D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Tuesday, November 14, 2006; 2:00 PM

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin was online Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss local politics.

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.


Arlington, Va.: Mark,

A lot has been written about the demographic shift in the Old Dominion toward Northern Virginia that helped elect Jim Webb. But with strong military credentials, the ex-Republican senator-elect may be a special case.

Is there enough progressive-to-moderate growth in Northern Virginia to tilt the state to a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008?


P.S. -- For your fans who miss you on WAMU, you're the REAL Mark Plotkin!

Mark Plotkin: Yes, I am the real Mark Plotkin and thanks for acknowledging that. Come on over to WTOP and Washington Post Radio, you are very welcome. As you know, Virginia has not gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 (LBJ). He won everywhere except for five states. In fact, even when there was a solid South, Virginia went Republican in 1952 and 1956, even when the rest of the South was going for Stevenson. Clinton came very close in 1996. I think there's a possibility in 2008 with the right candidate. Northern Virginia is definitely changing and all you have to do is look at the numbers for Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Jim Webb.


Atlanta, Ga.: Looks like Webb got 58 percent in Northern Virginia and 46 percent in the rest of the state to get his barebones 9,000-vote win. Can Northern Virginia overall (not necessarily every county and city, but region as a whole) now be labeled Democratic with the victories of John Kerry there in 2004, Kaine, Leslie Byrne and Creigh Deeds last year and Jim Webb this year?

Mark Plotkin: You are aware that Leslie Byrne and Creigh Deeds barely lost statewide. So this state is definitely neither red nor blue, but as repeatedly said purple. I think Northern Virginia's vote as a percentage of the statewide vote will continue to increase and that will augur well for Democrats. What will be a big test for the Democratic party is how well they do in the state legislative races for the House of Delegates and the State Senate in 2007. I'll tell you one thing, their statewide organization needs some work. Their chairman Dick Cranwell doesn't return phonecalls and is unavailable. He's a joke. I see that the Republican chair just resigned, I can't believe that that resignation wasn't forced. She was invisible.


Marshall, Va.: Mark,

I enjoy your views and regularly tune into your radio show, columns, and chats. Last week you wrote this about Frank Wolf:

"Wolf refused repeatedly to come on WTWP and talk to his constituents. That was a disservice to them and an insult. He might get by this time, but two years from now he will be highly vulnerable and he deserves to be."

When did you turn into Bill O'Reilly? Not coming on your show is tantamount to insulting his constituents? A lot of Virginia's 10th District cannot receive that radio signal anyway. This is a man who spends his time at local high schools educating students about the atrocities in Sudan and Sierra Leone. It's less efficient from a campaigning perspective, but I'll take that over a radio show. In addition, he is also a Congressman who has spent more time talking about basic human rights at home and globally than any other Congressman. I don't think he is above criticism, but your comments sounded like sour grapes to me.

Mark Plotkin: I'm very glad you wrote in because I have more to say about this subject and your comments give me an opportunity to do that. Frank Wolf does not talk about human rights locally. I have not once heard him talk about the lack of human rights in the District of Columbia. Tom Davis tells me he will end up voting for the bill which Davis has championed, which gives D.C. a vote along with Utah, but have you ever heard him say one word about his neighbors who are disenfranchised? WTOP is the only all news radio station. It reaches more people than any other news station. By refusing to come into the station and either debate his opponent or just sit down for an hour interview, I repeat, he is doing a disservice to his constituents. No other candidate, I repeat, not one other candidate refused to appear on WTOP. Wolf just decided to play it safe. Now this is the same guy who loves the WTOP microphone if he's at an event and wants to say something about something in his district. He does not have the self-confidence or gumption to sit down and take questions. Obviously I feel very strongly about this and would welcome your response. He's conned you.


The Park of Cleveland: When you do the radio show, is that out of the studio offices on Newark St in Cleveland Park? Have you ever had groupies waiting outside for an autograph?

Mark Plotkin: Constantly. I'm thinking of hiring an extensive security detail. It's getting ridiculous. I'm glad I don't wear cufflinks, they would rip them off as souvenirs.


Fairfax, Va.: How likely is that John Warner will retire? And would Mark Warner put his VP plans on hold to run for the Senate? Do the Democrats have anyone else who could run successfully?

Mark Plotkin: The questions are getting better and the comments funnier, keep it up. Warner will be, I believe, 82 years old. Why not retire at the top? And now that they're in the minority, it's less fun. He's no longer Chairman of Armed Services and that might contribute to his leaving. He's come a long way in terms of respect when he used to be referred to as Mr. Elizabeth Taylor. You know that's how he got elected. I think Tom Davis is very interested in that job. Mark Warner told me that although he ran for the Senate against John Warner, he doesn't want to be 1 of 100. Allen might try to come back, but he's got to run a better campaign than he did this time. It was a self-inflicted fiasco. Brian Moran is interested and he would be an attractive candidate.


Washington, D.C.: Did you see this exchange during last week's press conference with the President? It's the Post's own Michael Fletcher (I think!) asking the question:

Yes, sir, Fletcher.

Q Thank you, sir. There's a bill that could come before the lame-duck session of Congress, that would extend voting rights to the District of Columbia, in Congress, and also give an extra seat to Utah. You've been passionate about democracy in Iraq. Why not here in D.C., and would you support this bill?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't -- it's the first I've heard of it. I didn't know that's going to come up from the lame duck.

Q -- Congressman Davis's bill.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, well, it may or may not come up. I'm trying to get the Indian deal done, the Vietnam deal done, and the budgets done. But I'll take a look at it. It's the first I've heard of it. Thanks.

Let's see here. Yes, sir.

Mark Plotkin: Thank you so much for bringing this up. The President knows this issue. He told an untruth and the Post the next day quoted somebody from the White House admitting the President had been informed of this issue. Before I forget, thanks for providing the transcript for everybody to see. I played the tape on my Thursday's commentary at 7:50 a.m. and I know Kojo was good enough to play it on his show on Friday at WAMU. It really exposed what unfortunately are the feelings and level of awareness about the issue. Fletcher's statement "You've been passionate about democracy in Iraq. Why not here in D.C." was terrific. You notice that no members of the national press followed up on this unbelievable statement by the President "It's the first I've heard of it." Tom Davis briefed the President in detail and at great length while they were in the President's limo a few months back when they were traveling together in Davis' district. And as the Post said a detailed memo was sent to him. Maybe some other national press person will follow up. The Washington Post as the local paper sure has a responsibility to follow up since the President said "I'll take a look at it." But Fletcher should be congratulated for bringing up and pressing on such an unfashionable issue. He has told me that he will continue to probe. Thanks again to you for bringing up the issue and giving me a chance to expound upon this.


Bethesda, Md.: Why would Michael Steele be a potential RNC chairman? Would that be failing upwards?

Mark Plotkin: Steele didn't get the job, even though I'm sure he very much wanted it. I'm sure he'll run again for something in Maryland. He's a charming guy, but I interviewed him the last week and I found him lacking in substance.


The Bowels of the Wilson Building: Ok - Who gets what new committee? And what will Barry chair?

Mark Plotkin: I know one thing: Marion Barry wants to be Chair of the Education Committee, but he will not get it. You can bank on it. I asked Vincent Gray, who is the new chair of the council, why he would award chairmanships to non-Democrats. Even though when he was campaigning for the Ward 7 seat he was against this. Schwartz and Catania shouldn't be chairs. Catania as the Health Chair is a contradiction in terms. He held off the anti-smoking provisions for years.


Undisclosed Secure Location: If you could ask President Bush one question and one follow up, what would they be?

Mark Plotkin: Where is this undisclosed secure location? Please tell me, I'm very intrigued. I would do exactly what Fletcher did, but eliminate any reference to any current bill or process. I would say the following, "Why are you passionately for democracy in Iraq, but not in your own nation's capital?" and then maybe another phrase, "You believe in democracy for the citizens of Baghdad, but not the citizens of D.C. Explain."


Charlottesville, Va.: More John Warner trivia if memory serves: he wasn't even his party's original nominee in his first Senate race. That honor went to the state's Republican Chairman Richard (?) Obenschain who shortly thereafter was killed in a plane crash. How's that for memory? I was in junior high at the time but already a political junkie. Or did I totally get the story wrong?

Mark Plotkin: You are absolutely right. I was going to bring that up, but I thought it was not necessary. But I'm glad you did. Congratulations. Obenshain (?) was nominated by the party in a convention. His daughter is the person I referred to as just resigning as the Chair of the Virginia State Party. Obenshain was much more conservative than Warner. Warner had been Secretary of the Navy. Sounds familiar. Thanks for your comments, it shows there are other people obsessed with political trivia. I'm not alone.


Silver Spring, Md.: Mark, if you look at the county results, Webb won several counties in southern Virginia, including Dickenson and Buchanan (Kentucky border), and Brunswick and Greenville (Emporia, NC border). He did will along the W Va border and the James River as well. Any insights on these areas?

Mark Plotkin: Thank you for that information. The most interesting aspect of the Webb campaign was that he stressed a real dose of economic populism. President Clinton commented on this when he spoke for Webb at Market Square in Alexandria the night before the election. Webb really believes this. Thinks that the disparities in wealth is hurting the country and feels for those who can't make it in the global economy. Reminds me of old Henry Howell. He got elected Lt. Governor, but lost to Mills Godwin with the slogan "Keep the big boys honest." I hope Webb in the Senate will keep on talking about this issue. It's his most attractive quality and took some guts to do it in tradition bound Virginia. Allen never mentioned a word about this subject and I don't think had any feelings about it. Some of the areas you mention are in southwest Virginia and they have been traditionally Democratic and Webb made a big deal about his ancestors being from there.


DC 20009: Very sorry to hear that Sinclair Spencer is playing any role in the Fenty administration. Do you think he is blackmailing the mayor-elect? What other possible explanation can there be?

Mark Plotkin: I'll have to ask my colleague, Mark Segraves, crack investigative reporter, the Jimmy Olsen of his day about this subject. He's the expert.


Northwest D.C.: In your opinion:

1. Tony Williams biggest success while Mayor.

2. Williams' biggest failure.

3. Fenty's biggest challenge.

Mark Plotkin:1. Tony Williams restored respect for the city after Marion Barry and the Control Board. He gave confidence to Wall Street and that helped us tremendously in the financial markets. And by his leadership, D.C. had the greatest amount of commercial investment than anywhere in the United States. People generally felt better about the city and it's chances for success and we were no longer fertile material for late night comics.

2. Never challenged our colonial status. We still don't have a vote in the House or Senate. All our laws can be overturned by Congress. We don't pick our own judges or prosecuting attorney. More than anything, the Mayor sitting in the box at the State of the Union year after year, he reminded me of a potted plant.

3. Fenty, by the way, has said he will not sit in the Presidential Box until we get representation. Two great challenges: remove our colonial status and improve the schools so that families send their children in greater numbers to the schools.


Arlington, Va. concerned for D.C. Voting Rights: Mark,

I'm a little confused by Nancy Pelosi's position on the Davis-Norton bill for D.C. The initial reports said she was against it, because it gave the Republicans an extra vote, and that her alternative was to give D.C. a vote on the floor, except when it actually matters! Turning DC voting rights into a partisan issue (when the Davis-Norton bill did as good a job as possible of removing partisan considerations from the equation) seems to be a terrible betrayal of the loyally Democratic District. Has she publicly commented on this?

Mark Plotkin: I'm glad you brought this issue up. Saturday's Post explained that Pelosi's spokesperson has incorrectly stated her position. Let me be diplomatic and say I hope that's the case. On Friday's Politics Program on Washington Post Radio 1500 AM 107.7 FM, I railed against the Friday Post article, which said that Pelosi was cutting Utah out of the deal. I also suspected that Eleanor Holmes Norton was getting bought off with a meaningless Committee of the Whole vote and a subcommittee chairmanship and that the Davis Bill was going to be sacrificed. Norton, without invitation, called the show to say that she had called Pelosi's office and straightened the situation out. Now the challenge is to make sure that Norton keeps on fighting for this bill and that Pelosi pushes it in the first few months of the Democratic Congress. Norton unfortunately thinks that trying is succeeding. She waited far too long to embrace this bill and she had better deliver now. This is her responsibility. Her job is to look after her constituents, not to take care of herself with her leadership. Believe me, I'll be watching and so should everybody else.


Washington, D.C.: Mark,

I like your style of reporting, you are not the typical soft-ball throwing interviewer. That said, here comes the zinger (just kidding). What do you think about those Democratic commissioners breaking party lines and endorsing Steele? Then, they can't even explain to their constituents why they supported a Republican. I think they should all be voted our of office, quickly

Mark Plotkin: I think really in retrospect, they were just trying to advance themselves politically. Their support of Steele was based more on personal ambition than principle. Wayne Curry, probably the prime example. He wanted to be picked by Ehrlich for Lt. Governor and cozy up to the Republican party. It'll be interesting to see whether Democrats retaliate when these guys come up for re-election. They'll probably face primary opposition. African Americans in Prince George's County decided that Steele was not really one of them in terms of issues. His campaign light just didn't work.


Marshall, Va.: In response to the Wolf discussion. I guess that I feel he presents himself at local town meetings and other smaller events that have a good personal reach. I agree that the Q&A on radio is a perfect scenario, but I am also not going to let that affect my judgment too much because I have seen him in open forums.

As for the local human rights, there is no excuse to be against D.C. voting rights, but I also hesitate to equate his topics of rape, genocide and famine to pushing for a D.C. vote which counts for .2% of every House Bill.

Mark Plotkin: Thanks for your response. I just feel that a radio show, not just this one, reaches more people than a town forum. I know he gave 10 minutes to Kojo, but a radio program allows the interviewer to probe and to take calls, not always friendly calls. Quite frankly, Wolf just didn't want to take the heat. As for D.C. why can't he do both? He knows what's going on here in the District and it shouldn't be equated or viewed in terms of percentages. It's a basic stain on democracy and he should feel it and say something about it.


Washington, D.C.: So Marion Barry is in trouble again. I've had no use for him for many years, but now I'm starting to just feel sorry for him. Is there no one out there who can save him from himself? He should never, ever be driving a car given his age and health and other concerns.

Mark Plotkin: Marion Barry is his own worst offender. I don't know why the residents of his own ward put up with him. He sure has no coattails. He backed Bolden and Lockridge's opponent and they both got trounced. In many ways, he is a sad case and brings on his problems by himself. No one else to blame.

I thought this week was particularly good with the variety of questions. See you next week, same time same place.


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