When Paul Monteiro was a fifth-grade Adelphi Elementary School student, he heard his school would be closed for a furlough day, and was overwhelmed with excitement.
But his excitement dwindled when he learned what a furlough day is — when a school is forced to close because it can't afford to pay its teachers.
This realization sparked Monteiro's drive to inspire change that perseveres today as he runs for Prince George's County executive, he said.
Monteiro announced his candidacy on Aug. 29. He is competing for the Democratic nomination to fill County Executive Rushern Baker's seat, who has plans to run for governor. Monteiro will be running against Maryland State Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, State Sen. Anthony Muse and former U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, who announced her candidacy Thursday.
"I want to be county executive to take care of home," said Monteiro, a University of Maryland alumnus and adjunct professor. "I've seen from the time I was an elementary school student to a college student to now the way that we talk about the same issues, and things don't seem to change."
Since Monteiro announced his bid, he has begun a grassroots and digital campaign to reach the electorate, said Veronica Jeon, Monteiro's campaign manager.
His campaign video has more than 30,000 views on Facebook and his website, she added.
The Hyattsville native's campaign focuses on creating quality education for all children, increasing economic development and opportunity, building a restorative justice system, and fostering a culture of better customer service in county government, according to Jeon.
This university is an "engine" that can contribute to cities throughout the county, Monteiro said.
"The University of Maryland is an island of world-class research, education, preparation, and mentoring for folks who are, unfortunately, not seeing beyond the corner store," he said.
Monteiro's family endured challenges that some residents may face today, Jeon said, including being on welfare programs, which enables him to connect and understand many of the issues confronting the county.
The first in his family to graduate from high school, Monteiro went to Chicago in 2007 to work for the Obama campaign as deputy director of religious outreach.
During the Obama administration, Monteiro held a handful of government jobs, including the adviser to the White House's public engagement office and AmeriCorps VISTA national director.
"President Obama's administration gave him the opportunity to travel and learn about different counties and municipalities across the country, so I think his expertise and character really set him apart and he would be a … added benefit to Prince George's County," Jeon said.
Monteiro said his biggest competitor is voter apathy.
"I'm not focused on other people in terms of candidates, but getting the people who don't track county elections to hear me and see my vision for what the county should be doing to support them," Monteiro said.
If elected county executive, Monteiro said one of his greatest challenges would be addressing the county's civic engagement problem.
In a county of more than 900,000 people, about 20 percent of the population votes in state and county elections, he said.
To engage with the community, the campaign is focusing on connecting with residents to understand "what frustrates them and what they love about the county," Monteiro added.
"In this turning point of a moment, I hope I can get people to pay attention and use their voice," Monteiro said. "Funny things happen when people aren't paying attention."
The Democratic primary will be held June 26, 2018.