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Election season is upon us. Because of term limits, 5 of the 9 Prince George’s county councilmember seats and the county executive’s spot are incumbent-less and up for grabs. While the general election isn’t till November, winning the Sept. 14th primary in the heavily democratic county usually ensures victory.
This fresh start couldn’t come at a more important time for a county that has a (as the Post puts it) “political culture marked by cronyism, highhandedness, factionalism, and a lack of accountability.” At 850,000 people, Prince George’s boasts a population about 45% larger than DC and many locational and infrastructure advantages compared to similarly situated suburban counties nationwide. Yet it faces a “pandemic of home foreclosures; poverty, crime and unemployment; struggling public schools; an anemic commercial tax base; and Metro stations bereft of the surrounding development that such sites have attracted elsewhere in the region.” Greenfield developments like Konterra and National Harbor abound in the county and sprawl is leapfrogging it’s way towards Upper Marlboro and Charles County, but inner ring suburbs continue to deteriorate. Billions in heavy-rail metro investment (15 stations) sit underutilized decades after construction. Developers avoid the county for fear of a shakedown and hyper-gentrification in DC forces the least economically mobile in the DC region to locate here.
Marcus Afzali pointed out last month that whoever gets elected to the County Council basically reigns king when it comes to proposed development in their district. One person can literally make or break development in their district. The County Executive election is also critical in shaping the direction of the county in the coming years. Who can help make College Park a national model of smart growth and change the course of the county for the better?
District 1 (College Park north of 193, Laurel, Adelphi, Beltsville) – Frederick Smalls – endorsed by the Washington Post for his 8 years of experience on the Laurel City Council and time as a state administrator which includes substantial planning experience. The other candidate, Mary Lehman, is a dedicated community activist who was a staffer for Tom Dernoga – the outgoing office holder.
District 3 (College Park south of 193, UMD Campus, Riverdale, Lanham-Seabrook, New Carrollton) – Eric Olson – it’s hard to imagine anyone who has done more for smart growth in College Park than Eric. He has the temperament and clear focus to see the East Campus Redevelopment through to groundbreaking and the chance to further revitalize much of Route 1 near UMD.
“Mr. Baker is the only candidate who puts development around the county’s underutilized Metro stations as a top priority and leading asset for economic development. He also stresses the need to invest in the county’s inner Beltway communities.
After education, Mr. Baker puts development around Metro stations as his top priority. He says that the attention that went into National Harbor should go into development around Metro stations and inside the Beltway forgotten areas.” He also cites the need for mixed use development at Metro and inside the Beltway to include affordable housing.
Mr. Baker often talks about the County’s recent forfeiture of unspent funds that were sent back to HUD and how developers are reluctant to develop in the county due to a perception that they will be “shaken down” by politicians. He calls for leadership that sets a new standard for ethics as critical to attracting quality businesses while helping local businesses thrive. Mr. Baker is the only candidate who can begin to tap the potential of the county and its 15 Metro stations.”
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that our old friend Tom Dernoga will be on the ballot. This time he’s running for Prince George’s state’s attorney – the most important elected law enforcement job and the second highest office in the county. While Dernoga is well-financed and seems to have a strong following (including in northern College Park’s NIMBY quarters), I’m hard pressed to think of anyone with a worse temperament to hold this or any other elected office. The Post went so far as to say that he’s not qualified for the job:
“…Thomas Dernoga, a term-limited member of the County Council. He is simply not qualified to be the state’s attorney. Although he knows the county’s budget and land-use laws well, Mr. Dernoga has never worked as a prosecutor, nor even as a criminal defense lawyer; in fact, he hasn’t practiced law of any sort in almost a decade. Lacking that basic background and familiarity with criminal law, Mr. Dernoga has no business running a prosecutor’s office in one of Maryland’s biggest and most crime-ridden counties.”
What’s your take?