TAKOMA PARK — Seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent District 20 voters in the Maryland House of Delegates found themselves mainly in agreement as they spoke to voters at a forum Tuesday evening.
With little daylight between them, the candidates gave similar responses to questions on a variety of topics, including Interstate 495 traffic, taxes, education, economic development, and the environment.
Hosted jointly by the Women’s Democratic Club, The District 20 Breakfast Club, The Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club, Montgomery County Young Democrats, Montgomery Green Democrats, and the District 20 Caucus at Takoma Park Middle School, and moderated by former State delegate Karen Britto (District 16), the event featured incumbent delegates David Moon and Jheanelle Wilkins, immigration attorney Fatmata Barrie, community activist Lorig Charkoudian, data analyst Malik Lendzondzo, labor organizer Darian Unger, and lawyer George Zokle.
The seven candidates are running in the Democratic primary for three spots to represent District 20, which includes Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and White Oak.
The forum opened with near-universal agreement to oppose Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) plan to widen Interstates 270 and 495.
“Simply put, I do not agree with the widening of the highway,” Barrie said, opening the forum. “It would do nothing except add more cars.”
Barrie explained her plan would be to ensure the full functionality of the future Bus Rapid Transit. “Let's make sure when we’re looking and making public transit better for people we ask the people that will be affected.”
Charkoudian added that any transportation plan for the County’s major corridors should “move people efficiently, be beneficial to the environment … and preserve and support our communities.”
The candidates showed disagreement when it came to addressing State taxes.
Moon, a former grassroots organizer and blogger who was first elected in 2014, explained that the State government “cut taxes for millionaires, estate taxes inheriting up to $6 million … to the wealthiest residents during the recession … at a revenue loss of $250 million a year … under Democratic control.”
He added that tax cuts should be given to the middle- and working-class residents of the State.
Lendzondzo said he would object to any tax hikes, saying the answer for him is a “simple no.”
Unger, an economics professor at Howard University, added he would offset property tax reductions with a “fee and dividend” system on carbon emissions.
Differing from the “cap-and-trade” method, which incentivizes polluters to reduce carbon emissions to avoid an emissions tax, a “fee and dividend” system taxes emissions and ensures the revenue is diverted for public expenditures.
Charkoudian said she would ensure that corporations based in the State pay taxes, adding that small- and medium-sized businesses are paying “more than their fair share.”
When asked about their plans to pursue economic development in Annapolis, the candidates were in consensus about the need to invest in the State economy.
As an environmental engineer, Unger explained he would incentivize entrepreneurs to stay in Maryland to promote environmental technologies such as fuel cells and solar panels.
Wilkins, who was appointed to serve in Annapolis following a series of vacancies after Rep. Jamie Raskin’s (District 8) election to Congress, added she would ask small-business liaisons to “work closely with our community … to make sure they have what they need and the advice.”
Since the beginning of her tenure in 2017, Wilkins said much of business-related legislation that crosses her desk “focuses too much on big businesses and Marriotts” and on corporations that “keep coming back for these tax cuts.”
Charkoudian said that he would expand on “food hubs” and other “shared infrastructure,” as a way to increase small businesses in the State and County.
On the environment, all the candidates expressed commitment to address climate change. Unger laid out his “fee-and-dividend” plan and said that states need to lead climate policy, saying that the White House is a “dumpster fire.”
Zokle said he would form a “green bank” to finance and incentivize residents to install solar panels, wind energy, and other environmentally friendly technologies.
When the candidates were asked about public safety, Zokle recounted being held hostage at gunpoint while at a friend’s house. He described police-community engagement as an effective tactic against gang violence.
Lendzondzo raised the example of Takoma Park, which allows convicted felons to vote after their imprisonment.
As the former president of the Montgomery County ACLU, Unger explained that “so long as we have a horrible trust issue with the police … it will make it hard to fight the gang problem if people are afraid to call the police.”