Jack B. Johnson slipped away from the hurly-burly of creating a new government last week to attend to a stylistic concern: fitting the custom-made suit he will wear to his swearing-in this morning as Prince George's county executive.
Standing in front of his living room mirror, his tailor hovering nearby, Johnson (D) admired the dark blue cloth, the square shoulders, the classic cut. "Conservative," Johnson said. "This is a transfer of power. It's important to look right. I'm ready to go."
Johnson proved adept at striking the right pose and communicating a potent message as he captured the most powerful seat in Maryland's second largest county Nov. 5. Now, he faces the more arduous task of governing.
No less than Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), perhaps, Johnson is the great unknown quantity of Maryland politics. For eight years, he served as the chief Prince George's prosecutor, known for indicting criminals and clashing with the county's police union.
As he settles into his new role, questions abound about whom he will appoint and the specific policies he will pursue.
His campaign was noticeably short on specifics. While he set broad themes -- "Education up, crime down" was a mantra -- Johnson studiously avoided laying out details for how he would deliver on those goals.
"Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Patrick Ricker, a developer who supported one of Johnson's opponents. "The biggest problem, at least in the building community, is that no one knows him."
In the month since his election, Johnson has been inundated with offers of assistance. As he wandered through a recent farewell party at FedEx Field for his predecessor, Wayne K. Curry (D), business executives, many of whom did not support his candidacy, slipped him their cards and said they were eager to meet with him.
"We look forward to having you here," an assistant to Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder told Johnson.
Johnson enjoys the attention, but he said he has found it overwhelming at moments, particularly in the days after his victory.
"There were so many calls, it dawned on me how awesome this responsibility is," he said. "It's like a fight: You have some butterflies, but then you're ready."
He faces no shortage of problems.
The Prince George's public school system ranks among Maryland's worst on standardized tests. Its police force, long the target of Johnson's criticism, is the focus of a federal investigation into allegations of brutality. And while affluent pockets flourish outside the Capital Beltway, older neighborhoods bordering the District are racked by poverty and crime.
"We've created two communities," said Edythe Flemings Hall, head of the Prince George's chapter of the NAACP. "Now, Jack has the responsibility to create one Prince George's. You can't advance one part over the other."
Most important, perhaps, Maryland faces a projected deficit of nearly $1.8 billion over two years, a shortage that is likely to affect how much aid Prince George's receives from Annapolis for everything from education to revitalizing poorer neighborhoods. "It's a daunting challenge, huge," Johnson, 52, said of his new duties. "But there's no doubt we will meet it. We're going to take this county places it has never been."
In the month since his decisive victory over Republican Audrey E. Scott, Johnson has offered few clues about what that will entail. While he says he is developing an ambitious education agenda, one that includes the repair and renovation of 90 schools, he has declined to fill in the details.
Nor has Johnson said whether he will retain Police Chief Gerald M. Wilson, whom Curry appointed this year. While Ehrlich talks of legalizing slot machines, a measure that would directly affect the county's two racetracks, Johnson said he would let the General Assembly address the issue before pronouncing his own judgment.
But even as he has avoided specifics, there are signs of Johnson's emerging style. He has talked of the need to forge consensus in a county in which political infighting is a tradition, and he has sought to broaden his circle to include educators and business leaders.
Johnson chose two local university presidents to serve as co-chairmen of his transition committee. He selected Major F. Riddick Jr., the former chief of staff of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) who was an opponent during the Democratic primary, to help him recruit agency heads.
Johnson also has hired Jacqueline Brown, a senior administrator for the Howard County school system, to become chief administrative officer in Prince George's, with responsibility for overseeing the government's day-to-day operations. Brown, who was Curry's campaign treasurer in 1994, was among the candidates last year to succeed Iris T. Metts as schools chief.
While Johnson said that education is his top priority, he also has demonstrated that he has not forgotten about police reform, a cornerstone issue in his campaign.
At his only news conference since his victory, Johnson tapped Patrick V. Murphy, a former New York City police commissioner, to review the county's police force and recommend reforms.
Even as he declined to cite specific areas that need reform, Johnson promised that Murphy's review would result in concrete change. "We're not about task forces. We're about results," he said. "We're giving someone the ability to make substantive change, and he brings tremendous credibility."
Johnson declined to define how he'd differ in leadership style from Curry, but he suggested that he would spend a substantial portion of his time in communities talking to constituents. Curry, a corporate lawyer before he became county executive, ran his administration almost like a chief executive officer would, rarely venturing out to engage the public.
"Wayne likes to be hands-on, he's detail-oriented, while Jack likes to touch the people more and have staff work forward," Riddick said. "The test will be making sure that Jack has the right people to carry out his vision."
Besides preparing for his new life, Johnson has focused on shutting down the old. Last week, he packed up his state's attorney's office, where he began 16 years ago as a deputy.
At a goodbye party at the office, Johnson moved among his staff, hugging old friends and posing for photographs.
"Change is good," he said, smiling broadly. "Life is good."