An Oct. 19 article and accompanying box about Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) incorrectly stated his age and date of birth. He is 53 and was born Sept. 10, 1951. (Published 10/20/04)
Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) spent the weekend as he has spent countless October weekends since he entered politics: attending black churches, drumming up support for the upcoming election and making certain that voters get to the polls.
These churches, however, were not in Glenarden or Fort Washington, part of Wynn's 4th Congressional District, but were in Philadelphia, a city critical to Sen. John F. Kerry's prospects for winning Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes. The trip is one of several that Wynn, who is up for reelection himself, has made to battleground states on behalf of the Democratic presidential nominee.
It's also a bit of a departure for the six-term incumbent, whose heavy hand in local affairs has helped him compile what some critics say is a record more appropriate to a County Executive Wynn, or a Gov. Wynn.
He pushed two years ago to replace Prince George's County's elected school board with an appointed panel. For the past two General Assembly sessions, he has lobbied the state to legalize a casino resort in Prince George's. In recent years, he has backed and lined up financial support for several local candidates, including Will Campos, an assistant to Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). Campos recently picked up the Democratic nomination for a open County Council seat.
Wynn's interventionist approach has alienated some Prince George's leaders, especially those who disagree with him on local issues and who think he has more than enough to do in Washington.
"His involvement is confusing," said Donna Edwards, a civic activist with the Campaign to Reinvest in the Heart of Oxon Hill who has fought slot machines in Prince George's. "There are clearly areas of federal interests that are important to the 4th Congressional District. . . . We need the congressman to play more of a leadership role in the Democratic caucus in Congress and his work at the federal level. We don't need him playing a role where we already have elected officials in Annapolis and Upper Marlboro to handle."
Edwards wishes, for example, that Wynn would devote more energy to pushing for a rail system across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and for federal money to renovate aging post offices in the district.
Wynn, 51, scoffs at the accusation that he isn't doing the work he was elected to do. The allegation is also consistently leveled by his challengers, Republican John R. McKinnis and Green candidate Theresa Dudley.
"People in the community just want things to get done," said Wynn, who won his first election in 1982, for the General Assembly. "They don't see the jurisdiction lines set by political office. . . . If the worst criticism that they have is that I get involved in leadership and I'm trying to get something done in my community, I'll take it."
Wynn said he has been as active in Congress for 4th District residents as he has in local matters. He cites construction of the new Wilson Bridge, the extension of Metro's Blue Line, road improvements and additional resources for first responders as part of his accomplishments.
Over his nearly 12 years on the Hill, Wynn has built a reputation as a defender of small businesses, government contractors and federal workers, many of whom reside in Prince George's.
Wynn generally votes with his party's House leadership, but he opposed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law in 2001 because, he said, it has diminished the influence of black elected officials.
Under the old system, Wynn said, elected officials were able to give money to nonprofit, community groups for get-out-the-vote efforts. Not being able to do that has "marginalized" the influence of black elected officials, Wynn said.
"We cannot direct party resources because there aren't any," he said.
One major vote he does regret: his decision to break ranks with the majority of his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus in 2002 to support the war in Iraq.
He told a group of Muslims at a forum this year that he believed his vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq was a mistake. "I regret that vote based on what I know now," he told the group, about the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Wynn, who has lived in Prince George's since his family moved there from North Carolina when he was 7 , held his first elected office in seventh grade when he became president of his school's student government.
It wasn't until ninth grade that he decided to make politics a career.
"By then, I knew I was too small and too slow to become a professional football player," he said, even though a teacher in his school suggested he try out for the team. "I made the best decision of my life when I realized that I didn't have professional potential."
He joined the debate team instead. When he graduated from DuVal High School in Lanham in 1969, he was headed to the University of Pittsburgh on a debate scholarship. He received his law degree from Georgetown University in 1977.
Wynn took a job as director of the Prince George's County Consumer Protection Commission before starting his law practice in 1982. The same year, he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates.
He ran for the seat from a district whose representatives were white but whose population was increasingly black. He was endorsed by Democratic Party leaders and won with the second-highest vote total on a slate that included Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and state Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. In 1986, he ran for the state Senate and was reelected four years later.
In 1991, when Maryland created the 4th, a heavily Democratic, mostly African American district that straddles Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Wynn was the first to enter a primary field that eventually grew to 13.
"I felt after 10 years in the state legislature I was as qualified as anyone to move up," he said.
He edged out Alex Williams (D), the former Prince George's County state's attorney, by winning a higher margin in Montgomery County. Even after capturing the primary, Wynn continued to hit the street during the general election. "Fear will do that to you," he said of his campaign style. "In politics, you can never take anything for granted."
Tomorrow: Republican challenger John R. McKinnis.