Editor's Notebook: Wild Wild West Hyattsville
Make no mistake, the most interesting city races to watch this year are on the west side of town.
A wide open field for prospective West Hyattsville politicos looking for a seat on Gallatin Street
But who will run? It's a mystery for now, but whoever decides to will likely be competing for votes in a much more critically engaged neighborhood than in years past.
One council member from each ward is up for election this spring. Earlier this week, Councilor Ruth Ann Frazier (Ward 5) and Councilor Carlos Lizanne (Ward 4), whose seats are both up for election this May, revealed in media reports that they would be retiring from the dais.
News that Hyattsville's Wards 4 and 5 seats will be open for the spring mid-term municipal elections prompted Hyattsville Councilor Shani Warner (Ward 2) yesterday to email some West Hyattsville residents to pique their interest in running for office. A part of her ward also spills over into West Hyattsville as a result of the most recent round of redistricting.
"I've been so happy to see the community building going on in West Hyattsville," wrote Warner in an email to the West Hyattsville listserv. "I'd love to see some of the enthusiasm you've shown at community meetings, cleaning up the streets, and during public comment at Council meetings up on the dais itself. You're the ones who most directly know how the City can work to improve things."
West Hyattsville has seen something of a political and organizational awakening over the last year.
During that time, a small–but-growing grassroots cadre of West Hyattsville residents have begun organizing their neighborhoods, literally on a block by block basis, into a voice which has become remarkably effective at getting the city's policymakers to pay attention to their side of Queens Chapel Road.
The West Hyattsville awakening comes in the context of a bad news year for West Hyattsville. It has been a year which included a spike in burglaries in Wards 4 and 5 over its first nine months, a series of sexual assaults in the vicinity of the West Hyattsville Metro Station, and a perceived lack of development and infrastructure investment in the area.
But in response, the neighborhood has organized itself. A thriving email forum for West Hyattsville residents was started, becoming a place where municipal policy is discussed, community meetings are previewed, and where information about area crimes–often in the absence of official police information–are distributed. Key members of the ad hoc neighborhood association include Jennifer Kubit and Valrie Hames. The two have become regular fixtures in the council gallery over the last year, taking their time to advocate for West Hyattsville.
The group also has demonstrated its ability to mobilize residents. When they began raising concerns about burglaries in their neighborhood, they were able to turn out a full house to a community meeting with the police department at St. Matthews' church. It was something which would have been unimaginable without the organizational infrastructure developed within the neighborhood over the last year.
From that meeting came a determined, but informal effort to create a neighborhood watch. There are now regular neighborhood watch patrols. Police Chief Doug Holland has credited the newfound community civic engagement with helping police nab at least four suspects in a series of burglaries and break-ins over the last week.
Now, all this structure could be quite handy in a political campaign, too. It's a fact which has not gone unnoticed by Kubit, who has admitted in conversation that she has considered running for city council in the past. The problem at the time, she recalled, was that she had no way to get out a vote.
That might have changed over the last year.
Now, Warner, first elected in 2011, is pushing those involved in the awakening to run. While West Hyattsville's neighborhood activists mull a stab at local politics, Warner said that she's willing to offer advice.
"Just because you're curious doesn't commit you to anything," wrote Warner. "It's a tough decision to make to run, but a worthwhile thing to do. It's both easier and harder than I anticipated."