Is The District's National Political Power On The Wane? (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Is The District's National Political Power On The Wane?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And it's back to the grind here in Washington as we bid farewell to the dog days of summer, and say hello once again to life as we normally know it. And for many of the politicos in our fair city, life as we know it is all about power. Who's got it, who's seeking it, and yes, who may be on the cusp of losing it. So this week, as we enter the frenzied final months of the fall political campaigns, the focus of our show will be power. Political power, yes, but also the power of local developers, of migrant workers and of super heroes. Real-life super heroes.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:48
To kick things off, though, we decided to ask a bit of a hypothetical question. What would you do if you had unlimited power in your life? Our editorial assistant, Lauren Landau, hit the streets of Silver Spring, Md. to get the answer.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1

00:01:03
Unlimited power. I mean, I feel like I would really try to use it for the best good. For the highest good. 'Cause it's not about me at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1

00:01:10
What would I do with unlimited power? I'd do a lot. First of all, I'd help the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2

00:01:14
I would give it back. I wouldn't want it.

1

00:01:16
Second of all, stop the war on poverty.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2

00:01:18
Change my neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3

00:01:19
Make other people's lives better.

2

00:01:21
No more muggings or beatings or shootings. I live in a bad neighborhood in D.C. so...

3

00:01:25
I do it more for people than anything.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 4

00:01:27
God, I hope I never get that. I have no idea. Probably horrible things because absolute power corrupts absolutely and I mean, I just -- I think it would make me really greedy.

SHEIR

00:01:37
Saying it like it is. Those were local residents speaking with "Metro Connection's," Lauren Landau, in Silver Spring. We'll head to downtown D.C. now to a street that's all about political power. Pennsylvania Northwest has the White House at one end, the Capitol at the other and in between, it has the John A. Wilson Building, home to the mayor and the D.C. council. I recently met with WAMU's district reporter, Patrick Madden, on the steps of the Wilson Building and I asked him about what political winds may bring to city leaders and residents, especially given all the scandals that have recently been blowing in those winds.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:02:16
With the specter of scandal and federal investigations still looming over city hall, this is still going to affect what gets done, what doesn't get done inside the Wilson Building because right now everyone seems to be waiting for the next shoe to drop.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:02:32
And that's affecting the mayor's ability to pass legislation, the council's ability to get stuff done because I mean, just take for example, there's a new council chairman, Phil Mendelson, who just stepped in because the former council chairman resigned and pleaded guilty to several crimes. So as these federal investigations continue, as these scandals still loom over city hall, there's just so much uncertainty that it's really tough for stuff to get done right now.

SHEIR

00:02:56
You mentioned Phil Mendelson and how he's the new chair of the council. He's going to try to hold onto that position in November's election as far as we know, and I guess he's known as a pretty soft spoken kind of guy, pretty low-key kind of guy. How would you say he's defined power in his role as chair?

MADDEN

00:03:12
Phil Mendelson is the acting chair. He stepped in for Kwame Brown. He has a reputation as, as you mentioned, as very low-profile. He's known in the halls of the Wilson Building as a nitpicker. He's very detail oriented. He famously sort of when reading legislation on the dais will notice there's a typo and will sort of ask the secretary if they can correct that on the spot. So he's micro-manager, he is a nitpicker as he famously calls himself.

MADDEN

00:03:40
And in terms of what that means for power it's unclear. He certainly knows the Wilson Building. He knows the committees better than anyone else. He's a former council staffer for many years. So it will be interesting to see what that means in terms of legislation. I mean, it's interesting to note that since all these investigations started, there hasn't been any real big ticket items that the city has passed. You look at Mayor Fenty, he passed education reform. There was the big stadium deal with Mayor Williams.

SHEIR

00:04:12
Same-sex marriage.

MADDEN

00:04:12
Same-sex marriage. All these sort of major pieces of legislation. There hasn't been that under Gray. And I don't know if that's because of these investigations, whether he doesn't have enough political capital to sort of move big ticket items, but that's been the case so far.

MADDEN

00:04:27
And it's interesting -- on the point of political capital, I think it's hurt the mayor because a lot of the council members that he normally would have relied upon as mayor to sort of push stuff through, he's lost. I mean Mary Cheh famously endorsed him, was his go-to person in the beginning. Well she called for him to resign a couple months ago when the one of these indictments came down. So the mayor is probably not in a very powerful strong position to move a big piece of legislation right now.

SHEIR

00:04:55
Let's talk on a national level now. As you know, Democrats from all over the country have been down in Charlotte this week for their convention. And it sounds like the D.C. Democrats, for lack of a better word, sounds like they were getting dissed. I think it was Monday that Eleanor Holmes Norton basically said it wasn't even clear whether they'd be given a chance to speak at all. Do you think we're at a low ebb in terms of this mostly Democratic city's influence on a national level?

MADDEN

00:05:22
Without a doubt. I mean, you just have to look at these two conventions and the party platforms to see that the District's message is not resonating anywhere. I mean the Republican Convention -- there were a couple of pieces in the platform talking about how well -- we would support Puerto Rico's right for statehood -- but the District we do not support at all.

MADDEN

00:05:41
There were other parts basically just continuing to use the District as sort of a way to pass all sorts of legislation that they want to pass. Whether it's loosing the city's gun control laws, abortion regulations -- and then you look at the Democratic convention and the District -- there's no mention of D.C.'s push for statehood which had happened in the past. I think the year 2000 was the last time it was included in the Democratic platform but it's not anymore.

MADDEN

00:06:07
So it's unclear where the local D.C. delegation -- where their message is being heard. 'Cause it's not happening at either party on a national level. If you go back four years ago when President Obama took office, there was a lot of optimism within D.C. Vote and other groups that are pushing for D.C. autonomy. Because you had a Democratic president, you had a Democratic controlled House and you even had a filibuster-proof Senate.

MADDEN

00:06:33
So the belief was -- it will be really easy for someone in the Democratic party to sort of push -- whether it was statehood or a vote in the House. But that never happened and now as you know, the Republicans control the House, the Democrats filibuster-proof majority is no longer there, and obviously the White House is up for grabs. So yes, I would say for the folks here at the Wilson Building, this is the low ebb of their influence.

SHEIR

00:07:02
Patrick Madden is WAMU's district reporter.
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