BY AUBURN MANN
The Takoma Park Mayoral Candidates faced off for their fourth debate at the Takoma Voice election forum Wednesday, Oct. 21. F. Warren Holmes and Ward 3 Councilmen Kate Stewart demonstrated their political differences and similarities before a crowd of about 50 city citizens in the community center’s auditorium, highlighting their respective stances on development, budget, affordable housing, inclusiveness, safety and policing and overall visions for the city.
From right to left: candidates Kate Stewart, Warren Holmes and moderators Eric Bond and Bill Brown.
“I was taught as an infant that if you don’t like what you see in Takoma Park you stand up for it,” said Holmes, a lifetime city resident with deep family roots, including his father who vocally opposed the city’s annexation by Montgomery County.
Speaking of the lack of opposing candidates prior to his entry, he said, “They actually could not get two bodies to run for mayor. We need change here . . . If that change requires me to come out and speak for it, I will,” Holmes said.
He said “They talk about engagement, but to be honest, if I had not stood up a few weeks ago, there would not be that much engagement.”
Councilmemeber Stewart announced her candidacy last July following Mayor Bruce Williams announcement that he would not run again. Ward 1 Councilmember Seth Grimes said he would run for mayor, but changed his mind in mid-August, saying he would not run for mayor or his council seat.
That left councilmember Stewart unopposed until the Sept. 30 Nominating Caucus where Holmes announced his candidacy.
Stewart said in her opening remarks,“If I am the next mayor I have three main priorities:” redefining community engagement, unification and inclusivity and sustainable development.
She hopes to create a more proactive community through outreach, ensuring that voices from various overlooked populations have input into decisions such as Takoma Junction development. That and the expected development around the Purple Line (assuming it is ultimately funded) should include businesses of interest and affordability for the entire community.
“Our goal at the end of the day is to make sure people just don’t live in our city, but feel part of our community,” said Stewart.
Affordable housing was a major theme. Referring to recent events at Hampshire Towers where tenants face a sharp rent increase, Stewart was strong in her support for rent stabilization. “We need better affordable housing and more of it in our city. I favor rent stabilization laws but that is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to make sure that we have stable and predictable rents for our people so they can build their homes and families.”
Holmes tied the cultural transformation to the effects on the local economy. “We have been stuck in a bit of a rut as a community,” said Holmes. “If we can expand development in a way we can all agree on, we can increase the tax base and lower the tax burden on everyone to make the entire community more affordable.”
Holmes had an unconventional approach on how to accomplish this, involving an ambiguous take on rent stabilization. “We have to work as a community on rent stabilization because we are looking at it from one perspective and not from both sides of the perspective,” said Holmes. “We ease rent control, perhaps,” he said. The city should look at all of rent control’s effects and weigh them, he said. “Perhaps we put it on the ballot, but I think it is a community decision and not just six people.”
The candidates took questions from the moderators and residents (attending or online). One concerned both candidates’ qualifications and lack thereof as Holmes has never served with the city, while Stewart has only been on the council for over a year.
“If you lived here since the time you were born, the culture is just literally a part of your bloodstream, you can’t help but know the ethos,” said Holmes.
Before rehashing her resume, Stewart referenced her experiences in Takoma Park, extending back to her renter origins over twenty years ago, “diversity is good,” said Stewart. “Having different point of views from people who grew up here to people who just moved in, all add to our conversation and the decisions we make.”
Speaking on the current and ultimately desired culture of Takoma Park, Holmes described a community that is in flux, creating increased diversity and widening divisions. “If you really want to see our culture, go to the farmers market, not only the one in old town, but the crossroads (lTakoma-Langley Park),” said Holmes.
Part of the Voice Election Forum audience. Photo by Glen Charlton.
Stewart communicated her message in three ideals: “Inclusive, equitable and innovative.” The city has varied ethic, socioeconomic, generational demographics, she said. The city should welcome them and support this diversity with resources and through other innovative means, she said. Earlier Stewart mentioned an innovative plan the city has proposed to improve customer service. “Instead of feeling like your complaints, questions or requests (to the new city website) go into a black hole; you will be able to track them,” she said.
Stewart also applied the value of equity to policing. “Everyone in our community needs to feel that they can approach and trust the police department,” said Stewart. Aspects as subtle as the city police department’s black uniforms and cars can be off-putting, she said. “We need to move from a warrior model to one of a guardian model,” she said.
The affection and passion for the city was highly evident in both candidates. Both were asked if they planned to run for a higher office in the 2016 county and state election cycle. “I have no political ambitions in this world; I just want to change my town,” said Holmes. As the mother of two children, Stewart said, “My number one priority is to stay close to home as possible.”
See the Unification needed again report on the Voice Election Forum round-table discussion. See the Ward 1 candidates face off report on that segment of the forum. See the Voice Voter Guide for additional forums and other election information.