Midway through his first term as a Prince George’s County councilman, longtime state delegate Obie Patterson said he has come to enjoy the more personal interactions with his constituents as he works to address district issues ranging from reducing foreclosures, bringing a casino to District 8 and helping to create more job and retail opportunities for residents.
Patterson (D) said he was undecided on County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s (D) proposal to bring a $1 billion gaming facility that would include slots and table games to Oxon Hill, but on Tuesday sent a letter to state legislators in support of the plan.
“There’s a lot of money riding on that and jobs,” Patterson said. “It’s an evenly divided issue in my district. It’s hard when people are in danger of losing their homes or need money. It’s sad to see a kid go to college and then have to leave because their family can’t afford it.”
Patterson, whose district includes Camp Springs, Clinton, Forest Heights, Fort Washington, Glass Manor, Marlow Heights, Oxon Hill and Temple Hills, was a delegate from 1995 to 2007 and voted against slots three times as a delegate. Patterson said he wanted to be open to the proposal because people need jobs.
According to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s website, as of January the county has an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent, or 31,353 jobless. Maryland’s jobless rate is 6.5 percent, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Fort Washington resident Nancy Bhargava said she has been impressed that Patterson hosts state-of-District 8 meetings to bring county officials and residents together to gauge feedback, but was disappointed that he supports the casino proposal.
“I don’t think we should have casinos here,” Bhargava said. “It’s not a positive thing to build an economy on. Why not focus on development around the Metro stations? This casino thing is ridiculous and not the thing we want our young people to get into.”
To help inform residents of district happenings, Patterson said he organizes community meetings every two months that typically draw crowds of about 50 people.
“In Annapolis you’re away and not in close proximity to the voters, but on the County Council it’s a lot fewer of us, and that means a lot more direct responsibility,” said Patterson, 76, of Fort Washington. “You get the first call when the streets are not plowed and a tree has fallen on someone’s property. We’re the front line of contact so you have to make yourself available all the time. I love it.”
Fort Washington resident Mary Navies, a McDonald’s franchise owner, said Patterson has been responsive in addressing resident concerns and being accessible to his constituents.
“I also own and operate businesses that fall in his district, and he listened to my concerns of nuisances and spoke with the county police department to make sure that circulating by my business was part of their daily routine, which helped make me feel better about owning a business in Prince George’s County knowing that they really do care,” Navies said. “Obie has a bright future ahead of him if he continues on the path of listening and responding.”
Patterson sponsored county Bill 058-2011 that provides maintenance standards for foreclosed properties. Oxon Hill has four times the state average of foreclosures and is among the state’s top 10 highest foreclosures, according to the Maryland Foreclosure Task Force Report released in January.
Patterson said he is optimistic that Tanger Outlets, an about 80-store outlet mall and 100-room hotel across from National Harbor off Oxon Hill Road, will also help increase the area’s commercial base and provide jobs for the district.
Another retail project Patterson said he would like to see is a renovation of Rivertowne Commons Shopping Center, which he said needs more anchor stores and restaurants beyond the IHOP and Outback Steakhouse.
“I’d like to see that become a major restaurant hub. If you want coffee and a bun there’s no place to just grab a coffee and a bun there,” Patterson said. “I want to see something set where I can take clients out for a nice lunch without just having to take them to National Harbor.”