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At swearing-in, Alsobrooks sees a united county reaching its potential

Prince George's County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) with daughter Alexandria Alsobrooks-Laney at the 14th Inaugural Ceremony for the county executive and County Council at the Show Place Arena on Monday. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

As fresh faces were sworn in Monday to serve on Prince George’s County Council, County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) also took an oath for her second term, promising a united effort to lift the county.

Alsobrooks’s forward-looking speech, peppered with Bible verses, folk tales and personal anecdotes from her first term in office as the county’s first female executive, envisioned a more prosperous county in the years to come — if leaders work together.

“In governing, it’s okay to disagree. But disagreement doesn’t mean we have to splinter and go our own way,” she said, after sharing a folk tale about how a lion was able to demolish a group of African waterbuck because they splintered and couldn’t get over their differences. “We’re all pulling toward the same goal — to make this Prince George’s County work for all Prince Georgians.”

This session, Alsobrooks will encounter a new majority on the council and members who have said they intend to function more independently than the previous council, which often voted in alignment with Alsobrooks’s wishes.

Incoming council members said they look forward to working in areas where there’s broad agreement with the county executive, such as improving public safety.

“The point of the speech the county executive made was that we’re all going in the same direction,” said newly sworn-in council member Krystal Oriadha (D-District 7). “I’m going to walk into [office] believing that.”

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Alsobrooks said to reporters following the swearing-in ceremony at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro that the council’s position doesn’t matter to her because meeting the needs of residents is her primary concern. She noted that she will work with anyone.

Growing the economy, closing health-care gaps and decreasing crime are among the top challenges from her first term that Alsobrooks said she remains committed to focusing on. The coronavirus pandemic taught her to anticipate unexpected obstacles, she said.

Prince George’s County is a proud area that understands its history and sees the power that it can wield locally and across the state, she said, crediting its voters with helping Democrat Wes Moore — who will become Maryland’s first Black governor — secure his victory. Yet Alsobrooks sees the county as still facing barriers, as well as problems of perception.

The county has less of a federal government footprint than neighboring counties, a concerning number of food deserts and fewer shopping opportunities, she said. Alsobrooks is fighting to persuade the FBI to relocate there, but decision-makers also are eyeing Northern Virginia.

“There’s no reason why these goods and amenities and services should not be present in Prince George’s,” she said. “We have issues that we shouldn’t have, but there are some inequities that have caused us to be here.”

In her address, Alsobrooks noted her accomplishments and projects in the works. The county is the first in the state to create an alternative school construction program to address its school backlog, she said, and opened a mental health facility to keep people in crisis from entering the criminal justice system. She also listed a contentious youth curfew as a success along with the launch of the anti-violence initiative Hope in Action.

“I reject that Black and Brown communities have a higher tolerance for violence of any sort,” she said. “Prince Georgians, we will never develop a tolerance for violence.”

Violent crime rose this summer to one of the highest points in recent years. In August, the county recorded 24 homicides — the largest count in recent decades. The spate of violence prompted Alsobrooks to issue a curfew for those younger than 17, which she renewed until the end of the year.

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Council member Jolene Ivey (D-District 5) said she is eager to get to work with the incoming council members, who span age, parental status and heritage.

The new council is looking forward to being more open with the public about its governing and overseeing development closer to transit instead of more underdeveloped areas in the county, she said.

“I think the new council is bringing a fresh perspective and a lot of youthful energy,” she said. “That youth voice has not been at the table the way it should be.”

The new council members are Oriadha, Wala Blegay (D-District 6), Wanika Fisher (D-District 2) and Ingrid S. Harrison (D-District 4). Eric C. Olson (D-District 3), who served on the council from 2006 to 2014, is back for another stint.

This time around, the tone of the new council will be one of excitement and eagerness to work, said Oriadha — even if that work involves conflict.

“You’re going to disagree in politics. … If we’re not disagreeing, then we’re not doing our job,” she said.