On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
In early February, Anne Arundel County had the third-lowest immunization rate in Maryland. How is the county doing now? County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) joins The Politics Hour to talk about its vaccine rollout and how the pandemic has affected the county budget. Plus, Pittman will weigh in on bills before Maryland lawmakers, including one that would give local governments more leeway to change income tax structure.
Then, Kojo and Tom sit down with D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) to talk about the District’s vaccine rollout, gun violence and how the pandemic has impacted plans to bring a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
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.
NNAMDIJoining us later in the broadcast will be Vincent Gray. He's a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 7. He's also the Former Mayor of the District. Joining us now is Steuart Pittman, the Anne Arundel County Executive. Steuart Pittman, thank you so much for joining us.
STEUART PITTMANThank you, Kojo and Tom.
NNAMDITom Sherwood before we start talking about Anne Arundel specifically, there was a fascinating op-ed in The Washington Post by Former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening in which he admits -- he says that he was wrong when he refused to grant parole with anyone with a life sentence. He has now changed his opinion. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODYes. It came as a surprise. The question of parole, who gets parole, who gets -- who has to stay in jail for the rest of their lives is rolling around in many states. In Virginia, there's a big controversy about the parole board there. But Parris Glendening the former -- who served from '95-2003, you know, he just said that he was wrong to say that he would not release people on parole. I think it was a shot in the arm for those who think we're way past the time to reform prison sentences.
NNAMDIMr. County Executive, how do you feel about that issue?
PITTMANWell, I don't have that power, but I agree with the new message from the former governor. And it is time to allow that to happen. Not everybody is guilty.
NNAMDIWell, as Tom Sherwood likes to say this is The Politics Hour. And, Tom Sherwood, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has essentially said publically what he implied to you some time ago on this broadcast when you asked him whether he was going to run again. And he said that he hadn't announced it. But you should assume he is. Now he's made it in a way formal. Well, if not formal, public.
SHERWOODAs formal as Marc Elrich will get. That's when he puts on a tie that was made after 1990. But, no, he did tell, I think it was Bethesda Beat this week that he would in fact run for reelection next year. It's not a surprise. He had totally said in early March that he -- that we could count on him doing that. And if -- maybe that's a good time to turn to the County Executive of Anne Arundel County and maybe ask him, is he going to run for reelection next year? He won in an upset in 2018 for those who don't know Mr. Pittman. He beat an incumbent Republican county executive 52-48. He's been very progressive in that county, which has tended in some ways to be very Republican and like Larry Hogan like many Democrats do. But what's the answer, Mr. Pittman?
PITTMANWell, the answer is that I need to show that this wasn't a one-time thing that our county's changing and we're moving in a better direction. So, yeah, that's my plan, but I haven't announced. How's that?
SHERWOODOkay. Wait. You created a political action committee Future Matters taking on all kinds of serious issues. You're at the General Assembly looking maybe to get county permission to raise income taxes on people who make over $500,000. You've been very aggressive on immigration issues and working with ICE. Some people have said this Future Matters PAC -- organization could be a good basis to do a statewide campaign. Is a statewide campaign in your list of possibles?
PITTMANNot this time around. And I don't know about the future. It is true that Maryland really does need I think a progressive alternative to change Maryland, which the governor created before he ran, but that's not really the design of Future Matters. We're out there doing -- engaging people in policy conversations, having forums and trying to talk about stuff that politicians are usually afraid to talk about like taxes and land use. So we're having some fun with it. But no, it's not a platform to run for governor or any statewide job.
SHERWOODWell, I have to say if Kojo will let me take over the program for just a moment. For the first time in my life I have read something called the East Coast Equestrian Newsletter. And you are known for your support of horses former race horses.
NNAMDIHe's a horse guy, yes.
SHERWOODYou have a -- I think your family has a historic 500 acre farm. But you said in that newsletter a couple of years ago when you were running that you credited your ability to be a progressive politician with your ability to listen to horses and feel what they are trying to tell you. And I have to say this it's the first time I've ever heard a politician talk about horse sense in that sense. Tell the listeners many of who may not know you, your county stretches from up near Baltimore all the way to Southern Maryland. What is your horse sense about being a politician? You'd never been in office before when you ran for county executive.
NNAMDIAnd are you a horse whisperer? But go ahead.
PITTMANRight, and I got to tell you that my campaign manager when I was running said, Steuart, stop talking about the horse thing. People don't like being compared to horses. But there is some truth in it. I used to have a blog called Listen to the Horse about how to train horses. And, you know, these are 1,000 pound animals that can hurt you and you can't force them to do much anything. You have to listen to them, connect with them, gain their trust.
PITTMANAnd, you know, I think it's the same way with groups of people. And in politics you can't tell people what to think. You have to listen to them. Gain their trust. And when you make a connection then maybe you can move them along a little bit in a good direction. So it is something. I learned a lot of patience with those animals. And it's helped.
NNAMDIOkay. Let's talk about the coronavirus vaccine. In early February Anne Arundel had the third lowest immunization rate in the state. How have county officials addressed that? What's been done to improve the process? And where are you now?
PITTMANWell, we're looking for more vaccines. The governor finally did put out some numbers just a couple of days ago about, you know, how many vaccines per population by county. They've been reluctant to be transparent about that. And, yeah, we're near the bottom in terms of numbers of vaccines from the state. And we can't control that. We can just beg and plead and cajole. But we get them into people's arms within the week that we get them. And our health department has done a fantastic job. Eighty percent of the doses in our county they do go through our local health department. And we think that's a good thing, because they're out in the community and they do it from a public health perspective.
PITTMANSo we have a centralized system for that for people to register and then they get called in for appointments. So we -- I and all the big seven county executives in fact, have been really pushing the governor hard trying to get the state to do something similar, because we have this vaccine surfing problem that folks who are best on computer can and have time to sit around and surf on the internet are the ones who get vaccinated first.
PITTMANAnd that doesn't make any sense from a public health perspective.
NNAMDIWhile we're on the subject of Governor Hogan, in late January the government responded to a constituent's comment on Facebook. And he said that your county, Anne Arundel County's Lead Public Health Officer, quoting here, "Doesn't really know what he's talking about when it comes to the topic of reopening schools." What is your feeling about that? And what is the nature of your working relationship with the governor?
PITTMANWell, that was curious. And I think the governor probably realized afterwards that it might not have been a wise thing to do, because there was a big backlash. And in fact, our health officer didn't disagree with the governor opening schools. He also wanted to open schools, Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman. And I don't know why he said it. My relationship with the governor, he does live in our county. He runs a real estate development company called the Hogan Companies out of county. He does a lot of development business here.
PITTMANWe've been a little tougher on developers in this county, and enforcing some of our environmental regulations. And so, you know, there's been some friction there built in. I think he wasn't happy to see a Democrat win in this county. But I met with him soon after he made that comment or had a phone call anyway with his staff. And it's civil. But, you know, you always have to push the higher level of the government to do what's right for your people and we do that.
NNAMDIOur guest is Steuart Pittman. He is the Anne Arundel County Executive. You talked about development. Susan in Annapolis, Maryland wants to talk about one. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSANThank you, Kojo. And I wanted to thank, Mr. Pittman for all of the good work he's done so far. I campaigned for him especially thinking of the environment. And I wanted to know if you were aware of the rowing facility that we're planning for Quiet Waters. It's in one of the most sensitive areas and a very unique area with a lot of SAVs and, you know, bird life and you know, the wood duck and things like. And so I was wondering if you were aware of it and if you -- either way if you'd be willing to take a walk there with some of us from the community and also walk at a place that ...
NNAMDIWell, Susan, I'm assuming you are opposed to this rowing facility being put up there. What do you say, Mr. County Executive?
PITTMANThat's funny that the hottest topic in the country right now came up as the first call. It's very controversial. I think people were -- thought that because our Rec and Parks had done a study under the previous administration and they're looking at different places for more water access, which I do support water access. And building a floating dock in a really sensitive area of Quiet Waters Park that plan is not by any means set in stone. And we're looking at alternative sites for that as well. So stay tuned. Not a done deal.
NNAMDIAnd Susan wants to know if you will join them for a walk in the park.
PITTMANSure. Call my office.
SHERWOODFor those of us who don't know, where is Quiet Waters?
PITTMANQuiet Waters Park is really at the edge of Annapolis on the South River off of the Chesapeake Bay. And we have 530 miles of coast in Anne Arundel County including the City of Annapolis is in our county, of course. And it's really important that we protect the water and the bay and the natural environment. And at the same time we want to provide access to it for people. Most of it is privately owned and we need to get people experiencing the water in order to support it. So those are sometimes competing goals.
NNAMDIYou only have about one minute left in this segment, Tom Sherwood. Go ahead.
SHERWOODI want to ask a question about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We're going into the season where tens of thousands of people in the Washington area go over the bridge, go to the Eastern Shore and the ocean, but I don't think you have time to answer. So I'll wait. I'll ask the question. I was reading up on you and you're not so sure that the state needs to build a new third span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. And you're concerned about maybe even building a new bridge along the way there. I'd like to hear your answer when we come back.
NNAMDIWell, you don't have to wait. We have about 40 seconds. So you can start answering, Mr. County Executive.
PITTMANOkay. So, yeah. I am not sure that that is the best use of what, $7 to $10 billion. I would have loved to see the state put in the red line coming in and out of Baltimore instead. The need for it is based on development projections on the other side.
PITTMANBridge and I think that for now we can get by with two spans that we have and not creating all that environmental destruction that a third span would cause.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Tom Sherwood, before we get back to the Anne Arundel County Executive, Governor Northam of Virginia has endorsed Jay Jones for Attorney General even though the incumbent Mark Herring is running, and the headline in the Virginia Pilot talked about Mark Herring calling for Northam's resignation. Northam, however, says that he has been close with Jones and his family for a very long time. Sherwood.
SHERWOODAnd that's it. Mark Herring, you know, did have to say in 2017 he was going to run for governor. And he stepped aside when it looked like Northam was going to have a better run for governor. And so Herring ran for a third term -- I mean second term as Attorney General. And now he wanted to run for governor this time. And just after all the issues of blackface politics in Virginia, he couldn't. But Northam says this is not in any animosity. It's just that he thinks it's time for new blood, new leadership in the state. You know, Jay Jones is a thoughtful member from the around the Hampton Roads area. That's where Governor Northam is from. There's probably some personal politics in there, but I don't know enough about it to say precisely what it is.
NNAMDIMr. County Executive, you are supporting a statewide bill that would give local governments the authority to change taxing structures. Before I ask you about that, let's hear from Paul in Severna Park. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Paul, are you there? Paul called us very early on in the broadcast and he wanted just to make a point that you said you were not going to raise taxes, but you have already raised county taxes twice. How would you respond to that?
PITTMANWell, I did not actually say that I would not raise taxes. And when my opponent invited me to a signing ceremony to promise not to raise taxes I was not there. What is said was that we would make decisions about revenue based on projected needs. And we did have to do a income tax and a property tax increase that first year in our budget in order to do the infrastructure needs, police, fire and education. We have the fourth lowest property taxes in the state and the seventh lowest -- I'm sorry. The fourth lowest income taxes and the seventh lowest property taxes in the state out of 24 counties. So we're proud of our low tax rates, but we have had to adjust them.
NNAMDIHow would you like to change the taxing structures?
PITTMANWell, I would like to be able to do high rates on the income tax side for higher income folks and lower rates for lower income folks. And so what we did last year was we brought a bill to the legislature that would allow local jurisdictions to do that. Until 1999, in Maryland, the income taxes were piggybacked on the state rate. And the state rate is progressive, higher income, higher rate. And we had to go to a flat rate, all the counties in Maryland. And so we've said, let us create brackets. You know, it's been a rough time for low-income people in this pandemic.
PITTMANThe wealthier folks have done pretty well. The Trump tax cut went to the wealthy. It's time to do something for the regular working people. And so we got the support of the Maryland Association of Counties and that bill is moving through the General Assembly as we speak.
SHERWOODThis bill as I understand it would allow the local jurisdictions to tax income above $500,000. That's an issue in the District too. The D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen, they're trying to make a change to do a wealth tax on people. I think it's over $250,000 in the city. Is that correct, the figure $500,000?
PITTMANYeah. That's the top Maryland rate $500,000 taxable income. So you could be making more than that, but $500,000 taxable for individuals. It's $600,000 for families. And there used to be a wealth tax in Maryland for a while and it was repealed. And the bill would allow counties to go a little above the 3.2 max, 3.2 percent to go to 3.5 for that. In our county that's 1.4 percent of our taxpayers. The bill's been amended. So it probably won't allow folks to go above 3.2. But below 3.2, which is the state max, we can do the brackets. And there are only a couple of central Maryland counties that are below 3.2. We're at 2.8. And so we'll be using it. The counties that are already at 3.2 it would cost them money to do this. And they'll probably not be doing that. But that's their call.
NNAMDIWe got an email from a listener who says, "Can you ask the County Executive about commercial fishing bill, which is being considered? The bill would specifically open the Lake Ogden White Hall Creek and Meredith Creek Waterways to commercial harvesting?"
PITTMANYeah. I don't support that bill. That would put nets out in pretty sensitive areas, rivers and streams that -- where we're trying to grow grasses and potential damage could be great. And we're trying to increase the, you know, the fish population.
NNAMDIThen here is Gloria in Upper Marlborough. Gloria, your turn. Go ahead, please.
GLORIAThank you very much, Kojo. You guys happen to mention my Governor Hogan. I am a blind 83 year old activist. And during this time of competing emergencies, COVID, having to vote differently, the leadership in Maryland is doing a terrible job, because persons, who are differently abled -- I don't teach disabilities. I think the people who have disabilities are the ones who won't make room for us at the table. It should be level ground. There was no audio phone you could pick up and find out anything. I had a maskless driver on the 15th of December. I've called 311. Called the governor's office, called county exect's office. I'm still trying to find out what one does about that.
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to -- go ahead, please.
GLORIATo see you have -- or somebody have a discussion related to the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act, who our good friend Steny Hoyer said was the most amazing legislation involving people with challenges -- someone needs to have a show about that so we get the moral fortitude to legitimate. We shouldn't celebrate when we won't legitimate.
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have the County Executive respond to your sentiments.
PITTMANWell, I am very sympathetic. I can't imagine how horrible it would be to find out that the driver didn't have a mask on. And you couldn't see that. So didn't put the mask on. You know, the ADD is something that every county is working on. We've done a big study to try to get all of our parks more accessible and we're doing a lot of work on it. But it's a long uphill climb. And the advocates need to keep organizing, keep fighting to get all of the ADD stuff implemented.
PITTMANBecause we're not doing it. We're not there yet.
SHERWOODMr. Pittman, the Maryland Senate this week passed nine major policing bills. One of them would eliminate the law enforcement officer's bill of rights, which basically keeps police officers from being sued. It will create a new citizen's board to review complaints, addressing banning police officers from the profession if they're convicted of police brutality, all kinds of things like that. But you also this past December appointed a new police chief who had spent most of her career in Prince George's County. How is -- I think just in December. How is Chief Wood doing now?
PITTMANShe's doing great. She's been out in the community a lot.
SHERWOODTell us something about her.
PITTMANShe -- yeah, we interviewed people from all over the country, and were glad to find somebody who was fairly local from Prince George's. She was the Hyattsville Chief. She's an African American woman. So it was a bit of shock to the system to a, you know, 87 percent white county or 80 percent. So it's been fascinating to watch her earn the trust and I think the admiration of the police officers and the community. And I feel like we just -- we made a great choice. And some have said she's the future of policing. And she actually worked in our county as the chief of staff under a former chief before. So we're glad to have her.
SHERWOODShe'd been the chief of Hyattsville.
PITTMANYes. She was chief of Hyattsville before, yeah.
NNAMDIIn the minute we have left, Mike from Harwood emails, "County parks have experienced unprecedented demand in the last year. Do you have a plan to increase the availability and capacity of county parks?"
PITTMANWe have a capital improvements budget that has a lot of park projects in it, increasing funding for maintenance as well. But, yeah, it's been wonderful to see a pretty close to a 30 percent increase in park activity during the warmer months during COVID. And we actually made our regional parks that had fees we made them free when the pandemic started and encouraged people to get outside, and it's been a great thing. I think our public now supports funding for rec and parks to a higher level than they did in the past.
NNAMDIAnd finally Heather sent us an email. "I want to publically thank the Anne Arundel County Health Department for their response to my request for a COVID vaccination. I have now had both shots. Thank you County Executive Pittman and your health department." And good for you, Heather. Mr. County Executive, thank you for joining us.
PITTMANWow. Thanks a great way to end. We're going to get everybody vaccinated.
NNAMDIWe hate ending like that, but we did it anyway. Steuart Pittman is the Anne Arundel County Executive. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Please do not misunderstand when I said at the end of the last segment, we hated ending like that. I did not mean we hated ending because that person had gotten their vaccination. We're happy about that. We hate ending with somebody heaping effusive praise on an elected official. (laugh) That said, joining us now is Vincent Gray. He's a member of the D.C. Council, representing Ward 7. He's a former mayor of the District of Columbia. Mayor Gray, thank you for joining us.
VINCENT GRAYThank you, Kojo. I appreciate it very much, you having me on. And good afternoon to you all.
NNAMDIBefore we start with Mayor Gray, Tom Sherwood, the militant Trump supporters who had been anticipated by somebody, somewhere to show up at the Capitol yesterday because March the 4th was the original date of the swearing in, did not materialize. But I guess we were, at least at the Capitol, law enforcement seemed to be a little over-prepared for this.
SHERWOODYou know, it's unfortunate that for the January 6th riot, the police bureaucracy with the Capitol -- you know, police and the Department of Defense, the National Guard, federal agencies -- were simply not prepared and did not respond properly. And now, they have gone the flipside, like a pancake. They flipped completely. And now they've got all this -- they want to keep the fences up there for another 60 days, 5,000 National Guardspeople. So, they over prepared for this alleged right-wing assault on March the 4th, which did not happen, did not even come close to happening.
SHERWOODSo, it really raises the question about what the hell are these security officials doing? They've blocked off our entire Capitol grounds from the tourists who would come this spring, if they could come. And they're going to lock that place down all because bureaucratically the police can't figure out what the hell to do. Sorry, you know, this subject is irritating to me.
NNAMDIMr. Gray, how do you feel about this?
GRAYWell, I think it's absolutely absurd. I agree with what Tom is saying, that, you know, we've allowed ourselves to be coward by these people. We were obviously not prepared on the 6th of January, when this first occurred. And now, are we going to have to hear about people, you know, one week or another? I mean, this was just ridiculous yesterday, that, you know, Trump was going to come back and be sworn in as the President of the United States.
GRAYYou can't be over prepared, it seems to me. So, I'm glad that they were prepared for this, but I'm glad it didn't happen, either. We're going to have to take these people seriously, unfortunately. And, you know, the racism is just rampant with these folks. And we've got to do something to shut them down, as well.
NNAMDIAnd, Tom Sherwood, D.C. -- the member of Congress, I call her Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, she's our delegate to the United States Congress. She has asked Johnnie Scott Rice, who everybody in this town knows, to step down from her judicial nomination commission because of a derogatory reference to someone's religion. And this is one of these, I guess, microaggressions that in Maryland, in Montgomery County, Nancy Navarro of the council, was also complaining about when people mimicked her Latina accent in what seemed to be a derogatory way. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODYes. These are both microaggressions, in some sense, but outright prejudice in others. Councilmember former Mayor Gray knows Johnnie Scott Rice better probably than anybody. She's 80 years old now. She's on Delegate Norton's commission to review judge appointments. And she made this horrible remark. She apologized immediately afterwards when Ms. Norton asked her to step down.
SHERWOODShe said it was an ugly outburst from a long-past encounter with one of the candidates that the commission was interviewing. There's no excuse for what she said. You know, she had worked on the staff with David Catania. She was a longtime -- I think she was on every campaign from mayor of Carol Schwartz. It was just stunning to me that she said that.
SHERWOODAnd then Montgomery County Nancy Navarro -- first Latina member of the council, as I understand it, you know, she's talking and this (unintelligible) and somebody from the Montgomery Cable were backtalking, making fun of her accent. I don't know how many times we can have people, quote, "caught" doing these things, but it's very discouraging and depressing to see it happening daily, endlessly.
NNAMDICouncilmember Gray, care to comment?
GRAYWell, I know Johnnie Scott Rice very well. She's very outspoken, very candid, you know, in what she says. And I'm glad that she apologized for what happened. I'm sorry that it's happened, in the first place. She lives in Ward 7 and I know her very well. And she's just quite candid and just quite open, you know, with her comments. And I'm going to take her at, you know, face value in terms of the apology that was intended. I'm glad it was extended, and I hope it was heartfelt and will be observed, in the future.
NNAMDIYou chair the council's Health Committee, and this morning, D.C. residents face problems again registering for the COVID-19 vaccine, similar to what happened last week. Do you know what went wrong this morning?
GRAYWell, as best I can understand, because we were with councilmembers last night, we had a very lengthy session with a number of folks who're involved working with the technology, officials in the District of Columbia, as well as the Department of Health. We had seven councilmembers on this call with us last night. We were on -- we started at 9:00, at least my hearing got started at 9:00 yesterday morning, and we didn't finish this part of the session until 8:30 last night.
GRAYAnd it appears that some of the same problems that we had experienced previously occurred again this morning. People couldn't get on the call right at 9:00 a.m., which they were supposed to be able to do. It wasn't until a little after 9:00 that they actually got on the call. And then they continued issues around whether they were actually able to, in a timely fashion, get an appointment to move forward. So, they supposedly -- you know, we hope that this is going to be solved, but we certainly won't know. We won't know until, you know, we see, you know, see them actually in operation on a daily basis, from this point forward.
GRAYPeople are very frustrated, at this stage. You know, we've moved into a phase now where we're supposed to be able to actually get our -- you know, folks who are in certain age groups, get them registered to be able to vote -- not to vote, but to be able to get the vaccine.
GRAYOne of the things that I think is going to be good, Kojo, is the fact that -- we hope is good, let's put it that way, and that is we're moving into a registration system also, so that when people give their information, that information will be retained. And they will be able to then -- that will be available to those who are operating these portals and can get information immediately to people when it's their time to be able to get their appointment and to be able to move forward. So, we've got some work to do.
GRAYThe city had done well in a number of ways up to this point, but we're tripping over ourselves at this stage because of the problems with the software and the portal and actually now getting people into this registration system that we want to operate.
SHERWOODMr. Councilmember, I think you would understand the mayor and her administration want to do good, whether they do or not, and lots of people have had problems with vaccines. But, you know, you mentioned there's going to be a new system next week where the city will preregister people with their information you just referenced. But then it turns out, according to Elissa Silverman, a councilmember, and other councilmembers who last night were told, it's not clear who is going to do the preregistration.
SHERWOODI don't want to get bogged down in the mechanics of it, but you've been the mayor, and now you're the head of the health committee. How is it that months after, we knew we were going to have vaccines, that we just simply don't have a system where people who need to get a vaccine can sign on, sign up and get the shot? It's mystifying to me.
GRAYWell, it's just not acceptable. Tom. You know, we talked about it extensively last night. There were numerous councilmembers who asked questions about where we were. And the statement was made during the session last night that there was still a question about who was going to be the vendor. Is it going to be Microsoft? Is it going to be Accenture?
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And it starts next week.
GRAYYeah, next week, that's right.
SHERWOODAnd it starts next week.
GRAYThat's right. That's exactly right. And this stuff needs to be settled now. There are four or five people who are working on this aspect of it. Some of them work for the Chief Technology Officer's office, and others work for D.C. Health. And the folks who are responsible for this have to be on top of this. They need to help people understand exactly how this is going to operate. And when the calls are to be made, people need to be able to have those calls answered. And they need to be able to get on so they can make their appointments. With this registration system, we've got to be able to make that work.
SHERWOODI have a couple of political questions, if Kojo will let me drop them in now, if we don't have anyone on the line.
NNAMDIOnly if they're quick.
SHERWOODOkay. There's been a real controversy downtown, Mr. Councilmember, about limiting the noise of street vendors and buskers, or whatever they're called, that the bill was cancelled after a couple of years, no action was taken. Council Chairman Mendelson, Pinto and Anita Bonds has introduced legislation to limit noise downtown. Are you going to be supporting that, or do you need to know more information?
GRAYI’m going to need to know more information, Tom. I mean...
SHERWOODOkay. You know, that's a very controversial issue.
GRAYIt is very controversial and, of course, you know, part of the problem is people live downtown, and people need to understand that. That's what we have as part of our downtown presence, at this point.
SHERWOODAnd the other thing, both the mayor and the council chairman have introduced bills to legalize recreational marijuana. There may be some congressional issues to get over, but where do you stand on legalizing recreational marijuana?
GRAYWell, I think I'm going to be supportive of it. Yeah, I know the chairman introduced his bill earlier this week, so I'm going to be supporting his bill, unless there's something about it that I don't know, but I don’t think so.
SHERWOODAnd one last one. This the lightning round. I apologize for interrupting you. There was a report just a short time ago on 106 FM, the sports radio station, reported that the NFL has received a report from Beth Wilkinson, the lawyer investigating the Washington football team, saying that the owner should be forced to sell, that Dan Snyder should be forced to sell. The NFL has said since then that report's not true, but it's still possible that the report will be very damaging to Mr. Snyder, when it comes out.
SHERWOODDo you still support -- it's in your ward -- do you still support bringing the Washington football team back to the RFK site, if the team incurs all its costs in building it?
GRAYWell, that, of course, has been discussed. Now, Mr. Snyder is one of the most unpopular owners in the National Football League. He has never been popular among the people here in the city. You know, him paying for the cost -- well, in fact, he even said that to me, that if we were, you know, to support him coming back, brining the team back to the District of Columbia, that he would pay for the cost associated with it.
GRAYI think there's just a lot of conversation that has to be held -- had, you know, lots of people who don't support the team at all in terms of being back in the District of Columbia. So, I'd be happy to participate in the conversation, Tom, but right now there's a lot of work to be done to be able to get to that point.
SHERWOODI apologize. And you would be for it if you could work out all the details, or you are against it like Charles Allen is up in Ward 6? He's against it. He doesn't care...
GRAYWell, he's - yeah, this is Ward 7, of course, but, you know, I'd want to hear exactly how this is going to work.
GRAYAnd I haven't heard that yet.
NNAMDIThere have been plans in the works for year to bring a new hospital to Southeast D.C. to replace the United Medical Center. This would be run by George Washington University Hospitals. There were a whole lot of approvals that had to be granted. Councilmember Gray, where do those plans stand now? From what I've been seeing, you've gotten, it seems like, just about all of the approvals that you need. But could you tell us where the process now stands?
GRAYI can, Kojo. I appreciate the question very much. We are moving forward -- we have never had a real healthcare system of any kind, at all. We've had a hospital in the United Medical Center, which has been there since the mid 1960s, located on the east end of the city. And now we are moving forward with creating a real healthcare system, a system that will result in having -- when we finish this, we'll have a brand new hospital that's going to be built on the grounds of St. Elizabeth's, and will be convenient to the people who live in Wards 7 and 8.
GRAYWe'll have an ambulatory care facility that's being built, as well, that's going to be right adjacent to the hospital. And what we're going to have this year, guys, is two urgent care centers. We've never, ever had an urgent care center on any -- in either Ward 7 or Ward 8 of the District of Columbia. So, there will be a Ward 8 urgent care center, the site for which has already been identified. We're going to have the same thing in Ward 7.
GRAYSo, what we're moving towards, and I'm excited about it, I actually started working on this when I was the mayor. I'm excited about the fact that we have now the chance to create, for the first time ever, a real healthcare system that people can go to in their own neighborhoods. George Washington University, as you indicated, will be operating the hospital. And we're excited about the fact that they're coming with an excellent reputation for how they provide services. And we want them to have the relationship with the community that they should have.
NNAMDIThe urgent care center, you said, will be completed this year. When is the hospital expected to be completed?
GRAYThe hospital will -- from the time we started, which is now last -- we started this process last July, when we finalized all the approvals. Now, that will probably run to '24, before the hospital is completely finished. We obviously wish it were quicker than that, but you know what? We're investing $383.7 million in this healthcare system. And we want it to be done right and done in concert with needs of the people who live in Wards 7 and 8.
GRAYWe have 162,000 people who live collectively in Wards 7 and 8. And we want them to have the best possible healthcare system that they can have available to them, and they will.
NNAMDISo, you're saying that the pandemic has not slowed plans for the hospital.
GRAYIt has not. It has not, no. We just had a conversation yesterday about that with the folks who are involved with it.
GRAYAnd, by the way, the architect has been selected, also.
SHERWOODWell, '24 is late, but I hope you stick to that schedule. I want to ask you about a significant development in your ward, Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue. For people who don't know where that is, it's across the Anacostia River from the RFK Stadium. That's the general area. That's long been needing all kind of economic development. And there used to be a gay bar there called The Eagle. It went out of business.
SHERWOODAnd now there's a plan by the Federal Bureau of Prisoners to allow a private company, Core D.C., to build a facility for 300 ex-offenders returning to citizenship. It's kind of like a halfway house, is what the Bureau of Prisons would call it. Three hundred people. I'm just wondering -- it seems like you have supported returning citizens in the past. You have opposed this facility, saying it's too large. It's a recreation of what could just be a terrible thing to manage, and it ought to be spread out around the city, not in one place. Without getting into all the who's and what for's, why are you opposing it?
GRAYI think it's too large, Tom. And I've indicated, too, as you've noted in your comments, I am a huge supporter of returning citizens. I had a gentleman who came to work for me when I was the mayor. He had talked about returning, you know, having re-entry programs, which I highly support. And he was with me from the very time I was elected mayor till all the way through, my term until the transition was made to a new administration. So, it's just too large.
GRAYAnd we have gotten no feedback that, you know, would allow us to understand why you have to build this thing this way. Why can't you spread this out - even if it's on the same ground, why can't you spread this out differently than what we have? I haven't seen any architectural plans. I haven't seen the programmatic plans, at all. So, we have less information...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You've asked Delegate Norton to write another letter, as I understand it, to the Bureau of Prisons, asking it to take a second look at this, because of the lack of information about what would be there.
GRAYYes, that's correct. And absolutely, Tom, I am a supporter. I don't want to be redundant, but I am a supporter. I want to make this work, but we've got economic development plans. We've got the shopping center across the street where the Safeway is located, is being completely rebuilt, at this stage. The city itself is building a new headquarters of the Department of General Services, which will be essentially adjacent to where it is that they're planning to build this halfway house.
GRAYSo, there's an awful lot of work. I don't have any -- I have nobody who lives in Ward 7 who's stepped up and said they're really supporting doing this. The people who support reentry programs like me...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Where's the mayor?
GRAY...but they don't have enough information to be able to make an intelligent decision.
NNAMDIWell, last month -- you issued a disapproval resolution last month to stop the renewal of a contract with Core D.C., which has gotten this contract from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to create or develop this reentry pathway house. But why are you tying it to the homeless shelter? Are you looking for some kind of room to negotiate, here?
GRAYAbsolutely. We're trying to get Core D.C. to recognize that the magnitude of what they want to put there is just unacceptable to me and some of the others who live in Ward 7, and that we want them to work with us to try to come up with something different. We've reached out, of course, to the, you know, the CEO of the organization, of Core D.C. We had a Zoom call with folks from Core D.C., but the CEO didn't participate in that. I don't know the answer as to why he didn't participate.
GRAYSo, I think if they want to have acceptance, which I would certainly support, I've already indicated that, in Ward 7, they've got to step up and try something different than 300 people in the same building. That's an awful lot of people. You're right, Tom, there was this Eagle Club that used to be on that site. They've now razed that. The advisory neighborhood commission has been very opposed to it. They've made it clear that they don't want the configuration that they've put together.
GRAYI haven't had anybody say to me that they would like to have 300 people living in the same place. There are people who support reentry programs. Some of these folks are probably people who -- that would come there would probably be people who have lived at one time in Ward 7. So, I'm not going to be a part of something that simply rejects people like that.
SHERWOODI know we have to move on to other issues, but I did check on the Bureau of Prisons website of the 156 or so similar facilities around the country. I only saw one that was this large, so it does seem the size and management of it is the issue, not whether to help or not.
NNAMDIOnly got about two minutes left, but Maya tweets: What plan do you have to make the Safeway on Minnesota Avenue a better product for Ward 7? What changes have been made since you conducted walkthroughs a couple of years ago?
GRAYYeah, well, I've conducted walkthroughs, of course, and I've worked very closely with Safeway. In fact, they've been very forthcoming, working with us. They've donated lots of food, especially during this pandemic, to people who live in Ward 7. So, we've improved the quality of what goes on in that Safeway. And, ironically enough, Kojo, to the caller, also, we only have two full-service grocery stores in the entirety of Ward 7, which is different in consistent with so many others around the city.
GRAYWe need to have full-service grocery stores, because, when we talk about health, it's a part of health being able to understand, you know, that people need to eat properly. So, Safeway has worked very hard to do something different than what they've done heretofore. I appreciate the work that they've done, and we hope that we get more grocery stores. I've got legislation that would authorize the city to build grocery stores for people who live on the east end of the city. That would include Ward 7, and that would include Ward 8, also. We just need to get it fully funded.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Vincent Gray is a member of the D.C. Council, representing Ward 7. He's a former mayor. He is a Democrat councilmember. Mayor, thank you for joining us.
GRAYThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom. Thank you all very much, and would love to come on to continue to talk about what we're doing with healthcare in the future and what we do about some of these other issues that we're facing right now.
NNAMDIAgain, thank you for joining us. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, Safia Elhillo's debut novel, "Home is Not a Country," has been hailed as nothing short of magic. She joins us to talk about her latest work and what it means to be caught between life in America and dreams of her home country, Sudan. Then it's Kojo for Kids with composer and conductor Rob Kapilow, who's getting kids into classical music by putting music to beloved children's books like "The Polar Express." That's Monday, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and have a great weekend. What are your plans this weekend, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODI'm going to enjoy the sunshine.
NNAMDIIn other words, you're going to be out and about this weekend.
SHERWOODTo match my personality, I'm going to have a sunshiny personality.
NNAMDIOh wow, Tom's changing. (laugh)
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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