Six Candidates Running for District 20 House Seat Make Their Case at Silver Spring Forum

Candidates detailed their positions on issues ranging from the environment to marijuana and criminal justice reform


The six candidates at the forum Thursday night, from left to right: Yvette Butler-Yeboah, Lorig Charkoudian, Amy Cress, Daniel Koroma, Darian Unger, Jheanelle Wilkins. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Few differences arose between the candidates running to fill the vacant District 20 House of Delegates seat at a Silver Spring forum Thursday night.

The six running for an appointment to the seat all described themselves as staunch progressives who want to go to Annapolis to work on issues such as protecting the environment, ensuring access to healthcare and legalizing marijuana. One of the six candidates will be appointed by the 28-member Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee to fill the seat vacated by now-state Sen. Will Smith, who was chosen by the committee to fill the Senate seat vacated by now-U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin.

The central committee is scheduled to choose one of the candidates to fill the seat that represents the Silver Spring and Takoma Park area at 7 p.m. Monday in the cafeteria of the Silver Spring International Middle School at 313 Wayne Ave.

During the two-hour forum, the candidates never addressed each other, but instead discussed their backgrounds and priorities. The committee asked the candidates to provide a series of one-minute answers to three questions at once, which left little time for the candidates to expound on specific issues, but also forced them to focus their answers.

A sizable crowd filled the room at the Silver Spring Civic Center Thursday to listen to the six candidates. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Yvette Butler-Yeboah, founder and president of GapBuster, an organization focused on closing the achievement gap in public schools and increasing the academic performance of minority students, said she would prioritize legislation to set guidelines for the shackling of pregnant women who are being arrested by police and work with the Fraternal Order of Police to gain its support for police accountability measures. Butler-Yeboah said she supported legalizing marijuana and would like to institute higher taxes on gun sales—similar to cigarette and alcohol taxes.

Lorig Charkoudian, executive director of Community Mediation Maryland, which focuses its work on conflict resolution, cited her ongoing work to open the Takoma Park shared-use Community Kitchen and as an advocate for legislation designed to reduce recidivism in Maryland’s criminal justice system. Charkoudian, who has a doctorate in economics from Johns Hopkins University and is a Takoma Park resident, said she would like to work on the Justice Reinvestment Act in Annapolis—a measure designed to reform sentencing guidelines and redirect to crime prevention the money saved by reducing the costs associated with jailing offenders.

Amy Cress, director of communications for the Easter Seals organization in the D.C. region, highlighted her advocacy on gun control issues. The Silver Spring resident said she wants to work on legislation that would create a process for domestic violence offenders to turn over handguns they own at the time of their arrest. She said legalizing marijuana would be an opportunity to bring a “shadow market” into the open and fill the state’s coffers with new tax revenue.

Daniel Koroma said his role as outreach manager to the African and Caribbean communities for the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships has provided the opportunity to help individuals and families in Silver Spring who lost their homes or jobs connect with county resources. He said he has attended more than 460 community meetings and dealt with the pressing issues of poverty and underemployment that he said many residents in the Silver Spring district face.

“That’s the reason why I’m running,” Koroma, of Silver Spring, said. “If I get the privilege to go to Annapolis, those are the stories I’ll bring with me.”

Darian Unger, an associate professor at the Howard University School of Business, an environmental engineer and a volunteer firefighter, said that if he’s appointed to the position, he wants to serve on the House Environment and Transportation Committee to work on limiting the effects of global warming. He said banning fracking and increasing the state’s renewable energy portfolio would be important first steps to curtailing global warming, which he said was an issue of “paramount importance.”

Unger, a Silver Spring resident, added he would be a champion of equality and cited his experience as a Silver Spring volunteer firefighter. “In the fire department we go to every neighborhood, every house and everyone is treated equally,” he said.

Jheanelle Wilkins, the only candidate who is also a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, cited her experience working on immigration reform and civil rights at the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She said she was proud of her work in the past General Assembly session advocating for the successful passage of a bill that eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. The Silver Spring resident said her childhood spent living “almost in poverty” as a Jamaican immigrant provided her with experiences and perspective that she could bring to Annapolis. She said she would support full legalization of marijuana, but with a caveat—that those who receive licenses issued to grow and sell marijuana represent the state’s diverse population.

“We’ve already seen that the licenses [for medical marijuana] that have been issued are severely lacking in diversity,” Wilkins said.

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