"Why You?": What We Want to Know From 2010 Candidates in Prince George's
With 2010 around the corner, candidates in Prince George's County at all levels of government are beginning to sculpt their campaign messages. In a semi-weekly series --"Why You?" -- we sit down with the county's political hopefuls to ask about who they are, what they've done and why they're the best ones to lead.
Current Job: Member of the Prince George's County Council, District 8
Running For: County Executive
Former Jobs: Various posts at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. (Official Bio.)
Residence: Temple Hills
Q: Where were you born?
A: Danville, Va.
Q: What was that like?
A: It was great. ...My aunt at the time had a farm across the street, you know, cows, pigs chickens and all the like. We used to cut chickens' heads off and watch them run across the street, until they ran no longer, and the next thing you know we were eating them that night. We had to pump water from a well, and it was great. You had to work to eat. You had chores that you had to deal with on a daily basis and...my brother and I knew so we wouldn't go hungry, we would have to do our daily chores. So it was good living. It was country living.
Q: You studied government in college and graduate school. When did you first get involved in politics?
A: Back in the '70s, I was working on campaigns, applying my education. I decided to run for [office] back [around] 1999, 2000. When I moved to Temple Hills, I always had an eye toward running for office. ... Back in 1999, I started thinking, well, Prince George's County Council has term limits, so let me look at that as a possibility.
Q: Was there an issue on your mind at the time? Something really driving you to get in office and work on?
A: No, I just thought, when you talk about seasonal change...one thing that Matthew 5 of the Bible talks about--not Matthew 5, but Ecclesiastes 7, talks about seasons. ... 'There's a time for everything.' [Quick fact-check: It's actually Ecclesiastes 3 Knotts is referring to here.] I knew at that time this was my time, and so I focused more on that aspect of it--that I was the best person that could say what the county needed. ...There were enough people who really listened to what I had to say, so we started rockin' and rollin' from there. ...I was elected in '02 in a special election. ...I ran that special election and won it, and then I ran again for my own term, and I've been in office ever since.
Q: So now, after all your time on the County Council, what have you learned about the way things actually work, good and bad?
A: Well, politics is not the way it is on television. You can't just call someone and say, 'I've got a problem, I want it taken care of.' There's a process. ... And realizing that it also becomes somewhat frustrating because, one thing about Prince George's County politics...is we're [term limited]. ...You have a window of time to take care of [campaign promises]. ... So what I did was I put in place...legacy projects--projects that will last long after I am gone.
Q: For example?
A: District 8 Day, we do the third Sunday in August of each year. It's just a community day, but I added another dimension to it: I made it a community day and an information day. What we do, we have every department in Prince George's County...come to Rosecroft Raceway on Sunday, after church....We bring government to the people. That was the purpose of it. ... We also added a jazz component. ... But the sticking point of it is that at the time each year we have it, we give away $50,000 a year away in scholarships.
Q: What are some other legacy projects?
A: Well, we have a project ... every year we do a cruise down the Potomac. We take seniors from the different senior centers in the District (8). ... We put them on Odyssey ... You can eat, you can wine, dine, and you can see out when you're traveling. But its a great opportunity... for older people to share in the moment of traveling up and down the Potomac. ...This year, we took 354 on a cruise out on the Potomac. ... The best thing about it is normally it would dock in Southwest D.C. ... but now that National Harbor is here, we will dock at National Harbor.
Q: How much does that cost?
A: It costs a few dollars. But through our discretion funds we find ways of doing what we need to do.
Q: That's taxpayer money?
A: Taxpayer's money. Definitely.
Q: Do you have a ballpark figure?
A: I would say, multiply approximately 354 times about $60.
Q: And now you're running for County Executive. Why?
A: I'm the best person for the job, and really, Prince George's County has a lot of political challenges. One political challenge that it has is, as I said, term limits. Everyone wants Prince George's County to be like Montgomery, to be like Fairfax, to be like D.C. Often times you hear someone say, "Why can't we be like?..." Well, the rules are different. ... One thing they have that we don't have is sustainable government. ... In Prince George's County, you push a project ... a lot of projects take three to five years. By the time it's time for us to move forward, our term is up. ... I think that's a disservice to the people of the county because you have staff that are here longer than we are. ... So if we can't change the rules at this time...the only sustainable way of governance in Prince George's County that I can see is going from the legislative branch to the executive branch, if you have new and improved ideas to take with you. The legacy projects that I have put in place in District 8, if you were to duplicate those and apply them county-wide, we'd have a great county. We'd have seniors that were involved, we'd have young people that were involved. ...We have to have a more succinct and more streamlined approach to governance.
Q: One thing we're seeing right now with President Obama is a reminder that when you take over an elected job, your situation is really dictated, in large part, by who came before you. What's your take on County Executive Jack B. Johnson's administration? What did he do right, and what did he do wrong? What type of situation will you be left with, if elected?
A: Well, I think Mr. Johnson did a lot of things right. One thing that he's done right is that he's brought this county to a level of a AAA [bond] rating. There's more accountability. I think he's worked well with this Council. ... [Former County Executive] Wayne K. Curry had a better relationship with the council.
Q: Better than Mr. Johnson has?
A: Well, the perception is that this Council and the County Executive don't work well together. I would say they work very well together. It's that perception. ... I think that's been a concern about Jack...that we have not been able to, in an effective way, to make our voice seamless--that he speaks for the county ... and not the perception or the feeling that he's not speaking for the legislative branch of the government. That disconnect has caused a lot of problems.
Q: Why would people have that perception?
A: Tell me the last time you've actually seen this Council and the County Executive appear before a camera in combined support for an action? ... That right there, that perception is that we're not on the same page. The real issue is there are certain issues that unfortunately occur during the time [the Council is] holding hearings. Whether they can be rescheduled, that's another story. ... One of the simplest things to do is to make sure that as the County Executive holds his press conferences that there's consultation done with the legislative branch. ... And not having our schedules conflict. ... We all speak for Prince George's County. So bringing some uniformity, some cohesiveness to the message ... I think it can bring a better picture of Prince George's County. It's a simple thing.
Q: So its really just a problem of scheduling photo ops better? There's not a clash there?
A: No, there isn't that much of a clash...
Q: Do you have any projects that you've started that are not yet completed that you'd like to see through?
A: One project that I'd love to see go through is our District 7 police station. We have a District 7 police station that's been on the books since 2001. ... Right now the money's been reallocated to out years. I don't want that to happen. ... I think that the citizens have been very patient. ... This is in Fort Washington, Oxon Hill, in that area. ...We have the Oxon Hill High School. ... It needs to be rebuilt. .... It's on the books for, I think, 2011. It's something that I've been very much involved in, but also those that came before me were involved in.
Q: What is the theme of this campaign for you? What will you be talking about?
A: My theme when I was council chair is: It's all about the people. ... Government is too bloated, too much red tape, it's not business friendly. We have to find a way to make sure that we are more inviting. Our budget is just unbelievable. For example, this year we have an approximately $2.6 billion dollar budget. Of that, approximately $1.7 billion of it goes to the school system which we have no control over after it is gone. ... Which means we have less money to take care of our day-to-day within the county.
Q: Would you like to see those percentages change?
A:Yes I would. Would I would love to see is...the county can be more responsible for the capital side of the school budget. If we can have more control over building then we won't be faced with this long drawn out process that it takes to get the school built.
Q: So what other priorities will you have if elected?
A: To have a greater say on building the infrastructure on small and minority businesses. National Harbor...well it was the kind of project where I felt there could be more inclusion, but it wasn't the inclusion of local minority firms. ... Also, we have to find a way to make Prince George's County more business friendly. Crime, everyone talks about crime and crime is important. If you can come up with a way where you create a program that would bring the crime numbers down, people are more...receptive to moving into safe areas. ...We live so close to the District, we live so close to Montgomery County. ... We have to work on a strategic plan that would...ensure us to that when we start talking about crime, we're talking from the same page. It's very disheartening for D.C. to say, 'Well, our serious crimes are down.' But then you come to Maryland and say, 'Our serious crimes are up.' That just shows me that the criminal element has gone from D.C. and come to Prince George's and vice versa.
Q: So you want more inter-jurisdictional cooperation on fighting crime?
A: Exactly. ... We can't sit back and try to fight these issues independent.
Q: Why are you the most qualified person to accomplish these things?
A: Well, I think two reasons. One, I understand government. I know how it works. I think that I provide, from the standpoint of serving in government, a better idea of where the so-called shortfalls in government are. ... Being a part of the County Council ... I'm closer to the pulse of this government, of people that I represent. ... and academically, what I've learned theoretically, I think I'm the best person.
Q: But you have at least one opponent, Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), who is also on the Council. How do you plan to distinguish yourself?
A: Well, I think the record will distinguish that. One thing that's fortunate about all of us is we all have a record. ... If you look at the records, if you look at what's been viewed as one that's provided more of a change component to how he has served, i would say that I would distinguish myself from the others.
October 15, 2009; 8:03 AM ET
Categories: 2010 Elections , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County
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