The Rev. John E. Richardson, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's County Community Organizations (Courtesy photo)
The Rev. John E. Richardson, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's County Community Organizations (Courtesy photo)

Although candidates on the June 2 presidential primary election ballot aren’t allowed to conduct the traditional grassroots efforts chatting with voters in person and knocking on doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, they can still reach them virtually.

The Coalition of Central Prince George’s County Community Organizations held a virtual meet-and-greet Saturday with more than two dozen participants to hear candidates on the school board and judge for Circuit Court. The organizations are those based in legislative Districts 24, 25 and 47, and some from District 26.

The Rev. John E. Richardson, chair of the coalition, said this helps some residents who remain undecided on choosing a candidate, especially with some residents just recently receiving their ballots.

“They would like to make an informed decision about who they would like to vote for,” he said. “This gives them an opportunity to put a face with a name on the ballot.”

Four school board candidates joined the conversation competition in two races for seats in Districts 4 and 7.

Alexis Branch, a 2019 graduate from Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, was the only candidate from District 7, which includes Arrowhead Elementary in Upper Marlboro, Benjamin Stoddert Middle in Temple Hills and Suitland High in Forestville.

Branch, who graduated from Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine in 2016, outlined parts of her platform such as universal pre-kindergarten, passports for high school students to travel abroad and advocacy.

“I will personally be a mentor to your kids,” said Branch, who’s currently in graduate school at Bowie State University. “I know the board’s role is to push a financial budget and create policy, but I also think the board has a role in advocating for the funds that we are not receiving.”

Branch will appear on the ballot with incumbent K. Alexander Wallace, a graduate of Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro and a former legislative and constituent aide for the late state Sen. Ulysses Currie. He works as a finance manager for DARCARS Automotive.

Kenneth F. Harris II, the other candidate on the District 7 ballot, is a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and works as a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

Branch has a few similarities with one of the District 4 school board candidates, Shayla Adams-Stafford, in speaking fluent Spanish and support for an all-elected school board. Adams-Stafford is the only non-incumbent who received an endorsement from Progressive Maryland.

Besides work as an instructional coach training teachers, Adams-Stafford runs a nonprofit organization called RemixEducation, which seeks to provide resources for first-generation college students.

She said COVID-19 will affect the future of education.

“When we return to school, it’s going to be much different than what we envisioned school being like previously,” she said. “Students may have to come to school on a rotating schedule. There will not be as many students within a classroom. Students will have to think about masks. All of these are considerations that need [attention].”

She and four of the other District 4 candidates seek to replace current board member Bryan Swann, who was sworn in in January after the appointment by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. Swann works as deputy director of the Office of Financial Management for the U.S. Department of Treasury. He formerly worked for the Obama administration.

Swann spoke Saturday with a focus to relieve overcrowding, train teachers and close the digital divide where every student receives some form of technology.

Besides bilingual education, Swann said another form of language students should learn is coding, financial literacy and business entrepreneurship.

“All these trade and skills are all different languages that we need to invest in,” he said. “I’m in a big believer in children being bilingual … but we also need to invest in those other languages.”

The other District 4 candidate, Mohammed Ali, said creating partnerships with parents would help boost student achievement, especially when some students are struggling.

As a math and science professor at Prince George’s Community College, Ali sees some incoming students who enroll in remedial courses with similar coursework they took in middle school.

“It’s kind of bothersome, which meant that schools are not preparing the students,” he said. “When they come to college, they’re really not ready.”

The ballot shows two other candidates running for the District 4 seat: Trina D. Brown; and Alethia J. Simmons. District 4 with schools include Beacon Heights Elementary in Riverdale, Kenmoor Middle in Landover and Bladensburg High.

Gladys Weatherspoon, a defense attorney with a practice in Largo, is one of seven candidates seeking five open spots as Circuit Court judge and the only candidate to present her platform.

She said the coronavirus pandemic has shown not everyone needs to be incarcerated, especially those on pretrial and charged with misdemeanor offenses. Between March 1 and April 24, the number of county inmates decreased from 720 to 534.

“This whole thing about putting everybody in jail … defeats the purpose,” Weatherspoon said. “All these people didn’t have to be detained.”

April Ademiluyi, an attorney who practices real estate and intellectual property, joins Weatherspoon in running an independent campaign for the Circuit Court.

Both women face a slate of current judges — Bryon Seth Bereano, Wytonja Curry, ShaRon M. Grayson Kelsey, Jared Michael McCarthy and Cathy H. Serrette — all appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

A prospective candidate can seek election to the bench by just being an attorney.

Judge races are nonpartisan, so all seven candidates will be placed on both the Democratic and Republican ballots.

The top five vote-getters on either ballot will appear on the November general election ballot. The winners will serve 15-year terms.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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