TAKOMA PARK – Candidates in the 2017 Takoma Park city election explained their views, priorities (and goals for the city) to voters in a forum Monday night at the City’s Community Center.
The forum included incumbents and challengers from all six of the city’s wards as well as Mayor Kate Stewart. City-based publication Takoma Voice hosted the forum.
Takoma Radio host and Takoma Voice editor Eric Bond gave each of the candidates approximately 15 minutes to respond to his questions. Candidates running for the same ward seat were given simultaneous time on the stage.
Current Mayor Kate Stewart, who is running unopposed for a second term, laid out her case for reelection based on the accomplishments in her first term.
“When I started as mayor, we put in place a housing reserve, we piloted a project on down payment assistance, we put in place a racial equity framework, and we’ve looked at new ways to engage residents across the community,” she said.
Stewart, who is the vice president for a large communications firm, added that with the election of President Donald Trump, the city reaffirmed its values as a sanctuary city and environmentally-sustainable community.
The most competitive race has three candidates competing in Ward 2 to succeed outgoing Council member Tim Male.
Cindy Dyballa, an environmental consultant, cited her experience, longtime residency in Takoma Park, and the current political environment as reasons for running.
“I’ve been frustrated at the national level and I feel this I can do, I have the skills, I have the relationships, and I have the practical on-the-ground experience here in Takoma,” she said.
Dyballa stressed that affordable housing was one of her priorities which included a set of proposals in addition to property taxes.
Joe Edgell, a federal employee, said he wanted to make a difference with his run and possible tenure on the Council.
“I’ve always felt that my goal to represent you is to serve not only as the action candidate but also the person who brings practical solutions to complex problems,” he said.
Ashleigh Nugent, a local land use attorney, stressed her campaign represents the underrepresented minorities and communities.
“We need a strong voice for our underrepresented populations,” she said. “The community that gives us so much love, strength, and commitment, and they don’t ask for much back … it is time to step up and help this community.”
Nugent stressed her priority would be to take steps to increase socio-economic diversity and involvement in the city government.
Ward 5 Council member Jarrett Smith is the only candidate who is facing a challenger.
Smith, who works as a real estate broker, explained rent stabilization was a major issue for his ward due to the high number of apartment buildings.
“It’s a tough problem, because it’s not just the city of Takoma Park,” he said.
Smith also explained he intends to work with Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner to address tax duplication.
His opponent is Amee Bearne, a FEMA employee, who joined the forum by phone from Houston. She explained she was involved in the city through activism on various causes and stressed renters’ issues.
“I think it is important to have someone who is a renter who lives in the heart of Ward 5,” Bearne said. “I see daily how the lives of renters are … my community members work long and hard hours.”
Bearne also added she works professionally in the ward through her work as a community programs director at FEMA.
Two potential successors to Council member Fred Schultz (Ward 6) have also generated a competitive race.
Talisha Searcy, a government employee, aims to make residents in her ward feel connected.
“I care about Ward 6, I care about making sure that residents feel as if they have a voice and they’re connected,” she said.
Searcy explained she wants to ensure that the youth and immigrant community have the proper and needed services.
Jason Small, a municipal administration professional, explained that Ward 6 contained a large portion of the city’s economic base.
“In reality most of the economic tax base is actually in Ward 6,” Small said. “To see so much emphasis be placed on micro-growth and small development, and not being replicated in the area where most of the opportunity would be to do that has been kind of a frustration.”
Small also added the city is still facing issues regarding historical Montgomery and Prince George’s County boundaries.
Kacy Kostiuk is running unopposed to succeed sitting Council member Rizzy Quereshi in Ward 3.
As a former member of the city’s Safe Roadway Committee, Kostiuk explained she would emphasize improving infrastructure for both cyclists and pedestrians.
“I there’s more we can do so that we can feel safe as walkers and bikers,” she said. “One of the main issues is maintenance.
Council member Peter Kovar (Ward 1), also running for his second term unopposed, stressed his work to preserve the diversity of the city.
“We’ve put more grant money into programs that benefit immigrants and those with disabilities and youth,” he said.
Kovar, a former Obama administration official, explained that the city made progress on improving sustainability by installing LED lights on streets and banning plastic bags. He also added that we would like to see the city become carbon neutral.
Terry Seamens (Ward 4), who has served on the council since 1999, explained that the city government made significant improvements since he was first elected.
“When I first got on the City Council, performance reviews weren’t done on a regular basis, union contracts weren’t negotiated on a timely basis, those things are done now and we have a very good city manager,” Seamens said.
Approximately 30 people attended the forum.
Schultz, who attended the forum as an audience member, explained he thought the forum was productive to the city’s electoral process.
“I’ve been doing this for eight years and it’s really important to me that I’m leaving the council seat in good hands,” he said of his two potential successors.
Arthur David Olson, a Ward 4 resident who sits on the city’s election committee, observed the event as a constituent.
“Glad to see that we have a bunch of candidates, none of whom seem to be losers and they’re going to be hard choices for people because everybody seems reasonably knowledgeable and have specific ideas of what they want to do,” Olson said.