Don't tell Jo Ann T. Bell about the advantages of incumbency.

The Prince George's County Council chairman is engaged in a spirited contest to retain the District 6 seat she has held since 1982. Her two-term incumbency, if anything, has made her a larger target for Democratic challengers Bennie Thayer, a businessman and activist, and public school counselor Linwood Jones.

"There is a lot of disgruntlement with the status quo and leadership we've gotten from incumbents, from the county executive on down," said Thayer, 51, of Kettering, a first-time candidate for elective government office and former chairman of the Maryland and Prince George's Rainbow Coalition.

In the heavily Democratic district, both Bell and Thayer are running on slates in the Sept. 11 primary, Bell with incumbent state Sen. Albert R. Wynn and Thayer with Del. Juanita D. Miller, who is challenging Wynn. Jones, 58, of Mitchellville, is running as an unaffiliated Democrat. Republican council candidate James E. House, of Bowie, is unopposed in his primary and will face the victorious Democrat in the Nov. 6 general election.

For Bell, 52, of District Heights, the mechanics of campaigning are old hat -- she served as an elected school board member from 1976 to 1982 -- but she said she represents anything but the status quo. It's just that her style is low key.

"I've never been a bell-ringer," she said. "My style has never been to have a press conference, start a fight. My style has always been to bring people to the table, work to solutions everyone can agree on. You may not be the only author or have your name in the paper all the time, but you'll have results."

Thayer also bills himself as a coalition builder, but he is no shrinking violet. He is board chairman of the 200,000-member National Association for the Self-Employed, head of a family-owned trophy business in Capitol Heights and vice president for membership of the National Rainbow Coalition.

Although this is Jones's first bid for a County Council seat, he is not a newcomer to Prince George's politics. Jones, who is an at-large member of the Prince George's Democratic Central Committee, ran for county executive in 1972 and helped coordinate Gov. William Donald Schaefer's campaign in Prince George's County during the 1986 election.

As council chairman, a post that is rotated, Bell has presided during a period of almost unprecedented turmoil, after the indictment of one member for theft of campaign money and the resignation of the past chairman after he was charged with cocaine possession. Council members also have been criticized for accepting large campaign contributions from developers who bring projects before them for approval.

Thayer has not accused Bell of wrongdoing, but has suggested she could have provided stronger leadership in dealing with ethics issues.

"I've never done anything I know of that's illegal," Bell said. "I've never been accused of it. Every morning, I look myself in the mirror and say, 'Help me, God, to do the best so I can face You, myself, my parents, my children, my citizens.' "

The district includes about 65,000 people who live in a wide swath that extends from the Seabrook-Lanham area on the north to Suitland on the south. It also includes the newer communities of Kettering, Largo and Woodmore. Its residents are relatively affluent and the district is predominantly black.

The district's demographic shift is not an issue, Bell and Thayer said, as residents focus on problems of growth, education and crime. But Thayer acknowledged that the candidacy of Jones, founder and past president of the county's Black Democratic Council, could complicate his efforts.

To Thayer's surprise and chagrin, Jones moved last year from Glenarden to Mitchellville, going from the 5th to the 6th Council District, then announced his candidacy. "I wish he were not in the picture, that's for sure," Thayer said. "I informed him two years ago I was going to run."

A 26-year educator in the Prince George's County school system, Jones said increased education funding and improving the quality of instruction in non-magnet schools are the primary issues in his campaign.

"Education is at the center of this county's future," Jones said. "A lot of people feel that there is a two-tiered school system where the magnets get all the money and the {neighborhood schools} get the scraps. I've been in the schools. I know the problems. I just want to get in there on the County Council and try to solve some of those problems."

Jones, a guidance counselor at Nicholas Orem Middle School in Hyattsville, was the "very respected" vice principal of Suitland Junior High when Bell was on the school board, Bell said. But Jones hasn't hesitated to criticize her at candidate forums. Bell said she is confident she has the answers.

When Jones said the district needed more work-study programs, she noted that she had helped start a house-building vocational program 14 years ago.

If she is a rubber-stamp for County Executive Parris N. Glendening, as Thayer suggests, she said, "I wish someone would convince Parris of that. It would make my life easier." Glendening, in fact, encouraged Bell to give up her council seat and move to the General Assembly to allow increased black representation on the council through Thayer's election. Under the proposal presented to her by Wynn and an aide to Glendening, she would have been slated to fill the seat of retiring Democratic Del. Dennis C. Donaldson.

She said Wynn told her, "The opening is there and the choice is yours," after which she chose to run for reelection. Thayer said the rumored deal involving him was never presented to him directly. He said he believes black elected leaders opposed his inclusion on their slate because "I'm independent, I don't have allegiance to any of the established groups."

Therefore, he said, he is most comfortable running with Miller, an outsider at odds with the Democratic political leadership.

"The difference between the incumbent and myself boils down to style of leadership," he said. "I'll be far more aggressive, especially on issues of managed growth, recreation and crime. In terms of voting and doing good things, certainly she has voted right and done good things."

Bell said she has done much more than that. She said she has delivered for her district (37 percent of all county recreation dollars over the past four years, she said) and for the entire county, "making a difference for all of us," according to her campaign literature.