Pr. George's, Md., Politicians Say Friendship Will Survive Competition

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 22, 2009

They live in the same neighborhood, attend the same church and belong to the same Saturday night potluck dinner club. They're both lawyers with long careers in government and a strong commitment to public service. They even got shot together a few years ago -- one in the arm and one in the leg -- when a pellet gun-wielding bandit opened fire while they stood in line at an ice cream stand.

Now Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey and former delegate Rushern L. Baker III are running against each other in next year's race for county executive, and they have created a stir in the county's Democratic circles.

"It's kind of funny, actually, the response we're getting," said Baker, 50, who is godfather to Ivey's son, Troy. "We're friends, so it doesn't bother us. But it sure makes for heartburn for a lot of our friends."

Ivey laughed. "I was at Rushern's 50th birthday party . . . and somebody came up to me and whispered, 'Rushern's on the other side of the room.' I was like, 'Yeah, I know he's here. It's his party,' " Ivey, 48, recalled. "It was like I stepped into enemy territory or something."

Neither man has officially declared, but each has told associates that he will run. Baker, executive director of an education nonprofit group, has put up a Web site.

The problem, politicos said, is that the two strong candidates have many of the same supporters, who will be split between them if they both run. That might give an advantage to another contender and lead both to defeat in next September's Democratic primary.

"Both of them have respected backgrounds, and if both of them could serve somewhere, it would be a gain for the community," said Wayne K. Curry, a former two-term county executive. "If one wipes out the other or someone else annihilates both of them, it's really a net loss for the advancement of our community and the promise that Prince George's has represented, even nationally."

Baker and Ivey have more than each other to worry about. Although none of them has declared, several other county Democrats have been floated as contenders, including Sheriff Michael Jackson, state Sen. C. Anthony Muse and County Council member Camille Exum (Seat Pleasant).

The incumbent, Democrat Jack B. Johnson, cannot seek reelection because of term limits. Baker ran against him in 2002 and 2006 and came close to defeating Johnson the second time. Ivey was elected state's attorney in both those years.

There is no doubt that the two men have much in common, including experience as legislative aides on Capitol Hill. Ivey worked for Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and for Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) when they were senators. Baker worked for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Curry said that despite the similarities between Baker and Ivey, each has strengths that lend themselves to success in politics. "Rushern's viewed as an expert on local and state politics, and everybody thinks that Glenn's background, résumé and temperament would be perfect downtown in some federal role," he said. "The notion that we could wind up with neither is paradoxical."

The matchup is another in a long line of contests in which friendship has been tested by political ambition. Civil rights legends Julian Bond and John Lewis competed for a Georgia congressional seat in 1986 -- a race that Lewis won -- and the friendship between the two Democrats has not recovered.

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