Talk to any local residents about Prince George's County politics and sooner or later Sue V. Mills's name will come up.

The three-term County Council incumbent has mastered the art of survival; she is known as the platinum blonde with the iron will to stand up to the county's much-touted Democratic Party machine and win.

Mills, a former anti-busing activist who in recent years has been returned to office time and again with a healthy percentage of the black vote, boasts a vast, unrivaled constituent network.

For years, Mills has been seen as a fixture in the 8th Council District, which includes the communities of Oxon Hill, Clinton, Forest Heights and Camp Springs and parts of Hillcrest Heights and Fort Washington. She was elected to the council in 1978 after four years on the school board.

But four years ago, Isaac Gourdine, a political novice who got into the race late and with hand-lettered signs, captured nearly 40 percent of the vote.

This year, Gourdine, 44, is back, has become quite active in community affairs and is better organized for the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.

And he has a new issue in his arsenal: the recent criticism of county land transactions that at first shaped up to be a perfect issue for Mills but quickly backfired when it was disclosed that her family benefited from a rezoning.

At the same time, Gourdine, who is black, has attacked Mills's anti-busing past and has sought to paint her as a candidate out of step with the black community, which makes up about 55 percent of the district.

In short order the race has become increasingly ugly.

"Everyone knows that Sue Mills was opposed to naming a street after Martin Luther King. That's true," Gourdine said. "She opposed every minority set-aside bill that has come before her. She was opposed to busing. She was involved in that land deal and she profited from rezoning a piece of property that she owns. There are three dump sites within a one-mile radius of where I live.

"It's not a negative campaign, it's informing the public of who they have representing them," said Gourdine, a personal injury lawyer from Fort Washington.

Gourdine also says Mills has not done enough to support neighborhood schools and has opposed spending increases for the school system.

Mills, who refuses to disclose her age but is believed to be between 50 and 60 years old, characterized Gourdine's accusations as misrepresentations of her record. "One night after {a} debate, I told him, 'You can't go to heaven if you keep telling lies like this,' " she said.

Mills, who is on the slate headed by the county's top Democratic leaders, dismissed Gourdine's contention that she has allowed hodgepodge development in the district and a proliferation of dumps.

"I have been a very diligent watchdog over the development coming into the district," Mills said. "Any time there is development proposed . . . I insist that the developer contact the citizens association in the area and meet with them. If the citizens are opposed to it, I'm opposed to it."

Mills said she has introduced three bills to control the placement of construction dumps, particularly in residential neighborhoods. But she said that the bills have been opposed by citizens groups seeking a total ban and that such a ban would not stand up to a challenge in court. "No court would ban them," she said.

Mills also points to her support of improvements to Routes 5 and 210 as a way to ease traffic congestion in the area, which has become a gateway for workers driving into Washington from Charles County and other parts of Southern Maryland.

As for her anti-busing stand when she ran for the school board in 1974, Mills said the courts have borne out that busing was "an abject failure." She said she has always supported improving the neighborhood schools instead of pouring resources into the specialized magnet schools that were created to help racially balance the system.

Mills said she voted to increase the school system's budget by $1 million over what the county executive proposed for the current fiscal year.

"My position remains the same as wanting all of my children to have all of the opportunities as the magnet students," she said. "When I say the same thing as I did 17 to 18 years ago, the only thing that has changed is who is standing with me. The black parent is taking the same position as I did."

A third Democratic candidate, Leo A. Donn, died suddenly this summer. The winner of the primary will face Republican Roy L. Chambers in the Nov. 6 general election.

Gourdine's campaign has been supported by a coalition of black church activists including African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop H. Hartford Brookins. And it got an unexpected boost from new concerns raised about the council's involvement with several land transactions that appear to have benefited politically connected developers.

In one, the council, acting on a Mills-sponsored resolution, approved zoning changes on property owned by Fred Wineland, father of council member F. Kirwan Wineland, that increased the value of the land as much as four times.

The county later bought one parcel at the higher price for a commuter parking lot, despite the advice of an appraiser that the county purchase less-expensive land nearby. The second parcel, which was purchased by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and later acquired by the county, was used by the county to settle a lawsuit.

When the transactions were disclosed in a series of Washington Post articles this summer, Mills called them "shameful acts" and "dirty deals" and said she was duped by Fred Wineland, who told her he wanted to build senior citizen housing.

Days later The Post reported that Mills and her husband, James, also received a zoning change on a half-acre lot that they own. The change increased the land's value by more than 500 percent.

"She's saying she was duped," Gourdine said of the Wineland transaction. "But it seems to me she was smarter than she's letting on. Everybody seems to be working together and going along with what seems to be dirty transactions. Her strip of property skyrocketed in value, while the {value of the} homes around there went down."

Mills defended the rezoning of her property from residential to commercial. She said it is separated by one lot from other commercial land.

"I haven't made any money on the deal. I pay property taxes," she said. "We still own it, but we've done nothing with it. I don't see anything unethical."