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Pr. George's senior housing issue presents campaign risk

A group of Prince George's senior citizens who made headlines recently over alleged substandard living conditions in their development are holding an "informational session" Tuesday night to voice their concerns and call for accountability.

The residents of the Cameron Grove community--who have had help organizing by a local activist group, People For Change--have been accusing the complex's developer of shoddy construction, as well as county officials of insufficient oversight. (See event flier below.)

Caught in the political crossfire is Council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), who is running for County Executive and whose district includes Cameron Grove. At a recent County Council meeting, Dean had to answer to several seniors who spoke during a public comments period about mold, leaks and other issues at the complex, and who blamed the county for not following up on their complaints. At a public meeting with officials last week, an 84-year-old man who complained about the facility cited Dean by name as being absent, to loud jeers from the crowd.

With the 2010 campaign heating up, the issue has the potential to be either a thorn in Dean's side, or--if he manages to help resolve the matter--a feather in his cap, political observers said.

County Council spokeswoman Karen Campbell said in an e-mail Tuesday that Dean was "not available for comment." Dean stated in an Oct 15 letter to the development's homeowner's association that his staff would examine and respond to the complaints raised at the recent Council session "as soon as possible." (See letter below).

Some said the attacks on Dean by the group may be unfair. The complex is privately built, and while Dean, as a Council Member, perhaps has the influence to get county inspectors on the case, he is not a direct enforcer of the housing code.

But whatever the reality, there is political risk.

"All politics is local," said one local official who is not running against Dean. "If there's something back home that's messing you up, it's kind of hard to stay focused while trying to appeal to a larger audience."

The official asked to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize professional relationships.

There is also the chance that voters won't hold Dean responsible, said Paul S. Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland

"Some people know that a County [Council member] is not an enforcement person." Herrnson said . "I'm not sure how much that would resonate, or how much that could be used as an attack point."

If Dean gets the matter addressed, it could even be a campaign strength, Herrnson said.

"With every one of these potential attacks with some noisy group, there's an opportunity for a politician to" use the issue to their advantage.

People for Change Flier

Dean Letter

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  October 20, 2009; 5:50 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  
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