GLENN DALE – With an open seat in contention, candidates from all walks of life are hoping to be chosen to represent the county in the U.S. Congress. Four Democratic candidates vying for the 4th District U.S. House of Representatives seat being vacated by Donna Edwards (D) as she runs for U.S. Senate gathered at […]
GLENN DALE – With an open seat in contention, candidates from all walks of life are hoping to be chosen to represent the county in the U.S. Congress.
Four Democratic candidates vying for the 4th District U.S. House of Representatives seat being vacated by Donna Edwards (D) as she runs for U.S. Senate gathered at Reid Temple A.M.E Church last Thursday for a wide-ranging forum about their policy plans if elected to federal office.
Edwards herself, along with Senate race rival Chris Van Hollen (D-8), also answered moderator questions at the end of the evening.
The forum was jointly sponsored by the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee (DCC), the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce. DCC Chair Cheryl Landis said this was the first debate to bring together all three organizations.
Anthony Brown, Warren Christopher, Glenn Ivey and Joseline Peña-Melnyk addressed issues ranging from expanding business opportunities to improving schools and more during the three-hour event.
Brown is a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Maryland General Assembly before being selected as lieutenant governor under Martin O’Malley. Brown stressed the importance of education throughout the debate.
When asked about how the government could better help veterans, Brown said he had worked with officials in Maryland to allow veterans to access mental health services outside of the Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and clinics.
“One of the things I would champion is not privatizing the VA healthcare, but opening up more partnerships with non-VA health facilities so we can get more, better, quicker care,” he said.
Another U.S. Army veteran, Christopher retired as a lieutenant colonel and worked in several federal departments and Senate committees. He said his focus would be on constituent services and bringing federal dollars home to the 4th District.
Christopher proposed a national service corps program as one way to help combat ballooning student debt. Under his plan, students who enter certain careers in the public sector or medical or education fields would have their student loans forgiven.
“What I envision is when you graduate and get a good job with a livable wage, you pay 3 percent of your income back into this program to pay it forward for the next person to come along behind you,” he said.
Ivey was elected state’s attorney for Prince George’s County in 2002 and he said he was able to drive crime to 30-year lows. Ivey credited his ability to build partnerships with community and faith groups for the success and said he’d bring that ability to Congress.
Ivey believes federal workers’ salaries should be commensurate with private-sector wages, and added that job growth opportunities in the federal workforce were also important.
“We also have to make sure we expand training and opportunities. We’ve got a pipeline issue right now. We’ve got the baby boomers aging out and we’ve got to make sure young people are coming in so they can get the experience they need to move up,” he said.
The fourth candidate on the dais, Peña-Melnyk, is a nine-year member of the General Assembly and a first-generation college student. She promised to fight hard for her constituents and to be an independent voice.
She used her personal experience as one of five House of Delegates members selected for a task force to study criminal justice reform to describe her plans for addressing the issue at the federal level. Her group came up with 23 recommendations including police psychological training, whistleblower protection, a citizen review board and plans to make the police force more representative of the community, she said.
“We are pretty progressive (in Maryland). And those policies I have actually supported in the legislature are the same policies I will support at the federal level because we have to work on that relationship and the trust,” she said.
The issue of the continuing foreclosure crisis, which particularly affects African-Americans and has hit Prince George’s County hard, offered insight into the differences between the candidates’ policies.
Ivey responded by saying he had experience bringing the predatory lenders responsible to justice.
“We’ve got to make sure we prosecute these banks and these loan lenders when they cross that kind of line,” he said. “I had the chance to prosecute several of these for fraud here in Prince George’s County. We need the federal government to step up and do it, too.”
Brown emphasized the need to help the families who are struggling.
“What I propose: a moratorium on foreclosures and a bailout for homeowners. We bailed out the big banks, we need to bail out the homeowners,” he said.
Peña-Melnyk said the solution would be to bring those two groups, bankers and homeowners, together through arbitration.
“In the state of Maryland, we passed a bill that actually allows for arbitration to make sure we force the banks to sit down with people when they’re losing their homes,” she said. “At the (federal) level, I will make sure to force the banks, first of all, to sit down with the individual.”
And Christopher said loan modifications through arbitration are only part of the answer.
“We have to make sure it’s not just about modifications. We have to make sure people are offered principal reductions to bring the houses to the value that they are,” he said.
Those four participants were invited to the forum based on polling data. However, two other candidates for the seat were also in attendance and were given the chance to briefly explain their positions.
Matthew Fogg, a former U.S. Marshall, touted his status as a whistleblower who won’t “go along to get along,” and someone who has seen first-hand the selective enforcement of laws at the federal level.
And Terrence Strait, an Army veteran with a master’s degree in psychology, said he wanted the country to go further in fighting emissions and global warming. He also said he wanted to move beyond governing from crisis to crisis.
“We have people who are so worried about what they’re going to be judged for on their two years or their four years that we don’t make long-term plans,” he said. “We used to think big in this country, and that’s something we can do again.”
All six candidates will be campaigning in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties in the lead-up to the April 26 primary.