BELTSVILLE – Former Obama staffer Paul Monteiro wants to bring his Washington, D.C. experience home to Prince George’s County as county executive.
Monteiro, 36, announced his candidacy Aug. 29 at his alma mater, High Point High School in Beltsville, surrounded by family, supporters and former teachers. He said his goal in running for the county’s top job is to strengthen the sense of community and helpfulness he has always found here.
“I need to give something back. Prince George’s County has been a place where we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper. And I’m running for this job because this county prepared me for these experiences at the highest levels of the federal government,” he said. “This has been my home since childhood, and it must continue to be a pathway of opportunity for people to reach his or her full potential.”
He said he would hold community service projects in conjunction with campaign events throughout the year to directly and positively impact the community.
Monteiro grew up in Hyattsville, the son of a roofer and an administrative assistant who are both Jamaican immigrants. After graduating from High Point, he went to the University of Maryland and then to Howard University law school. After meeting then-Sen. Barack Obama during an internship, Monteiro signed up to help Obama’s presidential campaign. He held several roles in the Obama Administration, from advisor with the Office of Public Engagement to coordinator for a mentorship program for young men to director of AmeriCorps VISTA, the domestic version of the Peace Corps tasked with helping non-profits build capacity and better aid communities, and the justice department’s community relations service. He currently serves as chief of staff to Howard University President Wayne Frederick.
If elected county executive, Monteiro said he would focus on supporting public schools, promoting economic development, using county resources wisely and implementing restorative justice practices. He said strengthening education for children 0-3 years old and making sure teachers have the resources to stock their classrooms without paying for supplies out of pocket or soliciting donations was a priority. He also wants to create pipelines from high school directly to jobs by partnering with local colleges and businesses, as Prince George’s Community College currently does with hospitality careers.
“We need to de-stigmatize vocational education,” he said. “These are programs that provide meaningful pathways to work with competitive wages. Our local construction and development boom is rife with opportunity. These are jobs that cannot be outsourced.”
For Monteiro, restorative justice means helping people leaving jail or prison integrate back into the community without feeling like second-class citizens, as well as stopping the school-to-prison pipeline. He praised the bail reform initiatives pushed by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh that take a person’s financial situation into account when setting bail amounts.
Administratively, Monteiro pledged to look at county procurement and contracting processes to make sure county taxpayers are getting good value for their dollars and the best contract awardees are selected. He believes in responsive government as well.
“County functions are not a favor that government grants to its citizens. These are services you pay for, and you should have a government that is responsive to your needs, especially as assessments and taxes have a way of creeping up and services tend to go in the opposite direction,” he said. “Prince George’s is not an average place, and we shouldn’t expect average or less from our government.”
Monteiro is a bit of a long-shot candidate in the Democratic race, which already includes state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks and Lewis Johnson. Monteiro took a subtle shot at Alsobrooks at his campaign launch, saying that while restoring twice-weekly trash pick-up, as Alsobrooks pledged to do, is exciting, the campaign can’t be about only that one issue.
“In a normal time, maybe it would be okay for the next person in line to take this job, but with a president about 10 miles away who’s validating hatred and an attorney general of the United States who’s bringing back the war on drugs... we know this is not a normal time,” he said.
Some of Monteiro’s other ideas include banning “lunch shaming,” where children who don’t have enough money in their accounts for a full lunch have their food taken away and are given a cheese sandwich, and supporting the cybersecurity, biotech, nanotech and healthcare industries in Prince George’s County.
He said he wants to use the role to help level the playing field for children and families who are economically disadvantaged.
“While many parts of Prince George’s County are thriving, there are too many other places- and you know where they are- in quiet crisis, with working families struggling to figure out how to make it from day to day. A child growing up inside the Beltway is just as important as a child born outside the Beltway,” Monteiro said. “Even if a young person isn’t going to college, it is partly our responsibility to make sure they have a ladder of opportunity to climb. We can’t talk about ‘those kids,’ because at some level, they are our kids, too.”
Monteiro indicated that to win, he needs to mobilize the residents of the county to volunteer and donate. But he feels his positive message can inspire them.
“Almost 19 years ago, I had the privilege of delivering a speech at our high school graduation. And the theme was, ‘the sky’s the limit,’” Monteiro said. “If we pull together, we can make sure that Prince George’s County is a place where we look out for one another so we make sure that our kids can truly believe that the sky is the limit for them, too.”