Rushern Baker had to wait eight years to become Prince George’s County executive. Now, as he prepares for the position he’s longed for, the reality of being in charge of one of the most talked about places in the region is finally beginning to set in.

“I have had moments when I look and say, ‘wow,’” Baker said. “I think when you take on a new position, your idea of what you’re going to be faced with and the reality is, a lot of times, night and day.

“What I can say is that I’m truly blessed to have this opportunity at this time,” he continued. “Given both the challenges and the opportunities of Prince George’s County, to come in as county executive is really humbling and exciting at the same time.”

Baker begins his tenure during a tenuous time in the county. With his predecessor, Jack Johnson and his wife, District 6 Councilwoman-elect Leslie Johnson, having been arrested on corruption charges, Baker is not only tasked with moving the county forward, but restoring residents’ confidence in local government.

“One thing I have to do as county executive is be prepared on Dec. 6 to handle the critical issues facing Prince George’s County,” he said. “It’s our education system, it’s job creation and setting the standard that we’re going to demand that people who do business here follow all the rules and regulations and that all employees of the county, including those elected employees, follow all the rules and regulations.”

Baker said he can’t concern himself with the Johnsons’ woes and will allow the court system to mull over their legal issues. He’s more concerned with improving the county.

Part of his efforts will include improving the school system, which has already begun. Nonetheless, the Prince George’s County Public School System still lags behind its neighbors in Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties.

Baker has ideas about providing more charter schools and choice schools for Prince George’s students in addition to providing more specialized vocational options at certain schools. However, he said the most pressing need is training and retaining quality teachers.

“One of the things that I want to do is help make sure that we have programs that retain good teachers throughout Prince George’s County,” he said.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is we have this big gap in the county,” he continued. “Our teachers fall into two categories: either they’re brand new or they’re ready to retire. What I want to help the school system do is get the professional development training for the new teachers that are here and for the teachers that are still here so that there’s professional growth.”

Baker must also deal with an economy hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. He said he will be proactive in working with HUD to reduce the number of foreclosures and pressuring the banks to get teachers, police officers and firefighters into the county’s foreclosed homes.

However, he said the county can no longer depend on its residential tax base and must switch to a commercial tax base. With two universities and the impending Base Realignment and Closure and Joint Base Andrews, he said attracting more jobs is paramount to the county’s growth.

“ is using our proximity to the District and our undeveloped Metro sites and making sure we use those as attractions for established businesses here and attracting new businesses in the county,” Baker said. “I think we’re in a good position to do that because as the economy has collapsed, people don’t want to go out as far as they used to, like up the corridor or down to St. Mary’s County.

They’re going to look to be more around the Washington region.”

Everything Baker wants to do is easier said than done and he knows it. Despite that, he’s excited to get to work and ready for the challenge that awaits him.

“I believe that this is a good county…but the potential to be great is so overwhelming,” he said. “I think the people should, and I hope they will know that I’m working as hard as I can to provide them with the quality government they deserve.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO