Despite having almost three years of City Council service under her belt, Valerie Nicholas still considers herself somewhat of a newcomer to the ranks of city politics.
In her short time on the council, however, Nicholas said she has made it a point to be visible in the community, especially on Main Street and around Ward 1.
"I am very visible and active with keeping my pulse on the community. That has helped me a lot in addressing when constituents are in need of something," said Nicholas, who is seeking re-election in Ward 1. "I love interacting and helping people. Serving on the council is not a job; it's truly an honor to serve. It's not about anything else but helping people."
Nicholas, 49, and fellow Ward 1 council member Edward Ricks, also running for re-election, will face challenger John Mathews Smith as the three vie for the two seats in Ward 1. Both Ricks and Nicholas are running in support of their fellow incumbents on Team Laurel, while Smith has teamed up with the challengers in the Ward 2 and at-large races.
While Nicholas is relatively new to the council, at least among incumbents, she is no newcomer to service. Nicholas works part-time as assistant director of Side by Side, a faith-based nonprofit that supports Prince George's County public elementary schools in Laurel. She also volunteers as a chaplain at Laurel Regional Hospital.
She is the founder of Love is not Enough Inc., an organization that provides support to victims of domestic violence. The cause is near to Nicholas' heart, as she herself was a victim of abuse growing up in Roanoke, Va., an experience she speaks about candidly.
Nicholas also said she volunteers with the homeless, cooking meals and proving transportation to different area shelters.
"My days are full, but I truly enjoy doing what I'm doing," she said.
Nicholas' attitude toward service extends to her work on the council.
"I just want the city to be a quality place for people to live and work," Nicholas said. "Compassion is very important to me in a council person."
Kim Curl, chaplain at Laurel Regional Hospital, said Nicholas tackles tasks "wholeheartedly" and has strong communication skills.
"I would vote for her because she is sincere and has integrity," said Curl, a Ward 1 resident. "That makes a very effective council person."
Among the things Nicholas is most proud of during her first term are the strides the city has made toward economic development, specifically on Main Street in her home ward.
"Main Street is a particular interest to me and economic development is an important factor to the city," she said. "As the revenue comes in, we can lower taxes. The incentives we have provided are wonderful for new businesses. It creates a welcoming atmosphere, and I am proud of that."
Nicholas echoed running mate Ricks and said she wants the council to explore lowering the current tax rate of 71 cents per $100 of assessed evaluation.
In addition, Nicholas said she is interested in addressing transportation improvements in the city, an area she worked in professionally during the Clinton Administration when she was a special assistant for a presidential appointee on railroad issues. She also worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington before retiring in 2006, she said.
"We are looking at all issues," she said. "There is always room for improvement and continuing to explore ways to make the city better with its transportation system."
This is part of a series of profiles on candidates in this year's City Council elections.