Democratic Maryland candidates take stage for US Senate seat forum

On Sunday, months after Maryland Senator Ben Cardin announced his retirement, several Democrats took the stage during a candidate forum in Bladensburg competing for his seat.

The seat is now a competitive battleground as Cardin leaves behind a decades-long political career.

Sunday’s event was held at Elizabeth Seton High School, put on by the Latino Democrats of Prince George’s County and included candidates who’ve fundraised more than $200,000 for their campaigns.

The candidates took questions from community members on issues relevant to the Latino community, Prince George’s County and beyond.

According to census data, 20.9% of people in Prince George’s County are Hispanic or Latino.

The three candidates who spoke onstage included history-making Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Maryland 6th District Congressmember and self-made businessman behind Total Wine & More David Trone and business executive and Gulf War Veteran Juan Dominguez.

7News also spoke with an additional candidate present outside the venue, Brian Frydenborg–an analyst and consultant.

Forum topics focused on issues impacting the Latino community, like immigration reform, representation in government and supporting Latino students in public schools.

One question posed to the candidates was, if elected, would their staff reflect the diversity of Maryland?

Candidates assured the audience their staff members are currently diverse, reflecting the rich cultural makeup of the area.

During one moment, the crowd broke into loud applause after Trone referred to Latinos as the “fastest-growing demography in the U.S.”

7News asked each of these candidates why they should win the Latino vote.

“I feel it’s a great opportunity for not only for Latinos to come together, but all people of color and working-class Marylanders to once and for all have representation for them first, and special interest way down the road,” Dominguez said.

“It’s been my honor to represent the Latino community in Prince George’s County, where we’ve created the first-ever multicultural affairs office Latino advisory group, we have supported Latino businesses through a business accelerator, we have built schools, including two, Sonya Sotomayor and Hyattsville Middle, that has a majority Latino population,” Alsobrooks said. “We have invested $15 million through the Latin American Youth Center and a new daycare center, that serves primarily our Latino families.”

“I recognize how important it is that immigrants are respected in this country because they are the building blocks of this country and what makes it so great,” Frydenborg said. “What Latino immigrants in this country want, what their descendants want–they want to take part in the American dream.”

“It’s a spectacular group of folks that are so industrious in building for the next generation, building on education, entrepreneurs everywhere,” Trone said. “We’ve got to help bring everybody along, so we can have the American dream that I’ve lived and I’ve been fortunate, and we need to bring those folks that are in the shadows and of course need a road to citizenship, and we need to resolve this issue on immigration.”

In exclusive one-on-one interviews, 7News also asked the candidates how they would prioritize fighting the growing crime crisis in the region and beyond.

Just last week, 7News reported on a town hall held at Bowie State University, focused on rising violent crime in Prince George’s County.

According to police data, violent crime is up 9% year-to-date.

RELATED | Maryland community members pack Bowie State University for forum on juvenile crime

“I think the first thing we have to do is help close the income inequality gap because crime usually stems from people who don’t have a lot of opportunity,” Dominguez said.

To close that gap, Dominguez is proposing a wealth tax “to help appropriate dollars.”

“We need to make sure our police departments are resourced, our prosecutors have the tools they need, to put away violent criminals,” Dominguez said.

“Crime is created as a result of lack of hope and lack of opportunity,” Alsobrooks said. “The reason I’ve pressed so hard to have jobs and increasing income, to have opportunity for our youth, to make sure we have access to healthcare and affordable housing–these are all the things that create crime.”

Crone highlighted workforce reentry for those exiting the criminal justice system.

“2.3 million people–95% will come back out if we get them a job, 75 percent, they make it,” Trone said. “But if we don’t get them a job, it’s the opposite way around, so we’ve got to get them a job, that’s where it starts. Education is the other piece, and it’s crucial, and we need teen centers. For those that are 10, 11 12, 13 years old, I built three in my district.”

“I think it’s very important that we focus on training police, really retraining,” Frydenborg said. “Defund the police is absolutely a mistake, but retraining the police is what we need to do.”

Frydenborg continued, “There’s way too much as we know bias in the criminal justice system against African Americans, there’s not enough treatment and social support. We need to focus on having a whole of government approach to crime.”

7News also asked how the candidates would work to decrease crime involving juvenile offenders.

“What we need to do is recreate and re-envision hope in areas like Prince George’s County and throughout the state, so young people see a path toward a brighter future,” Dominguez said.

“We have to work together with parents and community leaders to keep our children safe and to make sure that they are productive and that they are not participating in crime, and we have to hold them accountable,” Alsobrooks said.

“More cooperation between the different jurisdictions, Maryland, Virginia, D.C., because a lot of this goes across different lines, state lines,” Frydenborg said.

“You’ve got to give these young folks a place to go and something to do,” Trone said. “And that’s what we need to have throughout the state, community project funding everywhere, to address these young folks before they’re 16, 17, 18 and out of control.”

Candidates also shared their ideas to grapple with both the opioid and mental health crises.

“It’s amazing how so much ties to income inequality or income opportunity,” Dominguez said. “We need to create a healthcare-for-all system, where things such as mental health and opioid addiction and things of that nature can be addressed for all Americans.”

“We have to expand behavioral health services,” Alsobrooks said. “I’ve done this as county executive, creating the first-of-its-kind mental health and addictions care facility here.”

Alsobrooks added, “Make healthcare access easier for all of our families and make it affordable.”

“We definitely need to have a stronger system at the border, that doesn’t mean just throw troops on the border, it means having more staffed immigration courts, more staffed people at the state department to process applications, I even think there’s room for the United Nations on both sides of the border, to have refugee camps,” Frydenborg said.

For Trone, the fight against opioids took on a personal meaning after a devastating loss.

“I lost a nephew to fentanyl and addiction is a personal issue to us, mental health is a personal issue to us,” Trone said.

Of his legislative efforts, Trone continued, “We put together 26 bills last year–26 became law, all bipartisan because that’s the key. Biggest one is $8.75 billion for state opioid response grants. We’ve got to get the money to the states so they can do all the important things like crisis centers. We built one in Frederick, 24 hours, we have one under construction in Hagerstown.”

Candidates like Dominguez and Frydenborg said fighting youth fentanyl abuse will take international cooperation to try and restrict supply.

Alsobrooks, a mother, called youth fentanyl use “heartbreaking.”

“We have to work together with law enforcement and our health community to make sure that what is a public health crisis, is addressed as a public health crisis,” Alsobrooks said.

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