District 21 Delegate Mary Lehman at the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis..
District 21 Delegate Mary Lehman at the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis.. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

On the walls of Delegate Mary Lehman’s office in Annapolis hangs a photo of President John F. Kennedy, a campaign poster for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and a map of the Chesapeake.

There is also a design photo of the Laurel Branch Library to commemorate one of her great accomplishments as a Prince George’s County Councilwoman.

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For several years there was disagreement of where to build the new library. Some wanted it in the Main Street Corridor but Lehman, 54, wanted it where it sits today, on 7th Street in Laurel, where the original library was built in 1965.

“When I saw the final design, I knew this is going to be the envy of a four county area and I think it is,” Lehman said. “People from multiple counties use it and enjoy it.”

After eight years on the Prince George’s County Council, Lehman won one of the three delegate seats in November for District 21, which represents Laurel, Beltsville, Piney Orchard, Odenton, Gambrills, Adelphi,College Park and the University of Maryland campus.

A lifelong Marylander growing up in Greenbelt, Lehman grew up reading two newspapers every morning, The Washington Post and the former The Washington Star, which closed in 1981.

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A graduate of the University of Maryland, she earned two degrees, one in English and the other in journalism, and spent the first 15 years of her professional career as a reporter, including covering Capitol Hill.

After taking time off to be with her children, Lehman began working for her predecessor on Prince George’s County Council, Councilman Tom Dernoga. She worked as liaison focused on on education issues.

In 2007, Lehman began working for District 21 Delegate Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk in Annapolis. Peña-Melnyk, also a Democrat, encouraged Lehman to run for public office.

“Del. [Pena] Melnyk really shaped the course of my political career. I would not have ran for public office in the first place if it hadn't been for her support,” Lehman said. “She is really my mentor politically and professionally.”

Peña-Melnyk said she has a lot of respect for Lehman and is happy they are serving District 21 together.

“I really consider her my sister from another mother,” Peña-Melnyk said.

Lehman has an “amazing, beautiful. generous heart,” Peña-Melnyk said. She called Lehman very committed, disciplined and said she goes the extra mile for her constituents.

“We need more public servants who are really grounded in the community, know their community and care and have a heart, and she does,” Peña-Melnyk said. “She is one of the most intelligent people that I know. She is the whole package.”

Lehman was the District 1 Councilwoman from 2010 to 2018 until she became term-limited.

In Prince George’s County a council-member can only serve two consecutive terms but can run for a third after sitting out for at least one term or four years.

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In District 1, Lehman worked for the people of Adelphi, Beltsville, Calverton, North College Park, Laurel, Montpelier, South Laurel, West Laurel and Vansville.

Two of Lehman’s greatest accomplishments on the council centered around Laurel.

The first was the opening of the 31,000-square-foot Prince George's Laurel Library Branch in November 2016.

As plans were created for the new library, community leaders were brought in to envision what they wanted the new library to look like.

Some people wanted to have a two-story library.

“We brought everyone to believing a one story [building] is better, a two-story can create staffing problems,” Lehman said.

Lehman successfully lobbied for the building have solar panels, and the parking surface is a pervious surface so all the rain water is soaked in; there are electric car charges and inside there are low flow toilets and sinks, emergency efficient lightning and more.

“It turned out to be a beautiful building, a green building,” she said.

Her second accomplishment was having a hand in saving Laurel Hospital.

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“Dimensions [Healthcare System] were set to close it and seemed out of nowhere,” Lehman said. “I along with other elected officials [said] … ‘No we need this hospital,’ we need a hospital at the nexus of four counties essentially. There is a need for a community hospital.”

The University of Maryland Medical System assumed ownership of Dimensions in September 2017, renaming it to University of Maryland Capital Region Health. At the same time, UM assumed control over the Laurel hospital and renamed it UM Laurel Regional Hospital.

The 40-year-old hospital is transitioning to become a state-of-the-art medical center to serve Laurel and surrounding areas.

“Laurel, for whatever reason, maybe its geography being off of I-95, draws a significant number of homeless and mentally ill people that need care,” Lehman said.

Saving the hospital, Lehman thinks “is something we can wear as a badge of honor.”

Prince George’s Councilwoman Dannielle Glaros, a Democrat who represents District 3, said Lehman is an advocate for her community.

“She goes out of her way for her constituents and just has this huge heart, particularly around her residents [and] her most needy residents who need social services or frankly need to make sure they have access to mental health services. She is a tremendous advocate on behalf of them,” Glaros said.

Glaros first met Lehman when she was working as Dernoga’s liaison. When Lehman became a council member, Glaros was chief of staff for another council member at the time and was able to work with Lehman and her staff on environmental legislation over the years.

The two worked together on Prince George’s county-wide ban on styrofoam that is now the model of a statewide bill in the General Assembly. Styrofoam products, including food containers and hot and cold beverage cups, are banned from being sold in the county.

As a councilwoman, Lehman was vocally opposed to the proposed high-speed maglev train, which travels atspeeds of 300 miles per hour while levitating on magnetic tracks above and underground.

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The east route would travel through the campuses of NASA, the NSA and parts of Fort Meade.

The west route is designed to travel through parts of Laurel, Beltsville and Greenbelt.

Lehman is still “very, very opposed to maglev.”

Her reasoning is three-fold: From an environmental perspective, the route would force the removal of a lot of trees. The cost of riding would be beyond the average commuter. Finally, there are no proposed stops between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., so the train would not spur economic development to the areas it travels through.

Lehman had filed a bill in the state legislature proposing that businesses affected by maglev construction receive state income and property tax credits. Her bill also would require maglev developers to file plans with county governments.

“We have to continue to oppose it and be vocal about it and if it’s going to be built, to mitigate the impacts of it on the corridor,” Lehman said. “Pain and no gain is the way a lot of people think about it.”

As her time on council was coming to a close, Lehman had to decide, was she ending her time in public service or not?

She asked herself, “Can I continue to make a difference, is there still work to be done, is there ways I can help?I decided the answer was yes,” Lehman said.

In her freshman legislative session, Lehman is looking forward to learning.

“My goal is learn as much as possible,” Lehman said. “To ask good questions, do my part to help other stakeholders, help audience members and help my colleagues understand things better.”

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Lehman is a member of the Environment and Transportation Committee, an associate member of Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus and is a member of the Women’s Caucus.

“It’s a great assignment, it’s the one I wanted,” Leham said, of the environment and transportation committee. ‘I kind of built a reputation on the County Council on doing a lot of environment legislation.”

The Maryland General Assembly is a little over a month into session and Lehman said it “starts out a little bit slow and then faster and faster and faster as it gets into the 90 day session.”

“It’s going to get crazy, but a good crazy,” she said. “The days will get longer, the sessions will get longer.”

Lehman is the primary sponsor of five bills and is co-sponsor to nearly 100 bills in session.

Along with maglev, is she sponsoring bills concerning: establishing an Anne Arundel School Construction Master Plan Workgroup; requiring all county school boards to implement a requirement to provide equal access to public services for individuals with limited English proficiency; a proper display of synthetic turf and turf infill; and allowing for the spouse of a person for a violation of a protective order to potentially be an adverse witness.

The Maryland General Assembly ends April 8, on Lehman’s 55th birthday.

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