The current county council. There will be a lot of new faces here next year. Image by Prince George’s County.

Voters in Prince George's County will select a new county executive, two at-large county councilmembers, and nine council district representatives in the Democratic primary on June 26. Of these twelve races, eight have no incumbent because they are either new or subject to term limits. This is a year where everything is on the table, and showing up to the polls will tremendously influence the next eight years of the county’s future.

If you live in Prince George’s County, first, make sure you are registered to vote. You can register online if you are up to date with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. Otherwise, it’s still very easy to register by mail. Do it now, or at least by June 5, 2018 (the 21-day deadline before the June 26 primary).

Every candidate listed below is running as a Democrat, and you must register as a Democrat if you want to vote in the Democratic primary. The simple fact is that in a county where 79 percent of voters are registered as Democrats, the primary is the election.

You can meet several of the candidates, including county executive frontrunners, at our happy hour in College Park on Tuesday, February 6.

The big issues

Prince George’s County has undergone dramatic demographic change in the last 15 years, and these changes are shaping local elections. The county is still a predominantly African-American jurisdiction: Census data shows African-Americans made up 63 percent of the population in both 2000 and 2016. However, the Hispanic and Latino share of the county’s population has more than doubled, from roughly seven percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2016.

These new county residents are particularly concentrated in the northwestern part of the county, along Kenilworth Road and University Boulevard in neighborhoods that will be served by the Purple Line, where they make up roughly 75 percent of the population. Although the Latin American neighborhoods in Langley Park and East Riverdale have low rates of car ownership and significant pedestrian traffic, the built environment is currently very car-centric.

Urbanist issues are at the heart of this year’s Prince George’s County elections. The county is in the middle of a drawn-out, multi-year process to modernize its zoning code. It is likely that the new code will not be adopted until 2019, meaning this is the year to choose council members that will support smart growth and disavow corruption in the development review process. Which leaders will commit to reforming this troubled process?

For years now, the county has flirted with smart growth while still building a lot of sprawl. Making a firm commitment to create walkable urbanism near transit, and not just more “zombie subdivisions” (a significant backlog of approved-but-unbuilt greenfield developments outside the Beltway), would be tremendously important for the county. With the zoning rewrite and overall regional trends, the next four years are likely to be decisive.

The Purple Line, which finally began construction in the fall, has generally been popular with county residents and politicians. In theory, the project is now locked in, but given all the twists and turns in the three-decade-long saga of its planning, it is possible that county officials will find themselves having to go to bat for its survival again.

Now that construction has begun, though, the issue of how areas around stations will be redeveloped and kept affordable is at the forefront. Possible options include creating an affordable housing trust fund — Prince George’s County is the only jurisdiction in the region that doesn’t have one — and changes to zoning in the county.

Building a new light rail is a huge investment in Prince George’s County, but its impact will be limited if local and state leaders can’t do anything about pedestrian safety. The future Purple Line corridor is the state’s #1 hotspot for pedestrian injuries.

NEED SOURCE Image by MWCOG.

The Purple Line is still the biggest transportation story in the county. However, only about 10 percent of the county’s population lives in the areas that will be directly served by the Purple Line, and the quality of public transportation is a county-wide issue, including in the inside-the-Beltway communities south of Central Avenue, which will not be served by the Purple Line.

Compared to other jurisdictions in the DC area, bus service in Prince George’s County leaves a lot to be desired. While there are several relatively frequent seven-day-a-week Metrobus routes in the county, they only serve a limited area. Much of the bus service in Prince George’s is provided by the county’s The Bus network.

Unfortunately, The Bus provides fairly limited service, compared to Montgomery County’s RideOn network. The Bus does not operate at all on weekends or evenings: even the all-day routes generally have their last trip depart before 8 pm. Furthermore, none of its routes provide frequencies higher than half-hourly at midday.

The races

Four candidates are vying to be the next county executive. The incumbent, Rushern Baker, cannot run due to term limits (and is instead running for governor).

Angela Alsobrooks, the current state’s attorney, has raised the most money, while former Congresswoman Donna Edwards has high name recognition — and told Elle magazine her main campaign issue is zoning! Also in the race are former Obama administration official Paul Monteiro and state Senator C. Anthony Muse.

Prince George’s County voters will be voting for two at-large County Council seats for the first time this year. These seats were created after a contentious referendum in 2016. Council members who have reached the two-term limit for district seats are eligible to run for at-large seats.

Mel Franklin, the former District 9 council member, has already filed. So far, the only other declared candidate is Gerron Levi, a former state delegate and county executive candidate. Calvin Hawkins is actively campaigning but has not yet filed, and there is a rumor that term-limited council member Karen Toles is interested. Candidates have until February 27 to file.

Prince George's County Council districts. Image by Prince George’s County Council.

The County Council contains nine district seats. Of those, four have incumbents that haven’t been term limited out; so far, three of those are uncontested, District 3 (College Park/New Carrollton, represented by Dannielle Glaros), District 4 (Greenbelt/Bowie, Todd Turner), and District 6 (Largo/District Heights/Upper Marlboro, Derrick Davis). In District 2 (Langley Park/Hyattsville/Mount Rainier), current Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth is challenging incumbent Deni Taveras.

In District 1 (Beltsville/Laurel), current Laurel Mayor Craig Moe has filed to run and Tom Dernoga, who held the seat from 2002-2010, is also expected to throw his hat into the ring. In District 5 (Bladensburg/Cheverly/Springdale), three candidates have filed: former 47th District Delegate and lieutenant governor candidate Jolene Ivey, Walter Lee James Jr., and Rochelle Mincey-Thompson. Two people have filed for District 8 (Oxon Hill/Camp Springs), former school principal Carlton Carter and Monique Anderson Walker.

Two districts have drawn large numbers of candidates. Seven have filed to succeed Karen Toles in District 7 (Suitland/Capitol Heights/Seat Pleasant): Suitland Civic Association president Karen Anderson, Gary Lee Falls, former Capitol Heights Mayor Darrell Andre Miller, Krystal Oriadha, BJ Paige, Juan Stewart Jr. and Rodney Streeter.

District 9, which covers the southernmost and least dense part of the county, also has a term limited incumbent (Mel Franklin, who is now running for an at-large seat). It has drawn the second most candidates, with six thus far: Orlando Barnes, Tanara Davis Brown, Kevin Harris, Sydney Harrison, Daren Hester and Rodney Taylor.

What do you think are the most important issues, races, and candidates to watch?

This post is part of Greater Greater Washington's coverage of the 2018 election led by our Elections Committee. Want to keep up? Sign up for our weekly elections email newsletter!

Tracy Hadden Loh loves cities, infrastructure, and long walks on the beach looking for shark teeth. She holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from UNC-Chapel Hill. By day, she is a data scientist at the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University. By night, she is an activist, a law enforcement spouse, and the mother of a toddler. She served two years representing Ward 1 on the Mount Rainier City Council in Prince George's County, MD.

DW Rowlands is an adjunct chemistry professor and Prince George’s County native, currently living in College Park. More of their writing on transportation-related and other topics can be found on their website.  They also write on DC transportation and demographic issues for the DC Policy Center, where they are a Fellow. In their spare time, they volunteer for Prince George’s Advocates for Community-Based Transit. However, the views expressed here are their own.

Eric Selwyn joined the Council for Higher Education Accreditation in May 2011 and serves as its Membership and Information Administrator. He previously served as Production Manager for Bulls Eye Marketing, Inc., where he handled day-to-day operations for a data management company. He has also held administrative positions for the George Mason University School of Management, Washington Gas, First Union and Bank of America.