2 public safety unions back Baker for Pr. George's executive

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010

Former delegate Rushern L. Baker III won the support of two out of three public safety unions that announced endorsements Wednesday in the Prince George's County executive race.

The county's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 and Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association -- which represent a combined membership of more than 4,000 active and retired public safety workers -- picked Baker. But members of the county's Deputy Sheriffs Association FOP Lodge 112, voting by secret ballot, chose Sheriff Michael A. Jackson over Baker, 119 to 90, union President Robert A. Cease said.

Baker said: "I think it's a great day for us. We feel really good about getting two of the largest public safety unions. We've got momentum going in."

As the candidates scramble to raise money leading up to a critical campaign finance report this month, the endorsements could be seen as a sign of weakness for Jackson's campaign, given that he is an established figure in the county's public safety community. Although Jackson carried the deputy sheriffs union vote, the margin was relatively narrow.

Jackson did not return several calls for comment Wednesday.

The nods of approval for Baker came about a month after he was relieved of a major hurdle: the candidacy of Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. Long rumored to be in the race for county executive, Ivey said last month that he would not seek the job and that he was instead exploring a Democratic primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards in Maryland's 4th District. Had they run head-to-head, Ivey and Baker would have been tapping the same base of support, several political observers have said.

In a statement, FOP Lodge 89 President Ismael "Vince" Canales praised Baker's, "vision, energy and experience to lead our County during this critical time," as reasons for the endorsement.

"We plan to utilize every resource to see that he becomes the next Prince George's County Executive," Canales said.

When deciding endorsements, only the deputy sheriffs union allowed all its members to vote. The other two had their executive boards decide.

All the unions interviewed several candidates in the already crowded field, which includes two County Council members, a state delegate and other potential contestants. According to attendees of the vetting sessions, the issues of furloughs and layoffs loomed large.

Facing large budget gaps, the county has imposed 10-day furloughs on all employees for two fiscal years in a row, despite stiff opposition from public safety union officials who say the policy puts residents at risk. The county also laid off 50 employees last year in response to a state budget cut, although no sworn public safety officers were let go, officials said.

Baker said he pledged to the unions that no public safety or education workers would be furloughed or laid off under his administration, a position Canales said had resonated.

"That played a huge part into the decision making process," Canales said.

County Council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), also running for executive, said before the sheriffs union results Wednesday that the other two endorsements were not surprising because officials from outside the county had influenced the union officials. He declined to name the officials outside the county.

He said that as county executive, he would consider furloughing public safety workers to balance the county budget only as a last resort, and that layoffs of those employees were off the table.

State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), rumored to be considering a run, received one vote from the sheriffs union. He could not be reached Wednesday night for comment.

Baker was a state delegate for eight years and is the executive director of the Community Teachers Institute, a nonprofit education reform group.

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