In Prince George's, primary rivals make church rounds

By Miranda S. Spivack, Ovetta Wiggins and Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010

Rainy weather did little to prevent Prince George's residents from filling sanctuaries Sunday in some of the county's largest churches, where they were joined by a string of politicians whose names appear on Tuesday's primary ballot -- including Gov. Martin O'Malley and candidates for county executive.

O'Malley (D) made his third appearance in Prince George's in less than a week and courted the county's large Democratic vote, crucial to his November reelection battle with former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

"We have served the good people in the toughest of times," O'Malley said. Asserting that his administration's policies are responsible for the last five consecutive months of job creation in Maryland, he cited improved student achievement statewide and holding the line against college tuition increases.

With just two days before Tuesday's vote, Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D), one of five candidates in the race for Prince George's County executive, stopped at three county churches Sunday. "It is looking good," Baker said as he greeted well-wishers during the service at Sanctuary at Kingdom Square in Capitol Heights. "I feel really good about my support, from state senators, from unions. Everybody is out canvassing today."

Wayne K. Curry (D), one of three former county executives to line up behind Baker, urged the members of the congregation to vote. He didn't say whom they should select, though, because pastor Anthony Maclin banned endorsements from his pulpit. "We have had them all come through here to speak to the congregation," Maclin said before the service.

Prince George's County Sheriff Michael Jackson, also running in the primary for county executive, told about 2,000 congregants at Ebenezer AME Church in Oxon Hill that he had worked well with the faith community.

"I am no stranger here. We have partnered with your pastor here on social ills that plague the community, such as domestic violence," Jackson said of Grainger Browning Jr., who did not make endorsements. "The sheriff's office has been nationally recognized for the work we have been able to do with the faith-based community." Over the weekend, Jackson picked up the endorsement of former congressman Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) and County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who is barred by term limits from running again.

Byron Richardson, a member of Ebenezer who is running for a seat in the House of Delegates, and Del. Jay Walker (D), who is seeking reelection, also spoke to the congregation.

At Le Detroit Baptist Church in Oxon Hill, Wayne K. Bumbry, the minister, exhorted his members to cast their ballots. "I hope you have spoken to some of the candidates you might be voting for and you vote prayerfully and intelligently," said Bumbry, who also refrained from endorsing anyone.

He then introduced another Democratic candidate for county executive, County Council member Samuel H. Dean (Mitchellville), but told churchgoers they could talk to Dean after the service. Later, Bumbry, a neighbor of Dean's, prayed: "Lord, I ask that your will be done in the elections. We want someone who is sincere, someone who is true, someone who knows the Lord."

Dean, who could not run again for his council seat because of term limits, said he is confident as he enters the final stretch. "I feel that we are the winners," he said, adding that he was an underdog in his first council run. "We go to church to finalize our effort in the campaign and we feel very strong that God is going to determine the outcome of this election."

At the 10 a.m. service at Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro, another hopeful in the race for executive, Del. Gerron S. Levi (D), called on worshipers to focus on her interest in cutting school suspensions and creating business and community partnerships. Later, she said she thought her message was beginning to resonate with voters. "Many people are rejecting politics as usual," she said. The first-term delegate has worked as a Capitol Hill staffer and lobbyist.

Henry C. Turner Jr., a businessman running for executive, also was out campaigning Sunday, attending church services at the Greater Mount Nebo AME Church in Bowie and Woodstream Church in Mitchellville. His campaign is "looking great," he said.

Prince George's Democratic voters face a challenging task Tuesday. They must sort through an array of contenders: not only the five candidates for county executive, but also 45 contenders for nine County Council spots and 37 rivals vying for the nine-member school board, as well as a new sheriff, a new top prosecutor and candidates for the General Assembly.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination for county executive, and emerges victorious from the crowded council races, faces a county hard hit by the recession. The public schools continue to struggle, the crime rate remains one of the region's highest, new jobs are scarce and unemployment is high.

At the same time, candidates say the potential is there for better days. The coming expansion at Andrews Air Force Base is expected to generate much-needed employment, and Census data suggest the county's residents are more affluent and better educated than in the past. And despite a difficult budget season, the county retained its AAA bond rating, a vote of confidence from Wall Street.

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