Earnest and eloquent beyond his years, a 16-year-old Floyd E. Wilson Jr. scored his first political triumph when black students throughout Louisiana elected him to the governor's post during a mock government competition.
But the segregation that dictated where his family could live, work and worship also prevented the young honor student from participating in Louisiana's larger, more prestigious competition for white students. He would never get a chance to meet the powerful state politicians who shook hands and gave advice to the other young boys.
Wilson was furious at the time. Almost four decades later, that anger still seethes inside him.
The experience and the indignation it instilled are reflected in Wilson's political career in Prince George's County, where he has emerged as an often-ornery champion for minority concerns in a county with a rapidly growing black population.
As a Glenarden Town Council member in the early 1970s, Wilson fought for urban renewal funds to build affordable housing and provide services to a largely black community in which paved roads were more the exception than the rule. Appointed to the County Council in 1974, the first black council member spent the next 16 years speaking out on issues such as police brutality, affirmative action and improving schools.
Now, the 54-year-old Wilson faces his greatest political challenge as he runs an uphill, countywide campaign to unseat County Executive Parris N. Glendening in the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
In many ways, the test for Wilson in this campaign is whether his passion and bombast -- qualities that over the years have galvanized a constituency that often felt left out politically -- will attract widespread white support.
Wilson, who has built loyalty among constituents in his largely black council district, is now emphasizing issues such as curbs on development and improved transportation to enhance his appeal to white voters.
Wilson's campaign, in many ways, is fueled by the same anger and alienation he felt as a youth. Glendening and other officials, eager to promote a picture of a county on an economic upswing, point proudly to increased tax revenue, an improved school system, and upgraded county services. But Wilson says members of the predominantly white Democratic Party establishment are served their share of goods and services first.
"You have people saying, 'Look how far we've come' when I am saying we have not come nearly far enough," Wilson said. "Black people will always get the short end of the stick when we are little more than an afterthought."
Wilson has toiled for years alongside a growing corps of black politicians who have long expressed a common desire to catapult a black candidate to the county executive's office.
Emboldened by a significant increase in black voter registration in the wake of Jesse L. Jackson's first presidential bid in 1984, black leaders met at the Glenarden Town Hall that winter to discuss strategies for snaring the top post.
But Wilson's name did not lead the list of likely contenders, and many expressed surprise when he announced his candidacy. Some even tried to talk him out of it.
At Wilson's birthday party last November, a group of politicians and civic leaders huddled over a coin toss in his kitchen to determine who would be the one to -- as one party-goer described it -- "pull Floyd aside and say, 'Hey man, you're crazy.' " In the end, former state senator Tommie Broadwater approached Wilson to offer a gift and a bit of advice.
Wilson accepted the gift. The advice, he later said, was of no use to him. Such efforts to dissuade Wilson only strengthened his resolve. Wilson said most of his detractors are now running on the Democratic Party's top-to-bottom slate of county candidates that is headed by Glendening and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
"I don't need anybody to tell me when it's the right time to run," Wilson said. "My record is reflective of a person who has this county's well-being at heart.
"The reason I am in this race is because I can no longer sit back and watch our children grow up in a county that stifles so many of their futures."
Wilson said reducing crime, stepping up the county's war on drugs, and improving education will be his top priorities if elected.
Wilson speaks with a clipped, deliberate cadence that lends an air of admonition to his words. anger enhanced his political clout, particularly during his early years on the council, when he built a reputation as a man willing to wrestle with the county's longstanding political bosses.
Council colleagues recall that Wilson's passionate descriptions of alleged police brutality prompted the council to form a police review board.
His monthly denunciations of the county's affirmative action policy prompted officials to take a closer look at their staffs. And they say his dialogues on educational inequalities helped amplify the county's debate on school desegregation.
"The first six years were his strongest," said Cora Rice, president of the Prince George's County branch of the NAACP. "He was outspoken. He spoke out for those things he believed in. He led the fight on so many important issues. And then he changed."
To some, there are two Floyd Wilsons -- the feisty, freshman County Council member of the mid-1970s and the somber, sometimes surly politician that emerged as the decade came to a close.
The period beginning 1976 stands as a line of demarcation in Wilson's political career. His marriage to his first wife was crumbling in a well-publicized divorce. Wilson's wife accused him of withholding child support and failing to take care of his children.
Wilson said that he did not make support payments because he was taking care of his children while his wife was confined to a psychiatric ward at Prince George's Hospital Center.
The three Hallmark Academy day-care centers he and his wife owned and operated were under investigation by the IRS. Eventually, one of the centers was sold in December 1977 at a foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps.
Wilson now describes the period as "character building" and says that it has enhanced his ability to perform under stress. "It was a very, very painful period in my life," Wilson said. "I just took it in stride and tried to be a role model for my children who have seen me go through some very difficult times. But I think it has made me a stronger person and certainly a tougher politician."
In addition to Wilson's well-publicized personal difficulties, the rise of several other polished politicians who moved into countywide or state positions and the enactment of a new county charter that forced him to run in a largely black district rather than in an at-large county race served to weaken Wilson's standing in the early 1980s.
"Most people would have given up after that," said Sen. Decatur Trotter (D-Prince George's), who was elected as the mayor of Glenarden the same year Wilson was elected to the Glenarden Town Council. "But Floyd's a fighter. He doesn't give up."
The oldest of four children, Wilson grew up in Lake Charles, La. Wilson recalls his commitment to his studies, strengthened by watching his father work as a shipping clerk by day and a waiter by night to put his son and three daughters through college.
The hard edges in Wilson's voice soften when he describes his parents' commitment to their children. "I just hope I can give to my children the kind of support and strength that he passed on to me," said Wilson, who has three children, Keith, 27; Tanya, 26; and Derrick, 15.
Wilson graduated from Dillard University with a joint degree in biology and chemistry in 1960. He went to study protozoology and later dentistry at Howard University, then took a job teaching chemistry and biology at Eastern High School in the District.
Like so many black families that have flocked to Prince George's in the last 20 years, Wilson in 1965 bought a $30,000 house in Glenarden's Fox Ridge neighborhood in search of better schools and affordable housing. Wilson's trademark anger propelled him into local politics when he learned that Glenarden town officials had quietly annexed his unincorporated neighborhood days before he settled on his house.
Wilson has viciously attacked Glendening's record, going as far as to accuse the county executive of tampering with the county's crime and homicide figures to cast a rosy picture during an election year.
Glendening, while acknowledging the county's social ills, faults Wilson for recklessly exaggerating the county's problems. Wilson, for instance, has repeatedly said that Prince George's leads the state in homicides, homelessness and school dropouts in stump speeches when state statistics suggest otherwise.
"Nobody stands to gain when you have someone out there saying things are worse than they are," Glendening said.
Wilson acknowledges he has to be careful in criticizing many of Glendening's programs so as not to cast blame onto himself.
When Glendening and other officials sing the praises of a greatly improved school system that has lifted both test scores and morale, Wilson hums a more somber tune about a school system that is failing to meet the needs of black students.
While Glendening promotes the county's economic boom, Wilson laments a county beset by drugs, crime and a dearth of economic opportunites for black residents.
"That is the difference between Mr. Glendening and myself," said Wilson. "He would like you to believe that everything is rosy and fine. I am here to tell you it is not and we had better do something about it quick."
An articulate and sometimes long-winded orator, Wilson wouldn't hesitate to wag a finger at his colleagues when he disagreed with the council's actions, even those he voted for. Wilson, for instance, launches an annual attack on the county's education spending but ultimately votes in favor of the spending plan each year.
That penchant for passionately arguing against a measure and then uttering "Yea" when it's time to vote has generated some ill will among constituents who criticize Wilson for waffling on issues.
But Wilson's lectures have earned a margin of respect from his colleagues. "He lets you know that this may not be the best solution but he wants to have some kind of solution rather than nothing at all," said council member Jo Ann T. Bell. "Not all of us care enough to take the time to do something like that."
Birthplace: Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Education: Sacred Heart Catholic High School, Lake Charles, La.; Dillard University, New Orleans, 1955 to 1959 for BA degree with majors in biology and chemistry; Howard University 1960 to 1962, American University and Bowie State College for coursework in early childhood learning to obtain state day care certificate.
Political Experience: Elected three times to the Glenarden Town Council where he served as vice mayor and chairman of the Town Council. Appointed to the Prince George's County Council in 1974. Elected that November, and reelected in 1978, 1982 and 1986.
Work Experience: Teacher of biology and chemistry at Eastern High School in the District for 10 years. Owned and operated the Hallmark Academy day care centers in Landover and Glenarden for 10 years, former chairman of the board of directors for Prince George's State Bank, the first black-organized, state-chartered bank in Maryland.
Civic and Professional Associations: Member of the state Air Quality Control Advisory Council, the county Board of Social Services, the Council of Government's Public Safety Policy Committee, the National Association of Counties Criminal Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. Serves on the board of directors for the Prince George's Travel Promotion Council, Inc. and Prince George's County Commission for Families. Former member of the board of directors for the National Association of Black County Officials.
Marital Status: Married; two sons and a daughter by a former marriage and one stepdaughter.
Religious affiliation: Baptist.
Favorite Reading: The Bible. STAND ON KEY ISSUES
Drugs and Crime: Favors consolidating the law enforcement efforts of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Police, the county Sheriff's Department and the Prince George's County Police. Also has called for increasing drug treatment and education programs.
Education: Has pledged to oust School Superintendent John A. Murphy if elected and to try to end busing for desegregation purposes to save money for other academic programs. Also calls for extending the school day, creating more schools that serve as the nexus of the community, and appointing rather than electing the school board.
Development: Favors slowing development in the county and creating a review panel to prevent elected officials from showing favortism to developers and others who make large campaign contributions.
Taxes: Does not favor increasing taxes and is opposed to repealing or modifying TRIM, an amendment to the county charter that severely limits property taxes.