Endorsements for Prince George's County Council

Saturday, July 17, 2010

THERE HAVE BEEN a few rays of sun recently amid the gloom in Prince George's County, including its success in snagging a AAA bond rating and the construction of National Harbor, the sprawling mixed-used development that hugs the Potomac. Further strides will take time and, most important, strong leadership, which has been sorely lacking in Prince George's. That's why the Democratic primaries for County Council, set for Sept. 14, are so critical.

The county has many advantages but also faces an array of problems. They include a pandemic of home foreclosures; poverty, crime and unemployment; struggling public schools; an anemic commercial tax base; and Metro stations bereft of the surrounding development that such sites have attracted elsewhere in the region.

Any one of those would be daunting. But Prince George's, with a population of about 850,000, suffers from an additional, self-inflicted wound: a political culture marked by cronyism, highhandedness, factionalism, and a lack of accountability.

Poor governance, bemoaned (mostly in private) by some of the county's own elected officials, has done more than damage Prince George's image; it has exacerbated the troubles that residents complain about. Commercial developers shy from projects in the county for fear of shakedowns by officials. Homeowners oppose higher property taxes -- which might help the schools -- for fear the funds will be misspent. The county's woes feed on themselves. In the regional sweepstakes to lure high-end corporate headquarters and employers, which the county so badly wants and needs, Prince George's is rarely in the running.

There are two pieces of good news regarding the county's leadership. One is that some of the worst members of the County Council are leaving, having reached the two-term limit. The other is that some talented, knowledgeable and honest candidates are running for the council's nine district seats. Our endorsements in those races appear in bold type.

In District 1 (Laurel, Adelphi, Beltsville), Frederick Smalls is the best in a field of five candidates to fill an open seat. A member of the Laurel City Council for eight years and president for two of them, Mr. Smalls is a principled, forthright civic leader. His management experience -- both on the board of Laurel Regional Hospital and as an administrator in Maryland state government -- gives him an edge over the other well-qualified candidate, Mary Lehman, an energetic community activist who has worked as a staffer for the term-limited incumbent.

Will Campos, the incumbent in District 2 (Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, Chillum, Brentwood) is not a leader on the council, but he's pushed good legislation to limit unsightly check-cashing stores in the county. Honest, conscientious, accessible and engaged, he merits reelection.

Eric Olson, completing his first term representing District 3 (College Park, Riverdale, Lanham-Seabrook, New Carrollton) is one of the finest public servants in the county: detail-oriented, levelheaded and civil. He should win easily against nominal opposition.

Ingrid Turner, who represents District 4 (Bowie, Glenn Dale, Greenbelt) is unopposed in the Democratic primary. On November's ballot she will face Fiona Moodie, the lone Republican candidate for the council.

Andrea F. Harrison, who won a special election two years ago in District 5 (Bladensburg, Bowie, Landover), is a competent council member, but she lacks any signature achievement. Voters have a better choice in Patricia Thornton, an official in the county's Economic Development Corp. Ms. Thornton would be a huge plus for the council; she's smart, substantive, dynamic and an authority on how to broaden the tax base by bringing good jobs and employers to Prince George's.

There are two strong candidates running for the open seat in District 6 (District Heights, Kettering, Forestville, Mitchellville): Mark Polk, a public-service-minded lawyer, and Derrick Leon Davis, chairman of the Maryland Auto Insurance Fund. Our choice is Mr. Polk, a sharp, savvy former captain in the county police force who put himself through law school and now represents homeowners facing foreclosure. Either one would be preferable to Leslie Johnson, a former administrative law judge whose campaign relies so heavily on the fact that she is married to Jack B. Johnson, the current, term-limited county executive, that her Web site doesn't bother to mention a single issue facing Prince George's.

By far the best candidate in District 7 (Seat Pleasant, Suitland, Capitol Heights) is Darrell A. Miller, the hardworking former mayor of Capitol Heights whose command of land-use, health-care and funding issues would add value to the council. That's more than can be said for his main rival, Eugene W. Grant, the bombastic mayor of Seat Pleasant, whose use of a full-time security detail suggests a sense of privilege and entitlement -- exactly what this troubled, high-crime district does not need.

The top candidate in the crowded field vying for the open seat in District 8 (Camp Springs, Fort Washington, Oxon Hill, Temple Hills) is Archie L. O'Neil, a retired commander in the county police who is now an administrator in the public safety department. In addition to integrity, street smarts and good ideas about helping public schools, Mr. O'Neil would bring managerial know-how to a council where it's in short supply.

Among the 10 contenders for the open seat in District 9 (Upper Marlboro, Cheltenham, parts of Camp Springs and Fort Washington), the clear standout is Mel Franklin, a lawyer with the state attorney general's office and one of the brightest and most promising new faces in county politics. Mr. Franklin, who has been active in local, state and federal issues, has deep and broad knowledge, as well as fresh ideas, about making government run better and more accountably; promoting local businesses; and making Metro stations vibrant centers of development. He would be a huge asset to the council.

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