By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson claimed a reelection victory early this morning after a facing a surprisingly tough challenge from Rushern L. Baker III.
"It's been a long night, a long day," Johnson told supporters shortly after 1 a.m. "We're going to have four more years, I can tell you that."
He spoke even though just half of the county's precincts had reported their results, and his lead was less than 4 percentage points. Baker had not conceded defeat.
Baker told supporters after midnight that he was not prepared to concede.
"We're going to stay up all night until every vote is counted," he said. "We want to make sure that people hear what you all are saying, that you want change."
Results were slow to arrive, an election worker said, because workers at more than half of precincts were unable to electronically upload their data to a central office and had to submit data manually instead.
Johnson, 57, was once thought virtually untouchable in his quest to lead Maryland's second-largest county for another four years. But Baker, 47, a former Maryland delegate, mounted an energized campaign late that resulted in an endorsement slugfest between the two in the last week before yesterday's Democratic primary.
First, former county executives Wayne K. Curry and Parris N. Glendening, who also served as governor, threw their support to Baker. Then State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey did, too. Johnson countered dramatically Friday, announcing the support of civil rights activist Jesse L. Jackson.
There is no Republican running, so whoever emerges victorious from the Democratic primary wins the job.
In other races, County Council member Douglas J.J. Peters was leading in a race to replace retiring Sen. Leo E. Green. In southern Prince George's, minister C. Anthony Muse led Del. Obie Patterson after a spirited race to replace Lawlah. And longtime education activist Donna Hathaway Beck was leading the crowded field of candidates for Board of Education. All three incumbents who faced challengers in their races for reelection to the County Council were ahead.
Voters were met by the last-minute campaigning as well as glitches such as inoperable voting machines that left some angry people unable or waiting to cast ballots.
From the start, the election hinged on residents' perceptions of the state of the county. Johnson portrayed Prince George's as a place on the move. He noted that though crime has risen during his term, recent statistics show it has dropped this year. He boasted of opening schools and overseeing improvements in the Prince George's bond rating, a sign that Wall Street thinks the county's financial health is improving.
The message was persuasive to many voters, who said Johnson had done well in the past four years and deserved to keep his job.
"Nobody can do everything they want to do in one term," said Temple Hills resident Norma Jenkins Stewart, 60. "Unless an incumbent does something really, really horrible, they should be given a chance to finish what they've started."
But Baker pointed to last year's record homicide rate and asked residents if they felt safer than they once did. He said, too, that Johnson had not been active enough in improving county schools. And Baker sent out hard-edged fliers that accused Johnson of corruption, noting a Washington Post report that the former state's attorney had awarded nearly $3.3 million in county contracts to friends and supporters.
Jerry Johnson, 54, said he supported Baker because he thought the challenger might bring a fresh approach to fighting crime. Jerry Johnson said his vote was sealed when his car was stolen from his Temple Hills driveway a few weeks ago. "I just don't think Johnson's doing too much on crime," he said.
Several residents responded to Curry's endorsement of Baker. Curry, the first African American elected executive in the majority-black county, remains popular four years after he left office.
"I hope you'll consider voting for my friend," he told one woman outside Perrywood Elementary School in Largo.
"I already have," she replied.State Senate Races
In other races in Prince George's, some primary winners will face Republican opposition in November, but the county's devotion to Democratic politics means that most who won their party's primary yesterday had cleared their last hurdle to election.
Voters were in effect electing two new state senators to replace retiring Democrats Leo E. Green and Gloria G. Lawlah. Three men, including County Council member Douglas J.J. Peters, competed to replace Green. In the southern section of the county, minister C. Anthony Muse and Del. Obie Patterson fought a spirited race to replace Lawlah.
Sens. Ulysses Currie, Nathaniel Exum, Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Paul G. Pinsky were unopposed in the Democratic primary, and only Miller faces a Republican challenger in November.
In the Cheverly area, Sen. Gwendolyn Britt faced education activist George Seymore.
In early returns, Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. was trailing former Maryland delegate and U.S. ambassador Jim Rosapepe, in a race probably best known for a well-publicized incident in which Giannetti performed the Heimlich maneuver on his choking challenger at an Annapolis restaurant last spring.House, Council Races
Prince George's residents were choosing nominees for several open delegate seats, including that of retiring Pauline H. Menes, to join incumbents in Annapolis.
All nine County Council seats were on the ballot, though four Democratic incumbents faced no primary challengers. In open seats, eight Democrats competed for the chance to take on Republican Jim Wildoner in November for the council spot vacated by Peters. Three candidates competed to replace Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton), who was forced out by term limits.
Three other Democratic council members ran for reelection and faced primary challengers.School Board Races
Prince George's residents also faced a dizzying array of 46 nonpartisan choices for Board of Education in this, the first election for school board in six years. The last elected board was dismissed by state lawmakers and a caretaker board appointed in its place in 2002 to provide stability to a system that had endured years of political infighting.
In this primary, voters whittled the field to 18. In the general election, they will pick nine to take office.