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Hyattsville’s mayoral debate revealed two candidates – interim Mayor Kevin Ward and Ward Five City Councilor Joseph Solomon – as rhetorical front runners in the three-way campaign for the city’s top job. Benefiting from the experience of their years on Hyattsville City Council, both Ward and Solomon were able to respond at length and in passable detail to a range of questions from the moderator, Hyattsville Life & Times editor Maria James. The same could not be said of Austin Martinez, a young political activist and longtime city resident, whose answers lacked detail and often simply restated the importance or necessity of the topic at hand without saying much beyond that.
The debate between Ward and Solomon also highlighted the contrasts between the two candidates.
Solomon’s messaging framed himself as a politician in the activist mold. An eight-year veteran of City Council, he highlighted his advocacy on racial and social justice issues, frequently noted his relationships with county and state lawmakers, and argued Hyattsville’s mayor should be an activist outside of the city’s borders in order to bring more resources and attention to the city.
“We forget that as the mayor you are the political leader of this city and you need to make sure your voice is heard,” said Solomon.
Ward’s messaging was managerial and pragmatic. Contrasting himself with Solomon, he claimed he had a more hyperlocal focus, and said he was less concerned with relationships with lawmakers outside the city’s borders. In the end, he said he has “delivered results for the city” in his six years on City Council.
“I’m running for mayor because I am here for Hyattsville,” said Ward. “This is not a campaign based on who I know and what they can do for me. This is a campaign based on who I am and what I can do for the city.”
Martinez tried to frame himself as a committed civic activist up to the task of managing a city with a $23 million budget. He noted county and state-level activism, and said he worked to help students at Northwestern High School. But his inexperience showed as he struggled to flesh out his answers on more policy-heavy questions.
Responding to a question from Hyattsville Community Development Corp. Executive Director Stuart Eisenberg on the topic of how the city can partner with nonprofits to help businesses affected by the pandemic, Martinez said not much more than “creating and deploying resources to ensure the security of our small businesses is essential to growing our economy” and that the city should be “expediting an agenda that is effective on their behalf.”
Ward, responding to the same question with a tad more detail, said the city needed to be flexible, and floated the idea of bridge loans, rent stabilization, and to work “within the realm” of the city to bring people and businesses to Hyattsville.
“What is important to me is making sure businesses feel welcome in Hyattsville,” said Ward. “For some, that may be hey I need help keeping the front of my business clean, or hey I want to use these four spaces outside my restaurant for dining…We are equipped to help businesses find the answers.”
Solomon, also responding to the same question, noted his support of a measure expanding the city’s covid relief fund to artists and tradespeople and referenced work with the Hamilton Street Business Coalition on quality-of-life issues.
“The financial impact of covid has certainly taken its toll,” said Solomon. “I don’t think that means we have to diminish our efforts. It means we have to go harder.”
A question about pedestrian safety saw Ward take a swipe at Solomon’s record on the issue. Responding first to the question, which asked what policies the candidates would pursue to enhance pedestrian and cyclists safety, Solomon said he was a long-time supporter of bridging the Trolley Trail gap on Rhode Island Avenue. Ward, replying, noted Solomon voted against a measure in 2015 establishing that project as a city priority to discuss during an annual reception between city leaders and county and state legislators.
“I’m happy that Mr. Solomon now supports the Trolley Trail,” said Ward.
Solomon rebutted. He accused Ward of mis-representing his vote on the matter, saying he voted against it knowing it would pass, and he said it was during an exercise in which Council was trying to rank its legislative priorities. Just before his mic was silenced by the timekeeper, Solomon also noted he supported or proposed several other transportation-related priorities during that meeting.
An early question focused on campaign finances. The question came a day after campaign finance reports were due at city hall. Solomon reported more than $42,000 in expenditures, an eye-opening sum for city council races, mostly on consulting and mailers. Ward reported roughly $11,000 in expenditures. Martinez’s reports remain past-due.
Solomon said his large expenditures, all self-funded, were partly necessary due to the pandemic.
“When my campaign team sat down and talked about what it would take to win a race in a pandemic, we understood early on that we cannot run a traditional campaign,” said Solomon. “I don’t mind putting my money where my mouth is, or where my work is.”
Ward said he did not anticipate spending this much on his campaign, but Solomon’s efforts forced his hand.
“One of my opponents came out with a lot of mailers and I had to respond to that,” said Ward. “I am not trying to spend a lot of money to win a campaign. I am trying to work within the expectations of a community that quite frankly hasn’t seen this much money spent on a mayoral campaign.”
Martinez, the lone late filer, said “running a campaign is a huge responsibility and you learn as you go.”
“We have spent a good amount of money, but I do intend on following the policies of Hyattsville,” said Martinez.
Correction: This article has been updated from an earlier version which incorrectly listed Ward’s campaign contributions amount as the amount of his expenditures.