Midday Newsmaker | WYPR

Midday Newsmaker

The Office of Senator Ben Cardin.

Tom's Newsmaker guest today is Maryland's Senior Senator, Ben Cardin.

As record numbers of new COVID-19 infections and deaths threaten the nation's beleaguered health system, 1.7 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in just the past two weeks.  

Last night, Senator Chuck Schumer (D., NY) and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., KY) announced a deal for a $900 billion dollar stimulus bill.  The House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill today.  It’s the first COVID-relief package since the CARES Act was passed way back in March.  It includes a direct payment to adults and children of $600, half of what the direct payment was nine months ago, and a $300 supplemental job benefit, which is also half as big as the first federal unemployment supplement that Congress passed at the beginning of the pandemic.  Will the stimulus be enough to keep the economy -- and millions of struggling Americans -- afloat as winter sets in? 

Baltimore Police Department

Our Newsmaker guest today is Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.

The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled businesses across the city and forced many to close, but it has had no appreciable effect on the number of murders in our city this year, which stands at 294 as of today.

Wednesday, the Baltimore Police Department announced the arrests of 14 people who are believed to have been involved in several car-jackings in the Northwest District.

And on October 29th, Judge James K. Bredar said in a quarterly hearing about the Consent Decree that, “there now is solid leadership in the Police Department, and there is beginning to flow real and substantial progress in achieving Consent Decree objectives.”... 

Baltimore Police Dept.

Tom's guest for today's Newsmaker interview is Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison. 

A recent Baltimore Police Department report describes the status of the department’s five year plan to reduce violence and implement a court-ordered Consent Decree.  Crimes other than homicide are down, and the department claims improvements in managing resources, data, and technology.

But as is the case in many cities across the country, in many of the same Baltimore neighborhoods that have been afflicted by violence for generations, homicides are still part of daily life. 

Amid months of protests calling for defunding the police, the Baltimore City Council has cut $22 million from the department’s budget and suggested it’s time to "re-imagine" public safety. 

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison joins Tom via Skype for the hour to share his perspectives on the challenges of policing in the city of Baltimore.

We welcome your comments and questions for the Commissioner: Call 410.662.8780. email: midday@wypr.org.  Twitter: @MiddayWYPR.

Andre Davis

Tom's Newsmaker guest today is the former Solicitor of Baltimore City, Andre Davis.

In 2017, Judge Davis left his seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and answered then-Mayor Catherine Pugh's call for him to serve as his hometown’s top lawyer.  He was front and center in efforts to recruit Michael Harrison as the city’s police commissioner after Daryl De Sousa resigned amid scandal.  When Mayor Pugh was forced to resign by her own corruption scandal, Davis was a stabilizing force in a city hall rocked by crisis. 

Andre Davis worked to reform the Baltimore Police Department, and he took controversial positions about the role of the Civilian Review Board, gag orders for victims of police misconduct, and the city’s liability arising from the scandal of the Gun Trace Task Force.  

Today on Midday, Andre Davis reflects on his tenure in city government, politics and public service, and he takes your questions and comments.


Tom's Newsmaker guest for the hour is Chris Van Hollen, Maryland's Democratic junior senator, who has served in the U.S. Senate since January, 2017.  From 2003 to 2017, he was the U.S. Representative for Maryland's 8th congressional district.

Among the topics in today's conversation:

A major resurgence of COVID-19 coronavirus infections is overwhelming health systems in several states, as viral spread is closely correlated with gatherings in indoor spaces.  Senator Van Hollen has introduced legislation to provide additional help to small businesses. 

As the nation's schools struggle with decisions about re-opening and distance learning, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been distanced from the President.  The White House released what amounts to opposition research about Dr. Fauci over the weekend...

Senator Ben Cardin

Joining Tom for the hour today is the senior Democratic senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin.  First elected to the Senate in 2006, he is currently the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.  He also serves on the Senate Finance Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. 

Among today's topics :

President Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.  The arena wasn't as full as his campaign predicted it would be, but Mr. Trump did attract more than 6,000 people, despite numerous warnings from health officials that the rally posed a major health risk. 

A federal judge denied the Trump Administration's request that Simon and Schuster be blocked from releasing former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s tell-all memoirnoting how many copies of the book were already circulating.  Bolton is making the rounds of national news shows, verifying reports in previous tell-all books that Mr. Trump is not fit to serve in the highest office in the land....

Senator Ben Cardin

Tom's guest for today's Newsmaker interview is the senior U.S. Senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin.  First elected to the Senate in 2006, he’s the Ranking Member of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee.  He is a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Environment & Public Works committees.  He also serves on the Senate Finance Committee.

Senator Cardin joins us to discuss a range of urgent topics facing Marylanders and the nation, starting with the response to the widening US outbreak of CoVID19, the new coronavirus disease that's now turned up in more than 20 states, including three new cases just reported in Montgomery County, Maryland...

Baltimore County

Today, Tom's guest is Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.  In his first year in office, Mr. Oszewski has made several high- profile appointments, including hiring women for the first time in County history to lead the Police and Fire Departments.  

He  was able to do what his predecessor, Kevin Kamenetz, was unable to do: pass the HOME Act, which obliges landlords to accept Federal government subsidies like Section 8 Vouchers as rent payment. 

Olszewski, a former state delegate and public school teacher, faces some daunting challenges in the year ahead, among them addressing a spike in violent crime in the County and funding for school construction. 

Our conversation was livestreamed on the WYPR Facebook page.  You can watch here

WYPR Reporter John Lee contributed to this show.  


Tom's guest today is Senator Chris Van Hollen. The Democratic junior senator from Maryland, who was  first elected to the US Senate in 2016 after representing Maryland's 8th District in the House since 2003, is leading a bipartisan effort to thwart continuing efforts by Russia and others to influence American elections. Over the weekend, one of Mr. Van Hollen’s Senate colleagues from Louisiana, Sen. John Kennedy, repeated a claim that Ukraine, a strategic partner and putative U.S. ally, had acted to interfere in the 2016 election. That claim has been dismissed as Russian disinformation by the US intelligence community and by a host of others, but it is repeatedly advanced by Republicans in both the House and Senate.

And with an impeachment inquiry into President Trump hovering over the legislature like a dark cloud, what of the other business that the Senate could be acting on? Issues like gun safety, the federal minimum wage, prescription drug prices, immigration, and locally, legislation to protect the Chesapeake Bay: all appear to be on hold while the impeachment drama plays out. 

Tom's guest today is the City Solicitor of Baltimore, Andre M. Davis.

Mr. Davis served for more than 30 years as a judge -- on the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, the US District Court, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City and the State District Court.

The City Solicitor -- a member of the Mayor's Cabinet and the head of the City Law Department -- oversees a staff of more than 100 lawyers, and serves as one of five members of the Board of Estimates, the municipal spending authority.

Andre Davis was appointed to the position of Solicitor by former Mayor Catherine Pugh, who resigned from office last spring, and who pleaded guilty yesterday to four of 11 counts in an indictment that was unsealed the day before.  Judge Davis joins Tom in Studio A for the hour, and answers listener comments and questions.

We livestreamed this conversation on the WYPR Facebook page. 

Baltimore City Police Department

Tom's guest today is the Commissioner of the Baltimore City Police Department, Michael Harrison.  He was sworn into office in March, after a successful tenure as commissioner in New Orleans.  That tenure continues to be credited with the sharp decline in murders and robberies in NOLA over the past three years. 

A decline in murders here in Baltimore continues to be aspirational. Just this morning, our city recorded its 300th homicide for the fifth year in a row.  That number includes a few deaths which were ruled homicides this year following assaults that occurred in prior years. But the stubborn and horrifying fact is that more people have been killed so far this year than at this time in 2018, and we could be on track to equal the city's near-record homicide count of 343 in 2017.

Midday Newsmaker: BTU President Diamonté Brown

Sep 17, 2019
Courtesy of Baltimore Teachers Union

Today, a conversation with Diamonté Brown, the new president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.  She was first elected last spring in a close and contentious race to lead the 7,000-member union of teachers and school para-professionals.  Her victory, which was officially certified in July after an investigation by the American Federation of Teachers, ended the long tenure of Marietta English, who was seeking her seventh 3-year term as BTU president.

Ms. Brown ran at the top of a coalition called The Union We Deserve.  She has pledged to improve accountability, engagement among union members, and to promote social justice.

A former teacher at Booker T. Washington Middle School, Ms. Brown now leads a union of teachers and school para-professionals who are working with a shrinking population of students, in the context of a deep political divide among lawmakers over funding for schools throughout the state. She joins us in studio A to discuss the present state of the union, and the school system improvements its members are striving for.

This program was livestreamed on WYPR's Facebook page; you can watch the video here.

Midday Newsmaker: Dr. Khalilah Harris

Aug 15, 2019

Nearly 150 people of color who worked in the Obama Administration, signed an op-ed in the Washington Post asserting that President Trump’s racist comments provide “jet fuel” for anti-Trump activism. 

Dr. Khalilah Harris is one of those staffers, who co-wrote the op ed. She’s also a co-author of a new report from the Center for American Progress that outlines a new agenda for education policy. 

This conversation was livestreamed on WYPR's Facebook page. You can watch the video here.

Photo Courtesy / Baltimore City Hall

Tom's guest is President of the Baltimore City Council, Brandon Scott.  He was elected President by his colleagues on the City Council in a unanimous vote last May, despite Mayor Jack Young’s preference for the Council’s Vice President, Sharon Green Middleton to assume the position she had held in an interim capacity during the weeks former Mayor Catherine Pugh pondered her political future. 

Last week, Mr. Scott weighed-in on where he sees Baltimore’s future.  He unveiled a detailed list of legislative and policy proposals that would result in significant changes in the way the city operates.

Baltimore Police Dept.

Today, Tom's guest in Studio A is the newish police commissioner of Baltimore City, Michael Harrison.  He was appointed by then-Mayor Catherine Pugh in January, approved by the City Council a few weeks later, and sworn into office in March. 

Last Thursday, flanked by Mayor Jack Young and other city officials, Commissioner Harrison unveiled his new plan to address the crime problem that has afflicted Baltimore in particularly acute ways since the riots and unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.

The plan addresses response times by police, where and how they are deployed throughout the city, technology needs and how police can build cases that hold-up in court for people accused of serious crimes, while exploring alternatives to jail for those who commit lesser offenses. 

This conversation was livestreamed on the WYPR Facebook page.  You can watch that video here.

Midday Newsmaker: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD 8th)

Jun 3, 2019
Courtesy of the office of Rep. Raskin

Rep. Jamie Raskin represents Maryland’s 8th District. He is a member of both the House Judiciary Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee, which is chaired by another Maryland Congressman, Elijah Cummings. 

As President Trump meets with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, Rep. Raskin joins Tom on the line to explain the growing calls for the House to begin an inquiry into impeaching the President  -- calls he says are being fueled by the Special Counsel's report and the intensifying legal clashes between the Trump White House and Congressional Democrats.

Midday Newsmaker: U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

May 28, 2019
Courtesy Sen. Cardin

Tom’s guest today is U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who has represented Maryland on Capitol Hill since 1987: first in the House of Representatives, where he represented Maryland’s Third Congressional District. He was elected to the Senate in 2007 and re-elected to a third term last November. Earlier in his career, he was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates for two decades.

Sen. Cardin is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the ranking member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. He is also a member of the Environment & Public Works and Finance committees. 

We livestreamed this conversation on WYPR's Facebook page.  Click here to see the video. 

Courtesy City of Baltimore

Tom’s guest for the hour is Andre M. Davis, the Baltimore City Solicitor. 

Davis was appointed as the city's top lawyer by then-Mayor Catherine Pugh in September 2017. He brings to the office 30 years of experience as a judge on local, state and federal courts -- including eight years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  As city solicitor, he directs the city’s legal department, which includes about 100 lawyers and support personnel.  He is also one of five members of the city’s Board of Estimates, which formulates and executes the city's fiscal policies. 

We livestreamed this conversation on the WYPR Facebook page.  Click here to watch the video. 

photo courtesy Friends of Johnny O

Tom’s Newsmaker guest today is Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Junior.  A Democrat, he was elected to office last November, and sworn in on December 3rd.  He’s a former Maryland state delegate, a lifelong resident of Dundalk, and a former high school teacher who made education and the quality of the county’s schools a major part of his campaign for county executive -- and of his first budget.

Two weeks ago, he submitted his 2020 county budget proposal to the County Council.  It’s a $3.4 billion dollar plan, more than half of which is devoted to education spending.  The  Council holds a public hearing about the budget tonight (Tuesday April 30) at 6:00, in Council Chambers in Towson.

Baltimore County Executive Olszewski joins Tom in Studio A to discuss the budget and other issues he's confronted during his first five months in office. 

Listeners with questions and comments can call the studio at 410.662.8780, email us at midday@wypr.org, tweet us at @MiddayWYPR, or comment on  WYPR's Facebook page, where the program was livestreamed.

The Office of Sen. Chris Van Hollen

Today, a conversation with U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat from Maryland.  He was elected to the Senate in 2016 after serving seven terms in the House of Representatives, where he represented Maryland’s 8th congressional district.

Senator Van Hollen currently serves on the Senate Budget Committee, the Banking and Environment Committees and the all-important Appropriations Committee.

Early in his career, Van Hollen served in Maryland’s House of Delegates as well as in the State Senate.

We live-streamed this conversation on the WYPR Facebook page.  Click here to watch that video.  

Courtesy of Rep. Elijah Cummings

Tom speaks with Congressman Elijah Cummings.  He represents Maryland's 7th District, which includes parts of Baltimore City and some of Baltimore and Howard Counties.  On January 4th, 2019, Rep. Cummings was elected by his colleagues in the newly Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to be chairman of the Committee of Oversight and Reform for the 116th Congressthe committee on which he'd previously served as Ranking Member.

We’ll hear about the issues on the committee's agenda, including reform of prescription drug pricing and a sweeping anti-corruption bill called HR 1. 

Photo courtesy Pugh for Mayor

Today, on  Midday with the Mayor, Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh joins Tom in Studio A for an exclusive interview.  She discusses her nomination of Dr. Joel Fitzgerald, the current police chief in Ft. Worth, Texas, to be Baltimore’s new police commissioner.  If the City Council confirms him next month, Fitzgerald will take over a department that is still reeling from frequent leadership changes, a demoralized rank and file, and corruption scandals. 

As for the Mayor’s efforts to reduce violence in Baltimore, the Safe Streets program is adding three more locations around town.  Mayor Pugh also points to the 52 million-dollar Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund, which she has long championed, as another initiative aimed at transforming economically depressed areas of our city.  On Saturday, the Mayor attended a ceremony celebrating three new Habitat for Humanity homes in Sandtown Winchester.

During their hour-long conversation, Tom also questions the Mayor on her efforts to take the bite out of continued water-rate hikes, the future of Pimlico and the Preakness, and other important issues affecting Charm City.  And the Mayor addresses listener comments and questions, as well.

This program was live-streamed on WYPR's Facebook page, and the video can be seen here.   (The final three minutes of the stream were lost because of a brief Internet service interruption.)

Midday Newsmaker: Rep. John Sarbanes, on Reforming American Democracy

Dec 17, 2018
John Sarbanes

Rep. John Sarbanes joins Tom for the hour today. Last month, he was re-elected to represent Maryland’s 3rd congressional district for a seventh term.  

For nearly two years, Sarbanes has chaired the House Democracy Reform Task Force, a group of legislators seeking to minimize the influence of special interests on elections. He is the principle author of H.R. 1, a bill that addresses ethics and campaign finance reform as well as voting rights protections. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who will likely be the new Speaker of the House, said the bill will be the first order of business when the House reconvenes on January 3rd, 2019.

Congressman Sarbanes also serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and its Subcommittee on National Security. He joins Tom live in Studio A.

Office of the Governor

Today, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan joins Tom live in Studio A.  He is one of only two Republicans elected to our state’s highest office in the last 50 years, and in a poll released last month by Gonzales Media and Research, 71% of MD voters said they approve of the job the Governor is doing.  While there is no shortage of Democrats vying for the chance to face the Governor in the general election in November, Mr. Hogan leads all of them in head-to-head match-ups at this early stage in the campaign. 

Calling for bipartisanship and cooperation in his State of the State Address last month, the Governor points to education funding and accountability, re-districting, and the environment as some of his top priorities.  Tom discusses some of those issues during his 30-minute interview with Mr. Hogan. 

Later, Maryland and government reporter for The Daily Record, Bryan Sears, joins us on the line with the latest from Annapolis and reaction to the Governor's remarks. 

Photo courtesy Baltimore Sun

Today, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh joins Tom in Studio A.  Like Mayor Martin O’Malley, Mayor Sheila Dixon, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake before her, last Friday, Mayor Pugh fired the city's police commissioner.  Kevin Davis was an outsider who had come to Baltimore after tenures in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties.  He was replaced by a 30-year veteran of the Baltimore Police, Darryl DeSousa.  The Mayor’s mandate to her Commissioner-designate is clear: improve violence reduction, and turn around our city’s crime numbers, which are at historic levels. 

The first few weeks of this New Year have not been easy for the city: multiple maintenance crises in city schools, the announcement by Amazon that we are out of the running for their new headquarters, the shuttering of the only big box department store in West Baltimore, and hovering above it all: murders on our streets that continue at an alarming rate. 

Mayor Pugh points to several areas in which the city is making progress. The Police training academy has a full class preparing to join the force. Bloomberg Philanthropies has invested millions to improve technology for law enforcement, and to train young entrepreneurs.  The Safe Streets program is being expanded, and a new violence reduction program that has shown promise in Boston is being bought to Baltimore. 

The Mayor has spoken of changing the narrative about our city.  She talks about how she plans to do that in today's Midday with the Mayor.  And she takes questions and comments from the Midday audience.

Today's program was streamed live on WYPR's Facebook page, where you can now watch the complete video.

Midday Newsmaker: Dr. Sonja Santelises

Jan 17, 2018

Today, Dr. Sonja Santelises, the CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools joins Tom in Studio A for a conversation about the state of the city's school system. With nearly 60 schools closed due to the cold earlier this month and accusations of funding impropriety from the governor, mayor and parents, BCPS faces increased scrutiny and pressure to educate and provide for its students. 

At a press conference announcing $2.5 million in emergency funding for City Schools, Gov. Larry Hogan pointed to mismanagement and a lack of accountability, and he called for a newly created Investigator General to be embedded in the Department of Education to oversee state grants to the city.

All these conflicts arise as BCPS continues to educate a student population disproportionately affected by poverty and racial injustice.

Photo courtesy State's Attorney's Office

(The text of a statement sent Friday, Dec. 22 to Tom Hall by the defense counsel for Keith Davis, Jr., the Columbia man whose recent conviction on second-degree murder charges is discussed in Wednesday's Midday show, is posted  at the bottom of this Web article)

Tom's NewsMaker guest today is the State’s Attorney for the City of Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby.  In the 2014 primary, she defeated her former boss, Greg Bernstein, by ten points, a decisive victory, before running unopposed in the general election.  She was swept into office by tapping into widespread dissatisfaction with increasing crime.  Mosby promised to reduce it. 

Two years into her term, her Office has a conviction rate of 79% in homicide cases.  The clearance rate of cases for the Baltimore Police department has also improved. 

But Baltimore struggles with an epidemic of violent crime that has reached record levels, and the police department has been rocked by internal corruption.     

How do we fix this?  State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby joins Tom, and takes your questions, for the hour.

To watch the conversation we streamed live on Facebook, click here


Midday Newsmaker: U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

Dec 18, 2017

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) joins host Tom Hall for the hour. Maryland’s senior senator is a member of the Senate Finance Committee. He is also the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senate Republicans are confident that their tax bill will be approved this week. With so much attention on the tax bill, it’s easy to overlook other major stories, such as: Without a Continuing Resolution by Friday at midnight, the government will shut down. Last week, the White House and the State Department sent conflicting signals about conditions for talks with North Korea.  And, the President’s declaration that the embassy in Israel would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has engendered a storm of criticism. 

Tom asks Sen. Cardin about these crucial issues and more. And the senator answers listener questions. 

photo courtesy BCPS

Today, a Midday Newsmaker interview with Dr. Sonja Santelises, the president and CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools.  School has been back in session for two months; for many more months than that, the Kirwan Commission has debated ways to re-vamp the funding formula for schools statewide.  Their findings were to have been released by the end of the year.  Now, it appears that we won’t hear their ideas until well into next year.  We’ll find out what that means for our city’s kids.  Dr. Santelises joins Tom for the hour in Studio A, and takes your questions and comments.

Photo courtesy New Press

Today, a Midday Newsmaker interview with  Georgetown University law professor and former federal prosecutor Paul Butler.  He’s written a book that is a clarion call for a complete change in the way we think about the problems of racial inequality and injustice.  

The book is Chokehold: Policing Black Men – A Renegade Prosecutor’s Radical Thoughts on How to Disrupt the System.  In it, Butler quotes the famous Langston Hughes poem, Harlem, in which Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?...Or does it explode?”

Butler argues for explosion in this provocative book, which questions assumptions long held by those on both the left and the right.  He also chronicles how the curse of White Supremacy has dictated in a fundamental way the political, judicial, and social norms in America; and he proposes some very controversial ideas, such as abolition of prisons. Throughout, Butler argues the case for radical reform persuasively, and with tremendous grace, erudition and scholarly authority. 

Professor Butler joins Tom from NPR studios in Washington, D.C.