Updated at 10:30 a.m. – While the five candidates running as a slate for the City of Rockville Council never mentioned her by name Monday, it didn’t take long for the criticism to start flowing of incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton.
The Team Rockville slate, which includes Sima Osdoby as its mayoral candidate, used its official announcement event in a neighborhood clubhouse to rail against Newton and incumbent council member Beryl Feinberg. The election is Nov. 3.
Feinberg, who was on the Team Rockville slate in 2013, has been left off this time after siding with Newton on some of the city’s biggest issues—most involving the development potential of the city of more than 60,000 residents that serves as Montgomery County’s government seat.
“The tone that I have heard from certain local officials in the past year worries me,” said Clark Reed, a first-time candidate, member of the Team Rockville slate and Twinbrook resident who is the chairman of the city’s Environment Commission.
“I have seen personal grudges grow into dysfunction, walls go up, trust eroded and the tensions on the council are not like some passing thunderstorm, but they’re like this continuous shower of negativity,” Reed told an audience of supporters. “On the big issues that are before us, facts are not driving council negotiations, uncompromising positions are. Worst-case scenarios are. Fear-mongering is stopping us from moving forward.”
Council member Julie Palakovich Carr, who is running for re-election on the Team Rockville slate, characterized her first two-year term as disappointing, pointing to divisive 3-2 council votes on loosening the city’s development moratorium standard and allowing residents to keep backyard hens.
“Some of the biggest legislative accomplishments have come in spite of some members of the body, such as lifting the moratorium on new residential development, reforming the city’s animal control laws and improving pedestrian safety in the [Rockville] Pike Plan,” Palakovich Carr said. “I’m so proud to be running with a group of people who will engage in reasonable, fact-driven debate. People who will represent all stakeholders in the city, not just a vocal minority of naysayers.”
Slate member and council candidate Mark Pierzchala, who narrowly lost the 2013 mayoral election to Newton, had perhaps the sharpest criticisms of the mayor, noting that he supported several initiatives that have improved city operations and its economy. Pierzchala and Newton served as council members from 2009-2013.
“Of all the candidates for council or for mayor, I’m the only one in those four years who can claim to have voted for the police station, who can claim to have voted for the senior center improvements and for the Gude Drive maintenance facility, a facility that keeps your snow plows going during the blizzards,” Pierzchala told the crowd. “I’m the only one who can claim to have voted to bring Choice Hotels International to our Town Center.”
Newton said Tuesday that she voted against the Choice Hotels deal because she didn't think the city should be providing taxpayer money to lure a multi-billion dollar corporation. But she said she is happy the company is in Rockville and she has worked with it on numerous issues since its relocation.
"I don't think anybody has worked harder than I have to benefit the city," Newton said in response to some of Pierzchala's statements.
Feinberg couldn't be reached for comment. Registered council candidates also include challengers Brigitta Mullican and Rich Gottfried.
Council member Virginia Onley, who was on the Team Rockville slate in 2013, will be on it again this fall. Osdoby, who must take on Newton directly, focused many of her comments Monday on the delay of the Rockville Pike Plan.
Many of the Team Rockville slate and its supporters believe the city’s Planning Commission has purposely delayed the completion of the plan—which was begun in 2007—to avoid the likely redevelopment it might trigger along a two-mile mostly commercial stretch of Rockville Pike south of the city’s center.
Osdoby criticized city leaders for not pushing the plan forward as major mixed-use development happens around the city in places such as White Flint and Gaithersburg.
“The economic lifeline of the city is Rockville Pike. It’s being developed, or not developed, according to a plan made in 1989,” Osdoby said. “What I’m hearing is one-note and that note is no. And then sometimes I hear no note at all. That’s silence. That’s doing nothing. Just saying no or failing to act is not good policy. Doing nothing costs.”
Newton said that no single person has the ability to hold up the plan, though she'd like to see the city's master plan completed before the Pike Plan to incorporate broader ideas about what the city should become.
"We should be figuring out what the city needs, where we're going to put development, how we're going to support that development," Newton said. "How we're going to pay for the infrastructure that has to be in place to support that development. I'm not just talking about schools. I'm talking about water, sewer, road capacity."