A packed ballroom filled with Prince George’s County officials, business representatives and supporters of Rushern L. Baker III listened Wednesday to the 59-year-old county executive give his final assessment of Prince George’s economy.
For about 40 minutes, Baker focused on how his administration helped make the majority-Black jurisdiction an economic engine with several projects such as a $1 billion resident and business development at the New Carrollton Metro station, the $543 million regional medical center in Largo and a $265 million U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in Camp Spring.
“Throughout my administration, my commitment has been to keep our money in the county,” he said during his address at The Hotel at the University of Maryland in College Park. “Our economic development strategy was investing in ourselves. If we don’t believe in ourselves, why would anybody else?”
He also injected some levity by recognizing a rare appearance by his two daughters, who were in attendance Wednesday.
“You can tell when it’s really important [when] two of my daughters show up,” he said. “They say, ‘Why don’t you say that about your son [Rushern L. Baker IV]?’ He’s required to show up at every function I go.”
Baker defended the recently-maligned school system, pointing out that enrollment has increased since 2012 from 125,000 students to more than 132,000.
Some county and state officials and the teachers’ union have publicly criticized school leadership for a grade-fixing scandal, the firing of several employees at DuVal High School and the Maryland General Assembly’s rejection this month of legislation to revamp the county’s school board.
Baker instead chose to highlight some of the county’s achievements, such as the region’s only arts integration office, the opening of several new schools and an academic program that allows students to receive college credit and even earn an associate’s degree during high school.
“Do we have challenges? Heck, yeah,” he said. “Are we making progress? Absolutely.”
Some of the more than 650 people in attendance, including State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, praised Baker on how he focused on the county’s priorities such as education and public safety.
In Baker’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal, more than $2 billion would fund education, a nearly 4 percent increase from the current budget. About $754 million, an almost 7 percent more from this fiscal year, would help improve public safety to add 125 more police officers, a new fire station in Oxon Hill and two new positions in the sheriff department to support the domestic violence unit.
“In spite of our challenges, we have made a lot of progress,” Alsobrooks said. “We’ve invested in our priorities. … I think that was clear from the budget of the county.”
Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene W. Grant gave Baker’s speech a “B.” The grade could’ve increased to an “A,” but Grant said no words mentioned at least one of the county’s 27 municipalities.
“Representing a small community, we would have liked to have heard investments into the small municipalities,” Grant said. “They are economic engines and should always be mentioned. There should be greater partnerships with municipalities. We hire people. We have businesses. We contribute to the economy.”
Before Baker began his remarks, a video showed late former County Executive Wayne K. Curry endorsing Baker for the same position.
Some of Curry’s words seemed to foreshadow the future of Baker, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor.
“He’s prepared. He’s frank,” Curry said of Baker in the undated video. “He has proven he cares about all of us.”