COLLEGE PARK – Despite a year of controversy and distrust between residents and councilmembers, the City of College Park re-elected all running incumbents in its city elections on Nov. 5. Maria Mackie, the only candidate to have not previously been in office, will replace District 4’s Dustyn Kujawa, who did not run for re-election.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn, who will enter his third term in December, ran against Lalzarliani Malsawma and Nikesha Pancho. He received 1,577 votes, while Malsawma received 166 and Pancho received 296.
With 59 absentee votes and a handful of written ballots in each district, counts were made available on Nov. 12.
“There’s going to be a lot going on in the next couple years,” Wojahn said. His plans after the election focused on the development of public spaces and the city’s walkability.
“So many great things in the works,” he said. “I’m excited to see them all to fruition.”
Malsawma, who previously ran in 2017, sought the mayorship to roll back the city’s relations with the University of Maryland, believing it leaves a nonstudent community primarily ignored, and Wojahn’s LGBTQ-friendly policies, citing that they conflict with her Christian beliefs.
“It’s too bad she’s uncomfortable … and feels compelled to run based on that, but that’s her right,” Wojahn said before voting ended on election night. “But it’s not the College Park, I know.”
Pancho, who ran for the first time, spoke broadly during her campaign on advocating for the community, being all-inclusive, and listening to the city’s residents. Her loss was no deterrence – she plans on running for re-election in two years.
“That’s 268 people who know me that didn’t before,” Pancho said. “I’m going right back into the community, I’m going right back to work – I’m not going anywhere.”
Rashad Lloyd, who lives in District 1, was unsure who to vote for before arriving at the ballot box in Davis Hall, one of three in the city that residents of any district could go to cast their vote. It was there he ran into Pancho.
“I told her what I was looking for in a candidate, and she said, ‘You know what? I could easily do that,’” Lloyd said. “Just that commitment right there is more than Wojahn has ever given me.”
Wojahn’s victory came despite controversy in the last few months preceding the election. After an ordinance that banned “unruly social gatherings” in September, some raised questions over the council’s ability to communicate properly with its residents.
Ricardo Morales voted for Wojahn, but as a University of Maryland alumnus, he felt the ordinance was “anti-student.”
“He has some good ideas, and I think he’s going in the right direction,” Morales said. “But I think he could use more feedback from students in general.”
In District 1, Councilmembers Fazul Kabir and Kate Kennedy ran uncontested. They received 757 and 504 votes, respectively. Kabir will be going into his fifth term in office, while Kennedy will be going into her second.
Ann Barrett, who has lived in the city for more than 60 years, said that despite being a Republican, she only ever votes Democrat in city elections. She was happy to vote for Kabir, Kennedy and the mayor.
“They’ve done a great thing,” Barrett said. “They spend a lot of time caring about the city.”
James Mullins, a resident who works in a management firm, said he voted for Kabir because “he was present.”
“I’ve always seen Kabir,” he said. “When he’s at the door, I’m always the one who answers it.”
District 2 re-elected Councilmembers P.J. Brennan and Monroe Dennis, will both go into their fourth terms in office. They beat out Oscar Gregory, who ran in the district for the first time after running twice in District 4 in the last two election cycles. Brennan and Dennis, going into their received 264 and 240 votes, respectively, while Gregory received 106.
Brennan, following the results, immediately thought to address his growing concerns of “the saturation of rental properties” in the next term.
“They really diminish the sense of community,” Brennan said, speaking to how renters are less likely to stay in the city. According to Brennan, renters do not rely on essential community institutions, particularly public schools, and so do not put in the votes to support them.
“If there’s an oversaturation and a balance isn’t struck, there’s a lot of risk and challenges,” he said.
District 3 re-elected Councilmembers Robert Day and John Rigg, who received 439 and 463 votes, respectively. Mark Mullauer, a resident who became involved in government after his parking fees skyrocketed, received 123 votes.
With the election over, Day said he was “looking forward to getting back to work,” citing a new daycare center as one of his next big developments.
“There is some communication I would like to create and send out,” Day said about things he’d like to see change in his fifth term. But ultimately, he believes that the councilmembers work well together, and he’d like to see that stay the same.
Rigg, going into his second term, said that the fact that all running incumbents were re-elected for office was “reflective for a want for more continuity” in the city.
He ended the election season driving around the city collecting campaign signs and struck by the number of people who arrived at the ballot boxes, still unsure of who they were going to vote for. He chalked it up to three things: the council’s “high visibility,” “cross-cutting” candidates, and the “mostly-controversial” ordinance.
District 4 saw the re-election of Councilmember Denise Mitchell. With 253 votes, she will be going into her sixth nonconsecutive term in office. Mackie, a longtime College Park resident who received 243 votes, will be joining her and the rest of the incumbents when she swears into office on Dec. 10. Micheal Emmanuel, a University of Maryland alumnus who opposed the controversial ordinance, lost his first shot at the council seat with 59 votes.
Residents also cast votes on two ballot questions: to extend the length of a term for mayor and city council from two to four years and to change the city council terms from concurrent to staggered between each district’s members.
The term length will stay as it is, with a narrow 1,027 votes against 935. However, district terms will now be staggered, having had 1,087 votes against 782.
Lloyd wanted to see the terms extended, believing that it would give candidates more time governing and less time campaigning.
“Two-year terms for a municipal this size? Insane,” he said. “We really don’t need to switch out city leadership that often.”
Christopher Wallis, a grocery clerk from District 1, disagreed.
“If you switch out city leadership often, people would have to get involved and be aware of what’s going on in the city,” he said.
Mullins also voted to keep the two years.
“I went for the two years because I wasn’t sure an election every four years would be ideal,” Mullins said. “I had to see what that means versus staggered and concurrent.”
Rigg, having seen more approval for the extended terms in his own conversations with residents, was surprised by the results of the ballot questions. But otherwise, the results are as he, and many others, expected.
“Pretty much the candidates who would win, won,” he said.