By Donna Edwards
In my 35 years as a resident and taxpayer in Prince George’s County, I’ve watched developers and big-name companies work the process, securing favorable zoning decisions, taxpayer financing, and give little in return for our investment. To be sure, this is not true of every project and every developer, but we’ve had too many instances of under-the-table payments, favorable deals, and indicted and convicted elected officials, some as recent as 2017. This is not who we are, and in 2018 it must change in order for us to make the kind of progress we deserve.
For too long, we’ve seen some of our leaders selling out Prince George’s County to the highest bidder. In my campaign for County Executive, I have decided that I will not accept campaign contributions from developers because we need to turn the page, rid ourselves of a reputation for “pay to play.” My pledge should not be mistaken for shunning development, but I will lead by severing the umbilical cord of developer money that has often gotten in the way of good decision-making. The next era of progress in Prince George’s County must be built on transparency and accountability. We shouldn’t be afraid to hold the public and private sector accountable — whether it’s passing legislation to raise the minimum wage or negotiating project labor agreements and community benefit agreements for large-scale development projects.
Systemic corruption happens when contracts are low-bid and workers are not paid wages that allow them to take care of themselves and their families. It happens when sole-source contracts go to the same handful of friends and political donors, cutting out minority-, women-, veteran-owned and local businesses and leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for lack of competition. Systemic corruption happens when patronage jobs are awarded with no accountability to the institutions of government or to taxpayers. This weakens our reputation and standing in the region and leaves hardworking people across our county struggling to keep up and without the quality services we’ve earned.
2018 is a turning point.
We will grow our county by incentivizing positive economic development and opening up opportunities for those who have been shut out because they’ve chosen not to pay or because they haven’t paid enough. We will target development around our transportation hubs, reinvest in older, gateway communities, protect our cultural and environmental resources, expand participation of small and minority owned businesses, and pay workers a living wage so they can provide for their families. I stand ready to work with my colleagues to ensure that our contracts process is just as competitive as it is transparent. And we’ll work to level the playing field so our homegrown businesses and our local workforce actually benefit from investments in our schools and communities. We need developers to know that we will work with you, but we will always put the interests of our County first.
At every level of government, transparency is the best way to combat corruption effectively and to impose accountability. Whether the question is how much casino revenue is coming to the County and how and where it’s spent; or the details of the school budget and performance, including executive compensation, teacher salaries, and graduation rates; or whether our contracts (tax dollars) are bid competitively so all our businesses play on a level playing field — we deserve answers. In the words of the often-quoted Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Justice Brandeis also reminded us that “the most important political office is that of private citizen.” In Prince George’s County, we need more sunlight to empower private citizens so that those elected will engage in public service, not private gain.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. We’ve made great strides over the years. The financial rewards from MGM National Harbor are significant and the fact that they have an organized workforce means that their workers are being paid livable wages with good benefits. We’ve attracted businesses in almost every corner of this county, and we’re on track to establish our county as a healthcare hub in the Washington region. The next decade will dictate much for Prince George’s, and it’s critical that we have leadership that is unbossed and unbought to ensure our county truly gets a fair deal.
I’ve stood unafraid to take on big developers or special interests plenty of times in the past. I believe the time has come for an era of unprecedented transparency and accountability for our county.
In Prince George’s County, transparency and accountability are our most powerful tools for change. It’s well past time we use them. I’m running a people-powered campaign, and I intend to run county government the same way.