Today is a double-header for the Rockville City Council candidates, putting a punctuation point to a long series of debates this season. I attended this afternoon’s session hosted at the Senior Center and tonight is the last with the Chamber of Commerce. By now, the candidates have honed their thoughts and can quickly state their positions, which is much more helpful to the voters. You can also see where alliances have formed, how their personalities affect their thinking, and where there is uncertainty. From today’s forum, it seemed the alliances are Marcuccio, Newton, Hall, and maybe Gottfried vs. Gajewski and Pierzchala (if we arranged this by nationality, we’d have. . .hmm).
This forum was primarily focused on the needs and interests of seniors, so there were questions about the candidates’ ideas to support “aging in place,” homeowner’s tax credit, affordable housing, and the impact of decreased county and state support on Rockville’s senior programming, but some ranged further, for example a surprising question on the King Farm transitway. The $100 homeowners tax credit was discussed throughout the afternoon, with Gajewski and Hall clearly supporting its reappearance; Marcuccio and Newton only if the eligibility criteria could be tightened (e.g., only for seniors); and Francis clearly against, calling it a smokescreen for the more important issue of unfair property taxes and adoption of a piggyback income tax. Time was wasted on the question, “Where senior services ranked as a priority” because no politician will get elected if they tell a room full of seniors that they aren’t the top priority. I felt like yelling out, “I bet you tell that to all your neighborhoods.” Despite the string of “yes, seniors are my top priority,” Mark Pierzchala pushed it to a higher level by noting that the budget and economic stability are his top priority, and if that’s addressed, it’ll preserve senior services. Tom Moore also took a different tack and noted how priorities need to be shown through decisions, not mere rhetoric, and that he supported the Senior Center expansion over Red Gate Golf Course because it met more basic needs. Marcuccio was the only one who noted that seniors aren’t all the same. Different groups of seniors have different needs, so they shouldn’t all be lumped together and treated the same, and in order to serve seniors better, we need to know more about the needs each of the distinct senior groups (e.g., those who use the Senior Center, those who live in senior housing, those who live in age-integrated neighborhoods).
A question on the APFO was especially revealing. All the candidates quickly responded that it needed revision except Phyllis Marcuccio (who drew out a long “maybe”), John Hall with a quick “no” (no surprise since he co-authored the ordinance), Richard Gottfried (who seemed unsure how to answer, and then said “no” simply to fall in line with John Hall who preceded him), and Les Francis (who needed to have the question repeated and then responded so quietly and quickly I couldn’t hear him). Candidates may not agree on when or how the ordinance should be revised, but it seems that a majority have identified problems with the APFO that need to be addressed.
Otherwise, I heard mostly the same vague promises to maintain low tax rates, increase city services, and cut the fat from the budget that I’ve heard for decades. Tom Moore and John Hall offered some specific cost saving measures (examine police overtime) seemed much more reasonable than proposals by Les Francis (cut city staff by half to Frederick’s levels) and Dion Trahan (eliminate REDI, cut HR department).
That’s it for the election from me this season, although I will post my recommendations for City Council sometime this weekend (or you can drive by my house to see whose signs are in my yard–but just a warning, I’m thinking of pulling out one of the signs because I’ve grown increasingly disappointed).