A younger and more progressive faction will set the agenda and lead the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Council after the first council meeting of the new legislative session Tuesday.
Outgoing Chair Calvin Hawkins nominated Jolene Ivey to succeed him. That nomination was quickly seconded, but then was scuttled by Ivey herself, who instead nominated Laurel’s Tom Dernoga, who is beginning the second term of his second tenure on the council (he served from 2002-2010, and then was elected again in 2018 and 2022).
“This is the youngest council ever, and seemingly the most energetic,” said Dernoga. He called himself the oldest member of the council, and said he saw himself as a transitional leader there. “I believe it’s time to turn things over to a new generation and moving forward together, perhaps in bold new directions, but moving forward together.”
Describing himself as a point guard who starts fast breaks so others can score, Dernoga said he’ll emphasize “shared leadership” over the next year. A few minutes later, he turned it over to the council’s new vice chair, Wala Blegay, who was elected to a leadership role on her very first day in office so that she could lay out the agenda for the upcoming year.
“It is a new day. The new council is charting a new course, a new direction toward a council evermore committed to service for the people,” said Blegay. “We are the people’s council.”
Blegay rattled off a list of controversial council actions in recent years that left some county residents and activists frustrated and upset, before saying, “The residents’ voices are finally heard. We pledge a new day.”
Blegay promised a council that would be more transparent and accountable, with more notice and available information that she said would show a commitment “to the people’s agenda.”
What will that look like? Early on, she vowed more attention to community services for those who need it. She also targeted development around the county with big changes to how new and revitalized neighborhoods will look.
“It is time for quality, smart growth development in Prince George’s County,” said Blegay, who said the previous council was too eager to approve projects she described as “suburban sprawl.”
The new council will be big on transit-oriented development, which in turn, Blegay argued, will bring the sort of commercial businesses and amenities County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has promised will be a priority in her second term.
“Reimagining how we develop our community going forward must now mean limiting development such as oversaturation of town home developments, public storage facilities, tobacco stores, cannabis shops,” Blegay said, before going on to criticize legislative maneuvering that sometimes led to the approval of projects opposed by residents.
“Everyone, this is the people’s agenda for the Prince George’s County Council,” she said, adding that legislation codifying much of what she outlined is coming. “This council is ready to hit the ground running.”