Sherwood's Notebook: ‘Doctoring' Paid Family Leave

It was a gut punch. Some dismayed advocates are calling it a sucker punch.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson surprised nearly everyone by reopening debate over how the city will fund its progressive new paid family leave law. After two years of debate and a victory led by Mendelson himself, the chairman said the council now will re-litigate the tax intended to finance it.

So, on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour on Friday, we asked a simple question: Why?

Mendelson said the business community was so aggressively opposed to the bill’s financing that he was concerned Mayor Muriel Bowser was “not going to implement the bill with any speed.” He denied that he himself was under political pressure from business interests. He is, however, up for re-election next year, too.

Paid leave supporters were appalled at Mendelson’s maneuver, potentially putting the whole program at risk and possibly reducing benefits. The bill had been passed. Mendelson didn’t have to reopen debate.

After a caller expressed fears for the bill, we asked Mendelson “would you guarantee this caller … that you would not vote to cut the benefits?”

“Yes,” Mendelson responded. He then went further: As chairman he determines when a measure comes up for a council vote. “I can also guarantee that if the benefits are going to change, nothing’s going to move out of the Committee [of the Whole]. I control that,” he told us. “I just don’t think the benefits are at risk here.”

Host Kojo Nnamdi added for effect: “Audio and video recorded.”

Mendelson said he would try to have any financing changes done by summer.

■ The police chief. Mendelson praised Mayor Bowser’s decision to nominate interim Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham as the city’s next chief. (Some media folks refer to it as naming a “permanent” chief. But there is nothing “permanent” about the job.)

Though he has some critics, and has admitted some mistakes, Newsham is well-regarded in communities around the city and by the police force itself — the latter something that could not be said as much about former Chief Cathy Lanier.

As we noted, Mayor Bowser is running for re-election and she didn’t need a new chief learning on the job. Newsham, a veteran officer who joined the department in 1989, served the last 14 years as a key assistant chief. Bowser will depend on him to guide the force and step up recruitment, easing public safety concerns that could blossom into political liabilities if they are not handled well.

■ The worst. The absolute worst. In the media world, we see a lot of press releases, emails and messages pitching this or that.

The Notebook wants to share the opening sentence of a recent release that may rank as the worst of all time in conveying a message:

“WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Representative Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) along with U.S. Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), John Sarbanes (MD-03), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), John Delaney (MD-06), Don Beyer (VA-08), Anthony Brown (MD-04), and Jamie Raskin (MD-08) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting a report on the effectiveness of governance and dedicated funding structures of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.”

That’s 93 words or abbreviations.

Now, without looking back, what was the point of the release?

In a world of not 24-hour but 24-second news cycles, clarity and brevity are even more important because of our shortened attention spans. Like them or hate them, President Donald Trump has mastered the world of 140-character tweets.

Any aspiring public relations person or politician — or anyone really — now is forewarned. (That last sentence is 13 words and leaves room to spare in a tweet.)

■ A not-so-final word. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has enjoyed extraordinarily high approval ratings for a Republican in a blue state: more than 70 percent. Yet he faced political — and potential legal — blowback when it was reported he and his aides were blocking comments on his public Facebook page.

“The purpose of social media is to have this exchange of ideas,” Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a Washington Post report. “Once that type of a forum is established by the government and the governor, it’s not permissible to say, ‘If you agree with me, you are allowed to post. And if you don’t, there’s no place for you here.’”

The governor’s office says it has restored some of the “offenders.” The Hogan site gets a million views every week, and his aides say they retain the right to block abusers, if not just negative comments.

On WAMU’s Politics Hour last Friday, host Kojo Nnamdi seemed surprised that your Notebook answered “yes” when he asked whether we had ever blocked anyone. It’s more common on Twitter, but excessive vulgarity can bring down the curtain in my social media world. Though we’re far from prudish, excessive vulgarity is just tiresome.

A well-placed expletive can be effective, but *%#*+* don’t overdo it.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

Contact Us