Councilwoman Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie) and State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson (D), candidates for county executive, agree there is a need for economic development inside the Beltway, but they split on how to effect change and spur growth.

The candidates debated the county's business issues last week at a forum sponsored by the Women Business Owners of Prince George's County at the Country Club at Woodmore. Moderator Edythe Flemings Hall, president of the Prince George's County NAACP, asked Johnson and Scott questions about economic development and opportunities for small-business owners to contract with county government.

"We know that there is concern that businesses are not developing in the inner Beltway, and we know that businesses are developing in Montgomery County and Howard County and we're not getting that development here," Flemings Hall said.

Other group members asked, "How did Marlboro Pike come to have a liquor store and mattress store on every corner?" and "What happened to Landover Mall?"

Scott blamed the mall's demise on crime in the area and said that focused revitalization, such as the planned effort to convert Route 1 into an arts district in the Brentwood area, is making a difference.

"We have the market base here," Scott said, noting the high sales at Bowie Town Center. "The reason Landover Mall closed and other shopping strips are closing is because of crime. The police are arresting the criminals, but the prosecutors are not prosecuting them."

Johnson, the county's chief prosecutor, said his office is doing its job. The key to jump-starting development, he said, is creating "livable communities" with good schools, well-paved roads and low crime rates.

"Government does not build business," said Johnson, who is the front-runner after winning a hotly contested Democratic primary. "We've got to create an environment where people want to come in and do business."

Members of the women's group asked whether the county government would make working with women and contracting with their businesses a priority. Both candidates said women would play a large role in their administrations. The five members of Scott's office staff are women.

Johnson said, if elected, he plans to appoint a woman as chief administrative officer and expand contractual opportunities with the county government for all small-business owners.

"Upper Marlboro has been and is a closed shop," Johnson said. "We are going to create a level playing field."

Scott said the County Council has done business with more small and minority business owners in the eight years she has served than in previous administrations.

Scott also said she stands by a controversial bill, known as CB-40, passed by the County Council this year that allows developers to build where schools are crowded by paying an added fee.

"Before we set the standard, they didn't have to pay anything," she said.

Johnson said the law is "absolutely flawed" and he would consider revisiting it.

"It has all kinds of loopholes," Johnson said. "I've told the business community the days of building communities without schools and transportation are over with."