Josh Kurtz: White Prince George’s

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Bet that headline caught your attention.

As a breathtaking corruption scandal continues to unfold in Prince George’s County, and County Executive Rushern Baker (D) struggles mightily to break from the seamy traditions of the past, the majority-black suburb is much in the news these days. But vestiges of another time – when whites were in the majority and held all the political power (and had a monopoly on unseemliness) are still in evidence.

The recent death of Peter O’Malley, often called the political boss of Prince George’s from the early 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, sparked a handful of fascinating obituaries and remembrances. They rolled out surprisingly slowly – in and of itself a reminder of how much Prince George’s has changed.

If O’Malley had died back in the 1980’s, it would have been front page news. His time has long passed, but a lot of his old friends and allies are still major players in Maryland politics.

The list begins, of course, with Steny Hoyer, who struck an alliance with O’Malley in the 1960’s, when both were getting their starts in local affairs – and whose career was resuscitated in 1981, when O’Malley guided him through a special congressional election.

The list of powerful O’Malley associates also includes John McDonough, the Maryland Secretary of State who for years ran the political slate committees in Prince George’s in the manner in which O’Malley taught him (and in fact worked for the O'Malley law firm); and Annapolis mega-lobbyists Joel Rozner and Gary Alexander, who worked on campaigns with O'Malley (though both are more closely associated with other powerful Prince George's politicians).

John Davey, the managing partner of O’Malley’s law firm, was Prince George’s County’s representative to the Washington Metro board under multiple county executives, receiving a much higher stipend than just about any other board member. O’Malley, Miles, Nylen & Gilmore is still the go-to firm in Prince George’s for development, real estate, commercial and government relations work – and most of its attorneys are white.

It’s interesting to reflect on O’Malley’s history and legacy as we contemplate an article Alan Brody wrote last week in The Gazette of Politics and Business about a Prince George’s real estate agent and former County Council candidate named Trevor Otts who has started a political action committee to ensure that minorities get a fair shake during the redistricting process.

It’s a legitimate concern: despite a minority population topping 70 percent, the county following the 2002 redistricting came away with four African-American state senators and four white senators. Mapmakers employed a couple of neat tricks to achieve this: Senate President Mike Miller (D), then as now a resident of Calvert County, was allowed to keep turf in Prince George’s, where he grew up and remains a major powerbroker (and still dominates the county Senate delegation in many ways – too many ways, some would argue). Another district takes in College Park, Beltsville and Laurel before extending into Anne Arundel County.

When he was county executive in 2002, Wayne Curry (D) sued the state to overturn the legislative map that then-Gov. Parris Glendening (D), a fellow Prince Georgian, and the General Assembly had drawn – principally, to boot Miller from the county. When Curry’s case, along with other challenges to the proposed legislative boundaries, went before the Court of Appeals, the judges did carve Miller out of Charles and Anne Arundel counties (a victory for Janet Owens, then the Anne Arundel executive, who also hated Miller). But knowing so much of Miller’s power flowed from Prince George’s, the judges could not bring themselves to cut that territory out of his district.

Today, Prince George’s actually has more white senators than black – Victor Ramirez (D), who is Hispanic, represents the polyglot and strangely drawn 47th district, which takes in such communities as Bladensburg, Brentwood, Cheverly, Chillum, Colmar Manor, Langley Park, Mount Rainier and New Carrollton.

Some defenders of the current map will say that the 22nd district, currently held by white Sen. Paul Pinsky (D) and taking in Hyattsville and Greenbelt, is a majority minority district that just happened to elect a white senator (one of the district’s three delegates, Tawanna Gaines, is black). But the district has gotten whiter in the past decade.

How will the legislative map be drawn before the 2014 elections? Will politics continue to be more of a factor than logic and demographics?

Assuming he’s running for a 10th term in 2014, when he’ll be 71 years old and will have served for two dozen years as Senate president, Miller is sure to demand that Prince George’s remain in his district. The bitter irony, for advocates of more minority seats in Prince George’s County, is that some of the state’s biggest population growth has been in Southern Maryland. By all rights, Miller’s district should probably move deeper into Southern Maryland, rather than remaining in Prince George’s.

State Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D) holds the northern Prince George’s seat that spills into Anne Arundel County. He’s gearing up to run for state comptroller in 2014. If he’s not running for re-election, maybe portions of his district can be sacrificed to produce another majority-black seat.

Among insiders there is talk that if Democrats are serious about targeting U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R) in the next couple of election cycles, they may have to draw his district all the way west along Route 50 into Prince George’s. If that happens, it might entice Bowie-based state Sen. J.J. Peters (D) to run for Congress – theoretically opening up some of his district to create another majority-minority seat.

You can construct dozens of different scenarios to create more minority districts in Prince George’s County – and dozens more to justify maintaining the status quo.

Mr. Otts is to be commended for starting his PAC, which symbolically has been named for the late Mississippi voting rights crusader Fannie Lou Hamer.

But it’s going to make more than a small band of activists to guarantee that there will be lines that are, if you will, fair and balanced. Politicians will have to opt for doing what’s right over voting their self-interest.

This is likely to wind up in court yet again.

The Indictments
Speaking of breathtaking scandals and issues of race, last week’s indictment of Paul Schurick and Julius Henson on charges of voter suppression was a dramatic development with myriad political implications – some of them obvious, others less so. We’ll explore some of the fallout in this space very soon.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

A DREAM Denied?

Frack This!

The Undercard

Talking Union Blues

The Peter Principle

Mapmaker, Mapmaker Make Me a Map

Two More Giants Exit the Maryland Scene

Six Degrees of William Donald Schaefer

The Lion in Winter

O’Malley’s (Coast to Coast) March

This Time It's Personal

Seinfeld in Maryland

The First 107 Days

Team of Rivals?

Rob Garagiola’s Political Highway

Blame the Teachers!
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.