Maryland Town's First Black Mayor Says She's Target of Racist Attacks, Bullying

Upper Marlboro Mayor Tonga Turner announces resignation after less than two years in office

The mayor of a small Maryland town announced she is resigning and says she has been the victim of racist attacks and bullying. Residents say it wasn't until she resigned that alarming incidents came to light, which included her tires being slashed and a former town commissioner doodling swastikas during a town meeting.

Upper Marlboro Mayor Tonga Turner said the racist attacks are not the reason she is stepping down, though she alluded in her resignation letter to the town's "dark history and past."

“I am writing to inform you that effective Friday, June 21, 2019, I will no longer be serving as mayor and president of the board of commissioners for the town of Upper Marlboro," Turner wrote in the letter, which cited progress in having secured $800,000 in grants, legislation that advanced economic development and the establishment of "an outreach team that is focused on diversity and inclusion." 

"It is no secret that the Town of Upper Marlboro has been plagued with a dark history and past, but my hope is that in the past two years under my leadership, each of you has seen the great promise for our future," Turner's letter said.

Turner, the town’s first African-American mayor, said the attacks began after she first took office, according to people who were in Monday night's town hall meeting. 

“She explained a lot about receiving threatening emails and being called certain words from her constituents,” Upper Marlboro resident Angel Saules said. “Her tires have been slashed, from what I understand. And then kind of like the kicker and I think what made it be a part of the meeting is that someone who attends very regularly had been sketching swastika signs.”

“No one as a whole, as an entire community, knew these things were happening until last night when she just resigned,” resident Monica Wilson said.

Wilson took a photo after noticing a man at Monday's meeting -- a former town commissioner, multiple sources confirm -- drawing swastikas in a yellow legal pad. 

“And I look over and see him scribbling swastikas over and over again,” Wilson said. “He flips the pages, continues to scribble additional swastikas.”

“There have been some things that have happened during her year and a half as mayor that she did talk about at the town meeting last night,” town spokesman Ray Feldmann said. “There have been some incidents that she's had to deal with, but those were not incidents that had anything to do with her resignation.”

Feldmann said that while the racism has been a challenge, Turner resigned so she could spend more time with family. He acknowledged the mayor's progressive thinking got some pushback.

“She is about not accepting the status quo, shaking things up, and that has not been acceptable to a lot of people,” Feldmann said.

Very little has changed in the small historic town, which has 657 residents as of the 2008 census. It's the Prince George's County seat, a now predominantly African-American county. Turner was proposing plans for economic growth and expanding the town's limits. Upper Marlboro is just one mile across and a half mile wide. 

“If you look at the county, everything is being developed except for the county seat,” Wilson said. “We’re no longer even the county seat other than geographically. Everything has moved out of here because they have had a long history of being difficult working with the county officials."

Tonga concluded her resignation letter by saing she was "truly excited about what the future holds for the town and what the future holds for me as we both embark on new journeys."

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