Whenever a new friend or colleague asks me where I live, I always hesitate for a moment before reluctantly admitting that I live in Prince George’s County. I quickly defend my choice by saying that I live in the southern part, and that I could “throw a rock into Charles County.” When questioned about why I live where I do, I find myself explaining how it offered a quiet neighborhood, an affordable home in a housing market where buying in Virginia seemed impossible at the time, and a fairly short commute into Virginia and Washington, DC.
At the time we moved here, we had lived in Virginia for several years and I honestly never thought I would move to Maryland. When I began house hunting, reality set in and I quickly realized that on the salary of two public servants, we could never afford a home that could eventually house our children and, potentially, our aging parents too. When we discovered a home we loved in a nice, middle-class suburb in southern Prince George’s, we jumped on the opportunity to buy. We didn’t thoroughly consider the quality of the schools, crime (which didn’t seem likely where we lived), and the county’s image in other people’s eyes. We just did what seemed reasonable at the time. I do not regret the decision, because I still believe we live in a tight, close-knit community and our neighbors really care about and look out for each other.
Seven years later, while I worry about schools, crime, and sprawl, my concern about the County’s image is still what bothers me the most. Jack Johnson’s arrest yesterday simply proves what many people have been saying for years – that our elected officials are corrupt and are more concerned about their own personal gain than serving the people who live here. While I feel ashamed about that image, and I believe others share my view, we keep electing individuals who validate that assumption. I think the past eight years have probably been the worst for the county, with our former school superintendent now residing in a federal prison, a state Senator facing bribery charges, and our county executive and a future Council representative caught red-handed in corrupt behavior. Let’s not forget the Council members who also clearly seemed to be involved in a pay-to-play scheme earlier this year.
In the midst of yesterday’s crisis, I received my invitation to Mr. Johnson’s “going-away” party. While I have never been Mr. Johnson’s biggest fan, I was appointed and agreed to serve on a county commission for several years. I volunteered my time to fight for the rights of people who had no voice here, and I helped them to overcome the obstacles they faced. I am proud of my service, and honored to serve because I never felt it was about being one of Johnson’s appointees but rather, something I was called to do to help our residents. I presume that as a result of my service as a commissioner, I was invited to come and (I quote here) “honor the leadership and legacy of Mr. Johnson” as he left office. Given what happened yesterday, I doubt I need to RSVP for that event now, but it’s humiliating to think about the context in which I received the invitation.
Mr. Johnson’s arrest exemplifies why I got involved in a local campaign for the first time earlier this year, because my core mission was to try and overturn that status quo. I wanted to elect people who would truly serve us, and not themselves. I felt that our current cast of characters, especially Mr. Johnson and our Council representative, Ms. Bland, enjoyed the “prestige” of their elected office but did nothing to actually represent the people who lived here. I was tired of being ashamed for the county’s image and that of my elected officials. I wanted to be proud of the people who represented me. I was very motivated to get rid of the corruption and cronyism that has tarnished the image of this county during the entire seven years that I have lived here. I am hopeful that we can get there, but overcoming the county’s negative image just got a lot harder for our incoming politicians after yesterday’s news. We all need to pull together as residents and make sure that during the next four years, we are aggressive in holding our elected officials accountable for their actions, and send the message that this behavior will no longer be tolerated in Prince George’s County.