BY SUSIE CURRIE — Two sons of Hyattsville’s oldest families lost their council seats to first-time candidates in the city elections on May 3, while Marc Tartaro captured 63 percent of votes cast in the mayoral race.

Wards 3, 4 and 5 were uncontested, returning representatives Tim Hunt, Paula Perry and Nicole Hinds Mofor, respectively, to the dais for another four-year term.

Incoming Mayor Marc Tartaro with newly minted City Council members Shani Warner (center, Ward 2) and Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1). Photo courtesy Susie Currie (May 2011)
Incoming Mayor Marc Tartaro with newly minted City Council members Shani Warner (center, Ward 2) and Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1). Photo courtesy Susie Currie (May 2011)

Councilmembers-elect Shani Warner (Ward 2) and Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1), in their first civic elections, unseated incumbents whose ties to Hyattsville go back generations. In Ward 2, Bill Tierney is the great-nephew of Hyattsville’s first mayor; Doug Dudrow, whose family started some of the first businesses on Route 1, began representing Ward 1 before Hollingsworth was born.

When the new City Council is seated on May 16, half will be women. (The tiebreaker will come in the special election to fill Tartaro’s seat in Ward 1 – likely to be July 17, according to city spokesperson Abigail Sandel.)

That’s not a record; Mayor Mary Prangley presided over one council in the 1990s in which 7 of the 11 members were women. But it does mark the first time that two councilmembers will be mothers with young children. Warner is expecting her first child in August; Hollingsworth has two, ages 5 and 2.

“They definitely influenced my decision to run,” said Hollingsworth, who plans to finish her term as vice president of the Hyattsville Elementary School PTA. Her graduate work on the impact of urban renewal on public school enrollment, she said, “helped me decide … what approach I would take when my children were school age.”

The link between the city council and local schools, she said, was missing.  “There was no one to advocate with the school board and at the county level to better serve our local schools. So this is the best use of my energy.”

At press time, the county hadn’t yet released figures on voter turnout, but preliminary indications show what might be a record low.  “The turnouts are usually higher in a mayoral year,” said election judge Anna Frankle, who served on the city council for 15 years.

Though there were fewer votes to count, it took more than two hours to get the results.  “Maybe because of [all] the absentee ballots,” said Frankle.  “And a lot of write-ins, more than I’ve ever seen before.”

In another unusual twist, more people (906) voted for council members than for mayor (901) – even though three incumbents were unopposed.

The turnout was lower than in past years, but the ones who did come represent the changing face of Hyattsville. Dudrow had beaten back many challenges over the years.

“I think what made the difference is new residents who hadn’t voted previously in city elections,” said Hollingsworth.  “There were new voters who either hadn’t been here long enough to vote or who were here but not engaged.”

Warner also attributed her victory to new voters, particularly mothers she’s gotten to know through a local listserv. In an interview, she said she would make responding to residents a priority, with the goal of returning e-mails in 24 hours. “Basic communication with constituents is very important. “

In working to start the Hyatt Park community garden, which is about to kick off its first growing season, Warner said, “It was frustrating to me that my council members wouldn’t tell me how they were going to vote. I had to go to meetings to find out.”

Tartaro, Ward 1 councilmember since 2005, hopes to make some changes so that “meetings will reflect the identity of the council, rather than the mayor.” He’d like to rotate chairmanship of the meetings and encourage members to “take ownership” of certain issues that they’d become the go-to people for, researching and reporting on them to the rest of the council.

The new members take office in the middle of the budget process, which has to be completed by June 30. That’s likely to mean additional meetings, as the last one before then is scheduled for June 6.

“In the future, I’d like to pass the budget the first week of May,” said Tartaro.  “I think it’s a problem to expect people who were just elected to pass the budget if they haven’t been involved in, or at least aware of, the debate and the decisions.”