Within weeks of resigning as head of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s transition team, former county executive Wayne K. Curry has become a partner in one of the county’s largest proposed developments and president of one of its most powerful real estate brokerage firms.
Before entering politics, Curry was a businessman, land-use attorney and aide to a former county executive, Winfield M. Kelly Jr. He proudly highlighted his negotiating skills and business acumen as county executive during deals that brought a new Redskins stadium to the county and moved the National Harbor project closer to completion.
Curry said he’s continuing what he started as county executive: trying to improve the image of a county that was most recently shamed last fall when then-County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife were arrested in an alleged corruption scheme.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to elevate Prince George’s County, just like we did with the [Redskins stadium] and National Harbor,” Curry said.
But some are quietly grumbling about whether Curry’s relationship with Baker contributed to his equity interest in a deal that is expected to bring millions of square feet of office and retail space and thousands of homes to 39 acres of public property near the New Carrollton Metro station . Others wonder whether his influence with the Baker administration will also line his pockets.
Baker’s administration has heard the questions.
“If Wayne Curry is a recipient or part of the project in any way, we congratulate him, but we had nothing to do with Wayne Curry being selected or any party being selected for the project,” Baker spokeswoman Angela Wright said in a recent interview.
When Curry left public office in 2002 after two terms as county executive, he returned to the private sector, joining William H. Murphy Jr. and Associates, a Baltimore-based law firm. He was on the outs with Johnson, who was not a political ally. Now several of his former aides are in key government jobs. Glenda Wilson, who was Curry’s chief of staff, holds the same job for Baker. Curry said that’s irrelevant.
“This wasn’t politics,” Curry said. “Nobody has more public-private experience than me.”
Curry entered politics after a long history as a businessman, land-use attorney and political aide. Before he entered office, he was part of a development team that built the subdivision where he now lives.
The decision by Curry to return to the company where he worked while attending the University of Maryland’s law school at night has taken few by surprise.
“Michael [Cos.] has always been a strong force in the county; adding Wayne can only increase that,” said Joel Rozner, a lobbyist in Annapolis and a former people’s zoning counsel for the county.
Curry said his discussions with the Michael Cos. and involvement in the New Carrollton project preceded his work with Baker’s transition team.
A source told The Washington Post last month that Metro and Maryland officials selected a team led by Forest City Washington and Urban Atlantic to develop the project. It was unknown at the time that Curry’s company, Scientia Enterprises, and the Michael Cos. were part of the team.
The Metro board is scheduled to vote Thursday on the recommendation on the selection by a panel of four representatives each from Metro and the state of Maryland. The state Transportation Department will then have to approve the selection.
Last fall, Metro and the state, which each own portions of the 39 acres near the New Carrollton Station, issued a request for qualifications to develop the property.
Angela Gates, a Metro spokeswoman, said the board could not release information about the bidders or their number. “The pool of proposers was among the strongest that Metro has seen for its development opportunities in Prince George’s County,” she said in a statement.
Forest City Washington competed against Akridge, Comstock Partners and Peebles Corp., according to a source who was not authorized by Metro or the state to discuss the selection.
R. Donahue Peebles, chairman and chief executive officer of Peebles, said the presentations were part of a “backroom process,” out of the public’s eye.
“I don’t know if politics had anything to do with it. I hope not,” Peebles said of the selection process. “All I can say is that the process is so secretive. . . . It makes you wonder if there is something they were hiding.”
Speculation often swirled about a return to politics, and Curry’s name landed on the short list of potential 2006 candidates for lieutenant governor — for both major parties — in 2005.
While never ruling out another run for political office, Curry said in a 2005 Washington Post interview that he had other things on his mind. “Right now, my principal objective is to concentrate on restoration, which includes the restoration of my checkbook,” he said.
A year later, Curry, still working at the law firm, was stumping for Baker in an earlier run for county executive.
After Baker’s election last year, Curry strutted across the stage during the inaugural ball and joked that he was back. In a interview on Wednesday, Curry said he never left.
“The reason this is so novel is because all the other county executives departed,” Curry said. “But in my case, he stayed with his influence; he stayed with his money and he stayed with his Rolodex.”
Baker is not lock step with his mentor. His first legislative effort in Annapolis was to lobby for ethics legislation in the aftermath of the arrest of Johnson and his wife, Leslie Johnson. Curry questioned Baker’s decision.
Some political sources said Curry’s relationship with members of Baker’s administration is likely to have more of an impact on his business dealings than his relationship with Baker.
“Knowing the person who works in permitting is more important than knowing the person who is on the fifth floor [of the County Administration Building],” said a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his relationship with Baker and Curry.