Fazlul Kabir: 'It Is My Passion to Listen and Serve.'
This is the first in a series of question-and-answer posts with candidates running for College Park Mayor and Council.
Three candidates will compete for two District 1 seats in the College Park City Council elections on Tuesday, Nov. 8. One of those candidates — the non-incumbent in the race — answered a few questions about how he would serve if elected.
This isn't the first time Fazlul Kabir is running for council. He was one of five candidates running in District 1 in 2009, and lost the seat by 81 votes.
Below, Kabir explains in an email why he's running again, and what he views as the most important issues facing his district and all of College Park.
College Park Patch: What is your motivation for running for a seat on council?
Fazlul Kabir: It is my passion to listen and serve. I have been volunteering with a variety of community services and in a variety of different roles for some time including the North College Park Citizens Association, the annual College Park Day, the annual neighborhood cleanup, the winter clothing drive, the free snow shoveling brigade service, the metro camera petition drive and Neighborhood Watch. I have found each of these activities extremely rewarding and any opportunity to help someone in need is an honor that I hope to continue to have. The desire to serve my neighbors is what drives me to write daily on my blog KabirCares.org. I believe, if elected to serve on the city council, I will have more opportunities to make real changes in the lives of my neighbors in District 1.
Patch: What do you think are the most important issues facing District 1?
Kabir: The most important issues facing District 1 today include vacant houses, public safety, lack of priorities for the Route 1 redevelopment in north College Park and poor communication with constituents.
We have a record number of foreclosed and vacant houses in District 1, which are degrading our neighborhoods. If elected, I will not only immediately identify these properties but will institute a stronger code enforcement program. I will also work to develop an online system so residents can report recurring problems easily. More importantly I will work to make our area more desirable to live by decreasing crime, improving schools and utilizing marketing to change perceptions.
Public safety is still a major issue for many residents in District 1. There have been some improvements, like enhanced lighting at the metro access area in District 1 and new cameras following our successful petition drive; however there is still much to be done to make our residents feel safe. I track weekly crime reports in my blog and I see the number of break-ins, thefts and robberies is still very high. If elected, I will improve public safety by strengthening the Neighborhood Watch program and increasing the police presence on neighborhood streets without a subsequent tax increase.
Route 1 in north College Park is the long forgotten main street of the city and, unfortunately, is not getting sufficient attention from the city, local and state governments. Route 1 in north College Park needs smart development with more quality mixed-use businesses in place of the abandoned and vacant stores. It also needs walk-able sidewalks so businesses are accessible to residents. We will soon spend $8.8 million in the redevelopment of Route 1 in the south, but residents question why this couldn't’ be spent in the north. If elected, I will seek to make the city’s economic development team more aggressive in replacing abandoned businesses on Route 1 and the Hollywood commercial district with new and exciting quality businesses.
There have also been widespread grievances in the district about poor communications between elected representatives and residents. I personally try my best to share local information with my neighbors and seek their feedback through my blog site. If elected, I will extend that effort by developing online forums and surveys on important decisions I'll make as my district representative.
Patch: What do you think are the most important issues facing College Park as a whole?
Kabir: The need to improve public safety and the slow pace of redevelopment in the Route 1 corridor continue to negatively impact the city's image. Public safety is still a major issue in the minds of many residents in College Park. According to a recent survey, about two of five residents don’t completely feel safe in their neighborhood and approximately one of four residents don’t completely feel safe when they walk on their streets.
The increase in contract police officers is a temporary fix, but we need to look for a more permanent solution, such as having our own police department without increasing residents’ taxes. The use of ever-increasing cost of contract police officers along with the influx of revenues from the city’s camera program, with the support from UMd. President Loh and local governments, a city police department could be a reality.
Route 1 redevelopment should be accelerated in the entire city, in particular in north College Park. Being part of Prince George's County, which has been traditionally viewed as a place with high crime and poor school systems, our city suffers a serious image problem. This negative image has been preventing many new businesses and young professionals to move to the city. The city should aggressively make an effort to promote the better aspects of our city, such as its century-old heritage, its place as the home of the flagship University of Maryland and the recent recognition to be the best city to raise children in Maryland. The city should also be proactive in attracting quality businesses to the city through creative incentive programs. The city should also have a better collaboration with the University of Maryland. Having taught at the UMd., I'm the firsthand witness of the enormous potential the university can offer in various collaborative studies and projects the City often carries out.
Patch: How would you describe the cultural make up of College Park’s District 1, and what challenges and/or opportunities result from that?
Kabir: The cultural mix of the city, in particular District 1, is fast changing with new neighbors of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds moving into our neighborhoods. According to the 2010 census data, Latinos in college Park have added the most to city’s population in the past 10 years followed by Asians.
Being born and raised in a foreign country and having been educated, employed and living nearly 25 years in the West, I am in a unique position to understand the upheaval foreign-born residents experience and the adjustments they need to make in their new community. This personal experience and knowledge inspired me to co-found the city’s first College Park Day last year which attracted 1000+ residents from different cultural backgrounds.
Our diversity should be considered our strength and I will work hard to connect with this segment of our city to ensure their voices are heard and their thoughts and ideas are included in any and all dialogue.
Patch: Assuming you are elected (and re-elected), how long do you see yourself remaining on council?
Kabir: I truly believe other residents with fresh ideas should be given the opportunities to lead. Introducing a term limit legislation could be an option, provided there is interest from residents.
Patch: Over their terms, what positive things do you think your District 1 council representatives have done? Where do you think they could have done better?
Kabir: Former Councilmember Mark Shroder (Dist. 1) once said city councilman-ship is a hobby, not a profession. The small stipend our council members receive from the city ($5,000 a year) is nominal and requires almost all council members to have day jobs. To that end, I have deep respect for the services our previous and current council members have provided to our community.
That said, I think more attention could have been paid to enhance those mechanisms in place for resident feedback and an emphasis placed on regular communication with those we serve.