For Martin Luther King Day, we hear from an artist who makes civil rights heroes leap off the page.
The D.C. Council wrapped Council Period 23 this week. Which bills passed, and which didn’t? D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) joins us to talk about the Second Look Act and what a civilian review board overseeing Metro police will look like. And, remember Allen’s “Metro for D.C.” plan, which aimed to give residents $100 toward free transit credit each month? Allen thinks that the plan could help Metro and its D.C. riders get through the financial crisis brought on by the pandemic.
And Montgomery County has suspended indoor dining and cut back on retail capacity. We check in with Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) about the latest restrictions and discuss whether stricter regulations could help county schools reopen. Plus, we’ll hear about his vision for housing near Metro stations.
And, it’s our final Politics Hour of 2020. Let’s listen back to some of the highlights from this year.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.
NNAMDIWell, Tom, this is it, the last Politics Hour of the year. A lot has happened this year. Don't just take my word for it. Just, let's listen back to some of the highlights. Here goes.
NNAMDIWelcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. The real reason the impeachment trial doesn't start until one o'clock in the afternoon, when he's done.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERI don't think voters are going to be forgiving that quickly.
SHERWOODDid you hear that? Voters will not be forgiving that quickly of Jack Evans.
NNAMDIWhat's dominating a lot of conversations today is the coronavirus, which is not according to a CDC official not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.
SHERWOODThis sounds like grammar school. But when you say "Wash your hands," what does that really mean?
SPEAKERCannot mess up an individual's ability to cast their vote.
SPEAKERThis is also happening during a pandemic.
SPEAKERThis week Metro announced huge service cuts if the system doesn't get the funding it needs to basically makeup for the budget shortfall.
SPEAKERThis is one incident with George Floyd that resulted in death.
DEMONSTRATORS(chanting) No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.
NNAMDIAt the corner of 16th and 8th Street northwest right by St. John's Church and immediately north of Lafayette Square has been symbolically renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza by Mayor Bowser.
SPEAKERLiterally racism is killing Black and brown people in a lot of ways. And it's certainly the most pernicious and abhorrent form of this racism is in police violence.
SPEAKERThere is still a clear demand to look at MPD's budget to reduce that budget where their programs are ineffective.
SPEAKERThe number one thing that contributes to excessive force in any police agency is when you underfund it.
NNAMDIToday is a historic day on Capitol Hill as the U.S. House of Representatives is voting on HR51, the D.C. statehood bill.
SPEAKERKojo, we know that D.C. is ready. This is what's fair and this is what rights a historic wrong.
SPEAKERMany folks I've talked to had family that were here in Washington for the March on Washington 57 years ago.
SPEAKERI said to somebody I've been fighting the confederacy three times longer than the confederacy existed.
SPEAKERI am very hopeful about the vaccination. The numbers look very good. And so we have been planning for a couple of months in how to distribute that equitably across the Commonwealth.
NNAMDIWe'll also be talking with Governor Larry Hogan of -- not Governor Hogan. He never appears on this broadcast.
SPEAKERKojo, this is my fifth punch on the Kojo at loyalty card. I think five more and I get a pastry, right?
NNAMDIVirginia Senator Mark Warner released a now viral video this week of him making a tuna melt. Frankly that tuna melt was of questionable quality.
SPEAKERIt's not an election season without an appearance on The Kojo Nnamdi Show.
NNAMDIYou got to understand on this broadcast, we're not used to people who think before they respond.
NNAMDIAnd everyone stay safe and thank you listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDICan you identify all of the Politics Hour guests and analysts you just heard? Of course, Tom Sherwood and yours truly, but some of those other voices D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Virginia Delegate Abraham Samir, D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, outgoing D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Phyllis Randall Chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Virginia Delegate Danika Roam, DCist Senior Editor Rachel Kurzius, WAMU Editor and Reporter Martin Austermuhle, WAMU Arts and Culture Reporter and "What's with Washington" Host Mikaela Lafrak, and Washington Post Reporter Fenit Nirappil, and our two guests today even made the cut, D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen and Montgomery Councilmember Will Jawando.
NNAMDIAs you heard, one notable voice was absent, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. In the show's history the governor in our region who has never appeared on The Politics Hour is Governor Hogan. So, Governor, there's still time to come on the show. You know the number, just give us a call. As I said, later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Will Jawando. He's an At-Large Member of the Montgomery County Council. But right now we're talking with Charles Allen who's a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 6. Councilmember Allen, thank you for joining us.
CHARLES ALLENThanks for having me and I was completely unaware there was a loyalty program and a pastry card. So I think I got a couple of punches this year.
NNAMDIYou don't qualify for them yet. (laugh) But, Tom Sherwood, you have news.
SHERWOODYes. There is news. I've confirmed the breaking City Paper's story that Mayor Bowser will order all D.C. restaurants to close indoor dining as of 10:00 p.m. next Wednesday December 23rd. All indoor dining will be banned because of the coronavirus. The virus cases here have been steadily increasing not as bad as around other parts of the country. But still it's a serious problem. The mayor is expected to announce the change in the restaurant hours later today. And we'll be anxious to hear what she has to say. She's expected to say that the indoor ban should be in effect just a few weeks to get through the holiday season at least.
SHERWOODAnd meanwhile, I should point out that the Maryland Restaurant Association is going into court to try to overturn the ban on indoor dining in both Montgomery and Prince George's County. So the virus continues to disrupt the economy and the lives of millions of people in the Washington area.
NNAMDIYeah, we'll be talking about the Montgomery ban, because the Montgomery County Council voted for that ban on indoor dining when we talk with Will Jawando later on. But right now I'm sure a lot of restaurant owners in D.C. are likely to be pretty upset about this. But is it something that you're in favor of, Charles Allen?
ALLENYou know, I think this is a decision that nobody wants to make, but it is a decision that needs to be made because we're trying to focus on everyone's health. I think we have to acknowledge that while this is the right public health decision to make we got to make sure that we're backing it up, though, with the types of supports for those small businesses, for the employees who are going to be losing their jobs and making sure that we got the supports to have them rebound back, because this is a tough decision, but, you know, a public health emergency like this requires tough decisions to be made.
ALLENSo I am supportive of this. But I know we got to be able to back this up with the type of support that our local businesses need. And for all of us out there, for me, you know, if you're able to like I will be able to it means I need to make sure I'm going out and doing take-out at least once or twice more a week to make sure we're supporting these businesses.
SHERWOODYeah, I want to say that about carry-out too because it's important. You can carry out from restaurants and help them. And tents are an issue. Many of the restaurants are doing outdoor dining and they've created tents. But if the tents -- I'm not sure the exact rules. But if the tent has a roof and it has more than one side it's considered indoors. And with the cold weather, tents are not that good of an idea anyway. It's, again, a huge disruption to a major business in our city.
NNAMDIWell, have to see what -- go ahead, please, Councilmember Allen.
ALLENI just wanted to say it's certainly going to have an impact on our businesses. But let's also remember the employees that are going to be hit by a decision by this. So it's not something that's ever made lightly. And I think that the data and the science is what's pointing us to this direction. But there are things that we as residents can do right now to help support our local businesses. Order out, do carry out and take-out to help keep some business going to them. And then let's make sure we're ready to welcome them back when it's safe and when we're all able to do so healthy.
NNAMDISpeaking of conversations, Councilmember Allen, have you had a conversation with your Ward 3 colleague Mary Cheh?
ALLENI haven't, although, I am glad that she's doing okay.
NNAMDIWell, I do have to interrupt, because for those of our listeners who may not understand why you say you're glad she's doing okay. Tom Sherwood, can you give us a brief synopsis of what happened with the Ward 3 councilmember yesterday?
SHERWOODYes. I would just say very quickly the D.C. police are having public awareness campaigns all the time that says, "If you leave your car on, it could be gone." Yesterday, Mary Cheh, was picking up -- she went inside -- she was on Connecticut Avenue near Albemarle going inside a bakery to pick up something she had left the day before. She parked in the street on Connecticut Avenue. She left her car running. She left her car running, because she was just going to be inside for a minute. And while she was inside someone jumped into her car and drove off.
NNAMDIIt is clearly a regrettable incident, Councilmember Allen. But most people who live in big cities and people who have been living in Washington for a while will say, "Well, we know better than that in Washington D.C." But it all happened quite quickly. Care to comment?
ALLENWell, it does happen quickly. And I am very glad that Councilmember Cheh is okay. But, you know, I don't think we want to make light of it. This is a serious crime. And, you know, we want to treat that seriously. We are seeing unfortunately -- and other cities are seeing the exact same, the thefts of these autos like this. Especially when there's more and more deliveries that are taking place be it food or other items during the holiday season. And vehicles are left running or the keys accessible.
ALLENSo we really want to from a public information standpoint just to remind folks of course not to do that. I think Councilmember Cheh is making that point as well on her own behalf. You know, but we also need to think about the fact that it's serious. We also, of course, have seen other crime that is also unacceptable. I think we had three young people were shot this past week in terms of gun violence. And so we need to treat all of this seriously and really work hard to end violence and crime in our city.
SHERWOODLet me -- can I just point out very quickly, initially this was reported as it had been a carjacking at the car wash next door to the bakery. It was not a carjacking. But what I want to emphasize what the Councilmember just said. Motor vehicles this year -- thefts of motor vehicles anyway they're stolen is up 49 percent. So don't leave your car running unattended.
NNAMDICouncilmember Allen, the D.C. Council wrapped up its 23rd legislative session this week. One bill that passed, the Second Look Amendment Act was one of your priorities. The act will allow anyone who committed a violent crime before they turned 25 to petition a judge for early release provided they have served 15 years of their sentence. This from Colleen Grablick's reporting for DCist. Under current law, only those who committed their crimes before they turned 18 are able to request a change in their prison sentence. Councilmember Allen, why was this one of your priorities?
ALLENWell, the purpose of the Second Look Act is it's really geared at evaluating whether someone who has been in prison for, again, at least 15 years since they were a young adult, if they can safely come home. We asked a judge to make an independent review to listen to the voices of victims and survivors, to listen to the community. Look at that individual's behavior and many more factors and decide, is that person a threat to public safety or not?
ALLENAnd what we've seen is that the results of individuals that have been able to have the judges make that decision and determination have come home. Have come home successfully, are no threat to public safety. And in fact, many are actively contributing to stop cycles of violence. They are youth mentors. They are violence interrupters. They are fathers and grandfathers and returning back to be a stabilizing force in their community. So we as a city are better off by making sure that the individuals that have been able to come home have done so, do so safely and are contributing as full members of our society.
NNAMDIOkay. Got to take a short break. But we did get a Twitter message from victimrecoverdc saying, "Some of our recommendations regarding ways to include victims' voices were not including in this legislation. However, we still strongly support the District's efforts towards criminal legal reform and new definitions of justice that account for the spectrum of crime survivor's experiences." Got to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Charles Allen, a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 6. Councilmember Allen, Mayor Muriel Bowser and outgoing Police Chief Peter Newsham both oppose the Second Look Amendment Act, Newsham calling it a threat to public service. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh tried to add two amendments. One that would give substantial weight to the victims voices in resentencing. Another that would propose that a judge considered the nature of the underlying offense when deciding whether to shorten a sentence. Both of those amendments failed. Why did they not gain any support except I think for Brandon Todd?
ALLENWell, under the law both victims and survivors are put front and center in the decision making by a court. And, of course, the underlying offense is thoroughly examined as a part of the review. What I think is more important though is that we've seen even in the time between when we first voted on this on December 1st to the second vote, we've actually had even more jurisdictions around the country are taking this type of criminal justice reform step, because it's really rooted in fairness and in public safety. Los Angeles County, for example, the week after we passed our law said that they're going to be doing resentencing of everyone not just through age 24, but every person after 15 years.
ALLENAnd part of that is because what we really see in sentencing of young people is a historic and massive racial disparity that has played out, not just here in D.C. but across the country, where young Black offenders get a much more extreme sentence than anyone else. And so part of this is part of the work of our racial reckoning and it's part of our work of criminal justice reform, but it's rooted in public safety, and it's rooted in making sure that individuals are able to come home and do so safely.
ALLENAnd, again, as I've illustrated with several examples, none have reoffended violently here in the District. And in fact, many of them are actively working to help improve public safety. And that's the outcome we want. And I think that's why we've also seen in a poll that was just released this week, 71 percent of D.C. residents support the Second Look Act, because they understand it's common sense criminal justice reform -- sentencing reform. And they understand that it helps make us safer.
SHERWOODCouncilmember, while the mayor and the police chief didn't like your legislation, Attorney General Karl Racine has put out a very strong statement in support of what you've done. And you just mentioned that some areas -- that some jurisdictions are looking at something to look at all crimes. Would you support at some point -- I know this law is just now going to go into effect. Would you support something looking at sentences of 10 years not 15, but 10 years or any crimes? Where would you like to get other than where this law is now? What's the ultimate?
ALLENYeah. The recommendation that we've seen from national organizations, from the bar associations and other legal scholars is that 15 years is when we should be doing a sentencing review to take a look back and decide is this person -- do they remain a threat to public safety or are they rehabilitated and can they come home. And that's where we've seen a couple of states and jurisdictions that are moving in that direction. I think ultimately that would be the right place to go nationally is that we look at that after 15 years. It's part of what the Second Look Act nationally by Senator Booker has included as well. So I think that that's the direction ultimately to go in. But I'm very proud of what we've gotten through. I think it's going to make a significant improvement for our own system that is rooted in justice and in public safety.
SHERWOODCan we ask first about the police chief before we move on to other subjects? The police chief has announced he's leaving on his schedule as of February 1st to go to Prince William County. You're the Chairman of the Judiciary Public Safety Committee. Are you being consulted at all by who the mayor is considering as an interim chief or a permanent chief?
ALLENWell, you know, I wish Chief Newsham the best in his new role. But I think it really is an opportunity now for us to help rethink the way in which policing and public safety intersect in our city. You know, we just held a hearing yesterday where we had dozens and dozens and dozens of witnesses come and talk about what they'd like to see as well as learn from other jurisdictions around the country about how we can help solve problems in ways that aren't always law enforcement. There's going to be a need for law enforcement. I support that.
SHERWOODExcuse me. My question was though is the mayor speaking with you about her plans to have an interim chief to see if that person would be acceptable to the Council or the new chief or is it too early?
ALLENWe haven't had that conversation yet. And I want to respect the mayor has a process that she's going to go through as she makes her appointment. And, obviously the Council has a process that we have to review in any of those appointments. You know, but I do think that both the mayor and all of us I think can see this is an opportunity to make sure that who is selected to ultimately lead the department is somebody who's really going to take an approach that looks at how do we stop cycles of violence, how do we really address public safety and gun violence in particular from a public health perspective to end these cycles of violence and really build a safer city.
NNAMDILet's stay with the MPD for a second. Here's Miranda in Washington D.C. Miranda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIRANDAHi. Thank you for having me. So first, I would just like to say on Monday we went down to central booking ...
NNAMDIWho is we?
NNAMDIWho is we?
MIRANDAWe, a group of local activists.
MIRANDAWho have been heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement as well as mutual aid efforts throughout the city.
MIRANDASo as you know there were several people arrested over the weekend. Some of which were arrested unlawfully and so one of the things that we do to support the community is to show up at central booking and provide love, support and food to our friends as they are released. On Monday, I had just finished hugging a good friend of mine after they came out of jail, and the next thing I know police are escalating things. I had officers groping my breasts, shoving me to the ground and then ripping a protective umbrella out of my hand before bare massing me in the throat.
NNAMDIOkay. We don't a lot of time. What would you like the councilmember to do?
MIRANDASo what I would like to know is how does the Council plan to hold MPD accountable for this type of chemical weapons attack? They're violating not only the pending policing and justice reform act, but they are also refusing to follow their own standard operating procedures, when it comes to handling first amendment ...
ALLENYeah, thank you, Miranda. You know, we spoke to this issue a couple of days ago in the Council session, because it is concerning and really deeply disturbing. And I think it really speaks to a larger issue as well, which is what is our expectation and what should we see when it comes to the ways in which police respond to protests. We have seen throughout the summer escalations like your describing and in other areas that I don't think are consistent with what we want to see happen.
ALLENAnd then we also see white supremacists run through our city vandalizing and I think committing hate crimes against some of our Black churches in the city. And I can understand as I'm hearing from a lot of folks that they believe they are perceiving and feeling and experiencing an uneven enforcement. And that is deeply troubling, I know not just to myself but to several of my colleagues that have spoken to this. And this is what we also have to get to when we think about the future of MPD leadership is how we make sure we have the type of leadership that puts that the actions and decisions in place that safeguards our residents.
ALLENAnd it does so with an even hand no matter what they may or may not be protesting. And that's concerning. I know this specific episode is under investigation. And I know we'll be following that closely. But I have heard from not just Miranda but from others that are deeply concerned with this and what took place.
SHERWOODMay I ask a political question about this?
SHERWOODEvery two years, the Council Chairman changes committee assignments, recommends changes. You've been the judiciary committee chairman. In the next day or so the Chairman Mendelson will put out his new proposals for committee chairmanships. Have you been told or do you expect to remain Chairman of the Public Safety Judiciary Committee?
ALLENWell, we'll find out I believe on Tuesday afternoon I think is when the chairman is going to be releasing his recommendations for the next Council period.
SHERWOODAnd politically you're up for reelection in 2022, which means you'll be starting next year. Are you going to run for reelection in Ward 6? There's some rumors you might want to run for Council chairman yourself.
NNAMDIYou have less than one minute left in this segment.
SHERWOODThat doesn't take long to answer this.
ALLENTom loves to try to take the bait on this one. I think I've answered this one before, Tom, that I have what I think is the best job in the world representing Ward 6 and it's an honor and privilege to get to do that. And it's something that I love doing and would want to continue doing.
NNAMDIWell, we're going to take a short break. Councilmember Allen will stick around for a few minutes after the break and after that we'll be talking with Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. D.C. councilmember representing Ward 6 Charles Allen will be with us for a few more minutes. Councilmember Allen, the D.C. Council approved a bill to create a civilian review board for transit police. A Washington Post report found Metro Transit Police held weekly contests for arrests and citations back in 2018. What will this oversight board do, who will be on it? And for it to be established, our neighbors in Maryland and Virginia have to pass identical legislation. What are your hopes for this?
ALLENYeah, I certainly hope we can get all of our jurisdictions onboard for this. And I want to give credit to Councilmember Robert White, who's worked really closely on this, as well. You know, we've heard stories, and Mr. White and I both held a joint hearing where we heard from, specifically, young people, as well, who had had really negative experiences with our Metro Police Department.
ALLENAnd as we think about the larger issue around police accountability and transparency, civilian oversight and review boards are a major part of having trust and faith that if a negative interaction takes place, if that trust is broken, there's a consequence and there's an ability to provide that oversight. And our Metro Transit Police simply doesn't have that. It's multiple jurisdictions, and really no cohesiveness that runs through that other than some internal processes at WMATA.
ALLENSo, this would create a civilian review board that works in all of our jurisdictions and oversees our Metro Transit Police. I think it can go a long way to helping rebuild trust, rebuild faith in the policing that takes place. You know, if you remember our conversation a couple years ago, when we were working on the decriminalization efforts for fare evasion, you know, we were seeing just pretty significant abuses of our riders by Metro Transit Police.
ALLENAnd so, I think this is one of the ways in which we can really make some improvements for our riders, as well as work on that trust and faith that has to be part and parcel with police accountability and transparency.
SHERWOODThis week, Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein ruled the council overstepped its authority when it prohibited even the filing of eviction notices by landlords. I understand the reason for this is to protect people who are facing evictions and being thrown out of their homes and apartments. Do you anticipate the council will have to pass some new legislation to address the issue?
NNAMDIAnd what, if any, is the practical effect of the ruling?
ALLENThe practical effect, as best I understand it, is that no one can still be evicted, but that the filing of those paperworks can proceed, from an eviction standpoint. But I think it's important for tenants to know that evictions can still not take place. They're not allowed to take place. We will probably have to come back with some legislation early in the new year to help make sure that we're addressing this. But let's just be very clear about what the risk is, here.
ALLENWe are in an economic calamity as a part of this pandemic, and we have people whose homes, the roof over their head, is being threatened. And we will be facing an evictions cliff and crisis if we do not create the type of protections that our tenants need, that our renters need to keep them in their home. So many have lost their jobs. They have struggled with COVID or they've lost family members to COVID. There's a world of hurt out there. There's a lot of people in pain, and we need to take the steps necessary to help keep people in their homes, help keep them healthy. And preventing evictions is one of the ways we've got to do that.
NNAMDIAnd finally, so you might be able to leave on a positive note, here's Alan in Washington, D.C. Alan, your turn.
ALANHi, Councilman, and thanks for having me on the show. I just wanted to -- the theme of the show is accomplishments of council over the last year. And there's one bill that Councilman Allen championed that I just wanted to note, and it's the Transportation Benefits Act amendment of 2020. And we are the first city in the country that has told employers that if you're going to help your employees get to work, which you should, and you're going to support parking and pay for their parking, you have to give them an equivalent benefit if they don't drive and park at work.
ALANAnd in this age when we're concerned about climate change and equity and Vision Zero, this is a first of any city in the country, and it couldn't have occurred if not for Councilman Allen's leadership. So, I just want to thank you for that.
ALLENThank you so much, Alan. I appreciate that.
NNAMDIWell, we allow you to leave...
SHERWOODIs the law in effect?
ALLENThe law is going into effect. It was passed this year.
NNAMDIWell, we allow you to leave with a pat on the back, a rare occurrence on this broadcast. (laugh)
NNAMDIAn outrage. And Charles Allen, thank you very much for joining us.
ALLENThank you both so much. Have a great holiday.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Will Jawando. He is an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council. Councilmember Jawando, thank you for joining us.
WILL JAWANDOGood to be with you. Happy holidays, everybody.
NNAMDII'd like to know how you feel about this, but I'll allow Tom Sherwood to talk about it, first. And that is, Roy McGrath, Governor Hogan's former chief of staff, according to the report in the Washington Post by Steve Thompson, repeatedly declined to answer questions from Maryland lawmakers about that hefty severance payment he received when he left his director of a quasi-public agency, the Maryland Environment Service, to become the governor's top aid. He is at least the second person who has invoked those rights before these lawmakers. What's going on, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, you know, Roy was going to become the chief -- well, he did become the chief of staff to the governor, probably the second -- the most important position in the state, behind the governor himself. And then it turns out he just got his flush payout of over $200,000, and then he submitted a -- from the Maryland Environmental Services agency. And then he submitted an expense account of something like $50,000 and had all these lavish trips around the world.
SHERWOODThe governor has said he didn't have anything to do with approving of this, and we don't know exactly whether the governor knew about it. But the governor insists that he had nothing to do with all these monies being paid out. The bad thing is McGrath, his lawyer had said a few weeks ago that he would appear and testify and answer questions. He did not.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about this, Councilmember Jawando?
JAWANDOWell, it's a betrayal of the public trust. I mean, look, the times we're in, the conversations we're having every day about people dying, getting infected with COVID, people trying to stay in their homes. It really hurts trust in government when you have this type of excess in payouts.
JAWANDOAnd I hope that the governor will take responsibility -- you know, it's on his watch, it's his chief of staff -- and take appropriate action. And, at a minimum, you know, you need to answer questions of those who are duly elected to hold the government accountable and to do oversight. So, it's disappointing. I had read an article about it, and I'm hoping that he takes immediate action.
NNAMDIWill Jawando, the Montgomery County council approved more COVID-19 restrictions, including suspending indoor dining, something we discussed briefly earlier in this show, because D.C.'s about to do the same thing, come Wednesday. The Restaurant Association of Maryland and a group of restaurants are suing the county. What is your response to this lawsuit, and will there be help for restaurants that will take a financial hit from the new regulations?
JAWANDOWell, I'm not going to comment on pending litigation. I will say that we did implement the indoor dining restriction -- which we hope will be temporary -- as a health measure on Tuesday. And look, no one takes lightly the steps to shut down businesses, at least indoor dining. They're still available for carryout and drive-up and delivery. But we do need more money for our restaurants and businesses, but we had to do it for public health measures.
JAWANDOYesterday alone, we had 14 people die in Montgomery County. We've had over 73 people die this week. And to give you context, in the month of July, when we were coming out of going into phase II, the whole month, we had 40 some-odd people die. So, in one week we've had 73. And so, our hospital capacity's almost at 80 percent, as far as our beds. So, we've had days of 500 cases and plus and more, so we had to take these actions.
JAWANDOAnd our contact tracing shows that a large part of the increase is due to indoor dining, especially as it's gotten colder, and those spaces are more compact. So, this is a public health measure. I think it was a difficult decision. We've given out, at the county level, over $255 million in relief, including almost $50 million to businesses, directly.
JAWANDOThe state has given out some money. I'm glad to see the governor, Hogan, announce some additional funds. I've been calling on that for weeks. We don't need to hold any of that money back. And, obviously, we need the federal government to step up. But these are public health measures that are intended to save people's lives in the midst of a really, really difficult time of this crisis.
NNAMDIWell, Montgomery County Public Schools remain closed to in-person learning. You've been pressing health officials to prioritize getting kids back in schools. A lot of people would say that sounds a little irresponsible, but you say it can be done, with tighter restrictions in other areas. How would that work?
JAWANDOWell, the steps we're taking. And part of the problem is we're not an island here, you know. I was glad to listen to Councilmember Allen, who I think is doing great work in D.C. We need regional cooperation, but we need statewide cooperation. And I've also called for the governor, during this holiday season when with a vaccine on the horizon -- not even on the horizon -- being distributed, and we're going through that process, to do a temporary stay-at-home order.
JAWANDOWe're seeing a bump from Thanksgiving. Let's do that now. Give the money to businesses, stay home for four-to-six weeks, try to get a handle on this, and that way, we can open our schools sooner. Because the mental health issues for our kids -- the young kids, in particular, kids with differing abilities -- our high school seniors, go down the list, they're reaching to a breaking point. And we need to shut everything else down so that we can open up schools. And that needs to be our top priority.
JAWANDOAnd there's places in the country, in the world that have done that. I think this half-measure that we've done here in the state, unfortunately, we tried to do our best in Montgomery County, but I think if we would have taken more drastic actions as we saw this second wave, we could get kids back in sooner. So, I'm hoping that's what we can do now.
SHERWOODMr. Councilmember, I think you tweeted that, on a personal level, that you and your family would be staying home through the Christmas holidays. There's just been concern -- you mentioned Thanksgiving -- that there is just a refusal to face reality that people need to stay home across the country. The President-Elect Joe Biden has said when he takes office, he'll ask the country, for 100 days, to wear masks.
SHERWOODPolitically, we cannot even get people to wear masks, much less stay home and not congregate in other places. And here in the District of Columbia, the archdiocese sued the city to force the mayor to allow more people to attend church and worship services. It just seems like people just can't quite grasp how horrible this virus pandemic is, even though thousands of people are dying every day.
JAWANDONo, and it's really unfortunate. I mean, obviously, it starts from the top, with the inconsistent and irresponsible messaging from President Trump over the course of this pandemic. We're starting to see that change from the President-elect. But I think, again, going to our level, the regional, statewide collaboration is important. We've tried to do that with our partners in Prince George's County and other parts of Maryland and D.C. and Virginia, to have at least close to the same restrictions, but you're right. It's devastating.
JAWANDOI mean, you know, 1 percent of our population has died from COVID in Montgomery County, over 1,000 people. And you think about that, it's, you know -- or .01 percent, rather, but it's a significant number And many more have contracted it. So, people have to take it seriously. Small gatherings, wear facial coverings, and don't go over to people's homes.
SHERWOODIf we could move on, I want to ask you about the county itself. During this time, this difficult time, there's been an historic change in the way Montgomery County is going to approach development throughout the county. You yourself has a bill -- I don't know exactly what the status of it is -- that would allow duplexes, triplexes in single-family neighborhoods around a Metro station -- a mile within the Metro station. Is single-family zoning something that may disappear in the county?
JAWANDONo, not at all. You know, the vast majority of Montgomery County is zoned for single family, including where I live. This is about allowing more housing to be built for more people at different price points. And this is all transit-oriented. Within a mile of Metro stations in the county you'd be able to build certain duplexes, triplexes, quads, small apartment buildings within the form and structure of current single-family homes. It couldn't be taller, 35', than a single-family home. The setbacks would need to be the same.
JAWANDOSo, these would be smaller, but very comparable in their outward appearance. And this allows for more price points. You take a single-family home that's a million dollars, you put it into four quads, you could get not only more people near transit to access jobs and you take cars off the road, you also provide more housing. And we need more housing in our region, and we need them for more people at different levels. So, that's why I think it's being overblown. This is a targeted proposal, along with my anti-rent gouging bill, which is important, as well.
NNAMDII was about to say, your other housing bill aims to prevent price gouging for rentals near Metro. What would this bill exactly do, and is it a kind of rent control?
JAWANDOWell, you know, the labels -- you can call it what you want. It's an anti-rent gouging bill. Rents will still be increased. They will be capped at a voluntary rent guideline, which is calculated every year by our Department of Housing, related to inflation. This year, it's 2.6 percent. And what it will do is give consistency and it'll protect folks from displacement and gentrification that you see everywhere in our region.
JAWANDOWe have several projects going on. Obviously, Metro is already here, but you have the Purple Line, bus rapid transit. And this would protect folks within a mile of those public infrastructure projects that the taxpayers pay for at great expense, where land values have gone up. Make sure folks don't get displaced. And so, the reason we call this more housing for more people is that it's about the supply, increasing more supply and more homeownership opportunities at different price points. But it's also about protecting those who are in these communities now and making sure that they don't get forced out.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of rentals, that's what Jim in Rockville, Maryland wants to talk about. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMThank you. I'm glad you brought up the topic of housing. There are a couple things. I'm a small landlord, have about four rental properties, from townhomes to condos. And one thing that, you know, frankly, really disgusts people like me is when all this talk about rent forgiveness and rent help and, you know, foreclosure and eviction protection. For many of us, that's our income. That's our retirement. And we're small. We're not multimillionaire, evil, money-grubbing landlords who are trying to take advantage of the poor and the weak.
JIMImagine, if you will, if -- I assume, you know, you all work for public entities or NPR or whatever and you probably have a 401K or some equal state and local -- or state and local retirement benefits. Imagine, if you will, if a county or a state passed a law that said you have to transfer some of your retirement money to this person over there because of COVID. You know, where is the justice from that? I mean, yeah, it sounds politically good...
JIM...because people pay landlords, but let me -- one more thing. Your proposal about the anti-rent gouging is absolutely rent control. I mean, you can't, with a straight face, say that that's not rent control. And rent control has never worked. You look at the disaster that it's caused in all the...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Jim, Jim, very briefly, Jim, what is the financial situation you find yourself in right now, as a small landlord?
JIMI have voluntarily given two of my tenants about two or three months of free rent. I didn't need the government to tell me to do that. I did it because they were good tenants. I didn't want to lose them. However, the fact that we may be forced to basically take money out of our pocket -- and we're not rich, we're not rich by any stretch. In fact, I probably make less than the councilman makes.
JIMAnd to focus -- to single out one group of people...
JIM...that have to basically subsidize...
NNAMDI...to make sacrifices. Allow me to have the council member respond. Councilmember Jawando.
JAWANDOWell, I appreciate the question, and thank you for calling in. You know, look, this is not about an either/or proposition. We've given out over $22 million in rental assistance that's encumbered right now and is making its way to landlords. And the money doesn't go to the tenant. It goes directly to the landlord, 4 to 6,000 payments to help pay back rent. And so, that is a support. We've also capped rent increases during the time, a bill I introduced, at the 2.6 percent per year, realizing that people are struggling right now, like the gentleman acknowledged.
JAWANDOAnd so, this is not taking anything from anybody. This is saying we want reasonable stability for renters, particularly near transit, where the prices are going up. And that we also want to have supports for the landlords and the property owners. And we've done both.
JAWANDOAnd just the last thing I'd say is we've looked at over the last 20 years properties that were built. The most properties, the vast majority stay within the rent guidelines which are normally between 1 and 4 percent on their yearly increases. So, this is for the extreme cases, which do happen, where you see 5, 10, 20, 30 percent, in some cases, and people can't afford that. So, this is an anti-rent gouging bill. It'll still allow increases from year to year.
SHERWOODClearly, the virus is the biggest story of the year in the nation and in our region, but police reform is right up there, also, because of the George Floyd incident last May and all the changes. If you could, just very quickly, what has Montgomery County done in reaction to the calls for police reform in the wake of the police altercations we've heard about since George Floyd? The biggest thing you've done.
JAWANDOWell, we've done quite a bit. Yeah, sure. We've done quite a bit. I authored a use-of-force bill, along with my colleagues Councilmembers Rice, Navarro and Albornoz and was supported by the whole council, which is really a landmark bill that requires that deadly force only be used when absolutely necessary, not raising the standard from reasonableness, and requiring that deescalation techniques be exhausted. It also bans chokeholds, knees to the neck, requires officers to intervene when they see an officer committing a crime.
JAWANDOAnd so, these are very important things that we saw and witnessed in the horrible murder of George Floyd and many other cases that have happened before. But that's just the start. We have to do much more. We need to right-size the role of police and change their form and function and get them involved in things, only violent crime, not in policing people's daily activities. And we're making some efforts on that front, as well. I can...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Another big issue is the council -- the voters of Montgomery County changed the way the county council be made up, adding two more additional ward seats. There will be like seven ward seats and four at-large. When will that change go into effect and how would we pay attention to how those districts are going to be created? Is that going to be done all next year, for 2022?
JAWANDOSure. Yes, it will be completed. We just appointed, or in the process of appointing members to a redistricting commission. They will make a recommendation to us by November of next year of what the new districts should look like, the seven districts. And we're going to be retaining the four at-large. Obviously, I'm one of those. And then that will be in effect for the 2022 election. And our primaries are in June of 2022, so that's going to happen over the next year. And it's going to be an exciting time, and it's going to reduce the district size from about 225,000 people per district to around 155,000, which will be much more manageable and give people more representation.
NNAMDIMontgomery County officials now say the financial outlook for the county isn't as bad as it originally thought. Brianna Atkin Cook Suma (ph) reports for Bethesda Beat that county officials estimated the tax loss of $192 million for this year, but that estimate has improved to a shortfall of 101 million. The updated tax revenue loss for fiscal year 2022 is now estimated at 163 million, better than the July estimate of 282 million.
NNAMDIBut you, apparently, are reported as saying that the county should be diligent in making sure that no critical services to residents are on the chopping block for savings. Are you still fearing that?
JAWANDOWell, we have to. I think, look, I'm glad it's not as bad as we thought. We have done a good job in the county. We have half-a-billion dollars, around 500 million in reserves that has been saved over the last decade or so, thanks to previous fiscal management. This is the definition of a rainy day. Before any services are cut, we should be spending down that money.
JAWANDOAnd then, at the same time, we need to be looking at comprehensive tax reform. This is the other point I made. There was a report out that, through October, billionaires in this country have earned more than $679 billion added to their coffers. That translates down. And here we sit in Montgomery County, the wealthiest county in the wealthiest state with millionaires per capita in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, and we need to be talking about what we need to do to get our students back to school safely, make sure that they have the supports they need, make sure that we make the investments in critical services at a disaster-level time. And I think all that needs to be considered as part of also cutting the fat and making sure we're running government efficiently.
JAWANDOBut I don't think draconian cuts are in order, at this point.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time, and it seems today that we are in the mood to end with pats on the back. So, here's Tatiana in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Tatiana, you only have about 30 seconds.
TATIANAI'll be quick. Hi, Will. I just wanted to say I met you one time at Filan, (ph) and I was so proud of how you're bringing empathy and knowledge back to politics. One thing, when we met, that you said that really stuck with me was I introduced you to my co-workers as my favorite local politician, and you said to me, I prefer civil servant. And I really appreciated that, and I do think you're doing a great job.
JAWANDOI appreciate it, Tatiana. Happy holidays to you and your family.
NNAMDIThis is making Tom Sherwood and I very ill, as a matter of fact. (laugh)
SHERWOODI don't know how we're going to overcome this.
NNAMDII don't know. I don't think we can. But Will Jawando is an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council. Thank you so much for joining us.
JAWANDOThank you for having me and for giving me the same ending that you gave Charles. I appreciate it. Happy holidays to you guys.
NNAMDISame to you. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, Obama had Bo and Sonny, but Trump brought no pets to the White House, making the people's house pet-less for the first time in over a century. We'll talk about how President-elect Biden's dogs will change that.
NNAMDIPlus, robots, rockets, aliens and undersea adventures. These are just a few of the things Gregory Mone likes to write about. The best-selling children's book author is our next guest on Kojo for Kids. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend. Big holiday plans, Sherwood?
SHERWOODI'm going to stay safe and wash my hands.
NNAMDIYou, too, all stay safe, and thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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