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Urbina's pitch to 5th District voters: go younger

Urbina challenges Hoyer

Democratic candidate for Maryland’s 5th Congressional District Briana Urbina stands in a parking lot after an evening canvassing in a residential development in early November.

Briana Urbina and her campaign staff marched through rows of two-story homes with red brick and vinyl siding exteriors as the sun inched closer to the horizon on an evening earlier this month. Red and brown leaves crunched beneath their feet, echoing along tree-lined sidewalks.

Field director Michael Oliver brandished a tablet with a targeted list of Democratic primary voters, pointing his colleagues to a house and reading out the resident’s name.

“Our goal is to knock on 35,000 doors by the end of the year,” 35-year-old Urbina told Capital News Service.

She wore black jeans and a black leather jacket over a red GAP sweatshirt. Tufts of curly, jet black hair streamed to her shoulders.

Urbina said her campaign had knocked on about 2,000 doors as of early November. She cited affordable housing, “Medicare for all,” criminal justice reform, civil rights and education as her campaign’s priorities.

Like a fellow challenger for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s 5th Congressional District, McKayla Wilkes, Urbina thinks it’s time for generational change in the district’s leadership.

Many voters tell her they love the 20-term incumbent, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th).

But “it’s time for a new generation of leadership,” Urbina said. “[Hoyer is] 80 years old. He can’t be in Congress forever.”

That realization, plus President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, convinced Urbina to enter this race.

She recalled being a public school teacher and facing her students the morning after Trump’s victory.

“Looking in the faces of my students, there was this overall sense of disappointment,” Urbina said. “I felt like I couldn’t let their lives be defined by that moment.”

Urbina was born to Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx, N.Y., and practiced as a civil rights attorney before teaching. She is the primary caretaker to her brother Andres, who has special needs and volunteers on her campaign.

The candidate has been married to her wife, Laura, for almost 10 years. The couple is adopting a 12-year-old son and live in New Carrollton.

Urbina said when knocking on doors, she and her staffers ask residents, “‘What do you think is the most important thing for Congress to be working on?’ It’s usually something that resonates with our campaign.”

Urbina, her brother Andres, Oliver and campaign volunteer Vanessa Hoffman went door to door through the Bowie neighborhood, hoping to engage prospective voters.

Urbina walked up to 63-year-old Doreen LaRoche’s house, where the resident swung at Trump.

“Nobody just off the street should be able to run [for president]. … How did he get in here? There’s no criteria for the president of the United States,” LaRoche said.

Urbina said the Founders didn’t envision a president like Trump and left out requirements for the presidency in the Constitution — but they also couldn’t foresee people like her and LaRoche voting.

She said goodbye to LaRoche, left a campaign flyer and moved to the next house.

Between houses, Urbina shared more of her backstory.

She said she was going on 15 years of sobriety, after an addiction to alcohol and prescription painkillers in her late teens. “The day that we woke up and Trump was president was my [12th] sobriety anniversary,” Urbina said.

She walked up to 50-year-old government employee Rochelle Sales’s home and told her it was time for a new generation of leadership to tackle the issues of the day.

“Yeah, it is,” Sales said. “We have to. And take on Donald Trump. We have to get him out of there.”

Urbina and Sales agreed that Congress had been too lenient on Trump — that included the incumbent.

“I love Steny Hoyer, but it’s time for him to go home and sit down,” Sales said.

Urbina dropped off another flyer, telling Sales, “Please check out our website!” and departed to the next house.

Her team continued its odyssey through the residential development as the sun set and the temperature dropped.

The second-most powerful Democrat in the House will not be easy to defeat. Urbina and Wilkes are among his most prominent challengers. But with overlapping identities — both are young, progressive women of color — their campaigns have had contentious moments.

In August, Urbina authored a Medium post that called out Wilkes for having a DUI on her driving record.

Wilkes’ campaign, like Urbina’s, cites criminal justice reform as a top priority. Wilkes has told voters about a cycle of suspended licenses and stints in prison that she said stem from unpaid parking tickets and court fees.

Urbina said Wilkes had not been forthright about her DUI, and that her messaging did “a disservice to those who are truly victims of the criminal justice system.”

Wilkes told CNS that she responded to Urbina’s post in an Aug. 25 statement on the Facebook page for Prince George’s County’s chapter of the progressive group Our Revolution.

“I don’t speak about my DUI when speaking about criminal justice reform because it’s not fair to others,” Wilkes said. “I was locked up two years later because I didn’t have money to pay subsequent traffic violations.” She maintained the DUI and her suspended license were separate incidents.

Urbina justified her post, saying, “I’m not telling people not to vote for McKayla. I’m telling them that there is someone else in this race who didn’t just start running because of [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)].”

Maryland’s Democratic primary, which will pit Urbina against Wilkes and Hoyer, will be held April 28.

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