Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Congressional candidates get in final jabs

In forum, challengers focus on incumbent Wynn’s record

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Moderator June White Dillard introduces District 4 congressional candidates (from left) Michael Babula, Jason Jennings, Albert R. Wynn, Robert Broadus, Donna Edwards, George E. McDermott, Michael Moshe Starkman, Peter James and George Mitchell at the start of the candidates' forum Monday.
The candidates in the crowded race for Congressman Albert R. Wynn’s District 4 seat made last-minute pledges and attacks at a spirited forum Monday in Largo.

The forum at Prince George’s Community College was the last gathering of all six Democrats and three Republican candidates before party voters choose their nominees in the primary election Tuesday.

Democratic challenger Donna Edwards, who narrowly lost to Wynn in 2006, continued her claims that the incumbent hasn’t done enough since taking office in 1992.

‘‘This Democratic Congress walked away from its responsibility,” said Edwards, who later added, ‘‘You won’t have to look at me 16 years later and say, ‘Where was she?’”

Wynn, a Mitchellville resident seeking a ninth term in the House of Representatives, accused Edwards of getting away from the issues.

‘‘Whenever we get a question that’s a little complex, she talks about how it affects her, and then says, ‘How can I attack Al Wynn?’” he told the audience of more than 200 people.

Edwards and Wynn each said they intend to spend at least $1 million on the primary race, an unprecedented figure for the district that includes portions of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The audience repeatedly booed Wynn, cheered Edwards and laughed at answers from the other candidates throughout the 90-minute forum, sponsored by the Prince George’s County NAACP and other community groups.

‘‘If this was a classroom, you all would have been expelled,” candidate George McDermott, a retired businessman from Forest Heights, said at one point to the crowd. ‘‘You should be ashamed.”

Candidate Jason Jennings, a financial consultant from Silver Spring, lashed out at both Wynn and Edwards, and chastised voters.

‘‘I’ll be honest with you,” he said. ‘‘But I know that people don’t like honesty from a politician. You keep voting for the ones that lie to you.”

Democrat George Mitchell, a real estate agent from Temple Hills, continued his calls for helping Prince George’s, citing the high dropout rates in schools, crime and the rising number of foreclosures.

‘‘If you had a congressman who had guts, we could have worked this out,” Mitchell said of the mortgage crisis.

Wynn responded that he had supported efforts to increase federal home loan programs and protect the credit of people who lost homes because of subprime mortgages.

‘‘I’ve tried to run a positive campaign, to talk about the things I’ve done,” Wynn said. ‘‘I don’t have anything negative to say about anybody.”

Democrat Michael Babula, a Montgomery Village economics professor, told the crowd that he had the expertise and commitment to fighting poverty and improving civil rights.

‘‘It’s all about the economy,” he said.

The forum also featured Republicans Peter James of Germantown, Robert Broadus of Clinton and Michael Moshe Starkman, a Rockville republican who ran in the general election in 2006.

All three acknowledged that they were long shots but asked for the crowd to listen.

‘‘After Feb. 12, five of them won’t be here,” said Broadus. ‘‘But one of us will.”

The three spoke against government regulation and programs like universal health care.

‘‘Who’s going to handle it? Not the government,” James said.

E-mail Daniel Valentine at dvalentine@gazette.net.