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Church Leaders Cheer Speech by Johnson

By Ovetta Wiggins and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page PG02

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson visited Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington on Sunday and told nearly 200 church and community leaders that he disagrees with the view held by some County Council members that the county's mega-churches are snatching up prime tax property.

Johnson's comments came during the opening reception of the annual conference of the 2nd Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to the Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., pastor of the 10,000-member church. Browning said Johnson's comments were well received.

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Johnson told the church gathering that churches are the "moral guardian of the community" and "what the churches contribute is far greater than what the taxes would say," Browning said.

The 2nd Episcopal District's conference, which includes Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale and Union Bethel AME Church in Brandywine, is convening this week under the leadership of their new prelate, Bishop Adam J. Richardson, who recently moved to the area from Florida.

"The annual conference is a time for congregations to come together for fellowship, as well as for pastors to get assignments," Richardson said. "This conference gives us a chance to focus in on some of the issues that relate to the state of the country, state of the church and issues that we need to focus on."

In his new role, Richardson said he has put together a seven-point plan to address such issues as HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention.

"We are talking everything from men being on the down low [secretly having homosexual relations] to the proliferation of HIV-AIDS among African American women," Richardson said.

The prelate said his plan also includes staying involved in the national political process and working to strengthen economic empowerment in the minority community.

A Reborn Relationship

Johnson stayed away from developers when he ran for county executive two years ago. Or maybe it was the other way around. They stayed away from him.

From the look and sound of things at the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce dinner last week, all that has changed.

Milton V. Peterson, the developer of National Harbor, the proposed business, shopping and entertainment complex along the Potomac River, introduced Johnson.

Peterson credited Johnson for recognizing the worth of the $2 billion project as soon as he won the top position.

"He met with me and he said, 'How do we make it happen?' " Peterson said.

Peterson called Johnson a "great leader," who, along with the County Council, would move the county even further along.

Johnson spent much of his address trumpeting the fact that the county has finally come into its own. Besides National Harbor, a number of other major projects are underway in the county, he said.

Attending the chamber event were Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who lately has become a fixture at any big event in the county; Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler; U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is considering a run for U.S. Senate; Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey; and former delegate Rushern Baker, who was working the crowd as he considers another run for county executive in 2006.

Aiming to Calm Nerves

Apparently Washington Gas representatives spent much of last week going door-to-door, but they were not talking to their customers. They were with their customers' elected County Council members.

The message: Everything is okay.

The utility has been under quite a bit of scrutiny since a house in District Heights exploded March 28 after residents complained of a persistent gas odor in the neighborhood.

Since then, gas officials have acknowledged that there is a high volume of gas leaks in a 100-square-mile area of the county, particularly those south of Route 50, including Clinton.

Last week, the state Public Service Commission opened a formal inquiry into the company's handling of the complaints about gas odors.

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