by Anthony Petro
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Legalization of marijuana, the housing act, and revitalizing the Towson area were the hot-button issues under debate in the Minnegan Room of Unitas Stadium at Towson University Friday night as four Maryland legislative candidates faced off.
Democrat Robbie Leonard debated incumbent Del. Chris West, R-Towson, as they battle for Maryland’s District 42 Senate seat. Baltimore Democrat Stephen W. Lafferty defended his accomplishments in District 42A’s House of Delegates against Republican challenger Stephen A. McIntire.
Pamela Wood, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, moderated the debate. Her panel of questioners included Matt Pipkin, president of the Towson University College Republicans; Joshua Lash, president of the College Democrats of Towson; Luis Sierra, assistant director for Civic Engagement; and, Neil Dubovsky, from the Knollwood Association.
Leonard and West started the night off offering polarizing solutions to the hotly contested issue of marijuana legalization.
“I do not support the legalization of marijuana,” said West, 68, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2014. “There is no way to test whether or not someone is under the influence of marijuana in the field. Until we come up with a method to test people on the highway, then I am against it.”
West also said marijuana negatively affects the brains of people under the age of 26. He called recent negative statistics regarding marijuana use in Colorado “horrifying.”
Leonard, 36, a Baltimore attorney, touted his support for the legalization of marijuana.
“Legalizing marijuana will provide massive tax revenues,” Leonard said. “Maryland needs to be a leader, we need to be the 10th state.”
The two candidates attacked the Fair Housing Act in Baltimore, specifically regarding Section-8 housing. Section-8 housing refers to a federal program that provides subsidized housing to families and individuals whose income is less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. The law prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability, familiar status, and national origin.
“You have to do the right thing, even if it is not the easy thing,” Leonard said. “Opposition against providing housing for low-income families disgusts me.”
However, West said he attended all the local high school graduations and was “shocked” by how diverse the schools were compared to when he was in high school.
Leonard jumped on this immediately saying, “Diversity should not be shocking.”
The crowd of more than 70 people erupted in applause.
Before West and Leonard exited the stage, they both said the revitalization of Towson’s high schools would be a top priority.
“My No. 1 priority is to build new Towson and Delaney high schools,” West said. “I received $150,000 to fix Delaney’s athletic fields because their football field carried an electrical charge… you could see sparks jumping between the links in the chain link fence.”
Leonard said, “I graduated from Delaney High School. I was there when the new addition went up in the 90s… It’s shocking how run down it is now. I grew up here. I want to give back to this community and see it succeed.”
The crowd erupted in applause and after a short recess, the audience was introduced to the second set of debaters, Lafferty versus McIntire.
The panel asked the same questions to the second set of debaters, and the hot-button issues were virtually the same. Both candidates did, however, agree on the legalization of marijuana.
“I support legalization of marijuana,” said Lafferty, “but I have questions about how police will determine if someone is under the influence or not. But I don’t think that should stop legalization.”
McIntire, 43, agreed, adding that he expects tight regulations.
“I support legalization because prohibition isn’t going to be effective – it wasn’t effective with alcohol,” McIntire said. “Prohibiting marijuana will only encourage criminal activity. I do believe it should be regulated and I fully expect Maryland to have strict regulations.”
Lafferty and McIntire both agreed with West and Leonard about renovating the Towson area high schools.
“A new Towson high school should be a priority,” McIntire said. “It is the cornerstone of the neighborhood. We need to make Towson development work for the residents.”
All four candidates made it a point to use the revitalization of the Towson area as focal points for their debates, a note that resonated with the audience.
“I think the debate went great, said David Riley, president of the Knollwood Association, which co-hosted the event. “I’m really happy with how it turned out. I mean look, we had a standing room only crowd.”
Riley added, “I thought the candidates were all great. The debate was a great back-and-forth. It was very civil, which is what we hoped for and the issues they discussed were more than pertinent.”
Wood, the Sun reporter who moderated, also labeled the debate a success.
“This was my first time moderating a debate and it was really interesting and exciting to have that responsibility,” Wood said. “Both debates were really interesting, and the panel had excellent questions and all four candidates did well explaining their answers. Any undecided voters got a lot of great information tonight.”
The Towson University Office of Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility co-hosted the “Future of 42” debate with the Knollwood Association, a community in the Donny Brook area of Towson.
The midterm elections will be on Nov. 6, and the names of the four candidates will be on the ballot.