Obama should take time to visit Prince George’s County

Courtland Milloy
Columnist January 28

To get to the Costco in Lanham on Wednesday, President Obama only has to take a chopper south from the White House, hook a left at the Wilson Bridge and set down at Joint Base Andrews. From there, a motorcade will get him to the big-box store in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Welcome back to Prince George’s County, Mr. President.

“One thing we say a lot is that the president spends more time in our county than any other in America,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said.

Mostly takeoffs and landings, unfortunately.

What the president could do is spend more time actually seeing the county. I live in Fort Washington and sometimes glimpse what looks like Obama’s helicopter, Marine One, heading back from Andrews. I’d like to wave him on down for a chat and tour but wouldn’t want to get shot for trying to be neighborly.

So here’s a written invitation instead.

During his visit to Costco, Obama is expected to reiterate economic themes that were sounded during his State of the Union address Tuesday. The store was chosen as a backdrop because Costco executives support the Affordable Care Act as well as the president’s efforts to increase the minimum wage. But it is the county that has set the tone for such progressive practices.

Not far from Costco, the county is putting up a regional health-care facility, “signaling greater access to quality health care,” as Baker put it. The county has also redoubled efforts to improve mass transit, especially Metrorail service. There has even been what Baker called “a tiny uptick” in public school enrollment.

Most striking of all are improvements in public safety — and the increased number of buildings going up now that the crime rate is going down.

“We’ve seen the largest reduction in crime compared to any county in the U.S.,” Baker said. That includes a 30 percent drop in homicides in recent years.

If Costco can get a presidential pat on the back for supporting Obama’s policies, then Prince George’s ought to get at least as much. Rather than coming to the county just to talk about the economy, Obama could actually do something to boost it. Relocate the FBI headquarters to Greenbelt, for example.

Prince George’s is home to 25 percent of the federal workforce, and yet only 3.9 percent of the federal offices are in the county.

The decision on where to put the FBI building, now in the District, will be made in the fall. The two top sites are in Prince George’s and Northern Virginia. The Obama administration will then be faced with a tough choice: put the 11,000-employee headquarters in Virginia to help shore up the political fortunes of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) or in the county that has proved the most unabashedly and sometimes even irrationally supportive and loyal?

“Think about how the county has stood by the president in the five years that he has been in office,” Baker said. “We sent volunteers throughout the country to campaign for him. The largest donations from African Americans to his campaign came from Prince George’s County. From embracing Obamacare to supporting the minimum wage, no one has been there for him like our residents.”

What ought to commend Prince George’s more than anything else is the evidence that Obama’s audacious seeds of hope are starting to bear fruit in the county.

“We’ve got a great story to tell about what can happen when you put all the right pieces in place, the pieces that Obama has been advocating,” Baker said.

Maybe one day soon Marine One will land in Prince George’s and Obama will wave off the helicopter ride back to the White House. Instead, he’ll take a limo ride up to Largo, lunch at Wegmans, talk with his admirers, head up to Greenbelt to see for himself where the FBI will be headquartered.

Along the way, he’ll see signs that jobs are being created, schools improving, affordable health care and housing being provided. Just a hint of what his legacy could be.

To read previous columns by Courtland Milloy, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

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