I had a chance to attend my first city council candidates forum today, which I think is actually the third of more than a half dozen. If you missed it, don’t worry, you have plenty of opportunities coming up (including two this upcoming week that will be broadcast).
Today’s forum was held in the senior center and hosted by the neighborhood associations for College Gardens, Woodley Gardens, and Plymouth Woods and moderated by Cheryl Kagan. All the candidates were seated in a single row, barely fitting on stage, and about 60 people attended, mostly senior citizens. Unlike some neighborhood forums that focus exclusively on their parochial issues, this one ranged widely around Rockville, including such topics as Rockville in ten years, budget and finances, the APFO, Rockville Pike Plan, the fence separating Montgomery College, the city logo and branding, qualifications of the next city manager, relationships with other government agencies, relations with city staff, the proposed Walmart, and an assessment of the city’s website. Perhaps the most provocative question was, “which candidate do you oppose in this election and why?” I won’t provide a detailed report on everyone’s statements–I’ll leave that to the Gazette or you can watch the 2+ hours of it on YouTube–but will just give general impressions and highlights.
It seems that the candidates are beginning to solidify their statements and finding ways to distinguish themselves from the others, which was helped greatly by several candidates answering the same question. Due to the time constraints imposed by the forums (30-90 seconds to state an opinion on a complex issue can only result in over-simplification), much of what’s being said is still vague, caters to the middle, and consists mostly empty slogans (e.g., include stakeholders, city is at a crossroads, need to be a community we all love), but thankfully specifics and concrete examples are beginning to be expressed (e.g., if we’re at a crossroads, what are the choices? who are the stakeholders? what makes Rockville unlovable?). A few haven’t felt confident enough to show themselves, and instead their remarks seemed to ape Ronald Reagan (“there you go again”–really? is this the best you can do?), Jesse Jackson (“we don’t need smart growth, we need to grow smarter”–huh?), and even George Patton (please stop the stories of life on the battlefront). At least we didn’t get any quotations from Washington, Lincoln, or Edison.
Although most of the candidates demurred on their choice for mayor, a couple did not and small coalitions are now apparent: Marcuccio, Newton, and Trahan vs. Gajewski and Pierzchala. There are also some strong differing opinions about the state of the city’s finances. Les Francis claimed the city is approaching bankruptcy and favors significant staffing cuts, Richard Gottfried said we have a multi-million dollar surplus, and Phyllis Marcuccio took a third stance by stating, “we’re in financial management trouble, not financial trouble.” I assume someone will pull out the city budget with its projections and determine who got their facts wrong. The APFO received continuing attention with most stating they support control over development (with plenty of references to Town Square, Choice Hotels, Rockville Pike, and Walmart) but opinions varied widely over whether the current ordinance helps or hinders and how it might be revised. But discouragingly, a few didn’t seem to really understand it or the zoning code (oh my! by now, they should have these mastered). Regarding relationships with other government agencies, most agreed that things have improved overall but schools (MCPS and Montgomery College) were worst, county and feds in the middle, and it’s best with the state.
I’m guessing that the candidates are reflecting on their performance, refining responses, and double-checking facts this weekend. This next week includes two very important forums because they’ll both be broadcast by the City, so you can bet the candidates will be at their best. You can either come to City Hall or watch from the convenience of your home (either on Channel 11 if you have cable or streamed on the City web site):
- Tuesday, October 25 at 7 pm, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County
- Thursday, October 27 at 7 pm, sponsored by the West End Citizen’s Association