Her theme for the coming year is "merchants of hope." That is the role Prince George's County Council Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills) sees for the nine members of the legislative body that she will lead in 2000.

Bailey said she considers herself a consensus-builder and someone with a "desire to see harmony . . . and a love of this county."

After County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), Bailey is arguably one of the most vocal boosters of Prince George's County. She is also one of Curry's fiercest allies and defenders, a position that put her at the center of a recent debate over who would become the new chairman of the council.

Some of her colleagues had argued that Bailey's close relationship with Curry would compromise the council's legislative idea. Bailey brushed off the criticism as demeaning.

The 59-year-old schoolteacher was elected to the council in 1994 and was reelected in 1998. She has been chairman once already and vice chairman twice.

Her district includes Seat Pleasant, Hillcrest Heights, Suitland, Coral Hills and Bradbury Heights and parts of District Heights and Capitol Heights.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post's Jackie Spinner, Bailey talked about her agenda for the coming year and how she herself intends to be a "merchant of hope."

Q. What are your priorities going to be as council chairman?

A. I did not support the pension bill that we had before us at the last council session. [The bill would have allowed county employees to join the state pension plan, which offers additional benefits.] I believe we have the resources and the knowledge to have a much better bill for our citizens. That's going to be the very first thing I want to look at. We need to have a better pension plan.

Are you actually going to be drafting the legislation? Will that be something that comes out of your office?

That's really going to be something that comes from the [county executive's office]. I've asked them to work on it and get it to us as the first piece of business.

And what about the fatherhood conference [an initiative Bailey outlined in her acceptance speech on Dec. 7]?

The fatherhood conference-summit is a countywide effort. We've had the first meeting. It had very little to do with the notion of chair, but since I am chair, I'm going to promote it. We've asked the men to come together to plan this. It's replicating a White House fatherhood conference that many of us were involved with, and we want to bring our fathers together to help to develop the strategies and policies for developing strong fathers.

And how do you legislate that?

I don't know whether legislation will come out of that. We'll have to wait and see. It's very difficult to legislate. We can be the spokesperson. We could be the cheerleader. We have selected the honorary chairs and the three working chairs. Great diversity. The three working chairs are Dr. Jerry Lewis from the University of Maryland; Ron Adolph, who's a businessperson in the county; and Minister Shawn Maharley.

So we're going to be looking at fatherhood. Actually it started as a district project, but now that I'm chair, we're opening it up to make it a countywide initiative. We believe, not just me but the research, tons of research, indicates that one of the things that's most important as far as developing children happens to be fathers. I'm old enough to believe it. I've seen it. I know the importance of it. I have a son who's a strong father. My grandson is 6 years old, and I've seen how important that is in the development of my grandchildren. . . . And who knows? There may be some legislation coming from that.

And the two honorary chairs again are?

Major Riddick [chief of staff for Gov. Parris N. Glendening] and Wayne Curry.

There was a third initiative you talked about after you were elected chairman. What was that?

We want to review the Brookings report. [The Brookings Institution released a report in July that found that social distress in communities closest to the District is tied to overactive growth in the outer suburbs. The report also found that a regional approach could solve both problems.] I think that's very important as we talk about a region divided. What implications does that have for Prince George's County? What implications might the Brookings report have on policies and legislation?

When you saw that report what was your response to it?

It wasn't a surprising report, but it was a thought-provoking kind of thing. Obviously because I'm on the poor side but, but it was more, what can we do with this? What does it really mean? I think it's important for all of our elected and civic appointed leaders to have an opportunity to think together and maybe come out of that with some kind of reaction or some kind of thoughts.

Generally, how do you bring up the older communities, some of the communities that are struggling and the ones that share the border with the District?

That is part of what we're going to have to talk about. I think there's infusion of money. I think there's training. The fatherhood conference itself. There are things that we can do. Poverty and crime are not synonyms. I continue to say that. Poverty and hopelessness are not synonyms, but they do go together in many cases, and I think we have to do what we possibly can to have another look, another view. Give some more hope. Be merchants of hope. Money.

How much of that involves working with the District government?

I want to build on my relationship with the mayor as well. We already work together on issues. Primarily they've been around public safety, but I think we're going to have to look at some broader issues as well because we are getting a good number of the citizens from the District of Columbia, and so I just think that we have to continue the dialogue and figure out how, regardless of where citizens live, they enjoy a better quality of life.

What is the most pressing policy issue facing the county as the millennium approaches?

There are several. I don't know if it's the most pressing but again, the whole notion of education. How do we make sure that there's lifelong learning? Cradle to grave. And that our students in our public schools are getting the quality education that they deserve. And that can be useful to the work force.

What are the biggest challenges facing the school superintendent that you would identify?

After maintaining her sanity? I met with her. It's just incredible. Funding. Morale. And engaging the community toward a quality system. How does she articulate to folk that she's doing a good job, that education is so important that you get what you pay for?

The council's legislative session has ended. How would you rate this session in terms of what the council has been able to accomplish?

It really wasn't a legislative issue this year, but the continuation of the Commission 2000. While we haven't gotten to the end of it, we got to a lot of the meat of it, and we will be getting those recommendations this term. But I still believe that that is one of the most important things that we did last year. While all council members were not involved, different council members at different times attended the meetings, responding to the reports and making inquiries. Council members are still very actively involved in the work of the Commission 2000, if no more than through their representatives on the commission. So I still see that as one of the most important things that the council did.

The census is also one of the most important things that we're going to have to address because the census drives a lot of the other issues that we're going to have to deal with. Many of the council members got very involved in the census this year. Not only did we have a resolution [encouraging participation], but we've been involved in meetings and other things.

How would you rate the county's efforts to balance the county executive's desire to have more upscale residential and commercial development outside the Beltway with the need to revitalize the communities located inside the Beltway?

We're moving. But not as aggressively, not as fast. I would like to have seen something done yesterday. That was one of the first things I talked about when I came on the council in District 7 around the Suitland area, around the Census Bureau. There's a word that I heard at a convention over the weekend that I'd long time forgotten and the minister used it--piddling. I can't spell it, but we're piddling, we're not moving. I don't think the resources are there. We've got to find other ways of doing it. Find resources--but we're moving in the right direction. But we're not moving at the speed that I would like to see us moving.

Has there been too much emphasis placed on the outer-Beltway communities, in bringing upscale housing to the county at the expense of the communities located inside the Beltway?

Oh, I don't think so. I don't think there's such a thing at this point as too much. I think this county is broad enough, wide enough, large enough that we should be able to respond to both in a very fine fashion. The revitalization and redevelopment . . . inside the Beltway is needed. There are opportunities there.

We also need the upscale on the outside as well. You can go from one end of this county to the other and see all kinds of different things. That's what's fascinating about it. And I think we just need to work on continuing the movement in a positive direction in each area--inside the Beltway and outside.

The county executive has said revitalization is one of his top initiatives. He made that clear with the announcement of the budget in March. What evidence have you seen that he's addressing the issue and what can the council do more to help?

We've seen movement. But, again, it's not moving as fast as I would like to see it move. I think the county executive was very much interested, but there may be things that we can do that we're going to have to explore because we've talked about these for years. And we've had a lot of planning around it. I really want to see more movement, which is the same thing I said before. So, yes, the county executive expressed an interest. [The council has] as well. I just want to move it--and that's going to be one of these things that I think this council will look at.

Peter [Shapiro (D-Brentwood)], the vice chair, comes from the area. Most of his district is inside the Beltway, so it's an issue that's important to him as well.

How do you think having both the chairman and the vice chairman mostly representing communities inside the Beltway is going to change the direction or influence the direction of the council?

I think that we'll both have our eyes in that direction. Make no mistake about it. But the leadership of the council represents the whole county, and we've got strong folk in this county so just because you're elected to the leadership does not mean that you get any preference in terms of your interests at all. You still need five votes.

What was your top priority going into the council and has that changed at all?

It was education, safety and more involved citizens. That hasn't changed. And economic development was one that everybody said I had to have. But it's just not my strong suit. It's becoming more of a strong suit as I began to understand that in order to get the public safety and education that I want, I have to know more about economic development and find ways of promoting it.

What's the biggest challenge or biggest issue facing your district? What do you need?

We need more involvement from citizens. We need citizens to speak out more, to be more aware. Health issues. Employment. But the biggest issue is more involvement, and we need people to come in and work with us, tell us more about what they need. I can walk around the community. I can look at the community. I can visit churches. I can visit civic associations. If I visited the civic association with the possibility of 5,000 members, and I have three people telling me what they need, I don't call that a barometer. So we need some citizens to be involved.

What should be the county's legislative and funding priorities going into the General Assembly session? What are the big-ticket items?

Still schools. Getting the rest of that.

Did you play an active role in Annapolis the last time you were chairman? Is that something that you see as a responsibility?

I was in Annapolis. I know the Annapolis folk, particularly the senators. Whether I was in Annapolis a lot or not, I did communicate with the legislators, and that will continue, probably even more so this time. I think it's an important incentive just so they see us more often and hear our opinion.

Last question: Do you know yet what you're going to do after you leave office?

Yes. I'm in school for Christian counseling. I believe I've been blessed with this opportunity to see pain, to see divisiveness, to see hurting people. And God would have me to do something in a different arena: to see what I can do to ease the burden.

I don't know what I was doing over the years that I didn't realize that there were so many people who dress nicely, speak nicely, but I've seen pain and misery. And misery like I didn't believe was there. I think God prepared me to do something in some fashion.

So you will be getting out of public office altogether?

It's getting out of public office, but it's also continuing what I think my public life has been about, being a leader. Being a merchant of hope, incidentally, is my theme.

CAPTION: Bailey, incoming council chairman, says school funding should be the county's top priority at the General Assembly.

CAPTION: Dorothy F. Bailey says she will seek a better pension plan for county employees.