Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007

Two different visions for Bowie

Incumbent G. Frederick Robinson and challenger D. Michael Lyles lay out their divergent priorities ahead of Bowie’s Nov. 6 election

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Greg Dohler⁄The Star
D. Michael Lyles (left), candidate for mayor, and incumbent G. Frederick Robinson field questions from The Gazette-Star editorial board last week.
Multimedia:

Click here to watch the video

Disagreeing on business growth, transportation, public safety and city spending, two of the candidates seeking to become the next Bowie mayor outlined different visions for the city last week.

Incumbent G. Frederick Robinson, who has served as mayor since 1998, spoke of building on the steady business and cultural growth in Bowie in his last four terms.

‘‘If you look where the city is, people believe the city is moving in the right direction,” he said.

Challenger D, Michael Lyles said he believes Bowie can take bolder action to build up the town’s service and economy.

‘‘I have the vision and the inspiration to move people more than they have in the past,” the challenger said.

During separate interviews with the Gazette-Star editorial board, the two candidates underscored the direction the incoming mayor should take Bowie.

Lyles outlined several investment ideas for increasing the city’s profile, starting with encouraging bigger, upscale and denser mixed-use shopping developments that would increase the city’s tax base while protecting neighborhoods.

‘‘There’s a sense that if we grow, we’ll get worse, but it’s not necessarily true,” said Lyles, who supported changing several ‘‘outdated” strip malls in the city into mixed-use centers: West Bowie Village, Marketplace and Pointer Ridge.

In addition to increasing the housing and business base in town, dense development on major highways could also create pedestrian-friendly buffers that protect surrounding neighborhoods, Lyles said.

Lyles’ view on development contrasts to Robinson’s, who spoke of the need for more limited residential growth.

‘‘I think there is a finite capacity,” said Robinson, who said the city should push for more housing for senior citizens and better commercial development instead.

‘‘Probably the one void we have is active adult housing,” he said. ‘‘But my idea has been to bring more jobs, and we’ve been at least marginally successful. You can see the city is starting to boom.”

Both men also differed over whether the city should invest in creating a municipal bus system. Robinson said the cost for such service would be too high.

‘‘I don’t think we’ve demonstrated the need for that yet,” he said. ‘‘For the low end, it’s three or four million [dollars], and you’re talking $10 million at the high end. I think if you went to every neighborhood and asked them, the answer is, ‘No, I don’t want that.’”

Robinson said he would support extending county or Metro bus service into Bowie rather than having the city launch its own service.

Lyles, a longtime supporter of bringing bus service to the city, disagreed.

‘‘Of course [we should have it],” he said. ‘‘When it comes to getting cars off the road, creating a cleaner environment, reducing traffic, reducing speeding ... it would help.”

Lyles said a combination of recouped county transportation funding, federal and state grants and working with the District’s metro system could all help keep Bowie from dipping into property taxes to pay for the service.

‘‘We could pay for the system, probably without going to [residential taxes],” he said.

Still, Lyles said he would be willing to go into the city’s $35 million reserve if it would mean encouraging growth in Bowie.

‘‘We have the money to pay for these long-term investments into our future,” he said. ‘‘We’ve been waiting long enough.”

But Robinson advocates a pay-as-you-go approach, calling on residents to pay more in taxes if needed for new city services.

‘‘Nobody likes to pay taxes, but they realize it needs to be done, and they’re willing to do it, if you deal with them honestly,” Robinson said.

That’s what Robinson said drove his 2005 campaign supporting the city police department referendum. Even though supporters like Robinson told residents that the department would cost them approximately $75 more in taxes a year, residents approved the referendum by an overwhelming majority. The police department started patrolling city streets earlier this year.

‘‘I was the only one who put it on my campaign literature. I went around and said, ‘This has to be fixed,’” Robinson said.

Lyles, who initially opposed creating the force in 2005, said he now wants to build up the force by hiring its own investigators, possibly building holding areas for offenders and working with the county to have a special prosecutor handle cases that occur in Bowie.

‘‘Now that we have it, I want it to be the best in the state,” Lyles said.

Both candidates did agree on several issues, including incorporating Bowie State University into the city.

‘‘I don’t think the Bowie State family has bought into it fully yet,” said Lyles, who said he’d encourage the campus to open a bookstore in Old Town Bowie and push for student housing in other parts of the city. ‘‘We can further engage students in the political life and the economic life of our city.”

Robinson said he also supports adding BSU to the city, though he noted that the town would need to annex other land that separates the university from the city before a university inclusion could be considered.

Both men also said they will push Prince George’s County to grant Bowie power to approve and control development plans. While the council has the power to make binding decisions on zoning variance cases, Bowie officials usually only get to recommend actions to Prince George’s County.

Both men said letting the city approve development would help them control quality and recruit more businesses to set up shop in town.

‘‘Those are the decisions that drive everything else,” said Robinson. ‘‘If Bowie were in any other county, we would have [development approval powers].”

When asked about their greatest achievements in office, Lyles cited his work to help bring a county library to Hall Road.

‘‘I have a new energy, and a new focus,” he said.

Robinson cited his own list, including being able to bring various individuals and groups together to have a city police department, new schools in town, and the town’s senior center, ice rink and gym.

‘‘I’m available, I’m interested, and I want to work,” he said.

A third mayoral candidate, Richard A. Dahms, canceled his interview with the Gazette-Star editorial board, citing a scheduling conflict. Dahms has endorsed Lyles in the race.

‘‘The 2007 city election is a closed race anyway with the incumbent mayor running along with an incumbent councilman,” Dahms wrote in e-mail. ‘‘I would be a long shot.”

E-mail Daniel Valentine at dvalentine@gazette.net.

Voter’s Guide

The Bowie Star will publish a voter’s guide in theOct. 18 edition. Don’t misscandidates’ responsesto questions on the major issues affecting Bowie.