Sprawl development in District 9 of Prince George's County. Image by Chesapeake Bay Program licensed under Creative Commons.

2018 marks the first time Prince George’s County residents are electing two at-large representatives to the county council. Unfortunately, unlike in the county executive's race where there are far more excellent candidates than can be elected, we feel that the candidates running for at-large this year are not likely to take progressive stances on development, urbanism, transit, and other smart growth issues and/or have other events in the recent past which make us reluctant to endorse them. Therefore, we are not endorsing anyone for these seats in this cycle.

We heard from five candidates

Five of the nine candidates responded to our questionnaire: current District 9 council member Mel Franklin, former state delegate Gerron Levi, long time county employee Calvin Hawkins, and newcomers Julian Lopez and Jonathan White (who has withdrawn from the race).

Only Franklin and Levi have track records in elected office. Levi seems to lean toward policies that GGWash readers would support, and she is an expert on housing policy, but her positions on the issues reflect a limited engagement with the details of most other issues. To questions about road safety and transit, she responded by saying she didn't know much about it, and in a few cases it didn't look like she'd even read the question carefully. That doesn't necessarily mean she'd be a bad councilmember, but it certainly doesn't give us the basis to say she'd be a good one either with an endorsement. We also note that in the state legislature, she was an active opponent of same-sex marriage.

Franklin fares best, generally favoring mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented development, specifically calling out the need to improve the “woefully inadequate” county bus service, and supporting transit investments such as Southern Maryland Rapid Transit instead of highway expansion. Conversely, Franklin currently opposes ADUs and supports including an updated version of a controversial development process now known as election in the new county zoning code. He also personally intervened to allow more sprawl in the Brandywine area, after the council had slapped a moratorium on it.

We are also particularly concerned by Franklin’s guilty DUI plea last year. While nobody is perfect, moving violations that endanger others (Franklin injured two people in another car), especially since it was not his first moving violation, matter. Franklin called the crash an “accident,” even though it was in fact directly caused by his choices. Prince George’s County is the most dangerous place in the state of Maryland for pedestrians and cyclists, and this won’t change without leadership that has a real vision about ending the dominance of car culture.

Calvin Hawkins was at the center of a major sexual harassment claim paid out by the county while he was working in another county office. We do note that Hawkins supports expanding the county’s bus service and in fact, during his time with the Department of Public Works, worked to expand the system in its early years. He also flagged Governor Hogan’s highway expansion proposal as a case of induced demand that would quickly fail county residents frustrated with their commute, opposes the inclusion of the election process in the zoning rewrite, and supports regulated ADUs because “everyone wins.”

Among the remaining candidates, Lopez is a strong proponent of highway expansion and his thoughts on housing, economic development, and supporting transit and other mobility options did not make for a coherent policy outlook. White (who is not longer a candidate) had decent thoughts on housing policy and supports ADUs, but is in favor of Governor Hogan’s highway expansion proposal and overall had limited responses on traffic, safety, and economic development in the county.

Thanks, but no thanks

Given the above, Greater Greater Washington declines to make any endorsement in the Prince George’s County Council at-large race. This election represents a significant missed opportunity for the county to move in a better direction on smart growth issues, and shows how far county leaders (and those who want to be) have to go in becoming informed advocates of these policies.

It is also disappointing because some races, including county executive and at least one district race, are overflowing with excellent candidates. We wish some of the ones we're not endorsing in those races had run instead for at-large. Perhaps they will in four years.