Prince George's County Council member Marvin F. Wilson (D-Glenarden) has been a quiet and deliberative force on the council since being appointed in 1994 to fill the term of the late James C. Fletcher Jr.
Although the 65-year-old Wilson generally has stayed behind the scenes, declining to be nominated for chairman or vice chairman of the council, he has been a leader in pushing for legislation and policy changes to encourage revitalization for communities inside the Capital Beltway. His district encompasses some of those communities, including Landover, Cheverly, Bladensburg, Fairmount Heights, Edmonston and Seat Pleasant.
Wilson, a former National Security Agency employee who ran unopposed for reelection last year, also championed the idea of a recreation center for the Landover community as part of the deal to build FedEx Field and to bring the Washington Redskins to Prince George's County.
Wilson recently raised concerns about the continued delays in opening the $30 million sports complex, and in a recent interview with The Washington Post's Jackie Spinner, he talked about the sports complex and the Redskins stadium deal and what they mean for the county.
Q. The council's legislative session has ended. How would you rate the session this year in terms of what the council has been able to accomplish?
A. It's been a real tough session. There's been a lot of issues, most centered around schools and ways of trying to build more schools. We wanted to build 26. We're down to possibly building 13, and we're looking for ways to go past the 13.
And we've come up with some good examples of doing schools. Park-schools [combining recreation centers and schools in one building] is one that I like. I think we'll be able to do a lot of things with legislation. And I think the school board would also like to see us participate more in funding opportunities to build more schools. So with the state and federal government and the county, I think we're going to be able to achieve that.
The council passed legislation earlier this year tightening the loophole that allows some developers to escape paying fees to help ease overcrowding in the schools. The development community has complained that the council keeps changing the rules. Others say there should be no loophole at all. Where do you stand?
Our backs were against the wall because we are building communities where you have a lot of children. That puts an impact on the schools. And because of TRIM [voter-imposed restrictions on raising taxes], we weren't allowed to raise taxes to do some of the things, the roadwork and a few other things, that could accommodate some of the needs of a new community. So we had to find ways to put a little bit of the pressure on the builders. And [development fees] were one. Some builders don't like it because it limits their ability to build as many houses as they want, but we had to slow it down until we could catch up with the schools.
You were very instrumental in negotiating a lot of the perks for the community with the stadium deal, including the sports and learning complex. Three seasons into it, has the stadium deal and all of the things that came with it met your expectations?
It went past my expectations. I don't see a big change [since new owner Daniel M. Snyder purchased the team in July]. We haven't met with him a lot, but we hope to meet with him and make sure that some of the things that are working don't change. What I mean by that is with [the late owner Jack Kent Cooke] and that organization, most of the concessions, if not all of the concessions inside the stadium, are operated by local people, by community groups, Boys and Girls Clubs, churches, sorority groups. And this is really great, and it helps the community. The community is a part of this facility, and I would hate to see Mr. Snyder decide that maybe one company ought to come in and run all the concessions and make a bigger profit. And that's what we've got to watch and make sure doesn't happen, that these community groups are not run away from the stadium and that they continue to participate in those areas.
Have you heard that Mr. Snyder wants to change the way the community groups participate?
It's FedEx Field now because of the money side of it. In looking at ways of getting his money's worth out of his deal, you never know what's going to happen. But we want to make sure that he understands how this thing came about, how the community was opposed to it and what some of us who supported it did and expect out of it.
This is going to stay with us for the rest of our lives as long as we're running for something. People are always going to come back and look at your vote, and I kind of like to think that we did the right thing. We got road improvements that we would have never gotten in this area, both inside the Beltway and outside the Beltway, and the communities in the impact area have been improved because of the spinoff from the stadium itself. Church groups closest to the stadium, look at what they make off of parking.
How would you rate Mr. Snyder's handling of the traffic congestion?
Some of his suggestions--combined with those from the Prince George's County police department and public works and transportation--worked. I think the biggest thing that really made the difference was that all the on-site parking was reserved for the season-ticket holders, both the suites and the club level. And then the other people used public transportation or parked at the US Airways Arena.
What was your top priority going into the council and has that changed since you've been on the council?
I live inside the Beltway, and I was really interested in revitalization. When you talk about raising the bar, raising the bar means different things to different people. Outside the Beltway, we've got more room to spread out and do great things, build nice homes on estate lots.
Inside the Beltway, in order to build something, you've got to tear something old down. And I think that density was a great problem. We've gone into areas where it used to be high-rise, low-income housing, and we tore 'em down. We went back and did not rebuild with high-rise apartments or town houses but with single-family houses and town houses, which changed the density, changed the landscape, changed the way people live and feel about where they are inside the Beltway. And that's been a real plus.
We've made improvements on Route 202. We did such a good job on that when we got to [U.S. Route 50], we thought we could stop. But then the people who live past it, in the Cheverly area, put pressure on us to extend it now over Route 50 and all the way to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. So we're going to be able to do that.
We're doing parks.
The Village of Hawthorne was one of the things that the people asked me that if I did nothing else, then they wanted to take that out of their community. It was over 500 units in the middle of a nice, older community, but it had sat there empty for about 12 years. We were able to tear that down and replace it with single-family housing, but you don't go inside an old community and create a brand-new subdivision of single-family housing starting at $150,000 to $180,000 and then you've got this old community there you've got to travel through to get to this. When you do it, you've got to have something in mind to make improvements in the older community--and we're doing that.
If you look at 202, we're doing "gateways" inside the Beltway. We're doing the streets with the brick crosswalks. We're doing sidewalks. We're doing the median strips with the trees and beautification. We're improving the streets in the Kentland area, where the Village of Hawthorne is located, and we're also providing an opportunity for people to move up if they like. They like that area, and now they can put their homes up for sale and then put that money toward the new homes in the Village of Hawthorne. The older homes are being reestablished. So that's a real plus, and it's beginning to work well.
The county executive [Wayne K. Curry (D)] has said revitalization is a top initiative for him. What evidence have you seen that he's addressing the issue, and what can the council do or what more can the council do to help?
You see a lot of the older houses are being converted for first-time homeowners with improvements. Some of the abandoned homes are being done. We're looking at ways of helping municipalities do certain things in their area. We don't always go into a municipality with a lot of money but with the expertise that we have in helping them to do some things in revitalization on their own.
What are the biggest challenges facing Iris T. Metts, the new school superintendent?
It's going to be trying to hold onto qualified teachers. As we build more schools, we need more teachers.
Her personality is different. I think she's very outspoken. She puts her own position on the line, and she works well with the county executive. She worked well with this council. We have a great deal of respect for her, and that's a plus.
She faces issues head-on, and we like that. Even the legislators out there at the state level like her. They like that she's for accountability. She chose to work with the Management Oversight Panel and not against them. She brought them into the fold. That's not saying that she agrees with everything that came out of the audit and everything that came out of the management oversight panel. But instead of taking a negative approach to it, she looked at all the good points and then they were able to reach many, many, many compromises, and she's moving things forward.
She wants to concentrate on how the schools are run. We had certain schools that were for children that had problems. I think she's probably against isolating those problems and for bringing them back into the system and dealing with them within the schools themselves. And that way she's not having to set aside a school.
She's looking at some of the older schools and really has to make a decision on whether these schools should be torn down and replaced with a new school. She's playing a major part helping us to reach that goal of building 26 schools in Prince George's County. And also fairness in the salaries of our teachers, qualified teachers. She is looking for ways to fund teachers that are not certified. She's taking that very, very seriously.
What would you say is the biggest issue facing your district, the 5th District?
We're inside the Beltway. I think revitalization is a big part of it. I don't want to say crime so much. Crime is everywhere, and it's probably more inside the Beltway than it is anywhere else. But we have to begin to do more for people and change their attitudes about themselves and how they live. Along with an adequate police force and a qualified fire department and qualified sheriff's, all of this plays a major role.
But I just don't think that you change people by putting police on every corner. I think you change people by changing the conditions around which they live. We are making communities better, making them more attractive and not saying that just because you live inside the Beltway there has to be trash or you are not included in all the programs that we're doing outside the Beltway. I think as we begin to let people realize that they are a part of what we're doing, that they're included in what we're doing, it is going to go a long way to help our police and make our police work easier.
How would you describe the council's relationship with the county executive? And has it changed?
It hasn't changed. We're legislators, and he has a responsibility of really running the county, and we've got to come up with good legislation that's going to help him do that. And that's what we should do.
When we get to the point where we think that we're county executives, and that we're going to come up with the legislation and we're also going to carry it out, then you're kind of stepping over bounds. As long as we can keep that separation and respect each other and do those things which we believe in and which we have a lot of confidence in, and we think like he thinks, the end result is going to benefit the people of Prince George's County.
Have you decided what you're going to do when you leave office?
I want to stay involved, I really do. I haven't really decided. I know I'm not going to be running for county executive, but there may be some other political positions I might, I would consider. But I do want to stay involved in Prince George's County in one way or another--hopefully in a political position. Or maybe a consultant or some role of that nature.
Maybe if one of your pals on the County Council gets to be county executive, you'll get to head a department?
CAPTION: Wilson, shown near the Prince George's sports and learning complex, says that revitalization is the key to improving communities inside the Capital Beltway.
CAPTION: Marvin F. Wilson says that many school-related issues have yielded innovative proposals, such as combining recreation centers and schools under one roof.
CAPTION: County Council member Marvin F. Wilson (D-Glenarden), pictured in the swimming area of the sports and learning complex, is credited with ensuring that the new owner of the Washington Redskins would help benefit neighbors of FedEx Field.