They say they aren’t out to discredit the current generation of leaders, but a brief look at the group of people running to replace outgoing Prince George’s County Young Democrats President Nicole Williams tells a very different story say their detractors. They call themselves The Next Step Slate. Led by former Progressive Maryland community organizer Larry Stafford and political strategist Jazz Lewis, the slate is made up of a who’s who of not being known in county politics. To those who question their readiness to lead that is a problem. “How can you lead a political organization if the political people don’t know who you are,” said a member supporting their opposition. To The Next Step members that is what makes their efforts to lead the organization even more important. They build themselves as the roots of the organization more willing and able to engage average young people in the political process then many of the incumbents. It is why they decided to challenge incumbent Executive Vice President Walakewon Blegay who is running to succeed President Williams and has her own slate. Williams who has led PGCYD since 2009 announced earlier this year after her lost in the 2010 Democratic Primary for Delegate she would not stand for a third term.
Stafford and Lewis are not new to politics but their names don’t ring the type of bells in political circles like a Nicole Williams, Walakewon Belgay, Nina Smith who serves as Vice President of Programs and works for Rushern Baker, Julius West who serves as Democratic Central Committeeman and works for Rep. Chris Van Hollen, or even Joseph Kitchen a former Executive Vice President, Omar Boulware a former President, or Karen Toles a former Central Committeewoman and current County Councilwoman. “We aren’t concerned about the name ID thing because it is not who we are,” a member of The Next Step told us. “We don’t want to be the best friend of the political candidate. We want to grow this group.” The candidate went on to say their platform is to turn PGCYD into a more community based organization compared to the political one it is today. This move doesn’t sit well with many of the current leaders and has caused a divide that potentially could rip the group apart.
A press release sent out by the Next Step team last week lists their main campaign objectives as being “to create a youth powered grassroots movement in our community. Together, we will demand better schools, more career opportunities, smarter forward-looking economic development which keeps the interests of the existing communities in mind, safer communities, and seek greater accountability from our government officials,” wrote Sasha Desrouleaux the team’s candidate for Vice President of Communications. Desrouleaux works as Director of Communications for Prince George’s County Councilman Derrick Leon Davis and is the closest thing to an incumbent The Next Step has on their slate since he has been helping manage communications for PGCYD for a few months. The rest of the team according to the same press statement include Heather Asata who works for Rep. Steny Hoyer in a position that Walakewon Belgay held before she went to law school, Christian Gant, Patrick Gallaher who works for State Senator Victor Ramirez, Melanie Carr, Lacole Foots who works for Governor Martin O’Malley, and Drew Benbow. “All of these people are brand new to PGCYD. They don’t know anything about running this organization or the politics of this county,” a former member of the PGCYD Executive Board wrote to us in a twitter message. Other detractors point out the slate is almost totally made up of college students or recent graduates with little real world experience. “Nobody would ever think a group like the young dems would have an intergenerational battle for leadership like this, but you clearly have a fight between college and high school students on one side and the more established young professionals on another,” said a former president of the organization who has not declared their support and asked to remain anonymous.
Where do the leaders stand?
President Nicole Williams has been publicly neutral in her support on this race but when speaking with members of The Next Step they believe she will vote for Walakewon who she appointed Executive Vice President after Joseph Kitchen stepped down last year. Williams is a good friend of Walakewon’s and they both are sorority sisters in Delta Sigma Theta.
Nina Smith is the current Vice President of Programs and will not run for a third term. She has been one of the most vocal supporters of Walakewon’s campaign and strongest critics of Stafford’s.
Kim Ross is the current Vice President of Communications and also is not running for a third term. She is believed to be a supporter of Walakewon’s but hasn’t announced her support.
Rahsheim Wright is the current Vice President of Membership and has not made a public decision on his support either. He is believed to be leaning towards voting for Walakewon.
Byron Richardson is the current Treasurer and is running for a second term on Walakewon’s slate.
Dustin Kuzan is the current Secretary and is running for Vice President of Programs on Walakewon’s slate.
Knia Tanner is the current Central Committeewoman and hasn’t been around a lot lately. She also hasn’t announced a decision on who she will support but two years ago ran against Karen Toles and beat her for a seat on the Executive Board.
Julius West is the current Central Committeeman and is stepping down after two terms. He is the only member of the Executive Board to announce his support for Larry Stafford and his team.
Omar Boulware is the Immediate Past President of PGCYD. He is expected to support Walakewon because during his two terms she served as Vice President of Programs.
Greg Hall is also a past president of PGCYD. He has been helping to organize voters for Larry Stafford.
Joseph Kitchen is the Immediate Past Executive Vice President of PGCYD and current Executive Vice President of the Young Democrats of Maryland. He has not made any public statements about his plans for January 10th. Members of The Next Step say he endorsed their slate a few weeks ago but an email requesting comment has not been answered.
Edward Burroughs was at one time the Director of the High School Caucus for the county before being elected to the Board of Education. He has used a lot of his connections to bring high school students into the fold and push The Next Step over the line to victory.
What happens now?
On January 10th the question of who has the best ground game will be known. Members of The Next Step have regular meetings and conference calls to check in on their progress with recruiting potential members. Both teams got insight into how important turnout will be last month when a routine process of amending the bylaws turned into a drawn out process that only ended because some members of the Executive Board developed a compromise version on langauge on membership dues. One side (it looks like Walakewon’s but we aren’t sure) supported keeping membership dues at the level they are at now $25.00, but the other side (it looked like Stafford’s) wanted to get rid of them to boost membership among younger people. A compromise deal was worked out but almost fell apart at the last-minute.
On January 10th the team that brings the most members to the meeting will win. What happens after that, if they will be able to keep the other side from bolting from the organization will be the task not only of the winning team but the current leaders.
Prince George’s County Young Democrats Annual Meeting
January 10, 2012 at 7:00PM
UFCW Local 400
-Editorial note: We have been unable to confirm contact information for Walakewon Belgay to reach out to her for this story.