LARGO – The Pi Upsilon Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. hosted a forum for Prince George’s County’s County Council at-large candidates on June 5 to educate voters before the primary elections.
“It’s important for voters to be able to make an educated choice on the candidates who are running for the election,” said Anthony Harris, co-chair of the event. “Tonight will be an opportunity to address some of their positions on matters of concern to residents countywide.”
The event is part of Alpha Phi Alpha’s national program “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People” dedicated to voter education. They hold candidate forums like this one, voter registration drives at malls and high schools and other efforts and initiatives to keep voters informed about who is running for office.
“We feel that an informed voter makes better decisions which will be better for the county overall,” Harris said.
This event is also part of Alpha Phi Alpha’s 25th-anniversary celebration which includes a series of events such as a Father’s Day breakfast on June 16 at the College Park Marriott.
The county council at-large is a new position started after the November 2016 elections as part of a ballot initiative supported by voters. Its purpose is to give voters an opportunity to have more than two representatives, one for their own district and one for the entire county. It also provides the opportunity for current council members who are term-limited to run for an additional four to eight years in office.
The candidate forum, which took place at Prince George’s Community College, was moderated by Tracee Wilkins, Prince George’s County bureau chief for NBC 4 Washington.
During the forum, candidates were asked questions about economic development, education, public safety and budgetary matters. They were given two minutes to answer each item as well as a few lightning rounds where they had 30 seconds to respond.
There were six candidates in attendance. Juanita Culbreath-Miller currently works for Prince George’s County revenue at-large and has previously served as a delegate and a commissioner for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Mel Franklin is a currently the District 9 county council member. Julian Lopez who is known as the “anti-corruption candidate.” Karen Toles is District 7 county council member. Calvin Hawkins has worked as an aide to County Executive Rushern Baker, III. Gerron Levi is a lawyer and federal lobbyist also endorsed by The Washington Post. All candidates are registered as Democrats.
Republican candidate Felicia Folarin and Democratic candidates Melvin Bernard-Johnson, Reginald Tyler and Jonathan White were not in attendance.
One of the questions touched on during the two-hour forum was the county’s current economic boom. This fiscal year, the county has been granted the largest budget in recent history and candidates were asked what they would do to protect it.
Toles said she would like to see the money go into issues of transportation and infrastructure such as the Metro stations. For Culbreath-Miller, Franklin and Lopez, the answer to this question came down to making sure that money goes back into the community by protecting local small businesses.
“I am pro-development, but we have to have smart growth in the development,” Culbreath-Miller said. “It appears that we have a boom, but there is no equity in the contracting of nonprofits, small or local businesses. So I would like to see more equity in this economic boom we are experiencing.”
Another matter of great concern was the issue of lowering property taxes which Levi fully supports, however, the other candidates did not think the county should reduce property taxes if it cannot afford to. Franklin stated it would be irresponsible and instead the solution should be to “expand our commercial tax base” so the county will not be too reliant on property taxes.
On matters of education, all candidates supported the departure of Board of Education CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell and were in favor of an elected school board as well as pay raises for teachers.
Levi said the county should “put casino dollars towards education which has not been happening” as was promised upon the opening of the MGM National Harbor.
“Where the money should come from is top heavy administrators,” Toles said. “The CEO should not be getting bonuses. We need to cut from the top and trickle down.”
Finally, all candidates agreed there is an imbalance of housing and road development throughout the county.
“We haven't learned from 2008 financial crisis,” Lopez said. “We need to invest in sustainable economic development and not say yes to every developer.”
Overall, Franklin supports economic growth through job development. Lopez is all about anti-corruption and progressive values. Levi is fighting for taxpayers focusing on homeownership, education, economic development and giving people a voice. Culbreath-Miller also has a big focus on property taxes and brings a lot of professional experience to the table. Toles is all about coming together as a community. Hawkins emphasized his desire to hear the voices of the community.