VIDEO: Courtesy of the City of Takoma Park: the Voice Election Forum round-table discussion, about 20 minutes long.
The Voice Election Forum, held Wednesday, Oct. 21 in the Takoma Park council chambers, had four parts.
The first was a round-table discussion on city issues with the five uncontested city council candidates. Four of them are incumbents, one is a newcomer.
Voice moderators, editors Eric Bond and Bill Brown, chose “Unification” as the round-table theme. This was an ironic choice. Takoma Park won it’s unification battle in 1997 when after more than a century of straddling the Prince George’s and Montgomery County lines, the county border was moved and Takoma Park was unified in one county – Montgomery. The unification struggle took over a decade.
Now, in a supposedly unified city, the “diversity” the city is so proud of seems more like “division” along socio-economic and other lines. The round-table panel was asked to discuss this and suggest solutions to the new “unification” problem.
The Voice will provide coverage of the Forums other parts over the next few days.
BY GLEN CHARLTON
City council candidates addressed city divisions in the Voice Election Forum roundtable discussion, Thursday, Oct. 21.
The round-table panel, who are all in uncontested races, agreed there are socioeconomic and other differences throughout the city and sometimes between wards.
Wards 2 and 3, which will be represented by panel members Concilmember Tim Male and Rizzy Qureshi, have a high voting rate and a high percentage of home-owners with relatively high incomes. Wards 4, 5, and 6 have a low voting rate and have a large population of working class, minority and foreign tenants. Councilmembers Terry Seamens, Frederick Schultz and Jarrett Smith will continue to represent those wards. The more-affluent Ward 1 was not represented on the panel because that ward race has a three-way contest. Those candidates appeared later in the forum.
The panel consensus was that outreach to excluded groups was needed.
Newcomer Rizzy Qureshi, candidate for Ward 3, said that if “… people aren’t coming to you, you need to go to them.”
He echoed the proposal made by mayoral candidate Kate Stewart that the council hold meetings at varying places and times to get more people involved and aware.
Moderators Eric Bond and Bill Brown, Panelists Rizzy Qureshi, Tim Male, Terry Seamens, Fred Schultz and Jarrett Smith. Photo by Glen Charlton.
Frederick Schultz, Ward 6 incumbent, said that reaching out to those who are not involved in the community should be on-going not just during election time when candidates go door-to-door seeking votes.
He said it’s frustrating to encounter ward residents who have no knowledge of their city government, or even what ward they are in. He talks to many foreign residents, he said, who are shocked to learn they could vote in the city election. Many of them have little idea of how the American political system works.
Terry Seamens, 7-term Ward 4 councilmember, said that he’s seen minor improvements over his time in office.
Recently there have been more Ward 4 residents on the city committees, and he’s seen a small increase in voter turnout.
These changes were good, but not good enough, said Seamens.
Seamens said city funds are spent on surveys asking residents what the city does well, but “. . . why not spend money on what the people need?”
Jarrett Smith, Ward 5 councilmember, said the people in the city government do not put enough resources into the hands of low-income residents.
The Voice forum. Photo by Glen Charlton.
He said the residents living in the apartment buildings in Ward 5 feel “disconnected.” Providing more services could make the residents feel more welcomed.
However, Ward 2 councilmember Tim Male said proposals to aid low-income residents usually pass with no difficulty. “There is not a lot of debate,” on them, he said. Both he and Qureshi said they favored getting underserved populations more engaged with the city.
Following the forum, Martha Feldman, a Takoma Park resident of more than 30 years shared some thoughts.
“I think there are separations between people and I think people on both sides have a responsibility to get together and work together to try and improve things,” Feldman said.
Feldman also said, “I like Fred’s [Schultz] idea of having a celebration on voting day, so that people can come together in the voting place…it would give people more of a feeling of belonging to a city.”
Schultz made the suggestion as an alternative to the ballot question proposal to move the city’s election day to coincide with county, state and national elections.
Resident Joe Edgell said divisions extend beyond city borders.
He said Takoma Park is “absolutely not” connected with the rest Montgomery “If you look at a number of data reports… none of them have data on Takoma Park, so it’s as if we’re not a part of the county,” said Edgell.
The election forum also included a debate on the ballot question between Tim Male and Frederick Schultz, statements from three contested candidates for Ward 1, and a mayoral debate between two candidates.
The next political event will be the Mayoral Candidate Forum on Oct.27 co-sponsored by Hampshire Gardens Citizens Association and Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research, also known as CHEER.
Editing by Bill Brown