Community involvement dominated the District 2 City Council discussion with College Park residents on Thursday at Fealy Hall.
About 30 people attended the forum, where the five District 2 council candidates answered questions from the audience ahead of the election Nov. 7.
Councilman P.J. Brennan touted his record of service and familiarity with the community and said he would focus on engaging city members.
“I’m focusing on … community engagement — making sure [residents] are connected and our city is communicating with you and you’re connected with the services,” Brennan said.
Councilman Monroe Dennis said he wants senior citizens to be more involved in city affairs, suggesting that more media coverage of city discussions for seniors and less tech-savvy residents could help increase resident engagement with the city.
“I’m an advocate for a more robust communications process, maybe even a studio, where we could have our council people and maybe some of the staff do a daily or weekly presentation of things that are going on in the city,” Dennis said.
Candidate Alex Tobin, a junior government and politics major at the University of Maryland, said he’d like to bring communities together. He added that one of the largest problems College Park faces is its lack of civic participation.
Tobin said a major part of his campaign involves loosening the current absentee ballot requirements to make participating in the polls easier for residents who may not be able to leave their jobs or students who have classes.
“Maryland is a no-excuse absentee ballot state. Many cities from Annapolis to Hyattsville are no-excuse absentee ballot cities. College Park isn’t,” Tobin said. “The reason that’s a problem is it inadvertently affects our low-income neighbors, it affects people of diverse communities, it affects single mothers who are trying to get their children to daycare and might not be able to go to the polls and unless they leave the city of College Park completely they do not get an absentee ballot to vote.”
Candidate Dan Blasberg, a College Park resident since 1999, called for more interaction between city officials and this university, as well as increased government transparency.
“Communication can always be better from the city, the city council, the staff on down,” Blasberg said.
Candidates were also asked for their position on noncitizen voting rights. In September, the City Council said it passed a charter amendment that would allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in local election, but in the days after, the council announced it fell short because, as of June, changes to the city’s charter required at least six affirmative votes, rather than the four it received. However, the council announced Wednesday the six-vote requirement violated state law, although the amendment still didn’t pass.
Tobin said he would have voted for the charter amendment. Blasberg and fellow candidate Richard Douglas, a seven-year District 2 resident, said they would have voted against it.
“I believe that the civic privileges that we exercise as citizens of the United States did not fall out of the sky,” Douglas said. “They resulted from a lot of sacrifices we fought for — some people are still fighting for — and they deserve our protection.”
Both Dennis and Brennan voted in support of the charter amendment in September.
“To remove a major group from the voice of this city does not make us a stronger city,” Brennan said. “It only serves the people that are able to vote and have a voice.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that District 2 candidate Alex Tobin said it was a problem that Maryland is a no-excuse absentee ballot state. Tobin said it was a problem College Park didn’t have no-excuse absentee ballot voting. This story has been updated.