Five years ago, David Harrington was transitioning from his post as Prince George’s County Council chairman to state senator for the 47th legislative district.
It was an appointment he secured by defeating Rushern L. Baker III, who now is the county executive, by one vote — adding to speculation at the time that Harrington was headed for the county’s highest position.
Now, however, instead of prioritizing county projects or lobbying for funding, Harrington spends mornings bagging oatmeal scones, washing dishes, working a cash register and serving customers at Shortcake Bakery, the Hyattsville establishment owned and operated by his wife, Cheryl Harrington.
“I help with the customers, but I don’t get in the kitchen,” he said. “Cheryl’s a perfectionist. She doesn’t want my help there.”
After putting in three to four hours at the bakery, Harrington heads to his paid, full-time position as senior policy adviser with CommonHealth Action, a nonprofit public health organization in Washington, D.C., and returns to help close the bakery in the evening.
Harrington, 57, failed in his 2010 re-election bid for the Senate seat, which some community activists attributed to his controversial political career. During his council tenure from 2002 to 2008, Harrington was criticized for personal charges including airline tickets and gym memberships he made using county-issued credit cards. Harrington also dealt with reports that while serving as senator, he provided false and incomplete information on state and county financial disclosure forms, which he attributed to technical errors that were more specific than he thought.
“I never thought I lost the election because of negative articles,” Harrington said. “It’s just one of those things that some politicians go through. I’m glad I took some time off. I can reflect on what I did right and what I would do differently. If I was still in politics, I wouldn’t have been able to help Cheryl get Shortcake running.”
Former county councilman Thomas Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, who worked with Harrington for five years, said Harrington was thoughtful and looked at the big picture for the county.
“He looked at long-term solutions, and he was very interested in working as a team. That’s not always true in county politics,” Dernoga said, adding he thinks the credit card controversy was heightened by Harrington’s political opponents.
“He used the credit cards for personal purposes, which is probably not the best thing to do, but in accordance with policy at the time, he paid back the personal expenditures,” Dernoga said.
Prior to serving on the council, Harrington was Bladensburg’s mayor from 1995 to 2002, a time he describes as highly successful.
“We got a new Bladensburg High School, new elementary school, the CSX overpass built and got renovations to the [Bladensburg] Waterfront Park completed, so I accomplished a lot in politics,” he said.
The Harringtons opened Shortcake Bakery in mid-October. On an average day, Cheryl Harrington — whose own county work includes stints as the county coordinator for the 2010 census and legislative aide for former county councilman Peter Shapiro — said she arrives around 4:30 a.m., bakes from 5:30 to 10:30 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m.
“Now I’m the one that doesn’t get to see her,” David Harrington said with a laugh.
Sandy Owens of Hyattsville said she comes to Shortcake at least once per week.
“This is the coolest place in the city,” she said. “The food is wonderful, healthy and organic, and this is a very cool place to come stop by. It’s a friendly environment and everyone is super nice to deal with.”
Although he enjoys his current work, Harrington said he still has the political itch and, if the right opportunity came along, he would consider getting back into politics.
“I always say that the reason pencils have erasers is because people make mistakes,” said Bladensburg code enforcement supervisor Tim McNamara, who recalled Harrington’s initial campaign for mayor in 1995. “David’s had his problems, but he always helped, stood by and worked with Bladensburg whether as mayor, county councilman or as a senator. I think he’d do well if he got back into politics.”
Asked about the possibility of her husband returning to politics, Cheryl Harrington paused as she recalled late-night meetings and countless constituent calls.
“I think he’s a lot more relaxed now, and besides, where else could I get free labor for all this?” she said with a smile.