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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  — the non-incumbent in the race — answered a few questions about how he would serve if elected.

This isn't the first time 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 , 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 ; 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 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 (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.

Lee Havis October 09, 2011 at 05:57 PM
What's the position of candidates on "speed cameras"? Is everyone in favor? What reason?
Fazlul Kabir October 10, 2011 at 01:57 AM
Lee, I'm glad that you asked. I've extensively written on this in my blog and frankly, I've a mixed feelings about this. Please check my writings here: http://www.kabircares.org/?s=speed+and+cameras. On one hand, I see many residents think speed cameras have improved traffic safety on some of our streets, However, others do have genuine concerns of their uses. For example, in the beginning, some of the cameras were operating beyond the school hours, some also had concerns about their operations in and around areas where speed limits change sharply (speed trap). We'll need to make sure that these cameras are used only for their intended purpose - public safety ; their primary purpose should not be to generate revenues.
Dierdre Vansinhoff October 12, 2011 at 10:30 PM
"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." With all due respect, it's time to reassess the city council's position on vacant/foreclosed homes. The CP city council's position of making it *more difficult* for free market (i.e. investors) to purchase these homes is strongly devaluing properties in College Park. I have had my house on the market for *months* and have reduced my price several times to no avail. I have been told by real estate professionals that College Park has gained a reputation for excessive regulations which only serve to hurt individual homeowners. Based on your statement that you want to increase code enforcement (based on what, homes where the previous owners simply walked away?!), what rationale do you have that makes you believe this will actually improve the situation. I am increasingly frustrated by backwards policies I see in College Park because I am now facing foreclosure myself, and will probably face eviction in the next few months.
Fazlul Kabir October 13, 2011 at 12:18 AM
Dierdre, Thanks for the questions. Quite opposite to what you have concerns with, the whole purpose of this is to maintain or even improve the market values of our homes. And that includes the homes owned by someone like you who have been struggling to sell. As I'm campaigning and speaking with my neighbors I see many are frustrated by poorly maintained houses. Like you, many of these neighbors want to sell their houses, but cannot sell, partly because others do not want to buy houses and move to a neighborhood that is full of poorly maintained houses.
morgan gale November 06, 2011 at 02:39 AM
Fazul has been a huge asset to district 1 and to the whole city. He has the capacity to listen intently and help process complex issues to a wider audience. He actively is working with a wide coalition of residents on issues and would be a real benefit to the residents of district 1 on the council. While several districts in the city are uncontested, district 1 has 3 great people running for 2 seats.
Pamela Torro November 06, 2011 at 09:52 PM
I have not met Mr. Kabir nor know much more about him than this article states, however, I have heard from other residents that they think he has an agenda for the Al Huda school on Edgewood. Anyone reading know anything or have an opinion about this? From his blog though, it does appear that he is very vested in the interests of CP.
Fazlul Kabir November 06, 2011 at 11:17 PM
Hi Pam, You're absolutely right. From the 776 daily posts I made so far on my blog (http://KabirCares.org), you wouldn't see anything as such. Btw, I went to your house the other day and spoke to your husband and two other nearby neighbors for about 15 minutes on various issues. I could not talk to you but I can still come tomorrow to your place and have another chat tomorrow on the questions you have. From the two signs I saw on your lawn, I understand I don't have your support (yet!), but that should not stop us from having a neighborly discussion, right? Take care. Fazlul
Fazlul Kabir November 07, 2011 at 05:31 PM
I forgot to mention that, I do support all schools in the city. That’s why, as part of the College Park Day, every year I organize a poster contest, attracting some 70+ entries involving all 6 schools in the city. Its true my first son (currently a UMD / Business student) graduated from the school you mentioned, thus I know the staff there, just like I know and work with all schools Principals and staff of all 6 schools. I do not give preference one above the others.
Pamela Torro November 07, 2011 at 05:38 PM
Thank you for clarifying and for your responses! I have read your blog some and appreciate your dedication to the city!
Fazlul Kabir November 07, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Same here. Thanks a lot for your active engagement in our community.
Ray November 07, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Pam - you are not the first one to say this. Mr. Kabir is not what everything thinks he is. He has managed to pretend that he formulated many ideas that were already in existence. It will be interesting to see if he is able to stay at any council meeting long enough to be of service to his constituents should be be elected. He typically shows up, take pictures of an event for his blog and leaves, pretending to have been there the entire time.
Joe Smith November 07, 2011 at 09:17 PM
Pam -- I have known Mr. Kabir for years and worked with him on several projects (CP Day, trash pick-ups, NCPCA stuff, etc) and I can tell you that the rumors of his "having an agenda for the Al Huda school" are unfounded. I don't agree with him on everything, but there is no question that he has a sincere interest in making CP a better place to live.
Pamela Torro November 07, 2011 at 09:21 PM
Thank you Ray and Mr. Smith for your comments. Like I said, it was something I heard in passing on Halloween.

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