2010, as expected, was a year of change in Prince George’s County. The county saw a massive change in its political leadership, but also saw a lame duck leave in shame.

Former County Executive Jack Johnson, and his wife, Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, D.-Dist. 6, were arrested by federal authorities on Nov. 12 on corruption charges. It was part of a larger scheme in which 9 other people were arrested including three Prince George’s police officers.

The investigation included a wiretap that famously caught the Johnsons trying to destroy a $100,000 check that Jack Johnson allegedly took from a developer, and trying to hide $79,600 in cash in Leslie Johnson’s underwear.

“Do you want me to put it down the toilet,” Leslie asked her husband, according to the recording. “Yes, flush that,” Jack replied before telling Leslie to put “the cash” in her underwear. Leslie responded “I have it in my bra.”

When FBI agents searched Leslie, they recovered the money stashed in Leslie’s bra.

This news has overshadowed a county, which had high hopes after September’s primary elections. The county saw a change of the guard in the county executive, state’s attorney, sheriff and five of the 9 council seats.

Of course the major change was the election of Rushern Baker as the new county executive. Baker defeated former Sheriff Michael Jackson, who was seen as Jack Johnson’s protégé. Baker’s rhetoric of changing Prince George’s to make “a good county great” had county residents excited about the possibilities.

“What we see here tonight is not just a political victory,” Baker said at his victory celebration. “This is not the finish; this is the beginning line. Our goal is greatness. We arrive at the beginning. No matter who you voted for, whose T-shirt you wore or who you chanted for, the goal of every Prince Georgian is to make Prince George’s County the greatest county there is.”

One of the things Baker ran on was increasing the commercial tax base in the county and he got help in that area from state and regional partners. Gov. Martin O’Malley promised to move the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to Prince George’s County, while the state’s Department of Transportation and Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority have began planning to develop the area around the New Carrollton Metro Station.

Developments like that are far and few between in the county, which is why Woodmore Towne Center opened to great fanfare this year. The Glenarden complex features a Best Buy, Costco and Wegman’s, the first grocer of its kind in the county. The center’s opening has county residents hopeful that more of these kinds of shopping options will make their way to the county.

“The chains decided to build in P.G. County and I’m excited,” said 33-year-old Shannon Gray of Bowie in October. “To me, that means that businesses are finally willing to invest in P.G. County which can only be a good thing.”

However, a recent harassment allegation at the center has cast a cloud over that optimism.

Residents can only hope that the changes in leadership can keep those clouds away in 2011.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO