This year’s Mayor and Council election in Rockville is extraordinary not only because Election Day has turned into Election Month due to vote-by-mail, but also because so many new, unusual, and strange campaigning is happening. You’ve probably noticed a few of them but when you bring them all together, you realize this election is very different from its predecessors.
The number of candidates is the largest in recent memory and I’m not sure what’s prompting it. Running for office is grueling and costly. Maybe there’s a gut feeling that the city is being pulled in several directions and people are jumping in to influence the outcome or that there are two slates (which was common twenty years ago) plus the usual unaffiliated candidates.
We’re now at the time of the campaign when yard signs become a point of contention. During the day, fanatics will confront homeowners who have signs of their opponents or in the dead of night, steal signs and blame it on teenagers. This election is different because many homes have motion-activated security cameras, making it easier to catch misbehavior on video. Recently posted on Twinbrook Neighbors, a camera caught a person tucking candidate literature into the door who also seemed to go through the resident’s mailbox. And he wasn’t a teenager.Continue reading →
January 15, 2016 was the deadline for the latest financial reports for the 2015 campaign for Mayor and Council in Rockville, which covers the week before the November 3 election through the end of the year. Although this includes the hottest period of the campaign, it’s also assumed to be the quietest financially because most contributions and expenses have already been made. For the 2015 campaign, however, that short period represented 19 percent of the revenues and 38 percent of the expenditures so it wasn’t a fallow period.
More than $17,000 in contributions arrived in candidates’ bank accounts after October 26, including last-minute donations between candidates and from planning commissioners, creating a few more connections that weren’t apparent earlier. Expenses exceeded $60,000, most of it concentrated in the mayoral race between Bridget Newton and Sima Osdoby and the council campaign of Richard Gottfried. Gottfried spent an additional $9,715 for a campaign total of nearly $50,000—by comparison, the other Council candidates spent an average of $6,812 and mayoral candidates averaged $25,416.
For the 2015 Mayor and Council race, the eleven candidates raised $88,615 and spent $161,550 in total. The averages in this election are thrown off by Gottfried’s extraordinary campaign, so if we exclude him and the mayoral race (which is always much higher), the average amount raised by Council candidates was Continue reading →
According to the National Institute of Money in State Politics, political contributions to local elections are often overlooked. “Although these races often do not receive the headlines of their state and federal counterparts, the election results can have a great effect on people’s everyday lives. School curriculum, zoning, and local tax code are just some examples of policy determined by the elected local boards, councils, and executives who carry out local governance. Knowing who funded their campaigns is an essential component of maintaining an effective, accountable democracy.”
Armed with campaign finance reports from October 1 and 26, 2015 for the eleven candidates for Rockville’s Mayor and Council, I examined candidate’s claims about independence and the planning commission’s claim they are not political. Throughout this election season, several candidates emphasized their independence, positing it as an alternative to Team Rockville. Team Rockville is a campaign committee composed of Sima Osdoby for Mayor and Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Clark Reed for Council who have publicly stated a shared vision for Rockville and that they are supporting each other and pooling resources (disclosure: I am the chair of Team Rockville). Examining the financial contributions among these candidates shows Continue reading →
The candidates for the Rockville Mayor and Council submitted their second and last set of campaign finance statements before the November 3 election, giving voters an insight into the tactics of their campaigns. So far, more than $70,000 has been contributed to the various candidates and more than $100,000 has been spent. The $30,000 difference is due to personal loans or contributions that candidates make to their own campaigns–indeed, most of that is due to the extraordinary campaign of Richard Gottfried. His may be the most expensive campaign in this election and probably in the history of Rockville.
So far, Mr. Gottfried has received contributions of $1,880, the least of all candidates, yet has spent $39,617, the most of all candidates. He has loaned himself the difference and spent most of it on direct mail and campaign materials. By sending out at least four direct mail pieces, the first long before anyone else, and using what appears to be paid political consultants, he may be signaling a change in the way campaigns will be run in Rockville.
Without a widely distributed local newspaper, getting the attention and support of voters will have to rely on tactics in addition to the traditions of yard signs and precinct walking. For the moment, direct mail assures candidates that they can reach every voter but it’s also very expensive. Printing and postage are the biggest expense, but design and messaging are incredibly important as well. Most candidates don’t have that expertise and have to rely on outside professionals, often at a cost. As we are finding in state and federal elections, campaigning is as much about appearances and marketing as it is about issues and ideas, and that public image needs to be continually reinforced with an electorate that is bombarded by information and has a short attention span.
If this trend continues, how will Rockville voters distinguish among candidates in the future? Or will they simply withdraw from the sea of sound bites and slick mailers?
For some voters, the Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) serve as a litmus test for candidates for the upcoming Mayor and Council election on November 3. This past year the Rockville City Council debated revisions to the APFS, including a change in school capacity from 110% to 120% to match the county’s standards. Development must meet these Standards, unless they receive a waiver from the City, and went into effect on June 1, 2015 (among other changes to the APFS) with the support of Councilmembers Moore, Onley, and Palakovich Carr and over the objections of Mayor Newton and Councilmember Feinberg. At the Rockville Chamber of Commerce Forum on October 7, several candidates stated their opinions on these new Standards, with Richard Gottfried and Patrick Schoof stating they would overturn them if elected; Brigitta Mullican stating that we need to get out of this discussion because the City has no control over schools; and Mark Pierzchala noting that the APFO failed to prevent school overcrowding and that the city needs a new approach focused at the county level. Beryl Feinberg confirmed her opposition to the APFS changes and went into detail by stating:
As many of you are aware, I voted against the APFO and the weakening of those standards. I believe we have to have an adequate infrastructure. That infrastructure is not only for schools but it is also for transportation, public safety, fire, and water and sewer services. I voted against it because in my view we can have development but it was the developers who were really for the adequate public facilities changing. What we have seen since the change has been an influx of almost one thousand different units from different developers coming through the pipeline without really concerning adequate infrastructure, notably in transportation. One area has been along Wooton Parkway where 102 are proposed for the Rockshire community* as well as an EYA proposal off Preserve Parkway with about 350 units.** Both of those will be on Wooton Parkway.
Her claim of “an influx of almost one thousand different units” since June 1, 2015 caught my ears. By coincidence, the city staff completed a study for the Planning Commission on October 7 (same day as the forum) that summarized residential development activity since the modifications to the APFS on June 1, 2015. It turns out that Feinberg’s claims are Continue reading →
Senior Citizens Commission Candidates’ Forum on Wednesday afternoon, October 14, 2015 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm at the Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive. This debate will address specific issues affecting seniors, in addition to some questions of general interest, as time allows, with the final hour reserved for one-on-one conversations with those attending.
West End Citizens Association (WECA) on Thursday evening, October 15, 2015 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Rockville Presbyterian Church, 215 W. Montgomery Avenue. Most likely this forum will focus on issues that affect the West End, such as traffic, development, commercial/residential balance, historic preservation, and pedestrian safety, which may be similar to other residential neighborhoods.
Both forums are free and open to the public, and no reservations are needed.
Last week about seventy people gathered at the Thomas Farm Community Center to watch the first candidate forum (watch on YouTube). Hosted by the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, the questions focused on issues that were important to the business community, such as the impact of the new developments on the north (Crown) and south (Pike and Rose), the future of the APFO, building heights and street widths on the Rockville Pike, and if the non-residential tax base should grow to support city services. This was the community’s first chance to see all the candidates together and assess how they handled a variety of questions in a very controlled environment. If anyone expected sparks to fly, the minute-long responses don’t lend themselves to much content that generates controversy. Many fell to vague pat answers such as Continue reading →
Last Friday was the deadline for submitting petitions to be on the ballot for Mayor and Council, so the election season has officially begun in Rockville. Candidates that will appear on the November 3, 2015 ballot are:
- Bridget Newton. Currently serving as Mayor, she is a homemaker and a resident of the West End. [no campaign website at this time]
- Sima Osdoby. Longtime resident of New Mark Commons, is active in many community and advocacy groups at the local and state level (such as Emerge Maryland), and an international consultant on governance and democratic elections.
- Virginia Onley. Currently serving on Council, is retired from IBM, and a resident of the Americana Centre.
- Julie Palakovich Carr. Currently serving on Council, she is a resident of East Rockville with a new-born baby boy and works for a non-profit public policy organization focused on biology.
- Beryl Feinberg. Currently serving on Council, she lives in Orchard Ridge and is the Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of Montgomery County’s Department of General Services.
- Richard Gottfried. A resident of Twinbrook, he is currently the president of the Twinbrook Citizens Association and owns a home-based accounting practice.
- David Hill. A soft-spoken analyst with Westat who lives in Hungerford and currently serves on the Planning Commission.
- Brigitta Mullican. A resident of Twinbrook who is president of Rockville Sister City and retired from Health and Human Services.
- Mark Pierzchala. Formerly serving on Council, he is a resident of College Gardens and owns a consulting business in Rockville that focuses on statistical analysis.
- Patrick Schoof. A resident of East Rockville, he is the CEO of a home-based non-profit organization, A Better World Foundation. [no campaign website at this time]
- Clark Reed. A resident of Twinbrook, he works for the Environmental Protection Agency and serves as chair of the Environment Commission.
This year’s election is more important than in previous years because terms have doubled from two to four years. That means if a councilmember turns out to be a ding-dong, you’ll have to wait much longer to vote him or her out of office. Your vote is more significant than ever this time around.
Five candidates—Sima Osdoby, Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Clark Reed—have joined together as Continue reading →
Unlike the 2016 presidential race, where it seems that a dozen people have announced their intent to run, it’s been incredibly quiet in Rockville. The elections for Rockville City Council are coming up on November 3, 2015–that’s five months away–and usually by this time several people have announced their interest. Brigitta Mullican, president of Rockville Sister City, announced in February she is running for a council seat and former city councilman Mark Pierzchala stated in March he is not running, otherwise, nothing is certain. The rumored candidates at this time are:
- Beryl Feinberg (on council)
- Richard Gottfried (president of Twinbrook Citizens Association)
- Brigitta Millican (confirmed)
- Virginia Onley (on council)
- Julie Palakovich Carr (on council)
- Zina Pizano
No word on council members Tom Moore or Bridget Newton, although as incumbents, they have a significant advantage over newcomers and don’t need to announce right away. Summer is typically very quiet, but the election season will pick up in mid-August as candidates form their teams and begin raising money in anticipation of the September 4 deadline for getting on the ballot. This election will be more important than usual because the terms expand from two to four years. We’ll want to have an especially good council because we’ll be living with them for twice as long.
If you’re interested in running for office, pick up your candidate information election packet soon. You’ll have to submit signatures from 100 Rockville residents who are registered voters along with appointing a treasurer and filing a financial disclosure form. The process takes longer than you expect, especially to get those signatures. The most efficient way is to obtain the current list of registered voters from the City Clerk’s office or the County Board of Elections and only go to the homes of registered voters. At this point, you don’t need to ask for their support or an endorsement–you just want their signature to get on the ballot and offer voters a choice. Do not gather signatures at Metro, grocery stores, or city events. You’re wasting your time because many won’t be registered voters or don’t live in the City of Rockville, and their signatures will be disqualified. And just in case, get an extra ten signatures to be sure you have some wiggle room (I’ve had signatures tossed because a person’s married name was different from their registered name–double-check to be sure names match and they’re legible).
After Mark Pierzchala, Tom Moore, Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, and Beryl Feinberg announced in March their intentions to run as a slate (Team Rockville) for Rockville’s City Council, it’s been exceedingly quiet. Bridget Newton’s announcement last month raised the temperatures a bit, but not as much as I hoped. Phyllis Marcuccio and John Hall gave her mild endorsements and she wasn’t able to assemble a full slate to compete. Nevertheless, with Marcuccio’s departure as Mayor, the absence of an incumbent will make the contest between the two Council members for the Mayor’s seat much more interesting.
Strangely, the four Council seats are unopposed with Moore, Onley, Palakovich Carr, and Feinberg as the only candidates (four seats, four candidates). This Friday, September 6 is the last day for residents to submit their petitions for candidacy so that situation could easily change. I’ve heard that Richard Gottfried (a previous candidate), Claire Whitaker (Phyllis Marcuccio’s sister), and Don Hadley (planning commissioner) are circulating petitions, so perhaps we will once again have the usual 9 to 11 candidates on the ballot.
No matter who runs, I hope it’s a much cleaner, issue-focused, and transparent election than the last time. The campaign between Phyllis Marcuccio and Piotr Gajewski was both heated and close, which unfortunately brought out poor decisions and bad behavior from both camps. The City’s Board of Supervisors of Elections (BSE) spent more than a year after the election reviewing complaints, determining penalties, patching holes in the financial report forms, figuring out the voter rolls, and revising the election code. Their recommendations, though, weren’t heard by Mayor and Council until February 11, 2013–just six months ago and nearly 22 months after the election. Ugh. Lots of hard feelings remain in the community, and I am concerned that that the shenanigans will return. I hope not. The 2011 campaign left an especially bad taste and I don’t want to experience it again. I witnessed illegal and unethical behavior during that campaign and went through the official process of filing a complaint with the BSE, but it was never answered despite repeated requests. This year I won’t wait for the BSE (or Patch, Gazette, or Sentinel) and plan to throw a flag and raise an eyebrow more publicly to stop underhandedness and bad behavior in its tracks. So I’ll start with some transparency right from the start: I am supporting Team Rockville and working closely with Mark Pierzchala on his campaign for Mayor. Of course, that will bias my opinions but everyone has biases–at least you know what mine are from the start. And if you have opinions or thoughts, you’re welcome to share them in the comments (I won’t edit or censor them unless they really get out of hand). The more people talk about the issues facing the community, the better it will become.
Just a reminder, Election Day is Tuesday, November 5, 2013. Put it on your calendar (me too! I accidentally wrote November 6).
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 Continue reading →