Former Obama administration official Paul Monteiro returned to his high school in Prince George’s County on Tuesday to kick off his long-shot campaign for county executive.
A lifelong county resident and graduate of its public school system, Monteiro, 36, is making a bid for local elected office after years of working in the White House.
He will compete for the 2018 Democratic nomination — which in deep-blue Prince George’s is akin to winning the general election — against State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks and state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, both longtime public officials with vast political networks in Prince George’s. Former congresswoman Donna F. Edwards is also weighing a bid to succeed County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who is term-limited and is running for governor.
“President Obama told a lot of us at the end of the administration that the mission continues — go back to your local communities and get involved,” Monteiro said in an interview. “The best ways to use my experiences is to help a place that helped me and my family.”
Tuesday night’s event at High Point High School in Beltsville highlighted the importance of education, which Monteiro said will be a cornerstone of his campaign. Event attendees were encouraged to bring donations of school supplies and toiletries for students in need.
Monteiro, who was the first in his family to graduate from high school, said he will focus his platform on access to early-childhood education, providing resources and support to educators and ensuring that high school students find post-graduation opportunities — from apprenticeships to full-time college — that suit them. Initiatives for economic development, restorative justice and “reinvigorating a sense of stewardship in county government” will also play major roles, he said.
The son of a roofer and an administrative assistant, Monteiro grew up in Hyattsville and earned degrees from the University of Maryland and Howard University School of Law.
In his final year of law school, he interned on Capitol Hill for then-Sen. Barack Obama. He then moved to Chicago to work on Obama’s presidential campaign as deputy director of religious affairs.
During Obama’s presidency, Monteiro was an adviser to the White House Office of Public Engagement, leading outreach to faith-based organizations and antipoverty groups; director of AmeriCorps VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps; and director of the community relations service in the Justice Department, where he led efforts to address conflicts rooted in race, gender identity and sexual orientation.
He now works as the chief of staff to the president of Howard University and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland.
Though new to county government, Monteiro said he took lessons from each of his prior positions that would help him as county executive.
Work on the Obama campaign taught him the power of meeting voters door to door, he said, while his time at the Justice Department solidified his understanding of what he calls the “Zip-code problem,” through which it is possible to predict life outcomes given the circumstances of someone’s birth and environment.
“I’m going to give back to a place that gave me everything,” Monteiro said.