Candidates in state elections meet in Bowie forum

Thursday, Aug. 31, 2006

Candidates for four county and state races faced off in a forum in Bowie last week and tackled issues relating to development, education and zoning authority.

The forum, sponsored by the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce, was held Thursday at the Bowie Regional Center for the Performing Arts and featured contested seats representing the Bowie area.

The District 23 Senate candidates – Bobby Henry, Greg Holmes and County Councilman Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie – were asked of their stances on allowing cities like Bowie to have its own zoning power, which would give the city more control over development.

While all three said cities like Bowie should have zoning power, only Peters supports handing authority to cities across the board. The former Bowie City Councilman has long supported the issue, and said he would continue outgoing Sen. Leo Green’s (D) stance for municipal zoning authority.

Henry and Holmes, however, wanted exceptions in giving power to cities. Henry said cities need to prove their capability to make sensible decisions, and used the Bowie City Council’s reversal of a 20-year stance on the Melford property as an example.

‘‘I think Bowie should have it, but it must be handled responsibility,” Henry said. ‘‘We need to develop a strategy that demonstrates you can handle individual zoning authority.”

Holmes said there should be a statewide standard used by all cities, and that the attorney general should enforce those regulations.

The senate candidates were asked if they would change the zoning laws over the Bowie Race Track and open it for development if elected to office.

Both Henry and Peters said they would not – Henry said the track is the ‘‘cradle of thoroughbred racing in the country,” and Peters said he would down-zone the property into the rural tier.

‘‘There have been traffic improvements on Race Track Road, but it’s still a two-lane country road,” Peters said. ‘‘It can’t handle any more traffic.”

Holmes said he would support developing the track into a science and technology center that would have a business-oriented school and a business incubator run by Bowie State University.

As for their first piece of legislation, Holmes said he would develop a county business database that would promote business growth and bring in new investors. Henry said he would extend the Thornton bill, which expires in 2008. Peters said he would regulate utilities and help drive down power bill costs.

The candidates for the two Delegate 23A seat – Shukoor Ahmed, incumbents Mary Conroy (D) and James Hubbard (D) and Gerron Levi - had similar responses to several questions and diverged only slightly on other questions.

All four supported full zoning power for municipalities, including Hubbard, who authored a bill to grant cities land-use authority that failed. All four candidates also supported the new south Bowie high school, though Conroy warned that some school board candidates were not supportive of funding the project.

One area the candidates differed greatly was a questioned that asked about the first piece of legislation a candidate would author or look at. Hubbard said he would continue Thornton funding and focus on teacher retention. Conroy said she would work to re-regulate electricity rates.

Ahmed said he would push for universal health coverage, citing a Massachusetts law that requires all to have insurance. Levi said she would create a bill that would work to ensure discipline and address crime hot spots, a theme she had been promoted during the forum.

The District 4 candidates – Darrell Carrington, Mayor G. Frederick Robinson and Ingrid Turner – were asked mostly business-oriented questions, focusing on views of development, struggling businesses and developers.

Some of the questions were also political in nature, aimed at controversial issues surrounding certain candidates.

The candidates were asked about their ties to developers, but it was aimed at Ingrid Turner, whose brother, Henry, is a developer who works in the county.

Ingrid Turner has been criticized for her brother’s work, and during the forum, she defended her sibling and her candidacy.

‘‘He’s what makes a developer a good person,” Turner said. ‘‘Not all developers are bad.”

When the candidates were asked about certain developments, including the Melford property, Robinson said plans should stick to the Master Plan, and that the rural tier needs to remain undeveloped. He did not respond to specifics about Melford, though Carrington used the mayor’s vote to support housing on the controversial site to take a stance against over-development.

‘‘I’m proud to say this candidate doesn’t have direct ties to developers or will buckle under pressure and change a vote,” Carrington said.

The candidates were also asked of how they would close the achievement gap in county schools. Robinson called the troubles of the school system ‘‘very serious” and said active planning is needed to make sure all reach the same academic level.

‘‘Prince George’s is at a crossroads,” Robinson said. ‘‘We have to make sure everyone is on the road to success.”

The forum also included District 6 County Councilman candidates Phil Lee and incumbent Samuel Dean (D) of Mitchellville.

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