wanted this hearing, and I asked for this hearing. It's a roundtable. Members -- this hearing will be an opportunity for members to ask a lot of questions. And I made it clear to the Washington Teacher's Union and teachers that they could feed questions to me and other council members for us to ask. So, I think we actually won't have enough time today to cover everything.
MENDELSONI think people have a right to be concerned. And by that, I don't mean a criticism of the school system, but I don't know that the school system has gotten it right. This is really very difficult. There's no question that we want kids back in school and that in-classroom learning has a lot of advantages that right now are being lost, and, I think, are broadening the achievement gap. That is a bad thing.
MENDELSONBut, at the same time, how do we do this and do it safely? And can we actually do it at the beginning of November and do it safely? Clearly, the school system made a misstep, because PERB, the Public Employee Relations Board, said that the school system has to bargain this with the teachers. Okay. So, there was a mistake. The school system has to bargain this with the teachers union.
MENDELSONThey're not easy answers here, and I think I understand people are concerned. I don't think people should be angry about this, rather, we need to find, what is the right balance? And can we find a balance of getting some kids back into the classroom soon? And it may be that we're just not at a place yet with this pandemic that we can do that. That's part of what this hearing this afternoon will explore.
SHERWOODSo, the November 9th start of some students going back to the classroom is an open question, in your mind.
MENDELSONYeah, I'd like to see it happen, but that's not a firm position. That's I'd like to see it happen, can it happen, because if it can't, then we should delay the date.
NNAMDIHere is Daniel, in Washington, D.C. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHi. I just want to add, you know, it's really hard to (unintelligible) and criticize colleagues and other candidates for expressing urgency about our budget. The budget is a moral document. We can't be protecting the rainy day fund for the sake of protecting it. Like, when is it going to be raining harder than it is raining right now? We're in the middle of a pandemic. People can't eat. People can't pay rent. I would just ask the chairman, you know, what are your values when you're putting together a budget during a pandemic?
MENDELSONWell, what are my values? My values are what I would call progressive and wanting to do everything we can to help those particularly in need and those who have been hurt by this pandemic. But there are limits to how much we can do. So, I think it's fair to say the budget's a moral document. And yet, at the same time, I think that that's a little bit misleading. We can't afford to go bankrupt. We just can't.
MENDELSONWe're in a position where we are already spending hundreds of millions of dollars from our rainy day fund, because we built up our rainy day fund, which Mr. Lazear, year after year after year, said we didn't need to do. We did. It is raining, as the speaker said, and we are spending from that rainy day fund. But do we cut in half? Do we actually go to the point where we are liquid, and maybe we can't meet payroll?
MENDELSONIn June, just a few months ago, we authorized the CFO to go to Wall Street for, I think it was $500 million in short-term borrowing, so we could meet payroll. It turned out that we were able to avoid doing that, but we are that close that we are spending our reserves. But we can't spend them more. We can't spend them recklessly. So, you can call it a moral document, yes, it is. We are doing an awful lot.
MENDELSONWe're spending over 25 percent of our budget on social justice programs, over 25 percent. Another over 25 percent on public education. We are trying to do things that I think are morally where the caller wants us to be, but we can't risk bankruptcy. And if I sound like I feel strongly about this, I do. That is a risk that is before us with the voters this fall.
SHERWOODThe council turned down a proposal, I think, by Charles Allen to slightly increase taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year. I think it was a close vote. The council turned that down. Would you be willing to reconsider that again, going forward, given the fiscal dire straits?
MENDELSONI have two answers to that. Listen to me carefully. How can I have two answers?
SHERWOODI hope they don't compete.
MENDELSONWell, they do a little. Sorry, Tom. The first answer is this, what I'm hearing some folks say is that we have to raise taxes. We just simply have to raise taxes. It sounds like it's actually for the purpose of raising taxes. I don't support that. And, in fact, with the budget that we approved, we raised taxes by, I think it was 30 to $40 million. So, in that context, I would say no, I don't support raising taxes.
MENDELSONOn the other hand, we are going to have the budget, revised budget before us probably in a few months and the budget for next year. And we will see where our revenues are and what we need in terms of programs. And if we need to raise taxes at that time, we will. So, I'm not drawing a line in the sand. I'm not saying no, but I'm clearly saying to those folks who are saying, raise taxes for the sake of raising taxes, I don't support that.
NNAMDIThe D.C. Council passed an emergency bill to extend unemployment benefits, but Mayor Bowser has concerns about costs and federal compliance. Do you think she's going to sign that bill?
MENDELSONYes, I do, or at least allow it to go into law. I do.
NNAMDIWell, do you think the bill is federally compliant? She wants to make sure that the Labor Department, when it reviews this legislation, will find it compliant. You seem to be suggesting that it will.
MENDELSONWell, there was a scramble right before the vote to see whether, in fact, it was Department of Labor compliant. And the answer we got on Tuesday was, yes, it was. I have not heard anything in my conversations with executive officials since then that there was a change. I just have not heard that. That's why I think that it will become law.
NNAMDIThe mayor's also requesting $43 million to pay for police overtime from this summer when officers were working additional shifts to handle the protests. This money would have to come from elsewhere in the budget, and the mayor's suggesting it come from the Workforce Investment Fund and the Department of Healthcare Finance. Will the council grant this request from the mayor?
MENDELSONI think it will. Let me be clear, or let me clarify this for listeners. This is about 2020 which has -- I know, we're in 2020, but actually, the fiscal year ended. It ended September 30th. And this is about, in that sense, last year's dollars, leftover dollars in some agencies and overspending in another agency. The overspending, with regard to overtime -- which was mostly police, but not entirely -- was for events for which traditionally we get repaid by the federal government. And the federal government has not repaid us.
MENDELSONThat's where this is. The federal government owes us the money, and they've not repaid us. They pay for the escorts, for instance, for when the president travels, you know, moves from the White House to the capital. Pays for events like the Republican National Convention, since that was held at the White House -- not that I think it should've been -- or the July 4th celebration.
MENDELSONWe get reimbursed for all those things. We get reimbursed for the national demonstrations or for protests related to federal policies. And that's added up to $43 million for which we have not been reimbursed. Because we haven't been reimbursed, the mayor has proposed taking money that was unspent last year from other agencies.
SHERWOODDifferent subject. Woodrow Wilson High School, named after the president, you introduced a resolution that praised Woodrow Wilson, but said he had a bad racist effect on black people in the federal government and black people in general. The council then rewrote, or you rewrote, the resolution simply focusing on Woodrow Wilson's racist attitude. So, I think -- now the council's unanimously passed a recommendation to the school board that the school's name be changed. Do you have a substitute name that you would support?
MENDELSONWell, let me first clarify. The resolution itself didn't change. The resolution was introduced, I think, by 12 of the 13 council members. I was one of the co-introducers. The resolution itself was not an issue. It was the tone of the report. And the report was...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I apologize. That's right, the report was too laudatory for the president, so you all changed that. But do you have a name that you like?
MENDELSONI have not put forward a name, but I do have a view, which is a little different, which is that I think the name should be one that's inspirational to the students. I think too often we pick names that are either honoring somebody in the moment that nobody remembers a few years later, or just somehow is completely irrelevant to the students. And we should instead be looking, for a school, looking for names that mean something.
MENDELSONIn the committee report, I noted that there's a school that's named after the second federal or U.S. secretary of the Navy. I mean, I think we're talking about somebody from 1800. Who knows? What does that mean to the students? Why do we name a school like that or have a name like that? And I'm not suggesting the school be renamed, but I am suggesting that we ought to think, forward thinking, what is a name? And I think actually the name should be something that is inspirational.
NNAMDIJust one minute left. Children as young as 11 may soon be able to get vaccines without their parents' consent, thanks to a bill that passed its first council vote this week. Why did you and most of the council members support this bill?
MENDELSONWell, I can't speak for others, but for myself, I said that this correlates to public health. We saw this -- I believe the bill was introduced because of issues with missiles and parents who are withholding children from getting measles vaccines. I know there's some controversy in the community. I don't think it's substantiated about vaccines. Vaccines are -- they're not available unless they're safe and effective.
MENDELSONAnd so, as a public health matter, kids need to be vaccinated. And what we're seeing with the pandemic is where public health can make a difference. In the case, nationally, we're disregarding public health and we're seeing the consequences.
NNAMDIOkay. Phil Mendelson is the chairman of the D.C. Council. Phil Mendelson -- Chairman Mendelson, thank you very much for joining us.
MENDELSONThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, Fairfax County's Thomas Jefferson High School is one of the top-ranked public high schools in the country. But the school superintendent eliminated the admissions test in favor of a lottery system. It's a decision that's dividing the school community. We'll talk with superintendent Scott Braband.
NNAMDIPlus, Kwame Alexander writes prose and poetry exploring the best and hardest parts about being a kid. The acclaimed author joins us on Kojo for Kids to answer their questions. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend and stay safe. You, too, Tom Sherwood.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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