County Leaders, Progressive Group Support Onley in Rockville Mayor Race
Incumbent says city needs to ‘retain local control on the issues and answers’
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, left, and Councilwoman Virginia Onley
This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. Sept. 24, 2019, to clarify a quote by Mark Pierzchala about diversity.
Montgomery County leaders, former County Council candidates, and a wide-reaching progressive organization are throwing their support behind a Rockville mayoral candidate in an untraditional way.
Rockville Councilwoman Virginia Onley is taking on incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton in the Nov. 5 nonpartisan city election. They each have a slate of candidates running with them for City Council. This year’s race is for mayor and four council seats.
Onley’s campaign support includes a sitting at-large County Council member, three state legislators and Progressive Maryland, her campaign manager, Michelle Whittaker, said.
Historically, endorsements and support for Rockville mayoral candidates have remained local, according to Newton and three-term city Councilman Mark Pierzchala, who ran unsuccessfully against Newton for mayor in 2013.
“This is a change in Rockville’s elections,” said Newton, who is not seeking endorsements outside the city. “It’s imperative that we retain local control on the issues and answers in our city.”
At-Large County Council Member Will Jawando and former District 3 council candidate Ben Shnider will host house parties for Onley, Whittaker said. Shnider lost with 47 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary to Sydney Katz.
Newton said Onley has already had two house parties outside Rockville — in Chevy Chase and Frederick County.
State Sen. Susan Lee (D-Dist. 16) and first-term Dels. Gabriel Acevero (D-Dist. 39), who represents Gaithersburg, Germantown and Clarksburg, and Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Dist. 20), who represents Takoma Park, are supporting Onley.
Whittaker’s sister — former at-large County Council candidate Brandy Brooks, who placed seventh among 33 candidates in the 2018 election — will also advocate for Onley, the city’s first African American mayoral candidate.
The campaign styles represent a contrast between the two candidates, who also have different campaign priorities.
In an interview Friday, Onley said that if elected, she will make affordable housing in the city her top priority.
Whittaker said Onley’s support is part of a movement to address a growing diverse population and progressive values, such as affordable housing, immigration and the minimum wage.
Newton said her campaign will focus on a vision for Rockville’s future, including continuing to provide excellent services to residents and visitors, protecting the character of Rockville’s neighborhoods while managing its growth, and welcoming all people.
Newton said she supports a continuum of housing across all sectors “to continue to support the kind of city Rockville is.”
“We need workforce housing and mixed-income housing,” Newton said. “It does not have to be just one type or all in the same place. Mixed-income housing works best.”
Other goals Newton’s has talked about include adding more green space to the city, making progress on the rehabilitation of King Farm Farmstead and fostering the city’s partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools.
Pierzchala, a city council candidate on Onley’s “Team Rockville” slate, said affordable housing is also a top priority.
“Bridget Newton has always found a way not to support it,” Pierzchala said.
Pierzchala also said he and Onley support increasing the number of City Council members.
“It makes it easier to be inclusive,” he said. “It is impossible to represent all the diversity in the city with just five people.”
Pierzchala, Newton’s biggest antagonist, however, agrees with the mayor on keeping support local.
“I explicitly didn’t reach out,” he said of endorsements. “It’s a Democratic dominated county. I just wouldn’t get their endorsements. They will always want something anyway.”
Onley said Progressive Maryland has also endorsed another candidate on her slate — James Hedrick, a finance specialist at the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
The rest of Onley’s “Team Rockville” slate are Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, executive director of a free legal services clinic for immigrants, and David Myles, a doctor and Navy veteran.
Those running with Newton as part of the “Rockville Forward” team are incumbent Councilwoman Beryl Feinberg; Monique Ashton, a public relations executive and coordinator of the Richard Montgomery High School Cluster; Suzan Pitman, formerly the president of the East Rockville Civic Association; and Kuan Lee, an attorney and board member of the Rockville Sister Cities Corp.
Other candidates, not part of either slate, are:
• Richard Gottfried, a certified public accountant
• Charles Littlefield, a senior finance manager at the international nonprofit Plan International USA, which advocates for children’s rights and gender equality
• Donald A. Masters, a home and building inspector
• Brigitta Mullican, a retired federal government employee and member of several Rockville volunteer boards
• Matthew Perkins, a criminologist at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a community nonprofit
As of Sept. 20, there are 3,594 more registered Rockville voters than there were in 2015, when the city held its last election. Currently, 44,343 people are registered to vote, according to Rockville City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell.
The last time the city saw such an uptick in registered voters is 2013, when the city voted to move from two-year to four-year terms. Newton said the majority of Rockville supports off-year elections to keep the city nonpartisan.
For the last three elections — 2011, 2013 and 2015 — Rockville voters consistently turned out at a rate of 16 percent.
Newton said she has raised about $5,000 for the election. Onley has raised $10,500, according to Whittaker.
Neither candidate said they would accept campaign contributions from real estate developers or entities doing business with the city. The first pre-election campaign finance report is due Oct. 7.
Three candidate forums are scheduled:
• The League of Women Voters will host a debate from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Rockville Senior Center at 1150 Carnation Drive.
• The Rockville Chamber of Commerce will host a forum from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at Thomas Farm Community Center at 700 Fallsgrove Drive.
• The Twinbrook Community Association will host a forum from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Twinbrook Community Recreation Center at 12920 Twinbrook Parkway.
Rockville 11, which is channel 11 on county cable systems, will broadcast the forums live.
Voters may either mail in their ballots or drop them off at City Hall, or they may vote at City Hall on Election Day.