SEABROOK – Two new members will be added to the nine-member Prince George’s County Council after the 2018 General Election who will be representing more voices than just a district.
Republican Felicia Folarin, Democrat Calvin Hawkins and current council member Mel Franklin are vying for the new At-Large Council positions, designed to represent all county residents. The two new roles were accepted by county voters in the 2016 election, receiving 66 percent of the vote.
At-Large members will have the same responsibilities as each Council member who represents a single district but they will represent all county residents in their role, Public Information and Media Relations Officer Angela Rouson said. If elected, an At-Large Council Member can only serve two consecutive terms in the role.
In the highly contested Democratic Primary Election on June 26, Franklin topped the nine-person race, taking in 20.6 percent of the vote. The current District 9 representative can run for the At-Large thanks to a provision in the referendum that allows council members who finish their term serving the ability to run.
“In essence, we have to set the precedence for what At-Large is going to be like in the county council,” Franklin said. “The attitude I am taking is that the whole county is my district and the At-Large members are a team so, in essence, every county resident will have three council members instead of one, and we have to work together for our common constituent.”
On his campaign website, Franklin touts progress made through working together with the council through his role as a District 9 member and with a “Jobs First” campaign, and he would like to continue bringing investment and jobs to county residents. With the extra money brought in through his platform, it can be used for the school system and other county needs, Franklin said.
“It’s much more than just jobs, it is all about economic empowerment which is a civil rights issue,” Franklin said. “…So my focus is in making Prince George’s County an economical destination of the world, investing in our minority-owned businesses and leveraging those dollars to reinvest into our people. So Jobs First is a message of using economic power to deliver social change.”
Franklin said he ready to work with Hawkins, who finished in second place in the Democratic Primary with 18.6 percent to become the third candidate in the general election. The former Special Advisor for both County Executive Rushern Baker III and Wayne Curry said voters will be attracted to his 23 years of experience working for nonprofits, church groups and both executive and legislative branches of the county government.
“I have the political side, the civic side and the business side,” Hawkins said. “And for me, it is the perfect storm to hear what citizens were talking about and take that message to the council as an At-Large candidate, realizing that I can take it to my fellow council members and remind them that it is Prince George’s County first. Their perspective districts will benefit as well, but the county should focus all of our conversations and actions.”
According to Hawkins, his previous roles as an advisory and working with the Department of Public Works and Office of Emergency Management allowed him to visit and talk to residents about their concerns with the county. “Working under the radar” provided him a different local perspective that the other two candidates do not have, Hawkins said.
“From too many cars to abandon homes to squatters, those are quality of life issues that citizens speak on so I have made that a part of my commitment that those will be the kind of issues I will push forward,” Hawkins said.
For Folarin, the lone Republican looking to be elected, it was a step forward for change for the county. Since starting her campaign, she received the support from the Prince George’s County Republican Party (PGCOP). In an interview in July, Chairman Brandon Cooper cited Folarin’s candidacy and said it was the key race the organization was focused on.
However, Folarin, an insurance agency owner, said she is going to use her small business savvy nature to attract voters to her campaign. This includes helping to add more minority-owned businesses while planning an audit of the county school system to improve how funds are better disturbed for educational programs and improving teacher’s pay.
“Right now, we are spending so much money on the school system, but we are not seeing results,” Folarin said. “We need to take a look at we are spending our money on and see if we should be spending money on things we do not need and look for what we should be spending our money on and bring all the stakeholders to the table.”
If elected together, only Hawkins and Folarin said that they plan to put their political affiliations on the side to work together with council members in establishing their goals. In the current political climate, both acknowledged the importance to work together as At-Large members, as well as council members to best represent county residents in this new role.
“This election is not about the White House; this is about my house, your house in Prince George’s County and it about the corruption that we have going on,” Folarin said. “I’m grateful it is two At-Large positions because we can have a Republican and a Democrat and have real dialogue from two different viewpoints, so we bring true change to the council.”