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Muse Lauded By Business Owners

It was billed as an educational forum for local minority business owners. But it turned into a rally for a state senator and a strategy session to increase the number of contracts awarded to minority contractors on huge developments in Prince George's County, such as National Harbor.

About 120 minority business owners and elected officials in the county gathered at Tantallon Country Club in Fort Washington last week for the meeting. Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), was cheered for his recent actions against National Harbor during the General Assembly session, and business owners testified about their unsuccessful attempts to obtain contracts at National Harbor.

Muse said he delayed action on liquor license legislation for National Harbor because he had received complaints from business owners and because he was concerned about the number of contracts given to minority business owners in the county.

"He is our leader," said Jerry Mathis, of Mathis Realtors, head of the Prince George's County Business and Community Coalition. "He is the one who stood up for us."

Mathis said Muse has been vilified by the media and some of his colleagues since he took his position on the National Harbor legislation. Members of Mathis's group, on the other hand, say what Muse did was heroic.

Muse said he "did nothing to hurt National Harbor."

He said he asked the company to provide data detailing "what you have done for persons in my community. ..... I got nothing."

Sen. David Harrington (D-Prince George's) joined Muse in questioning National Harbor's commitment to minority business owners. National Harbor pledged to give 30 percent of the work at the development to local and minority business owners, but only 4 percent went to minority businesses in the county.

Harrington criticized National Harbor for the numbers, though he was a member of the County Council that set up the deals, including the minority participation standards.

Several business owners provided testimonials about their experience with National Harbor and the TAC Co. , which was hired by the Peterson Cos. to help National Harbor meet its minority business goals.

Norman "Doc" Hayes, who owns a restaurant in Fort Washington, said he met with developer Milton V. Peterson in February and was told that it would cost $70 a square foot to rent at National Harbor. Hayes said it would cost $35,000 to open a restaurant there at that rate.

But that wasn't the end of Hayes's dealings with the project. A month later, the Food and Wine Festival, which scheduled an event at National Harbor this month, needed to partner with a local charity to obtain a temporary liquor license. It selected the Erikka A. Hayes Foundation which Hayes runs, and it was given a five-year contract with the festival.

-- Ovetta Wiggins

By Anne Bartlett  |  May 8, 2008; 9:53 AM ET
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