D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

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Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 2:00 PM

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin was online Tuesday, Jan. 30, 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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Rockville: Why are you so negative? And why are you always throwing in these passive-aggressive opinionated comments on the radio? A lot of people are turned off by your negativity. You may want to look for the good and the positive among the bad and the negative when you're commenting on things. A lot of times you come across as very depressing, with a downward view of the world.

Mark Plotkin: Well why are you listening if I disturb you so much? I am not passive aggressive, I am aggressive, and I point out things that need to be rectified and improved. That's not depressing, it illustrates that I think the world can be improved -- that's an optimist's point of view. You totally misread me. What do you want me to do, say everything is hunky-dory when it isn't? There are too many people who say things are all right when they are not. So in conclusion, I suggest strongly that you sharpen your observation abilities and listen more closely.

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Alexandria, Va.: I know this is more of a national politics question, but it's all local, right? Anyway, could you please explain why the Democrats are so upset about Bush referring to the "Democrat" party rather than the "Democratic" party? I don't really see the slight and simply chalk it up to Bush's infirm grasp of the language. What am I missing here?

Mark Plotkin: I guess they feel that the use of the word "Democrat" party title is some sort of pejorative. The President is not the most articulate of leaders and I feel that this might be just an honest mistake. It was not intended as a slur -- this is a subtlety that I don't think the President is adept at using. Hope that answers your question. He has been the king of malapropisms before so why shouldn't this fall in the same category?

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Washington: I'm curious as to how Linda Singer came to be admitted to the D.C. Bar last month. If she was not an active member of any bar -- and according to the article in today's paper she was not -- she would have had to pass the D.C. Bar exam, which would be very difficult for someone in that position. I called the D.C. Bar, of which I am a member, to try to get this information but not surprisingly they refused to comment. Think you can succeed where I failed? Thanks for trying! Good luck!

Mark Plotkin: I read the Linda Singer story in The Post today and I've asked her about this subject. She told me that she could waive into the Washington bar because she's passed the bar, I believe, in New York. She's obviously well-educated (Harvard Law School) and well-trained. I think the bar didn't respond to you because of privacy issues. That's my hunch.

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Arlington, Va.: With all due respect, given the local political challenges that universities face in the District (often hostile neighborhood opposition for one), wouldn't it make more sense for you to use your efforts and influence to address the common challenges faced by GU and GWU, rather than myopically focusing on a sporting contest between the two schools?

Mark Plotkin: Good point. I'm a little weak on land-use issues even though I know they are very important to the city and especially to the neighborhoods. But I won't let up on what you call the myopic concentration on the sporting function. I repeat -- more briefly but still adamantly -- that Georgetown University is not being a good community institution by refusing to play GWU, Howard, and AU, in basketball. It's their way of distancing themselves from the city, and no other city would allow them to get away with this. And the cause of this is John Thompson Sr. -- he obviously has some sort of chip on his shoulder and grudge against the other universities. His son, the present coach, is just doing his bidding.

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Alexandria Va.: Murder spree in Washington and the front page is given over to one dead horse and some counterfeit purses. Strange priorities at The Post...

Mark Plotkin: I'm not defending The Post, but I thought they covered the murder story over the weekend on Monday and spend a great deal of time chronicling crime in the city.

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Amherst, Va.: What is up with the transportation deal? I thought there should have been deal by now. It has been quiet this past week. When are they suppose to hammer out a deal in Virginia on road, rail and transit projects/improvements?

Mark Plotkin: As you are fully aware, this is a profound split between House Republicans and Senate Republicans. The House Republicans, led by Speaker Howell, don't want the rap that they raise taxes; The Senate Republicans realize that roads can't be built without money. I heard on WTOP today a proposal by one legislator to add $5 to every $25 tank of gas and earmark those funds to finance road construction. The Democrats want to fund a solution with increased taxes and fees and feel that the magnitude of the problem is so great that it can't be done any other way. Republicans endanger themselves if they don't come to some sort of compromise concerning long-term funding -- all 140 seats in the legislature are up in November. They hold a four-seat margin in the Senate and are up by 11 seats in the House. They don't want to be accused of being obstructionists, so I think they will come to some sort of solution.

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San Francisco: Does Senator John Warner's opposition to the President's escalation indicate that he won't seek re-election in 2008? Seems like his position will be unpopular with his Virginia GOP base -- more like a "Profiles in Courage" moment than the action of a politician who plans to face the voters in less than two years.

Mark Plotkin: Good to hear from the West -- did not realize my thoughts reached such a national constituency. Warner, when he was first elected, was considered a joke. He was not fondly called "Mr. Elizabeth Taylor" because he had enjoyed a very brief marriage to the Hollywood starlet -- in fact there was a comment in Washington that got great circulation, but which good taste forbids me from airing. Needless to say, not much was expected of him. But he has truly seemed to grow in office --  he refused to endorse Oliver North for the Senate and in fact recruited Marshall Coleman to run as an Independent. Many Republicans blame Warner for re-electing Chuck Robb. This conversion against the War is I believe sincere, and Warner is considered an important voice because he formally chaired the Armed Services Committee and was a former Secretary of the Navy. He is 80 years old now and if he ran for another term, he would be 88 at the end of his term  -- challenging Robert Byrd and approaching Strom Thurmond. He says he has not made up his mind on whether or not he will run again, but being in the minority I think might change his opinion.

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Washington, D.C.: Mark, do you think that Bob Bobb has the political skill and savvy to thwart Mayor Fenty's plan to do a Michael Bloomberg/Joel Klein takeover of the public school system by its passage of an aggressive internal reform package? Do you think that Bobb's aggressive movement will place enough City Council members in doubt to make Fenty's campaign pledge melt away?

washingtonpost.com: Board of Ed Presents Alternative to Takeover (Post, Jan. 30)

Mark Plotkin: The votes are not there at this point for Bob Bobb's plan. I would like to ask Mr. Bobb many questions, but the incompetence of his office does not permit a prompt return of phone calls -- even parents who are supportive of his position do not hear back from him. We will be talking about this Friday at noon on the politics program (107.7 FM / 1500 AM).

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Re: Negative Comments: Hey Mark, glad to see you didn't let that chatter get under your skin. Many of us, heck, most of us love your reporting, this chat, and all that you do in providing the nitty gritty details of the events we long to hear about. Keep up the great work!

Mark Plotkin: Thank you for those nice comments -- the world is a much brighter place now. Obviously that guy from Rockville, has a dark view and is misguided. Really, thanks again for the remarks.

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Washington: Mark, why do you insist that John Thompson Sr. is the sole reason why Georgetown doesn't play any local universities? What reason would John Thompson have to not play them? The Hoyas would run all over AU/Howard (although GWU/Maryland would make for good games).

Mark Plotkin: Because I have been told by someone at the highest level of Georgetown University that Thompson and only Thompson is the reason for this decision. I believe this person and I believe this person is in-the-know. John Feinstein has written columns on this subject and still nothing changes.

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Bowels of the Wilson Building: Mark: Any thoughts on whether David Catania's performance in grilling Bobb and Janey was Oscar-worthy? It's always inspiring to watch him rant and rave, and then calmly walk off the dais and drink a soda. The man is a dedicated actor.

Mark Plotkin: David Catania is in love with his own voice and antics. He has found a venue for his constant and tiresome outrage. Otherwise, he'd have to go out in the street and start yelling at somebody or something. He's informed and smart, but his influence and effectiveness are totally obliterated by his chronic and irritating hyperbolic persona. I think he goes home and watches himself on channel 13 -- there can be no other explanation for his unremitting displays of infantile protestations.

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Petworth: Back to Washington: Who's up for the council seats in Wards 4 and 7? What can you tell us about the famous names and the not-so-known?

Mark Plotkin: That election is May 1. In Ward 4, I guess the nod would have to go to Muriel Bowser. I heard there were a thousand people at Bill (the blinker) Lightfoot's house. She's Fenty's candidate; he has proven that he has an organization and can deliver. Michael Brown wants a second shot and this will be a test if he has any political liability. In Ward 7, I'm looking to see who Vince Gray actually endorses. In both these races, you could win with as little as 15 percent of the vote -- a simple plurality is all you need, there is no run-off provision, and there are so many candidates.

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Philadelphia: Re: John Thompson ... we had our own situation up here after Villanova won the NCAA championship where Rollie Massimino became more and more distant from the traditional "Big Five" community. So yes, one coach or former coach can do such fan-friendly things.

Mark Plotkin: Thanks for pointing that out. Philadelphia has a sense of itself; Washington does not, and that is the problem. But thanks for pointing out the Massimino example. Thompson doesn't care about the city, all he cares about is himself.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Mark, isn't the Tom Davis bill (to "restore" congressional voting rights for Washington) a bad deal? I mean, giving Utah an extra seat in Congress and an automatic electoral vote for the Republicans in exchange for what -- a vote for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) in committee only? Why can't the Democrats, now in control, simply restore the vote fully, or at least to what Washington had until the Republicans took it away in 1994?

Mark Plotkin: The simple matter is that not every Democrat will vote for this bill -- for passage it needs Republican votes. It's also good for the bill to have a bi-partisan flavor -- we have Tom Davis to thank for that. There are some "technical" issues but still serious that I will be writing in an Op-Ed piece that hopefully The Post will print. There I will outline all the problems that beset this bill and slow its passage. Hope that answers your question for now.

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Washington: While it's not all that surprising that Abe Pollin is looking for public handouts, won't he spend the money anyway on upgrading the suites at Verizon Center given the likely high rate of return of such an investment? Even the Lerners are upgrading the suites at the Nats new ballpark out of their own pocket (although the overall public subsidy for the Nats remains pretty staggering and much more than Pollin got ten years ago).

washingtonpost.com: Pollin Asks D.C. to Pay for Verizon Center Renovations (Post, Jan. 27)

Mark Plotkin: Abe Pollin is a great sports owner and a truly generous corporate citizen, unlike the worst sports owner of all time: Dan Snyder. This public policy question is going to have to be decided by the council. The financing for the renovation is supposed to be revenue-neutral, but the taxes on the tickets will go up from 5.2 percent to 10 percent, which is what is paid for restaurant meals in Washington and tickets to Nationals games. I'm sure there are going to be councilmembers who will object, and the vote and discussion will I'm sure be contentious.

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My office: Why don't you ever do any live appearances? I would love to get to meet you face-to-face. What do you charge for speaking events? Do you do bar mitzvahs?

Mark Plotkin: I love to do public events and live appearances. Some I charge for, if I am not covering the sponsor and it does not conflict with my professional responsibilities. I do bar mitzvahs -- not to speak but attend. If you really are serious, call me at (202) 895-5281. I'm going to do a Pepco speech to their employees (not paid) on March 28 and I'm going to speak at St. Mary's College and also Mareet school. So thanks for the comment and I'll have my prepared remarks ready.

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Capital Hill: Do you think Vince Morris will be confirmed by the Council to the sports commission and will he be a great addition to the commission?

Mark Plotkin: This is a mysterious appointment. He was one of the "midnight" appointments a a Marbury v. Madison. Tony Williams submitted more than 40 nominations for various boards and commissions just prior to leaving office, despite having pledged to Adrian Fenty that he would leave those nominations for him to make. After press reports about the nominations surfaced, Wlliams withdrew all the nominations. Fenty now has begun submitting his own nominations for those own positions and says about 30 of them will be the same people Williams nominated.

Included in Fenty's nominations was Vince Morris, Williams' former heavy-handed obstructionist flack, and Max Brown, a loyal retainer and supplicant of the former Mayor. He nominated them to the very posh and coveted slots on the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. When asked repeatedly for Morris' qualifications, Fenty only has been able to point out his loyal government service in his 18 months and his help during the transition. Councilman Kwame Brown held a confirmation hearing yesterday on Fenty's four appointments for the Sports Commission, but Brown only called three names for the consideration. Morris was among the three considered; Max Brown was left out.

So it looks like Morris will be confirmed. I read in an article that he considers himself a great sports fan which I guess he feels is qualification enough. I knew Vince when he was an excellent reporter at the Washington Times. He went through some sort of personality transformation when he assumed the job of spokesperson for Williams. He was almost universally reviled and mistrusted by the entire press corps. I don't know what happened to him but he became a different person and there is almost total relief that he no longer holds that position. He now works for Sen. Kerry and I hope the old Vince Morris re-emerges. Thanks to Mark Segraves for contributing to this chronology.

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Washington: Just a trivial point ... why do you keep referring to John Thompson the former Georgetown coach and father of the current Georgetown coach, as "John Thompson, Sr."? Isn't the current coach "John Thompson III," which would make his father "John Thompson Jr.?" Sorry to be so pedantic, but please, if you have to rant, be accurate.

Mark Plotkin: Thanks for the correction. I just guess I have trouble calling anybody "the third." But I appreciate all corrections of fact.

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Hilltop: Your vendetta against Thompson Sr. aside, you could at least refrain from saying GU is a bad neighbor to the city, considering the vast amount of time students and staff donate to the community (and communities outside Washington). Don't know if it's any more or less than your alma mater but it is substantial, and your word choice kinda lumps it all together (yes, sometimes you get specific, saying just JT II, but more often you simply say GU). Playing basketball games is not the only way to serve your community.

Mark Plotkin: You make a valid point and I appreciate you bringing it up. But I stand by my original remarks and consider this lack of involvement substantive and serious.

See you all next week, same time, same place.

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