Evaluating The Legacy Of D.c.'s Elected Leaders (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Evaluating the Legacy of D.C.'s Elected Leaders

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
And speaking of behavior that isn't always approved of by others, let's talk about the D.C. council. The districts local legislative body has been the target of quite a bit of criticism of late. We've seen controversies over ethics, campaign finance, we've even heard a few four letter words tossed around during meetings. So does that mean a positive legacy is starting to look out of reach for this group of elected leaders? To get the inside scoop, I headed to the Wilson building, basically the headquarters of city government, to catch up with WAMU's D.C. reporter, Patrick Madden.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:00:36
In terms of the legacy of this D.C. council, there is a lot of concern right now that it's not going to be a good one. And the image and the decorum all really came to a head last week when they were holding their first legislative session since coming back. And the big issue, the topic was income taxes and whether it should be raised on wealthy households. But what really made headlines that day was just how out of hand the hearing was and the breakfast that the council members usually hold before.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:01:05
And that's usually when, as a reporter, you can come in and watch the council members talk to each other and it's usually a very...

SHEIR

00:01:12
Amicable...

MADDEN

00:01:13
...amicable, you know, where they're eating eggs. But for this council breakfast, there was insults, name calling, swearing...

SHEIR

00:01:21
Yes, and expletives I remember being flung around.

MADDEN

00:01:23
...some expletives that even made it into the Washington Post, which is -- doesn't happen every day. And then, once the legislative session took place later that afternoon, again, it was just a lot of members shouting at each other, talking over each other. It was not a pretty scene and it's not one that, for those of us who watch the council, have seen in a long time. I think Council Member Jack Evans called it the worst council he's ever seen.

SHEIR

00:01:44
And Jack Evans has been around longer than anyone at this point, right?

MADDEN

00:01:47
He has been around for 20 plus years, as has Marion Barry, who obviously was mayor before, but now is on the council. So there are council members who are concerned about the legacy. And so, they had this -- it was supposed to be a private meeting with council members, a close meeting to talk about swearing, to talk about the code of conduct, to how members are supposed to address each other, on the dais.

MADDEN

00:02:08
And what happened there was interesting because the council chairman, Kwame Brown, tried to close the meeting, but sort of questionable under the cities open meetings law, if you can actually do that. Because there are -- it was a quorum. You can't hold meetings in secret. The press and the public are allowed to be there unless you're talking about certain things. And so essentially, they had to call the security guards to toss out all the reporters that were there, myself included. So it was another bad headline for this council.

SHEIR

00:02:32
Speaking of bad headlines, quite a few council members are, I guess you could say, in a bit of hot water. Can you sort of bring us up to date on what's happening with each of them?

MADDEN

00:02:40
Well, right now, it's a wait and see in terms of what's going to happen with some of these investigations that are going on. The council chairman is battling allegations of campaign finance irregularities. Another council member, Harry Thomas, was alleged to have misspent $300,000 of city funds. Now, he settled that with the city, but it's still under investigation from federal authorities. And then, there are just a number of other scandals, controversies, probably too numerous to name right now.

SHEIR

00:03:08
The theme of the show this week is legacies. So I'm wondering, can we talk about the fact that some of the council members who are experiencing a bit of strife these days are actually legacies?

MADDEN

00:03:19
Well, that's what's so interesting here is because you have the council chairman, Kwame Brown, whose father, Marshall, was a very big deal and still is a big deal in city politics. Harry Thomas, his father represents the same ward that Harry Thomas represents. And, at large, Michael Brown, who's also a facing questions about his online gaming bill, well, he's the son of Ron Brown, who, as many of you know, was very big in democratic politics, was head of the D.N.C. and other positions.

SHEIR

00:03:47
Okay, well, looking forward now, what remains to be seen what this council will be able to accomplish. But let's talk about what it would like to accomplish. Have any of the members actually laid out what they want to do for the city in the next few months?

MADDEN

00:04:00
Well, what's so interesting right now is that all of these scandals, these ethical questions, is actually going to be the main thing they're going to tackle when they get back. There are nine separate ethic reform bills that have been proposed already this year, all in response to the mess that's going on. And actually it's going to fall on the shoulders of one council member to sort of turn those nine different bills into one big omnibus ethics reform bill that the council will then try to pass.

MADDEN

00:04:26
And that is Ward 4 Council Member Muriel Bowser, who actually just walked by us. She is in charge of government operations so she'll be the one who has to take these nine separate ethics reform bills in committee and basically take the best stuff out of all of them and put something forward that handles this problem.

MADDEN

00:04:43
They don't to be seen as the group that brought all of the problems, all of the bad headlines that used to happen in the 1990s back here today. Because remember, this -- D.C. council used to have, like, the highest Q-rating or approval rating in the city. It used to be somewhere around 80 percent. Mayor Gray would also talk about that when he was running for mayor, that this council was probably the most popular state legislature in the country. But I haven't seen a poll on that, but I am pretty sure that's not going to be the case anymore.

SHEIR

00:05:10
Patrick Madden is the D.C. reporter here at WAMU. Now, we want to know what you think. Is this season of political controversy a legacy killer for the D.C. Council? You can let us know on Facebook, that's Facebook.com/metroconnection.org or send us an e-mail at metro@wamu.org.
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