Silence Speaks Louder Than Words
The silence is practically deafening. Everybody wants to talk about getting rid of corruption in Prince George’s County on the campaign trail, but now that we’re dealing with what may turn out to be the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the County, none of our incoming elected officials want to say a word. In today’s Washington Post story, County Council members claim privately that it’s because they want to present a unified front, but the story aptly points out that right now they have not responded collectively to anything at all. To make matters worse, I expected County Executive-elect Rushern Baker to take a strong stand on the matter, because he had campaigned on a platform of making the County government more ethical, accountable, and transparent. He gave me no confidence that he will be able to accomplish this goal, because he did nothing to directly address corruption or express any definitive opinion on whether Leslie Johnson should take office next month.
I think we can all agree that we hoped for better from our future leaders of the County. While many of us are still in shock and pained by the reputation of the County that we now carry on our shoulders, I believe we would have felt better if our leaders had taken a courageous stand and firmly stated that corruption will no longer be tolerated. In my mind, Baker could help himself by imploring Leslie Johnson to step aside from Council so the County can move forward without the distraction of her ongoing indictment, which will undoubtedly overshadow the business of Prince George’s County. I must say that although I did not support Mel Franklin for Council, I have to congratulate him for being brave enough to take a public stand by stating for the record (via TBD) that Johnson should step down. Good for him, other Council members should take note.
Mr. Baker has not directly addressed the corruption charges, probably for several reasons. He may not want to spend political capital on this issue if Johnson takes office and becomes a colleague. Baker may also underestimate how much this issue will affect every other pressing issue he needs to address. He simply cannot make Prince George’s County great for economic development, education, and public safety if he avoids dealing with the corruption that plagues the County’s image. I think Baker, along with many others, are also anxious about how additional arrests could potentially implicate supporters, colleagues, and friends. Baker should be legitimately concerned about that, because I believe additional surprises are coming. I will not be shocked if other elected officials are involved in the corruption, and they may likely be those we are least likely to suspect. Quite frankly, if people like Marilynn Bland are caught using a County credit card inappropriately, I doubt they could pull off a pay-to-play scheme this elaborate and cover it up so effectively for so long.
Finally, I think everybody knows that Mr. Baker has some unfortunate alliances of his own that compromise his ethical platform. I love quotes, and I think this one says it best: “When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” This rings true for Baker, who campaigned on a platform of reform and change, but stacked his transition committee with former politicians, entrenched allies, and generous supporters who may be seeking favorable treatment with the new administration. The real test for Baker is how he will deal with David Hillman, who contributed thousands to Baker’s campaign and is a key member of his transition team. Will Baker owe Hillman a return on his investment? Could he already be feeling the pressure from Hillman? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and like many of you, I will have to wait and see as the process unfolds.