Showing posts with label debate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label debate. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rockville candidates make final appeal to voters at King Farm debate

With less than a week until Election Day, Rockville mayoral and city council candidates made their closing arguments at a debate in King Farm last night. Sponsored by the King Farm Citizens Assembly, the debate was held at the King Farm Community Center. While early voting numbers over the weekend were hardly inspiring, this was yet another packed house for a candidate forum. That suggests a high level of interest by engaged voters picking those who will serve the first 4-year terms in Rockville's history.

Given the closing window to change voters' minds, one would expect attacks to increase, and they did. But in an unusual twist, even the moderator of the debate - Rockville Planning Commission chair Don Hadley - found himself under fire.

The table was set earlier Tuesday by former Chevy Chase Mayor David Lublin, writing on his politics blog, The Seventh State. Lublin questioned Hadley as the choice for moderator, because Hadley had a brief past business relationship with the husband of Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton. Mayoral challenger Sima Osdoby picked up this line of attack, charging that Hadley had several conflicts of interest in moderating the debate. Voters in the audience appeared taken aback by Osdoby's attack. Hadley made clear at the outset of the debate that the questions to be asked during the evening came directly from King Farm residents, not him, and that he received them shortly before the debate.

Osdoby ran out of time in her opening statement, and after informing her of this, Hadley joked, "Maybe I should be relieved."

The story isn't quite as sensational as it sounds, however.

Newton's husband, Fred Newton, is being portrayed by her opponents as though he is the development equivalent of Federal Realty, EYA or JBG. In reality, the project Fred Newton and Don Hadley were involved with (408 Great Falls Road) was a couple of small residential lots being joined, and a single-family home being built on the resulting site. Not exactly Downtown Crown or Pike & Rose.

It's hard to characterize a single homebuilding project as "an example of the powerful role development interests can end up playing." The article itself notes that Bridget Newton clearly recused herself from the Council vote related to the property in question.

For her part, Newton seemed determined to stay above the fray. In her closing statement, she recalled former mayor Phyllis Marcuccio - a supporter - chastising her for being "too nice, not tough enough in these debates, or responding to postings on social media" by her political opponents. Newton said she preferred to let her record speak for itself, rather than engage in the political sniping.

The Team Rockville slate, which includes Osdoby, has been under fire by some opponents for its alleged ties to developer interests, so it's understandable their supporters would seek to "flip the script." With Newton having a record of opposing unrestrained development, and of supporting Rockville's tougher pre-June 2015 school capacity standards (that kept parts of the City under a development moratorium), the accusations simply don't ring true.

Another Team Rockville candidate, Councilmember Virginia Onley, has been repeatedly singled out by challenger Richard Gottfried, who has charged that 50% of Onley's campaign funds have come from development interests. Onley again denied the accusation in her opening statement last night, inviting anyone to review her October 26 campaign finance filing. "There are no developer contributions," Onley said. "I do not take developer contributions, or contributions from anyone who does business with the City," she added. She challenged Gottfried to provide evidence of any such contributions by the end of the debate. "I am demanding tonight to know where Rich got his information from," Onley said. Gottfried did not address the topic during the forum.

Incumbent Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr said the demise of the Gazette newspaper means "there isn't anyone to check the facts" when charges are made during the election season (of course, readers of this blog might disagree). Council candidate Brigitta Mullican attempted to separate herself from the squabbling, emphasizing that she has run a "positive, issue-oriented campaign" without engaging in attack politics. Fellow challenger Clark Reed warned that those engaging in "smears and lies" would likely continue those tactics if they are elected.

Fortunately, issues were discussed as well, and ones of interest to King Farm residents in particular.

The Corridor Cities Transitway remains not only unbuilt, but controversial in its Master Plan route through King Farm to the Shady Grove Metro station. Newton said she believes the CCT should travel along Shady Grove Road to the Metro stop, which would also help redevelop older properties along that street. "Dividing your community in half is not the way we should be doing things in Rockville," she said. Osdoby said that, while King Farm residents' complaints are "legitimate," the route is "in the plan," and all parties should sit down and try to iron out an acceptable compromise.

Council candidate Patrick Schoof, a former resident of King Farm, said he has spoken with many residents of that community about the CCT. Most of them "don't want this to be one more thing that comes through King Farm," Schoof said.

Speaking of things that come through King Farm, traffic on Redland Boulevard remains a bone of contention for King Farm residents. Council candidate David Hill noted that Redland is a "County access road." He suggested the City's best approach would be not to obstruct traffic, but to slow it down with traffic calming measures such as "lamb chops." Gottfried said he would push to install signs forbidding truck traffic, forcing it to use Shady Grove Road instead.

Osdoby noted that some trucks may have legitimate business within King Farm, such as making deliveries. She said the City should discuss options for restricting pass-through truck traffic, and consider how best to implement them. Newton said she served on a committee in 1991 to address similar issues in the West End community, which produced a plan that the City failed to implement. She suggested trucks be routed to the roads that make up a circumferential highway around the City, rather than traveling through neighborhoods.

The future of the King Farm farmstead buildings was another topic close to home. Mullican said, "I was hoping that it would have been done already." She suggested four-year terms will allow the next Mayor and Council to develop a long-term solution for the site. Council incumbent Beryl Feinberg said that solution might involve a Public-Private Partnership, to create a potential public gathering place for concerts and other events.

Osdoby also suggested exploring partnerships on the farmstead. She said her experience in historic preservation with Peerless Rockville would make this "a real priority for me." Newton advocated for a "farm-to-table partnership," that would provide space for farmers markets and a museum consortium. She said division on the current Council has stymied efforts to move forward.

The topic of slates was a contentious one. Hadley asked candidates to respond to concerns that slates come with an agenda for special interests, and create voting blocs.

Reed, a member of the Team Rockville slate, said that slates were preferable to "wandering aimlessly into the future," with no clear agenda. Team Rockville member Osdoby said the unknown questioner was "entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." The members of Team Rockville are "not a bunch of clones," she said, but "bring together diverse points of view." Newton said she is "not a fan of slates. We are independent thinkers as a city. Let's be independent thinkers as a Council."

Gottfried noted that it was the Team Rockville 2013 slate (minus former member Feinberg) who voted 3-2 to weaken the city's school capacity standards. Feinberg said she "discovered that really there was a lot going on behind the scenes [on Team Rockville] that I didn't want," leading her to become an independent candidate for this election. She promised to continue to make "independent decisions," earning the only other audience feedback of the night, a round of applause.

Team Rockville Council candidate Mark Pierzchala stressed that the 3 members of Team Rockville from 2013 often disagreed on a variety of topics, disproving the idea that slates are blocs. Palakovich Carr, also on the TR slate, concurred. She said that, examining the voting record of the current Council, you would be hard-pressed to tell who was on Team Rockville 2013.

Hill said he is concerned that slates are "a proxy for partisanship," and can be "unhealthy in a deliberative situation." Fellow independent candidate Schoof agreed, saying slates are "divisive." He countered the suggestion that Team Rockville's votes were independent, saying "it's not hard to see" who was on the slate. Perhaps referring to the school standards vote indirectly, where 90 residents and four civic associations testified against the change that was voted for 3-2 by Team Rockville (as Gottfried noted earlier), Schoof concluded that "If we're not honoring your wishes, we're not doing our job."

Reed said he wouldn't be able to run without the support of the Team Rockville slate, and pointed out that slates have a 40 year history in Rockville. Onley said she, too, would be hard-pressed to fund a citywide campaign on her own. Hers is a "grassroots campaign" run on "minimal funds," Onley said. She promised she would "always vote independently," saying that's how she's earned her recognition as the "swing vote" on the Council.

That teed up the topic for Mullican, who said "I don't like a swing vote when you don't know which way it's going to swing." She disputed that one couldn't run without a slate in Rockville. "I'm doing it," she declared. Mullican was the top fundraiser of all candidates in the first reporting cycle.

Friday, October 23, 2015

League of Women Voters hosts Rockville Mayor & Council Debate as early voting looms

The Montgomery County League of Women Voters hosted a Rockville Mayor and Council candidate forum last night at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre. LWV President Linna Barnes served as moderator of the debate.

As the last debate scheduled before the first votes are cast in Early Voting this weekend, candidates were under pressure to land a few punches with a televised platform to work from. City Council candidate Richard Gottfried accused several members of the Team Rockville slate of being untrustworthy at the close of the forum. He said Council candidate Virginia Onley stated she had not received contributions from development interests, but that in reality, "50% of her contributions did come from developers." Onley has previously denied the charge. The second campaign finance reports are not due for another 3 days.

Gottfried also accused Council candidate Julie Palakovich Carr of taking credit for creating the Vision Zero concept, a movement to reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities to zero that originated in Sweden. He said she "ripped off the idea from a New York plan," naming one of several jurisdictions that has tried to adopt facets of the plan.

However, Palakovich Carr has cited the results of Vision Zero's success in Sweden in previous public forums, and she denied ever claiming credit for the proposal following the debate. "I never claimed the idea was my own," she said in an email.  "As I previously said in other debates, Sweden is the poster child for Vision Zero, with pedestrian fatalities dropping by half in just a few years. Effective leaders don't reinvent the wheel. They look for best practices and modify them to fit the needs of their community. Vision Zero is a best practice that we should implement in Rockville."

The ghost of Beall's Grant II was summoned by mayoral challenger Sima Osdoby during a question on affordable housing. That was a controversial affordable housing project planned adjacent to Beall's Grant, an apartment building converted from an old hotel at 254 N. Washington Street. The site was also adjacent to single-family homes in the West End neighborhood. Residents expressed many concerns, including loss of green space, out-of-character density and height, massing of affordable housing contrary to Master Plan recommendations that it be scattered, and the City having misapplied the then-new Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, to allow the project to go forward.

Ultimately, several citizens, including former Mayor Larry Giammo, were forced to take the latter question to court, and the project was ultimately tabled.

Osdoby referenced Beall's Grant II, saying "When [current Rockville Mayor] Bridget [Donnell] Newton was representing her neighborhood association, I believe she opposed that."

Newton said that in reality, she served as co-chair on a committee that was tasked with trying to reach a compromise between residents and the developer, Montgomery Housing Partnership, that would have allowed the project to go forward. She has also discussed her own ideas for a workforce housing plan that could potentially revive a blighted Montgomery County Public Schools property on Stonestreet Avenue. The mixed-income rowhouse concept would include affordable units for teachers, firefighters and police officers.

Transportation, and Bus Rapid Transit in particular, came up often in the course of the evening. A majority of candidates support BRT, which is being proposed for Rockville Pike and Veirs Mill Road. Council candidate David Hill warned voters not to put too much hope into BRT, noting that it serves more of a long-distance commuting role than a City mobility function. Newton suggested BRT won't help Rockville's businesses much if it isn't implemented correctly, and simply moves commuters through the City. "We don't need people coming through Rockville," she said, "we need them to stop in Rockville" to dine and shop.

Newton said she brings additional clout to Rockville as a member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board. "That gives Rockville a seat at the table" in regional transportation conversations and planning.

Another of her transportation proposals, a Circulator or trolley, is gaining support among some of the other candidates. Onley said she supports a Circulator, in arguing that "mass transit is the answer to congestion." Newton said she was pleased the idea is catching on. "I've tried for five years to get a discussion going about a Circulator," saying "the last mile" for the transit-using commuter is a vital one to address.

Osdoby said she would break down the major challenge of congestion into "short, medium and long-range solutions." She said passing the Rockville Pike Plan and BRT would be critical to success. Osdoby advocated for more cooperation with the County and state on transportation. "Rockville's role is really to be a forceful advocate of our needs," she said. "I'm not sure the City has always done the best job in doing that."

Newton countered that, after former mayor Phyllis Marcuccio appointed her to a Maryland Municipal League committee, she was successful in bringing $2 million in state funds back to Rockville.

Barnes brought up an interesting topic not previously discussed in the 2015 debate season. That was regarding the MCPS properties on Mannakee Street that include the Carver Center and Rock Terrace School.

Palakovich Carr said the County does have plans for the Rock Terrace School, but "no definitive plans" for the Board of Education to move out of the Carver site. She recommended the City monitor the plans, and engage with the County. "We are somewhat limited in our oversight because of an issue called 'Mandatory Referral'," she said, referring to localities' reduced authority over government development projects. For example, the County Planning Board can advise, but not stop, a federal project like the Intelligence Campus in Bethesda.

Council candidate Beryl Feinberg said the City should "work collaboratively" to determine what is best for those properties. Gottfried argued that the City should have begun working with MCPS on this issue as far back as 2012. Hill, who sits on the Rockville Planning Commission, noted that the front of the Carver site is already in long-range plans for Montgomery College. He urged the City to "start articulating plans for sites like this."

Council candidate Brigitta Mullican said, "There's really not a whole lot the City can do," and recommended that it be upfront about those limitations, so residents do not have raised expectations.

Onley called for "a bigger push" on the future of the site, making "sure we're at the table with Montgomery County." Council challenger Mark Pierzchala recommended forming a working group on the matter. He said there was precedence for such a group, in his own experience working with Montgomery College as President of the College Gardens citizens association.

Council candidate Clark Reed noted that 2/3 of variations in the quality of schools are determined by non-school factors, and that it was important the City keep that in mind as it plans.

Patrick Schoof, another first-time candidate for Council, was more optimistic about influencing the outcome on the site. "There is a lot the City can do," he said. "We simply haven't done it." He said the City needs to establish trust and an honest partnership with the County, and take "a much more proactive" approach than it has to date.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rockville candidates consider the increasing diversity in the City

How Rockville can meet the challenge of serving an increasingly diverse city population was a question posed to Mayor and Council candidates at Tuesday night's College Gardens/Woodley Gardens debate.

Council candidate Brigitta Mullican said that, in order to improve outreach to a diverse community, "the place to go is the schools."

Council candidate Beryl Feinberg agreed that reaching more residents is partly a location issue. She suggested city representatives "go to our ethnic stores," and that the City should host more ethnic festivals. Feinberg also suggested public information be provided not only in Spanish, but also in the many other languages spoken in Rockville. And she included the disabled as a population segment to which outreach is important, such as ensuring there are adequate sign language accommodations made in City communications.

"Diversity is what makes this city attractive to me," Council hopeful Clark Reed began. "I don't see as much diversity on commissions throughout the city," he noted. Reed echoed Feinberg's call for more ethnic festivals.

Council candidate Virginia Onley suggested the City's Neighborhood Resource Coordinators do more outreach.

Incumbent Mayor Bridget Newton said, "Diversity is one of the main reasons [husband] Fred [Newton] and I stayed in Rockville." She said they wanted their children to grow up in a city that embraced diversity. Newton recounted the initial success her weekly Mayor's Book Club has had with ESOL students at Maryvale Elementary School. She said she was "amazed at the end of the year how much those children have learned."

Mayoral challenger Sima Osdoby picked up a theme she discussed at a debate last week - how national and cultural backgrounds can impact residents' views of their government and law enforcement. They might have grown up in countries where those institutions are feared, and be afraid to take advantage of public services. Osdoby said it was important to ask those residents "what they need from the city," and work with representatives of ethnic groups in the community.

And, as I reported yesterday, Council candidate Julie Palakovich Carr suggested the City study the possibility of allowing non-citizens to vote, noting that 1-in-3 Rockville residents was born outside of the United States.

The other council candidates, David Hill, Patrick Schoof, Mark Pierzchala, and Richard Gottfried were not asked this question at the debate, but please see my previous article for their answers to other questions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Osdoby, Feinberg take on critics; candidates tackle crime, purchasing report, EZ Storage in debate

Rockville mayoral challenger Sima Osdoby and Council incumbent Beryl Feinberg fired back at their political detractors at last night's College Gardens/Woodley Gardens-sponsored debate. A standing-room-only crowd packed into the Carnation Room at the Rockville Senior Center to hear what candidates'  plans were for their neighborhoods and the city at-large. And they sat through to the end, earning praise from moderator Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-District 17), herself a past resident of both communities.

Osdoby cut right to the chase in her opening statement, addressing "the rumor going around" that she and her slatemates on Team Rockville are beholden to developers. "There is no room in Rockville for this kind of nasty campaign shenanigans," she declared. Feinberg was dealing with the second broadside against her campaign in as many weeks. But the primary target of her remarks was neither on stage nor on the ballot. Councilmember Tom Moore, who is not seeking reelection, took his once-ally Feinberg to task in a blistering critique on his blog. He chronicled Feinberg's evolution on the Adequate Public Facilities Standards controversy, frankly expressing his sense of betrayal at her shift.

Feinberg was equally frank in her response, acknowledging her views on the APFS have evolved. "I've never said my view on the APFS did not change," she said. "I learned. I read. I listened to the neighborhoods. There have been several [online] postings lately that have been full of lies." Promising not to engage in attacks during the campaign, she said, "I have been above the fray."

To the debate planners' credit, those weren't the only notable moments last evening. The format was decidedly more antagonistic than previous candidate forums this fall, including a segment where candidates were told to ask one of their opponents a question.

It not only made the debate more interesting, but also helped voters learn more about the candidates. For example, Feinberg asked (or attempted to ask, as her question exceeded the 15-second time limit) incumbent councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr about Gaithersburg's current flirtation with allowing its schools to operate at 150% of student capacity. The new overcrowding limit was slammed by a PTA representative at Monday night's Gaithersburg Mayor and Council meeting. Palakovich Carr, who voted to raise the limit from 110% in Rockville to 120%, expressed disapproval of Gaithersburg's 150%, saying, "I think that's ridiculous."

Council candidate Mark Pierzchala pointedly asked fellow challenger Patrick Schoof about his active role in stopping construction of the proposed EZ Storage facility adjacent to Maryvale Elementary School in East Rockville. Pierzchala attempted to cast Schoof's role as a negative, asking "Why should voters trust you when your past actions have been so extreme?"

Schoof defended himself, noting that there were 120 pages of health and safety-related evidence against the applicant for the facility. He recalled the Planning Commission had narrowly allowed the project to proceed on a 4-3 vote, "not 7-0." Schoof also echoed earlier comments by Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, arguing that, had the city performed the Southlawn Industrial Area study requested years ago by East Rockville residents, "this easily would not have gone this way." The City ended up banning self-storage facilities within 250 feet of schools, rendering the approved EZ Storage application moot, a decision that could be addressed in the courts. All of this could have been avoided, had the city acted on the Maryvale community's request for the Southlawn study earlier, Newton said. "Had that been done," she said, the project would never have been an issue.

Monday night's 3-2 vote to postpone action on a report that found serious flaws in the City's purchasing practices has already become a major campaign issue. Councilmember Virginia Onley, who voted for the 90-day delay along with Moore and Palakovich Carr, asked council candidate Brigitta Mullican how she could pay for her property tax cut proposal. Mullican seized on the purchasing report, noting the potential savings to the city's budget if it were successfully implemented. Other cities of similar size have far smaller budgets than Rockville, Mullican noted. She said she wants "a complete review of how our money is being spent."

Similarly, Osdoby asked Newton how she proposed to find the savings to eliminate the Cost Allocation Program, which Newton has said puts an unfair burden on taxpayers. Newton said that if Osdoby had watched Monday night's meeting, the report had shown a potential savings of $5-7 million, enough to allow the City to end the CAP program. "It is imperative that we show our taxpayers where that money is going," Newton said, noting that spending in some departments is "hidden from view in the CAP."

Turning the tables, Newton asked Osdoby if she would have voted to "kick the can down the road" on the purchasing report. "When I have the same opportunity to look at it as you do, that's when I'll make my deliberations," Osdoby responded. The purchasing report has been publicly available online, not just to elected officials, however.

Candidates were asked how they propose to increase Rockville's notoriously-low voter turnout. Council candidate Richard Gottfried said that in the course of knocking on over 5000 doors across the City, many of those who answered don't match the names on the voter rolls. He suggested not overlooking the value of old-fashioned ways of getting potential voters involved, such as U.S. Mail and doorknocking. "Not everyone is high-tech," Gottfried noted. Schoof said voters would be more engaged if the Council was more responsive to residents' stated preferences, rather than voting contrary to the majority's wishes. Palakovich Carr said the City should have a conversation on the question of allowing non-citizens to vote. She said 1-in-3 Rockville residents was born outside of the United States, meaning many have "no say" in government decisions. Palakovich Carr also suggested the City consider again the question of moving its elections to gubernatorial or presidential voting years. "The depressing thing is," she noted, that innovations like early voting have only increased overall turnout by about 5%. Council candidate David Hill opposed such a change, worrying that presidential year voters wouldn't pay close attention to City issues. "The quality of the voters is more important than the quantity of the voters," was his conclusion as a member of the City's 2002 Charter Review Commission, Hill recalled. Pierzchala saluted the host neighborhoods of the debate for having the highest turnout in the City. Mullican said she feared partisanship would creep into the City's non-partisan elections, if they moved to a crowded and highly partisan Presidential ballot. The change could make already-difficult fundraising even harder for City candidates, she said. Feinberg suggested better informing voters of what city funds provide versus County and state funds, and providing seed money to create more civic associations where they don't exist.

Crime was another topic covered last night that hasn't been discussed much during the campaign. Newton was out ahead of the topic in her September announcement speech, when she called for the hire of more police officers. She reiterated her concern that the City currently has only 59 sworn officers, while its daytime population swells to about 100,000 people. Newton also pointed out that more than 70% of calls are responded to by City, rather than Montgomery County, officers. The city should be recouping that $4 million in tax duplication funds, she argued.

Osdoby urged the City to ensure there was adequate street lighting, a problem Pierzchala concurred with from his own experience as past president of the College Gardens Civic Association. "It's very hard to get Pepco to get them all going," he lamented. Pierzchala also suggested a data-driven Special Operational Unit that could target upticks in crime in specific neighborhoods. He also recommended "revising Neighborhood Watch in a big way," recalling seeing Watch signs with peeling paint when he walked every street in the City as a warmup to his campaign.

"Rockville probably has the best police department I've ever seen," Gottfried said. He advised other communities have officers come out to pinpoint problem areas, as he has in Twinbrook, where he is President of the citizens association. Officers showed where bushes should be trimmed to eliminate hiding places, Gottfried said, and the neighborhood is seeking additional street lighting.
Hill said the insularity of neighborhoods can sometimes increase their vulnerability to crime. "Visibility and awareness" are important, Hill said, and he shared Newton's concern over the size of the police force in the growing city.

"We are the best defense against crime," Onley said, also suggesting police increase their visibility in neighborhoods.

Council candidate Clark Reed said he thought community policing was working well in the City. He said police notify civic associations to crime spikes in a timely fashion.
Jerry Callistein, President of
the College Gardens Civic Association
confers with moderator
Cheryl Kagan moments before
the debate begins
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
makes an opening statement;
L-R: Council candidate
Beryl Feinberg, mayoral
candidate Sima Osdoby,
council candidate
Richard Gottfried

Sima Osdoby

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.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mayor and Council candidates debate at Rockville Senior Center (Photos)

The Rockville Senior Citizen Commission hosted a candidate forum Wednesday at the Rockville Senior Center. All candidates for Mayor and Council participated in the forum, which was well-attended.

Incumbents listed their accomplishments on behalf of seniors, and all candidates discussed what they would do to address the concerns of a demographic that now makes up a quarter of all residents in the city.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
delivers her opening statement
Current mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the city needs to help seniors "not just to age in place, but to live in place." She said she had advocated for funding for the Senior Center's fitness center, bus route and hiring of new staff. Challenger Sima Osdoby assured voters senior services would be a priority, because "I'm one myself, and I want to stay here. That's one of the reasons I'm running."
Mayoral candidate Sima Osdoby
makes opening remarks
Asked what the issue of primary interest to residents over 60 is, Osdoby said it was "making sure we retain the outstanding city services the city is known for, without raising taxes to do it." Newton answered, "affordability." She said she was the biggest opponent of the Cost Allocation Program, that overburdens those on fixed incomes with higher fees on trash collection, and water and sewer services. "Some of our increases are unsustainable," Newton said, arguing those services should be funded from the general fund.

The moderator asked both mayoral candidates what they would do to encourage seniors to stay in Rockville. Newton said she would expand opportunities at the Senior Center, such as adding a coffee shop. She said senior education, cultural, and fitness programs should be expanded. Osdoby said the city needs to remember not all seniors are alike. Some are very active and remain employed, she said. To that end, she said the city needs a variety of housing types to serve a variety of seniors.

What part can the Senior Center play in reaching an increasingly diverse city population, candidates were asked. Osdoby replied that newcomers from some countries may be wary of authority figures from the government, or police. The city needs to make sure those residents "know they are being helped." Newton said the Senior Center Study is critical in reaching seniors. It would include interviews with over 40 stakeholders who serve seniors with non-profits and other organizations, and focus groups. The study would identify areas of overlap in services, and also the gaps, she said.

Osdoby promised to adapt the city to "the new needs for seniors, for kids, and for the millennials," by "thoughtfully re-energizing [Rockville] Pike." Newton said she would advocate for a Circulator bus or trolley, and policies that give seniors "the choice to stay where friends are, where the streets are safe," and where there is easy access to public transportation.
L-R: Beryl Feinberg, Virginia Onley,
David Hill, Brigitta Mullican, and
Patrick Schoof
In a second forum, City Council candidates Beryl Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Julie Palakovich Carr, Clark Reed, Patrick Schoof, David Hill, Virginia Onley and Mark Pierzchala discussed many of the same issues.
L-R: Richard Gottfried, Mark Pierzchala,
Julie Palakovich Carr, Clark Reed,
Beryl Feinberg, Virginia Onley
Gottfried vowed to help seniors age in place, promising he would vote to limit tax assessments on houses of those 65 and older to 1 or 2%. Knocking on hundreds of doors recently, Gottfried recalled, the "number one complaint from seniors is that [they] cannot afford to live in Rockville anymore."

Pierzchala touted his accomplishments for seniors during his prior service on the Council. "I was the one who got things done," he said. "I funded your fitness center." He also said he helped secure conduit bonds for improvements that helped seniors at the National Lutheran Home. In 2013, he said, he supported expansion of the homeowners tax credit.

Palakovich Carr said a water conservation program she spearheaded is saving fixed-income residents $100 or more a year in savings on water bills. She proposed charging residents for the amount of trash they generate to encourage a reduction in trash versus recycling.

Reed said he would "prepare the city for a future that is quite different from the present."

Feinberg said she "led the charge for the Senior Center Study," and advocated for the generator at the Senior Center.

One reason Onley voted to weaken the city's Adequate Public Facilites Standards on school overcrowding, she said, was to encourage development of affordable housing so "seniors like you and me can afford to live in Rockville. We should be able to stay here throughout our golden years." Onley said she was the first non-senior to ever serve on the Rockville Senior Citizen Commission. With her professional background at IBM, she said, she was an effective advocate for adding a computer lab to the senior center even as many predicted "seniors and computers would never fly."

Hill cited his vast experience on the Rockville Planning Commission, where he has been hands-on in approving and shaping multiple developments that served seniors and the disabled, including the Victory Housing project.

Mullican said her parents had to move out of Rockville due to the cost of living there, saying that personal experience would motivate her policies to help other seniors age in place. "I know what it's like to have income that has not increased," while fees and taxes have, she said.

Schoof said he has worked on programs as a consultant that helped seniors here and abroad. He said Rockville needs to address a senior population that has increased 24.7%, and will double by 2060.

On the question of whether seniors should get a discount on city taxes and fees, Onley answered, "Well, being a senior, I definitely want a discount," to chuckles from the crowd. But realistically, she said, the city should at least try to minimize or avoid increasing those taxes and fees.

Feinberg said, "age is not the issue." Means-testing is the more sensible way of determining who should get a discount.

Gottfried said he wants to increase the amount Parks and Recreation spends on senior programs. He noted that spending for seniors is currently only 8% of that budget, while seniors make up a much larger portion of the population than that. He also proposed giving out more taxi subsidy tickets, and creating a list of volunteer drivers to help seniors run errands and reach medical appointments.

Pierzchala noted that only a fraction of Rockville's seniors are members of the Senior Center. He suggested having satellite programs that would be closer to more seniors across the city.

Reed and Palakovich Carr said seniors could more easily renovate and retrofit their homes for aging in place if the city permitting process was streamlined. They both said their own home improvements made them realize the current permitting system is "onerous." Putting the system online would also help, they said.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rockville Mayor and Council 2015 debates scheduled

With about 40 days until Rockville elects its next Mayor and Council, and the first time it will elect them to a 4-year term, the candidate debate schedule is starting to fill up.

Here are the forums scheduled so far:

October 7 (Televised on Channel 11)

Rockville Chamber of Commerce Debate - 7:00 PM
Thomas Farm Community Center, 700 Fallsgrove Drive.

October 14

Senior Citizens Commission Debate - 1:00 PM
Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive.

October 20

College Gardens and Woodley Gardens Civic Associations Debate - 7:30 PM
Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive.

October 22 (Televised)

League of Women Voters Debate - 7:00 PM
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive.

October 27 (Televised)

King Farm Citizen's Assembly Debate - 7:00 PM
King Farm Community Center, 300 Saddle Ridge Circle.

Mayoral candidates are incumbent Bridget Donnell Newton, and challenger Sima Osdoby.

Council candidates are Beryl Feinberg, Rich Gottfried, David Hill, Brigitta Mullican, Virginia D. Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, Clark Reed, and Patrick Schoof.

There are 4 council seats.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


All candidates for the Montgomery County Council At-Large will participate in a candidate forum, sponsored by the Aspen Hill Civic Association, at the Aspen Hill Library tonight (May 28) at 7:30 PM. The event is convenient to the Wheaton, Glenmont, Rockville and Olney areas, for those wanting to learn more about the candidates for the 4 countywide seats on the council.

Aspen Hill Library
4407 Aspen Hill Road

Thursday, October 31, 2013


On Tuesday, October 29, all candidates for Rockville Mayor and Council participated in a debate sponsored by the Rockville Senior Citizens Commission, at the Rockville Senior Center.

The senior center itself is a reminder of the issues at hand in this election. Like several other public sites in Rockville (the Rockville Swim Center and Montgomery College, to name a few) the Senior Center property is designed to give the impression that one is surrounded by woods. What percentage of voters identify with Rockville as a suburban town, and how many want it to take on an urban feel?

The city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance remains a hot button issue, as does the issue of debt load vs. easy financing of public projects.

Mayoral candidates Bridget Newton and Mark Pierzchala went first.

Both cited their accomplishments in their current terms as city councilmembers. They again clashed on the merits of the Fireside apartments deal.

On the APFO, Pierzchala made very clear that he wants it weakened, calling it "insufficient" for the city's current needs. He also promised to visit every group or organization in Rockville "within a year of being Mayor." "I am the budget guy," he said.

Newton countered: "Mark might be the 'Budget Guy,' but I am the fiscal conservative." Perhaps alluding to contentious exchanges between citizens and councilmembers at recent public hearings, she said "respecting every person is how we do things in Rockville."

In the council debate, most questions related in some way to Rockville's senior population.


Virginia Onley said federal cutbacks, tough economic times and healthcare costs.

Julie Palakovich Carr said it was the ability to stay in one's home.

Don Hadley concurred that remaining at home as long as possible, and the general quality of life, were the largest issues.

Councilmember Tom Moore noted that Social Security will be a worry. He said that senior programs are important because they "do more than anything else we do" to impact and improve seniors' lives.

Beryl Feinberg said "linkage" of seniors to available services would be critical, as well as affordable housing.

Claire Marcuccio Whitaker hoped the city could have a program to train volunteers to work with seniors, and offer a senior rewards program on purchases made in the city.


Feinberg: Yes.

Whitaker called for a better online system to alert residents to Senior Center events "in multiple languages."

Onley advocated for "mandatory English classes."

Moore: "Absolutely."

Carr: "Definitely."

Hadley said the question assumed no other private grant money was available, and that he would want to pursue that option before using taxpayer funds.


Hadley said 5-6 stories were more than enough to allow growth and economic development. He said seniors should be able to stay involved with city activities, not be placed in isolation. "I don't relish being sent off to the farm," he noted. He also argued that there was no justification to give developers so many incentives to build.

Whitaker said the Pike Plan is a developer-driven document, and said that the "leaders of Rockville should take charge - we should develop our own Rockville Pike Plan." When she added that "we could tell the developers what to do," not the other way around, an audience member shouted, "Hear, hear!" in agreement.

Palakovich Carr said mixed-use development, wide sidewalks, and new retail would be advantageous for seniors. She called for a balanced approach and transit-oriented development. On the APFO, she echoed Pierzchala, saying the city must be "realistic evaluating if those laws are working properly." The current APFO will stop Phase II of the Town Center if it is not changed, she argued.

Onley said the APFO should be a "guide tool, not an instrument that we put to bed and come back to in five years." She said the city should do what's best for itself, "not what we see in other jurisdictions." If pedestrian safety is not the top priority on the new Pike, "it's just gonna be like it is today," she warned.

Moore cited the inability of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department to sell its property under the current APFO restrictions. He predicted the APFO would cause Town Center Phase II to "die on the vine."

"I don't think Town Center II is going to die on the vine," countered Whitaker. "That's a pretty Draconian statement," she added. Whitaker argued that Town Center II is actually in line with the original plan, and that the number of units in the future Duball, Brightview and Kettler buildings will already have exceeded the residential units called for in the master plan.She said she views Brightview's low density, senior residents, and children's playground as positive additions to Town Center.

Feinberg said she favors the Pike Plan, and more dining and "gathering places." She said she is concerned about a potential lack of handicapped parking, and parking that is behind or under buildings, rather than accessible to the businesses' front doors.


"I don't know what our debt is," Onley said. Whitaker used the opportunity to illustrate that she did know the figure, and argued the city should have used its recent surplus to pay down debt. She again cited Gaithersburg's $0 debt, and $65 million in the bank, as a model for Rockville.

Moore diagreed, citing a 5¢ Gaithersburg tax increase. He and Feinberg both said the city's debt was well below the recommended limits.

Carr noted the city's AAA bond rating, and said "there are times when it makes sense to borrow."

Hadley said obligations have to be taken seriously, pointing to a new legal change that could put the city on the hook for $22 million for an employee retirement short fund.


Their are no polls to tell us who's ahead. And, if county elections are an indicator, voters don't seem too concerned about debt and fiscal matters. This election may end up turning on the APFO and development issues.

My thought is, it was a mistake to try to change the APFO in the weeks prior to the election. That stirred up a unneccessary hornet's nest of response among residents, which could be a tremendous weakness for the Team Rockville slate of Pierzchala, Moore, Onley, Palakovich Carr and Feinberg, if turnout is 17% again.

The reason is, there is a large public opposition to weakening the APFO, amply demonstrated at the recent public hearing on the matter.

Newton, Hadley and Whitaker have clearly indicated they want to take a lower-density, more suburban-scale approach to future development. That gives them an electoral base. And one that is energized, as a result of the APFO dispute, and the Pike Plan that citizens overwhelmingly have opposed in public testimony, but keeps lumbering forward anyway toward approval.

The flip side of that is: What is the constituency in Rockville for high-density urbanization of the city, more traffic and more crowded schools? Are there actually significant groups of voters who want tall buildings looming over their homes?

"You can count on me to resist uncontrolled, mindless growth," Whitaker promised in her closing statement. To people stuck in traffic every day, Hadley's observations that "we're busting our belt with schools and traffic" are compelling ones that resonate in reality.

But without polls or intense media coverage, we simply have to wait until Tuesday night to find out which concept of Rockville's future voters want.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


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.

Friday, October 11, 2013



A civil debate produced virtually no heated moments in Twinbrook last night. Mayoral candidates Bridget Newton and Mark Pierzchala (both current Rockville city councilmembers), and council candidates Julie Palakovich Carr,  Beryl Feinberg, Don Hadley, Virginia Onley, Tom Moore, and Claire Marcuccio Whitaker answered questions prepared by the Twinbrook Civic Association.

The forum was moderated by former Maryland delegate Cheryl Kagan.

In my personal, subjective opinion, the debate was not a game-changer for any candidate. No one hurt themselves, no one sounded unqualified to serve, but neither did anyone score sufficient points to change the dynamic of the race.

The three candidates who did the best job of conveying a compelling argument for election Thursday evening (again, in my opinion), were Hadley, Onley and Whitaker.

Hadley has been an intelligent, deliberative member of the Rockville Planning Commission, and currently chairs that body. His remarks in the second debate emphasized having an inclusive process and discussion as the city confronts major development pressures inside and outside its borders.

Some in the city are "moving too quickly" to embrace a dense urbanization model for development in Rockville, Hadley said. There are "questions that have to be answered, before we rush into this lock, stock and barrel," he suggested.

One of the biggest questions is traffic congestion, and Hadley acknowledged that, despite the work of the Planning Commission, congestion would remain a problem if the Rockville Pike plan passes. He noted that the proposed Montgomery County Bus Rapid Transit line for Rockville Pike would have only two stops, and therefore not be a viable system for actual residents.

Hadley also mentioned the issue of diversity in city outreach, suggesting Latino and Asian residents were under-represented on the council, in development discussions, and even in the debate audience. This was an important topic to raise, as this is a major problem countywide. Many of the areas targeted for "infill development" or redevelopment are currently home to large numbers of residents for whom English is a second language. Therefore, many are not even aware that proposed zoning changes and master plans could force them out of their current homes and businesses. One Rockville official told me he regretted the lack of successful outreach to Latino residents in areas like Twinbrook, despite the efforts made in that direction.

Finally, while some proposals seem to gain traction at the council level despite majority opposition among voters, Hadley promised a different approach. "I don't want to preach to the public; I want to listen," he said.

Onley was effective in highlighting the incredible challenge of affordable housing facing the city. It was an opportunity to capitalize on her relevant experience with Rockville Housing Enterprise. She expressed pride in the $32 million mortgage that protected 236 residents at the Fireside Park apartments from large rent increases, calling it a "win-win" for the city.

Moore concurred, calling it "our finest of the things I'm most proud of" in his first term in office.

The other strong point of Onley's case was having compelling statistics to round out her case. She noted a affordable housing opportunity recently drew 5000 applications for RHE. Recently, architect and urbanization advocate Roger Lewis told the Rockville Planning Commission to pass a Pike plan that would permit dense development in Rockville. Yet, just a few months ago, Lewis acknowledged in his Washington Post column that the current Smart Growth Juggernaut will not provide the amount of affordable housing he and other advocates had previously claimed. In substantive terms, Onley said she would oppose fee-in-lieu arrangements that would allow developers to buy their way out of minimum affordable housing requirements.

Whitaker made an effective argument for caution in plunging into urbanization of the city. With two phases of White Flint development creating 9600 units apiece, Whitaker said, more than 30,000 new cars would be brought to Rockville Pike. Only a small percentage of those new residents will drive, she said.

Whitaker also made a good point on the city's finances. She cited Rockville's neighbor, Gaithersburg (which has been in a land-grab battle with Rockville along their shared border, it should be noted), for taking a better approach, in her opinion. Under Mayor Sid Katz, Gaithersburg has $0 debt, and $65 million "in the bank, earning interest," she said. Ironically, Gaithersburg has experienced a real estate development boom in recent years, yet at far lower densities than those at White Flint, or proposed in the Pike Plan draft.

Onley and Whitaker also connected with the average working person in the city. The former noted the misperception that "everybody is rich in Rockville," while the latter recalled her early years in East Rockville, wearing "clothes that were made out of chicken feed sacks."

Other candidates made good points as well. Carr pressed the overlooked issue of crime in East Rockville, saying she was surprised to find out 2 police officers were tasked with patrolling that entire area.

Newton concurred, and was able to highlight that her work with the Maryland Municipal League resulted in 2 additional officers being added to the city police force.

Pierzchala displayed his background in public service and statistical data, with his proposal that the city change the methods by which it measures success in responding to citizen complaints.

Feinberg promised she would place a special priority on senior citizen issues, such as the needs of residents who are aging in place.

And Moore pointed to his success in advancing significantly more stringent ethics and disclosure requirements for elected officials.

One slightly odd element to the debate format, was the seating arrangement, which emphasized that there were two separate factions as if they were political parties, rather than seat candidates in alphabetical order. Hadley drew attention to it, saying the seating "implied divisions that don't necessarily exist."

So, no one was knocked out of the race. Hadley, Onley and Whitaker have not necessarily pulled ahead in the race. But I thought they put themselves in a strong position to do so if they build on their performances Thursday in the next debate.

That final debate is scheduled for October 22.