After more than 20 years in office, Bowie Mayor Fred Robinson is retiring.
This Tuesday, voters will decide what has been one of the most wide open and competitive races the Maryland city has seen in years.
The issue dominating the campaign has been development, which city leaders only have a minimal say about. Final decisions about development projects in the city and adjacent to it are made at the county level, and sometimes run counter to how city leaders vote on the project. It has residents clamoring for more control over development issues, something everyone running for mayor says they support. But how they would attain that for the city is where the differences lie.
There are five candidates on the ballot but the three who appear to be generating support around the city are Len Lucchi, Dennis Brady and Tim Adams.
WTOP spoke with Lucchi and Brady. Adams never responded to a request through his website and multiple phone calls.
Lucchi was the first to declare for the race. A resident of Bowie since the Levitt homes were built in 1962, he bought the home he grew up in from his parents and still lives there today. He has the support of several politicians from the area as well as from around the state. He built those connections over the years working as a lobbyist for both the city of Bowie and Prince George’s County, advocating for the city at the county level in Upper Marlboro, and for the city and county at the state and federal level.
“I love this town,” said Lucchi, who has never held elected office before. “I believe the city needs to have its own land use power. We’re the largest city in the state of Maryland that does not have its own land use powers and I have the skill set to get those powers for the city.
Right now, decisions are made in Upper Marlboro, not Bowie. And 10 of the 11 members of the county council don’t live in Bowie. We need to make our own decisions about our own future.”
Lucchi said he’ll rely on his connections to do that.
“I’m the only one with a record of getting things done for the city of Bowie at the county, and at the state and federal levels,” said Lucchi.
He cites funding for repairs to the Bowie Senior Center, money that helped the county build several schools including Northview Elementary, and new turf football and lacrosse fields at White Marsh Park as some of the results of his work.
There are other issues Lucchi is running on as well.
“I’m against double taxation,” Lucchi said. “We’re the only city with our own parks and rec system that also pays the county park tax. So we’re paying twice. So either the county should be contributing to the amenities we want to develop here or we should stop paying the county park tax and not be double taxed.”
Bowie residents have also been working to get Old Town Bowie, or the Huntington area as it’s also known, to be designated as an arts and entertainment district, similar to what exists on Route 1 in Hyattsville.
“Old Bowie is now a bunch of failing antique stores,” said Lucchi, who worked as a lawyer for the county’s redevelopment authority when the Gateway Arts District was created.
He envisions “a nice arts and entertainment district in downtown Old Bowie where it’s walkable and it’s to be a destination that people would want to go to and I think we can get that done as well.”
Lucchi also vows to hold office hours once a month around the city where he’d be able to meet with anyone and hear what they have to say, as a significant number of residents have expressed frustration and doubts about whether the current city leadership always listens.
He also wants to strengthen the ties between the city and Bowie State University. Maryland’s oldest historically black college which technically sits outside of the city’s limits.
Lucchi said he’d be interested in annexing it into the city and getting students more involved politically, while also fostering programs that could include noncredit courses taught at the city’s Senior Center by professors at the school.
“I’ve talked to thousands of people [on this campaign],” said Lucchi. “I think I’ll be a much better mayor for having talked to people at their doors and hear from them what they think we could have done better. But most people are overwhelmingly happy to live in the city of Bowie as am I.”
Dennis Brady ran for mayor four years ago, after spending nearly 22 years on the city council. Recently he’s taken the lead of the grassroots effort to stop the Maglev train from being built and has the backing of the grassroots Bowie Citizens For Accountable Government.
In fact he’s the only candidate who has served on the city council before, something every other mayor in the city had done before being elected.
“Tradition shows that there’s strength in having someone who is knowledgeable and has done the job of councilman before he’s elevated to mayor,” said Brady. “I think the city is headed in the right direction but it needs the right leadership.”
Like Lucchi, he said the city needs to attain its own say on the matters of development, but that simply knowing the politicians who can help make that happen won’t be enough.
“How you address that is, one, you work in positive, strong relationships with the current structure — park and planning and the county council — but you also work with our state senators and delegates and other municipalities to try and get that law changed.
“I think we can do that. I’ve shown leadership in other organizations,” Brady said. “The Maryland Municipal League, Prince George’s County Municipal Association, so developing those relationships with other municipal officials will come in handy as we work to do that.
“I think the approach for home rule is an incremental approach,” said Brady. “I think you need to have a unified front with others that would benefit from it,” which he said are other municipalities around the area who might stand to benefit from greater say in the matter too. He acknowledges not every town might want it, but that teaming up with other towns and cities could help get the city more say on those matters.
Beyond development, he said recreational facilities around the city is another issues he’s focused on, including a controversial ice rink replacement (which he supports, but said should have been done years ago at less cost and in a better location than the one that’s going to be built), as well as gymnasium space for basketball and volleyball. There’s also concerns about the long term viability of the city’s golf course.
“I’d rather see the golf course successful than sell it off and convert it over to development because you’re talking about possibly 600 more houses in there and we just don’t need more houses in Bowie,” said Brady. “But we need open space and the golf course is good for that.”
He also agrees about the need to redevelop Old Town Bowie.
“We haven’t been taking care of Huntington from a government standpoint, if you will,” said Brady. He also backs the idea of creating an arts and entertainment district for that area. “I think this effort will do well to help out the residents of the Huntington area.”
Tim Adams is a longtime resident of Bowie who owns his own business. His campaign signs promise to stop over development in Bowie. He owns SA-TECH, which is a company that contracts with the Defense Department. WTOP reached out to Adams on multiple occasions in recent days but never got a response.
Like the other candidates, Emerson Ruth said Bowie needs more local control over issues surrounding development. He vows to bring “bold leadership” to the city.
Keith Jackson is also on the ballot.