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Mfume's Senate Candidacy Has Some County Leaders Cheering

By Hamil R. Harris and Tracey A. Reeves
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page PG02

Just days after U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) said that he would retire rather than seek a sixth term next year, the first candidate announced his entry into the race, to the applause of some prominent Prince Georgians and friends of the county.

On Monday, former national NAACP president and five-term Maryland Democratic congressman Kweisi Mfume officially declared his candidacy. Among those praising Mfume's decision to enter what could be an interesting race was the Rev. Betty Peebles, senior pastor of the 19,000-member Jericho City of Praise in Landover.

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"When Mfume led the NAACP, he was strong on civil rights," Peebles said, adding that she also likes Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) for the job. "I think [Mfume] is possibly a good candidate, but I want to know where he stands on the issues," Peebles said.

Steele, Peebles said, has "kind of won my heart."

Regardless of who runs, Peebles said her congregation will be involved in the race. "I believe that the church is going to make the difference in this election."

Other county ministers agreed.

The Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., pastor of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, said he likes the idea that Mfume, Steele or someone else could become Maryland's first African American U.S. senator. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us to mobilize larger-than-normal voter participation because this is an off-year election," Browning said Sunday during a service at the church.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who visited Ebenezer on Sunday as part of an effort to register 1 million new voters before the 2006 election, said he admired Mfume for entering the Senate race and subjecting himself to personal scrutiny.

"He is a coalition builder," Jackson said, adding that he believes Mfume's candidacy could pull together people of all colors and backgrounds. "This is good for America, to have a man of his caliber take the risk of running for public office."

One lawmaker who will not seek Sarbanes's seat is Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D), who said he would forgo a Senate bid because it was not the right time for him to run.

Women Honored

Martin's Crosswinds was the place to see and be seen last week, during the county's 20th annual Women's History Month Luncheon. The event attracted the usual well-dressed crowd: elected leaders, public safety officials and business types, and the people who work for them.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) was there, sitting alongside his wife, Leslie Johnson, and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who worked the crowd, dispensing hugs, kisses, handshakes and slaps on the back.

The theme of this year's event, held annually to recognize the accomplishments of women, was "Women of Change: Transforming Prince George's County Through the Arts."

Maralita "Micki" Freeny picked up the Gladys Noon Spellman Award, which honors a woman in county government. Freeny, director of the county library system, was cited for managing the system and its $20 million budget, and for forging a partnership with the public school system that includes a popular summer reading program that encourages kids to pick up books during summer break.

During the luncheon, Johnson awarded $1,000 scholarships to Ashal Major of Friendly High School, Stephanie Park of Fairmont Heights High School and Ashley Watkins of Laurel High School.

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