D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

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Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Tuesday, April 25, 2006; 2:00 PM

What is the latest local political news? Who will emerge as the leading candidate in the D.C. mayor's race? What Virginia and Maryland races are heating up?

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin is online every Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET to discuss local politics and whatever else is on your mind.

The transcript follows.

Plotkin joined WTOP after 10 years as a political analyst for WAMU radio. He has been active in D.C. and national politics since attending George Washington University in the late '60s.

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McLean, Va.: Are you looking forward to the Jubilee Jobs dinner tonight??

Mark Plotkin: Yes, I am. I'm preparing my remarks and I hope I'll enlighten, inform and entertain. I'm just sorry my good friends, Nina and John Richardson, won't be there. How do you know I'm speaking? I thought it was a deep, dark secret.

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Mark Plotkin: It really does look like this week will be the week that Major League Baseball in all its arrogance, finally gets around --- or commissioner Bud Selig gets around -- to naming an owner for the team. The more I think about it, the more angry I get. The city and the region supports the new team; the city builds a $600 million stadium and plays with us and is even considering a modern-day Howard Hughes as the new owner.

Bill Collins, one of the candidates for ownership, said on the Politics Program that Mark Segraves so ably hosted last week, that his group was never under any directive not to speak to the press. Obviously, this inhibition by the Lerners to engage the press or for that matter, the mayor, is self-imposed. That term "self-imposed," was given to me to describe in a kind, gentle way, the arrogance of the Lerner group. I don't know about you, but I don't want a Howard Hughes owning our baseball team. Would welcome your comments on this since it seems that this looks like a done deal. I repeat, what kind of owner is it that doesn't even show on opening day? In the name of disclosure, I am an advocate of the Smulyan group for the reason that Smulyan has experience in running a team (the Mariners) and as enthusiastically he has campaigned. Yes, campaigned, for the job of owner and has compiled a very impressive list of local owners.

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Washington, D.C.: Are you and Kojo on speaking terms since leaving the DC Politics Hour? What was your relationship really like? It always seemed so adversarial.

Mark Plotkin: We're more than on speaking terms. We're close and good friends and my respect and admiration and affection for Kojo are infinite. We go to dinner at least twice a month and we talk nearly daily. He's great at what he's doing and the only thing I miss about WAMU is that I am not paired with him anymore. The adversarial term that you use was just to lighten up the show and make it interesting.

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Washington, D.C.: What are your thoughts about Michael Brown as our next Mayor? My son, age 23, is a big fan of Adrian Fenty for Mayor. I feel Fenty's too inexperienced. I also prefer someone who is not so locked into his own personal views that he can't work with politicians of any and all political bents to our great (and growing) city's advantage. Do you think I'm an ageist?

Mark Plotkin: Michael Brown is an extremely personable and likeable individual. I've said before and I say again, that he is the only candidate who speaks without hesitation about statehood and feels that it should be a stated goal for any political figure. Having said that, he doesn't seem to be gathering any steam and I think he's considered not tapped into the community as much as he should.

I do sense that I think Fenty is losing some of his early support and that he might've peaked too early.

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McLean, Va.: What do you think of the Virginia Senate primary on the Democratic Side ... WEBB vs. Miller?

Mark Plotkin: First of all, we should say the date, which is Tuesday, June 13. Anybody can participate in this primary; there is no party registration in Virginia, so the outcome will really depend on who chooses to participate. I think Miller by virtue of past political experience has made inroads into traditional Democratic voters. And Webb has a certain star appeal. It just comes down to organization, identifying your voters and making sure that they go to the polls that day. I will announce that the Friday preceding the June 13th, both candidates have agreed to debate in WTOP's studios and Webb will be the guest on my show, The Politics Program, in mid-May.

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Northeast Washington, D.C.: Mark!

What is your take on the Mayor's "change of heart" in the new Anacostia hospital scheme? Wouldn't Shaw miss HUH? Do you think that a medical facility will eventually end up there, especially in light of the regional developers' feeding frenzy? Washington proper is apparently their favorite flavor.

Mark Plotkin: Yeah, the mayor sure did a turnaround and the president of Howard surely wasn't pleased, nor is, I'm sure, Vincent Gray, the Ward 7 council member. I honestly don't know where it's gonna go and it'll be interesting to see how Gray handles the issue because he's running for council chair.

I think the mayor realized that he didn't have the votes on the council and that's why he's pulled back.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there a message in the fact that the Malek Group is going to Milwaukee, to meet with Bud Selig....And the fact that Bob DuPuy came to D.C. to see the Lerners.....Is Malek going to see Selig, to get his blessing?

Mark Plotkin: Well obviously it's a good sign for the Malek Group but all I hear is even from a member of one of the competing groups, "the trend seems to be going to the Lerners." You know, they were asked to get somebody with baseball experience and they sign a contract with Stan Kasten. They don't have any minority partners so they hurry up and find two that many feel are not really serious investors but just window dressing. To the serious observer, this looks like the Lerner group is trying to refurnish their group so that it's amenable to Major League Baseball. They still are not part of this place and are operating in a Howard Hughes-like fashion.

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Ward 4, D.C.: Good grief Mark. Smulyan? Ack. Locals, please, please, please. Not an out of towner who has experience running other baseball teams into the ground!

So, what do you think about the church parking debacle? I'm angry. Those people have inconvenienced me for years, and just when I thought something would get better, they jerk the rug out from under the tax paying D.C. citizens to bow down to churches run and filled by suburbanites. Hmph. Linda Cropp has lost her chance at my vote by speaking at that rally on Sunday.

Mark Plotkin: Just your remark about Smulyan ... Eric Holder, Calvin Hill, Charles Mann, Art Monk ... all these people are well known local names. And Smulyan told me on open day that he's going to buy a home in Georgetown, so I think that responds to your comment.

I'm getting a lot of questions about church parking. I think you make a good point that a lot of these people live in the suburbs but they have relatives that live in the city who vote. The mayor obviously feels that this issue is too hot and he doesn't want to come down on one side or the other. Thus, the task force idea. When you don't want to make a decision, appoint a task force.

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McLean, Va.: Is there any Democratic possible contender for president who shows any courage other than Russ Feingold?

Mark Plotkin: Yeah, there's no doubt that Russ Feingold has courage. You probably already know this ... After Sept. 11, he was the only person to vote against the Patriot Act and he proposed to censure the president, so he doesn't mind standing out and taking the heat. And I think there will be a constituency for him. I'm wracking my brain to think of somebody else who deserves the term, "courageous" and I can't find one. Someone who comes to mind as the opposite is Evan Bayh who, when I asked about D.C. representation, waffled. C'mon now, that's not a tough question and I think his father, former Sen. Birch Bayh, would be appalled at his son's equivocating on such an issue of fundamental fairness.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Vincent Orange doesn't seem to have a shot at winning. But yet he still runs, and doesn't even try to keep his Ward 5 seat. Any idea why? What's in it for him?

Mark Plotkin: Yeah, Vincent Orange made some news this past week by doing his Christmas jingle which definitely got some attention but I'm not so sure votes. The campaign potential is still in my mind limited. Being a popular council member does not always mean you're going to be a popular citywide figure and the additional problem that Orange has is that he represents a ward -- he's not a citywide at-large incumbent. So a lot of people just don't know him.

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Washington, D.C.: Why don't you give your opinion on the parking. That's what you're here for.

Mark Plotkin: Good point. I think I'm where most of the politicians are. At some point, I understand the neighborhoods' concern because they want to be able to move out of their neighborhoods freely without being blocked in by suburbanites. But at the same time, people who come in from the suburbs to the city spend money after church and have family members that like to visit so I just think there's some room for compromise and satisfying both sides.

I mean, the city, and Marion Barry in particular, used to pride himself on how many tickets they wrote as an indicator of municipal efficiency and I don't think that is the criteria that should be used.

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Ward 1-ite: Mark, what are Jack Evans' future prospects now that he has been cleared of ethics violations?

Mark Plotkin: I think Evans would've liked to run for council chair if it didn't have to be full-time job. He has triplets to support and provide for as a single father and I know he hasn't given up his dreams of being mayor one day. In many ways he was vindicated by the report but at the same time I don't thin he fully ever appreciated the public relations damage done by having a pac that no other council member had. He's a very effective member and more than anybody he was responsible for getting the stadium lease done -- that is, rounding up the votes.

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Silver Spring, Md.: So Rod Slater and Doyle Mitchell are "window dressing"? They would be surprised! Shame on you Mark for parroting Calvin Hill's shameful remarks about the Lerner team.

Mark Plotkin: I wasn't aware that I used the same remarks as Calvin Hill but maybe they were embedded in my semiconscious state. But it really does seem that these two individuals were recruited by Lerner to make sure he had some minority partners. What took him so long and I still say that his non-involvement with the political players in the city and his refusal to engage the press -- not just me, anybody -- points to an arrogant style that will manifest itself as an owner. Look, you own the baseball team in town; you're a public figure, like it or not. You're part of the landscape and he refuses to consider that roll in this presently and I doubt that he will change once he becomes an owner. This is a harbinger of things to come. So watch out Washington. We're gonna have Howard Hughes as the owner and that's not good.

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Burtonsville, Md.: With the new Gonzales poll showing Mayor Martin O'Malley's lead over Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan down to 9 percentage points, is it safe to say that the primary election will ultimately be decided by single digits?

Mark Plotkin: I guess you say the Washington Post editorial today which pointed to a closer race and obviously the O'Malley forces don't consider this race a shoo-in like they did before. They have both agreed, by the way, to a debate at WTOP and I'll tell you more about that at a later date.

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Vienna, Va.: Hey Mark!

Wait a second, I thought that Jim Webb was going to be on this Friday, instead of mid-May?

Considering Jim Webb has already postponed your program twice (this is getting a little old), and he has declined the FCDC debate and Fairfax County Chamber invitation (a first for any politcian running an election, real dumb mistake), what gives? Miller has said yes to all of these forums, so I am therefore really confused on this whole primary mess.

Is what your gut told you about Jim Webb the same today as it was two months ago?

Take care.

Mark Plotkin: That's true, Jim Webb has had to cancel this coming Friday and things do come up and I understand that. I was responsible for one cancellation but there'll be plenty of time to talk about this race and for listeners and viewers to form their opinions on both of these people.

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Washington, D.C.: Mark-

Regarding the parking. I appreciate your opinion, most especially because you are seeing and acknowledging both sides of this issue, which is desperately missing in the "debate." My personal opinion (as a city resident) is that no one whether city resident or non-city resident should violate parking regulations unless they are prepared to pay a ticket and/or towing cost. I have friend who parks illegally all the time, and never gets a ticket-but it's her gamble. I think it reaches a new level of hysteria, anger, etc, when this becomes a massive trend that ALSO blocks people in. I mean, that would make most anyone bonkers. And that is why someone has to do something to solve this problem.

Mark Plotkin: The parking problem or issue has been going on for decades and I don't think anybody ever thought the solution was easy or else they would've tried to solve it a long time ago. I remember the mayor being asked about this subject and he constantly avoided an answer and just wished the problem would go away. Then he decided to meet it head-on and decided that he couldn't handle the heat. All the candidates for mayor are trying to gauge politically what will garner the most votes and I was surprised to see Cropp come out so forcefully on one side.

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Mark Plotkin: If you read this before you know that I'm very interested in D.C. participating in nominating candidates for Statuary Hall. This is the last week. We had Dorothy McSweeney last week and she said right now that Duke Ellington and Frederick Douglas had received the most votes. Vernon Ehlers refuses to address this issue and I suggest every Washingtonian who is tired of being insulted, ignored and excluded, call Ehler's office. Dial 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to his office and ask him why he won't hold hearings on this bill and won't recognize the residents of the District as first-class citizens who are Americans.

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Landover, Md.: Mark, in one of your previous chats you indicated that you would ask Mr. Fenty about the radical changes at WHUR and the #2 rated Real DC Morning Show. Have there been any new developments with this story? Also, why are we unable to generate any real press or media attention regarding this matter?

Mark Plotkin: Mr. Fenty I think is done with the issue and there just doesn't seem to be any widespread local outrage. I suggest you call in our show on Friday at 10 a.m. and bring it up.

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Arlington, Va: Mark,

I can't tell what to make of the Webb campaign in Virginia. I think Webb is an extremely good choice for Virginians who are frustrated with George Allen. But I am not sure he's a good "candidate," based on what I've seen.

Am I being too critical, or are they struggling to get things off the ground? Is Webb's team still getting its feet under it?

Mark Plotkin: Webb is viewed by national Democrats as having great potential as a general election candidate but as I've said before, he first has to get nominated and that's not assured. I don't think people are paying attention yet in that campaign and they won't be until maybe right before the primary.

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Washington, D.C.: Given Adrian Fenty's new infatuation in catering to business, do you think he has received political advice that he has locked up the community activist base, so that he's free to seek business support and ignore his so-called base support?

Mark Plotkin: I think that's a good analysis. It surely appears to be a strain of thought amongst some of his advisers that he needs to broaden his constituency and seem less "lefty." His backing away from tenants, his no-tax pledge ... all this seems to indicate a candidate in transition and I don't mean that in a complimentary way.

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Wheaton, Md.: Mark, what role is Bowie Kuhn playing in Selig's deliberations? And aside from Steinbrenner in NY, who never fades from anyone's memory, won't the new owner fade from memory soon after the hub-bub of naming the owner is over?

Mark Plotkin: Interesting you should mention Bowie Kuhn because I've been told that the former commissioner is lobbying heavily for Lerner who he went to high school with. Jerry Reinsorf, the White Sox owner, is lobbying for Smulyan. And I disagree with you that the new owner will fade from memory. The new owner will put the team on the field, determine how much money is spent on the team and will be the public face of the team and obviously will pick the manager and the general manager and the president.

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Washington, D.C.: I have heard that Linda Cropp is the leader in the mayor's race. Since there are no polls, who do you think is the leading contender.

Mark Plotkin: Cropp and Fenty are the leaders in the race, I would say. The primary is Tuesday, Sept. 12, so I stress again that there's plenty of time for their lead to evaporate but right now they're running far ahead of the other three candidates. Now maybe somebody will sense that their support is weak and they will enter the race because they think there's a void. Marie Johns, I think, is gaining in visibility and recognition and makes a good rhetorical appearance at forums but I don't know if that is translating into real organizational strength.

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Mark Plotkin: There should be a poll sometime soon and I'm sure I can find out some private polls that some of the candidates are taking. I know the Fenty people feel very good about what their internal polls show them.

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AU Park: Mark,

How is the Ward 3 race shaping up?

Mark Plotkin: Well, there are 7 or 8 candidates in this race. As you know, in D.C. you only need a simple plurality. There's no runoff so someone could win with 20 percent of the vote or even less. I would say that from just early soundings, Sam Brooks, who ran at large two years ago, Mary Cheh and Bill Rice are visible candidates. Rice has been in city politics for a long, long time and ran at-large a few years ago. So both he and Brooks should enjoy some name recognition. But this race will also be affected inordinately so probably, by the Post endorsement which will come near the primary. That' show Kathy Patterson won.

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Leesburg, Va.: I am new to following politics, it is very time consuming and I believe this is why politicians get away with how they represent us. Can you tell me if the 5% VA Gas Tax in the legislation SB708 has passed/been finalized into law? If it has, when does it go into effect so that I know to save my gas receipts and place more burden on DMV for processing (receipts from Jan-Dec of 2006?). For $250 a year in rebates, it's worth the hassle. Did they decided how they will determine if receipts are fake? I also noticed the bill would increase vehicle registration by $10. It's quite sad how consumers are getting hit with price increases everywhere we turn.

Mark Plotkin: You present a very good question and I have catalogued it in my mind and hope to ask Gov. Kaine about it the next time he's at WTOP. So thanks for asking.

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Mark Plotkin: This has been a particularly good session with a lot of questions and I think this site is picking up steam, so thanks for your questions and maybe we'll actually even have an owner by the time we talk next week. Beware of Howard Hughes in a Nationals uniform, my final thought.

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