Friday, October 16, 2015

Feinberg fires back at video attack at WECA debate in Rockville (Photos)

Updated 10/18/15: Three corrections were made to this article - the city gives $26,000 per year to Choice Hotels, not $2600, as mayoral candidate Sima Osdoby had incorrectly stated during the debate; a quote regarding Chestnut Lodge was incorrectly attributed to Council candidate Julie Palakovich Carr; and more detailed context has been added regarding the extent of the City of Rockville's contributions to Choice Hotels. I apologize for the errors.

A YouTube video posted by the mysterious entity named "No Funds Expended", mocking the similarities between Rockville City Council incumbent Beryl Feinberg's video candidate statements in this and the 2013 election, produced the closest thing to fireworks in the debate season so far last night. Titled, "Watch as Beryl Feinberg Phones it in", the video has been seized upon by supporters of the Team Rockville candidate slate to suggest Feinberg is not putting much effort into her reelection campaign.

While there is no public indication of who exactly produced the video, Feinberg returned fire at an unnamed "Rockville blogger" at the conclusion of last night's West End Citzen's Association Mayor and Council debate. She said the video "proxy for insolence" by detractors implied "that I am lazy and ill-prepared." Being consistent on the issues and keeping campaign promises is "something to celebrate, not denigrate," she said. Responding to the criticism that she was wearing the same outfit in both videos, Feinberg took something of a Carly Fiorina tack. "As a woman, I am thankful that I can fit into the same outfit. My husband appreciates my frugality," she said as the packed room roared with laughter and applause.

After the debate, Feinberg told me that the video sampled only 2 minutes out of her nearly 4 minute candidate statements.

This follows an early September blog posting by the campaign manager of the Team Rockville slate that characterized incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton as simply a "homemaker", which some of her supporters termed "sexist" for A) subtly implying there was something wrong with that career choice, and B) excluding her professional accomplishments in public service with local and regional organizations, and as an elected official.

The debate began with the mayoral candidates, Newton and challenger Sima Osdoby.
Mayoral candidate
Sima Osdoby during
opening statements
Incumbent Mayor
Bridget Donnell Newton
Osdoby gave some personal insight into how she became involved in community service in Rockville. Having a child who suffered from serious birth defects "made me recalibrate and change the direction I was going." She began volunteering with local organizations like Peerless Rockville and Children's Hospital. From her career working with organizations here and abroad that have dealt with very divisive situations, she said, "I have a long career getting people to agree on stuff."

Newton said that for neighborhoods like the West End, "the Master Plan and the zoning ordinance are the only guides for redevelopment. I understand the value of growth, and how it must be managed." The city's Adequate Public Facilities Standards, now weakened by a Council vote Newton opposed, was "the finger in the dike" to prevent development from outstripping infrastructure, she said.
WECA President
Noreen Bryant starts
the event
Moderator Sonya Green
prepares to ask the first question
of council candidates
Rockville Town Center remained a glass half-full/half-empty issue last night. Newton noted it got off to a rough start when it opened "right when our economy went into a tailspin." With eight restaurants opening in town center, and the Cambria Hotel and Suites "doing very, very well," she said there is reason for optimism. Newton acknowledged "there have been some stumbles along the way. Parking has been one of them." She has proposed having free parking on Friday nights and weekends, suggesting "the city needs to partner with the property owners" to resolve the parking issues many feel are a drag on the success of town center.

Osdoby agreed town center is "a great place," but argued for diversifying the mix of businesses there. The town center should be a place "not just to go out and eat, but to really be able to go and buy some stuff," she said. She recommended the northern phase have enough residential density to "support businesses." Osdoby also backed subsidies to attract companies. She said Rockville will put out $26,000 a year for six years to Choice Hotels, and is receiving $175,000 in annual revenue from Choice in return. "I wish my retirement fund was doing that good," Osdoby joked.

However, detractors of the Choice Hotels deal have noted the cost to city taxpayers far exceeds $26,000 a year. The total of that 6 year contribution of $156,000 cited does not include the other city expenditures in the deal. Those include $1,155,000 in parking incentives, a $2,405,078 New Jobs Tax Credit, and a $180,000 City of Rockville Permit Fee Waiver.

Add in the $980,000 grant for the just-opened Cambria Hotel and Suites, and the total taxpayer expenditure is $4,876,078. Assuming the $175,000 annual revenue figure over ten years proves accurate, the city would end up with a shortfall of more than $2 million. And some have noted that, under the deal, Choice could move out of its headquarters in only 5 years.

As a councilmember, Newton was not in favor of taxpayer subsidies for Choice, arguing at a recent debate that the hotel giant didn't need that much public money to be successful in Rockville. Osdoby has criticized her for that position in this month's debates. In response, Newton stressed she never opposed Choice moving to Rockville. Newton was referred to as the biggest supporter of Choice Hotels in Rockville by a company official at the Cambria grand opening.

Concluding the discussion of town center, Newton said she took advantage of a recent literary conference to try and attract a bookstore to town center.

On the question of whether or not megachurches and other large institutions should be allowed to open in established older neighborhoods like the West End, Osdoby said, "This is not the right place for it." Newton noted neighborhoods like East Rockville have had to deal with projects like the "White Whale". "We shouldn't have to sue our city to be able to protect the community we live in," she said.

Regarding the APFS change, Newton said "I was one of those who voted to maintain our APFS." Now that that tool is gone, she advocating continuing to increase efforts to convince the county and state to provide more school construction money. She said she would like Rockville to have the power to borrow money to build schools that Baltimore currently enjoys, and proposed the city "put a tool in place that does even more for us and our children than the APFS" did. Newton said she disagrees with those who believe the city must "open our barn doors" to unbridled development to get a new school built.

Osdoby again called the APFS a failed experiment. She said there needs to be a "reprioritization of how schools get built, where and when" in the County. But, she argued, "I don't think the city should be getting into the business of what our County does so well already."

The County "isn't doing it well," Newton countered. "If they were, we wouldn't have the situations we have. It's not working the way we're doing it. The APFS was the only tool we had. Now [after the weakening of it], over a thousand units are coming online."

Asked what the right building heights and density should be along Rockville Pike, Osdoby said, "When you have an asset - Metro - you want to have high density there. Somewhat taller buildings near the Metro stations, and somewhat less tall" as you move away from them. She said 12 stories might be the right height near Metro, but noted that total height would depend upon how tall each of those stories was.

Newton agreed that there should be taller buildings at Metro stations, but said she wants the city to foster "good development," rather than accept development for its own sake. She suggested the proposed width of the Pike be slimmed down, so that developers would have more of their land to build on, reducing their need to build higher if land was taken for access roads.

Moderator Sonya Green asked about the city's apparent movement away from family-oriented development to more transient, multifamily rental housing. Newton said single-family homes and townhomes are "where the people who are most invested in the city are." Osdoby said the city needs to "stay desirable," by adapting "to the changing needs and wants of the people who want to live here. It's taking longer to get to work. People don't want to do that anymore" in an area ranked as having the nation's worst traffic congestion. Newton lamented that many of the units being built are too small for families, and said the city needs to promote transit, such as the Circulator/trolley she has proposed.

Regarding the city's budget, Osdoby said, "I don't have the familiarity with the budget that any of the incumbents have at this point." But, she added, she has "overseen budgets. I've worked with very large budgets, so I know what to look for," such as identifying duplication and wasteful spending.

Newton said the costs of services are becoming "unsustainable" for many in the city who are on fixed or low incomes. She again referred to the Cost Allocation Program she opposed, recalling that "CAP buried the golf course. They went from being in the green, to sinking it." Newton said a study of purchasing and procurement on the agenda Monday night will end up showing "a lot of areas in which we can improve," and made the point that the study found the city is currently only at a 23% efficiency level. The financial advisory board she led the effort to create is "humming" today, after 5 years of effort, she said.

Council candidates (L-R)
Julie Palakovich Carr, David Hill
Clark Reed, Brigitta Mullican
and Beryl Feinberg
Virginia Onley, Richard Gottfried,
Patrick Schoof, Mark Pierzchala
The council debate considered many of the same issues. Green asked if the candidates agree with the city's Master Plan vision statement from 2002, which states: “Rockville will continue to be a city that emphasizes the characteristics of a small town community, offers an excellent quality of life, provides a responsive government serving its citizens, and has a distinct positive identity tied to its history.”

Brigitta Mullican said she would like to explore how Gaithersburg is offering the same kinds of services and quality of life as Rockville, but with a much smaller budget. Clark Reed asked if, with a population of 65,000, could Rockville really be called a "small town".

Noting that he had more land use experience than the other candidates, as a longtime member of the city's Planning Commission, David Hill said he actually was in a position to "change those words, and we decided not to." Nevertheless, Hill said, Rockville is "not a small town anymore." But he wants to ensure the city doesn't chase the level of density that is springing up north and south of it. Instead, it should distinguish itself as not part of that fad. "We want people to drive up Rockville Pike, enter Rockville, and go, 'Aaaahhh," Hill said.

Julie Palakovich Carr agreed that "we're not a small town anymore. Rockville is a bustling small city. We should be embracing that. We are a city now, and we need to be planning for it."

Feinberg suggested the city offer "more nighttime activities. A lot of things shut down at 8:00 or 9:00," she said. There should be more community centers west of I-270, as well, she argued.

Candidate attitudes toward the West End itself were interesting last night. The community is known as one of the most engaged in the city, and has often been influential in shaping the outcomes on controversial issues.

Patrick Schoof said, "The West End is what sold me on Rockville." Mark Pierzchala said that College Gardens, where he was president of the civic association, and Twinbrook were the only neighborhoods fully engaged on the zoning rewrite several years ago. "I could have used some help from other neighborhoods," he added pointedly. Hill admitted that his position on the APFS doesn't line up with the majority of West End residents', and conceded the political power of the neighborhood in the city. "I will not pander to you. It may very well cost me the election." Onley, the deciding vote on the APFS change, acknowledged that "some of you strongly disagree with me" on that issue. "You are a very well organized and politically-savvy organization."

On the question of whether the city should move away from a family-oriented community in terms of housing, Reed said, "I do think that we ought to have an emphasis on single-family homes." Echoing Newton's earlier statement, Reed added, "That's where people are most likely to be invested in the city."

"The biggest problem with families is the cost of living in Rockville," Hill said. Affordable housing by nature means multifamily housing, he said.

Palakovich Carr made the point that "our rental housing stock maintains diversity" in Rockville. She cited the fact that 81% of African-Americans in Rockville are renters, and nearly 50% of Latinos are, as well. Millennials, she said, are "looking for different things. A more urban lifestyle. they don't mind living in 800 square foot apartments."

Feinberg proposed a First Time Homeowner tax credit, to encourage those young residents to set down more permanent roots in the city.

"I embrace apartments," Mullican stated, because from a practical standpoint, there is no more space in the city to build single-family communities. She also said the demand is strong for rental apartments, which "fill up right away" as soon as developers deliver them.

Candidates were asked if the city should pay to acquire parkland, particularly along Rockville Pike as it redevelops.

Schoof said the city needs to make clear what exactly it wants regarding parks. Right now, he said, "developers are proposing ideas for us," because we haven't articulated what we want. "We need to do that," Schoof argued.

Gottfried drew chuckles when he said he hoped "developers don't think that having a picture of a tree on the side of a building counts as green space, as they do at Pike & Rose," a new development south of Rockville.

"We need to demand" green space and parks, Virginia Onley said. "That should be a requirement, that they give us gathering space for families and parks."

Pierzchala advised the city try to work with the hundreds of landowners along the Pike to consolidate pieces of land for larger parks. "You don't want these postage stamp-size parks" that will otherwise result, he said.

Asked if they support the new plan for townhomes on the footprint of the former Chestnut Lodge, Gottfried replied, "No, I do not. It doesn't fit the character of the neighborhood." In knocking on over 5000 doors, he said, he has heard many ideas from voters on potentially better uses of the site, such as recreation facilities or a park.

"Unfortunately, you know, you can't force someone to change their property," Onley observed. However, she said, "I don't support the townhouses," and would rather see the old condominium plan be brought back.

"People do have property rights," Schoof said. But the Chestnut Lodge site "has historic value. I've been to the site. I've walked it." He noted that he signed the WECA petition to oppose the townhome plan.

There were differences of opinion on how heavily citizen opinions expressed through public hearings, and other feedback, should be considered by councilmembers. Gottfried and Schoof made the strongest statements about honoring the wishes of their constituents. "If 90 residents come up, and four civic associations," Gottfried said, harking back to the contentious APFS public hearings, "I'm listening to you."

Schoof said the city needs "officials who have not already had their minds made up" when they take office.


  1. Robert- Thank you very much for your coverage of this election cycle.
    Charles Schwieters

  2. It's unfortunate that there is no press coverage of these debates and virtually no press coverage of Rockville politics or governmental issues, now that the Gazette is toast. That said, Robert, your coverage of Rockville issues, including the debates is far better than the Gazette ever did. Keep up the good work... and Thank You!

    1. Check out Rockville Channel 11 with gavel to gavel coverage or attend Community Forum. Go to for info on how to access these resources.

  3. Why would the blogger not want to identify him/herself? I want to know why individuals like to be anonymous. At least we know Robert Dyer wrote this story and is not hiding. Thank you Robert.

  4. There are several reasons why he or she would want to remain anonymous:

    1. it's effective. In September 2013, an anonymous postcard sent to homes in Rockville against waivers to the APFO filled the city council chambers with people who wanted to testify. No one mentioned the anonymous nature of the postcard but they did remember the message.

    2. in a small community, you can speak out without getting vilified. I'll speak openly about an issue in the community in my blog at, but in return I sometimes receive complaints about my opinions, both in the comments, in email, and on the street. I usually have a thick skin and believe it's more important to speak out than stay silent, but if you're not comfortable handling conflicts, you don't want to speak out. Remember the TCA election a couple years ago where neighbors put their names up for election and then were publicly roasted at the meeting? I suspect those neighbors will never want to get involved in the city ever again. I'm sure they have opinions, but the only way they'll feel safe is to say it anonymously or not at all.

    3. if you complain loudly about anonymous postings/literature/letters, you'll be accused of trampling on the free speech rights of others. That's what happened in the 2013 election when a supporter of Bridget Newton and Claire Whittaker distributed anonymous literature in King Farm that criticized Mark Pierzchala. It was not only anonymous but inaccurate and when I complained to the Board of Supervisors of Elections because it violated the Election Code, Tom Curtis publicly accused me of suppressing a resident's free speech rights. No one questioned if the information was accurate or not. It's not allowed under the Election Code, but how are you going to stop them if you don't know who they are? And if you do complain, it can easily get distorted by your opponents.

    And just so readers don't think I'm making this up, all the names and events described in items #1 and #3 can be verified through the meetings of the Mayor and Council and item #2 can be verified by those who attended the TCA election meeting (including Brigitta Mullican). I think "anonymous" is here to stay, whomever she or he is.

    1. Max, you have a distorted view of right and wrong. Rockville's in trouble if the "team" of candidates, for which you are the slate chair, get into office.