With two incumbents fighting to keep their jobs and three spots left wide open by term limits, the Democratic primaries this month are expected to have a major effect on the makeup of the next Prince George’s County Council.
The Democratic Party utterly dominates county politics, and its nominees are almost certain to join the nine-member council that after the November elections will deal with several important economic development projects and other pressing concerns.
The county of nearly 880,000, the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation, is beset by a mortgage foreclosure crisis as it struggles to emerge from a recession that also caused extensive job losses. And County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and other officials have been working to remake the county’s image by highlighting its progress against violent crime and efforts to reform a low-performing school system.
Here is an overview of the contested races.
District 7: The inner-Beltway communities of District 7 are home to some of Prince George’s most troubled neighborhoods, where crime and blight abound. Boosters say the district brims with promise and has improved.
Incumbent Karen Toles said she played a part in efforts to tear down crumbling buildings, increase homeownership and secure funding for development near Metro stations during a first term. But she also came under fire for speeding in a county-issued vehicle in 2011.
“You really have to advocate to get things done,” Toles said. “I can’t revitalize my community without bills like CB-18,” referring to a 2011 measure that gave police the power to shut down dance halls in response to a spate of homicides.
But that measure made enemies. Bruce Branch is running to repeal the law, which he said discriminates against businesses. “Dancing is now illegal in the county,” he said.
Another challenger, former Capitol Heights mayor Kito James, would redistribute resources that he said have been funneled almost exclusively to Toles’s home base in Suitland.
“Capitol Heights was not getting resources. It’s been tough to get support,” he said.
A D.C. native, James said District 7 could be the economic engine of Prince George’s, with its three gateways into the city: Pennsylvania, Central and Branch avenues.
Military veteran Greg Falls said he is running to give a voice to voters who oppose same-sex marriage and gambling and want more jobs.
District 3: Danielle Glaros is considered the front-runner for a seat that is being vacated by her term-limited boss, Eric Olson. As Olson’s chief of staff, Glaros said, she helped prepare legislation, assisted constituents and pushed policy initiatives.
The largest item in the Prince George’s budget is also the issue of utmost concern to the mother of two: the school system. Schools need smaller classes, she said, and the system must compete to recruit and retain the best teachers in the region.
“Where you live in the county should not determine the quality of your school,” Glaros said.
She is running against former New Carrollton City Council member Jim Wildoner, who ran for the seat as a Republican in 2006, and mental health therapist Terence Collins.
District 6: Incumbent Derrick Leon Davis said he wants to help Prince George’s entice Fortune 500 companies to the wealthiest majority-African American jurisdiction in the nation. “Our tax base is upside down; it’s more residential than commercial,” Davis said. “The cities that flourish typically have an opposite reality.”
Davis, who started as an official in the school system, ran for office twice unsuccessfully before winning a special election to fill the seat vacated by Leslie Johnson after she was snared by a federal corruption probe.
Davis said he broke the impasse on gaming legislation and initiated a performance audit for Prince George’s schools. He regularly votes for new development and works closely with the Baker administration to remove roadblocks to development.
Education goals must include an emphasis on early childhood education, he said.
Levi, a former labor lobbyist, said that Davis, as chair of the housing committee, had no agenda for helping homeowners. “Recovering our home values is one of the most important issues facing Prince Georgians,” she said.
Levi also filed an ethics complaint against Davis after his office mailed a newsletter to constituents a few weeks ahead of the primaries. Levi said he is “electioneering on the county dime,” by targeting Democratic voters with promotional material. Davis dismissed the complaint as frivolous.
She and Davis have both received donations from unions. Davis also secured support from elected officials such as Baker and PACs tied to Comcast, Washington Gas and Maryland Realtors.
Another challenger, political neophyte Pierre Richard Augustin, moved to the county a little more than a year ago but said he recognizes what needs to be done.
Augustin, a federal security contractor who became a stay-at-home dad, wants to build the high-tech economy using tax-free zones for companies. “I’m an outsider but I’m a fresh face with good ideas,” Augustin said.
District 2: Deni Taveras’s knuckles are raw from knocking on doors in District 2, speaking Spanish, English and a little French as she tries to win the trust of one of the most ethnically diverse parts of Prince George’s.
Having voters remember her name is half the battle as Taveras goes against a seasoned lawmaker who has represented the community for close to 30 years. “I went to everyone’s house and asked them personally what they want to see happen,” she said. “My platform is what folks have as concerns.”
Del. Doyle L. Niemann, whose state legislative district was redrawn, decided to run for a seat on the council, where he said he can have a more direct impact on citizens. Niemann, 67, has been a Mount Rainier City Council member, a state prosecutor and a school board member.
But the northwest corner of Prince George’s is no longer the place that first elected Niemann to public office in 1983. Massive immigration shifted the demographics in the district, parts of which have been plagued by high crime and failing schools.
The term-limited incumbent, William A. Campos, the first Hispanic council member in county history, has represented the district for a decade. He is campaigning for Taveras, who previously worked for Maryland’s first Latino state senator, Victor R. Ramirez, a Democrat from Hyattsville.
“We have had Hispanic representation, but I’m not sure that translates into representation for Hispanics,” Niemann said. He also said that although Hispanics represent a large portion of the population, “it’s not always reflected in voting participation.”
Orphaned as a child, Taveras was raised by her immigrant grandmother in Harlem. She earned scholarships for college and eventually received three master’s degrees, two from Princeton University.
Taveras said her experiences are more closely related to those of District 2 voters. She also had the experience of working for the federal government before becoming Ramirez’s chief of staff.
Taveras wants to reduce class size in a district with bloated schools, encourage commercial development, secure funding for a light-rail Purple Line in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, enhance code enforcement and preserve green spaces.
“I bring new energy. We need new ideas,” Taveras said. “The reality is that my opponent has been in office since I was 10 years old. It’s time to pass the baton.”
Niemann said he feels seniors need better housing and proposes specific ways of improving health-care access for everyone in the community.
“People will talk about getting a fair share, but if you don’t understand how the state works or the process, that’s just talk,” he said. “Having been in the legislature, I start off with a base of knowledge in understanding the process and have a proven track record.”
District 4: The district is the scene of a hotly contested race that has attracted more money than any other in Prince George’s.
Former Bowie City Council member Todd Turner and former police union president Vince Canales are competing to represent an area with two of the county’s largest cities: Bowie and parts of Greenbelt.
Canales, a retired county police officer, said the council could use “more fight” in its ranks, the kind of spirit he showed as president of the county chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. He also said he’s interested in more than just public safety.
Canales said he has worked closely with government officials and Baker, in particular, from whom he received an endorsement.
Growing small businesses, engaging them in Prince George’s development projects and building the work force through the school system are key components of Canales’s plan, he said.
“The county is poised for good things to come down the pike,” Canales said. “We’re at the cusp of a breakthrough to showcase Prince George’s in the region.”
Turner said he has been involved in developing such good things, first as a staff member for then-council member Douglas J.J. Peters, who is now a state senator, and as legislative officer to the current County Council.
“We’ve established, in the last four years, a strong foundation for us to move forward,” Turner said. “Now we have to complete the work that’s started.”
That means making sure that Bowie’s health center is part of a regional plan that includes building a medical campus in Largo, he said. It also means encouraging the FBI to move to Greenbelt and promoting mixed-use development near transit centers, he said.