Rushern Baker’s Lasting Legacy Is A Better Image for Prince George’s
By Raoul Dennis // PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL YOURISHIN
Rushern L. Baker III will tell you himself that the brightest contribution that he may have made for the county’s futu re is in pulling it up from the murk of the recent past.
Being the state’s best jobs producer for five consecutive years and bringing in $9 billion in economic development investment are to be counted as well. The Baker Administration took pride in crime reduction - specifically with regard to violent crime. Life expectancy has increased under Baker’s watch and his Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) effort has proven to be the model that this editorial board had long known it had the potential to become. The Baker Administration’s $50 Million Fund generated $1 billion In Capital Investments and 12,000 jobs in Prince George’s.
These are among many great feathers for Mr. Baker to keep in his hat.
It was tough when Baker took office eight years ago but it wasn’t all gloom, either. The county retained its AAA Bond Rating after the Johnson Administration. The county executive keenly surrounded himself with smart, experienced planners such as David Iannucci and Carla A. Reid. National Harbor, already open and well on its way with long term plans for expansion, was fast-becoming a new symbol in the region and becoming a county magnet for destination-seekers across the nation. Although the housing crisis took a greater toll on county homeowners (Prince Georgians were victims of predatory lending at higher rates than their counterparts across Maryland), residential and commercial real estate trends are moving in a positive direction today and have been for the past four years.
That may be a big part of the reason that the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable voted Baker a lifetime honorary board membership - an honor only bestowed upon two previous leaders, Doug Duncan and Wayne Curry.
“Rushern did outstanding job under difficult circumstances,” said GPGBR President and CEO Jim Estepp, Sr. “He inherited a mess and a government that was rocked by scandal and corruption. And now we have several billion dollars of economic development underway. He put in place an administration that I believe met the challenges they were faced with and restored public and investor confidence.”
The board views Baker’s appointment as a valuable one giving the community extensive access to his experience and knowledge regarding Maryland politics.
But it may be the intangible wins that count the most. Prince George’s County’s short term future growth was threatened with derailment as a result of malfeasance within the previous administration. Baker had the unfortunate responsibility of pulling the county through the negative imagery of the time and elevating economic development, correcting slow contract permitting procedures and a poor reputation regarding education.
Many may have thought that it would have taken far more than two terms to get the perception of the county back on course, let alone restore outside investment in it. The Baker Administration managed to achieve both in less than a decade. Streamlining the permitting process to an easier, predictable system was an important lubricant to the administrative wheels of getting developers whose interest was restored, able to move. While issues with education continued to dog at Baker’s heels throughout his term (and some argue may have cost him the primary in the race for governor), the success of MGM National Harbor and the new Regional Medical Center each signal that the county has a brighter future for the region to focus on rather than an unstable past. In a world where perception is reality, perhaps the greatest victory of the Baker Administration is in having restored confidence in the state and region that it is a good place to invest, to develop and to eye as a favorable destination - and in doing so, reshaped county reality.
So, Mr. Baker exits with the grace that he came into office with. He has been the transformational leader that Prince George’s needed. It wasn’t an easy job and not always a perfectly done one. But the son of a Green Beret can only ever say that he’s done his best. And that is all anyone could ever hope for.