Rockville Council Member Onley Enters City’s Mayoral Race

Rockville Council Member Onley Enters City’s Mayoral Race

Incumbent Newton uncertain about seeking third term

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Virginia-Onley

Virginia Onley

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A member of Rockville City Council since 2013 is planning to run for mayor this fall and it is unclear whether the incumbent mayor, Bridget Donnell Newton, will seek another term

Newton, first elected mayor in 2013 after serving on the five-member council since 2009, said she has not announced her plans for the November election. Her comments came during an interview Monday following a news conference on a proposed expansion of the Beltway and Interstate 270.

Newton, 61, was responding to a question about City Council member Virginia Onley, who announced over the weekend she planned to run for mayor on a slate known as “Team Rockville.”

“I have not announced that I’m running, so I’m not sure who Virginia’s running against. I wish everyone all the best,” Newton said.

Onley, 69, announced her candidacy on Saturday. Other members of “Team Rockville” include incumbent council member Mark Pierzchala, who has served three nonconsecutive terms; Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, executive director of a free legal services clinic for immigrants; James Hedrick, a finance specialist at the Federal Housing Finance Agency; and David Myles, a pediatrician and former Navy veteran who served on medical missions in Central and South America.

Candidates will be vying for seats on the council now occupied by Onley, Pierzchala and Beryl Feinberg. Another seat became vacant last November when former council member Julie Palakovich Carr was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates; the position remains unfilled.

In addition to the slate candidates, Brigitta Mullican, a retired federal government employee and a member of several Rockville volunteer boards, is running, and Feinberg is seeking another term.

Candidates have until Sept. 5 to file for the nonpartisan race.

The mayor and council conducted interviews with 22 candidates this spring in an attempt to fill the vacancy left by Palakovich Carr, but no candidate received the required three-vote majority. Griffiths, Hedrick and Myles were among those who ran for the vacant seat.

Onley said in an interview Monday that the council’s inability to fill Palakovich Carr’s seat was “a big deciding factor” in her decision to run for mayor.

“There were a lot of good candidates, and we just didn’t come to a consensus. So it’s things like that that I think different leadership will bring about a closure. I would have had an administrative [closed] session and a frank conversation with each person on the council … as the mayor you have the responsibility to the community to give closure to issues like that,” she said.

When asked about Newton’s performance, Onley declined to comment.

“I would let the voters rate mayor Newton’s performance. That’s not for me to do,” she said.

The city of more than 68,000 faces a number of issues including future plans for Rockville Town Square, housing density and what to do with the now-closed RedGate Golf Course. Onley said she has thought about the future of the golf course, but isn’t ready to discuss specifics.

“We will have a frank discussion. I do have some ideas of my own that I don’t want to share right now… 144 acres is a lot of land, and we could really take Rockville forward with our decisions on that property,” she said.

The last few years have been marked by tensions between the more moderate Newton and Feinberg, and the rest of their colleagues. Newton alluded to the internal politics when weighing whether to run for another term.

“People have to actually have conversations on the dais, do their homework. That is something I will be looking at going forward with everyone who throws their hat in the ring,” she said.

But Newton said there are other factors weighing on her aside from the political tensions.

“There’s also some other things. Having served four years as a council member and six as mayor, I have put in a great deal of time and effort,” Newton said. “My family has made sacrifices for me to have this opportunity, and those are things to think about.”

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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