Twenty candidates running for various state and Prince George’s County offices presented their platforms on education, criminal justice and other topics that affect the central region of the county.
The Balk Hill Village Homeowners Association, a group that represents a single-family and townhouse residential community near the Woodmore Towne Centre in Glenarden, hosted a candidates’ forum Saturday, May 12.
Two gubernatorial candidates, James Hugh Jones II, a Democratic from Baltimore City, and Shawn Hill, a Libertarian candidate from Calvert County, spoke first to address a few dozen residents.
One of the homeowners, Mike Mitchell, had a stern message for both men.
“I’m deeply disappointed that both of you gentlemen don’t know about the issues in Prince George’s County,” he said. “That is deeply alarming to me.”
The other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the June 26 primary included former Rep. Donna Edwards and Billy Bridges running for county executive; Aisha Braveboy, Mike Lyles and state Sen. Victor Ramirez for state’s attorney; state senatorial District 24 candidate Tiffany Alston. Her opponent, Everett Browning Sr., left for a family emergency.
Incumbent state Sen. Joanne C. Benson wasn’t in attendance.
Two County Council candidates for District 5 — former state Delegate Jolene Ivey and former Bladensburg Mayor Walter Lee James Jr. — had a spirited discussion that included a proposal for Ernest Maier Inc. to open a concrete batching plant in Bladensburg to produce cement. James approves of the plan and Ivey doesn’t.
After they finished, Ivey and James smiled and embraced as several people in the audience clapped.
The biggest contingent featured 10 of the 11 candidates who seek three open seats for state delegate in District 24, which includes the towns of Capitol Heights and Fairmount Heights and unincorporated communities of Lake Arbor and portions of Mitchellville.
Without a person keeping track of time, it took about 35 minutes to complete introductions.
With the retirement of longtime state Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard, at least one new person could represent District 24. Incumbents Erek Barron and Jazz Lewis seek re-election.
The other candidates they will face are County Councilwoman Andrea Harrison (D-District 5) of Springdale; Capitol Heights Mayor Marnitta King; former Glenarden Mayor Donjuan Williams; Maurice Simpson Jr., president of the county’s Young Democrats; LaTasha Ward; Sia Finoh; Delaneo Miller; and Michelle Wright.
The other candidate, Joyce Starks, didn’t attend.
One of the main topics throughout the forum focused on the county’s school system, which featured a question from Balk Hill resident Elijah N. Gross Jr. one who supports a fully elected school board.
“We need to support the school board back to the way it was,” he said.
If elected, Simpson, a legislative aide for County Council, said he would propose legislation for that to happen. He also said residents must elect the right people to the school board who will challenge school officials and hold them accountable.
Lewis also supports a fully elected board, but said “shared governance” for the county executive to manage the selection of the school system’s CEO, or superintendent, and the school board members to fire that person.
Because the school board doesn’t have taxing authority, Williams said the state and county governments fund the school system “giving [schools] what they think they should have.”
When asked about ways to improve Prince George’s from a state perspective, Harrison said she would change some of the state formulas in how money gets distributed to schools.
Barron, who voted against the more than $6 billion incentive package for Amazon to build a second headquarters in Montgomery County, said that money can benefit school construction and health care.
Finoh, who runs a nonprofit organization called Education for Africans that works with teenage girls, would push for legislation to ensure affordable day care would be provided for single mothers like herself.
Ward, a member of the county’s Democratic Central Committee, said she would implement tougher sentences for those who commit vehicular homicides, especially to pedestrians. Ward owns a business across the street from the Addison Road-Seat Pleasant Metro station.
More high-profile businesses such as The Cheesecake Factory will move into the county once the education system improves and county’s stigma changes, said Miller, a youth football coach and political neophyte.
Wright, a licensed realtor and former member of the county’s community college center for minority business, said the state must make college more affordable by bridging the gap between community colleges to four-year institutions.
In regard to transportation, King, the mayor of Capitol Heights since 2014, said more planning and oversight of State Highway Administration is necessary to maintain roads.
Marvin Taylor, a Balk Hill resident who moderated the forum, said voters should pay attention to what the state delegate candidates say and information they present.
“Please read their literature,” he said. “You can vote for up to three. It’s important.”