If you were tuning in for drama, zingers, and contentious bickering, you were very disappointed by the end of the Rockville City Council debate hosted by the League of Women Voters. No political careers ended, and every candidate came across as qualified and prepared to serve on the council.
With no knockout blows landed, Rockville is headed for a turnout-based election. Having a slate in Team Rockville, and needing a 3-vote majority to steer the city's direction, the factions are clearly defined. Those who favor higher-density development, and a higher rate of population growth in the city, will tend to favor Team Rockville (although not every member of Team Rockville has the same position on building heights, or what changes he or she would favor in the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance). And those concerned about building heights, traffic impacts, and other effects of dense urbanization, will likely back the unofficial slate of Bridget Newton (for mayor), Don Hadley and Claire Marcuccio Whitaker.
Which faction can turn out their folks on election day? That is the big question.
Hadley and Whitaker have clearly become more comfortable with each debate, after entering the race at the last minute to deny Team Rockville an unopposed sweep. Both were on message on their primary agenda points in consecutive televised debates: opposition to a dense urbanization of Rockville, and concern over the city's finances and debt.
Councilmember Tom Moore offered a different perspective, citing the benefits of bond-funded construction of city facilities. Moore also scored points with longtime city residents with his brief anecdote noting his grandmother's lengthy service as a scheduler at the city's senior center. A minor point, but one that can carry weight in a municipal election.
Beryl Feinberg had her best performance at this debate. The question regarding how candidates would protect the city from future economic downturns was tailor-made for Feinberg, who has spent years working on budgets for Montgomery County. Just as Virginia Onley was effective on housing in the Twinbrook debate, I think voters came away from this one associating Feinberg with budgetary experience. (Of course, depending on a voter's opinion of the county budgets of the last few years, that could be a plus or a hindrance).
Onley did well, as did Julie Palakovich Carr. Carr emphasized again her experience on the city's APFO review commission, which required consensus-building among stakeholders with often opposing interests.
Feinberg, Onley and Carr express independent views often enough that - while Team Rockville supporters will vote the slate - it will be interesting to see which TR members are the choices of those backing Hadley and Whitaker. Carr has repeatedly declined to take a position on the controversial ballot questions, for example. In contrast, Moore has dedicated much of his allotted speaking time to strongly urging his constituents to vote for 4 year terms, and to hold city elections in presidential years. And Feinberg, Onley and Carr have made comments throughout the debates that suggest they favor less density and height in future development than Moore and mayoral candidate Councilmember Mark Pierzchala.