COLLEGE PARK – Candidates for Districts 1 and 4 as well as mayoral candidates introduced themselves and their positions in a forum on Oct. 12, hosted by the North College Park Community Association.
With elections on Nov. 5 (early voting on Oct. 27), candidates from all districts are hustling to win the minds of their electorate with a few weeks remaining until decision day.
For District 1, current incumbents Fazlul Kabir and Kate Kennedy participated, while District 4 incumbent Denise Mitchell also joined. Newcomers Micheal Emmanuel and Maria Mackie, both running for District 4, made an appearance as challengers to Mitchell’s incumbency.
The mayoral candidates included Lalzarliani Malsawma, Nikesha Pancho and incumbent mayor Patrick Wojahn.
Most of the candidates for Districts 1 and 4 were mostly in agreement with what needed to be done but had reservations when it came to larger and more specific subjects like the creation of a College Park police force and a City Hall makeover.
Kabir started off stating he is running to complete unfinished projects such as the Hollywood Dog Park, Duvall Field renovations and the Hollywood Streetscape project.
Mitchell noted the sidewalk need on Metzerott Road and transparency, while Kennedy chimed in with her work in fostering additional resident participation through her work on committees.
Mackie’s focus is on creating a better place for future College Park residents and shared Mitchell’s sidewalk idea while also contributing bike paths into the mix. Emmanuel was the only candidate fixated on education and improving schools.
“I discovered that when you look at the public education system in College Park, not living in College Park…in P.G. County is very poor quality, elementary school, especially Pre-K through 8…the average test score is very poor,” said Emmanuel.
When it came to the new City Hall project, most of the candidates were wary of the price tag associated with it. Kabir noted that other projects could deserve attention, such as a potential police force for the city. Mitchell had even more reason to be attentive to the project, as she introduced a borrowing cap that was made moot by the increasing price of the project.
“Going into the next term, we make sure we uphold the fiduciary responsibility and watch the cost,” said Mitchell.
Mackie proposed using existing property, emphasizing her fiscal conservatism as a strength, while Emmanuel wondered how everything was going to be paid for. Kennedy was the staunchest supporter of the project, describing the struggle that the current city hall has put onto its workers and touting the redesign as a step forward to a new College Park.
“Our vision for downtown College Park is a place to stop, to eat, to hang out on your way home, as well as a place for residents to be,” said Kennedy.
The mayoral candidates were also asked about City Hall, where Wojahn said his vote would remain yes, Pancho would have voted no and Malsawma criticized the project as not turning out to be a community hub.
Kabir expressed one of the biggest challenges facing the city was that there was a failure to recognize the individual needs of every neighborhood, while Mitchell urged unity to solve the city’s issues. Mackie and Emmanuel both expressed listening to residents more, with Emmanuel adding that pressure was needed at the county level to utilize the property tax more efficiently.
“People are looking for better development,” said Kennedy, bringing to the table the idea of new developments. “Meaning, no more vape shops or pizza places. We’re looking for white table restaurants, maybe some fitness studios…things like that in the neighborhood.”
Almost all district candidates were in favor of the police force, but Kennedy was not sold on the idea and suggested that one of the biggest issues was attracting good police officers; Mackie did not have an exact thought on the issue.
Mayoral candidates were asked about improving voter turnout, and each candidate focused on a different method. Pancho would seek out why, Wojahn wants to focus on accessibility by looking into same-day registration as well as appealing to the youth, and Malsawma opted for the power of prayer.
“The more we engage with our youth to start off right away and become involved in their city, the more likely they are to start voting and keep voting throughout their lives,” said Wojahn.
A collective groan overtook the room when the topic of traffic came up, a sore subject for the city, but the solutions were varied. Pancho opted for additional bike lanes and an emphasis on car-free transportation Wojahn also seconded less car use but added the idea of additional development, but Malsawma had possibly the most innovative idea of all.
“I think we need to think not just ground-based solutions, but aerial solutions,” said Malsawma, urging for innovative solutions by using an idea inspired by aerial gondolas in South America.
On this year’s ballot, there will be a nonbinding advisory question on term limits, specifically on whether or not to extend them from two to four years. Wojahn and Malsawma both showed their support for a four-year term, with Wojahn saying he would support the decision made at the ballot box. Pancho said she would follow the will of the people on the question.
Lastly, the mayoral candidates were asked on the AARP Livability Index score College Park was given, a 52 out of 100. Pancho and Malsawma both said they would ask the community about what was needed and urged a deeper relationship between the youth and the aging residents, while Wojahn noted that home services and transportation are two needs already expressed by the community. On joining the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, Wojahn and Pancho said yes, while Malsawma said she would need to look into it further.