‘I don’t see it as a negative thing’: Councilmembers decline to seek reelection
By Sophie Gorman Oriani
Both of the women serving on the Hyattsville City Council served a single term and decided not to run for re-election. The Hyattsville Life & Times (HL&T) interviewed outgoing councilmembers Carrianna Suiter (Ward 3) and Erica Spell Wolf (Ward 5). (Interviews were conducted separately, and answers have been edited for length and readability.)
HL&T: What initially got you interested in running for city council?
ESW: I always knew that at some point in my life I’d run for office; I guess I just didn’t think it would be this soon in my life. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency … was kind of a wake-up call for me, and I just really felt like it was time.
CS: After the 2016 elections, there was an event in Chicago, President Obama’s final speech, and he essentially said, “If you’re frustrated. . . pick up a clipboard and run for office.” And that was the moment that I decided, “If not me, then who?” I had one child then, and I wanted to be a role model for my son: If you’re frustrated with the way things are going, don’t just sit and complain, take action. Find a way to help.
HL&T: What’s been your favorite part of being on city council? Do you have any favorite stories to share?
ESW: Oh man, it’s hard to think of just one! I think that serving on the council has made me … appreciate local government even more because I don’t think that we have a sense of all the different ways that they impact our life. I’ve been in awe. I think I’ve just been able to get to know my community more, and my neighbors more, in a way that I didn’t in the past.
CS: I’m pretty quiet on the dais. But for me the thing that I’ve felt most passionately about was the constituent services. Those were the moments where I felt like I was making a difference. It wasn’t council meetings necessarily; it was helping folks navigate the really serious situations they were facing over the last year.
HL&T: Why are you choosing not to run again?
ESW: Personally, I have certainly felt the strain of being a mother and a wife and working full time. … That responsibility got really intense … this past year. I’m a mother of two, and while I wholeheartedly support women who are going into office, I just don’t think at this point in my life that I can continue to serve in the way that this office deserves. I don’t see it as a negative thing. I do see it as offering up the opportunity for another voice and another person to sit at the table and make important decisions.
CS: We were working full time, we had two kids home full time, we had online preschool, and it was really challenging. My dad had serious health problems during the fall, and we were home for a month in Ohio, and I guess we just got to the point where we needed some sort of relief. So really for me it was about capacity. I’ve loved the work. I would love to continue to serve. I definitely plan to find ways to continue to be involved and serve the community. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I definitely don’t plan on stepping away completely.
HL&T: Is there anything you wish had accomplished while you were on the council that you didn’t get around to, or weren’t able to make happen?
ESW: We’ve been getting better and better, I think, about offering opportunities and ways to engage Ward 5 in particular, but I think we can still do more. [I hope that] that the person who comes to the seat after me will work really hard to make sure that Ward 5 and West Hyattsville is more engaged in our city and our city’s decision making.
CS: It takes a few years to have folks really understand the process in terms of just the budget cycle and how you can accomplish your goals legislatively. [I had] great relationships with my colleagues and the city staff and the directors, and I feel like I was really hitting my stride, so I wish I could have continued for a few more years.
Do you have any advice for the person who will be taking your place?
ESW: Do whatever you can to make sure that you remember why you’re there and to not lose sight of that. The second thing is to also make sure that you have people around you who will love you and support you and remind you of who you are. And then the last thing I’ll just say is be bold, and go for it! … I do see it as a privilege to serve. Don’t just take up space; use the space to push us forward!
CS: Keep in mind why you wanted to do this. Ensure that you are communicating and reaching out to your residents, but also to your colleagues; that’s incredibly helpful when councilmembers have good relationships and strong relationships.