SEABROOK – A crowded field of candidates are vying for the District 7 county council seat. All of the candidates are running as Democrats.
The current councilmember for District 7 – which includes Suitland, Capitol Heights and District Heights – is Karen Toles. Toles is term-limited and running for an at-large council seat.
The candidates for the District 7 seat are Karen Anderson, Bruce Branch, Michele Clarke, Gary Falls, Krystal Oriadha, B.J. Paige, Juan Stewart, Jr. and Rodney Streeter. Darrell Miller withdrew from the race in February.
Anderson, who has served as the president for the last seven years of the Suitland Civic Association, wants to “make sure every resident has adequate care and adequate opportunity.” Through the Suitland Civic Association, she has helped enforce local municipal codes regarding littering, trash and blighted properties.
Anderson said what sets her apart is that she is “already doing the work and (is) familiar with the community and the community’s familiar with” her.
Her priorities include education, economic workforce development and affordable housing. She would like to see more financial literacy programs in her district and said she will continue working with local nonprofits to develop a centralized database for job opportunities.
Anderson also said she would like to see town halls and symposia to engage with community members.
Branch, executive director for Maryland Business and Clergy Partnership, also would like to increase the affordable housing options in District 7. His other priorities include improving education, enhancing financial literacy, growing employment opportunities, and constructing more transit-oriented development.
“My first priority will be to find a way to get people back to work and to help the seniors and to find a way to make sure there is a ‘live here, work here’ policy, so money stays within our community,” Branch said.
Branch hopes for further transit-oriented development around the Metro stations in the district and wants to emphasize responsible development that does not harm the environment. He would like to see local contractors and local workers have first priority for construction jobs around Metro stations.
Clarke also wants to focus on community enhancement. She hopes to see “targeted economic development” to help ameliorate the food desert conditions and to provide affordable housing.
Through her experience in the school system as a teacher and a member of the Prince George’s County Education Association (PGCEA), she believes the schools in District 7 have not been afforded the same resources as other county schools.
“In the time that I’ve been in the system, I’ve witnessed a lot of the inequity in our schools,” Clarke said. “The difference in the areas where there’s not very much money, which is a lot of District 7 and the areas that are more affluent in our county. I see it as being wrong, and I’m tired of people who don’t have as much not getting the services that they need. Our students in District 7…have not gotten the services they need.”
Clarke supports a fully elected school board and hopes through a strong coalition and communication between the school board, the CEO of the school system, the county executive and the county council, some of the challenges facing the Prince George’s County Public Schools can be handled.
Clarke said her involvement with these in the school system and the local chapter of the NAACP prove she has had her “feet on the ground” and has established relationships needed to make change.
“I really want to see (the community) improve for everybody,” Clarke said. “Our neighbors aren’t getting what they need from the county government. We feel as if our needs are being ignored and neglected, quite frankly. It needs to change.”
Change is a significant issue in Falls’ campaign, as well. He refers to himself as a “reform candidate.” Some of the principal reforms he envisions for the county are in education, policing and economic development.
Among other institutional changes Falls supports among the education system, he said he would oppose continuing to utilize profits from the MGM Casino for education.
“There’s no such thing as a little bit of cancer,” Falls said. “I don’t want education to be based on possible criminal activity.”
Falls, who is a Vietnam War veteran, said he would push for legislation to require the supervisory staff of the Prince George’s County Police Department have or obtain the FBI’s training certification.
Regarding economic development, Falls said, “one of the reforms is to redirect the county from a service-based type of economic development to a computer production manufacturing and computer service development.”
Oriadha’s vision for economic development in District 7 involves providing more opportunities for small local businesses.
“Balanced economic development is important to me,” Oriadha said. “We have a lot of grants and incentives for large businesses, but I don’t think we have enough for small businesses.”
She would also like to promote the development of community schools – she said she is currently working on a policy regarding that with the board of education – and ensuring that teacher have “fair pay.” Her priorities include quality of life issues, such as eliminating the food deserts in District 7 and ensuring seniors can age in place.
Oriadha has experience working as an advocate and activist, having been involved with Progressive Maryland, Brothers and Sisters for Action, and Progressive Action.
“I am an advocate for the people,” Oriadha said. “What separates me (from my opponents) is what drives me.”
Paige is also drawing on his community engagement history to support his bid for the county council. He has worked with several nonprofits, including the NAACP.
“I’m at the table, and I’m seeing a lot of the issues in a different light,” Paige said.
He said that many of the solutions to the problems he sees in the community involve the county council, a realization that prompted him to run for office.
Paige said if elected, he will focus on providing resources and opportunities for returning citizens, enabling senior citizens to “age with dignity” and increasing job opportunities.
“There are opportunities for work in the county and District 7, but they’re not being transferred to the community properly,” Paige said.
Stewart, however, thinks he can tackle the employment challenges by expanding a summer jobs program in the county and partnering with businesses so young people can receive job training.
Stewart said that as the district borders Washington, D.C., it is a vital area of the county with unique opportunities.
He said he is interested in revitalizing shopping centers in the district, addressing food deserts, diversifying food options and collaborating with nonprofits and churches to offer childcare initiatives.
Stewart, who volunteers with local civic associations, decided to run because he “started to see there wasn’t really an example in the community on the political level that provided the hope a lot of the communities in District 7 need.”
“I’m going to be accountable to my constituents,” Stewart said. He said he has self-financed the majority of his campaign, and so he “owe (s) no one” anything.
Stewart added that his background as a data scientist would benefit him on the county council.
“I understand how to make data-driven decisions,” he said.
Streeter hopes his prevalent experience with the legislative branch will convince voters he is ready to serve as a councilmember himself.
“I have spent over 20 years of my professional life working in law firms, at councils at D.C. and in Prince George’s County, and so I understand these processes,” Streeter said. “I’m ready to take the leap and do some good.”
That “good” he sees needing to be done is helping face the “glaring needs in District 7.”
“We’re not receiving our fair share of core services,” Streeter said.
“I don’t always feel that there are opportunities for real wealth creation for the residents. We do get jobs, but I’d like to see a more robust development of small businesses and opportunity for equity partnerships that can create wealth and circulate it throughout our community,” Streeter said. “We spend just a fraction of budget on resources that cater to the needs of seniors, and our youth and our disabled, and those who need the hand up the most, I’d like to see that changed.”
Streeter currently works as chief of staff for District 5 Councilwoman Andrea Harrison.
This is a part of a series.