Updated: Rockville Mayor Reelected; Four Council Seats Split Between Opposing Slates

Updated: Rockville Mayor Reelected; Four Council Seats Split Between Opposing Slates

Two incumbents, two newcomers elected to council; heavy turnout causes long delay in results

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DonnellOnley

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, left, defeated Councilwoman VIrginia Onley, right, on Tuesday to win another mayoral term in Rockville.

FIle photos

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton has won reelection in Rockville’s municipal election, defeating Councilwoman Virginia Onley, according to unofficial results announced early Wednesday, several hours after the polls closed Tuesday night.

Donnell Newton had 7,561 votes. Onley received 4,230 votes.

When it came to deciding four City Council seats, voters split their choices among two competing slates.

Two winners were incumbent Beryl Feinberg and newcomer Monique Ashton, who ran on a “Rockville Forward” slate with Donnell Newton. The other two winners were incumbent Mark Pierzchala and newcomer David Myles, who were aligned with Onley as part of “Team Rockville.”

Ashton was first with 5,665 votes, followed by Feinberg with 5,648. Myles was next with 5,148 votes. Pierzchala had 4,800.

Candidates waited for hours to receive the results of the election, which weren’t announced until roughly 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday — 5 ½ hours after the polls closed.

By the time the majority of the votes were tabulated, Onley and her supporters had long departed their watch party at Bar Louie in downtown Rockville. Donnell Newton also disbanded her watch party at Giuseppi’s, a nearby pizza restaurant, around the same time.

Record voter turnout — nearly double that of Rockville’s previous election in 2015 — contributed to the delay, along with a large number of voters who cast their ballots in person before the polls closed, said Marylou Berg, the city’s director of communications.

Jurisdictions across the state will be eyeing Rockville as the city analyzes the successes and failures of its first vote-by-mail election. The city is the first in Maryland to implement the system, which involved sending out ballots to tens of thousands of active voters and hand-verifying the 12,213 received.

As of Sept. 20, Rockville had 44,343 registered voters, according to Marylou Berg, a spokeswoman for the city.

The Team Rockville slate endorsed “smart growth” policies, with an emphasis on adding high-density zoning in hopes of increasing the availability of affordable housing, Onley said.

Pierzchala said the team was focused on building density around transit centers and Rockville Town Center, which has suffered from high turnover among retail tenants since its construction.

Rockville Forward, helmed by Donnell Newton, prioritized “managed growth,” she said in a previous interview. Donnell Newton has voted against housing projects in the past and in 2015, was one of two city elected officials — with Feinberg — to vote against relaxing the city’s Adequate Public Facility Standards ordinance for schools.

Onley voted for the change, which could have allowed for some development to move forward in areas with schools more than 110 percent of capacity. Opponents argued that the ordinance maintained educational quality for students, while supporters argued that it choked development in the city.

“This is my sixth campaign, and the race is always divided along pro-development and anti-development lines,” Pierzchala said. “All the other issues are just secondary.”

It was a race with higher-than-normal interest from county and state officials. Montgomery County Council Member Will Jawando attended Onley’s watch party and sent an email endorsing Team Rockville last week. The slate’s emphasis on affordable housing dovetailed neatly with the council’s current priorities, he said.

“And the fact that [Onley] would be the city’s first female African American mayor wasn’t lost on me either,” Jawando added at the watch party.

Team Rockville also received endorsements from multiple state officials, including Sen. Susan Lee and Del. Julie Palakovich Carr, a former Rockville City Council member. Donnell Newton emphasized that she only solicited — and received — endorsements from former Rockville mayors.

Feinberg was endorsed by multiple county representatives, including State’s Attorney John McCarthy and Sheriff Darren Popkin. She also received a campaign contribution from County Council Member Sidney Katz.

The Rockville Forward slate also included Kuan Lee, who was in fifth place, with 4,639 votes, and Suzan Pitman, who was in sixth place, with 4,239 votes.

The next finishers were Team Rockville slate members Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, with 3,876 votes, and James Hedrick, with 3,442 votes.

“Whether I win or lose, I’m just happy,” Cotte Griffiths said at the Team Rockville watch party. “I’m excited because I always wanted to run for office, and now I finally did.”

The field of 13 candidates for four council seats also included five people running independently, not on a slate — Brigitta Mullican (3,258 votes), Richard Gottfried (1,401 votes), Charles Littlefield (1,233 votes), Matthew Perkins (1,040 votes), and Donald Masters (508 votes).

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