Feinberg Feigns Diversity & Inclusion in Campaign Mailer

Beryl Feinberg’s re-election campaign postcard.

Beryl Feinberg is holding a sign opposing the widening of I-270, in Asian costume, with students holding certificates, cleaning up a stream, and talking with a Latino man and an African American woman. What do these images mean? That voters need to re-elect her to Rockville City Council because she’ll “preserve Rockville’s character” and “embrace Rockville’s future.” But her campaign postcard is deceiving.

Michelle Whittaker in Beryl Feinberg’s campaign mailer (left) and as Virginia Onley for Mayor campaign manager (right).

Michelle Whittaker would know—she’s the African American woman shown in Feinberg’s mailer. She doesn’t support Feinberg’s candidacy for city council and ironically is the campaign manager for Virginia Onley for Mayor, one of her opponents. So why is she in the shown in Feinberg’s campaign literature?

Obviously, Feinberg used the photo to assure voters that she supports diversity and inclusion—gosh, look at all the people of color in her mailer! But we’re now aware it’s a dishonest portrayal. Indeed, it continues Feinberg’s insensitivity around diversity and inclusion. A year ago, the NAACP accused Feinberg of racism in her deliberations over the hiring of an African American woman for City Clerk.

Feinberg isn’t alone in her insensitivity around race and ethnicity. David Myles, a pediatrician, Navy veteran, and Yale graduate who is also running for City Council, has had Rockville residents call the police as he was walking door to door to meet voters. They probably couldn’t tell he was a pediatrician and Navy veteran, just that he was African American man in their white neighborhood. He was out of place, didn’t belong, a stranger. Yup, in 2019.

When these types of events occur, it gives people of color a reminder that their place in society is insecure and can be easily threatened. It isn’t without merit. Rockville has a long and disappointing history around race, with segregated schools and businesses until the 1950s, neighborhood threats in the 1960s, and a Confederate statue downtown that wasn’t removed until a few years ago. Attitudes around race change very slowly because they are incredibly hard to see. In her New York Times best-selling book, White Fragility, sociologist Robin DiAngelo points out that “everyone has prejudice, and everyone discriminates,” which is

particularly challenging for many white people, because we are taught that to have a racial viewpoint is to be biased. Unfortunately, this belief protects our biases, because denying that we have them ensures that we won’t examine or change them.

From White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (2018)

Bias. We don’t like it because it conjures up the idea that we’re being irrationally unfair. When Mayor Newton’s was asked about her decision to oppose the hiring of the City Clerk, she stated that, “Absolutely there is no racial bias. This had absolutely nothing to do with that.” But if we dismiss it, we can actually make matters worse because we’re unwilling to even consider how we might be contributing to a bad situation. If you keep your eyes and ears closed, it doesn’t make it go away.

How can Rockville move beyond this? By confronting it. But that means our community leaders need to set the pace and be willing to consider they are probably prejudiced and discriminatory—and the faster they realize these shortcomings, the faster they’ll be able to overcome it. If you’ve dug yourself in a hole, stop digging.

And voters, it’s also a chance to move the community forward by electing leaders who are more sensitive and thoughtful about racism and prejudice. Don’t return Bridget Newton or Beryl Feinberg to office. You’ll be rewarding them for their unacceptable behavior and it will continue for another four years.

Note: This blog is by Max van Balgooy, acting as an individual resident of the Rockville. While he is the chair of Team Rockville, this blog expresses the opinions only of Max van Balgooy. The articles are not reviewed by any Team Rockville member before they are posted. In MaxForRockville.org, he has at times been critical of Team Rockville individuals who have been elected to office, for example, over the non-completion of council meeting minutes and failure to meet the state’s Open Meeting Act. I’m an equal-opportunity critic; read the About page for more details.

8 responses

  1. The picture is kind of small, but any idea who the Latino man is in the referenced picture? Isn’t that County Councilman Gabe Albornoz; it’s hard to tell? I think he has endorsed Councilwoman Feinberg for reelection in this election. Regardless, as a person of color myself, when I got this mailer delivered to my house three months ago, I didn’t leap to the conclusion that you did that the candidate wanted me to think that everyone pictured on it was supporting her. I’m happy that one of our local politicians spends the time listening to someone talk about the issues, especially someone who doesn’t support her candidacy.

    1. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Kathleen Conway

    I believe this posting is blatantly false and is written in a way that is extremely misleading. We have enough of this ‘false news’ at the Federal level. We do not need this in Rockville. People can disagree on issues, priorities and solutions. Let’s stay focused on those discussions without falsehoods such as those included in this post.

    I worked in City Hall for almost 2.5 years. While I was on medical leave in September 2018, Virginia Onley, Mark Pierzchala and Julie Palakovich Carr voted to terminate my employment contract. I believe I would have seen the behavior described in this post during my tenure with the City if it had occurred.

    Bridget Newton and Beryl Feinberg were consistently sensitive and thoughtful about issues, community concerns, possible changes to polices or practices, etc., quite the opposite of the behavior described in this blog post. Stating “oppose the hiring of the City Clerk” is blatantly false. As explained from the dais, Bridget Newton and Beryl Feinberg opposed the process, i.e., the City’s best practice recruitment process was not followed. Virginia Onley, Mark Pierzchala and Julie Palakovich Carr did not follow the City’s open recruitment process which includes transparency, the posting of open positions, interviews and selection, thus ensuring an equal opportunity for all.

    1. Thanks for your comments, but the recent history of hiring the City Clerk is a classic example of well-intentioned practice getting in the way of good decisions. The City of Rockville used the open recruitment process you described in two previous efforts to hire a City Clerk, and both times resulting in a City Clerk who was unable to fulfill their duties satisfactory (in 2016, the state’s Open Meeting Compliance Board determined that the Mayor and Council failed to provide meeting minutes in a timely manner, which is one of the major duties of the City Clerk). Every time the position was vacated, the Deputy City Clerk stepped into the position and each time fulfilled the role satisfactorily. It made no sense to try the same hiring process a third time when there is a staff member already doing the job except for the title. Going through the time and money to follow a process that had previously failed makes no sense in this situation. One definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result. I’m glad that Virginia Onley, Mark Pierzchala, and Julie Palakovich Carr realized the situation needed to be rethought and refused to “follow the rules for rules’ sake.”

  3. This is a copy of an email I sent Ms Plummer, who is President of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP. It was sent in October, 2018, shortly after she appeaared at a City Council community forum. If This isn’t removed my Max, I will follow up with the email I sent the Mayor and Council, which I refer to in this email.

    Dear Ms Plummer,

    I am forwarding you this email that I sent to the Rockville Mayor and Council. I think it is important that you understand the job Sara was appointed to is not the “old” City Clerk position. You might recall that several years ago a work group made up of former city clerks, mayors and councilmembers was formed. They were tasked with defining a new position within the M&C office – a Director of Council Operations. I have attached a copy of their report and a copy of the job description and requirements. The move into the position of DCO was not a lateral move for Sara. I believe it is a contractual position, which means the individual can be terminated at will. Again, I am not insinuating she is not qualified or deserving. I am saying it appears Newton and Feinberg were blindsided by the other three councilmembers. If I remember correctly, when the job search to fill the new position was initiated, Sara did not want to be interviewed.

    All the discussions and arguments leading up to Sara’s appointment were done in closed meetings, which is probably a good thing. It does appear at least one councilmember leaked information from those closed meetings, which is a violation of ethics rules. I talked with Kathleen after she was fired, and she said she was notified through a letter, signed by the Mayor. This would indicate that her termination was not unanimous. I say this because any outgoing correspondence that has unanimous approval carries all five signatures. Anything that is a result of a split vote gets signed by the Mayor only. Yes, that is quite trite, but something initiated by Pierzchala, Onley and Palakovich Carr.

    I have known Bridget and her family long before she was on the City Council, and have gotten to know Beryl over the past 4 or 5 years. I can say with certainty – they are not in any way, shape or form biased or racist. No Mayor that I know of has done more to promote diversity than Bridget. No Mayor has worked harder for our City than Bridget – not one. I find it sad that in a city our size we can’t have a council of five people that can get along and respect each other, regardless of where they stand on issues. A great deal of the divisiveness is rooted in the “slate” versus “independents”. Nothing illustrates this more than what surfaced at last week’s meeting – the push by the same three aforementioned councilmembers to move the Director of Council Operations offices to another location, leaving the Mayor without administrative support. This makes absolutely no sense, but gives you insight into how broken things are.

    I am sorry to go in length, and I hope you can see there is more to the story than what you saw and heard two weeks ago.

    Respectfully,

    Joseph Jordan

  4. This is a copy of the email I sent to the Mayor and Council shortly after a number of residents spoke at community forum regarding the appointment of Ms. Ferrell to City Clerk/DCO

    To Mayor Newton and Councilmembers:

    I have decided that I am not going to speak at community forum in response to the accusations and disparaging statements directed at Mayor Newton and Councilmember Feinberg last week. However, if the issue continues to be a public bashing of these two women, I will speak out.

    There is no precedent for how the position of City Clerk was filled two weeks ago. The open position has always been filled through a job search, including interviews with the mayor and councilmembers. This is not to say Ms. Ferrell would not have been a viable candidate and odds on favorite to fill the opening. Sadly, she has become somewhat of a wedge issue as a result of the gamesmanship played out by councilmembers Pierzchala, Onley and Palakovich Carr.

    The speakers last week all referred to the position of city clerk. I don’t think one of them referred to the expanded position of Director of Council Operations. The position has additional responsibilities to those of the former city clerk position. The skills and experience required have been expanded. Again, I am not saying Ms. Ferrell is not a viable candidate – she is. I am saying by not following normal, past protocol, three councilmembers created a toxic situation.

    Councilmember Feinberg and Mayor Newton were forced to face a decision of either going along with what they believed to bad precedent, policy and political bullying, or do what they believed to be morally and ethically right. I personally commend them for standing up for what THEY believe in, which has nothing to do with race or bias or Ms. Ferrell.

    There were comments made and words used in some statements made at last week’s community forum that left me scratching my head. Where did that come from, I wondered. Then it occurred to me – members of the council had to be discussing actions taken and things discussed in closed meetings – a clear violation of ethics rules. How else would one speaker know the term “Kafkaesque” was used in a meeting? I watch every council meeting, and I never heard it – nor did I hear the word “racism” used in any open meeting discussion, yet it was implied it was.

    In July 2010, Rockville hired whom I believe was the first African-American city clerk – Ms. Glenda Evans. She got the job after an extensive job search and interviews. Her past experience included working as an assistant to the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Her resume included 25 years as a legal secretary with a Detroit law firm and 18 years—10 of them concurrent with her work with the law firm—as a secretary for the Detroit City Council.

    Ms. Evans brought a lot to the job and gave a lot to the city. She put city contracts and future agendas online, updated the appearance of council meeting minutes and established a next-day synopsis of council actions at Monday meetings. Her goal was to bring Rockville into the 21st century with its record-keeping. She created absentee ballot applications and certificates for election challengers and watchers that could be filled out online and printed.

    A year after being hired, Ms. Evans resigned. She believed, and I think rightfully so, that she was being evaluated on her style as a manager and leader, and not on her performance. She also believed she was not getting the same support from the council as was the city manager and other senior staff, and was being undermined by some. A motion that found her allegations “not supported by facts” was passed 3-2, with councilmember Pierzchala one of the three votes. Councilmember Newton and Mayor Marcuccio voted against the motion, believing the allegations to be true. I won’t state the obvious.

    Where were all the voices that came out last week, or wrote letters to the Mayor, in 2011? Where was Ms. Plummer? I don’t recall seeing or hearing any of them. I do recall it was a bit ugly – memos sent to Ms. Evans’ personnel file by councilmembers who didn’t like her “style”. I keep in touch with Ms. Evans – she is home in Detroit and works as executive assistant to the CEO of a Detroit based corporation.

    The manner in which some councilmembers treated former DCO Kathleen Conway is despicable and shameful. I will never forget the mind boggling action of 3 councilmembers voting to exclude Ms. Conway from an executive session to discuss real estate – with no explanation given other than the implicit, we can because we have three votes.

    I have known Ms. Conway since 1997, when we worked at the same company, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone as hard working, competent and dedicated as she. So, I found it stunning to learn that Ms. Conway was fired while on medical leave, not given the opportunity to resign – left having to explain a termination as she looks for a new job – and not even given a reason for being fired. What kind of people do this and look at themselves in the mirror? I guess the same people that could not say anything supportive of Feinberg or Newton last week, instead rolling over them after they were kicked under the bus by uninformed speakers.

    Councilmember Pierzchala, you are on record for complaining you were not on the council when the position of DCO was established. I might be wrong, and please correct me if I am, you were on the council in 2016 when Ms. Conway was named to the position. You said the job description isn’t specific enough, and you don’t like how it was set up or how it interfaces with staff. There needs to be reconsideration of what to expect. Yet, as pointed out by councilmember Feinberg, you see no issue with placing someone in a position that will possibly be redefined. Isn’t it more logical to create a position, including duties, responsibilities, required educational levels and past experience, and then do a job search and interviews? Yes, it is.

    One reason I decided not to speak publicly tonight is not wanting to keep the issue front and center. Another is because I couldn’t say what I want to say in three minutes. But soon it will again be election time in Rockville, and there will be opportunities to speak out on many issues, including this. People haven’t forgotten the dark and ugly campaign Team Rockville ran against Mayor Newton in 2015, and as a reminder to you all – the one constant in the two campaigns run by Team Rockville is not getting their mayoral candidate elected. What does that say about Mayor Newton?

    In closing, I want to say that I have known Ms. Ferrell for at least half her tenure with the City, I consider her a friend, and hope she does the same. I wish her every success in her role as Director of Council Operations, and I am sure she will do a great job. I am sorry for her and for the City that some councilmembers put politics first, without considering the potential consequences.

    Sincerely,

    Joseph Jordan

  5. The accusations in this blog are mean-spirited, hurtful and absolutely false. I have a lifelong commitment to supporting people who have been marginalized because of race, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

    I have a genuine and proud history of advocacy and accomplishment on diversity and inclusion.

    Examples include:
    *Initiated Rockville’s Minority, Female, Disabled Procurement program to enable diverse populations have increased access to do business with the city.
    *Advocate and champion for the County’s Minority Health Initiative since its inception in 1999. This includes the African American Health Program, Asian American Health Initiative, and the Latino Health Initiative.

    I am supported for re-election by an array of County leaders who have worked with me or known me for decades. Each knows firsthand my sense of integrity.

    See my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/berylfeinberg.politician/ for a complete discussion.

    1. On your website, you claim that growing up in an African American neighborhood in New Jersey, opening a library in an African American community, and other activities demonstrate that you are a “champion for numerous programs promoting inclusivity.” But that misses the point entirely. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and yet, he was a racist–as were most Americans during that period.

      A year ago in a Mayor and Council meeting, as Delegate Palakovich Carr revealed this past week, you referred to the termination of a white woman’s employment as a “lynching.” Despite all your efforts in promoting inclusivity, you didn’t come to understand that in the United States, lynching is the intentional violent public murder of a person by one community to terrorize another community. It is a tactic primarily used by whites against African Americans (including in Rockville in 1896, see https://news.baltimoresun.com/maryland-lynchings) but was also directed at other groups such as Jews (the most notorious case being Leo Frank in Atlanta). Terminating a person’s employment is not a lynching. It’s not only a gross exaggeration of the situation but it is utterly racially insensitive. You’ve apologized in Bethesda Beat for using this inappropriate word, but you’ve refused to admit that these words (and other actions) might suggest to others that you might be a little bit racist.

      As I mentioned in my post, racism is pervasive and none of us are immune. We may have been taught that it’s wrong and we say we’re unbiased and “don’t see color”, and yet, racist ideas slyly creep up in our minds and words and actions. It has nothing to do with your integrity, experience, education, or affluence. To overcome it, we all need to admit we have racial biases and so they can be addressed honestly and effectively. To say it doesn’t exist is like the patient who refuses to admit he has cancer. It was only when you were confronted this past week and couldn’t escape it that you apologized for using the word “lynching.” It was obviously said without thinking in the heat of the moment, but remember, it came out of somewhere inside you, so please recognize that you might have a racial bias–which we all have to some extent. I recommend reading “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo or “Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram Kendi to understand this better. I also suggest that the Human Rights Commission offer workshops on implicit bias for the community and for the Mayor and Council so we can truly move Rockville forward.

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