Next Prince George's executive vows to take county in new direction

For Rushern L. Baker III, the long journey to the Prince George's County executive's suite ends Monday with a swearing-in ceremony in Upper Marlboro.

But the sense of accomplishment is clouded by a county government struggling to find its way after Jack B. Johnson, the departing county executive, and his wife, Leslie Johnson, were charged last month with evidence tampering and destruction of evidence.

Leslie Johnson, a Democrat like her husband, is expected to take office Monday along with eight others on the County Council. Because of term limits, her husband could not run for county executive again.

County residents' distress over the arrests, the distraction of a corruption investigation and the county's vexing financial balance sheet could hover over Baker's administration for years. Baker, also a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully twice before for the county's top job, touting his ability to run a clean government. Now he gets his chance.

"I want to take the county in a new direction," Baker, 52, said in an interview a few days before his inauguration. "My job as county executive is to promote Prince George's County and to grow it. I can't be deterred from that."

Baker is expected to fire or accept resignations from most of Johnson's political appointees. And he must immerse himself in the details of running the government. He has made lofty promises — no furloughs for teachers, firefighters or police, more money for education and possibly a longer school day — all of which cost money. He has told state officials he will seek more state dollars, noting that Prince George's delivered a huge Democratic majority to Gov. Martin O'Malley and to lawmakers in Annapolis in last month's elections.

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