Upper Marlboro mayor: Racism not a factor in resignation

The mayor of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, who announced her resignation earlier this week, said Wednesday that her decision was based on a desire to spend time with her family and not about racist attacks she said she had been subjected to.

Tonga Y. Turner, the mayor and president of the Board of Commissioners, resigned Monday, effective June 30.

But, on Wednesday, she said, “I am not ending my term as the mayor of Upper Marlboro due to any racism or bigotry.”

Turner added that along with her full-time job, she had been working about 90 hours a week, and her sole motivation was to “focus more time and attention with my two small children, both under the age of 10, period.”

“I chose family over service. And I’m proud of that,” Turner said.

In an open letter Monday, Turner announced her resignation (at the time, she said it was effective June 21) and touted achievements including $800,000 in grants for the town, economic growth legislation and restructuring. She also said, “It is no secret that the Town of Upper Marlboro has been plagued with a dark history and past, but my hope is that in the past two years, under my leadership, each of you has seen a great promise for our future.”

Turner brought representatives from the NAACP to a town hall meeting Monday, and said that she had received threatening emails and comments from residents.

On Wednesday, she said she brought the group in order to “share the resources and the value that … the NAACP brings to having these types of real conversations in communities across America.”

She said she shared her own stories “to show how far we have come, but also how far we have to go” and “would be remiss” if she hadn’t let people know what she faced.

The breaking point

Turner called the decision to step down one she’d been “toying with for several months now,” and said the breaking point came about two weeks ago when she came home at 9 p.m. to “not-so-happy stares from my husband and children.”

She had missed her 3-year-old son’s preschool graduation, she said Wednesday, and hadn’t even realized it. “I said to myself, ‘Am I ready to make that sacrifice?’ … And the answer is no.”

The mayor criticized news outlets for having focused on the threats she had received, saying that when she was elected in January 2018 as the first African American mayor of Upper Marlboro, “Not a single media outlet shared that historic moment.”

She also said that the kind of difficult decisions she had to make regarding work and family weren’t unique: “We don’t recognize the incredible sacrifices woman make every single day,” Turner said. “It’s time we do better.”

Turner said that focusing on the story of the attacks she had dealt with “only helps to perpetuate the very thing we were trying to address in Monday’s meeting.”

NBC Washington reported that a resident at Monday’s town meeting told them a former town commissioner was drawing swastikas repeatedly on a legal pad during the meeting.

Town spokesman Ray Feldmann told NBC Washington at the time, “There have been some incidents that she’s had to deal with, but those were not incidents that had anything to do with her resignation.”

‘Share your story’

Turner added that she feared “putting too much focus” on the attacks.

“I think anyone who believes racism is over with … is a fool,” Turner said, adding that the heavily black population in Upper Marlboro and Prince George’s County doesn’t insulate the area from those problems.

She said she had received “a tremendous amount of support from my colleagues” and told other politicians, “Share your story. And that’s what I chose to do on Monday night.”

“Those challenges have been there. But those challenges have in no way shaped my decision.”

She didn’t rule out future political involvement, after “careful, private considerations with my family moving forward.”

Asked how her decision would affect other working mothers who want to enter politics, Turner said, “The main advice I can give any mom is do what feels right for you.”

“I have brought the town of Upper Marlboro as far as I can carry it,” Turner concluded, saying her constituents “deserve someone who is going to give them their all.”

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