Wednesday, April 2, 2008

District 4 debate centers on minority issues

Candidates in forum also addresses budget cuts, taxes, county cost of living

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While focusing on issues of concern to minorities, candidates for District 4’s vacant County Council seat spoke at a Saturday forum about health care, youth enrichment, safety, gangs and taxes.

At the forum, organized by the NAACP and the People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring, the moderators framed the debate with questions about services to the African-American community, gang prevention and poverty.

African Americans and the poor are not treated fairly when budgets are cut, candidate Patrick Ryan (D) of Silver Spring said. ‘‘The last programs that need to be cut are programs that help the poor,” he said.

Nancy Navarro (D) of Silver Spring said there was ‘‘shocking neglect” to the African-American community. ‘‘I found out that seven out of 10 in the African-American community receive their primary care in the emergency room,” said Navarro, the president of the county Board of Education. She also said budget cuts disproportionately affect the poor and the county needs to invest more in low-income areas.

Community recreation centers and youth engagement came up several times during the forum, with focus on the smaller centers like Good Hope Community Center, where a police mentoring program for youths has been recommended for a cut.

‘‘To close the recreation centers, you’re actually costing the county money in terms of increased police response, crime, and forcing parents to leave their jobs,” said candidate Steve Kanstoroom (D) of Ashton, who wants the centers to be made part of the school system.

Candidate Donald Praisner (D) of Calverton, husband of the late District 4 Councilwoman Marilyn Praisner, said the Good Hope Community Center needs to be improved and that community centers were important to District 4. ‘‘We have a need for an upgrade. We need to bring programs that are suitable,” he said. ‘‘The centers teach skills like honesty; we need more programs like that.”

Community centers can have a large role in gang prevention, the candidates said. ‘‘Prevention is just as important as intervention,” Praisner said. ‘‘Once we lose a youth to a gang, we’ve lost them entirely.”

During the only negative exchange in the meeting, Praisner took issue with a Navarro comment in response to a moderator’s question about campaign financing and avoiding undue influence. Navarro had said she was financing her campaign as Marilyn Praisner had, with contributions from many sources, including business interests.

‘‘I resent how you represent Marilyn Praisner and her influence,” Donald Praisner said. ‘‘In her last year, she was disappointed with you because you were not an independent voice.”

After the meeting, Navarro said she only meant to show she was financing her campaign in the same spirit as Marilyn Praisner had. ‘‘I’m not sure why he took my comment negatively,” she said. ‘‘I was only referring to public campaign information. If we’re going to talk about financing campaigns, this is what the record shows.”

On Monday, Donald Praisner said that only Navarro is taking money from developers and that Navarro may ‘‘undo some of the work my wife did,” referring to provisions supported by Marilyn Praisner and passed by the County Council designed to slow the pace of growth.

The lean budget and taxes were important issues at the forum.

‘‘During the boom times, we were building our budget on a foundation of sand,” said Thomas Hardman (R) of Aspen Hill, who quoted from both the Bible and ‘‘The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” during the meeting. ‘‘We need to work for efficiency out of the deadwood.”

Mark Fennel (R) of Silver Spring called fighting the proposed property tax increase, the largest in 20 years, the cornerstone of his campaign. ‘‘The middle class is strapped,” he said. ‘‘I do not support this tax.”

Fennel went on to say that 80 percent of the budget is in wages and compensation and the 8 percent proposed salary increase for county employees is what’s so expensive. ‘‘Freeze this, and that would balance the budget,” he said.

The candidates said the county is becoming too expensive to live in. ‘‘Seniors have the right to live here,” Ryan said, adding affordable housing and increasing the workforce were priorities to him.

Thousands of employees must commute to the county to work here, Navarro said. ‘‘Low-income families are barely holding on.”

Republican candidates John McKinnis of Calverton and Robert Patton of Silver Spring were absent from the forum.

District 4 includes parts of Burtonsville, Silver Spring, Cloverly, Colesville, Wheaton, Aspen Hill, Olney, Sandy Spring and Ashton.

District 4 at a glance

Election to fill the County Council seat of the late Marilyn J. Praisner.

Primary: April 15

General election: May 13

District 4 includes parts of Burtonsville, Silver Spring, Cloverly, Colesville, Wheaton, Aspen Hill, Olney, Sandy Spring and Ashton.

For more information, including video statements by the candidates and a voter’s guide, visit www.gazette.net⁄votersguide08.

To get involved

A debate featuring only Democratic candidates for the Montgomery County Council’s open District 4 seat will be held 7:30 p.m. today at White Oak Middle School, 12201 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring. The event is being sponsored by the Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club.

The Sandy Spring Civic Association and the Sherwood Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association will hold a District 4 Candidates Forum from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Sherwood Elementary School, 1401 Olney-Sandy Spring Road (Route 108) in Sandy Spring.

Citizens Involved, a Burtonsville-area association, is hosting a forum with District 4 candidates from both parties 7 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m. April 9 in the cafeteria at Paint Branch High School, 14121 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville.

The Northwood-Four Corners Civic Association will hold a District 4 Candidates Forum April 9 at the North Four Corners Park Recreation Center, 211 Southwood Ave. in Silver Spring. The forum will follow the civic association’s 7:30 p.m. meeting.