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From Corruption to Cannabis, Pr. George's Residents Vent Concerns to Elected Leaders

Jonathan Mummolo

(Seated from left to right: State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, Del. Marvin E. Holmes Jr. (D-Prince George's), Del. Michael L. Vaughn (D-Prince George's), Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George's), County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George's), Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's). Not pictured but on panel: County Council Member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel) and County Sheriff Michael A. Jackson. Photo by Hamil R. Harris)

There were no shortage of signs this week that the 2010 elections are heating up in Prince George's County. First, the police union launched an ad campaign--aimed as much at elected officials as candidates for next year--decrying the current county leadership for budget cuts. Thursday afternoon, County Executive Jack B. Johnson's chief of staff Michael Herman--rumored to be weighing a run for State Senate--stepped down.

And Thursday night, a community forum designed to give residents a chance to vent concerns to politicians ran deep into the night, even turning rowdy at one point, when attendees were told they'd have to shorten their remarks so everyone could have a turn.

The over-arching message from the dozens of speakers? Fix Prince George's County, or we'll find folks who can.

The forum, held at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, began shortly after 7 p.m. Attendees were invited to take the mic for three minutes each to address a panel that included Johnson, members of the Prince George's House and Senate Delegation, and law enforcement officials.

There was no back-and-forth dialogue. The panel just had to sit there and hear the pleas, complaints and, at times, outright insults of residents, over issues ranging from medical marijuana and animal cruelty to unwelcome development and public corruption.

There were the students complaining of unhealthy, "greasy food" in the cafeteria and having substitute teachers "for an entire year." There was the man pleading for quality staffing--not cronyism--in the county's auditing division to ensure sufficient oversight. There was the woman who sermonized about how God's defective GPS is preventing him from finding Prince George's County. And there was the man who waived--but refrained from throwing--his shoes in outrage.

Along with the myriad concerns raised--of the need for more development around Metro stations, better health care and smaller class sizes--there were some suggestions too. One man asked that a green expo be held to showcase green jobs and vendors. Some students at the University of Maryland lobbied for Good Samaritan policies, which help protect underage people from getting in trouble if they seek medical help for a friend that drank too much. Another student asked for better recycling in schools.

In other words, there was local politics.

Albert Doby, 84, came to shed light on the conditions at the Cameron Grove senior community where he lives. He and other seniors have been reaching out to the County Council for help with mold, leaky windows and other defects, saying county inspectors failed to cite the complex's developer for shoddy construction. The development sits in the district of Council Member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), who is running for County Executive, but who sent representatives in his place last night.

"Four years ago, I moved into this development hoping this could be the place I could live for the rest of my life," Doby said. "I'm totally disappointed in my councilman."

Then Doby gave the officials a vivid demonstration of a cardinal rule of politics: Never let constituents think you are missing in action.

"Councilman Dean, I had hoped would be here, but he seems to be missing, the same way he seems to be missing so many other times," said Doby, to loud jeers from the crowd.

Dean was not the only one to send a representative in his stead. U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md), Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and former Del. Rushern L. Baker III, who is running for county executive, were also no-shows.

But the show went on.

Carlos Lopez, of the Prince George's Youth Commission, complained of technology classes "where there are no computers."

Two men from a group promoting medical marijuana also got a turn. One asked the crowd, "How many people support this issue?" at which point Johnson and Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George's) raised their hands, to huge laughter and applause.

"If someone is dying from cancer, why not?" Johnson said when asked about the issue after the forum. "I don't have a problem with that."

Johnson, who arrived late--he said he had been in New York all day working on issues related to the county's finances--sat in the center of the panel wearing a bright red sweater under his blazer. He got an earful at times, accused by one man of abusing the perks of his office and having seven county cars.

"There are no personal benefits," he responded to the crowd at the end of the night. "There are two automobiles assigned to the county executive's office. .... The point is that all of us serve honorably."

The forum wound down around 10:30 p.m., but many stayed after to approach officials directly. State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey--who is considering a bid for county executive--praised the "good, substantive ideas on a variety of topics." State Senator Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George's) encouraged people to send him e-mails so he could help them find the right agencies to address their problems. Griffith left with a legal pad full of pages of notes on the issues raised, intent on taking up the suggestion of a speaker who urged the panel to ride the public bus to observe the state of county transportation.

"I'm going to do it," Griffith said. "I'm going to see how long it takes to get to work."

Now, with all the issues thrown against the wall last night, the question heading into 2010 is: Which ones will stick?

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  October 16, 2009; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , General Assembly , Governor , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  
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none will stick...
it's all promises and no action...

Posted by: DwightCollins | October 16, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

It's good to see county residents showing up and raising their concerns. Hopefully the pols are taking note and come up with good policies and actions to address the issues. But if all else fails it's time for the voters to jettison the dead weight come election season.

Posted by: snake_taylor | October 16, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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