The upcoming County Council District 1 primary election is extremely important for our part of the county. The outcome of this election will decide much of the important issues that our city is facing, such as redevelopment across Route 1 and rising crime incidents.
Recently I’ve reached out to all 5 candidates running for the District 1 County Council election (Democratic primary).
Here are the answers to my questions I asked candidate Mary Lehman (Thanks Mary). I hope to present other candidates’ views in future.
If you have further questions or comments on Mary’s responses, please feel free to post them in the comment section at the end of this article.
(1) There are five council candidates running in this year’s council election for District 1. Why do you think you are the best candidate in this crowded race?
I am the only candidate who has worked in county and state government, responding to and solving the kinds of every day problems about which citizens contact elected officials. I am the only candidate who knows every major neighborhood in the district. I have attended meetings for years in those neighborhoods and understand the challenges and tensions in each. I have an extensive network of government contacts at the local, state and federal levels that I can call on to address problems because I have been doing exactly that for the past seven years on behalf of Delegate Pena-Melnyk and Councilman Dernoga. I wrote a letter just last week for a constituent who is appealing a denial by the Social Security Administration of disability benefits for her mentally ill daughter. From a legislative standpoint, I know what it takes to work with stakeholders, reach consensus and get good bills passed to improve our communities and life in our county.
(2) You have been a staunch supporter of the current (outgoing) council member Tom Dernoga, who is also strongly endorsing your campaign. Mr. Dernoga’s son Matt Dernoga is also your campaign manager. Critics say that you will most likely follow the style of governance that Mr. Dernoga had in his tenure as District 1 council member. Some criticize Mr. Dernoga for his strong “anti-development” position, especially in regards to the Rt 1 corridor re-development in North College Park. Will you have a similar stance, if elected?
I am a strong supporter and a personal friend of Tom Dernoga’s and have enormous respect for his intellect and integrity. If I am elected, I appreciate that I will have big shoes to fill. I also understand that people will assume that I share most of Tom’s views; however, I am my own person with my own ideas and opinions. I am a journalist by training, not an attorney like Tom, but I am a deliberative and thoughtful person. I will evaluate development proposals on a case-by-case basis on the merits. New development must meet adequate public facilities requirements and be transit-oriented and pedestrian and bike friendly. I am not anti-development because that is not realistic, but we need to begin encouraging redevelopment and infill development rather than pave over every square inch of land in this county.
(3) As a West Laurel resident you (along with Mr. Dernoga) strongly opposed the construction of an African American Church in your neighborhood. A Federal Judge later awarded the Church $3.7 million in a lawsuit against the county. Critics such as State’s attorney candidate Angela Alsobrooks cite this as a religious discrimination case. Do you regret your opposition in the case? Please explain.
First, please do not perpetuate the myth that Reaching Hearts is an African American congregation; it is not. However, having said that, it would not matter to me whether its pastor or congregation were black, white or purple. I personally opposed the Reaching Hearts plan for a worship and conference center because it is an inappropriate location for a development of that size. There are legitimate environmental problems with that parcel of land, namely it cannot pass a soil perc test (This is a test of the absorption rate of water for the purposes of designing a septic drain field.) Either the water table is too high or the clay soil is too dense, but at any rate, the county determined that the parcel does not qualify for a change in the water/sewer category that Reaching Hearts would need to build its complex. This property backs up to the Patuxent Watershed and Rocky Gorge Reservoir where we get our drinking water. This has nothing to do with discrimination on the part of Mr. Dernoga or West Laurel; Reaching Hearts simply hired a clever attorney who sued based on a federal law that makes it harder for the government to deny any religious institution the ability to build wherever it wants.
(4) The City of College Park residents pay nearly $1 million to hire 6 contract police officers (3 P/T, 3 F/T) from the county, because the police service from the county’s regular police PGFD is not enough. If elected, what will you do to help offset such extra cost of law enforcement from local municipalities?
The county police department is clearly understaffed, but I have never heard anyone suggest that Upper Marlboro should directly reimburse a municipality that hires or contracts for its own officers. If any entity should offset the cost associated with municipal policing in College Park, I believe it is the University of Maryland, whose presence contributes significantly to the law enforcement challenges the city faces. I would certainly do my part to support state or federal grants to help fund additional law enforcement for the city of College Park.