Business growth ranks high in Laurel candidates’ agenda -- Gazette.Net


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With Laurel’s Main Street being part of Ward 1, it’s no surprise that the three candidates vying for the ward’s two council seats are focusing on bringing in more business — but each offers a slightly different approach.

Political newcomer John Matthew Smith is running against incumbents Valerie Nicholas and H. Edward Ricks for the two council seats in the Nov. 5 city elections. Council members are elected to two-year terms, and this is the first time since 2006 that there is a challenge for the posts in Ward 1, which includes the Main Street business corridor and north and east areas of Laurel.

Smith, 55, a retired freelance celebrity photographer, said he had never considered running for office before, but decided to run because he wants to improve the city.

“Laurel is a wonderful place. I love it here, but I think it could be better,” said Smith, who moved to the city in 2006.

Smith’s goals for the city include placing a privacy wall along Md. 198 to protect residents from noise and dust, and creating signs warning drivers of high-accident areas.

Smith said he would like the city to develop an advertising campaign geared toward drawing more business to Laurel’s Main Street.

“I think a great slogan can go a long way,” Smith said.

Ricks, 68, said revitalizing Main Street is one of his top priorities.

“We want to continue to work diligently to bring traffic to Main Street,” said Ricks, who retired in 2000 after serving as director of the Family Division of Superior Court in Washington, D.C.

Ricks served four consecutive terms on the council from 1980 to 1988, and was elected to his fifth term in 2011.

Ricks said he feels the city’s incentive program, which offers business owners up to $10,000 to move to Main Street, is a step in the right direction, and that the C Street Flats mixed-use development, which broke ground in August, will encourage more businesses to take advantage of the program.

Nicholas, 49, said she is also excited about development in Laurel, including the construction of the new Laurel Towne Centre, expected to open in fall 2014.

“It’s a wonderful accomplishment for the council as a team,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas was appointed to fill the remaining term of Gayle Snyder, who resigned from the council June 2011. Nicholas won her first full term later that year.

Nicholas, who has spoken publicly about being a survivor of domestic abuse, is the founder and executive director of Love is Not Enough, a nonprofit organization providing support for victims and public education on domestic violence.

Nicholas said if she is elected to a second term, her top priorities would be improving public safety and continuing to pursue opportunities for economic development on Main Street and elsewhere in Laurel.

Polling for Ward 1 takes place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Laurel Municipal Building, 8103 Sandy Spring Road.

One at-large and two Ward 2 council seats are also being challenged this year.

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net