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Josh Kurtz: When will Alsobrooks start ‘bustin’ loose’ politically?

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) and admirers at her annual fall barbecue last month. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

Chuck Brown’s iconic “Bustin’ Loose” was blasting from the loudspeakers at the Newton White Mansion in Mitchellville as hundreds of cars snaked their way through the grassy parking lot. The event was vintage Prince George’s County — a historic site, but a modern vibe.

Every year, the annual fall picnic for Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) gets bigger and bigger. This one, three weeks ago, drew at least 1,000 people. And it was also vintage Alsobrooks: the 51-year-old county leader moved through the crowd quickly, hugging everybody, doing “The Electric Slide” with the old ladies, inviting every local elected official to stand with her as she addressed the crowd, and talking boldly about the future.

She was talking, of course, about the future of Prince George’s County. “The future is so bright for all our us, and it is all because of you,” she told the crowd. “There’s nothing we can’t conquer when we work together.” She added: “You are going to see the next phase of economic growth, over the next four to eight years, is going to be unprecedented.”

But it’s Alsobrooks’ own intriguing and seemingly limitless political future that’s in part responsible for her ability to draw such a big crowd. Nature abhors a vacuum, and with this year’s general election in Maryland so thoroughly anti-climactic, political professionals can be forgiven for looking ahead to the next election of 2024. That’s when U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) will be up for a fourth term, when he will be 80 years old.

Will Cardin run again? In many ways, he’s at the top of his game, gaining all-important seniority with every passing day. Cardin is also fond of noting that his father and uncle, who were public servants themselves, lived and thrived into their 90s. But he is at or beyond the age when most senior Maryland statesmen step aside, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) was 80 when she retired in 2016, and the late Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) stepped away at age 73 in 2006.

There is an assumption in Maryland political circles that Alsobrooks would run for Senate in 2024 if Cardin retired. But is that a sure bet?

Alsobrooks could have been the frontrunner in this year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary if she had chosen to run. But she turned down the opportunity, citing an obligation to the voters of Prince George’s County to finish the job they elected her to do, and the fact that her daughter is still in high school.

Alsobrooks’ decision to stay put did not hurt her by any means. And if anything her political capital has increased. She took an astonishing 91% of the vote in the Democratic primary as she sought a second term, and offered exquisitely-timed endorsements of Wes Moore in the gubernatorial primary and Brooke Lierman in the primary for state comptroller — both times over men from Prince George’s. Moore and Lierman now owe her big time.

Yet it might also be argued that Alsobrooks’ decision to stay put betrays a certain political caution. Should she be criticized for not reaching for the next rung on the political ladder? Politics, the practitioners like to say, is situational, and big opportunities almost always come with sizable risks. Alsobrooks chose the sure thing of a second term over a chance to be the first Black woman ever elected governor anywhere.

Which doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t run for Senate in 2024. She’ll be that much further into her tenure, and two years away from being termed out of office. Her daughter will be in college then. And being the third Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate (unless Val Demings upsets Marco Rubio in Florida next month) isn’t a bad historical distinction.

At the Newton White Mansion, there was plenty of talk about Alsobrooks’ political future — from the podium and in side conversations.

Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) — who followed Alsobrooks in the top prosecutor’s job and clearly would like to follow her as county executive — admiringly called Alsobrooks “a boss lady.”

“A boss lady is a confident, ambitious, empowering and accomplished woman,” Braveboy explained. “She earns respect. She knows that she is destined for greatness.”

Dawn Flythe Moore, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee’s spouse and a political player in her own right, praised the environment Alsobrooks helped create in Prince George’s.

“I love being here so much,” she said. “Every time I come into this county, I literally get goose bumps, because there’s so much excellence here. And there are so many people who get the assignment.”

But in an interview, Alsobrooks waved away any talk about running for another office — though political insiders and journalists, she practically scolded, “never stop talking about that.”

“I just got reelected,” she said. “I went about asking people to support me for this office. I’m not asking them to support me for anything else.”

Alsobrooks talked instead about everything the county has achieved in the last four years, on the economic development front, with public health, getting state and federal aid. All this was accomplished, she pointed out, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with a Republican serving as governor.

“From my perspective, we planted a lot of seeds in the first term,” Alsobrooks said. “A lot of it was relationship-building…We’re really finding our rhythm now…And all of the changes will become obvious to the public in the months ahead.”

Alsobrooks said she is “ecstatic” at the prospect of working with a Moore administration, calling Moore “a partner who really understands the needs of Prince George’s County and really has a spirit to partner with us.”

Alsobrooks said that as she prepares for a second term, she’s encouraged to know that she has checked off many items that were on her wish list when she was first sworn in four years ago. And, she said, she is practically bursting with excitement at the prospect that the federal government may soon announce that it’s moving the FBI headquarters to Prince George’s County.

Asked if she has a notion which site in Prince George’s — near the Greenbelt Metro Station or in Landover, near the new University of Maryland Capital Region Medical Center — may have the edge, Alsobrooks said she didn’t. But she quickly added, “Either one will be transformational.”

Transformational is a word that Alsobrooks and her fans would like to eventually attach to her tenure as county executive — and that’s certainly a realistic goal given her fanatical devotion to improving Prince George’s lot on the economic front, and the potential that extra federal aid, a more sympathetic governor and the county’s increasing amenities and stature mean in the region.

But will Alsobrooks herself become a transformational, historical figure beyond the borders of her home turf? In many ways, that may be up to her.

Alsobrooks’ tenure hasn’t been without its occasional controversies — the school board dysfunction, born in part of her decision to appoint the divisive Juanita Miller as board president, comes immediately to mind. But even with the physical transformation of the county under way, it has yet to go through a corresponding political transformation. The hallmark of Alsobrooks’ tenure has been caution — a desire to be visible in the community, especially in churches and at community gatherings, but less of a desire to invest any of her popularity in meaningful and possibly necessary political reforms.

And privately, among those chattering classes that Alsobrooks professes to wish would stop talking about her, there’s a school of thought that she might opt for the safer option of possibly running to replace U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D), assuming he’s ever ready to move on, rather than immediately seek statewide office — especially if wealthy Rep. David Trone (D) decides to sink a chunk of his fortune into a Senate run. But there’s another that says Alsobrooks may be starting to consider what a Senate campaign would look like and who might helm it.

Alsobrooks, we noted with interest, was worshipping in Frederick this past weekend with Jessica Fitzwater, the Democratic nominee for county executive, and Kavonte Duckett, a candidate for Frederick County council — more potential chits she may be able to collect. But this was a rare example of her “bustin’ loose” politically. We’re eager to see whether there will be more.