Laurel police union endorses incumbents, challengers in City Council race

Laurel’s police union endorsed two incumbent Laurel City Council members and two challengers in November’s election, choosing no endorsements for the at-large seat.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 11, the union that represents the Laurel Police Department, held a forum for candidates Thursday, then met to decide their picks in the three contested races for Ward 1, Ward 2 and the at-large seat.

In the race for two Ward 1 seats, the FOP endorsed incumbent H. Edward Ricks, who has served on the council for seven terms, and Carl DeWalt, a retired Laurel police officer who ran unsuccessfully in 2015.

For the two Ward 2 seats, the union is backing incumbent Frederick Smalls and newcomer Keith Sydnor.

Council President Michael Leszcz, who has held the at-large council seat for 21 years, and Jeffrey Mills, a Main Street business owner, are running in the at-large race. The FOP did not endorse a candidate in that race, and Lodge 11 president Aaron Waddell said the union had no comment on why they didn’t endorse.

Two Ward 2 candidates, Thomas Matthews and Adrian Rousseau, didn’t participate in the forum, where candidates were each asked to answer questions about how the city government supports the Laurel Police Department.

In March, the city and the Laurel police union signed an agreement that included a 15 percent pay increase over three years.

At the forum, Ward 1 challenger DeWalt, a former FOP Lodge 11 president, called for better health insurance for both Laurel police officers and city employees. Ward 2 candidate Sydnor, who served 24 years in the Navy and works as a correctional officer, suggested tax credits be extended to Laurel police officers who live in the city.

Smalls, who has represented Ward 2 on the council since 2002, said the city needs to ensure the safety of its officers, who, like him, have a “passion” for serving the city.

All of the candidates participating agreed it was important for the City Council to support Laurel’s police force, with incumbent councilmen Leszcz and Ricks reminding union members of past material support such as the purchase of SUVs.

Nicholas said communication was key to establishing a positive climate between police and residents, and suggested Neighborhood Watch groups be established.

Mills, who ran unsuccessfully for a Ward 1 seat in 2015, trains drivers seeking a commercial license. He suggested that retired officers start their own businesses, and supported a cost of living increase in police pensions.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Donna Crary, who has served since 2008, is not seeking re-election.

Early voting in the City Council election is Nov. 4 and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

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