- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

Two leading Democratic candidates for Prince George's County executive yesterday traded accusations that each presided over a period when the county's crime rates soared.
County Council member M.H. Jim Estepp, 60, of Croom, said, "There was a violent crime increase of more than 60 percent from the year 2000 to 2001" during the second term of State's Attorney Jack Johnson.
"The highest crime rate ever in Prince George's County was in the years that [Mr. Estepp] was public safety director," said Michael Herman, a volunteer for the campaign of Mr. Johnson, 53, of Mitchellville.
Other Democratic contenders for the top job are Maryland Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, 43; Major F. Riddick, 51, of Fort Washington; and C. Anthony Muse, 44, of Fort Washington.
All seven candidates agree that the crime rate, schools and living conditions top the list of issues that need attention.
Two candidates are competing for the Republican nomination in the Sept. 10 primary elections. They are council member Audrey E. Scott, 66, of Bowie, and J. Mitchell "Mike" Brown, of Upper Marlboro.
"I'm practically ignoring the primary," said Mrs. Scott, claiming she tried but failed to contact her opponent for a debate. "I'm saving my money for the general election," which is Nov. 5.
Mr. Johnson is considered the leading candidate because he is the only one who has won countywide elections. Having served seven previous years as deputy state's attorney, he was elected as state's attorney in 1994 and 1998.
"He has spent his time bashing the Prince George's County police officers," said Mr. Estepp, who has been endorsed by the county's 2,200-member Fraternal Order of Police, and the more than 1,000-member Professional Firefighters Association.
In 1962, Mr. Estepp was the first county fire service employee hired under a merit system. He was fire chief for 14 years before he became the county's first public service director, a position he held until 1994 when he was elected to the council.
More union support came to Mr. Estepp yesterday when the Metropolitan Council of the AFL-CIO chose him as their candidate. President Joslyn N. Williams said the unions encompass 55,000 households in Prince George's County.
Mr. Estepp and Mrs. Scott are white. The other candidates are black. Politicos have speculated that Mr. Estepp has a winning chance if the black votes are divided among the other candidates.
Prince George's County schools are ranked among the worst in the state, said Mr. Riddick, who was the county's first chief administrative officer. He took on the same type of assignment for Maryland when Parris N. Glendening became governor.
Born in Norfolk, Mr. Riddick began work for Prince George's as a budget analyst.
A delegate in the General Assembly, Mr. Baker said, he won more than $95 million in the last three years for county elementary and secondary schools.
"It's the key issue. I want to make sure Prince George's has one of the best school systems. Public safety is right behind," he said.
"I'm the only candidate living inside the Beltway whose kids attend county schools," said Mr. Baker, who lives in Cheverly and has three children.
Mr. Muse, founder and pastor of the 4,000-member Ark of Safety Christian Church, said he would return schools to a basic education system, give incentives to teachers, get parents involved and, maybe, require student uniforms.
Mr. Muse, whose wife is NBC-4 TV news anchor Pat Lawson Muse, was publicized in 2000 when he split from the 118-year-old Gibbons-Resurrection United Methodist Church in Brandywine, taking 80 percent of the congregation to form the new Ark of Safety church.
Mr. Brown, whose phone machine answers callers with, "You have reached the home of enlightened leadership," is retired after 33 years in the U.S. Army.
Born in Vicksburg, Miss., he attended schools in San Francisco and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He became a major general, parachutist and Army Ranger and is fluent in Russian, German, Spanish and Korean.
In 1968, Pentagon duty tours brought him to Prince George's County, where his four children attended school. His wife was a teacher in the public schools for more than 20 years.

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