With the 2011 local elections in just a few days (Tuesday, Nov. 8), it's time to take a look at who's running for mayor and city council in Rockville and Gaithersburg and share a few observations. This week's column will focus on Rockville, where things have gotten a bit heated recently. Next week I'll focus on Gaithersburg.
The first and most important decision city residents can make is to show up! Local elections make a lot more difference than the paltry amount of media coverage they generate implies, so please do your part.
Don't know much about the candidates? Don’t let that deter you. There’s a wealth of information on-line, including the City of Rockville’s Official Voter Guide and a YouTube channel that features candidate presentations. Most also have websites.
Elections are always about something, but this year’s Rockville elections are striking for what they’re not about: Growth and development. All the candidates running for mayor and council are more committed to neighborhood preservation than business growth, as is often the case in Rockville, and voters seem to like it that way. From a small-business owner’s perspective, every one of the candidates could fairly be described as anti-development, pro-regulation, and in varying degrees anti-business. This, too, is pretty much in keeping with Rockville’s citizen-led, neighborhood-focused politics. Every candidate, for example, has pledged to strengthen the city's already strict "Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance," which significantly limits future growth and investment in the city. Labeling any of these candidates as "pro-development" would be a real stretch.
That being said, Rockville's strict regulatory bent occasionally needs to be tempered by a modicum of balance and common sense. Here, there are some minor differences, but the real battles seem to be over differing personalities and leadership styles.
Current Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio has been criticized for lacking vision and for her divisive, shoot-from-the-hip leadership style. A case in point: Her recent vote against the new Choice Hotels Inc. headquarters in Rockville.
The reason she gave for voting against the deal displayed a lack of understanding of the deal itself (which provides a large net benefit to the City’s taxpayers, not the other way around). Yet, despite her opposition, she was sure to show up for groundbreaking to smile and wave to the cameras.
This alone could be reason enough to support challenger Piotr Gajewski. At least he understands that sometimes good, high-paying jobs are important to the quality of our neighborhoods. Marcuccio’s lone "nay" vote showed questionable judgment, and with the difficulties she's had working constructively with county agencies and other members of the council, help make a strong case for a new direction. The recent nasty personal attacks by some of her campaign’s supporters are beyond petty, and only reinforce the need for change.
The Gazette endorsements for city council provide good guidance for Rockville voters this year, particularly their glowing praise for Virginia Onley, who seems like the best choice. She offers a fresh perspective, seasoned leadership skills, and a commitment to restore civility and adult behavior to the council.
The rest of the Gazette endorsements (for John Hall, Mark Pierzchala, and Bridget Donnell Newton) are also pretty much on the mark, with the possible exception of Ms. Newton. While the Gazette editors credit her for having a better grasp on issues than when she was first elected, she still has some things to learn. Her vote against the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) alignment through King Farm, a community that was literally designed around the CCT, is a case in point. The CCT diverts thousands of people out of their cars and off local roads, connecting King Farm directly to the Shady Grove Metro and other activity centers up and down the 270 corridor.
So, to say she is concerned about "traffic" and then vote against the single most important transit facility that provides a real alternative to driving is mind-blowingly hypocritical. While I generally think highly of Bridget, she clearly missed the ball on this one. This might be reason enough for some to look elsewhere for their fourth vote for council, but with most other candidates relatively unproven, Ms. Newton may still be a good choice if she can continue to learn and grow on the job.
The Most Important Choice
Whoever you choose on Nov. 8, please GO VOTE. Turnout in past Rockville elections has been pathetic. Whenever that happens, the results tend to be dominated by a handful of self-appointed busy-bodies, rather than reflecting the genuine will of the people. We often get less than stellar leadership as a result. If you care about your community, show it: Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Nov. 8.