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Prince George’s council poised to see new liberal majority

Eric Olson, left, a candidate for the Prince George’s County Council, and activist Robert Thurston speak to College Park resident Patricia Middleton in November about the council’s redistricting plan.

Wanika Fisher, Eric Olson and Wala Blegay claimed victories in the final three Prince George’s County Council races to be decided after last week’s primary elections, potentially cementing a new liberal majority on the council.

Fisher, a lawyer and former state delegate, led Victor Ramirez by just under 500 votes in unofficial results for the District 2 race. In District 3, Olson, a community developer and former County Council member, led Eve Shuman, a former regional director for Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). In District 6, Blegay, an attorney, bested five challengers, trailed most closely by Denise Smith, the communications director for Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy.

Officials completed counting mail-in and provisional ballots Friday afternoon, but candidates have until Monday to petition for a recount. Democratic primary winners will go on to face third-party and Republican candidates in the fall, but their victories are typically decisive in this deep-blue county. The only Republican candidate for council is Gary Falls, who is running in District 7.

Friday’s results would complete a Prince George’s council that includes six incumbents and a larger contingent of liberals, some of whom were removed from competitive districts in a controversial redistricting plan last year. Incumbent Rodney Streeter fell to one of those challengers, Krystal Oriadha, in District 7. Olson, who also faced displacement to a new district, funded a lawsuit to have the map thrown out. They were among four council candidates backed by Progressive Maryland who clinched primary victories, alongside Blegay and District 8 incumbent Edward P. Burroughs III.

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Along with incumbents Thomas E. Dernoga in District 1 and Jolene Ivey in District 5, long-standing members of the council’s liberal minority who ran unopposed for reelection, they would have the numbers to form a simple majority in the 11-member council. Last year’s redistricting map passed with just six votes from the then-moderate majority on the council.

“I am very excited about it, it’s good to be with like-minded colleagues,” Blegay said of the other Progressive Maryland-backed candidates. “The focus now is coming up with a united agenda.”

Blegay said that council members would need to discuss their districts’ needs before setting an agenda but that the council’s liberal bloc broadly wants to increase transparency after last year’s redistricting controversy. She cited the proposed redistricting map, as well as the May appointment of interim council member Johnathan Medlock in District 6, as decisions that happened without enough public input.

“This is a people-focused council,” Blegay said.

Incumbents Calvin S. Hawkins II, the current council chair, and Mel Franklin won comfortably in a crowded race for the council’s two at-large seats. District 9 council member and Vice Chair Sydney J. Harrison and District 8′s Burroughs also fought off challengers.

Fisher, Blegay, government affairs manager Ingrid Harrison in District 4 and District 7′s Oriadha, executive director of racial justice nonprofit PG ChangeMakers, are poised to join the council for the first time.

Fisher, a first-generation American whose family hails from Nigeria and India, works as an attorney and campaigned on her record as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, where she introduced a bill guaranteeing low-income tenants a right to counsel in eviction cases and was on a work group to address police reform.

“This victory really highlights the new generation of leadership rising in Prince George’s County,” Fisher wrote to The Washington Post. “It is a new day.”

Barring a challenge, Fisher’s narrow lead over fellow attorney and former state senator Victor Ramirez in Latino-heavy District 2 would leave the council without a Latino representative for the first time in 18 years.

In an interview Sunday, Ramirez said he was weighing whether to challenge the results. He criticized County Executive Angela Alsobrooks for endorsing Fisher and the lack of Latino leadership in the county, where 1 in 5 residents are now Latino. Earlier this year, leaders criticized Prince George’s response to Latino communities hit hard by the pandemic.

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“I see a very divided county,” Ramirez said. “The underrepresentation of leadership in her county is unacceptable.”

Blegay, a staff attorney for the DC Nurses Association who served on the Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission, pledged in an interview to continue voter engagement efforts and bring quality development to District 6. She said she’d seek constituent input on upcoming development like the Blue Line corridor.

“We need to start to talk to people to make sure that we properly plan the district,” she said.

Olson, the executive director of a community development corporation, lives in College Park and was the District 3 council member from 2006 to 2014, where he served terms as the council vice chair and chair of the transportation, housing and environment committee.

“I’m grateful to the voters of District 3,” Olson wrote to The Post. “I look forward to hitting the ground running on transit oriented development, walkability, and tackling neighborhood quality of life issues.”