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For Lehman, Opportunities Abound

Mary Lehman has been projected to win in the county’s District 1 primary election. While pundits are gearing up to gauge the reasons for her winning and what to expect from our new district 1 councilmember, here goes my take.

One of the main reasons she has made a commendable win in this primary is because she has presumably received the entire “Dernoga Block” votes. Mr. Dernoga has been the two terms council member in this district and has a solid followings among the district 1 voters. Being Dernoga’s administrative aide for a number of years, she has been his strong supporter and has worked closely with him on a number of issues. Thus, though she may have been unknown to many of the district’s voters, receiving the “Dernoga votes” wasn’t that difficult for her.

She has also been a community activist in West Laurel and has served as the president of the local neighborhood association there. Not surprisingly, she pulled strong supports from her own neighborhood and the surrounding areas too.

Some may also argue that the votes against her all divided among her four opponents, all of them are African Americans. District 1 is the part of the county where most whites live; thus her four opponents did not have much support to begin with. Fredrick Smalls, being the most experienced one in local government came as a distant second.

Having worked with Dernoga and the MD Delegates Joseline Melnyk, Mary isn’t quite unknown to how local governments work. She has also worked on the county’s school system as a special representative of Mr. Dernoga. All these experiences should make her comfortable with her new job at Upper Marlboro, assuming yesterday’s primary serves as the de-facto general election in November.

She however understands the challenges she is facing as a Dernoga replacement. As in one candidate forum, she said “Once elected, I’ll have a big shoe to fill”. Being an experienced attorney in the land uses and zoning legislation, Dernoga has earned a reputation among his supporters and hardcore foot soldiers. With a background in journalism, it will be interesting to see how Mary makes the Dernoga camp happy.

On the flip side, Lehman will have an opportunity to reach out to folks who have felt repulsed by Dernoga’s often heavy handed approach. For example, Dernoga’s activism in the zoning matters has earned him foes in quite a few quarters. Folks, who want smart growth with modern zoning legislation such as Form-based zoning, call him anti-development and obstructionist. Members of this group charges Mr. Dernoga for his opposition to such zoning regulations in Rt 1 corridor re-development in North College Park. Also, some sections in county’s religious communities have not found him as their friends for his roles in cases involving growth of their institutions. His loss in the $3.7 million Reaching Hearts lawsuit case is an example, they claim. While Dernoga saw these matters strictly through his black-and-white zoning lens, members of these faith groups charge him for failing to understand the federal laws guaranteeing religious freedom.

Public Safety and education are other hot  button issues that Lehman will be facing once she assumes her office. This will happen  especially at a time when the county is facing tough economic downturn and furloughing its teachers and police officers and struggling to find source of funding. With State’s funding in development projects going down, the county will be forced to cut corners and will have to be judicious in its future spending. A more thorough audit of its existing budget will have to be worked out. Thus experience and knowledge in the county’s inner working will be crucial for any new council member.

She will also have the opportunity to help bridge the gap between the residents living in north College Park with the University of Maryland, located just south of her district boundary. For a number of years, there has been an atmosphere of cultural clash between the university and the residents on issues ranging from economic development, public safety and resource sharing. Some blame this part to the “un-caring” style of management of the outgoing UMd president, others blame, again, to now “former” councilmeber “Thomas E.” Dernoga.

Mary thus has an opportunity to work and build bridges with the communities that have long felt rebuffed by Dernoga’s combative style of governance. Mary said she will have her own style of governance other than Mr. Dernoga’s. ” I am my own person with my own ideas and opinions. I am a journalist by training, not an attorney like Tom, but I am a deliberative and thoughtful person.” – she claimed in an interview with me.

Only time will tell how much difference can she make in her new job in Upper Marlboro.

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8 Comments to “For Lehman, Opportunities Abound”

  1. By Abu Muinuddin, September 15, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

    I hope Mary Lehman takes this opportunity to minimize the distance and work with all the different communities and faith groups, which have often left out by Mr. Dernoga.

  2. By Mr. R. Smith, September 15, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

    Thank you for sharing this information and developing a website so people can have a repository to review current and past local political events and activities.

  3. By The Ramblings of a Vagabond, September 15, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    Even though I have not followed the local politics especially of the PG County Districts for some time, your piece provided a clean preamble to the games afoot Mary at Upper Marlboro.

    Once the election has been concluded the flip-books come out where notes were taken during the campaign trail times and promises were penned by the supporters, foes and the pundits alike. Thus begins the comparative analysis, monitoring and tracking exercise and the popularity and job performance polls start rolling out. It seems, supporters relishing their victory parades go in hibernation and the opposition sentries sharpens their lens to assume the watch.

    In my humble opinion, it appears that the camp that wants a candidate to win only works before the election and the one that wants the candidate to loose only works after the election. My hope is that someone would also work with the candidate to assure the constituents are the real winners.

    In the end, be it Republicans or Democrats or Independent, Blacks or Whites or Hispanics or Asians or anyone else, the objectives to strive for should be the betterment of the communities, societies, infrastructure, security, well-being and welfare of the people so that lives are fulfilling, crime is absent, education is prevalent, safety and security is the norm, livelihood is abound and everyone is respected regardless of faith, community, race or any other indifference. These are the hallmarks of Freedom that we strive for and these are the goals good folks fight for across all camps.

    So, yes, there are challenges ahead and yes it would be a bridge building task for Mary and all who have been elected in our communities. However, lets also not forget; bridges are never built or shifting grounds. To build a bridge both sides of the divide have to have steady and solid ground to anchor the pylons on. Lets encourage the communities as well as public officials to work towards common grounds and a platform that is conducive to the ideals laid above.

    In conclusion, even if one does not actively take part in the peoples business locally, regionally, or nationally, each and everyone of us must keep ourselves appraised of the situations, policies, acts and laws so that we can aptly and intelligently advise, consult and opine while the public officials are conducting the peoples’ business. Only through such mutual working relationship can we achieve the goals we all strive for.

  4. By Diana, September 15, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

    Mary won the election because she is the best qualified candidate!

    One should note that just serving on a city council does not make the person more experienced or qualified over the other candidates who were running in this election.

    This article was written on the “presumptions” of the author so I hope that all who read it take it as that — his opinion, not necessarily facts. Also, it is wrong to bring race up because race had nothing to do with who won or lost this election.

    The voters elected the person they felt best qualified to represent them. I encourage all to give Mary a chance before you start knocking her down.

  5. By Sarwar, September 16, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

    No body is knocking down no body. This is a new opportunity for every one to start a fresh life. Mary has a fresh ideas to work on and hope that gap will be removed.

  6. By Stasia, September 16, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

    What Diana says is absolutely true – Mary Lehman won the election because she is the best qualified candidate! She outreached to the community, went to local events and spent countless hours knocking on doors and meeting face to face with ALL residents in this area. Race was not a factor – District 1 supports all qualified candidates whether white, black, purple, orange, yellow, red, magenta, etc! Do not even play the race card.

  7. By Matt Dernoga, September 16, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

    Hi Fazlul, you’re right that elections are often analyzed through racial demographics, however in this case I would disagree that race was a significant factor, let me give you a few statistics from election night. I have access to the Maryland Democratic Party’s database, which we used during the campaign. You could probably get these statistics from the board of elections, but I just I ran a breakdown of African American Democrats in District 1. The six voting precincts with the largest number of African American Democrats are

    1. Vansville Rec Center (01-06)
    2. Oaklands Elementnary School (10-09)
    3. Dwight Eisenhower Middle School (10-01)
    4. James Harrison Elementary School (10-06)
    5. Highpoint High School and The Tabernacle tie for 5th (01-03) and (10-11)

    If you look at a precinct by precinct breakdown of the District 1 results, Mary won every single one of these precincts. Vansville is a historically black neighborhood.

    The precincts she got 2nd in were the City of Laurel precincts since that’s where Fred Smalls was well known.

    So while you’re are right that this district has a higher white population than other parts of the county, based on the reception we got at people’s doors and the numbers I just provided, I think Mary’s experience of helping constituents appealed to people.

    I believe Mary won because our campaign knocked on every active voter’s door in the district, and called them all with real people. A key part of our strategy was to make sure we won every precinct outside the city of Laurel, and to work hard enough in Laurel to make a lot of the advantage Smalls had there. If anything I think the fact that Mary’s opponents were from the city of Laurel helped her since they split that vote.

    On a final note, I should mention that the area of North College Park which your blog covers went overwhelmingly with Mary.

    -Matt Dernoga
    Mary’s Campaign Manager

  8. By Fazlul Kabir, September 16, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

    Diana and Stasia,

    First, thanks a lot for your comments.

    Prediction and analysis of election results based on racial demographics is nothing new in US politics. In the past, political pundits have made these kinds of predictions in general elections and also in local elections numerous time.

    Just last week the Washington Post predicted that Mr. Dernoga could win the State’s Attorney election on votes cast by a very similar racial demographics. Here is what the Post said “Dernoga could win by peeling off white, Latino and Asian voters, while the other candidates, who are black, could split the African American vote.” More here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/09/AR2010090906913.html

    As I said in the post, some may have similar argument by bringing racial demographics as a factor (if not the factor) behind the win of Ms. Lehman. Both County council and State’s Attorney positions had 5 candidates, four of them were African American, only one was White.

    Not only in local election, pundits have made race-based predictions/analysis in the past national elections too. For example, in the past Presidential election, the media was wild in focusing how African American voted. “95% of black voters went to the ballot for Obama and only 4% for McCain” – read one leading newspaper.