District 21 candidates agree on investing more money on transportation

Roads, Growth Key Issues

Maryland Votes 2006

18 Days Until Nov. 7

October 20, 2006|By SUSAN GVOZDAS | SUSAN GVOZDAS,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Nov. 7 is still a few weeks away, but it's safe to make one prediction about the election's outcome in District 21: Democrats will capture at least two of the House of Delegates seats.

Only one Republican is competing with three Democrats for the three seats up for grabs in the district representing northern Prince George's and western Anne Arundel counties.

With the pending crush of thousands of workers commuting at Fort Meade because of the Base Realignment and Closure process, Neil Sood, along with Democratic candidates Del. Barbara Frush, Ben Barnes and Joseline Pena-Melnyk, all agree that the state needs to invest more money on transportation.

Top priorities, they say, are extending Metro's Green Line and building the long-discussed Purple Line to connect the Washington suburbs.

Barnes and Frush believe that routes 175 and 198 will need to be upgraded to handle the additional traffic. They support plans for new parking garages at the MARC train station in Odenton.

The only place where the candidates seem to disagree along party lines is the $2.4 billion Intercounty Connector, which will link the I-270 and I-95 corridors within Montgomery and northwestern Prince George's counties.

The three Democrats believe the money would have been better spent on repairing existing roads, such as Route 1. Seeking her fourth term in office, Frush, 60, of Beltsville said the ICC will cause environmental damage.

Sood, 27, supports the ICC and said that environmental concerns are overblown. A bank compliance officer from Laurel, he said a new roadway would alleviate traffic and encourage more white-collar companies to move into the district.

"Businesses can say, `We can relocate in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and our people aren't going to be stuck in massive commutes,'" Sood said.

If elected, Barnes said, he would try to provide tax incentives to develop an Odenton Town Center that balances commercial interests but uses smart growth techniques to handle community concerns about open space and traffic congestion.

More funding is needed for education, according to the four candidates. The district needs to renovate aging high schools like Meade, said Barnes, 31, the former legislative director for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

His and Frush's support of increasing teachers' salaries and pensions have won them endorsements from the Maryland State Teachers Association and the Prince George's County Educators Association.

Although the General Assembly raised teacher pensions by 60 percent earlier this year, pensions need to increase more for Maryland stand out in teacher recruitment, Barnes said.

In terms of public safety, all four candidates said more funding is needed for community policing.

As a College Park councilwoman, Pena-Melnyk, 40, voted to allocate $500,000 to contract police to patrol the area. In Anne Arundel, she would like to convert a police substation in Maryland City to a full-service police district headquarters.

"You need a full presence," Pena-Melnyk said.Barnes and Frush support the closure of the District of Columbia-controlled Oak Hill Youth Center, which has had several escapes. The problems have made surrounding neighborhoods feel unsafe.

Sood supports a Maryland version of California's "three strikes" law, which sentences defendants to life terms after their third conviction.

Frush, Barnes and Pena-Melnyk believe after-school programs are an important crime deterrent. From her experience as a prosecutor and public defender, Pena-Melnyk found that many juvenile crimes occur in the after-school hours when many children of single parents and dual-income families are unsupervised.

Barnes was one of those children. He recalls going to the Greenbelt Recreation Center after school while his single mother juggled two jobs. The supervised activities provided much-needed mentors for him.

Sood, who recently took the Maryland bar exam, would like to punish parents of juvenile offenders for not disciplining their children.

"It seems like a lot of parents don't care about their children or what's happening to their children," Sood said.

According to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the state Board of Elections, Sood has raised only $118.

Pena-Melnyk raised $55,692 and spent $41,850 by Sept. 1

The majority of the campaign donations came from individuals, including 30 percent from her family.

Barnes raised $62,565, spent $66,938 and had $10,000 in loans. His biggest donor was $6,000 from Marylanders for Miller, supporters of Barnes' former boss

Frush raised $21,460 and spent $18,759. Her largest donations came from business and political PACs. The Maryland Association of Realtors donated $6,000, the largest single amount

Barnes and Frush also had access to party PAC money: The Team Twenty-First Slate and The Twenty-First District Democrats Slate. The two organizations raised $123,466 and spent $88,377 to promote Barnes, Frush and other Democratic candidates.

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