Former congresswoman Donna F. Edwards will run for Prince George's county executive, a first foray into local politics for the progressive populist who lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in spring 2016.
Grass-roots activists had been pushing Edwards to compete for the 2018 Democratic nomination since April. State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D) and Prince George's State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (D), as well as former Obama administration official Paul Monteiro, are also seeking the Democratic nomination to lead Maryland's second-largest jurisdiction.
Edwards made her announcement Thursday on social media.
"I am an independent decision-maker," Edwards said in a YouTube video. "We're going to create a government that is transparent, that is open, that is accessible. That way our county will be more competitive in the region, and the voters, the people who live in Prince George's County, the businesses that want to operate in the county have confidence that we're going to do the right thing."
The decision to enter the race comes after months of conversations with family, elected officials, members of the business community and union leaders.
"There are some people who just want to be elected; I'm not one of those people," Edwards said during a recent interview. "I want to be county executive because I believe on the ground, in the communities, you can actually do some really great things that will benefit people and will make a difference."
Edwards was introduced to local politics nearly two decades ago as a community activist opposed to the original plans for National Harbor in southern Prince George's County. A lawyer who struggled early in her career with student debt and poverty, she co-founded the National Network to End Domestic Violence before becoming executive director of a foundation that handed out grants to progressive causes.
In 2008, Edwards defeated longtime incumbent Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) in the Democratic primary and then won his seat in Congress.
Edwards, 59, said her background as a community activist, her work in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, and her time in Congress have provided her with a unique experience that will serve her well as county executive.
"I believe that I have a history of both service and work that is exactly the breadth of experience and work that a county executive needs," Edwards said. "I'm not a one-trick pony."
The first African American woman elected to Congress from Maryland, she branded herself as an unflinching progressive who brings her perspective as a black woman to political arenas dominated by white men.
Edwards had the backing of national groups such as Emily's List and Democracy for America in the 2016 Senate primary. She blamed her loss to then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen on what she called a lack of support for candidates of color from the state's Democratic establishment.
But some Democrats said they were supporting Van Hollen because they believed Edwards had not provided strong constituent services or logged significant legislative accomplishments while in office.
Even as she weighed whether to run for county executive, Edwards continued to speak out on national issues. She appeared on "Fox News Sunday" this week to discuss issues including the devastation in Puerto Rico, the meaning of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee and infighting among Republican leadership. On the program, she said Kaepernick's actions were meant to draw attention to police brutality and injustices against black Americans.
"It didn't have to do with dishonoring the flag, disrespecting the country," she said.
Addressing a crowded union hall in Landover in July, Edwards spoke about economic development, schools and responsive governance in Prince George's County. She described being stopped at a pharmacy by a woman who said changes to her trash pickup schedule left her garbage can overflowing for days after a family gathering.
"When elected leadership doesn't understand how people live their lives and provide the basic kinds of services, the little things can start to get on your nerves," Edwards said. "If she . . . believes that I can do something about picking up her trash, then she will trust me to do the stuff that's really hard."
Edwards, who grew up in a military family, has lived in Prince George's County for 35 years. Her decision to enter the race, she said, is about being "productive and contributory in the place that I call home."
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), in office since 2010, is term-limited and running for governor. Among the candidates to succeed him, Muse has spent more than 20 years in Annapolis and lost a race for county executive in 2002. Alsobrooks, the state's attorney since 2011, has been building support for years and is running on a three-pronged pledge of "safe communities, a strong and vibrant commercial tax base, and quality education."
Edwards, who has had strong support from Prince George's voters in her previous runs for Congress, said she plans to focus her campaign on improving the school system and increasing jobs by growing the economy and "capitalizing on the county's technology assets."