Last week, I wrote the coming up Tuesday, Nov. 8. Now it's Gaithersburg's turn. In both cases, I am hoping to focus some attention on these key local elections and encourage you to vote.
If you live in either city, your mayor and city council have more direct impact on your day-to-day life than any other layer of government, so it's important to find out more about these candidates and GO VOTE! Far too few people are doing so today.
There are some good places to go for more information, starting right here on Patch.com. The City of Gaithersburg also has its own on-line voter guide and YouTube Channel, and the Gazette has weighed in with its own endorsements and has covered the race with several articles in recent weeks. Each candidate also has their own website.
Gaithersburg will be electing three at-large members of the city council on Tuesday. On the ballot are three current members of the council and two newcomers. Each council member in Gaithersburg serves for a four-year term, with terms staggered so that all five are never up for election at the same time. This year, the terms for current incumbent Council Members Jud Ashman, Cathy Drzyzgula and Ryan Spiegel are up for election. Paula Ross and Tom Rowse are the two challengers in the race.
Council Candidates Offer a Real Choice in Direction
This year's elections offer residents a clear choice in terms of the future direction of the council. If you are completely satisfied with the current policies and priorities of city government and you want more of the same, the three incumbents running for re-election are all committed to giving you just that.
Jud Ashman and Ryan Spiegel in particular have established a solid record on balancing economic development and neighborhood preservation, and maintaining services in a tough budgetary climate. Both have a pretty consistent vision for Gaithersburg's future, understand the need for investment in transportation infrastructure and more targeted economic development, to meet the inevitable growth in population that is coming. Both also have the interpersonal skills to work well with various segments of the community, including local businesses and their fellow colleagues, and both would be a good choice for voters who are basically satisfied but also want forward-looking leadership.
The third incumbent, Cathy Drzyzgula, has not been quite as adept at reaching out to all segments of the community, or recognizing the importance of continued business growth as part of her vision for the future, and seems even more committed to the status quo than the other two. However, she does come across as a principled and steady advocate for those who like things exactly as they are so, if that sounds like you, she's a good third choice.
However, the two challengers have articulated what I think is a thoughtful case for change, and also warrant consideration, especially given the continued weakness of the local economy.
Ross and Rowse have both questioned the current council's priorities, including raising tax rates, and several missed opportunities to grow the local tax base. They point to the council's letter of opposition to the proposed expansion of the nearby Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, and their successful effort to change the name of what had been called the "Gaithersburg West" master plan.
Both challengers see this as a missed opportunity to "brand" the city as a vibrant center of science and technology innovation. While I see their point, the incumbents counter that the name of a master plan is not really the best way to brand a location, a good point, and assert that they did not oppose the entire plan, just the scope of it. Yet, the fact remains that the three incumbents did not support this major expansion of science and technology investment as proposed. So this is a valid critique for those who want to see a more aggressive approach to job creation and transit-oriented development.
The fact that the current APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) currently stifles community investment by placing roughly half of the city into a housing moratorium (for reasons having nothing to do with growth) also has been criticized by the challengers. Both have proposed modernizing the APFO so it is more consistent with county standards. Having half the city in a moratorium is no way to position the city as a welcome place for business and, in response to this criticism, the three incumbents have voiced support for modifying the APFO to varying degrees.
Councilman Jud Ashman has proposed adding more flexibility, which all three incumbents now say they support. The differences here may come down to nuances over how much change is needed, not whether change is needed, but there are differences.
In summary, you have three incumbents who have done a pretty solid job of maintaining the status quo, with some recognition that change is needed to meet the economic challenges now facing the city. A more ambitions "change" agenda is being offered by two well-qualified challengers, either of whom could add some urgency and broaden the diversity of viewpoints on the council. Your best bet may be to vote for two of the incumbents and one of the challengers, just to shake things up a bit.
The bottom line is you have five strong candidates to choose from here, all of whom would do a good job on the council, but who offer different visions for the future.
Your Most Important Choice: Show up and Vote on Tuesday
If you care about your community, then show it. The choices you make matter, and whoever you choose on Nov. 8, please GO VOTE. Turnout in past Gaithersburg and Rockville elections has been abysmal, far under 15 percent most years. Let's shoot for at least 20 percent this year. Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.