Over the past week, Route 1 Reporter has interviewed – as of this writing – 12 of the 13 candidates seeking elected office in Hyattsville. Each candidate was asked the same five questions — a kind of personal introduction for the city’s voters.
Our interview with Ben Simasek who is running to replace outgoing Ward Three Councilor Tom Wright, is below. Simasek is running against Matthew Fraterman.
The questions were not shared with the candidates beforehand. While questions are not very hard-hitting — any politician unable to improvise an answer to these questions should probably not be in politics — they elicited a remarkable variety of responses from among the candidates.
Route 1 Reporter will be publishing transcripts of these interviews every day this week, one ward per day, with the mayoral candidates on Monday as well.
Hyattsville’s election season concludes May 7, 2019. All five wards, plus the mayor’s race, are competitive.
Route 1 Reporter: Tell me about yourself. How did you come to live in Hyattsville?
Ben Simasek: I was born in Baltimore and originally was from Maryland. I grew up mostly in Pennsylvania. I went to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon for public policy and management. I ended up moving to the D.C. area in my second year of grad school because I had an apprenticeship – basically a fellowship — with Peace Corps. I still work there currently second year of Grad School while I was working and then ended up buying a house in Hyattsville in 2015.
R1R: Why are you running for City Council?
Simasek: I’m running for City Council because I think it’s very important my neighbors have a two-way communication channel with the city and are connected with the decisions that are made that affect their daily lives and also to make sure that when people bring things to my attention that I’m able to help advocate for them and kind of unify our voices to have a say in local matters.
Hyattsville, particularly the area that I live in, Ward Three, it’s under a development boom right now and there’s a lot of new construction going on. I want to make sure that there are resources that are that are coming in, in terms of school facilities fees are allocated to expanding our local schools. And I want to make sure that housing remains affordable for people who have lived here for a long time. I want to make sure that we preserve our beautiful green areas and kind of maintain some of the character that still is Hyattsville for a lot of people.
R1R: All of the races this year are competitive. Why should people vote for you?
Simasek: I’ve been engaged with local issues since I moved here. I am a volunteer reporter with the Hyattsville Life & Times, so through that I’ve done my best to try to stay informed them on development issues and what’s going on. I volunteer with the city’s new tutoring program with tutoring math. I have coordinated park cleanups since moving here. I’ve done my best to get out and meet neighbors. I’ve helped people with shoveling snow, with yard work when they need it. In terms of serving on the Council, I have experience with community service and with a government service and budgeting.
In my day job, I’m actually an information technology analyst. So I’m taking a lot of different business and finding ways to improve processes and leverage our resources and information effectively. I want to be able to serve Hyattsville in that manner. I want to be open to my neighbors. I’m fluent in Spanish, so I’m hoping to connect to some of the Hispanic population in this area that has historically has been a little bit disconnected from city politics, maybe due to the language barrier, but, there may be other reasons behind that too.
R1R: What is a unique skill or perspective you would bring to the job if elected?
Simasek: I just mentioned fluency in Spanish. My wife is an immigrant, so she brings a lot of perspective to me about being new to this country and learning things. In terms of my skills, the things I find myself interested in is process improvement. I want to be able to help people engage more in what’s going on locally. I think Hyattsville has done a really good job at trying to implement kind of a participatory development approach with the Speak Up HVL online forum. There are all kinds of programming for youth or adults.
And I’ve had a variety of jobs in Pennsylvania. I coordinated after-school programs for the children of migrant workers. I also taught English as a second language classes through a Hispanic NGO in my hometown in Pennsylvania. So I have a broad range of experience both in public policy and programs. I’m an environmentalist and I’m a volunteer with Anacostia watershed society. So I think I have a lot of different perspectives that I can try to bring to the Council but it’s not necessarily all about me either. I want to try to help my neighbors bring their perspectives also to the city and help people engage within some of the current programming and events that are going on and help people have their voices heard.
R1R: What is the most-pressing issue facing Hyattsville?
Simasek: I live in the University Hills neighborhood. It’s one of the last areas that’s surrounded by green space. There’s kind of a constant pressure to develop and build townhomes, basically cut down the forests and build townhomes right up to the edge. We have transportation issues that are caused by the population boom. Our elementary schools and middle schools are overcrowded. A lot of our kids are having classes in temporary trailers right now. I know the county has plans for new schools, but that’s an issue. I know the city has a School Facilities Task Force that’s trying to advise the Council’s recommendations for new school facilities and spaces.
A lot of areas are under pressure from the development boom. There’s been a lot of controversy about the Magruder Pointe proposal and the open space that is currently adjacent to Magruder Park should be developed into townhomes. And along with that comes affordability. Everyone wants to find affordable housing in the D.C. region. And Hyattsvillle is one of the hot areas. People have been here for a long time and have found their property taxes go up. But also property values go up. We want to make sure that people of all ages — young families and elderly immigrants and people from everywhere — are able to call Hyattsville home and afford to live here. Those are the things that are the top of my mind. But I’m sure there’s a litany of issues that affect people – things for teens to do, for example, keeping kids safe and engaged in positive things. That’s something I’m also concerned about.