Prince George's

Prince George's council members look set to hold off challengers

Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. defeated Brian Murphy, a Republican primary challenger backed by Sarah Palin, clearing the way for a rematch in November against the Democrat who defeated him four years ago.
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Early returns showed commanding leads for the three Prince George's County Council members who were running in contested races in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

With more than a third of the vote counted in each of their districts, council members Eric Olson (D-College Park), Will Campos (D-Hyattsville) and Andrea Harrison (D-Springfield) appeared to have fended off challengers.

Term limits prohibited five of the county council's nine members from seeking reelection, ensuring that the panel will be dramatically reshaped in November and touching off a mad scramble among 45 candidates -- some established, others virtual unknowns.

In the race for the open seat in District 1, according to early returns, Mary Lehman held a strong lead in the race to replace Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel), for whom she once served as a legislative aide.

In District 6, Leslie E. Johnson -- the wife of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who is term-limited this year -- was leading a crowded field to replace Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville).

In District 7, union organizer Karen Toles held a significant lead over five rivals in the race to succeed Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant). And in District 8, former state delegate Obie Patterson had pulled ahead of six competitors for the seat being vacated by Tony Knotts (D-Fort Washington).

In District 9, where 10 candidates were vying to replace Marilynn Bland (D-Clinton), Mel Franklin held a significant lead.

The election comes at a crucial time for Prince George's, which has been particularly hard hit by the recession, recording more foreclosures than any other county in Maryland. The new council will take office at a time of difficult budget gaps and as Prince George's continues to struggle to improve its schools and attract jobs.

Council members and the county executive are limited to two consecutive four-year terms. The restriction was enacted in the early 1990s in part as a way to discourage corruption, although critics say it deprives the county of experienced public servants.

Because of Democrats' advantage in numbers over Republicans, the winners of Tuesday's primary are all but certain to win the general election in November.

Wayne K. Curry, a former county executive and a critic of the term limits, said having a majority of the council be relatively inexperienced newcomers is certain to make for "a dicey transformation." The council will also have to work with a new county executive.

"It's a critical time, and having an essentially green team coming in, they will have to work hard to compete," Curry said.

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