If you stayed up until 11:00 pm last night to watch the election returns for Rockville, you know that Bridget Newton was elected Mayor and Julie Palakovich Carr, Virginia Onley, Tom Moore, and Beryl L. Feinberg were elected to City Council. Congratulations to each of them and I wish them all much success and wisdom as they lead Rockville during the next two years.
Although Mark Pierzchala was not elected Mayor, he created Team Rockville, “to ensure that voters would have diverse choices for their next Mayor and Council” and that Rockville would have “elected officials with experience and knowledge about the issues facing the City.” Most importantly, it would “lead the City in a transparent, respectful, and inclusive manner.” With four Team Rockville candidates elected, these values will be carried into the Council chambers and hopefully create a less divisive and argumentative atmosphere than we’ve had under Phyllis Marcuccio.
So where does that leave Bridget Newton, our new Mayor?I’m not sure. I’ve known her since 2009 when we both ran for City Council and I initially found her to be earnest and straightforward, but she changed once elected. The last two years, her decision-making seemed like it was built on jello–it suddenly moved without any reasonable explanation. Some might call her a flip-flopper or hypocrite, but I suspect Newton has the right gut feelings but gets easily pulled off course in order to avoid conflict with a particularly vocal group or hostile person. As a councilmember, she found herself in the difficult situation that face all leaders: navigating principles and partisanship. She owes a lot to the supporters that got her elected, but once elected, she represents the interests of everyone in the city. With this new City Council and as Mayor, she has the opportunity to start fresh and lay out a stronger foundation. Although she’s called Phyllis Marcuccio her mentor and said that she wants to continue her legacy, I strongly recommend she drop that stance entirely. Newton didn’t win by a landslide nor in every precinct. If 212 people had changed their minds (that’s 3 percent of the 6,611 who voted) or if those voting at Montrose, Ritchie Park, Thomas Farm, and the Senior Center had their way, Mark Pierzchala would be Mayor. When Phyllis Marcuccio was Mayor, she took a hard winner-take-all approach despite a similar narrow victory which resulted in such actions as appointing people to boards and commissions that supported her and removing those that did not. For Mayor Newton to succeed, she’ll need to recognize that the community is split and find ways to bridge that gap. That will require taking risks and encountering conflict. She will need to incorporate the ideas of her opponents into the conversation and decisions, not just “listen.” She will need to appoint people to boards and commissions that publicly disagree with her to ensure that all perspectives are forced to work together. She’ll need to observe the big picture and keep her eye on the longterm vision, rather than get into the details that are the responsibility of city staff. These actions will no doubt anger her staunchest supporters in the West End and King Farm, but she’ll have to stand above those parochial concerns to effectively lead the entire city.
I’ve hardly ever mentioned candidate Donald (Don) Hadley in my blog. He wasn’t elected but he is certainly electable. As a first-time candidate, he no doubt will have gained tremendous experience and a better understanding of the arduous process of getting elected. He raised plenty of eyebrows when he said he decided to run to add diversity (umm, aren’t you an affluent white man living in the West End?) and quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to talk about a corporate vision for the city (umm, I think what King had in mind was racial and economic equality). He seems to be headed in the right direction but keeps tripping over himself along with way. His recent experience on the campaign trail and his continuing service on the Planning Commission should give him a better footing. I predict he’ll return as a much stronger and sharper candidate in 2015.
As for the advisory referendum on the city charter amendments, for the first time in my life I’m happy to say that the majority of voters agreed with me:
- Increase the Mayor and Council terms from two to four years (unless we elected an idiot by mistake, then it’s just a year).
- Keep the city elections to non-presidential years (let’s ensure those who vote for Mayor and Council are those who care most about the city).
- Don’t change the size of the Mayor and Council (unless we increase it to eleven, which would have gotten me elected in 2009).
To put a close to this election and the start of the new Mayor and Council, witness their inauguration on Sunday, November 17 at 1 p.m. at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater at the Civic Center Park (which is not in the center of town, but at its eastern edge at Baltimore Road and Edmonston Drive).