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.
U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) sailed to reelection this year. But other Democrats vying for Senate seats weren’t as successful. Control of the chamber will be decided by two runoff races in Georgia this January. What will it mean if Republicans maintain control of the Senate? Plus, we talk about the General Services Administration delaying the presidential transition process and the future of the Affordable Care Act.
In Maryland, the Montgomery County Council voted to tighten coronavirus restrictions in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases. We hear from Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz (D-District 3) about where the case numbers stand now and how businesses are faring.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Sidney Katz, the President of the Montgomery County Council, but joining us now is Mark Warner. He is a U.S. Senator representing Virginia. He is a Democrat. Senator Warner, thank you for joining us.
MARK WARNERKojo, thank you and Tom for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we get to the senator, Tom Sherwood, what is this I read in the City Paper by a writer named Tom Sherwood about a new Barry Building in Washington?
SHERWOODWell, yesterday there was a ceremony renaming the old One Judiciary Square building near the police headquarters, the Marion Barry Building. For some reason they added the "S." He really has no "S" in the middle of his name. But it's a recognition -- another recognition of the late mayor who died in 2014. You know, there's the statue on Pennsylvania Avenue. A non-profit committee that's been formed, a foundation is still looking for a street and a school to name after the former mayor. Of course, Barry elicits all kinds of criticism, because of his public drug abuse and corruption during his administrations. But still a lot of people in this city want to honor Barry and they did so yesterday.
NNAMDIYes. A lot of people who are new to town might only remember that graphic video that they saw on television some 30 years ago. But for long-time residents in the city Marion Barry still has a fairly large base of support despite his demise.
SHERWOODWell, yes. And even if there wouldn't be support now there is recognition that he worked hard for senior citizens. He changed the way the summer jobs program work is now named after him. He brought African Americans into a city government that was largely run by white suburbanites. He had a lot of achievement. It's tragic what happened to him in his personal life.
NNAMDIYep. On to Virginia, in Alexandria, Alexandria Councilmember Del Pepper will not be seeking reelection. Del Pepper has been in office since 1985. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODYes, you know, since 1985 and she's been -- she has sustained herself through many election campaigns. There were many critics of her in more recent years. But somehow or another those critics never made it to the Council in Alexandria. She was there. This week she announced during a Zoom meeting of the Council that she is no longer going to have to keep up with these quote "young whippersnappers on the Council." And that she would be moving on. Mayor Justin Wilson praised her and said that she wouldn't be leaving the Council 'til next year. So there would be plenty of time to honor her, but she said she's leaving because it's her time to leave and she wanted to give potential candidates time to get their own campaigns in place for the elections next summer.
NNAMDIShe's been around ...
SHERWOODShe's quite the character. I talk -- very briefly -- I talked to Michael Lee Pope, who's a reporter for Virginia Public Radio in the Alexandria packet and formerly WAMU. He said she is best known for her ability to read ceremonial resolutions at lightning speed.
NNAMDII'm sure, Senator Warner, you're familiar with Delegate Pepper.
WARNERI know both Del Pepper and knew Marion Barry. So, Kojo, I'm not sure what's that saying about you, me and Tom in terms of how long we've been around.
NNAMDIThat's exactly right. Well, on to the issues at hand. Again, our guest is Virginia U.S. Senator Mark Warner. And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. First, Mr. Senator, congratulations on your reelection.
WARNERWell, thank you. It was -- I was proud of the fact that we ran a couple of points ahead of President-elect Biden. And the fact that Virginian's decided to put me back to work.
NNAMDIWell, what do you have to say to those Virginians, who didn't want to put you back to work? We're talking about a very divided nation right now with Virginia nevertheless becoming increasingly blue. But for those who didn't vote for you and who worry that the state now overwhelmingly in Democratic hands will not represent them. What do you say to them?
WARNERWell, my job is to represent people whether they voted for me or didn't vote for me. I was candidly disappointed particularly in Southside Virginia and Southwest Virginia, areas of the state as recently as 2008 that I was getting 60 percent of the vote plus that I ended up while running ahead of Biden, was getting in the low 30s. I've always felt that those communities should not be left behind, shouldn't be dependent upon your zip code in terms of the ability to have a good world class job.
WARNERSo whether it's delivering broadband to rural communities, whether it's making sure that we try to move even maybe some of these Amazon jobs from up here to Southside and Southwest, I'm going to be committed to making that happen. And my hope would be and I think we've heard this -- I think we need it from me, but we also need it particularly from President-elect Biden. And I think he has been trying to convey this message. This idea that we're red state blue state or we're only going to play to our base is what people of good will of both political parties hate.
WARNERAnd one of the things I hope that President-elect Biden will do shortly is go to one of those states, who voted against him dramatically and say, you know, We're all in it together. I intend to do the same going back to Southside and Southwest and parts of the Shenandoah Valley that candidly did not vote for me in the historic margins I used to have.
SHERWOODSenator, congratulations on your victory. It was 56 to 44. That's pretty much of a landslide in modern day politics. And far better than 2014 when you won by less than one percent against Ed Gillespie, but as you start your new third term in January, the control of the Senate is up. And this is more of a nation question. But what are you doing with your forward together pack or yourself about campaigning in Georgia where two runoff elections on January 5th will decide whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate? What are you doing?
WARNERWell, I'm hopeful about the two races in Georgia. The fact that President-elect Biden won Georgia by over 14,000 votes and those numbers may go up as these final votes trickle in. I think in both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the pastor from Martin Luther King Jr.'s Church, we've got two solid candidates. I think in many ways this will probably be a turnout election. And the Democrats have demonstrated their ability to turnout votes in this most recent Georgia election.
WARNERAnd candidly, I'm just not sure that Mr. Trump's just absolutely immature behavior where his own personal interests are frankly being put in front of national security as we think about transition, as we think about the idea of giving Biden the daily presidential briefs, you know, that may appeal to some of the president's supporters in Georgia. But I can't believe that all of the president's supporters in Georgia are going to continue to follow Mr. Trump blindly with this absolutely immature behavior we've seen the last week.
SHERWOODYesterday, Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen, your colleague in the Senate took to the Senate floor to blast the Republicans just for that for not recognizing the Biden victory saying it was grossly negligent and an insult to our democracy. You and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia have written a letter to the General Services Administration Director telling her to open up the federal government to the Biden transition so business can be carried out. Do you anticipate -- or have you been on the Senate floor and I missed it?
WARNERWell, Tom, I've prided myself in my time in the Senate on being bipartisan. I often remark I work in the only place in America where being a gang member is a good thing. I've been part of every bipartisan gang. I have not talked to a single Republican senator that doesn't acknowledge that Joe Biden is going to president. What they basically have said to me was, you know, they are I think wrongly, but letting Trump's tantrums play out for a few days, but they all said, give it to the end of the week.
WARNERWell, it's the end of the week and we saw yesterday a number of my Republican colleagues step up on the presidential daily brief. I hope more will step up today with Arizona finally being called by all the networks. My goal is to continue to work with my Republican friends. I think the country wants bipartisan solutions, but they do need to step up, because this is more than about, you know, Trump's personal feelings.
WARNERThis is about the national security of our country. The presidential daily briefs, I say that as a member of the Vice-Chair of the Intel Committee needs to be given to the vice president's and his top team. We need to make sure the transition offices and the landing teams are allowed to go into the agencies. And the idea that the president is so distracted that he's not even following whether it's record numbers of coronavirus or the fact that we've had that dramatic loss of American life in Egypt and he's not made a comment, you know, my patience with my Republican colleagues is wearing thin. I hope we'll see more of it today and, you know, stepping up.
WARNERAnd then finally we've seen, you know, the summary dismissal of Secretary Esper. A number of us Republican and Democrat have warned the White House against further firings in the intelligence community. Chris Krebs, who I think bravely said this was the most secure election in our country's history at CISA, we need to protect him. We need to protect the Director of the CIA, the Director of the FBI. And my Republican colleagues have been working with me on that, but they need to be more public in going ahead and telling Trump the time for his tantrums is over and we need to move on.
NNAMDIWell, speaking ...
SHERWOODIf Kojo ...
NNAMDISpeaking of your Republican colleagues, Ryan from Alexandria sent us an email. "I'm done with compromised politics. I would very much like my senators to go to war with McConnell on my and my country's behalf. Since the theft of Obama's Supreme Court pick and his refusal to consider more COVID relief, he has shown that he has no intention of ever working with Democrats. Senator Warner, what will you do" -- and I'm still reading from the email. "Senator Warner what will you do to tear down McConnell and repair the damage he has done to the Senate and the country?" And before you respond to that, here's Mindy in Washington D.C. Mindy, your turn.
MINDY (CALLER0Senator Warner, congratulations on your principle stand. My question is the same. How can there be comedy between Republican and Democratic senators given the behavior particularly of Mr. McConnell? How can he play a leadership role given his inability and unwillingness to face what we know are findings of a new president? And I appreciate your search for comedy, but how can you really continue in that vein?
NNAMDIWe only have about 30 seconds left in this segment.
WARNEROkay. I think at the end of the day, at this point the Republicans are in charge of the Senate 50 to 48. I hope it becomes a Democratic controlled Senate afterwards. But short of throwing out the basic Democratic institutions that we have rightfully attacked Trump on, we've got to find a way to get through this. I believe putting pressure on McConnell to get a full COVID relief package, I'm working with the Republicans on that right now. I've worked actually even with the administration on major relief for minority owned businesses and investment in Black owned banks. That will be part of the next CARES package. I get the frustration. I live in this job each and every day, but I am not throwing in the towel that people of good will can still get to yes.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue our conversation with U.S. Senator Mark Warner. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is U.S. Senator Mark Warner from Virginia. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. We are taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood, you had a question.
WARNERKojo, can I just one more thing here?
NNAMDIOh, please do.
SHERWOODAs long as it's not too long.
WARNERBoth the email and the phone message, I understand the passion and frustration of folks who say, "Go to war. Burn down the house." But I would point out, we got through this election in a much safer way than I think any of us would have even hoped 60 days ago. Part of that due to the fact that, for example, the bipartisan good work of the Intelligence Committee that pointed out what Russia did in 2016 that reinforced and gave our intelligence community the tools that they needed to keep out the bad guys, frankly to continue to call balls and strikes as CISA has done in terms of our election security.
WARNERSo I would argue to my friends who say, you know, we simply need to go to war with the Republicans. When we can find ways to work together we can produce products that actually help American democracy.
SHERWOODVery briefly before I ask my question, you've twice mentioned CISA. No normal person, who doesn't go to Capitol Hill knows what CISA is. Just briefly what does that stand for?
WARNERCISA is the part of Department of Homeland Security that was setup about six years ago. And frankly, Tom, if you're asking for CISA's definition, I'm spacing it off for a moment.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Okay. But no more Acronyms.
WARNERBut it is basically the group that was in charge of election security. The mechanics of elections keeping our polling places safe, our ...
SHERWOODOkay, we got it.
WARNERAnd Chris Krebs, the leader of it, has done a very good job.
NNAMDITom, unfortunately we may have it, but our caller wants to talk about CISA. Here's David in Germantown.
NNAMDIWe'll get back to Tom. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDWell, thank you very much. And CISA stands for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. And I want to thank Senator Warner for membership in one of his bipartisan gangs. And that bipartisan gang is the Cybersecurity Caucus. And, Senator, thank you very much for your support of CISA in the past. And while you mentioned how it has been tremendously effective in protecting our elections, it is also tremendous effective in protecting healthcare and other critical infrastructure like the electrical grid, like protecting information systems all over the industry.
WARNERAnd let me just say, a little embarrassment since I am the Co-Chair of this Cybersecurity Caucus that I could not recall all the CISA nomenclature. But the caller is right, you know, on healthcare, on our financial institutions. And on healthcare, for example, one of the things we need is we think about contact tracing. Using technology is very important. Apple and Google have got a very interesting app here. But until we can make sure there is actually privacy protections, there's not going to be secondary use of that information, we're not going to have the take-up rate on Americans using that technology tool on contract tracing that we should. Again, an area where CISA could play a role.
NNAMDIFinally, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODOkay. Finally, this is a Virginia question. Your House colleague for Virginia, first term Democrat Abigail Spanberger only narrowly won reelection beating Republican challenger Bill Freitas. Spanberger said in the post-election telephone call that the call by progressive Democrats to quote "defund police and to embrace Democratic socialism" nearly cost her and others their seats in the Congress. What is your concern or advice about the rising fight within the Democratic Party between moderate Democrats and more left Democrats? Do you agree with Spanberger's criticism of self-inflicting wounds by Democrats?
WARNERListen, I didn't and do no support defunding the police. But I also believe in strong policing reform, which is frankly what Kamala Harris put forward and I'm co-sponsoring the Justice in Policing Act. I spent my time longer in business than I have in politics. So do I think socialism is the answer? No, but do I think modern American capitalism is working for enough people? I don't believe that as well. So I do think there needs to be reform around capitalism. I think we need a portable benefit system. I think we need to change our whole framework of how we treat investment in human capital. We ought to treat it the same way we treat research and development and frankly need a capitalism that is stakeholder based capitalism, not simply short-term shareholder based capitalism.
SHERWOODIf you excuse me, Senator, do you agree that the progressive need to reform their reform language and not use something like defund police, which is so easily mischaracterized?
WARNERI think the ability -- using terms like defund the police have led to Democratic loses in this last year. Do I think we need major policing reform? Absolutely. Does the Justice in Policing Act provide that kind of reform? Absolutely. Do I think that we need to recognize -- you know, the challenge I have with some of our most progressive candidates, they usually come from districts that are exclusively progressive. Abigail Spanberger has got parts of her district that may appear, you know, just as progressive as parts of Brooklyn or the Bronx. But there are wide swaths of her district that are totally unlike. She's got to be able to run in both.
WARNERAnd I sometimes think our progressive friends don't have that necessity of running in both districts that are quite forward leaning, but parts of districts that are still pretty conservative. And I think there is a way that you can win in both.
NNAMDITodd from Vienna, Virginia emails, "If we win in Georgia, you'll be Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. What could you do to keep Trump from quote/unquote "selling America's top secrets for loan forbearance on the $420 million or so in foreign loans that The New York Times has reported?"
WARNERWell, Todd, it's stunning to me that that's even a real question. And the unfortunate thing, it is a real question. And I have been extraordinarily concerned literally over the last 60 to 90 days that officials connected to this White House in efforts to get short-term gain were potentially putting sources and methods of our intelligence community at risk. So I think it is a real question. I think it is a real concern, but it's one that should be best left to -- my, again, the only way we're going to stop that is doing it in a bipartisan way. And frankly, doing it probably, not broadcasting what we're going to be doing.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, want to talk about politics yet? The governor's race in Virginia.
SHERWOODYes. I do.
NNAMDII knew you would.
SHERWOODYes. I do. I would like to say, though, if Trump ...
WARNERHey, Tom, I may want to go back to the Spanberger question before we start talking 2021.
SHERWOODWell, see if you can work it into the answers. You served as Governor of Virginia in 2002 to 2006. Are you now or have -- or are now supporting any candidates in next year's race for governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general? Former Governor Terry McAuliffe has publically ruled out any position in the Biden administration. People believe that he's running for governor again. Are you going to pick sides in the Democratic primary for governor? It looks like a doozy coming up.
WARNERWell, Tom, I remember when I ran for governor the Democrat's bench was so thin. There was virtually nobody that even wanted to run on statewide positions. We were at that point two to one Republican. There wasn't a single statewide elected official. Tim Kaine ran as my lieutenant governor. We started a march in 2001 that now has every statewide elected Democrat where we have 8 out of 11 members of the congressional delegation in the House and the Senate are both Democrat. I think we've shown that Democrats can be progressive, yet, also read a balance sheet and probusiness. Virginia was named, when I was governor, best managed state and best state for business.
SHERWOODWell, yes, sir. That's a good background.
WARNERNow, Tom, I know you're going to ask me to hit your question.
SHERWOODYes. We don't have time for the history.
WARNERWe now have a cast of many great candidates. I've barely gotten past my election. There will time to deal with 2021 when we get to 2021. Let me savor a week or so of getting rehired before you throw me in that briar patch.
SHERWOODWell, you know, in Virginia there is no rest. There is an election every year thanks to how you guys have it set up.
WARNERWe always have the tendency -- and I've been guilty of this. Every year in Virginia we say, this is the most important year. Well, this year in 2020 when Donald Trump was on the ballot, it was the most important year. So let's let the elected officials and the folks of Virginia get a little bit of rest until we get into the next year.
NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left. But Virginian's voted yes on a ballot measure to create an independent bipartisan redistricting panel to redraw legislative districts. Do you support this measure, and what happens now?
WARNERI voted for it. I wish it had been -- if I had been governor I wish we could have drawn it a little differently to make sure more independents, to make sure there was more minority representation. I think the governor in his most recent amendments tried to correct I think some of the drafting errors. So I still think it's better that people choose their representatives rather than representatives choosing their constituents. So I think this constitution amendment, which passed over overwhelmingly is not perfect, but a step in the right direction. I was proud to support it. I tried to do that back when I was governor and fell one vote short. So we're two decades later it's time to do redistricting reform in Virginia.
NNAMDIMark Warner is a U.S. Senator representing Virginia. He is a Democrat. Senator Warner, thank you for joining us.
WARNERThanks guys so much. Take care.
NNAMDIUp next, Sidney Katz. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now is Sidney Katz, the president of the Montgomery County Council. He represents District 3 in Montgomery County. He is a Democrat. Sidney Katz, thank you so much for joining us.
SIDNEY KATZThank you for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we get to Montgomery County, Tom Sherwood, let's talk about D.C.'s mayor for a second, because Mayor Muriel Bowser went on a trip to Delaware to celebrate Joe Biden's victory with Joe Biden. And that seems to be in violation of her own travel advisories, except that the mayor says that she was traveling for essential purposes. And people who are traveling for essential purposes are excepted, so to speak, from the travel advisory. Tell us a little more.
SHERWOODWell, the mayor didn't announce it on Saturday that she was going. She didn't announce when she got back that she had been. And it was a public gathering. She went up. You know, she's a Democrat. She didn't support Joe Biden, initially. She supported other candidates. But now she went up to celebrate, and it would've been better had she announced it and said what she was doing.
SHERWOODBut when Mark Segraves of NBC4 posted on Twitter, hundreds -- I think 600 or more people responded to it, saying the mayor violated her own rule, that she should've quarantined herself or gotten specific COVID tests to show that she had not gotten the virus up in Delaware. But the bottom line is, it wasn't really an essential trip. The mayor can say it was, but it wasn't. It was maybe good. She got to talk to Simone Simmons, who's a senior advisor to Joe Biden and is, I think, dating someone here in the District.
SHERWOODBut the whole point being, it wasn't essential. That's too much of a stretch to say essential. But the mayor went, she took some heat for it, she's back and she's -- now, the big story was, and I asked her at that press conference yesterday, if she was going to accept a Biden administration appointment, was she being vetted. She said, no, she's not being vetted. And she very clearly, I thought, gave an indication she will run for a third term and not join the Biden administration, unless a very big job were offered to her, which no one expects.
NNAMDIHow did Segraves get the photo? Was he there...
NNAMDI...or somebody sent it to him?
SHERWOODDid the mayor post it? I think the mayor posted the photo on...
SHERWOODBut she was asked about the trip at the press conference.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of mayors, the mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland resigned from her job. She's going to be part of forming a new, predominantly black political party. And, of course, she still had a little more time left in her term, but she also apparently feels that there's some urgency to forming this new party. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, I looked this up, because I was surprised that Candace Hollingsworth would drop out of being mayor -- which is a nice platform to do anything, politically -- to be a former mayor, to do something. It turns out Our Black Party, I believe it's the same party that Sean "Diddy" Combs created back in July, because he thought the country was on the verge of a civil war if Donald Trump were reelected. And, of course, Sean "Diddy" Combs is a wealthy rapper, songwriter, producer, innovator and all of that.
SHERWOODAnd so, I wasn't able to reach Candace Hollingsworth to see if it's the same Our Black Party, but it does have a website. And we'll see what they're going to do. The idea is that black people have been mistreated by all the political parties. You create one, and then you work with other parties to get the advancements that you think you need locally and nationally. It just seemed very odd to me that you would give up a political position in order to promote politics. I haven't spoken to the mayor. Maybe she has a better explanation.
NNAMDIOur guest, Sidney Katz, is a former mayor of Gaithersburg. Did you ever think of leaving that position to go into national politics?
KATZNo, absolutely. (laugh) I am very pleased in Montgomery County, thank you.
NNAMDIOkay. You've been a member of the Montgomery County Council since 2015, and somehow or the other, we've never had you on this show before. Is it because of Tom Sherwood?
KATZ(overlapping) I know. We've -- well, thank you, first off, for inviting me today. I have been invited, I think, at least once before, and the schedule didn't work out. So, I'm very, very happy that we finally able to connect. I listen to -- when I see you on various television shows when you're on, but -- and Mr. Sherwood, as well. So, I'm very happy to be joining you today.
NNAMDIWell, welcome to The Politics Hour. Before we dive in, we'd like to know a little bit about you. I know Tom Sherwood has spoken with you in the past, and he generally digs up personal stuff on our guests. You got anything on Sidney Katz, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, I looked up the court photographs of where the Wolfson's Department Store in historic Gaithersburg is, and I wanted to know what was happening with that store. You know, that's the -- Mr. Katz can say more about it if he wants, but I think his great grandparents started a department store there. And his parents ran it, and then Mr. Katz ran it. And then, in 2013, he realized he didn't want to do it anymore and his children didn't want to do it anymore, so he sold the property.
SHERWOODBut, Mr. Katz, you are a lifetime -- I mean, a lifer for Gaithersburg. Elementary school, middle school, high school, University of Maryland. Why did you get into politics so late? I mean, not being mayor and all that, but running for the county council?
KATZYou faded in and out on me. I couldn't hear everything, but I did hear you were talking about Wolfson's, and you were talking about when I ran for the county council. Could you please repeat that?
SHERWOODYes, sir. You had been mayor. Your life has been focused on Gaithersburg, and now you're on the council. And why did you run, and what do you think about the new makeup of how the council's going to be restructured, with more districts going from five to seven? What would that mean for your own political future?
KATZWell, I don't know that -- it shouldn't affect -- well, it won't affect me. I mean, I'm a district councilmember now. And, of course, even with redistricting, we're gonna have some changes to the district that I represent, which is Gaithersburg and Rockville and Leisure World and parts of Aspen Hill and parts of Redland and Durwood and parts of Potomac and parts of North Potomac. So -- and Washington Grove.
KATZI mean, I have a larger area, about 200-and-some thousand people in my district. So, it'll change. The district itself, the district will be smaller, but it won't change me. I mean, I have every intention of running for reelection. I have one term left before I'm term-limited.
KATZBut in answer to your question about the Wolfson's and my background, I'm a small businessperson. My grandparents started the store -- it was my grandparents, my mother's parents -- in 1918. And I owned and ran the store with my parents up until the time I actually ran for the Montgomery County Council. I had closed it slightly before, and people suggested that I run for the county council. I was the mayor of Gaithersburg for 16 years. I was on the city council there for 20 years, prior to that. And my good friend, Ed Bohrer, who was mayor at the time, passed away in office. And I was appointed and then ran for several terms, as well.
KATZBut, you know, I'm a local Montgomery County person. My family has been in the business community for all those years, so I did close the store just before I ran for office, for the county council. And my brothers and I still own the building, so we're -- you know, I'm a guy that's had a very blessed life and enjoy working with the public.
NNAMDIThe country is seeing worrying spikes in COVID-19 cases, including here in our region, which has led Montgomery County and other jurisdictions to re-impose restrictions. Before we get into those restrictions, what you're seeing now in Montgomery County and coronavirus cases is similar to the numbers that were seen in June and July. So, this is clearly a major spike. Do you know specifically why numbers are rising in Montgomery County, or is it just a reflection of what's going on around the country?
KATZI think it's a reflection of what's going on in the country. What we're seeing in Maryland, Montgomery County certainly has had concerns all along, being, you know, a populated area. But we're starting to see, in Maryland, where some less populated areas are also seeing tremendous spikes, the -- Garrett County, the Western Maryland side. So, I think it's a reflection on what is going on literally worldwide, and that's why we're all looking at trying to figure out what's the best way to handle this great concern.
NNAMDIOur guest is Sidney Katz, president of the Montgomery County Council. He represents District 3 in Montgomery County. Let's go to Jean, in Hyattsville, Maryland. Jean, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEANHi. Actually, I live in Tacoma Park. I'm calling because we pay some of the highest property taxes in the area, because we also pay for city services. Some of these services the city provides, the county would have to provide, if they didn't. We pay twice for services we receive once, in some areas. My question for Councilmember Katz is, when will you release the report that you have been writing on tax duplication in Montgomery County? Thank you.
KATZThank you. I saw that in the chat earlier this morning. I have to double-check what happened to that report. I thought it -- I candidly had thought it was released. I will double check on that. The report was in conjunction with the municipalities, and we will, in COVID, certainly change some of the timeframe for what we were going to be able to do.
KATZI am supportive of giving more tax -- giving more dollars because of tax duplication. I know that the county executive, Mark Elrich, who was a Tacoma Park city councilmember before he was on the county council and before he became county executive, was also supportive. But, of course, when -- in this budget, we have to go through each budget each year, and so we will continue to do that. But -- well, I will find out what happened to the report, and also be certainly supportive of how we can help out with all the municipalities.
SHERWOODMr. Katz, I think you mentioned that part of your representation in the county includes Leisure World, which is a well-known...
KATZ(overlapping) It does.
SHERWOOD...where lots of senior live. What is the level of concern or even fear in that community? And do you believe that Governor Hogan is giving enough support to the county or counties to fight the virus?
KATZWell, to the first part of your question, this morning, we were on a Zoom call and update about the COVID crisis in Montgomery County. And I brought up then, which I bring up often, but I brought up just this morning about whether or not we can do additional testing in Leisure World and all the other residential areas. We certainly are very concerned, and we need to bring their services as close to the public as we possibly can.
KATZIn answer to your second question, you know, I know that the governor is really trying his best. However, it would be certainly most helpful if he were going to be clearer on what can happen and what they're doing. We said just -- when we passed -- when we, the county council, just passed the executive order on Tuesday, the newest executive order, that we really believe -- many of us said the same thing -- that we really believe that this needs to be a regional reply.
KATZNow, with President-elect Biden coming into office, hopefully we will get a national answer and concern on how to handle this concern. But until we do, we need to have at least a regional way to answer the concern. The idea that if Montgomery County -- and, of course, this last week, other jurisdictions have started to change their executive orders, as well -- but the idea that Montgomery County is an island doesn't work. I mean, even if we lowered -- when we lowered that a restaurant could only have 25 percent capacity inside and all of those issues, that someone can't have a drink in the restaurant after 10:00 at night.
KATZBut if that same person that was not going to one of our restaurants, one of the restaurants in Montgomery County, went to a restaurant in one of our neighboring jurisdictions, whether it be the District, whether it be Prince George's, whether it be Frederick, I mean, wherever they would go, and come back to Montgomery County, then we really have not helped out our situation. We need a regional, as large as the region can possibly be, a regional answer to what we're doing.
NNAMDIWe got a Twitter account called Parents Coalition of Montgomery County which tweeted: Please ask Sidney Katz if he agrees that Montgomery County Public Schools should be buying an artificial turf field for the city of Gaithersburg. That's the deal cooked up to hand that park land over to Montgomery County Public Schools for a school. The contract says the land transfer is for free, no cost, but the city has demanded $1.5 million for an artificial turf football field. That money is going to come from MCPS teacher salaries during a pandemic. Sidney Katz?
KATZYes. I could not hear the entire question. They just changed phones on me. So, could you just tell me a synopsis of what the question is, please?
NNAMDIOur tweeter, Parents Coalition from Montgomery County, wants to know if you agree that MCPS should be buying an artificial turf field for the city of Gaithersburg. That tweet says that's the deal cooked up to hand that park over to MCPS for a school.
KATZWell, that was an issue that is -- with city of Gaithersburg -- I really did not follow it that closely. But that was an issue that was city of Gaithersburg property, that the city -- from what I remember, of what I remember of the issue, that happened fairly recently -- that the city of Gaithersburg gave land to the Montgomery County Public Schools for a new school, for a new elementary school. And evidently that was part of the agreement that the city of Gaithersburg would've had with Montgomery County Public Schools.
KATZSo, there again, I was not involved in the agreement. The land was -- from what I understand, was given -- I don't know if that's completely correct, but that's what I understand -- was given to Montgomery County Public Schools. And evidently, as part of that agreement, that was the deal that was made. So, you know, that would be between those two entities.
NNAMDIThe Montgomery County Council has signaled that it supports ending its residential building moratorium. Can you explain why the moratorium exists in the first place?
KATZWell, it was for – there, again, we're working through what we now called the strategic staging policy. It's the growth police for Montgomery County. And over the years, when an area was -- when the school district was in overcapacity mode, the idea being that we would not allow that there would be a moratorium on new construction. But the reality -- and we're still going through this. We're going to vote on the strategic staging policy on Monday, but we've had straw votes and many, many discussions.
KATZBut the reality is that, in many cases, in most cases, the reason for an overcrowding of a school was not because of new construction. Many times, it's the turnover of the existing housing. And so, based on that, the question was, here we have housing concerns, especially for moderate-priced housing. We have concerns for -- that we need additional housing, but yet we were putting it into moratorium and for a reason that it wasn't necessarily the fault of the new construction.
KATZSo, that's why we've -- as I say, it hasn't been voted on yet. It's straw vote, but that is why we said that we should not have that system, but we should change the system so that we don't go into moratorium, so that we can have housing where we need it.
SHERWOODYes, and that's kept your commercial development lagging in the rest of the region. Let me ask you. No suburban elected official can come on The Politics Hour without a transportation question. You live in the traffic-clogged suburbs of Washington. You have seen Gaithersburg and the area around it grow substantially. Do you agree that Governor Hogan -- agree with his critics -- that he has mishandled the proposed changes to I-270, I-495, the Beltway and the Purple Line? What should the governor be doing to speed up those projects? Or do you think they will languish well after he's left the office?
KATZWell, there again, I remember several years -- a couple of years ago, Governor Hogan was in Gaithersburg at the Labor Day Parade. And he said that for I-270, that they were not going to widen 270 outside the existing right-of-way, that there was going to be a way that we can go forward and handle congestion. Of course, this was pre-COVID, and the world has changed dramatically since then, but that was a way that we could change 270 and not have to wind it beyond the right-of-way.
KATZThen, and this is when Secretary Ron was the secretary of transportation -- they then changed that to say that they weren't going to -- they were going to try their best not to widen it beyond the existing right-of-way. The county council and others have said, time and time again, we want to help solve the -- we want to have a system to solve the congestion. We want to have mass transit involved in that. There's been a thought that we could have monorail coming from Frederick, which I'm intrigued with, and whether that would be a system that should be included.
KATZThere's so many different ways that we could -- reversible lanes. There's so many different ways that we could handle this concern, but that at this moment -- and the Beltway is a whole other issue, which is not necessarily directly in my district, but it certainly affects my district, as does the Purple Line. There's so many ways that we could handle this if we sat down and figured out the best system that we can have.
KATZBut, many times, someone comes in with a predesigned idea on what's the best way to handle congestion. And when that happens, you don't get any -- there's no solution. And one of the concerns is that the public-private partnerships, which certainly has not been a success for the Purple Line, that that is one of the ways that they're considering, or that they would like to consider to fund the I-270 and 495 changes. And that's something that ultimately the taxpayer will be paying for, in my opinion.
SHERWOODWe're going to have another decade of clogged traffic.
KATZWell, and -- say it again, please.
SHERWOODWe're going to have another decade of clogged traffic.
KATZWell, you know, I don't know -- first off, because of teleworking and because of all the changes that COVID has created, which, I mean, COVID's a horrible thing, but, you know, it's the old idea of a silver lining on these types of problems. That certainly has changed the traffic pattern in our area. I mean, who knows if and when it'll change back, but that's certainly one of the ways.
KATZAnd the idea that we're going to come up with autonomous cars. I mean, you know, an autonomous car only needs a 10-foot lane, whereas the cars that are there now have 12-foot lanes. Well, you could get three lanes where two are existing today. Now, it's not going to -- autonomous cars aren't going to happen tomorrow morning, but it took 50 years to build the ICC. It could easily happen before that. So, I think there are ways to look at what we're doing, and, as I say, about, like, monorail.
KATZMonorail could be a big help to people coming from the Frederick area and above the Montgomery County, and which is a great part of the traffic that's on 270 in the -- was a great part of the traffic that was on 270 in the mornings. There are ways that we can solve this if we all sit down, as a community, and figure out the best path forward.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's...
SHERWOODDo we have time for him to grade Marc Elrich, A to D?
NNAMDIAbout 20 seconds.
SHERWOODGrade Marc Elrich, A to D, as county executive.
KATZI would give -- you know, that's a very tough job, and really, to give me 20 seconds to do it, I don't know that that's correct. But I, at this point, would give Marc a B-minus. He's trying very hard, but things have not been perfect. But he's trying to change it.
NNAMDISidney Katz, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, D.C. Public Schools reverse the plan to return thousands of elementary school students to the classroom, so what's next? And what are other districts planning on doing?
NNAMDIPlus, you're never too young to understand the value of a dollar. Kojo for Kids welcomes Washington Post personal finance columnist, Michelle Singletary. We're taking kids' questions on spending, saving and the difference between a good buy and a bad one. That all starts at noon. Until then, have a wonderful weekend and stay safe. Tom Sherwood, what's up?
SHERWOODI'm going to see if the Trump supporters flood D.C., or if it's just a handful.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
For almost a year, many local theaters and music venues have been entirely shutdown. How are they coping, and could the $15 billion federal aid set aside for the arts be enough to "Save Our Stages?"
The D.C. crime writer talks about his latest projects and other local authors you may want to discover.
Gun homicides reached a 15-year peak in 2020. How are D.C.'s communities responding to the violence?