D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

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Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Tuesday, January 23, 2007; 2:00 PM

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin was online Tuesday, Jan. 23, 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.

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Washington: I heard your story about Fenty and Norton fighting over the microphone. What's the rest of the story there?

Mark Plotkin: The mayor was very adroit in handling this situation. I asked the mayor a question and the congresswoman said I'll answer that question. The mayor justifiably felt that since the question was asked to him that he should be the person who responded. When the congresswoman insisted he gently but firmly informed her that he would take the question and she after some hesitation, relented. It was very skillful by Fenty and instructive to Norton. It was tense there and I think the press crew enjoyed the real life drama.

On another subject, I hope everybody saw the story on the front page of the Washington Post today in the metro section about Fenty not sitting with Laura Bush. There is more to that story and I would be glad to fill you in on the history of this if anyone is interested. In addition, the remarks of the press person I don't think accurately make the point that the mayor was trying to make and I will explain if anyone is interested.

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Washington: As a voter from Ward 3 that cares a great deal about D.C. voting rights, would you care to comment on Fenty's refusal to join the First Lady tonight?

Mark Plotkin: Good. I didn't even have to prompt anybody, it turns out. I asked the question to all the candidates for Mayor way back in November of 2005 at UDC, concerning this issue. The history is that Mayor Tony Williams for eight straight years, sat in the first lady's box and was more than glad to be a "potted plant." I mean that he sat there smug and self-satisfied and didn't seem to realize that he was being used. The Bush administration got points for highlighting the presence of an African-American mayor. But the Mayor who knew full well that the Bush administration did not want to include the residents of the district in the U.S. Congress, the Mayor happily was glad to go along. This galled me to no end.

Fenty as a candidate, immediately said he would not sit in the box to register his opposition to the Bush administration's position against D.C. voting rights. Today's story in the Post, doesn't exactly conform to this principle. The press secretary Carrie Brooks is quoted as saying, "Pelosi asked us first." She went on to say that "He committed during the campaign not to sit in the first lady's box." You can't have it both ways. He should have said, "I'm honoring my campaign pledge." Or better yet as my colleague Mark Segraves suggested that when the first lady invited him he should have responded in a letter declining the invitation and make this letter public. But I don't feel that the Mayor has yet reached the level of sophisticated strategizing that he would have conceived this. Instead, we have a message that is murky and mixed and dilutes the original principle.

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Washington: Any truth to ongoing rumors that the Uptown Theater will be closing before the end of this year?

Mark Plotkin: I did not know and would like to hear any information that you have on this. Please call me direct at 202.895.5281. That would be a terrible tragedy. It is a great place and that would be a great loss.

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Washington: What is up with the chatter about building a new Redskins stadium at RFK? Is this anything more than a Jack Evans fantasy? We've got one stadium for baseball that was a major challenge to get approved and built. We've got the soccer stadium proposal that already is eliciting howls from the peanut galleries. And now the powers-that-be are considering yet another stadium?

Mark Plotkin: You should call Jack Evans on this, the council member from Ward two can be reached at 724.8058. It is his dream to bring back the Redskins to D.C. and he has some definitive thoughts on this issue. We were supposed to get to that on Washington Post radio on Friday 1500 AM 107.7 FM but time ran out. The world's worst sports owner, Dan Snyder, could significantly improve his public image by moving into D.C. His reputation is at the bottom of any measurement. Anything he could do in this regard would dramatically elevate his public persona.

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Washington: Yes! We are interested about the Fenty/Laura Bush details ... please share them all!

Mark Plotkin: I'm glad there is interest in this subject. For our status as second-class citizens to change, there has to be a direct and frontal challenge to the way things are. Fenty's instincts were good on this, but he should have carried it out in a different way -- the way Segraves suggested. Then, the issue of our voteless status could have been highlighted. I'm really disturbed by the "Pelosi asked us first" line. That hurts the whole point of refusing the Bush invitation and telling the world why. Fenty has got to learn to seize this opportunities to inform and enlighten the world when a situation like this presents itself. Tony Williams never understood how his presence in the box underscored his timidity and lameness when it came to leveraging the power and visibility of his office. He did not serve the city well. He didn't mind being used.

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Eastern Shore, Md.: I spent some time at the slots facility in Dover, Del., over the weekend. I'd say roughly a third of the cars in the parking lot had Maryland tags. When is our Legislature going to finally get a slots bill through? I can't believe our elected leaders are going to continue to watch Marylanders pour their money into Delaware's economy!

Mark Plotkin: Well, State Senate President Mike Miller will be very glad that you shared your experience. So would have former Governor Bob Ehrlich. The present Governor Martin O'Malley is for slots at the race tracks. Mike Busch, the speaker of the Maryland House, is against any form of slots. This year they are not concerned immediately about raising revenue but next year the legislature will probably entertain this issue.

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Arlington, Va.: Your preoccupation with John Thompson II's position at Georgetown and his son's interactions with you seem to bespeak some sort of personal obsession with Georgetown. Sadly, this is not that odd for a GW graduate, as we saw with the "march" on Georgetown University by Colonial fans last year. Why do you repeatedly point to JTII's position at GU as if it were some sort of indictment? What does that have to do with GU playing GW? Nothing. But it gives you an opportunity to denigrate Georgetown through innuendo.

In addition, you choose to gloss over fact that Gary Williams and John Feinstein play quite large roles in GU not participating in the BB&T. This is not surprising, as it does not play into your fantasy of GU ignoring and neglecting the city. The truth is the University does many things for the city. To say that the University 'owes' the city and should play in a local basketball tournament is absurd -- yet not out of character for you. Outside of this issue, you very typically wrap yourself in the city's flag in order to forward your own personal agenda. I think you are more concerned with what is good for Mark Plotkin than you are in what is good for the city. Your distortion of the argument is testament to this.

Mark Plotkin: Did you go to Georgetown? Every other city prides itself on bringing the city together. You who live in Arlington obviously do not have any feel for what contributes to a sense of city pride. The role of John Thompson, Sr. is noteworthy because he is the prime obstacle in making this event occur. He makes over $400,000 a year, and has some made up title as Assistant Vice-President for Urban Affairs, or something with the Urban-Affairs moniker, and I have been told by a source in the Georgetown University community that he -- and only he -- is the problem. He obviously does not want Georgetown to lose to GW, or carries some sort of hostility toward GW and all the other city schools. In the City of Brotherly Love, they have a citywide series where all the city schools play each other. They have a luncheon and the games unite the city. You obviously do not understand this and instead resort to cheap shots at me. Feinstein repeatedly has asked Georgetown to join and they have refused. This is a charity game which benefits under-privileged kids. Williams always has participated. So before you go after me, why don't you educate yourself on this issue? Damn right it's an indictment -- and one they deserve.

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RE: Williams Being Used: Mr. Plotkin, how about being grateful that a mayor of the District of Columbia was asked to attend? Forget politics for a moment The speech is in Washington and we have been the laughingstock of the nation for years! It's actually refreshing to see our Mayor representing the city that way. Although your issue is an important one, it's hardly the first thing that comes to mind when these men and women think about how to run the country. I'm just glad that the days of our mayors getting heckled on the Tonight Show are over. I know that this is not in agreement with your thoughts, but I hope that you will consider posting it. Thanks.

Mark Plotkin: I appreciate your thoughts, but you do not seem to understand. Until the leaders and residents of the District stand up for their rights, no one else will. This is not some esoteric issue. This is the fundamental right of any democracy. The right to be represented with full power in your national legislature. As long as we are treated as tokens, our status will never change. This is a point that some just don't get. We are insulted every day that we are not allowed the same rights as every other American citizen. And we are supposed to be grateful to be invited to be spectators. We demand to be participants in democracy.

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Arlington, Va.: Are you getting any sense of how the local pols are lining up in support of either Obama or Clinton or anybody else for that matter? Or is it too early for them to bother?

Mark Plotkin: It is far too early. I know that Clinton feels she will cut in to Obama's African-American support. And Obama will cut into some of Clinton's base. Both will be well funded -- Clinton more than Obama. But no votes have yet been cast and the nomination will be decided in those four early states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. This odd combination will determine the nominee. So there is a emphasis on organization, not just celebrity status.

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Falls Church, Va.: Mark, what will you do after Washington gets a vote in Congress? To where will your awesome zeal and passion be directed?

Mark Plotkin: Well I will find something else to be passionate about. I'll start right now: Washington should fund research into embryonic stem cells. All the states are picking up this charge because the President insists on thwarting scientific research and people are missing out on possible cures for deadly diseases. It's outrageous. Maryland has $35 million to provide for grants but not specifically for embryonic. Virginia has no such funds allocated and nor does D.C., California, Mass., and New Jersey have made major commitments to this needed research.

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Camelot: Interesting article in today's Post on the troubles facing the GOP in the upcoming elections in Northern Virginia. Which incumbents do you see as be on the endangered species list?

washingtonpost.com: Offensive GOP Words Might Speak Louder Than Va. Transit Deal (Post, Jan. 22)

Mark Plotkin: Well Tom Davis' wife (Devolites) is one. They think that she is vulnerable. And there are some delegates who Democrats think can be knocked off if they continue to be stubborn on the transportation issue. Vince Callahan comes to mind. I'll get a little more detailed on the various candidates as the election season nears. Thanks for the good question.

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Bethesda, Md.: It is not John Thompson's fault that GU does not play in the tournament -- it is Joe Smiths fault, because it was his coming-out party when UMD beat GU, and I think that was the last time they played each other.

Mark Plotkin: You have a point there, but my thesis is still correct. Good try.

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Bowels of the Wilson Building: Are you taking any bets on who's going to be the first member of the Fenty Administration to resign or be forced out?

Mark Plotkin: He just started. I think it is a little premature to be speculating on this. But if I hear anything, or you hear anything, let me know.

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Washington: Is Hargrove from Virginia really as nutty as he seems? He reminds me of Archie Bunker: offensive not because he wants to shock anyone and get attention but because that's just the way he is.

Mark Plotkin: Well this guy, Hargrove, is from a different era. And when I asked Lt. Governor Bill Bolling on Friday's politics program 1500 AM / 107.7 FM he gave a pathetic defense of his remarks. I see where Hargrove is trying to remake his image with his latest proposal, but he still won't apologize.

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Washington: Mark, we're 13 law students at Georgetown, GW, and CUA who all were ready to sign up to support Washington voting rights until constitutional law professors at all 3 schools told us "don't waste your time, there's no way D.C. can get a voting representative without a constitutional amendment." Are they correct? We're fairly young and idealistic (FYI, none of us are from Washington) but we don't want to go tilting at windmills when there are so many other causes, such as ending the war, where we could focus our efforts.

Mark Plotkin: There are some who feel that this can't be done without a constitutional amendment. You know that numerical hurdle is great. Two-thirds both Houses and the approval of three quarters (38 states). Ken Starr and Viet Dinh -- no raving liberals -- have written a defense of doing this by statute. I think many people use the constitutional argument because they politically don't want to see this happen. Today majority leader Steny Hoyer pledged to me and the entire press corps that he would ask the President if he would veto the Norton-Davis bill. The President you know is coming to the Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, but I have been told the Democrats only can ask five questions. I sure hope this is one of them.

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Richmond, Va.: Isn't it interesting that in the past two years, Virginia pols have been picked to represent the opposition to Bush's SOTU speech? What is that saying about Virginia as a state?

Mark Plotkin: Well Virginia Democrats feel the state is in play. They have elected the past two governors and knocked off George Allen in the Senate. They think that the State Senate is in reach in November -- they need only four seats. And they think that they can make in-roads in the Virginia House. The state demographically is trending more diverse and I think more Democratic, especially in Northern Virginia. What they really want is to pick up the seat in the Senate when John Warner retires and most important, pick up Virginia in the 2008 Presidential election. Last time that happened, was 1964 -- the Johnson landslide. Even when there was a solid South, the Democrats did not carry Virginia. Eisenhower carried it twice. There was a good variety of questions and I thank you. And I'll see you same time, same place, next week.

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