Impunity in Prince George's

Thursday, February 7, 2008

THE PRINCE George's County Democratic Party, in its wisdom, has decreed that David Harrington (D-Cheverly), current chairman of the County Council, will fill a vacant state Senate seat. In doing so, the party has elevated an official of questionable ethical standards whose use of county-issued charge cards for personal expenses helped trigger both federal and state investigations in the recent past. Since memories are short, let's review the record.

A little more than a year ago, The Post reported that several County Council members, as well as Jack B. Johnson (D), the county executive, had billed a dizzying variety of personal expenses -- medical, grooming, hotel stays -- to the taxpayers. Mr. Harrington figured prominently in that story, having charged more than $27,000 to the county-issued card in just over three years. Among the charges he made using the taxpayers' credit card were gym memberships for himself and three staff members ($1,200); a shirt to wear to his pastor's funeral ($37.99); a haircut ($21); round-trip air tickets for his son to fly home for Thanksgiving from Atlanta; dry cleaning; hotel stays; a prescription drug; and video rentals. Asked about his use of the card to pay for the airline ticket, his explanation was: "I didn't have my other credit card on me." Mr. Harrington insisted he had repaid the charges, although in some cases it took many months, and the county could not provide documentation of the repayments.

In response to those revelations, Glenn F. Ivey (D), the state's attorney in Prince George's, requested that the Maryland state prosecutor's office initiate an investigation; the prosecutor's office agreed. Federal investigators also began looking into the practices described in the article. No indictments have been returned, but make no mistake: The allegations are serious.

We are not so naive as to imagine that local Democratic Party officials would insist on naming a state senator whose conduct was beyond ethical reproach. Mr. Harrington, moreover, has not been a terrible council member. But in this case, the damage is reinforced by the fact that the party had an excellent alternative: Rushern L. Baker III, a former state delegate with an outstanding record in the state capital and impeccable ethical credentials. As it happens, Mr. Baker is a longtime political rival of Mr. Johnson, who apparently intervened to oppose his candidacy. In choosing Mr. Harrington, the party elders simply reinforced the county's reputation in Annapolis for impropriety and proved that ethical dysfunction is no hindrance to career advancement.

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