3 elected officials join call for Johnsons to step aside now

County Executive-elect Rushern Baker will help end Prince George's "pay to play" reputation, says Mel Franklin, recently elected to the council.
County Executive-elect Rushern Baker will help end Prince George's "pay to play" reputation, says Mel Franklin, recently elected to the council. (Linda Davidson/the Washington Post)
By Miranda S. Spivack and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 19, 2010; 8:38 PM

Pressure is mounting on Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife, newly elected County Council member Leslie Johnson, to step aside.

On Friday, House of Delegates members Justin Ross and Jay Walker as well as council member-elect Mel Franklin, all Democrats, became the first elected officials to publicly call for Jack Johnson (D) to give up his post. On Thursday, several county leaders called on Leslie Johnson to skip her oath of office, scheduled for Dec. 6.

"If it were me, I would step down," Walker said of the county executive. "I think it is disappointing."

The lawmakers acknowledged that the Johnsons are entitled to a presumption of innocence but that the cases are a distraction and are damaging the county's reputation.

"Out of love for the county, sometimes we have to do things that put the county first," Ross said.

Franklin said the Johnsons' departure from public life would help the county move forward "and help us repair the damage that has been done to our reputation and image."

The Johnsons were arrested Nov. 12 after they were overheard on a wiretap plotting to flush a $100,000 check from a developer down a toilet and hide $79,600 in Leslie Johnson's bra.

Walker said he is reserving judgment on whether Leslie Johnson - a target of an online petition urging her to step aside - should be sworn in for her District 6 seat.

The three men, who spoke on WTOP radio and to The Washington Post, said the new administration of County Executive-elect Rushern L. Baker III (D) would take steps to end the county's "pay to play" reputation.

"We are going to really move forward. We have to get beyond this scandal and move this scandal beyond the incoming leadership," Franklin said.

Franklin said he hoped that a majority of incoming council members would agree with him that Leslie Johnson (D) should not serve. The Post reported Friday that there are at least four council members - Franklin, Vice Chairman Andrea Harrison, Eric Olson and member-elect Mary Lehman - who want Leslie Johnson to step aside.

Jack Johnson's spokesman, Jim Keary, said his boss will serve out the remainder of his term. Leslie Johnson could not be reached Friday; she has previously declined requests to comment.

Harrison, speaking publicly for the first time since the Johnsons were arrested, said in an interview Friday that she hopes the county could "begin to heal."

"We are under a little bit of a cloud, so to speak. I am confident that we can overcome this and do what is necessary," she said. "We can pass the storm that we are in and serve the residents of the county in a way in which they can be proud."

She declined to comment on the Johnsons' future, saying she believed that the council "would work as a team" whether or not Leslie Johnson takes office. Sources with knowledge of the discussions have said Harrison is part of a group of at least four members discussing how to persuade Leslie Johnson to step aside. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they feel vulnerable in their positions.

"I want to reassure residents that we have a lot of good people here in Prince George's working in county government," she said. "Our role is to move the county forward."

spivackm@washpost.com harrish@washpost.com

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