Update Jan. 28, 2022: Mayor Ward died suddenly on Jan. 25, 2022. The Hyattsville Life & Times extends our condolences to his family.
City Administrator Tracey Douglas said in a statement on Jan. 27, “Mayor Ward was the bright center of our local government; a role model for his fellow Council members, for our City staff, and for the whole Hyattsville community, especially young people of color. He could connect with everyone and truly listened, bringing forward ideas to staff and Council to address issues he was hearing. His absence is felt deeply, but his light was so bright I know he will continue to serve as an inspiration to many.”
The new Interim Mayor Robert Croslin shared, “I miss my friend terribly, and take this new position with a very heavy heart. But I know my Council colleagues are joining me in sharpening our focus on the things Mayor Ward stood for. Kevin wanted to make Hyattsville better for every resident, no matter who they were or where they came from. We will not let his vision and determination go to rest with him.”
By Kit Slack
At 9:05 on the morning of Dec. 17, 2021, Hyattsville Mayor Kevin “Scooter” Ward strode into a light-filled office, threw out a wilting houseplant, put the coffee on and sat down. He was there to answer questions from residents; questions brought to him by the Hyattsville Life & Times (HL&T).
Under his open orange dress shirt Ward wore a black T-shirt with the words “radically inclusive” in white capitals. Black jeans topped white sneakers with little green swooshes.
Ward took office at the end of 2020. He first became mayor by default: He was city council president when then-mayor Candace Hollingsworth stepped down. Ward then won a mayoral election in May 2021. In spring 2023, he will be up for reelection for a four-year term.
A search of recently passed legislation shows that, as mayor, Ward has co-sponsored the purchase of Bolawrap (lasso-gun restraints for police use), COVID-19 aid for local restaurants, preservation of the Hamilton Manor apartment building as affordable housing, the changing of the name Magruder Park to David C. Driskell Community Park and, most recently, the creation of an outdoor event space, The Spot.
Hyattsville mayors are part-time city employees. In his day job, Ward works as a director of technology for KIPP DC, which runs 20 charter schools in the District.
Resolutions for 2022
Asked what he’d like to do differently in 2022, Ward said he wishes he could focus less on the pandemic. “But that’s not happening, because everyone’s not doing what they are supposed to.”
He hopes in 2022 to find ways to be less reactive, and see more initiatives through from start to finish. “Execution is everything. It really doesn’t matter what you do for someone if you do it poorly. For me, it’s about having a comprehensive approach to solve common problems that extends beyond treating them as discrete issues.”
Ward’s priorities for 2022 include affordable housing, adult education, and services for youth and seniors.
The HL&T asked the mayor several questions from residents about affordable housing.
Ward says he is looking to patch the gap between housing prices and the housing needs of “all the people we’ve been talking about the last 21 months — nurses, policemen, firemen.”
While Ward lived in affordable housing as a child, he has also worked in finance. He said he understands that developers typically cannot find financing for projects that include much affordable housing.
“I say it this way to my staff, ‘How might we work on the financing problem? How can the city intercede and work with the county and the state?’” He looks for well-researched approaches that include mechanisms that the city can control.
Ward is interested in developing an affordable housing fund from which developers can take loans — an independent nonprofit. He said his dream would be to buy four- and eight-plexes and keep them affordable.
Ward said negotiating directly with developers sometimes makes sense. He gave the example of the AvalonBay development, an apartment complex planned for a parking lot immediately behind the Mall at Prince George’s.
The developers presented to the city council in December 2021. Ward says he typically asks questions of presenters before meetings. However, in this case, he asked a question in the meeting to make a public point: Since the developers are a private equity fund, financing themselves, he believes they can and should set aside apartments for affordable housing. Ward contends that rather than planning for some level of vacancy, they should plan affordable units.
Ward mentioned a number of affordable housing strategies that he doesn’t support, including tax credits, which he said can be sold rather than used for building locally, and rent control. He said that he has seen for himself that rent control can cause buildings to fall into disrepair.
In response to a Hyattsville tenant, who pointed to affordable housing requirements for developers in Montgomery County and the District, Ward said Maryland is a county-strong state, and Hyattsville has to lobby the county on development rules.
“I have a philosophy called bringing solutions,” Ward said. “We bring solutions to the county. What we’ve seen in the past four years is that the county council and the district council have not been amenable to what we’ve requested. That makes it hard. That is a drain on our resources, and it’s a drain on the taxpayer when we go to court.”
Speaking of lawsuits, a resident of Longfellow Street asked why the city did not publicly oppose Werrlein Properties’ redevelopment of a vacant property adjacent to Driskell Park and why the city’s active code enforcement staff had not cited Werrlein for violations of city code.
“I don’t know how you get more public than going to court,” Ward said with a smile. “Theatrics are not my personality. I’m not going to be a blowhard and go on Twitter.”
According to Ward, the city’s code enforcement and permitting staff have been very active in Werrlein’s Suffrage Point development. “When we see it, we cite it,” he said. However, while the city can issue fines, “the county is the only one who can issue a stop work order.”
Ward said the county has been more aggressive about enforcement at the Werrlein site in the past few years. City staff have been working hard on aggregating complaints and asking the county what the plan is for addressing them.
“I think it’s important for people to understand where we sit. If this were a family dinner, we’d be at the kids’ table.”
A member of Hyattsville’s advisory Shade Tree Board described a development planned for 12 wooded acres near Northwestern High School, the Clay Property. She asked what could be done to ensure a 150-foot wooded buffer between existing homes and the planned townhouses, as well as “what can be done to make sure that the replacement trees that the developer is required to plant get planted in Hyattsville.” According to a county analysis of the developers’ plan, developers will preserve 2 acres of forest onsite and conserve 4 acres offsite in order to satisfy the county’s woodland conservation requirements.
Ward said that in this case, the city has consistently asked for a wooded buffer of at least 150 feet between existing homes and the new townhouses. However, the developer is not obligated to comply.
While Ward said he understands that people don’t want to be told what to do with their trees — “that’s why people love and hate HOAs [homeowners associations]” — he said that over the past 15 years, he has come to understand the critical role of tree canopies in combating climate change.
He added that he will look into whether there was a way to get the developer to plant the required replacement trees in Hyattsville.
Another resident expressed concern about crime in the city, citing recent violent incidents and mentioning a potentially understaffed police force. Ward offered balanced reassurance. “We are making progress,” he said. While much crime is random, “people don’t know about the crimes we’ve thwarted.” Ward also noted that the police department is nearly fully staffed, and that he has an immense amount of faith in the department’s new leadership.
Traffic on east-west arterials
A Jefferson Street resident asked what could be done to slow and reduce traffic.
Citing Jefferson Street, specifically, Ward said the city had approved a traffic calming initiative that should go into effect in the spring. He also noted that the city is working to remove Jefferson Street and Queensbury Road from directional navigational tools, which could route out-of-town traffic to larger state roads like the East-West Highway.
Ward noted, however, that “bisecting arteries are going to have traffic as we become a more and more attractive locale.”
Ward said he prefers comprehensive traffic studies to spot-traffic studies, though he also thinks Hyattsville’s 2018 transportation study may be outdated.
A representative from Hyattsville Aging in Place asked about Ward’s priorities for seniors. Ward supports comprehensive, multigenerational services.
He believes the city should maintain a list of vulnerable seniors, and hopes to build a citizen emergency response team to help seniors in crisis.
Other services Ward supports include exercise classes, adult education and book clubs.
Ward imagines programming that would bring together Hyattsville youth and seniors, allowing each to teach the other new skills.
How to get city help
A member of Hyattsville’s resident-organized email group, HOPE, wanted to know whether Ward reads group conversations about issues like loose dogs and loud cars.
While Ward said he does read the HOPE daily digest, he encourages residents to reach out directly through city-sponsored channels like email@example.com, noting that these channels, managed by city staff, are open to everyone and carefully monitored.
Finally, a resident of the Historic District asked about Ward’s shoes, a topic we have covered before. Ward said that he has more than 800 pairs of sneakers, which he keeps in a storage locker that he visits several times a month.
“I love sneakers. I’ve always loved sneakers.”
Growing up, he wanted Jordan 1 Chicago shoes but couldn’t afford them. Once he could, he started buying. A fan of urban streetwear, he wears sneakers with everything, including suits.
He said he wears them not so much to show off as to pay homage to where he came from.
Have a question for the mayor or someone else you think we should talk to for this new series of interviews with city staff? Email your question or suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.