Election Update: The Latest on the Laurel Elections
By Joe Murchison
16 candidates certified
All 16 candidates who filed to run for mayor and city council have now been certified by the Laurel Board of Election Supervisors:
Mayor: Seeta Deonauth, Martin Mitchell, Brencis Smith, Keith Sydnor and Sophady Uong
City Council At-Large (one seat): Christine Johnson, Enrico McCleary II and Adrian Simmons
City Council Ward 1 (two seats): Carl DeWalt, James Kole, Connie Lucas and Stephen Wallace
City Council Ward 2 (two seats): Kyla Clark, Melvin Lindsley, Thomas Matthews Jr. and Jeffrey Mills
The election will be on Nov. 7, with early voting on Nov. 4. Citizens registered to vote through the state of Maryland or Prince George’s County are eligible to vote in the city election. For same-day registration, residents must provide a state-issued Identification card and a utility bill showing their home address. The polling places are the Laurel Municipal Center, 8103 Sandy Spring Road, for Ward 1 and the DiPietro Community Center, 7901 Cypress Street, for Ward 2.
Mills reinstituted as candidate
Jeffrey Mills was cleared as a candidate for Ward 2 city councilmember on Aug. 21 after the city’s board of appeals reversed a decision by the board of election supervisors to disqualify him.
The elections board had ruled that Mills’ late filing of campaign finance reports after he ran for council in 2021, plus his two-year delay until May 2023 in paying $2,000 in fines related to the late filings, justified a four-year ban on his running for city office.
However, city attorney Lawrence Taub noted that the ordinance that allows such a ban links it to the commission of a misdemeanor Taub noted that any criminal charges had to be determined by a court and not by the city elections board.
Board of appeals chairman Frederick Smalls said he considered a ban on running to be too severe a penalty for late payment of the fines, even if said payment is two years late. “Once the fine is paid, you’re made whole,” he said.
Mills protests signs featuring Sydnor
Jeffrey Mills has launched an attack on mayoral candidate Keith Sydnor using a picture of Sydnor dressed as a city public works employee and riding on a sanitation truck.
Mills, a supporter of mayoral candidate Martin Mitchell, has placed the Sydnor photo on signs, a T-shirt and the door of one of Mills’ vehicles with the message: “Be true to Laurel! Fake news.”
Mills said on Aug. 21 that he had seen the image on a campaign mailer from Sydnor. “It disgusts me,” he said. “[Sydnor] said he was for DPW [Department of Public Works], but he was against DPW unionizing.” Mills also said he felt the picture dishonored the memory of a public works employee who was struck by a car and killed in 2017 while working on a sanitation truck.
Sydnor said he rode on the sanitation truck last spring for four hours to see what public works employees experience on the job. It was DPW Appreciation Week, and also a time when public works employees were seeking collective bargaining rights with complaints about work conditions and pay, he said. Sydnor said he was pro-union and did not think his actions related to the killed worker. “As a leader, you always want to go down to the front lines and find out what’s happening there.”
City workers have taken down Mills’ anti-Sydnor signs that were planted in city rights of way, said John Kish, chairman of the city’s board of election supervisors.
Mitchell, Sydnor lead fundraising
As of the July 21 campaign-finance-reporting deadline, Martin Mitchell and Keith Sydnor raised the most money in campaign contributions.
Mitchell’s report to the City of Laurel Board of Election Supervisors showed 159 donations amounting to $15,192, of which he had spent $14,022. He received these donations between May 5 and July 19. The largest donations were $500.
Mitchell’s biggest expenses during that time were $4,970 for lawn signs; $2,590 for food and drink for campaign workers, meetings and events; and $1,908 for campaign literature. He also reported a $1,000 fine for putting up yard signs before being certified as a candidate. Mitchell was later fined another $1,000 for not removing the signs as ordered.
Sydnor’s report showed 250 donations amounting to $26,778, of which he had spent $15,601. He received these donations between Feb. 5 and July 1. The largest donation was $4,000 from CS Patuxent Greens LLC., a housing developer with a complex on a former golf course in the city. The second largest was $2,000 from GraCo Construction of Beltsville.
None of the other three mayoral candidates had raised more than $1,600. In the city council races, the top fundraiser was James Kole, an incumbent, with $1,454 in donations.
All campaign finance reports can be found on the city’s website at cityoflaurel.org/clerk/elections-and-voter-registration. The candidates are required to file two additional reports, one by Oct. 23 and one after the Nov. 7 election.
Groups protest Mitchell’s treatment
Five organizations have written a letter to the board of election supervisors protesting what they called “unconstitutional actions that you have targeted against City Council member Martin Mitchell.”
The organizations — Casa in Action, Progressive Maryland, Life After Release and two locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers union — said that the election board’s prohibition against candidates posting campaign signs before they have been certified by the board violates Mitchell’s First Amendment rights of free speech. It also questioned why Mitchell was hit with two $1,000 fines related to posting campaign signs when one of his opponents, Keith Sydnor, received no fines. The letter said Sydnor violated city election laws by accepting donations prior to filing for candidacy on May 1, and also for failing to list donors’ addresses on his finance report, giving email addresses instead.
The elections board did not certify Mitchell’s candidacy until Aug. 30, which the letter said showed “authoritarian, anti-democratic tactics” against Mitchell, “for whose candidacy the City leadership objects.”
The letter was also sent to Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown, U.S. Attorney Erek Barron and the Maryland State Board of Elections with a request that they investigate.
Candidate forums scheduled
The Laurel Board of Trade will hold two candidate forums in October, which the public can attend in person or online.
A forum for candidates for city council will take place on Oct. 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. in the council chambers of the Laurel Municipal Center, 8103 Sandy Spring Road. A forum for mayoral candidates will be held on Oct. 25 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the same location. Residents can access the forums through Laurel TV (Verizon FiOS Channel 12, or Comcast Channel 996 or 71), and the events will be live-streamed at laureltv.org/watch-live.
Laurel Resist, a local grassroots organization (formerly known as the Historic Laurel Huddle), will hold four virtual forums at which candidates will be invited to present their platforms. The forums will be from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 14 and 21, and Oct. 5 and 19. Email LaurelResist@gmail.com for the Zoom links.