Angela D. Alsobrooks took the helm of Maryland’s second-largest jurisdiction on Monday, calling on residents and elected officials to take pride in oft-maligned Prince George’s County and work with her to build a better future there.
Following her swearing-in, Alsobrooks (D) laid out her vision for her first term — which included increased accountability in the county’s struggling school system, renewed focusing on quality of life issues like litter and ensuring that economic development continues, but does not displace older residents.
“Will you labor with me, Prince George’s?” the former state’s attorney asked as members of the audience at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro applauded and rose. “Will you help me keep those promises?”
Alsobrooks, 47, won the primary by nearly 40 points and faced no serious competition in the general election. She has been building her government for months, and she spent years thinking about what she would do as the county’s first female executive.
Former governor and Prince George’s executive Parris Glendening (D) said he had a lengthy meeting with Alsobrooks in 2016, when she was planning to run for the top job. He expected questions about how to win the 2018 election. Instead, he remembers her saying, “I think I can win this. But tell me what I can do to prepare.”
The two have remained in regular contact since.
Alsobrooks will lead a county of nearly 1 million people that is in a better place than when County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) took office eight years ago. Back then, crime rates were up and residents were shaken by the arrest of then-County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) on public corruption charges.
“Rushern had to steady a ship,” said council member Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6). “Angela inherits a much better situation.”
Alsobrooks, a single mother, walked into the inauguration ceremony Monday morning with her 13-year-old daughter, Alexandra, at her side.
Prince George’s “isn’t on the brink . . . Prince George’s County has arrived,” she said after receiving a standing ovation. “I am so proud to declare today that we don’t need to compare ourselves to anyone — we are a model for others to follow.”
Despite progress made in the past eight years, there is no shortage of issues for Alsobrooks to address — including selecting a permanent leader for the county’s struggling public schools and addressing apparent flaws at the permitting and inspection department that allowed faulty wiring at MGM National Harbor to pass inspection.
“What I heard from residents is that they don’t want business as usual,” Alsobrooks, a Prince George’s native who launched her campaign at her parents’ home in Camp Springs, said in an interview. “We want people who can take us to the next level.”
Alsobrooks is replacing all but one of Baker’s senior staff. She appointed six new agency heads last week, many of whom have long records of government service outside of the county. She said she is happy with the direction of the county’s law enforcement departments and will keep its leaders in place.
Alsobrooks said she has been “laser-focused” on finding leaders “with institutional knowledge, and people with new ideas who are innovators.”
But her nominee to lead the Department of Permitting and Inspections, Melinda Bolling, is already facing scrutiny based on criticism of her record at a similar agency in the District. Alsobrooks defended her appointee during a news conference Monday following her swearing-in.
Calling Bolling an ethical, innovative leader who has been thoroughly vetted, she noted that the County Council will have its own opportunity to review nominees during its confirmation process.
The all-Democratic County Council, with two new at-large positions, was also sworn in Monday. Incumbent district member Mel Franklin (District 9) and longtime county aide Calvin Hawkins won the at-large seats. They will join four incumbents who won reelection — Davis, Deni Taveras (District 2), Dannielle M. Glaros (District 3) and Todd M. Turner (District 4) — and new members Tom Dernoga (District 1), Jolene Ivey (District 5), Rodney Streeter (District 7), Monique Anderson Walker (District 8) and Sydney Harrison (District 9).
Alsobrooks pledged to work with the new council to advance an agenda that benefits all county residents. She emphasized the need for economic development that allows seniors to age in place and said she also wants to focus on “human development,” ensuring that programs to treat mental illness and addiction are strong.
County officials describe Alsobrooks as a leader who is warm and charming but accepts no excuses. During a sometimes ugly primary campaign, in which a super PAC poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into mailers attacking her, she fiercely defended her record and denounced her opponents’ suggestion that she was too close to the county’s political establishment.
She has said communication will be key in addressing the divide between progressives and moderate Democrats in the county — and she has pledged that she will not tolerate “any of the incivility, unprofessionalism or discord that we have seen in the last couple of years.”
So far at least, her strategy seems to be working.
Alsobrooks has met with Edward Burroughs III, a vocal critic of Baker on the school board, and is working with him to plan an event on special education, Burroughs said.
“She’s been light-years better than Baker already,” Burroughs said, noting that Baker did not personally meet with members of the board’s vocal minority bloc.
Larry Stafford Jr., president of Progressive Maryland, a grass-roots group that backed former congresswoman Donna F. Edwards in the Democratic primary, said he has texted with Alsobrooks and thinks she is “open to new ideas and conversations.”
Alsobrooks said she tries to determine what people are most passionate about, and then find ways to work with them on those issues.
“It just means stopping and asking, ‘What do you care about?’ ” she said. “What I find is that people also generally have a talent in that area.”
When Alsobrooks met with incoming state senator Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s), she said she expected to talk mostly about health care because of Griffith’s long career in the industry. But they also ended up connecting over their love of the arts. Soon after, Griffith invited Alsobrooks to a jazz concert in Bethesda, where they spoke with the club owner about how to attract such venues to Prince George’s.
“Now, the two of us are on this secret, but not-so-secret, push to bring an amphitheater to Prince George’s,” Alsobrooks said in an interview.
Glaros, the outgoing council chair, said one of the first things she thinks about when she considers Alsobrooks’s leadership style is the notebook that she carries.
“She’s a pretty remarkable listener,” Glaros said. “She likes to understand where people are coming from, so she sort of leans in when she talks to you and takes notes at the same time — it’s a style that’s very distinctive to her.”
Asked Monday about her immediate priorities, Alsobrooks did not hesitate: Improving the “performance and reputation of our school system,” she told reporters.
She said she will focus on selecting strong leadership and ensuring accountability in the school system, adding that she has heard “nothing but positive feedback” about interim schools chief Monica Goldson, who succeeded Kevin Maxwell, Baker’s handpicked CEO, this summer. On the first day of school this fall, Alsobrooks rode a school bus with Goldson, greeting parents, children, teachers and school workers with hugs.
“It will be my greatest desire that every child growing up in my hometown will have the same chance to experience every opportunity that I’ve had,” Alsobrooks said Monday. “Thank you for placing your confidence in me. I will not let you down.”