When Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) appears in public, he nearly always refers to the county as "Gorgeous Prince George's."
Now Johnson has launched a biannual newsletter with the same name, to be mailed countywide to about 300,000 households.
The front page of the first issue includes articles on topics that were the focus of Johnson's 2002 campaign, such as police reform ("Justice Department Closes Police Investigation") and education ("$1.3 Billion Dollar School Budget Highest in County History").
Johnson's picture is displayed prominently on six of the newsletter's eight pages. There's Johnson at a news conference. Johnson at a bill signing. Johnson nailing shut an abandoned house in Capitol Heights.
"This publication is a way that you can learn how many of your ideas have come to fruition during the past 18 months," Johnson writes in his welcome address.
Such promotional materials are nothing new.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) used to mail out annual newsletters before budget constraints prompted him to switch to e-mail. Johnson's predecessor, Wayne K. Curry (D), distributed his own newspaper in 2000, two years before the end of his second term. But Curry's paper, "Prince George's Direct," was published by Alliance for Community Progress, his campaign organization. The premiere issue was handed out to attendees at a June 2000 fundraiser.
"Gorgeous Prince George's" is subsidized by county taxpayers. It is laid out by members of the county's communications staff and printed by an outside company. John Erzen, a county spokesman, said Prince George's will spend about $40,000 on mailing the inaugural issue to residences and an additional $6,500 to send 50,000 copies to some county libraries and agencies. He said final printing costs are not yet available.
Arthur Turner, a community activist, said he hasn't decided whether the newsletter is useful or just hype for a county executive who is approaching the middle of his term. "I suppose someone could say that it blurs the line between PR for the county and an oblique PR effort for one's campaign," Turner said.
But, at first blush, Turner said he sees it as a "needed slap on the back" for county residents. "Historically, what we hear, read and learn about Prince George's County is about the failing school system, the crime, the carjackings," Turner said. "We need positive news."
Donna Hathaway-Beck, another activist and a schools watchdog, agreed but expressed surprise about the cost and content.
"It's kind of deceptive to say the school budget is the 'highest in county history,' " Hathaway-Beck said, pointing out a small headline on the front-page story. "There are more kids going. The amount has to go up. And I don't see anything that says, 'Thanks, County Council, for arm-wrestling to get more money for the schools.' "
Erzen said the next mailing will be in December, and there is talk of distributing the newsletter more than twice a year.