UPPER MARLBORO — Town of Upper Marlboro Mayor Tonga Turner, the first African American mayor of the town, announced her resignation after less than two years in office and clarified that she is not actually leaving her position due to discriminatory acts against her, on June 12.
Although serving as mayor has been a positive experience for her, they said had to deal with things like being called the n-word, getting her tires slashed and a man sitting in the audience during a meeting writing swastikas on a legal pad.
Turner was elected to office in January of 2018. She announced her resignation, which becomes effective June 30, in a letter to the town on June 11.
“Serving the Town of Upper Marlboro has been one of the greatest experiences of my career, and it has been my distinct honor to have served alongside each of you,” she said in her resignation letter.
However, following a town hall meeting where she invited the Prince George’s County NAACP to speak, and issuing her resignation soon after, people assumed she was leaving office because of racist actions towards her. At a press conference on June 12, she made it known that this was simply not the case.
“My decision was based on me wanting to spend more time with my two small children both under the age of 10. Period.”
Turner clarified that, although she had been a victim of racist actions, the real reason she decided to leave is to be able to spend more time with her husband and their two children.
“I chose family over service, and I am proud of that,” she said. “And I will continue to be proud of that. We need to move forward in continuing to grow our community and allowing people like me who choose their family over everything else not to be penalized or marginalized or sensationalized because of that decision.”
Turner said the moment she realized she could no longer continue as mayor was when she came home one evening and realized she had missed her child’s graduation from preschool after working all day. She asked herself if she was truly ready to make that sacrifice and deal with the repercussions of it and realized that she was not.
Between God, her family, her career and being the mayor of the town, the latter falls to the bottom of her list of priorities.
According to Town Spokesperson Ray Feldmann, Turner held what would be the last town hall meeting of her term to bring to light some of the racial issues she had experienced while in office.
The mayor invited the NAACP to attend, hoping they could help the town move forward and help resolve some of the racial issues that it has.
“There were long discussions about some of the racial issues that Mayor Turner has had to deal with and then an hour or so later, she announced her resignation,” Feldmann said. “I think some people linked the two and thought ‘oh she’s resigning because of the racial issues.’ So that’s why she decided to have the news conference on Wednesday to kind of clear that up and say I’m not resigning because of racial issues.”
Turner acknowledged the unfortunate reality that racism still exists, especially in a town that has never had a black leader in its 300-year existence.
“It was never my intention to give the public the impression that I am being pushed out or scared into leaving my role, a role that I so desperately love,” she said. “That is simply not true. Anyone that knows me knows that I am a fighter. No one of any color, of any race, of any ethnicity, is ever going to scare me into doing anything.”
People were surprised that Turner was resigning from her position, Feldmann said, but also disappointed. She had done a lot for the town despite her short time in office.
“Mayor Turner was making a lot of things happen,” he said. “She was strengthening the town’s relationship with county officials, with state officials.”
During her time in office, some of her accomplishments have been securing over $800,000 in grants, the most substantial amount in the town’s history, passed legislation to ensure growth and development, restructured town operations and service line operations and established a community events and outreach team focused on diversity and inclusion.
“There was a lot of things that were being done already, a lot of things that were planned and I think people really had this sort of collective eye of disappointment that she’s not going to continue doing this,” Feldmann said.
People expressed their disappointment in her leaving on the town’s Facebook page citing her hard work and dedication to the town, calling her a “strong leader” who led the town in a positive direction. However, they also expressed support for her decision and wished her the best on her journey going forward.
According to Feldmann, the new mayor will be selected from the two remaining town commissioners, Linda Pennoyer and Wanda Leonard. They will serve the remainder of Turner’s term until January 2020.
“The Town of Upper Marlboro has so much untapped potential, and my hope is that the next official who is elected to the prestigious office of mayor and president of the Board of Commissioners assumes the role with integrity, strength, perseverance, but most importantly, vision and a commitment to public service,” Turner said in her resignation letter.