Grass-roots activists in Prince George’s County are trying to draft former Rep. Donna F. Edwards to run for county executive, a chance for the progressive populist to return to public life after a bitter defeat in the U.S. Senate primary last spring.
Edwards, who drew the backing of national women’s groups in her unsuccessful bid to become the first black woman in the Senate from Maryland, declined to comment on her plans for 2018. But county activists say she has been meeting with political operatives and gauging public support since returning in mid-April from a months-long road trip across the country.
Edwards’s supporters plan to launch the draft effort next week. Organizers pointed to what they said is a growing dissatisfaction with the current political leadership in the heavily Democratic county, including outgoing County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who is term-limited and is weighing a run for governor.
“There’s definitely a strong feeling that there is a prevailing establishment power structure that has a grip on Prince George’s that impedes progressive policy that can really help working people in this county and make their lives better,” said Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland, a coalition of civic organizations.
Most of the political power brokers in Prince George’s are tentatively backing State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks for the Democratic nomination to be county executive, which in Prince George’s is tantamount to winning the election.
Longtime state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, who is close to Edwards and has his own deep base of political support, has also been considering a run — one factor that could dissuade Edwards from getting into the race.
But the opportunity to compete against Alsobrooks and challenge the political status quo would likely be appealing to Edwards, a maverick who made it to Congress by ousting a longtime incumbent she said had grown out of touch with his constituents.
At the same time, it is not clear whether Edwards would want the local governing responsibilities inherent in the county executive’s job — a huge change from her role during four terms in Congress.
Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College, said the former congresswoman might consider it “wonderful revenge” against party leaders who embraced then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen instead of her during the Senate primary.
“In Prince George’s, you’ve got one of the largest counties in the state, an incredibly influential county, so I can’t really think of a reason why this wouldn’t be of interest,” Eberly said. “If she has interest in being a governor, that’s the route you take.”
Although Muse has been in Annapolis since 2007, he is known for his independence from the Democratic leadership there and would also likely try to claim the outsider label.
“Muse is the only one who has built his career on standing up to the establishment,” said Wayne Clarke, a veteran political operative who is close to the senator.
Edwards has a national profile based on her leadership roles on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, backing from progressive groups including Emily’s List and frequent bookings on cable news shows.
She won nearly twice as many Prince George’s County votes in the Senate primary as Van Hollen, who nevertheless won the nomination and went on to capture the Senate seat.
Stung by the Democrats’ loss of the White House last year, progressives nationwide are vying for greater influence within a party they argue is out of touch with working people and corrupted by the influence of money in political campaigns.
The same dynamics are playing out on the local level, said Suchitra Balachandran, a leader in the Prince George’s chapter of Our Revolution. She and others supporting the effort to draft Edwards say developers, not residents, have too much sway over county politics.
“Our elected officials are often not accountable to the people,” said Balachandran, pointing to a successful developer-backed effort last fall to add two at-large seats to the County Council. Balachandran opposed the measure, as did Edwards. “Donna Edwards is an activist at heart, and she addresses fundamental issues that are good for the people,” Balachandran said.
Alsobrooks, who backed the proposal for two more council seats, is popular with party leaders as well as voters, who elected her to two terms. She has more than $500,000 in her campaign account, compared with Edwards, who has $300 in a federal account. Edwards does not have a campaign finance entity listed on the state database.
Community activist Zeno St. Cyr disagreed with Edwards backers who are trying to label Alsobrooks as part of the establishment.
“She has demonstrated that she is her own person who will be guided by her own principles and integrity,” he said. “Just look at her record and judge her on the merits.”
Alsobrooks was the only state’s attorney in Maryland to publicly oppose a bill sponsored by Muse to revive the state’s cash-bail program. The legislation was denounced by progressives who had worked for years to eliminate bail for poor defendants. It passed in the Senate but died in the House.