The swearing-in ceremonies were familiar turf for Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, a former student of Leggett’s at Howard University Law School.
Leggett, 69, was taking the oath of office for the third time; Baker, 56, for the second. Each Democratic county executive pledged to keep working to move his jurisdiction forward, despite challenges posed by a sluggish economic recovery and — though neither mentioned it — the arrival in late January of a Republican in the governor’s mansion.
“Right here and now, we must dispel any myths about a lack of a welcoming business environment,” Leggett told an audience of supporters and government officials at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. “I want us to usher in and foster a ‘culture of yes’ when it comes to doing business in Montgomery County.”
Baker listed securing state money for school construction and a new regional hospital center in Largo as among his top priorities. He said his goal was to help Prince George’s turn its economic potential into reality.
“As far as I’m concerned, we have been saying this county has potential for far too long,” Baker said, standing in front of a giant American flag at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro. “Our destiny is attainable and reachable. It is our time.”
Leggett and Baker lead the state’s two largest Democratic jurisdictions, counties in which voters heavily supported Lt. Gov Anthony Brown, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, over Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R). But voters in Montgomery and Prince George’s also turned out in lower numbers than much of the state, helping to pave the way for Hogan’s four-point upset victory.
On Monday, while Leggett and Baker were sworn in before audiences that included many fellow Democrats, Hogan spoke at inauguration ceremonies for Republican county executives Barry Glassman (Harford) and Steve Schuh (Anne Arundel). He will speak Tuesday at the swearing-in of Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver (R).
Hogan received a thunderous ovation when he was introduced in Anne Arundel, his home county. Hogan described Schuh as “a fellow Anne Arundel County small-business man” and said the two would work closely together “to make Maryland a place we can all be proud of again.”
The swearing-in drew some of the state’s most prominent Republicans, including former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., former lieutenant governor Michael S. Steele and House Minority Leader Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel). It included remarks from House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.).
Hogan pointed out to reporters that his party controls five of the state’s nine county executive seats — in Anne Arundel, Cecil, Harford, Howard and Wicomico — more than ever before. Republicans also picked up seats in the General Assembly, reaching a high-water mark of 50 state delegates.
Asked if the results bode well for the party’s future in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2 to 1, Hogan said: “It depends on how good of a job we do.”
Leggett, who during the campaign was highly critical of Hogan’s statements that the Purple Line light-rail project was too expensive, said he is scheduled to meet with the governor-elect next week. It is too early to begin drawing any political lines in the sand, Leggett said, adding: “Our agenda remains the same.”
In his address, Leggett called for the county to establish new tax incentives for firms that build or take over existing office space and for the creation of a transportation authority to help finance a planned bus rapid transit system and other projects.
Leggett’s $30 million tax-abatement plan would offer a 50 percent rebate over 10 years for non-retail firms that build facilities in the county. It would also expand an existing program offering tax incentives to new firms that rent existing office space.
Other elements of Leggett’s economic proposal include creation of a “development ombudsman” position to help move projects through the county bureaucracy. He said he would commit to getting construction-ready projects approved by the county within 30 days. Leggett also announced a plan to consolidate multiple workforce development efforts into a single entity, so training programs hew more closely to the future needs of employers.
The incoming Montgomery County Council president, George Leventhal (D-At Large), said the council is favorably disposed to approving Leggett’s program. “We need to tackle this perception that we have a negative business climate,” Leventhal said.
Baker, in an interview, said that he and Hogan — who met for breakfast last week — share many of the same priorities for economic development.
“I won’t back down on asking for money,” said Baker, who unsuccessfully sought to lift his county’s two-term limit for elected officials and, therefore, will be forced from office in four years. “In order to attract the business and residents here, we need to invest in things that grow both the county and state,” he said.
In an emotional moment, Baker paused to recognize his youngest daughter, Quinci, who was 15 when Baker’s wife, Christa Beverly, first began to experience symptoms of early-onset dementia. The family kept Beverly’s disease private during the early part of her husband’s first term.
“She took care of her mommy so her daddy could go to work,” Baker said of Quinci. “She missed dances at school and always missed the bus,” he said, but she never complained.
Monday’s ceremonies also included the swearing-in of newly elected or reelected members of the Prince George’s and Montgomery councils — again, all Democrats.
Prince George’s seated three new members — Deni Taveras (Hyattsville), Danielle Glaros (College Park) and Todd Turner (Bowie) — all filling the seats of term-limited predecessors.
In Montgomery, Sidney Katz (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg) was sworn in to replace retiring four-term council member Phil Andrews. Tom Hucker (Eastern County) took the oath of office for the seat that had been held by Cherri Branson.
John Wagner contributed to this report.