Josh Kurtz: Wayne Curry’s Vision May Finally Be Realized in Prince George’s

Then-Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. announcing last fall that he was giving up the gavel. Miller and Sen. Joanne C. Benson, to his right, are among the Prince George's County senators who may not be back for another term. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

In 2002, the late Wayne K. Curry, the first Black Prince George’s County executive, dipped into his campaign treasury to hire a well-known national election lawyer to sue the state of Maryland over its legislative redistricting plan.

Curry in particular targeted the portion of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s legislative map that kept the district of then-Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) partially in Prince George’s, even though Miller lived in Calvert County. Part of that was personal pique – Curry and Miller simply couldn’t stand each other.

But there was a broader principle involved. Curry, plain and simple, did not think that a majority-Black county should have a state Senate delegation that was majority-white. At the time, the county had four white senators and three Black senators.

The late Prince George’s County executive Wayne K. Curry (D).

Almost two decades later, the county, which is about 85% non-white, still has four white senators (and four Black senators ― the county picked up an additional legislative district along the way). But there’s a pretty good chance that after the 2022 election, Curry’s vision will finally be realized. In fact, it’s entirely possible that beginning in 2023, the county may not have a single white senator at all.

That possible dramatic change in power is just one of many intriguing plot lines in Prince George’s County as the 2022 election cycle kicks off. Between the ambitions for higher office of many county officials, the advancing age of powerful officeholders, the possibility that congressional and legislative district lines could change significantly, the prospect that some powerful Prince Georgians could wind up in the Biden administration, and a restive electorate, Prince George’s County reinforces itself yet again as Ground Zero for some of the most fascinating politics in all of Maryland.

Many significant dominoes could begin to fall before voters even have their say.

The most intriguing question ― and arguably the biggest domino ― is whether County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) decides to run for governor.

Cranking up a statewide campaign in the middle of her first term and in the middle of a global pandemic is probably not Alsobrooks’ first preference. What’s more, it may not be an ideal time personally for Alsobrooks, a single mom with a 15-year old daughter at home.

But politics is situational, as they say. And the times may be crying out for Alsobrooks to step up and try to make history as the nation’s first Black woman governor ― especially with a friend and mentor cheering her on from the powerful perch of the vice president’s office.

One of Alsobrooks’ many considerations as she weighs a run for governor is who might succeed her as county executive. It’s easy to imagine a half-dozen or more Democrats trying to succeed Alsobrooks if she makes a statewide bid ― led by State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy (D) ― who succeeded Alsobrooks in that job.

Other possible contenders include County Council members Mel Franklin, Calvin Hawkins, Jolene Ivey and Derrick Leon Davis. Add former U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards, state House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis, state Sen. Melony G. Griffith and, yes, Rep. Anthony G. Brown to the list of possible contenders.

Any decisions by these officeholders to seek another job has down-ballot implications ― particularly if Brown chooses to move on, to run for governor or county executive or to take a job in the Biden administration. His seat could be a very appealing prize for a number of ambitious politicians.

And there’s no way of knowing what the state’s  congressional map is going to look like. Will U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer be seeking a 21st full term in 2022, when he will be 83 years old? Will the congressional district lines be drawn in such a way that Hoyer finds himself targeted by a strong Black challenger? Do the internal politics of the House Democratic Caucus on Capitol Hill figure into Hoyer’s calculations at all?

Hoyer has always been a power player in the state redistricting negotiations, but it’s not an-all Democratic affair this time, with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) having a huge measure of say.

But back to the Prince George’s Senate delegation: In 2002, the county’s four white senators were Miller, Arthur Dorman, Leo E. Green and Paul G. Pinsky. The three Black senators were Ulysses S. Currie, Nathaniel Exum and Gloria G. Lawlah.

The map of Prince George’s County legislative districts after redistricting in 2012.

Today, with one extra district allotted for Prince George’s, the county still has four white senators (Miller, Pinsky, Douglas J.J. Peters and James C. Rosapepe) and four Black senators (Griffith, Malcolm Augustine, Joanne C. Benson and Obie Patterson). The county added a Black senator in 2018, when Augustine replaced former Sen. Victor Ramirez, who ran unsuccessfully that year for state’s attorney.

So how could the four white senators be replaced by Black senators in 2022?

All four incumbents are fairly senior. Some may be looking for other opportunities. Some may opt to retire. Some could be vulnerable to primary challenges from younger, Black politicians. All have logical Black successors.

Miller, whose district as currently drawn still includes parts of Calvert and Charles counties, is ailing. And while it isn’t clear when the 77-year-old legend will step off the stage (he has logged a Herculean half century in the legislature), Del. Michael A. Jackson is among his possible successors.

Rosapepe, who is 69 and has served in the Senate since 2007, has long hungered to run for state comptroller, and, as a former U.S. ambassador to Romania, could also be in line for a foreign service appointment with the Biden administration. Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk is his likely successor in the district that as currently drawn covers College Park, Beltsville and Laurel and a piece of Anne Arundel County ― unless she moves on to another opportunity.

Pinsky, the chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, is 70 and was elected to the Senate in 1994 after eight years in the House. Del. Alonzo T. Washington is widely seen as Pinsky’s likely successor in the Hyattsville-based district, and some political strategists believe Washington could beat Pinsky in a straight-up primary.

Peters, who, like Pinsky, sought to replace Miller as Senate president, has held a variety of leadership roles in the chamber and is the current chairman of the Capital Budget Committee. Del. Ron Watson is waiting in the wings in the Bowie-based district.

And there could be yet more turnover in the Senate delegation: Patterson is 82 years old. How long will he want to stick around? Benson is 79, and allies are promoting her for a gig on the Maryland Parole Commission ― which covers a topic she’s passionate about, meets less often than the Senate and pays far more. Any appointment to the commission, however, must come from Hogan.

And if that isn’t enough potential turnover in the Senate delegation, consider that both Griffith and Augustine could be candidates for higher office if the right opportunities present themselves. Griffith could also be a solid running mate for a gubernatorial candidate, if Alsobrooks does not get in the race.

Phew!

Wayne Curry wasn’t just an important, history-making figure in his home county; he was constantly looking for ways to elevate his Black neighbors in all aspects of Prince George’s civic life. But he also loved a good political brawl, and there should be plenty of them ― and plenty of change ― in Prince George’s County in 2022.

[email protected]