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Jackson, off to rocky start, casts race as marathon, not sprint

Jonathan Mummolo

Prince George's County Sheriff Michael A. Jackson had a rough day Wednesday. An established figure in the public safety community, Jackson, who is running for county executive, lost the support of the county's police and firefighter's unions to former Del. Rushern L. Baker III, and won the support of his own deputy sheriffs by a relatively narrow margin.

Jackson, however, said he was undeterred by the losses and buoyed by the victory.

"I'm happy about yesterday's endorsement," Jackson said Thursday, noticeably employing the singular: "endorsement."

"This is a place I spent 20 years," he said. The campaign is, "a journey. It's nine months. ... We're highly competitive."

But things got even uglier for Jackson after all three endorsements were in Wednesday night. It was then that Rafael Hylton, a candidate for sheriff and a corporal under Jackson, accused high-ranking members of the agency of intimidating sheriff's deputies into voting to endorse Jackson.

"I'm very disappointed in the tactics used of intimidation to the people in the sheriff's office to vote for Sheriff Jackson," Hilton said Wednesday night. "A lot of people are scared because the word was out that if Jackson does not win it's going to be nine months of retribution."

Jackson flatly denied the allegations Thursday, as well as earlier this week, when they began to surface largely through anonymous sources.

"I don't operate like that," Jackson said.

John "Rodney" Bartlett, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, had made similar charges in the days leading up to the deputy sheriffs union vote. Bartlett, angered at Jackson over his alleged response to a union audit that supposedly uncovered misspent funds, also had vowed to do "everything in my power" to prevent Jackson from getting the support of the deputy sheriffs union.

In the end Jackson did win the union's vote, besting Baker by a count of 119-90 (see the full results). But his less-than-dominant showing among a community that should have been a reliable component of his political base puts Jackson in a tough spot. If the endorsement news is seen as a sign of weakness for Jackson, it could make fundraising difficult ahead of a campaign finance report due later this month -- one which will be closely watched by political insiders and likely donors.

Asked about his margin of victory among his own troops, Jackson said "Fifty-six percent is good in an election, isn't it?"

One obstacle to winning over union members may have been Jackson's stance on a budget issue. Jackson, has said he would have to view the county's fiscal scenario before deciding whether to furlough or lay off safety workers to close budget gaps.

Baker, however, has vowed not to do it -- no way, no how -- a stance several union officials praised. He made the same pledge for education workers.

Jackson said making such pledges ahead of time was unrealistic.

"I've had the opportunity for seven years now to forecast and establish and actually deal with providing a budget," he said. "One thing I've learned is that you never say never. I think being honest and open is the only right way, and I am not going to say something just to get a vote."

Jackson also said he didn't think the endorsements would impact fundraising, and that he was looking forward to a planned fundraising event on Jan. 17.

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  January 7, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  
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Of course, Jack Johnson won without support of the uniformed guys.

Posted by: mdmoment | January 7, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

It's easy for folks to make an early endorsement. Not a lot of heavy lifting involved. You don't have to do extensive lifting of issues to see what's lying under them. Don't have to examine candidates under the lens of current conditions on the ground in this county. You don't have to hear them lay out specifics for the change needed. What exists besides talk, and the usual promises to "guide the county in a better direction" is gained from a warm hugfest early in a campaign?

As a former public law enforcement officer, I'd also have to ask some tough questions about the endorsement process by the associations involved. One question would be to understand on what basis the membership voted for the endorsement. What information and what process was used to both inform them of the issues and quality of the candidates; and then, what process was used to garner their participation?

All this to say, I'd have to raise an eyebrow or two at an early endorsement of Rushern Baker. This is a candidate who twice lost to the maligned Johnson camp in recent elections. Let me ask, what's changed since then? If he didn't have a program sufficient to overcome the spotty Johnson record then, what makes him the best choice now? Making promises now, to Jackson's credit, is unwise. Politically expedient...yes.

Seen Baker's website? What future leader of the county offers "elite membership clubs" for supporters? Opportunities to rub elbows with "important" people for a fee? Is that how he'll lead and govern the county? Sounds and smells familiar.

My experience has been that early endorsements aren't always as transparent and level as the expressed outcome would lead one to believe. Then, of course, that's just my experience.

Posted by: CyrusBorg | January 13, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

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