Q: Do you feel bad that you lost?
A: I did for about 24 hours.
Q: How come not longer?
A: Because it was a pain in the a--.
Q:10 What was?
A: Being elected. Getting yelled at.
Q: Getting yelled at?
A: I don't regret the experience for anything. I mean, I was amazed at how naive I was and how much I learned.
Q: What did you learn?
A: I learned that the textbook theory is not the way. There used to be a little cartoon on Saturday mornings. There's this bill going through Congress, little song, "I am a bill, I hope I pass, I think I will." What a crock of s - - - . I mean, people just don't sit down and say, "Well, I think I'll write a law today." They either get constituent complaints or they're a burning philosopher of some kind. Or there's economic pressure -- business is over-regulated, under-regulated, needs to be regulated. I had the notion all they ever address was the merits. It never occurred to me that human nature proibably was the more dominant factor.
Q: Jealousy? Guilt?
A: Pay your debts. For example, I was a very strong right-to-life person. Introduced the bill to ban abortions in the county hospital. But when (County Executive Lawrence) Hogan sent down a number of very strong, somewhat fanatical right-to-life people to put on the women's commission, Democratic women who I had worked with and had helped me called in their chits. Said, hey, Jer, we know you're big on this issue, but this is something you can do for us 'cause these people are fanatical. I got my chit called in, somebody I owed that really helped me. I'm just amazed at how naive I was.
Q: So where do you get this reputation for being Mr. Prince George's County in the pocket of the zoning lawyers? You got the rap for being Mr. Cable TV.
A: I don't consider it a rap. I mean, you can choose to conduct yourself in one of two ways as an elected official: You can either be a jelly belly or you can jump out there and do what you're supposed to do, which is make decisions. I chose the latter.
Q: A lot of people say that you aren't the one making the decisions. It's "the machine."
A: Well "machine," as I've explained a thousand times, is always vastly overrated. It is nothing more than a conglomeration of all the various interest blocs within the community that is Prince George's, from business to rural farmer down there in Brandywine.
Q: How does it work?
A: It works the way any other political subdivision works. The Democratic Party, over the post-war years, tried to draw all different types under one umbrella. They got tired of beating up on each other. We were able to take care of the vast majority except for a group of ultra-conservative Democrats.
Q: How is that, that what supposedly started out as such an innocent thing got turned into the "The Machine" in capital letters with quotes?
A: You did that. You got your typewriters and you wrote "The Machine" in capital letters with quotes around it. The media.
A: No, not solely. The media and various malcontents. It never was (a machine). It was a rather loose, suburban Democratic organization. A real machine has a lot of patronage. We don't have a lot of patronage.
Q: But they picked you. You're a guy who in '72 didn't know anything about politics, and two years later you're on the county council. Do you think you deserve to be on the county council?
A: I had one of the largest constituencies in the county. The baby boom. Those born between the years 1946 and '58.
Q: Do they see you as their representative?
A: I don't know, but that's the reason I was selected. That ticket had something for everybody. They turned to me and saw a veteran and, at that time, a 28-year-old. The "youth." I think the reason that I was acceptable to a lot of older people who I had to run with was I was a little more the traditional notion of the all-American boy.
Q: Are you bored?
A: I was getting a little stale, yeah. It was starting to become fairly repetitive.
Q: Going to the PTA and the Little League?
A: I go to an occasional PTA and an occasional citizens association meeting as much as I have time to, given my family. That wasn't my forte by any means.
Q: What was your forte?
A: Being able to get things done.
Q: What things? I'm not telling you anything --
A: Yeah, I know what my reputation is.
Q: Well, people joke -- somebody who counts votes before you know the issue.
A: It's a certain type of gunslinger reputation, I guess. Frankly, without myself or somebody to be the catalyst to get a decision made, a lot of that stuff would still be going on, it would never be decided, for better or for worse.
Q: You feel you're the guy who made decisions but you also took the rap for it?
A: Obviously, there's an antipathy toward politicians. Hasn't been helped by individuals in high offices. Nixon. Mandel. As much as I like Mandel and thought he was a good governor, he hurt the process by what he did. Now recently in Baltimore. Orlinsky. They make everybody's job a lot harder because they become the rule in the popular mind, and they are the exception by a long shot.
Q: You've never been indicted or anything.
A: Well, thank you. I'm glad to see you have such confidence in me. Of course I've never been indicted.
Q: I know that. But there is a group of people who feel that the whole system of having an organization is wrong.
A You mean people you talk to. You're not wandering the streets of Prince George's County finding them. To some extent they're coming to you. They're either political activists or other elected officials. Those people have their own power agenda. They're building an organization.
Q: Does that bother you?
A: No, I respect that. That's what I do. The only thing that bothers me is I lost. That's the level -- of losing -- that bothers me. Not losing office or anything, but being outmaneuvered in flackery and campaign style by soldiers of another organization. That's the part that bothers me.
Q: To you it's the game --
A: Of the election. Yes. The interim four years is mostly misery.
Q: Why do you do it?
A: Well, overall I enjoyed it. I mean there's two ways to approach holding representative office. One is that you are simply the mirror image of the electorate. They yell, "Go right!" and you go right. They yell "Go left!" and you go left. Or you have the type that says I have my own set of ethics, conscience, philosophy, which are basically identifiable when I'm running for office. Now, if the majority sentiment is wrong, I'm not going to go with it. And in many cases, in my judgment, it was wrong.
Q: Where does Prince George's get this reputation for being redneck?
A: From you.
Q: From me?
A: The media. Prince George's County has a larger blue-collar population than any other identifiable subdivision within the Washington metropolitan region. With the Appalachian blue collar on the white side comes the Appalachian redneck. It's not always accurate. But the beer commercials sort of accentuate it. Up against the wall, redneck.
Q: But PG is not all that blue collar.
A: I agree. The reputation is undeserved.
Q: What about that cross burning in College Park?
A: It's a shame, a disaster it had to happen. Busing students -- if you want to say something for the place, it really reflects how much better we are than we're getting credit for. In the majority of other jurisdictions where a busing order was implemented there was a lot of violence, and it went fairly smoothly here.
Q:Where did you live in Prince George's when you were growing up?
Q: What was that like then?
A: A suburb, tract housing. That's an old area of the county now. I mean, it's 30 years old. But at that time it was brand new.
Q: Who lived on your street?
A: Immigrants. Northeastern Pennsylvania, New England, West Virginia. It was half people that had grown up in the area moving out from the inner city and half people moving in from areas like Pennsylvania. I recall it as being mostly Wasp, lower-middle-class Wasp, not the real Wasp.
Q: Were there any black people in the neighborhood?
Q: What's your neighborhood like now where you live?
A: It's a lot blacker.
Q: How black is it?
A: Well, back in 1973 when I bought I think our development was probably 65-35 black-white. And now I guess it's 70-75 to 25. Something like that.
Q: Why did you move there? I'm not saying that you shouldn't, obviously, but --
A: It was the most convenient. It was a house I could afford and it was very convenient. They say there's three things that affect real estate -- location, location and location. And we hit all three locations.
Q: Here's a person who grew up in an all- white neighborhood, did you say to yourself, "I'm living in a black neighborhood"?
A: I noticed the percentages, yeah. We used to have a block party every year and we'd go to that. It was pretty traditional neighborhood stuff: the pool problems and the condo fee. Now with my black compatriots that I'm involved with politically, yeah, you get into all these kinds of discussions.
Q: And how do your black political compatriots feel?
A: Well, they feel they aren't as represented as they should be -- and that's correct. They also think they know the reasons and are working on it: black voter registration and black voter education. They're working hard and they're showing some effect.
Q: What are you going to do for a living now that you're out of a $35,000 a year job? A: That was a rather low-paying job. For my qualifications. I'm going to make more money than that. Practicing law.
Q: What kind of law? I mean, nothing's being built right now.
A: There you're making an assumption. I wouldn't even choose to practice zoning law.
Q: What kind of law then?
A: General civil and criminal practice.
Q: Isn't that a lot messier? Divorces, that type of thing?
A: Well, having listened to the braying and barking over the last eight years I don't consider anything messier than a zoning case. Having to put up with some of the screaming a - -holes I've had to put up with.
Q: What's the worst thing that happened?
A: Oh, having some crazy woman come up and dump a bag of garbage. Town meeting. Four or five years ago. There's always an isolated garbage collection problem or something like that. There's a certain cadre of people out there who are just very negative. Always. Came up and dumped a bag of garbage.
Q: On you?
A: No, in front of the county executive at that time. Sitting there looking at that stuff. Do we really need to put up with this s - - -? Can they pay me enough to put up with these kind of people?
Q: What I think I hear you saying is that here you are making all these tough decisions and that nobody seems to appreciate you for making them.
A: No, no. I never expected to be appreciated. I mean, every once in a while you say, gee, it'd be nice to be appreciated. But you'd be a rather disappointed individual if you went around expecting to be appreciated as a public official.