Johnson mulls run for state office
Won't rule out challenge to O'Malley; may drop tax increase
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Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) is seriously considering a run for state office and is not ruling out a challenge to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in the 2010 election, the executive said in a Wednesday meeting with The Gazette's editorial board.
"I'm not going to say anything on that," said Johnson when asked if he planned to run against the Baltimore incumbent in the gubernatorial primary.
"I don't think we should ever get to the point where we do not challenge an incumbent for office," Johnson said.
Johnson initially said he would make a decision on whether to run for a state office in May, but later added he is "a long way from making that decision."
Johnson declined to say what offices he is considering or whether he might run for a delegate or Senate seat.
Johnson, a former prosecutor who won two terms as leader of Prince George's in 2002 and 2006, said he has been conducting polls and is "looking very hard" at possible state offices that he could pursue when his term ends.
"I really think we have a great opportunity to win," said Johnson, adding that his efforts to reduce crime and raise school performance, combined with the county's large, affluent and heavily Democratic political base would help his chances.
"If you do a fair evaluation of my performance, we've done significantly well," he said, touting the county's AAA bond rating, reduction in crime, increase in school test scores and economic development from National Harbor, as well as other projects.
Some political observers doubted his chances for the state's top office.
"Martin O'Malley is a tremendous governor," said Mel Franklin, chairman of the Greater Marlboro Democratic Club, a politically active residents group. "He will likely be re-elected governor."
Johnson's announcement comes as the leader faces a fiscal crisis in his home county. In a controversial move, Johnson has asked residents and state legislators to support raising the cap on property tax assessments for the next two years to balance a $132 million projected county budget deficit.
The increase to the Homestead Property Tax Credit has received mostly unfavorable reviews from residents and lawmakers, even though Johnson said he believes it is the only way to avoid laying off hundreds of police officers, firefighters and other workers starting this summer.
The tax increase has been a last straw for many residents, said Patricia Reed of Accokeek.
"Almost everyone I encounter says they cannot wait 'til he's out of office," Reed said. "They believe he has not managed the county well. There's a feeling that's he's been concerned with ways to make money, not for the people of the county. People just don't have nice things to say about Jack Johnson."
Johnson indicated he may drop the tax proposal if President Barack Obama's federal stimulus plan helps state officials restore $60 million in cuts to the county.
"If we are made whole, we will probably not need the homestead [increase]," Johnson told The Gazette. "But I wanted to put it on the table, to let [people] know there wasn't a free ride."
According to campaign finance reports, the Friends of Jack Johnson committee has a remaining balance of $92,000. Johnson acknowledged a run for office would be "costly."
Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for O'Malley, declined to comment when reached Wednesday.
"The governor and County Executive Johnson have a strong working relationship and have a history of working together on the issues of Prince George's County," Adamec said.
In a recent visit to the county, O'Malley praised Johnson's work.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the county executive. I also am very impressed with the new police chief," said O'Malley, referring to newly confirmed Police Chief Roberto Hylton. "I'm particularly heartened by the tremendous strides the children of Prince George's County are making to improve their levels of achievement. ... By golly, if we survive and come through this, we'll be very strong indeed."
E-mail Daniel Valentine at email@example.com.