Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry delivered his farewell address to county leaders yesterday, saying that his administration has laid a solid financial foundation for his successor and has encouraged high-quality economic development.
Less than three weeks before he is to leave office, Curry ticked off a plethora of what he views as his principal accomplishments: steering the county through a fiscal crisis; leaving behind a $125 million surplus; raising the county's bond rating on Wall Street; and setting in motion a plan to build 26 schools.
"Whether you liked me or not, let me suggest that all's well that ends well," Curry told an overflow crowd that included his successor, State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson, in the County Council chambers in Upper Marlboro. "And we're ending well."
The speech was another in a string of farewell affairs in which Curry, the first black county executive in Prince George's and its dominant political voice for eight years, has starred in recent weeks. Tomorrow night, Curry will be honored at a gala hosted by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder at FedEx Field.
Curry's aides have begun distributing a 36-page book touting the county executive's achievements, a glossy, photo-filled summary titled, "Our Hometown, A Community Transformed." The book includes photos of Curry's favorite moments (an Oval Office meeting with President Clinton), as well as his most preferred headlines ("Curry's Candor, Guts Get Praise from Detractors").
Curry's departure culminates what has often been a turbulent reign, one marked by feuds with the likes of two fellow Democrats, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. It was a period in which Prince George's became home to the Washington Redskins, and a developer committed to building the ambitious National Harbor. It was also a period when Prince George's was marketed nationwide as a mecca for the black middle class.
At the same time, Prince George's faces a wide array of challenges as Johnson prepares to take office Dec. 2. The public school system ranks second from the bottom on state standardized tests. Residents routinely complain that they have to drive to neighboring counties for quality dining and shopping. And the police department is the target of a federal investigation into brutality.
While Curry has been praised as a polished ambassador and prudent fiscal manager, his critics have often chided him for being all too silent during critical moments -- particularly this year when a feud between Superintendent Iris T. Metts and the Board of Education spiraled out of control.
During yesterday's speech, Curry did not directly address those concerns. Instead, he chose to showcase a version of the Prince George's story that he contends is too often overlooked.
The average price of new homes, he said, has climbed above $300,000, more than doubling since he took over. A 30-year-old school desegregation lawsuit ended during his reign. And Prince George's has become home to at least one new quality shopping center, the Bowie New Town Center, with more on the way.
Curry, 51, told the crowd that the county is not the place he knew as a child: a predominantly white community infamous for having a brutal police force. At one point, he noted that the civilian complaints against the police force during his administration had reached a record low.
"To see the transformation in this community is an incredible voyage and odyssey," he said.
If Curry's boosterism was obvious, it was also clear that not everyone shares his perspective, particularly when it comes to the police force. Johnson announced Tuesday that he was hiring a former New York City police commissioner to review the department and recommend reforms.
At the end of his speech, Curry summoned Johnson to the rostrum, where the two men waved to a standing ovation from the crowd. But Johnson was not eager afterward to define Curry's legacy, telling a reporter, "I don't know, you'll have to decide that."
Asked about Curry's remarks about the police force, Johnson said: "I'm not going to talk about that. This is his day."
Indeed, it was. After his remarks, Curry lingered for more than a half-hour to sign copies of the book and to tell reporters yet again that his plans remain uncertain. "I'm going to take some time off and reintroduce myself to my kids," said Curry, the father of two children.
Glen Ivey (D), the county state's attorney-elect, praised Curry for managing the county's finances well and for building schools. "Wayne has the right voice for Prince George's," Ivey said. "Sometimes I wish I could have heard it more."