By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
For more than 20 years, as a resident of New Carrollton, Maryland, Phelecia Nembhard has been committed to her city. Nembhard began as a humble grassroots organizer helping feed the hungry people of the community and ultimately won a write-in campaign to earn her place on the city council.
At the start of Caribbean Heritage Month in June, the Jamaican-born public servant became the first and youngest woman to become mayor of the suburban Maryland city. Despite campaigning during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and facing an incumbent, Nembhard’s ability to galvanize the area and increase voter turnout led to the victory over Duane Rosenberg. Over 500 more residents cast their ballots than in 2018, which led to Nembhard’s win by 304 votes.
Jamaican-born Phelecia Nembhard became the first Black woman to be elected mayor of New Carrollton. (Courtesy Photo)
Nembhard is a reflection of the diversity that has been marked by the demographic gentrification of the community. Over the last decade there has been an increase of home ownerships. First time Black and Hispanic home buyers coupled with the economic revitalization of the Rt. 450 corridor extending between the I-495 beltway and the Baltimore Washington Parkway (I-295) has led to unprecedented growth that Nembhard is hoping to capitalize on.
”It means there is hope,” Nembhard told the AFRO in an exclusive. “A lot of people who believed they couldn’t, now believe they can. When I first was elected there were a lot of people who started asking about how they could become more involved in the community. I believe the sky’s the limit.”
The first year mayor also feels that the city’s proximity to Baltimore and Washington makes it the perfect home for tourism and convention business. New Carrollton is centrally located between the two major cities and the MARC/Amtrak rail station connects both cities along with stops at BWI Marshall and Reagan National via the Metro’s orange line. She is also confident that the tourism and convention business can grow in the area because of the hotels, banquet facilities and restaurants already there.
“I want to make sure that we attract some quality businesses and services to New Carrollton,” Nembhard said. “We’ve had some success with that in the past and will continue to do that. If we get our office spaces filled we have land to develop on and hopefully can turn that empty space into something that can be a vibrant business inour city.”
Nembhard’s election came during the most heated time after the death of George Floyd, the unarmed African American man killed by the Minneapolis Police Department, that set off protests locally and around the nation. Though she is not committed to defunding her police department, Nembhard hopes to initiate greater training for officers to de-escalate situations before they become fatal, especially since the area has a large population of Black and Hispanic men.
”We’ve always had an extensive amount of training, but now we are going to make it more consistent,” Nembhard said. “There will be a lot more role play on how to react in pressure situations so we don’t repeat incidents that have happened in other cities around the country.”
Her plans also include increasing youth programs, while improving city sidewalks and parks. She also promises to reduce wasteful spending by not staffing positions that are funded, but not occupied, and redirecting those funds into community programs while implementing “collaborative outreach” to city residents.