Retired Army Lt. Colonel Warren Christopher (left), and political scientist and Howard University administrator Alvin Thornton (right). Both are candidates running for Maryland’s Fourth Congressional District seat. (Courtesy Photos)
Most of the candidates who want to replace U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D) as the legislator from the Fourth Congressional District of Maryland have held elected positions. However, two of the most prominent hopefuls have not.
Alvin Thornton, a nationally-known political scientist and high-level administrator at Howard University and Warren Christopher, a retired Army Lt. Colonel with experience in prominent positions in the federal government, are candidates for Edwards’ seat. Neither has been elected to public office, but that isn’t stopping them from running.
Thornton said that he isn’t a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives “just to be running.”
“I want to be the voice of the people,” Thornton, a longtime resident of Prince George’s County, said to 40 supporters at his candidacy announcement on July 28. “This is not an election, it is a movement. We want to create a better future for our children.”
Christopher, who ran against Edwards in the Democratic Party primary in 2014, said “the Fourth Congressional District needs new and fresh ideas.”
“We need access to opportunity to improve the quality of life in our communities and assistance to historically disadvantaged communities,” Christopher said in an interview with the AFRO. “The incumbent I challenged two years ago bought in the least amount of federal dollars of any member of Congress. I will be the representative that will bring in the federal dollars.”
The Fourth Congressional District comprises a large portion of Prince George’s County and part of Anne Arundel County. The 2010 census reported that it is 58 percent Black and has been represented by Edwards since 2008.
The district has consistently voted Democratic in recent presidential elections and is considered a Democratic stronghold in statewide general elections. Edwards is giving up the seat to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Joining Thornton and Christopher in the Democratic Party primary on April 26, 2016 are former Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Maryland House of Delegates members Dereck Davis (D-District 25) and Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-District 21), former Prince George’s County Council member Ingrid Turner, and experienced Capitol Hill staffer Lisa Ransom, who also has never held public office.
Edward’s has not yet chosen a formidable successor, nor has the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee endorsed a candidate for the primary election.
Thornton is known throughout Maryland for his work as the chairman of the Maryland General Assembly’s Commission on Education, Finance, Equity and Excellence, which is called informally the “Thornton Commission.” The commission created a formula in the 2002 that ensured that Maryland’s less wealthy counties have access to equitable state school funding and resources as does the well-to-do jurisdictions.
Thornton was appointed to this task by then Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D) in 1999, and participated in numerous hearings and briefings throughout the state with no salary. “I have worked as a volunteer for various causes and issues for 35 years,” Thornton said. “There are some candidates in this race that if you want them to do something, they have to be paid a fee. That’s not me.”
Christopher said his years as a combat veteran and advisor on military affairs on Capitol Hill, as well as working at a senior level position at the U.S. Department of the Interior, taught him the importance of good leadership at a high level.
On the issues, Christopher said he will work to see that Black colleges and universities are properly equipped financially, work to bring career and technical training back to the nation’s secondary schools and advocate for special assistance for English-limited speakers and those who are disabled mentally and physically.
Christopher also wants to create a public service corps that models the Peace Corps. “I want to help our military officers, police officers and teachers help our country and we can help them with housing and assistance with paying student loans,” he said.
Thornton, as a U.S. representative, wants universal health care for all Americans and to address the income inequality between the “super rich and the rest of us.”
“I endorse free community college and restoring the integrity of the Voting Rights Act,” he said. “There should be no privatization of Social Security or Medicare. We need a fair criminal justice system because Black Lives Matter.”
Glenarden Mayor Dennis Smith said that while Thornton hasn’t held elected office, he should be in Congress in 2017. “I am excited that Alvin Thornton is running because he has the credentials to be a great congressman,” Smith said. “He is someone who is involved in the community and he has done it without a fee. He has national acclaim because of his work as a professional and as an activist in the community.”
Annette Leath-Burgess, a resident of Glenn Dale, Maryland, said that Christopher’s lack of a political office on his resume doesn’t bother her. “Warren speaks directly to people and he knows how to talk to single parents and veterans,” she said. “A lot of policy makers and politicians don’t speak to people one-on-one but Warren does and that is why I am supporting him to be my next congressman.”