Donnell Allen meticulously colored a forest with green and brown markers at the first annual Community School Art Showcase inside the Fairmount Heights Municipal Building.
The 12-year-old sixth-grader at Robert Gray Elementary lives in a town of nearly 1,500 in Prince George’s County along the District’s Northeast border lined with 20th century homes, home to the Maryland 1A high school boys basketball team and member of the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance.
The town also has a reputation of being labeled “The Heights,” a streetwise term for living in the ‘hood, or ghetto community.
Colorful election signs sprinkled on a few front lawns throughout the town highlighted a contested mayoral race between incumbent Patricia M. Waiters and Lillie Thompson-Martin. The town joined 10 other municipalities in the county to hold local elections Monday, May 1.
“Before Ms. Waiters became mayor, she was always doing things in the community,” said Donnell’s aunt, Tonya Malone, 34, born and raised in Fairmount Heights. “We are the best little small community that’s built together and standing strong for a large town. She’s a part of making that happen.”
Irene Woodruff, 74, another lifelong Fairmount Heights resident, knows both Waiters and Thompson-Marlin. In front of Woodruff’s 20th century home is a red “Thompson-Martin for mayor” sign.
“She follows more of what I like,” Woodruff said while sitting on her porch.
Woodruff may be pleased with the unofficial election results Monday because Thompson-Martin, a retired UPS worker, received 131 votes to return as mayor. Waiters received 110 votes.
The town of nearly 1,500 has more than 900 registered voters.
In the meantime, one of Thompson-Martin’s main agenda items will be to repair a trash truck that’s sat idly for the last six weeks. The town continues to hire a contractor to collect garbage twice a week, she said.
“We have the agenda from the residents from the town of Fairmount Heights and make sure they are attended to,” said Thompson-Martin, who chose not to seek re-election for mayor in 2015. “We have to work to do and we will do it together.”
Waiters, who retired in January from Metro and now works as a substitute teacher at Imagine Lincoln Public Charter School in Temple Hills, could not be reached for comment after the town’s election supervisor read the results.
Some local races allow officials to retain a certain position for several years for a variety of reasons, such as uncontested races or voter apathy.
Jim Peak, research director of the Maryland Municipal League in Annapolis that advocates on behalf of municipalities, said the state’s “Home Rule” law passed in 1954 allows them to manage themselves.
The state of Maryland and its 157 municipalities provide local services such as police and fire protection, public works and code enforcement.
Although counties such as Prince George’s provide trash pickup, snow removal and other services for unincorporated communities such as Adelphi, Largo and Oxon Hill, municipal officials usually seek county assistance in applying for grants and police and fire protection.
State law allows municipalities to hold local elections whenever they choose, even with the 27 in Prince George’s.
Voters in Hyattsville and University Park chose their respective candidates Tuesday, May 2, while Eagle Harbor residents will vote for their elected town officials Aug. 12. Voters in the city of College Park will take their turn Nov. 7.
According to the county’s list of municipal elections, none will take place during next year’s primary on June 26, 2018.
The home rule charter also permits for municipalities to determine an official’s term in office.
Those elected in Fairmount Heights run for office every two years. The city of Bowie changed its election rules in November 2015 to change terms from two to four years.
The only election support provided to Prince George’s municipalities from the county’s Board of Elections are election cards.
Peak said low voter turnout depends on a particular topic going on in a town or city.
“The biggest thing would be a hot issue within the municipality … which would affect voter turnout,” Peak said. “In the end, home rule allows municipalities to govern themselves.”
Although municipalities have thousands of people registered to vote, the majority of them don’t.
The town of Cheverly had contested council races in three of its six wards Monday, including a battle for the open seat in Ward 2 between Nick D’Angelo and Julian Ivey, the 21-year-old son of former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey.
As of noon Monday, slightly more than 200 votes had been cast, out of more than 4,500 registered voters.
Election results weren’t available before The Informer went to press. However, preliminary results in Mount Rainier had Mayor Malinda Miles winning a fourth four-year term with 486 voters over Ward 1 Councilman Jesse Christopherson, who received 410 votes.
Celinda Benetiz, who ran on Christopherson’s ticket, will take his seat after she garnered 331 votes. Her opponent, Charnette Robinson, picked up 155 votes.
The city of 8,500 has 3,900 registered voters.
Voter apathy is a topic that election researchers, voter advocates and activists are still trying to understand.
The National Association of Secretaries of States hosted a discussion Feb. 17 in Northwest about voter confidence in the November election.
Rebecca Mark, vice president of Porter Novelli public relations firm in Northwest which assisted in a survey completed by Democracy Fund, said about 85 percent of voters in the November election “had a pleasant experience” in voting.
However, Mark said about 24 percent of black voters felt intimidation when at the ballot box, or when they mailed in their vote, compared to 12 percent of whites.
“As we all know, having a positive experience at a personal level is the thing that really starts to really bolster individual’s feeling and confident in the process,” she said. “The experience may have been the same [for black voters], but it’s the perception that is different. If the perception is different, that’s just one more thing that starts to nag at that sense: Democracy, the way that it works right now is not necessarily for me.”