Region Forward Blog

Q&A: Emmett Jordan, Mayor, City of Greenbelt

Apr 1, 2015
Emmett Jordan


Emmett V. Jordan is a current member of the Greenbelt City Council, serving as Mayor. In 2009, he became the first African-American councilmember in the city’s history. At the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Jordan serves as a member of the COG Board of Directors and as Chairman of the Region Forward Coalition, the multi-sector group of public, private, and nonprofit leaders created by COG to help the region advance shared goals in the Region Forward Vision. He has served on the Coalition since its creation in 2011.

How did you get into public service?

I always had an interest in public service, but I never really pictured myself running for office. I was an Urban Studies major in the University of Cincinnati, and I did an internship in the Mayor’s office in Cincinnati, which is where I grew up. Most of my career has been involved in working for nonprofit organizations as a development director. I was involved in a lot of civic activities in Greenbelt and when an opportunity opened up to serve on the City Council, at the urging and with the support of a lot of friends and neighbors, I was in the position to run a successful campaign.

What brought you to this region?

I was relocated here in 1998 by the University of Maryland. I was offered a position in external relations as a development director doing fundraising. I moved to Greenbelt in 2000. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and lived in Northern New Jersey outside of New York City for a while before moving here.

What do you think are the region’s biggest challenges?

I think there’s a mismatch between jobs and housing and the makeup of our workforce right now. Our infrastructure and transportation networks here in the D.C. region are underfunded and strained to capacity. If you look at the economic and demographic predictions that are coming out of places like George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, it’s pretty clear we need to prepare for population growth and shifts in our region’s economy. If we are going to be in a position to prosper in 2040 and beyond, we need to have some serious discussions about our economic competitiveness and what we can do to improve the positioning of the region and prepare for the shifts that are coming.

How can the Region Forward Coalition help address some of these challenges and move us toward our shared goals?

The Coalition provides a venue for some serious dialogue and work that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the COG framework, either at the Board level or the various committees. It covers cross-cutting themes. And the Coalition takes advantage of COG’s ability to convene these regional dialogues and bring in partners from outside of COG that complement our strengths.

The Coalition, under Mary Hynes, Harriet Tregoning, and Eric Olson, and with the support of the COG staff, has accomplished a lot of things over the past four years. We established a good set of measurable baseline goals around our themes of prosperity, accessibility, livability, and sustainability. We were able to identify a set of Activity Centers and build a consensus about where those centers are and dig in a little more deeply to think about what those centers have in common… And take a cut at developing strategies that could be shared or adopted among our local jurisdictions.

What projects or activities do you hope to see the Coalition accomplish this year?

One of the challenges has been finding better ways to capture and communicate what happens at our meetings. I am hoping in the next year, we can have substantive, interactive discussions with thought leaders here and throughout the country. We had a baseline performance report in 2012, and we are looking at trying to fine tune some of those measures to make sure that we capture an accurate picture of what is happening in the region. There’s also been talk about a State of the Region report to do an annual check in. We are at this great point right now where we can take a lot of substantive work and turn it into something people can use and put to work in local jurisdictions because that is what COG is and should be about.

How can the average citizen help plan and support vibrant communities?

Through local government-by keeping abreast of issues being acted on in their municipal or county government. Often, local government is the best place to start because it’s the place where the voices of local citizens are heard. On the other hand, it’s important for people to think of our local jurisdictions in a regional way. Most of us live in one jurisdiction, but we may work in another and perhaps we shop or patronize the arts or sports in another part of the region. The reality is our jurisdictions are intertwined. Our common prosperity and sustainability thrives when we can act in ways that move our region forward collectively. For average citizens, the best place to start is being engaged in local government but at the same time thinking regionally.

How does Greenbelt benefit from its participation at the Council of Governments?

Lots of ways. One straightforward way is we benefit through COG’s cooperative purchasing agreement. It really simplifies our procurement process and allows us to take advantage of bids and contracts that are already available. That program saves us time and gets us competitive prices on equipment, vehicles, and other commodities. Personally, I’ve benefited as a local elected official by working and interacting on local issues with other officials. Often the people on the committees are from jurisdictions that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet from Virginia, D.C., and other counties. I’ve been able to leverage [these relationships] on behalf of Greenbelt. I know that’s true of the rest of the Greenbelt City Council-J Davis, Leta Mach, Rodney Roberts… We take our service on COG seriously. Even though we are a small jurisdiction, we are able to help shape this regional dialogue in a significant way.

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