D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Tuesday, May 9, 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.


Mark Plotkin: I'd like to talk about, and I hope you will participate, on some Maryland politics developments. First of all, William Donald Shafer has more than one opponent now besides Peter Franchot. There is Janet Ownen, the Anne Arundel county executive. Also Joe Curran, the current attorney general, he's announced he's not running again and he will face two Democratic Party opponents: Montgomery County States Attorney Doug Gansler and Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez. There have been questions raised about his eligibility for this office because of an interpretation the state constitution that you must practice law in Maryland for ten years.

I spoke to Perez and he says he meets the qualification.

As for Virginia, I want to remind everybody that we're going to have Jim Webb, the Senate candidate, on Friday on Washington Post Radio, my Politics Program, and of course, we can get into the ward races in D.C. and would love any questions concerning that and particularly, the council chair race which I had Kathy Patterson on last Friday.


Silver Spring, Md.: his may not be the appropriate forum, but what do you think of the situation at Gallaudet? 18 years ago I was so sympathetic to their desire for a deaf president that I went downtown and participated in protests -- a first for me. Now, I'm not so sure. The new choice is not "deaf enough" because she also speaks fluent English? And who cares if she's "aloof" if her other qualifications pan out. Bottom line, I don't think the students and faculty should have veto rights over the Board's choice of what appears to be a well-qualified candidate. Does this mean I'm getting old?

Mark Plotkin: I don't know whether it means you're getting old but I remember the Gallaudet protest years ago and it was one of the most moving and poignant movements I've ever witnessed. The anguish and frustration and lack of power radiated in all the students faces and as they were signing you could feel the emotion and intensity. I'm not familiar enough with the issue or the individual being named as president but I do remember the sense of powerlessness when it came to picking a university president and how students felt.

So I think the students have a right to express their views and the president's personality is a factor.


Silver Spring, Md.: Are the numbers for national Republicans so bad for Ehrlich and Steele that they're going to have to resort to right-wing bread and butter issues (gay marriage, etc.) to motivate their base to negate Maryland's overwhelming Democratic registration?

Mark Plotkin: I think Michael Steele is trying to distance himself as much as he can from the national Republican Party. His statement about gay marriage really is consistent with his past views. He wants to run a campaign that otherwise is as inclusive as possible, not to alienate Democrats and Independents who might be interested in voting for him.

"Cultural issues" are going to be important throughout the country and candidates who can't get movement or traction on other issues will probably resort to using these.

Ehrlich has broken with his party on stem cell research and is definitely moving to the center because he realizes that in a state that is two to one Democratic he cannot be viewed as a right wing reactionary but as a moderate that has done well the last four years.


Silver Spring, Md.: OK, Mark, big changes since last week -- so what do you think of Ted Lerner now? Have you spoken to him? Do you still think he is DC's version of Howard Hughes? I watched the press conference, I have read the stories, and he seems truly likeable and interested in making the Nationals the crown jewel of the local DC scene.

Mark Plotkin: Yes, I have spoken to Ted Lerner and I no longer refer to him as "Howard Hughes." I went to the press conference when the announcement was made and I asked him why he hadn't called the mayor but had met with Linda Cropp and Jack Evans. He said that those meeting were before he was told by Major League Baseball not to have any contact with elected officials.

Otherwise, he was very accessible and open to conversation. I invited him on my show and told him it was for an hour and he said, "An hour, I don't know what I could say for an hour." At the groundbreaking ceremony the next day he was pleasant again, wore a Washington Nationals hat throughout the ceremony and talked to anybody who came up to him. Autographed hats, T-shirts and overall, couldn't have been nicer. I think he's truly a shy man who is uncomfortable in the public eye and so I've changed by view of him. Stan Katzen, the new president of the team, is the polar opposite of Lerner, very animated, very garrulous and is eager to talk to any and everybody. So I guess it's two very different personality styles. It'll be interesting to see how they mesh.

I did a commentary last Thursday and I said I was going to emulate the fabled Washington Post cartoonist Herblock and give Lerner a clean shave as he did Nixon. We'll see in the next few weeks and months how he acts and what he does. Final point: he has turned around the public perception and even Barry and Orange, his main adversaries, were clamoring for the attention of the Lerners at their press conference so they obviously have made the adjustment.


Janet Owens: Why is she running for this office?

Is she in to keep Franchot from winning?

Is she in because she was looking for a public office--any public office--to provide her with a paycheck for the next few years.

It seems a little off-putting to me. She didn't want to run until the incumbent's status was a little shaky. Hey, Franchot dove in when nobody heard of him and Schaefer was the most popular politician in the state. I admire that in a politician. Leave behind something good and take a chance for something that you believe in.

Mark Plotkin: I don't know why she's running for office except I guess she thinks she can win and I agree with you ... Franchot got in when it looked like it would be impossible to be William Donald Shafer. Any incumbent loves a splintered and numerous opposition and this obviously hurts Franchot's chances. It'll be interesting to see whether Shafer holds on just by virtue of a split opposition. If so, Owens will have in reality reelected Shafer.


Washington, D.C.: I just visited Eleanor Holmes Norton's site to see the date of her kick-off. It's listed as Monday May 13th, 2006. A quick glance of the calendar shows the 13th to be a Sunday. So which is Sunday or Monday?

Mark Plotkin: Well I suggest you call Eleanor Holmes Norton and correct this mistake. I'm sure she'll be thrilled that I gave you the direct dial number: 202-225-8050. I would think they would be grateful. Since we're on Norton she now has opposition in the Democratic primary for the first time since she got elected in 1990. Opposition is good for every incumbent. His name is Andrew Miscuk who is an ANC commissioner from Adams Morgan and claims to have never met Congresswoman Norton and states that he sent her numerous letters which she never responded to.

His major beef with Norton is that she isn't out in the neighborhoods rallying support for representation in Congress and her lack of support for the Davis Bill, which provides representation in the House for the District is the most telling indictment of her.

I think the campaign to get representation is a very good place to debate a strategy for representation and there has been no debate because Norton doesn't really include the electorate in the deliberations. The Council overwhelmingly and the mayor came out a year ago for the Davis Bill and had a giant press conference which Norton did not attend. Davis is ready to act on his bill and we'll see what Norton does.


Mark Plotkin: While I'm at Vernon Ehlers, I understand, is upset with me for comparing him to a southern segregationist senator of yesteryear. I didn't compare him. I still feel that his methodology of not responding to the media and refusing to hold hearings on the D.C. Statue Bill is the same methodology that southern senators used to block and obstruct any matter of civil rights bills. Ehlers is just killing us, as I said last week, with indifference, hoping that it will just go away.

I still urge D.C. residents to call 202-224-3121, ask for his office and ask why he refuses to hold hearings on this bill and answer questions from the media about the bill.


Silver Spring, Md.: How do rate Tom Perez's chances?

Mark Plotkin: I spoke to Tom Perez yesterday. He's very confident, has been wanting to do this for a long time. He understands that Gansler has more money and will have more money but he feels that will not be an insurmountable obstacle. He told me that when he ran for council his opponents raised more money than he was able to get. He'll definitely run to the left of Gansler and try to say that Gansler is too traditional a politician. He's the progressive in the race but right now I would say Gansler's the favorite because he's been at it so long, traveling with former Sen. Joe Tydings and attempting to lock up traditional Democratic support.


Fairfax, Va.: That's hilarious -- Barry and Orange have "made the adjustment"? Uh, they were kissing up to the guy who got the team, Mark. Just like you. Let's be clear. For Barry to claim his absurd comments somehow were a "great victory" just indicates how few brain cells he's got left. And for you act like giving Lerner a clean shave is some kind of graciousness on your part is hilarious. He's gotten by his whole life without Marion Barry and Mark Plotkin, and I'm guessing he can get by for a few more, too.

Mark Plotkin: The "made the adjustment" line was said tongue in cheek and I'm sorry you didn't get the angle on that. I don't apologise for what I said about Lerner not did I ever feel that he needed my assistance. Other groups were under the understanding that they could lobby and talk to the press, only Lerner abided by other rules which somebody I know close to the process described as "self-imposed." What's wrong with me commenting on how he's acted since he was named? Your tone of questioning leaves me bewildered.


Baltimore, Md.: Re Joe Curran: I thought it was interesting that, in making his announcement, Curran said he was leaving at age 74 because it was better to do that than to reach the point where people are asking why you are hanging around. (I paraphrased). That sure sounded like a none too veiled slap at Don Schaefer to me.

And in another state's political doings, have you read the recent profile of Senator George Allen in the New Republic? Some very disturbing stuff in there, especially his violent behavior toward his younger brothers and sister when growing up.

Mark Plotkin: I don't think Curran was taking a slap at Schaefer. I've spoken to him a few times and he was a real class act. Everybody feels that way about him and I think he was just speaking for himself. I have not read the profile of George Allen in The New Republic but thanks for bringing it to my attention. And I will run out and read it.

I saw a puff, suck-up interview in The Wall Street Journal by Fred Barnes. I wonder when Barnes is going to sign up as a campaign staffer. It was appalling.


Washington, D.C.: I am the creator of the dumpskinner.com Web site. I was wondering if you have spoken to Adrian Fenty and asked him why he continues to employ this divisive individual, Sinclair Skinner? The facts speak for themselves.

I have received hundreds of emails and even heard that members of Fenty's own staff are questioning his judgment on this. People have told me they have removed their Fenty yard signs and demanded answers from him that have gone unanswered.

Do you think this scandal could possibly cause Fenty to lose the election?

-Taylor (GW Class of 2001)

Mark Plotkin: This Skinner situation ... I can't get a handle on this. Somebody just described him as his former fraternity brother. Fenty told me that he's looked into the concerns and doesn't see anything wrong and I keep on getting questions about him every week. I'll call Fenty again and ask about it but I don't think he's changing his mind.


Falls Church, Va.: So when will the Va. General Assembly ever do anything?

You know, it really bothers me that the VA House of Delegates is more concerned with preventing Kaine from being a hero or concerned with ideological concerns (anti-tax) than doing anything on behalf of their constituents - the very people they are supposed to represent (not their party).

At what point did it become ok for a legislator to put party above constituents???

Mark Plotkin: We talked about this last week but the Virginia House has Doug in and they don't seem to want to change their mind. I think before the situation gets worse there will have to be some sort of solution. Kaine will portray the Republican legislators in the House as being obstructors and hope to get some political play out of that. But right now the impasse seems to be real and everybody is just jockeying.


Alexandria, Va.: What are Jim Webb's chances of realistically winning the VA Primary? If he wins this, do you think he stands a chance against Allen in November?


Mark Plotkin: I'll have a better opinion of Jim Webb's chances after I talk to him on Friday on the Politics Program on 1500 AM at 10 a.m. He has, as I've said before, great potential because he can get votes that probably other Democrats running in Virginia can't get. But he has to out-organize Harris Miller on June 13, the date of the Virginia primary. You can be a star and have great national appeal, create a media buzz but still not do the necessary things to win an election. I think Miller is going to concentrate on the fundamentals of getting elected and Webb shouldn't be smitten by his own headlines and news stories.


Manassas, Va.: Hi Mark

I'm not sure if this is a "political" question or not.

Do you think the Lerners can solve the Nats problems with Comcast?

Mark Plotkin: Well Stan Kasten, the president-designate of the Washington Nationals, sure said repeatedly that this problem has to be solved and he surely has the experience and it seems savvy to do it. I think he will be judged whether he can pull it off and it's a real test of his supposed stellar reputation. If he can convince Comcast and MASN to meet and come up with some deal that puts them on the air then he'll sure be viewed as a hero and people will be very grateful.


Washington, D.C.: What have the Maryland Senate-race front runners done to promote Congressional representation for the District? Is one candidate (Steele, Cardin) better in that regard?

Mark Plotkin: Steele, to his credit, is very good on this issue as is Ehrlich for that matter. Ehrlich is ahead of Democrat Mark Warner who refuses to even back representation in the House for the District. Cardin has been on the show twice and has said he's for representation in both houses but did not commit to voting for the Davis Bill which provides for representation in only one house, the House of Representatives.

As for Lichtman, Rales and Mfume ... they're all for full congressional representation for the District.


Mark Plotkin: I'm not sure about Rales when it comes to Senate representation.


Bethesda, Md.: Marc Fisher's excellent column today on the Montgomery County sniper trial seems to make the point (with which my wife and I and some prospective jurors fully agree) that this extravagantly expensive "show" trial is a political move by State's Attorney Doug Gansler, who will likely be running for AG. We feel he has totally misjudged the electorate, who have seen through this tawdry -- but certainly not cheap -- trick.

Your thoughts?

Mark Plotkin: I have not yet read Marc Fisher's column. I will read it and talk about it next week, if that's alright with you.

Gansler has to be careful that this trial is not viewed as a political tool because it could harm his chances. Perez very well might bring this up. He hasn't yet but the campaign has just begun and it will be very heated and I think, between these two ambitious and able politicians, very, very rough. I don't think either will hold back and nobody I know and I called around, could tell me who the last Republican attorney general for the state of Maryland was. I bring this up because each Democrat feels they will have no problem defeating the Republican, Scott Rolle. By the way, if anybody does know the name of the Republican who last served as attorney general, please let me know. You can call me at 202-895-5281 or use this medium.


Arlington, Va.: James Webb's 1990 speech admiring the Confederate army, while not mentioned by The Post, is beginning to get some attention among blogs. Do you think this speech helps George Allen, by neutralizing the ability of Democrats to make an issue out of Allen's own past use of Confederate symbols?

Mark Plotkin: I don't know about this speech but tell me where to find it. My fax is 202-895-5331 or you can send it to me. Do it before Friday. Allen has addressed these questions before, the confederate banner in his home ... and he is vulnerable on this issue.


Baltimore, Md.: John Willis ran against Schaefer in the primaries in 2000. It didn't go too well for him (20%?). Do you think any of these other candidates have a chance to unseat the old dog in the primaries? The Dean of the University of Baltimore Business School now says she's going to run against him in the generals.... any word on that?

Mark Plotkin: I'm sure he'll appreciate you calling him an old dog. Franchot tells me that Willis started too late and didn't have enough money but now his problem is Janet Owens who takes in another geographic area and dilutes the opposition. But a lot of people think that Schaefer isn't as strong as he was four years ago. The irony is that his weakness is allowing for two potentially strong candidates to divvy up the vote.


Leesburg, Va.: I understand Mark Warner is a potential contender for the Democrats in 2008 but do you see any potential flaws with Mr. Warner. How can he overcome those flaws to win the Democrats nomination?

Mark Plotkin: Warner told me at a GW basketball game that he was going to lay low for a while and he's achieved that. He was worried bout the Dean Factor, that is, peaking too early.


Arlington, Va.: You will be hosting Jim Webb on The Politics Program this Friday, and then a debate between Webb and Harris Miller on June 9. What is your read on the Webb-Miller contest at the moment, especially in light of the fundraiser Mark Warner will be holding for Webb on Thursday night and the rumors of major endorsements upcoming for Webb by Sen. Harry Reid and others?

Mark Plotkin: Thanks for the tip on a possible Warner endorsement and a fundraiser. I'll definitely check that out.

Final point: It'll be interesting to see whether Warner will do TV ads or mailings for Harris Miller.


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