By Sasha Allen, Eden Binder, Olivia Borgula, Shifra Dayak, Sam Gauntt, Maximo Legaspi, Natalie Weger and Katharine Wilson
More than 450 College Park voters took to the polls Sunday for the city’s mayor and council election, bringing top-of-mind issues such as mayor and council member term lengths, development and student engagement.
Districts 1 and 3 saw contested races, with incumbent candidates vying for council seats against a slew of newcomers. Candidates for city mayor seat and council seats in Districts 2 and 4 ran unopposed.
District 1 resident Joshua Berrios visited City Hall Thursday for early voting. Berrios said that he’s interested in how the city prioritizes affordable housing and the College Park business landscape.
“I want to see a lot of the progress we’ve had continue, but I also want to make sure that it’s done in a responsible way and so that we’re not just becoming another Columbia or someplace else where people are getting priced out of everything,” Berrios said.
Berrios was among about 200 people who voted early on Thursday, according to an election judge. Early voting was also available on Oct. 25 at Davis Hall.
The city election allowed District 1 council member Alan Hew to show his dedication to uplifting resident voices as new projects take shape, he said. Hew was appointed to fill the District 1 seat after former District 1 council member Fazlul Kabir won the mayoral special election in May.
“I want to make sure that as North College Park gets redeveloped, it gets done right, with the interests of the residents in mind,” Hew said at City Hall Thursday during early voting.
Voters weighed in on the ideal term length for city mayors and council members this year. The ballot offered a non-binding advisory question asking whether the city’s mayor and council members should serve staggered four-year terms or two-year terms.
Resident Deon Roberts said he voted in favor of four-year terms because he thought they were more conducive to progress.
“I think two years is very little time to get to know, really understand how the system works, and then make action on it,” Roberts said.
Jack Landsiedel, a University of Maryland alum who voted in College Park for the first time Sunday, said he preferred two-year terms because of the flexibility they offer when it comes to recalling council members if necessary.
For District 3 council member John Rigg, four-year terms mean less energy and money spent on elections, he said.
“I just think in a city as large and as complex as College Park is, to expect candidates to go and knock on 5,000 doors and spend the money that we have to spend to knock on 5,000 doors every other year is just a lot,” Rigg said. “It’s a lot to ask of a part-time position.”
Rigg and other council incumbents garnered significant community support Sunday.
District 3 resident Arun Ivatury said he voted for Rigg and Stuart Adams, District 3’s other incumbent.
“I think they have both done a good job of paying attention to environmental concerns in our district, considering the impact of development in our area and also considering the impact of quality of life issues in our neighborhoods,” Ivatury said.
Melissa Rogers, who also lives in District 3, voted for newcomer Perez Abbott in the council election. Abbott is a Prince George’s County employee who challenged Adams and Rigg for a District 3 council seat.
Rogers said she appreciated Abbott’s focus on fostering connections between the city and this university.
Mel Blain, a small business owner in District 1, said she voted for Jacob Hernandez for the vacant seat in her district because of his support of small businesses. Hernandez overcame challenges from three other newcomers Sunday to win a District 1 seat alongside Hew.
“I’m really concerned about how the candidates are going to support small businesses in the area and help redevelop North College Park,” Blain said. “[Hernandez] came to my business to support me, and some of the other candidates said they did come to the small businesses, but they never came to my business, and we are a big part of the community.”
In addition to small business support and term lengths, construction and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods were key issues for voters in this year’s election.
District 4 resident Katherine Mackie said she has concerns about construction in College Park and would like to see “more environmentally friendly infrastructure.”
Environmental concerns also influenced District 1 resident Mike Zoosman’s decision to vote for Hernandez and Kamthorn Clary.
“In Kamthorn Clary’s bio, he referenced working to improve bicycle paths,” Zoosman said. “I think that helps the environment in a specific way that speaks to me.”
For District 1 resident Valerie Hoy, affordable housing was another salient issue.
“There’s a lot of expensive housing here and really luxury apartments coming up everywhere,” Hoy said. “I would like to see a place where people like me who came in as a very poor, recent graduate from college can find this to be a community that they can live in comfortably.”
Multiple candidates centered their campaigns around affordable housing this year.
Student involvement also stood out to several College Park residents — especially after the last city election in 2021 saw record-low turnout, with about 10 percent of the city’s eligible voters casting ballots.
Caroline Williams-Pierce, a College Park resident and professor at this university’s information studies college, said students who only live in the city for a few years can feel like engaging with their local government is not important.
Council members should conduct more “powerful outreach” to show students they have the same rights, responsibilities and privileges as full-time city residents, Williams-Pierce said.
Nina McGranahan, who voted in this year’s election and graduated from this university in May, said she’s hopeful that turnout will be higher because it is important for residents to engage with their local governments.
“There’s so much going on in the world and there’s so much that local governments can do that can’t happen at the state or federal level,” McGranahan said during early voting at City Hall on Thursday. “I think it’s important for students, if we want a certain future, to be invested in helping that future happen.”