It’s frustrating to see a city divided across university lines. When one steps off the campus and travels along Route 1, that dichotomy becomes readily apparent. The university’s green expanses and red-bricked walls give way to the discordant sprawl of a city seemingly in decline. The division isn’t just physical, either. Excessive partying, noise violations, vandalism and the like have long raised tensions between students and permanent residents.
After witnessing the recent transformations of nearby cities, most notably Hyattsville and Bethesda, it frustrates us to see how little College Park has changed. With so much on the table in terms of citywide initiatives, it’s even more upsetting how few proposals have been actualized — especially considering how much effort university President Wallace Loh has put into improving the city.
Change appears to be on the horizon, though, if voters choose it. Matthew Popkin, a university graduate student and District 3 councilman hopeful, has run a convincing platform with concrete plans to reinvigorate a stagnant City Council.
This university is not an ivory tower, nor should it be. Lasting change necessitates effort from all parties: council members, university officials, developers, permanent residents and students.
As the city’s largest demographic, students and college-aged residents bear much of the onus for political participation. Popkin has taken strides to incorporate the university community in this year’s electoral process and has helped bring about several initiatives geared toward enhancing student-resident relations, including the recent university-sanctioned campus tailgates and Code of Student Conduct expansion.
If elected, Popkin has stated, he will strive to implement recommendations put forth by the Neighborhood Stabilization and Quality of Life Workgroup and bring developers, City Council members and university officials to the table to discuss long-term goals for the city.
Meanwhile, College Park is also seeing its first contested mayoral race in 24 years. Montgomery County science teacher Bob McCeney has twice run for a seat in District 3, and he now aims to unseat Mayor Andy Fellows, who has held the position since 2009.
While Fellows has overseen much of the malaise that has come to define city politics and political engagement over the past four years, McCeney has yet to provide a reason to hand him the keys. Fellows, who has much more experience with political activism, as the Chesapeake regional director at environmental nonprofit Clean Water Fund, deserves your vote.
And in District 1, where Benjamin Mellman, a senior aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering major is running against incumbents Fazlul Kabir and Patrick Wojahn for the district’s two seats, the race has also been quiet.
Kabir and Wojahn have welcomed Mellman’s competition for the seats, and their less contentious campaigns for the two seats have reflected that attitude.
Wojahn is the candidate who stands out. A major part of the Neighborhood Stabilization and Quality of Life Workgroup and its proceeding committee, and an active and vocal member of the City Council since 2007, Wojahn deserves his seat back this year. His actions have stood out in the primarily lethargic politics of our college town.
With constant turnover in the voter base due to matriculation and graduation, that apathy can seem inevitable. It’s easy to point and laugh at our political culture, dismiss voting as pointless and move on with our lives.
But elections matter. Voting matters. Take a look at Arts District Hyattsville, a rejuvenated downtown just a bit further along Route 1, to see an area that has transformed in just the past few years with an active City Council and a strategic development plan. Then take a look at downtown College Park, which, despite some flashes of potential, looks essentially the same as it did two years ago. And four years ago.
Popkin embodies the type of engagement and activism we need from students to make College Park a real college town. If we as a student body don’t become more engaged and treat City Council elections with the importance they deserve, we’ll be looking back in 2015, wondering why our downtown still hasn’t changed — and knowing we could’ve done more.