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Prince George's County

Democrats Crowd Council Primary Ballot

Shapiro's Midterm Resignation Brings Out Varied Field Running for 2nd District Seat

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2004; Page C04

A flight attendant turned lawyer. A computer network administrator turned Hispanic outreach worker. A former County Council member turned convicted felon.

There's a teacher. A substitute teacher. And a college student who is taking a leave from dealing with teachers.

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They are part of the varied field of candidates lined up to replace former Prince George's County Council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood), who resigned in July midway through his term.

In all, eight Democrats pack the ballot in Tuesday's special primary election for a district that includes about a half-dozen racially and ethnically diverse communities hugging the D.C. line in Prince George's County. The winner will face the lone Republican candidate in the general election on Nov. 2 in the race to serve out the remaining two years of Shapiro's term.

The primary contest has come down to a bout mainly among four candidates: Will Campos, who works for County Executive Jack B. Johnson as his liaison for Hispanic affairs; Karren Jo Pope-Onwukwe, a lawyer and treasurer of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee; Malinda Miles, a consultant and member of the Mount Rainier council; and Chris Currie, a product development manager and member of the Hyattsville council.

The other candidates are: Derrick M. Posey, a teacher; Amber Waller, a member of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee; Jennifer Mitchum, a substitute teacher; and Anthony J. Cicoria, a former County Council member who spent time in prison for misusing campaign funds.

Wayne Clarke, a lobbyist and political consultant, said, "That's what happens when you have an open seat -- everybody wants the free shot."

The campaign took off quickly after Shapiro announced his resignation to take a position at the University of Maryland.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will face Tommy S. Priestley, an Ohio State University student and the only Republican candidate, in November. The council member will represent a district that includes Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, Brentwood, Lewisdale and Langley Park. In recent years, Shapiro has tried to transform stretches of the area's dilapidated commercial corridor into an arts district.

Campos, who has never run for political office, has garnered financial support and endorsements from several political heavy hitters, including U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md), state Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's) and County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D).

He has raised more than $57,000 during the 11-week campaign, much of it from developers who have had significant influence in Prince George's politics. Some of his opponents have called him a "ringer for developers."

"I've gotten support from all different levels," said Campos, who is seeking to become the first Hispanic elected to the County Council and has run advertisements on black and Spanish-language radio stations. "We've built a great coalition. . . . The fact of the matter is if we want to increase the tax base in Prince George's County, I have to be in contact with developers."

Campos said he is most concerned about the county's educational system and providing the funds school officials need to improve the system.

Currie, who jumped into the race last month, said he decided to become a candidate because of the influence of special interests.

"It's easy for someone who hasn't held public office to underestimate the lack of freedom you have when you don't have name recognition and you get a lot of money that you couldn't win without," said Currie, who has raised about $30,000. "Whether it's special-interest groups or big political bosses, it will mean spending a lot of time trading favors."

Miles, who made an unsuccessful run for the state Senate, said she wants to "give a voice to the little people." As a civic activist and city council member, she said she has the experience to put together legislation and budgets that are in the best interests of her constituents.

While Shapiro's resignation came as a shock in political circles, a bigger surprise came last month with the reemergence of Cicoria. He represented District 2 on the County Council from 1982 to 1990 before going to prison for taking more than $64,000 out of his campaign fund for personal use. His fall from grace included a year on the run from the law.

Public records list Cicoria's last address in Florida, but his official filing uses a Hyattsville address.

He could not be reached for comment.

Cicoria was sentenced to five years in prison for misusing the campaign funds, serving nine months before being placed on probation.

He violated that probation in 1992 when he failed to show up for a hearing over alleged use of his old county credit card to charge more than $2,400 in phone calls. Many of the calls were made during his nine-month stint in prison. He was a fugitive for a year before being returned to prison.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company