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Capitol Heights candidates talk community engagement

Capitol Heights 03CAPITOL HEIGHTS – As the town of Capitol Heights gears up for its municipal election on May 7, residents have a plethora of candidates for town council and mayor to select from. During a candidate forum at the local fire station on April 26, residents were able to listen as the candidates described their own qualifications and visions for the area.

In the race, 14 candidates are running for six town council seats, and three candidates are running for mayor.

The candidates for town council are Rhonda Akers, Caroline Brown, Sandra Brown, Renita Cason, LaTonya Chew, Faith Ford, Melanie Garris, Quintin Horton, Victor James, Sr., Lynette Lynn-Horton, Alice Payne, Christella Spry, Elaine Williams and Ronald Williams, Sr.

Cason, James and Williams are sitting council members.

The mayoral candidates are Shawn Maldon, Darrell Miller and Linda Monroe. Miller previously served as mayor 2006 – 2010 and is a current council member.

A common theme among the town council candidates was improving communication between the politicians and residents.

“I feel as if people have been told a lot of promises, and people are waiting for a change. Everyone promises, but no one is delivering,” Horton said. “No longer shall we feel like we can’t talk to the people from town hall.”

Brown echoed a similar sentiment, mentioning she spoke with residents who are afraid to go to the town hall.

“We need to hear what you have to say,” Brown said. “We need to hear your voices, so we know what to do for you.”

Payne, who is 80 years old, wants to focus on the town’s services for seniors.

Several candidates also discussed the potential benefits that could come about by constructing a community center in the neighborhood.

Brown said youth and seniors could benefit from having a safe place to go where they could congregate and learn new skills, and Chew said she is engaged in conversations with the National Park and Planning Committee on the matter.

“Everyone’s telling me that it can’t be done, that there are so many processes you need to go through,” Chew said. “But, it can be done. I look to our community, and I see so much land that we have out here. If we own the land, we can lobby to get grants for a community center.”

Another common topic of discussion was building economic development while safeguarding the town from encroaching gentrification.

“I wonder if you know how much money can come into this community with veteran services in economic development and black businesses or veteran businesses, veteran-owned businesses,” said Lynn-Horton.

Cason suggested connecting the town’s vendors and business owners with young people, who could hold jobs or receive job training.

Akers and Spry agreed with utilizing the resources already existing in the town.

“The money is here, and the people are here, it’s just the matter of informing the residents and making sure they understand what’s there to offer,” Spry said.

Horton said there is plenty of work that needs completing in the job, such as fixing up properties, and plenty of people capable of doing such work – the two simply must meet. He suggested holding events in their town hall to help match the work with the workers.

Brown said the town should make sure to utilize the resources currently available at their disposal, such as an empty field by the Metro station or by selling goods at a local garden.

Chew proposed working alongside the county to bring economic development to the town while avoiding the gentrification that often plagues neighborhoods near D.C.

Garris brought up the potential benefits of annexation and expansion, which Lynn-Horton agreed with.

“Yes, we need to clean up, but we need, at the same time, to get businesses interested in the town of Capitol Heights,” Garris said. “That’ll bring revenue into our town…Trying to get more homes that are outside of the town, but within a boundary to commit to being part of the town of Capitol Heights will bring revenue into the town as well.”

The mayoral candidates focused on improving citizen engagement and communication as well as bringing resources to the town.

Monroe said she is a “business-minded person” who views the residents as the “main resource.” Monroe said the town needs to adjust the way it obtains funds and grants, and one way to ensure they are approved grants is if they improve their voter turnout.

“We have a lot of vendors and different people coming to the town. But, what we need are things to make the citizens more informed. We need things like the credit union coming up. People coming to talk about foreclosures,” Monroe said. “To engage the citizens more with things that empower them, from health (to) banking.”

Miller agreed with the idea of obtaining grants.

Maldon, who briefly suggested giving the mayor voting power alongside the town council, said he wants to make sure the town government is accessible and available to the residents. He said he would give up his first year’s stipend as mayor to create two endowment funds, one for homeowners and one for business-owners.

“The only requirement should be that you be an active resident in the town,” Maldon said. “In doing so, we’ve created an opportunity for folks to see value in this town, instead of just paying the tax money, but to get something back in return.”

Miller said he would increase community engagement by hosting Saturday meetings and initiating a “block of the month” program in which officials could celebrate a block and learn about the neighborhood’s unique concerns.

The election is scheduled for May 7.

 

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