University of Maryland alumnus Ryan Belcher couldn’t stay away from College Park for long.
Though he walked across the Xfinity Center stage to receive his diploma just five months ago, he announced his candidacy for the upcoming City Council election Sept. 16.
“I was a pretty active undergraduate,” said Belcher, who served on the University Senate and majored in environmental science and policy and government and politics. “As a result, I kind of gauged how the city operates. I’ve noticed that there are several divisions that hamper our town from thriving.”
Belcher is vying for a District 3 seat, as did the last student to run for City Council. Matthew Popkin, a graduate student who ran in the 2013 election, lost to the district’s incumbent council members, Stephanie Stullich and Robert Day.
“I believe the way the districts are drawn now, it’s not easy for a student to get elected,” Mayor Andy Fellows said. “There should be a district that’s represented solely by students.”
Belcher said District 3's position would allow him to address tensions between the city and the university.
“There are divisions between council members, between council members and constituents, and most importantly, between the university and city,” Belcher said. “These divisions have created hard lines that are hurting College Park.”
One of the most pressing of these divisive issues centers on student housing, Belcher said.
In a city with relatively pricey rents — the recently constructed Landmark apartments cost residents between $900 and $1,800 a month — it’s critical that students who aren’t awarded on-campus housing have access to affordable options like rental houses, Belcher said.
“One of the elephants in the room that no one talks about is the student housing issue,” Belcher said. “More generally speaking, I think council members have shown a history of not supporting a diverse range of student housing options. I think the general consensus from some groups is we have to have a spectrum of housing options.”
Articles published this week on sites like Total Frat Move and BroBible made claims that “students are aboutta get boned out of off-campus housing unless they vote” for Belcher and “College Park City Council will ruin Greek life unless UMD students elect this recent graduate.”
The articles falsely state that the College Park City Council almost passed a bill last year that would have restricted students from renting homes in College Park.
Belcher said he isn’t affiliated with the articles, adding that he wants to appeal to a broader range of residents than just students.
“We’re trying to run a campaign here that engages everyone properly,” Belcher said. “If it’s a group that we think is going to have valuable input, our goal is to create a conversation with them about that.”
Doing so means forming a connection not only with students but also other residents, said Mihir Khetarpal, Belcher’s campaign manager.
“The main thing that sets us apart is his solutions are not only good for students, but long-term residents,” said Khetarpal, a sophomore government and politics and economics major. “We don’t want to be a student campaign. We want to convince residents that Ryan will be the best person to represent them. Even though he’s a recent graduate, his ideas are going to help long-term residents alleviate their issues while also helping students feel like they’re not outsiders.”
This multifaceted approach will be critical if Belcher hopes to succeed in the upcoming election, Fellows said. Elections are Nov. 3; voters are required to register by Oct. 6.
“Council candidates need to impress upon people to vote the desire to have them,” Fellows said. “Matthew Popkin ran an excellent campaign in that he wasn’t just going after students, he was talking to long-term residents and engaging both. I don’t know Ryan well but I presume he has the intelligence to run that kind of campaign.”