Editor’s note: Bethesda Beat is publishing a series of stories highlighting local races for county, state, and federal elected offices in the Nov. 8 general election. Today’s story focuses on County Council District 4.
Two women — one a longtime political figure and mayor of the third largest municipality in Montgomery County, the other a first-time candidate and seasoned public relations professional — are the choices facing voters in County Council District 4 in November.
Kate Stewart, 52, a Democrat who has served as Takoma Park’s mayor since 2015, will face Cheryl Riley, 58, a Republican and North Bethesda resident who founded her own public relations firm more than two decades ago. Their district cuts across the southern portion of the county, winding from North Bethesda through Kensington to Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
The County Council is expanding from nine to 11 seats after county voters approved the change via a ballot question in 2020. The number of districts will grow from five to seven, and four at-large seats representing the entire county will remain. District 4 is a new seat as a result.
Stewart said in an interview that she’s heard about the same issues — affordable housing, climate change, transportation and economic development — from county residents since before the July primary election, in which she bested five other Democrats.
Stewart said a variety of housing options at different price points need to be created throughout the district, whether they are duplexes, triplexes, accessory dwelling units or larger apartment complexes. There also needs to be more investment in first-time homebuyer assistance programs, she said, highlighting her work in Takoma Park, where income-qualified residents can earn up to $10,000 grants toward the down payment on a home.
[For more information on local races, check out Bethesda Beat’s 2022 general election voters guide]
Many of those ideas are the same as those in Thrive Montgomery 2050, the county’s proposed update to its general master plan, which the County Council is expected to vote on this month. Riley opposes the plan.
Riley said in an interview that she understands the issue of skyrocketing rents — she rents a condo in the Grosvenor Park condo community. She’s been able to stay there for seven years by leasing in multi-year periods that keeps her rent at a stable rate — and believes in educating residents in how to better negotiate with their landlords to keep housing costs down.
But she also believes that Thrive and its many affordable housing goals are a “one-size fits all” solution to the issue. Residents have different preferences, but single-family homes and similar living arrangements should be allowed, she said.
Thrive Montgomery 2050 would not directly impact zoning — subsequent area master plans and zoning would — but the plan does recommend more density in areas near transit and different types of housing to deal with population growth and the demand for housing.
“I don’t think multi-use housing and condos should be the only solution at all,” Riley said. “It’s sort of, build a bunch of these [apartment or condo] units … . I think Thrive is leaving out options, and it’s sort of saying, we’re building these conglomerate, concrete jungles … for walkability, public transportation. So people who want to have their cars may not have the ability and families [may] not have a yard for their kids … it’s leaving out choices.”
District 4 also includes multiple areas primed for more economic development, including the Pike & Rose area of North Bethesda, downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
Stewart said the North Bethesda area is attracting biotech and other industries, and support for that growth is imperative. There also needs to be continued marketing of the areas in the district, and a look at changing or easing regulations and other ways to incentivize business growth, she added.
Riley agreed there is opportunity for high-tech industry to come into the district, adding that most of those companies offer work-from-home policies. There also is an opportunity to tap into what certain areas in the district do well — such as Takoma Park’s arts scene, she said. Expanding the arts there should be pursued, she added.
The two candidates, however, differ somewhat in their views on climate change. Stewart said dealing with climate change is a high priority. Riley also believes that’s important, but said tackling other issues — particularly public safety and crime — are more pressing.
When it comes to issues, it’s important to consider climate change and housing in the same realm, Stewart said.
“When you look at the intersection of housing and climate change … there are a lot of ways of not just how do we help individual homeowners but [also] those people who own multifamily buildings become more energy-efficient?” Stewart said.
“We are feeling the effects of climate change now … we need to take bold steps moving forward,” she added.
Riley, however, said that while the county’s infrastructure needs to be improved rapidly to deal with flooding and other climate issues, it’s not “a top priority” of hers like supporting law enforcement is — in order to address crime throughout the district and county.
Many political observers peg the District 4 race as a comfortable win for Stewart — Democrats lead Republicans by voter registration countywide by about 4 to 1, and the district has some of the county’s most progressive Democratic strongholds, notably in Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
“I’m feeling very confident,” Stewart said. “As we head into the general election, we’ve spent a great deal of time talking to residents and listening to them about their concerns. And given my experience and what I want to prioritize for the residents, I think it’s a great match for District 4.”
Riley has heard from some who say she has no shot of winning the seat. But she said she’s still campaigning hard and has heard from residents in her condo community and elsewhere who believe it’s time for Republicans to have a voice in local elected office.
“There are some, believe me, that will dismiss me because I have an ‘R’ next to my name,” Riley said. “But there are quite a few … that don’t care. They don’t care that I’m a Republican, they just want a better quality of life in our county, and they want to be able to live in our county.”
Early voting for the general election is scheduled from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3. Election Day is scheduled for Nov. 8.