One on One with Mary Lehman

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.

Enjoy reading…

(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.

6 thoughts on “One on One with Mary Lehman”

  1. “I believe it is the University of Maryland, whose presence contributes significantly to the law enforcement challenges the city faces.”

    Mary, please enlighten us. How many of the recent armed robberies and break-ins were caused by UM students?

    I’ll be the first to admit that students can sometimes be a pain, but it’s well past time that the City stopped laying all of their problems at the University’s doorstep. If not for the proximity to UMD, College Park would be another dilapidated ghetto just like the rest of PG county. The problems caused by students pale in comparison to the felony crimes committed by non-resident, non-student criminals from outside our borders. The PG County PD is a complete joke. They’ve been hiding crime statistics by not reporting crimes and stopping reporting from to cover their complete and utter failure to protect the citizens of the county.

    College Park and the University should form a jointly managed, jointly funded police department to cover the entire City. As a homeowner it would be worth the extra $500/year on my property tax. Perhaps the city can get rid of the ridiculous rent control ordinance and instead replace it with a property tax upcharge on rental properties?

  2. CP Resident,

    Your last paragraph is constructive, but you are either way out of bounds or illogical on everything else. Aside from the slur of calling the rest of the county “a dilapidated ghetto” (which gives offense to every other county community, including mine), you insult the police officers who dedicate their lives to the public peace. The County police do a tremendous amount to help communities; I can give you numerous examples in my community of Beltsville/Vansville alone.

    Beyond that, your argument isn’t even logical. Saying that the University contributes to law enforcement challenges is not saying that students committed the recent serious crimes. Could it be that all the various law-enforcement challenges the University brings overtax our County police in the College Park area? With its presence, perhaps the University could leverage additional law-enforcement resources. Exactly what’s wrong with that? Duh.

  3. “College Park and the University should form a jointly managed, jointly funded police department to cover the entire City. As a homeowner it would be worth the extra $500/year on my property tax. Perhaps the city can get rid of the ridiculous rent control ordinance and instead replace it with a property tax upcharge on rental properties?”

    The Rent Control Ordinance is the best thing that has happened in this city in a long time. Let’s add a $500 tax that each student who lives off campus in the City of College Park would pay. This would cover the cost of the extra police needed to watch over students who walk home drunk at 2am, who leave their doors unlocked, etc. etc.

  4. Todd:

    You’re right, I was wrong to say that the rest of the county is a dilapidated ghetto. Let me rephrase: MOST of the county is not a nice place to live or raise a family. Is that fair? I understand that there are nice places to live (Fort Washington comes to mind), but the PG County school system alone makes the entire county a bad place to raise children. I will absolutely be moving out of the county before my kids are old enough for school.

    I understand that most of our county police are hardworking protectors of the citizenry, and I have tremendous respect for that. But just as you can support our troops overseas while not supporting the leadership that put them there, it’s possible to criticize the PG Co PD without intending any disrespect towards our brave officers in uniform who protect us every day. What I’m saying is that there either aren’t enough of them, or they’re not being utilized to the best effect.

    My point regarding Lehman’s quote on the university, that its “presence contributes significantly to the law enforcement challenges the city faces”, is that students are NOT the main law enforcement problem in the city. If the University was not here, the city would be far worse off than it is. See Hyattsville, Langley Park, and Adelphi if you need examples. Are the students sometimes law enforcement problems? Yes. Are they committing felonies? Not very often. When your house is on fire, you don’t worry about fixing a drip in the plumbing. Something has to be done about the residential and commercial break-ins, armed robberies, and car thefts that seem to be rising in the City, and I bet none of those are caused by students. In fact, students are often the victims.

  5. Anita:

    Please provide some evidence for your statement that “The Rent Control Ordinance is the best thing that has happened in this city in a long time.” The ordinance hasn’t even been implemented or enforced yet. What makes you think that any students that are driven out of the neighborhoods will be replaced by better renters?

    And your comment about a tax on students that live off campus is incredibly stupid (not to mention illegal.) Most students are upstanding members of the community. Just like any community, there will be a few bad neighbors and those will need to be dealt with. But blaming the crime in College Park on the victims is the height of absurdity. If you think the only reason to have extra police in the city is to “watch over” the students who live in the neighborhoods, then perhaps you will change your tune once your house is broken into, or your car’s’ window smashed, or your wallet taken at gunpoint.

  6. CP resident,

    Thanks for amending/clarifying: To College Park and Fort Washington, I would add Bowie, New Carrollton, Berwyn Heights, Beltsville, Upper Marlboro, and Mitchellville. There are probably others. Of course, it depends on the eye of beholder, but I would suggest we avoid using broad-stroke characterizations. It’s what the rest of this region does when it looks at portions of the County and (mis)characterizes the entire County with them.

    I also think one cannot characterize the County Schools with broad strokes either. My daughter attends a first-class public elementary school with a first-class principal and a first-class teaching staff (Vansville ES), and there are ESs with higher scores than ours. In higher grades, we have schools like Eleanore Roosevelt HS and Oxon Hill HS. More continuity in School System management would help. So of course does parental *and* community involvement in the schools. My perception is that the County schools that perform the best have parents and the community that are the most involved.

    I agree with what you said about the County Police. I believe the current County administration still has not fully filled all its funding positions. Recall when Councilman Dernoga called County Exec Johnson on that the other year, the reaction was completely defensive. I think the next County Exec needs to ensure they fill all funded Police positions.

    I will agree with you that University students probably don’t cause most felonies. But I also think the University and College Park as a University town are attractive or convenient targets, bring in lots of visitors to a town that might not otherwise catch their attention, and a small percentage of those visitors are tempted to violate the law. Perhaps, as such, the University and the Town need additional resources. Whether they come from a fully staffed County Police force, a more smartly managed County Police force, additional funding through grants (as Mary suggested), or more likely a combination of the above, I think we need elected leaders who are engaged on this and other community issues.

    The reason I responded to your comment is I thought it was gave rather short shrift to someone who has a demonstrated commitment to our communities and their needs. My guess is that if you share your concern about the County Police with Mary Lehman, she would be responsive. She certainly has been in all my interactions with her as a staff member for Tom Dernoga and then Joseline Pena-Melnyk.

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