Voters' concerns in the Prince George's County executive contest

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010

The Washington Post spoke last month with several Prince George's County undecided voters about Tuesday's Democratic primary for county executive. The voters -- a diverse group of residents from across the county -- discussed in the Aug. 15 article concerns about schools, economic development and the environment. Five are vying to replace term-limited Jack B. Johnson: former delegate Rushern L. Baker III, Sheriff Michael Jackson, County Council member Samuel H. Dean (Mitchellville), Del. Gerron S. Levi and businessman Henry C. Turner Jr.

The economy

Of the seven voters, James E. "Eddy" and Linda Campbell of Marlton, baby boomers hoping for investment and jobs, opted not to reveal their choices.

"Much is really hanging on this election," said Eddy, a business manager at a Montgomery County high school. "We are looking at the economy somewhat stalling. People don't know if we are going to have more of a recession. We will need good, wise counsel and someone able to pull together a coalition of people, and not just one individual." He and Linda, principal at a private high school in Prince George's, said they thought all the candidates had good ideas.


Ray Fenster of Bowie juggled his consulting business and his family -- he and his wife have a 2-year-old son -- while contacting the candidates. As he got answers, he entered them into a spreadsheet. "I can't remember all of this without it," he said.

Fenster, 60, was continuing to sort through the responses over the weekend. It's down to two: Baker and Jackson.

"I am still kind of disappointed in the selection, but I am more encouraged because the sheriff and Baker were really forthright in laying it on the line," he said. "The others were not as firm, they gave me more of a political response."

Education, development

Bowie residents Tovel and Valerie Young, both 36, have lined up behind Jackson. Valerie was among the nearly 15,000 county residents who participated in Maryland's early voting last week.

Valerie, who stays home to care for the couple's two young children, thought Jackson "has a really good plan for education. He seemed like he has a plan for the county in general as opposed to listing a résumé of things he had done." She has noted problems in the sheriff's department, including a lost warrant that allowed a man to go free, who then was charged with killing his girlfriend.

"There are issues everywhere," Valerie said. "I don't know if you can blame all those things on him," she said of Jackson.

Tovel, a software engineer, was torn between Baker and Jackson but will vote for Jackson. Baker "has some of the right ideas as far as weeding out corruption, but he doesn't seem to have the big, overall picture," he said.

Energy, experience

June Martin made up her mind a few weeks ago, and the social worker from Laurel is backing Baker. "He has the experience and knows what it is going to take to get things done," she said.

She saw the five candidates at a debate last month at Prince George's Community College. "Baker was pretty confident and positive," she said. She also liked Levi -- "she has that fighting spirit and can hold her own." She initially liked Turner, but when he asked Levi in the debate why a childless woman thought she could address problems in the schools, Martin was turned off. As for Jackson, "he was kind of showboating, was short on substance and seemed to be taking a lot of potshots without reason. I thought he was more about getting audience approval and seeking attention," she said.

Martin found Dean's experience admirable but concluded that Baker had the most energy for the job.

Skills and background

Krista Schlyer, 39, a Mount Rainier photographer, backs Baker.

"Of the two most viable candidates, Rushern Baker is the person who is going to provide that. And looking into his platform and ideals and the people who are supporting him, and his interests, to improve education, support the arts and try to protect the environment, and help the county develop economically, I really think at this point that he has the best skills and background to make that happen."

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