What To Look For
12 County Issues Voters Should Seek In 2018 Candidate Choices
Special By Robert Bernstein and Raoul Dennis // Jim Estepp, Sr. and Arthur A. Turner, Jr. contributed to this article.
There is certainly no shortage of candidates in the 2018 pool. While it’s great to see the democratic process at work, the sheer volume of residents running for office can make selecting the next round of leaders a bit less than crystal clear. So, how to decide from such a broad selection?
It may be easier – or at least helpful – to narrow the decisions by identifying the issues the county faces.
Prince George’s Suite has identified 12 vital challenges/opportunities facing the county now and in the near future. Candidates voters are considering should have a platform that addresses each of these areas in a way that you find compelling (This framework applies to all 2018 open seats and the candidates that seek them):
1. Education: Prince George’s County Public Schools
More than just a kitchen table conversation these days, identifying the next schools CEO is a top priority. The right CEO. Violent crime is down, real estate is affordable, development is on the rise and the county holds a valued AAA bond rating. With that, Prince George’s is closer than ever to being a premiere destination in the region. PGCPS will need a first class leader with vision, grit and community building acumen. Elected leaders in 2018 will need to have PGCPS, teachers’ salaries, STEAM & STEM education, best practices and long term planning as a priority.
2. Tourism to Prince George’s
A growing local industry and a strong addition to the tax revenue for the county, tourism and how it’s cultivated and managed is a touchstone. Already generating millions in annual revenue and MGM National Harbor’s presence on the rise, it’s no wonder that all the major hotel chains based in the county are either under renovation or new management. New leaders here should have ideas about growing the county through this opportunity.
3. Arts & Culture, Message and Image
One of the most overlooked but critical areas of county growth include culture and message/branding. Most residents have long demanded that leaders do something about the county’s image. The arts and county image offer opportunities to increase Prince George’s standing and revenue. Although corporate and civic leaders don’t often recognize arts and culture as revenue drivers, the fact is for every $1 invested in the arts yield s $4 return, increased image of a jurisdiction has a direct positive impact on real estate value. There is under recognized and under tapped value in truly telling the story of Prince George's County. Voters should lean toward candidates who have a vision for improving the image of the county and are willing to invest in county branding, culture and arts.
4. Accessibility & Accountability
The next generation of leaders will need to be accessible. Residents have long suffered the sense of inner circle politics and opportunities that the county will need to outgrow if it’s going to be the big league jurisdiction of its potential. Leaders will need to be accountable to their constituencies as voters become more demanding and less loyal than those of earlier generations.
5. Small Business & Economic Development
There are over 14,000 small businesses in Prince George’s. There has been over $7 billion in economic development in the county over the past five years. The best new candidates for elected office should have a commitment to both of these in order to ensure job growth and stability in the face of any upcoming recession. Areas such as Oxon Hill, District Heights, Forestville, Seat Pleasant and Landover are among the areas of the county for which economic development incentives would be greatly needed. Further, good candidates should plan to work with higher education institutions to further prepare students for well-educated, high income professional jobs (such as cyber security, bio medical or bio pharma, etc.) in order to attract and keep young families here. Conversely, more robust trade school presence within PGCPS is valuable toward ensuring a comprehensive work force of labor and professionals. This is critical to any evolving jurisdiction and should be a staple message in the candidates voters select.
As the county continues to take steps to grow its workforce, housing is an important aspect of consideration when selecting candidates to vote for. In additional to workforce growth, expanded housing considerations for the elderly and retired, special needs residents and smart, green friendly housing are vital to future needs. Newly elected county leaders must work closely with a range of groups like the Prince Georges County Association of Realtors and Mission of Love Charities as well as residential developers to find innovative options for future growth in these areas.
7. Public Safety And More for Future First Responders
Current public safety leaders have done a good job of putting Prince George’s in the right direction with regard to violent crime. As attention is now moving toward property crime future threats should also be on the radar of the newly elected. These include handling persons with behavioral issues and cases of mental illness, mass shooting threats and more challenges that are rising in frequency. Fire and EMT responders will require more professionals, equipment and larger budgets as extreme weather events more frequently challenge residents through power outages and more.
8. Candidate Choices: Experience Vs. Innovation
There are more candidates running for office this year than any other in recent memory. Many sitting elected leaders (and more than a few former office holders) are being challenged by new, first time candidates. This mirrors the national trend of establishment, often career-based politicians being confronted with a wave of new candidates seeking a change in the status quo. Voters will need to balance the know-how of those leaders who have put the county on the right trajectory with the need to inject fresh, unjaded voices who can bring innovation, opportunities and vision to the table. Voters should choose either seasoned candidates who show a track record of willingness to be transparent and innovative OR new candidates who demonstrate a willingness to build on current success and not destroy what works just for the sake of creating a new fingerprint.
9. Zoning Rewrite
For the first time in some 50 years, the county is undergoing a much-needed zoning rewrite. Because of their long term impact, this may be lead to the single most critical series of legislative decisions over the next decade. Voters should support candidates who have made clear their platforms on the rewrite—regardless of what office they seek. Candidates should be able to explain how they will act on their constituent’s behalf. Further, residents should be certain to take part in community discussions on upcoming legislation in this area.
10. Increasing The Tax Base (new revenue streams)
Voters have long sought strategies to increase the tax base – partially as a deterrent to further increasing property taxes. Also, the county needs to continue to attract the right big scale projects to bring in revenue. Attractive candidates should have ideas and action plans to aid in increasing the tax base without further burdening homeowners. These ideas should be innovative and long term and not limited on election cycles. High potential areas for increased revenue are educational institutions and arts & culture.
Overall county health trends are moving in the right direction. Life expectancy in Prince George’s is over two years longer – a significant achievement in less than ten years since the 2010 census. Existing health centers such as MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital and Doctors Community Hospital System continue to provide expanding and exemplary services. The new Regional Medical Center s expected to have tremendous impact over long term area health. Candidates for elected office should have platforms that look into details within the health arena. These include: pharmaceutical costs, insurance plans, medical records and privacy, urgent care and more.
Another longstanding (and growing) challenge facing Prince George’s is beltway traffic. The commute of employees to and from the District is a daily gas and time exhausting grind. Voters should look to candidates who have actionable ideas toward solutions to address the issue. Solutions include county workforce development, telecommuting, transit oriented development and other direct and indirect options that will alleviate traffic stress.