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 5.
The race for County Council District 5 will feature a former Montgomery County Public Schools teacher and longtime political activist against a tax attorney and real estate broker.
Kristin Mink, 37, of Silver Spring is the Democratic candidate facing Kate Woody, a 73-year-old Republican from Fairland. They are both running for a seat in the eastern district of the county, which includes parts of Silver Spring, along with Colesville, White Oak, Four Corners, Fairland and Burtonsville.
Mink taught in Montgomery County Public Schools from 2008 to 2010 and from 2015 to 2016, according to her LinkedIn page. She currently works for the Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group focusing on progressive politics. Mink beat seven other candidates in the Democratic, getting just over 42% of the vote.
Mink said that in the final weeks of the campaign, she has heard a lot from voters about tenants’ rights and the need to adopt some form of rent stabilization policy as residents in District 5 face rising rents. She added that many want more transportation options, along with more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to help make the county’s roads safer.
She’s also heard from parents about MCPS bus transportation issues, including lengthy delays to pick up students or buses not showing up at all.
Woody, who ran unopposed in the primary election, said she decided to run for the council when the county was considering a vaccine passport proposal late last and earlier this year, which would have required proof of vaccinations to enter many businesses in the county. After pushback from businesses and community members — Woody included — the proposal never reached a vote.
Woody says her concern over that proposal led her to reach out to the county’s Republican Party and she was recruited to run for the District 5 seat.
Mink and Woody both agree that at least some development is needed in order to provide more affordable housing in the district.
Mink has been vocal in recent months about supporting some sort of county rent stabilization policy in order to keep landlords from increasing rents by 10% or more. She’s optimistic that with a new council to be elected in Tuesday’s general election, some sort of bill can be passed.
“We don’t want to end profitability for landlords and we’re not going to,” Mink said regarding criticism of rent stabilization. “We’re not stepping in to make owning or renting out homes in Montgomery County more undesirable. We are merely working to prevent price gouging and to make sure our residents are not systematically displaced.”
Woody said there are already many types of housing in her district, including duplexes, triplexes and garden and high-rise apartments. Housing options exist, but some apartments need to be refurbished, she added.
More housing is needed, but she is worried that too much development done the wrong way could gentrify the district and displace current residents.
“Are we going to gentrify the area and have a three-story [apartment building] that comes out of a former single-family home?” Woody said. “And all of a sudden, prices on [the units] — they’re now tiny boxes — are six to seven to $800,000? How is that going to help our low-income people? How is it going to help our medium-income people?”
Both candidates also share common ground when it comes to furthering economic development countywide, including by providing assistance to small businesses.
Woody, along with other Republicans running for the council, have said that small businesses find it difficult to open or expand in the county because of cumbersome rules and permitting processes.
Mink said she would set up roundtables for small businesses and said that further review of county regulations is needed to see if there are any redundancies.
Woody also believes that the county is missing chances to court large businesses and employers. She thinks the county is missing a huge opportunity by not trying to bring NASA to the county.
Woody said that courting NASA, which runs the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, for any future expansion that the agency may be planning could bring a considerable economic boon, given all the contract and subcontractor work that would follow if there were a NASA site in the East County.
NASA could be an “anchor” for businesses and the county could try to incentivize any proposal near existing office space by offering discounted rents, she said.
A huge project in District 5 is Viva White Oak, a proposed $3 billion development complex that would create up to 7 million square feet of commercial development and up to 5,000 residential units in a village and “life sciences hub.”
The project has gotten county planning approvals, but groundbreaking has not yet occurred.
Mink said that if elected she would dedicate a staff member in her office to field questions about the project and also to solicit feedback from neighbors about how they want to see it implemented.
For Mink, addressing climate change and environmental issues means tackling other issues as well — such as creating more walkable and bikeable communities by upgrading infrastructure, for example.
Highway widening projects are not the answer, Mink said. Instead, she believes the county should be expediting its Safe Routes to School plan — which focuses on sidewalk improvements and other engineering changes to help create safer routes to schools — and transportation projects such as bus rapid transit.
There also could be incentives for businesses who allow workers to continue to work remotely, Mink said.
Woody believes there should be tax incentives to encourage businesses and residents to help clean up waterways and green spaces, whether through picking up trash or more extensive projects.
Green spaces and more walkways should be protected and created throughout the district, she said.
Woody added that even though county officials have encouraged residents to switch to electric vehicles, it is not the only answer to dealing with transportation climate issues.
The batteries in those vehicles can catch fire when they are overcome by flooding, leading to greater environmental issues, Woody said. She said she doesn’t oppose electric vehicle technology, but believes the county is rushing in its advocacy to get people to switch to them.
The final stretch
In a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a roughly 4-to-1 margin, Woody remains optimistic she can win the District 5 race. She is a life-long county resident and said she knows the county well.
“I think my chances are excellent,” Woody said. “My opponent is someone who is very opposite my viewpoint, very opposite my feeling that people should … be able to make their own choices, that people are competent.”
Mink, for her part, said she is campaigning as hard as when she announced she was running last year.
“I don’t want to count any chickens before they hatch,” Mink said. “I’m very grateful to live in a highly Democratic area. I know that is helpful for us Democratic nominees, but we’re not going to treat anything like a done deal.”
Election Day is Tuesday and voters can cast ballots from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mail-in ballots will be accepted as long as they are postmarked by the close of polling places.