This year, some of the most qualified candidates ever are running for Prince George’s County executive. We interviewed three outstanding finalists for our endorsement. From this bountiful field, we endorse Angela Alsobrooks as an experienced and inspirational leader who understands with great nuance how to move Prince George’s County toward smarter growth.
Alsobrooks is the current county State's Attorney. Just eight years ago, the Jack Johnson corruption scandal loomed large over Prince George's County and the 2010 campaign. Alsobrooks was elected state's attorney at the same time Rushern Baker, whom we have endorsed for the Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland, won the county executive's seat. Since then, Prince George's County has made enormous progress on crime and corruption, helping to transform the county's reputation.
Contributor and Elections Committee member Tracy Loh, who served two years on the Mount Rainier city council, personally interacted with Alsobrooks and her prosecutors. Tracy saw the benefits of Alsobrooks’ efforts to reorganize the States Attorney office to create community prosecutors. In a big county, “it's hard to get attention for 'lifestyle' crimes but we had a major problem in our transit plaza with access for everyone being degraded and jeopardized by a very small number of men who were consistently publicly intoxicated. Alsobrooks and her prosecutors met with our council and local police, and came up with a plan to address it.”
However, she is much more than a crime fighter. Her career includes six years running the Prince George's County Revenue Authority. There, Alsobrooks uncovered theft during her first year and prosecuted one of her top deputies.
Since that cleanup, the Revenue Authority has evolved further; Baker chose Peter Shapiro to lead the quasi-governmental agency, which now not only operates parking garages, but manages real estate development and finance for such projects as the new Suitland TOD. Alsobrooks praised Shapiro's record, and demonstrated a deep-cut understanding of the current state of Prince George's County government.
Alsobrooks also established the county's first speed cameras while leading the Revenue Authority, but remains cognizant of the equity and transparency issues that can arise in their implementation. She said, “What we did on many of the roads that we implemented the speed cameras, is first have a speed study. So it wasn't just that we placed the cameras, we first studied the road, and determine whether it was an appropriate place to put it. ... I try to make decisions that are designed to help people, and not just a profit motive. It has to have some other kind of benefit. ... The larger goal is to improve the quality of life for people who are here. If it does that, I'm in favor of it.”
Alsobrooks spoke with empathy and urgency about the need to take every measure possible to improve traffic safety, including both engineering and enforcement, as she reflected on her time as State's Attorney and her personal experience with the trial of Natasha Pettigrew's killer: “As a prosecutor, some of the most painful cases we handle were traffic fatalities.”
When we pressed her about how to achieve design changes to roads, she said “that in all things there's an education process that has to happen. ... People embrace what they begin to understand. This is a process that you don't start overnight. ... It does take education. It takes empowerment, it takes enforcement. I think there's a process to it ... and I think the need for it is well-established. When we have the highest rate of traffic fatalities in the state; we have to do something different.”
All of the candidates we interviewed expressed strong support for transit-oriented development, but Alsobrooks was the only candidate to emphasize the transformation that is happening at Largo Town Center, where a new regional hospital is under construction and a new county administration building is about to open. She highlighted that “we're doing more and more to create opportunities for Prince Georgians to work, live, and shop and get their healthcare all in Prince George's County…We think about Montgomery County, for example, where 65% of their residents actually get to live and work in Montgomery County. And we have 70% of ours who are going out. Part of what we will do around transit-oriented development is also creating less of a need for cars.”
Donna Edwards: A smart growth believer
Judging by the comments, some GGWash readers have approached Edwards' run for local office with skepticism. Donna Edwards has pledged to not accept campaign contributions from real estate developers, and told Elle Magazine that a big motivation to get involved in local politics (as opposed to federal, where she spent most of her time as a member of Congress and candidate for US Senate) was a planned development in her neighborhood.
Does that mean she is a NIMBY? We asked the former congresswoman about this, and she retold a story that was well known at the time of her 2008 Congressional campaign: She led the civic group that called itself the Campaign to Reinvest in Oxon Hill, which sued the National Harbor developers. While suing a development sounds very NIMBY, in fact Edwards’ group advocated for National Harbor to include housing, a trail and public access along the Potomac, transit connectivity, no widening of Oxon Hill Road, and for the developer to pay for a downtown Oxon Hill plan.
In fact, Donna Edwards is a visionary YIMBY with the track record to prove it; she literally lives at National Harbor today. Edwards asserted clearly, “I believe in development, I just don't believe in the development that's taking place all through the rural tier.” Indeed, Prince George's has green-lighted many large developments at the fringe of the built-up metropolitan area, often at the expense of financing transit-oriented development or growth in existing communities with existing residents and amenities.
On road safety, however, the candidates are not interchangable. While Donna Edwards was the only candidate who knew what Vision Zero was, she expressed no support for automated enforcement of speed limits through cameras, instead asserting that dangerous driver behavior can be fixed through design only. While we do not at all disagree in principle, when we pressed her on the timeline, budget, jurisdiction, and feasibility of engineering traffic calming on all of the state highways in Prince George's County in the near term, she cited successfully obtaining federal funds for improvements to Naylor Road. In other words, one road, at the personal intervention of a member of Congress.
One contributor relayed a story of Edwards' transit advocacy:
Very memorable is her testimony at a Metro budget hearing some years ago when she was in Congress. She came to Wheaton, outside her district, and talked about how, as a single mother, she rode one of the bus routes that was scheduled for elimination. Without that bus route to take her to work, she would not have been able to go to law school and be where she is now.
Paul Montiero: A promising new candidate
Some area voters might be jaded by the number of former Obama administration officials that are running for local office based on their national experience (which they are doing all over the country, actually), including Paul Monteiro in Prince George’s.
We sat down with Monteiro at Howard University, where he is the chief of staff to the president. It's a substantive administrative role, considering Howard's 10,000+ students and 6,000+ staff. In the Obama administration, Monteiro ran Americorps, which explains the passion for community engagement and building capacity in the nonprofit sector that he shared with us.
As a relatively young candidate running for office, Monteiro made a strong case, arguing that:
The best executives aren't the ones that know all the answers. The best executives are the ones that say, “Put your ego aside, read and study up quick if you don't know it, and get the most informed people in the room that have a stake in the matter, because they will create a workable solution.” It's not punting. It's democracy. We need to do this together and get away from the idea that career politicians will solve our challenges in Prince George's County. No!
Part of the problem is an expectation that “they'll fix it for me.” The approach I took when I was at the White House, AmeriCorps VISTA, and at the Justice Department is collaborative leadership. I'm not going to tell you what you need, but we're going to set pathways for our neighbors to get involved and have a real voice in their government again.
And certainly, Monteiro is no Johnny-come-lately. He was born and raised in the county, publicly educated, and currently lives in Adelphi, near Langley Park.
Prince George's County has options
Every candidate spoke at length and with passion about the state of public education in the county, correctly identifying it as the number one social and economic issue crying out for reform. Monteiro emphasized the need for improved school infrastructure, while Edwards spoke with great insight about how to reform the board of education, and Alsobrooks emphasized the importance of the school system in the county's budget and it's keystone role in economic development of the county's workforce and as a location criteria for employers and businesses.
In an earlier year or another field (or in other races going on this year in the county), we would love to endorse either Edwards or Monteiro. However, we simply feel that Alsobrooks' record, understanding of the issues, and executive experience best position her to lead a county government which has come a long way and still has much work ahead.
A great candidate for a great place
Running Prince George's County is not easy. It took almost all of eight years for Rushern Baker to move the needle and deliver on some of his campaign promises, including promoting transit-oriented development and investing in inner-Beltway communities through the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative. Baker's administration made real progress in reforming county government, including implementing performance management, and engaging philanthropy to build capacity in the nonprofit sector. However, there is clearly more work to do. Angela Alsobrooks is extraordinarily well positioned to maintain and grow this positive momentum.
Prince George's County is not its problems. As Paul Monteiro pointed out, “while Prince George's County is not the richest in our region, we are one of the richest counties in America, blessed with more colleges than most counties have plus the DC colleges and universities too, the Metro stations, the federal agencies, and the private sector employers across the region. We have all the ingredients to do something greater.”
Angela Alsobrooks is here for that. She reflected on a life spent living in and serving Prince George's County, saying:
I've been here 47 years, but if it was 47 days, I still really believe we all deserve to enjoy the great benefits of this county and that it's our role to make sure that it happens. We still have so much work to do, but I do believe we left it better than when we inherited it in 2010. But that takes a combination of not only a vision, but it takes also the relationships to convert it.
I'm running, because I believe I'm positioned to represent the county in the way that it should be. With dignity, and passion, and hard work, integrity…Anybody who spends any length of time can always point out how somebody else stumbled. I'm running because I think we need leadership that is forward-thinking and energetic, and that makes the people here feel good about where we live.
This is our home. I know we have challenges, but I love it here. I really do. And I want other people to share that. Our kids who are graduating from these schools, I want them to say, “I'm from Prince George's County. That's a great place.
Prince George's County is great, and it can be greater. We endorse Angela Alsobrooks for Prince George's County Executive.
Early voting in Maryland begins June 14 and the primary is June 26.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.