Interviews with the six Democratic candidates for county executive
Home: Rockville; married, two children
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Washington University in St. Louis, 1973; master’s degree (urban and regional planning), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1975
Professional Background: Montgomery County Planning Department, 2004-2017 (acting director, 2012-2013; deputy director, 2013-2017)
Political Experience: Member, Rockville City Council (1991-1995), Rockville mayor (1995-2001)
What distinguishes you from the other Democratic contenders for county executive?
I’m the only candidate who has both executive experience and a tremendous knowledge of the county. I also have a proven track record in terms of the things that I got accomplished when I was mayor of Rockville and at the planning department. The planning department, to me, is the perfect complement to being mayor: I got to work with all the different neighborhoods in the county.
One of your opponents recently took a swipe at your planning background, saying, ‘I don’t think when you get around the county there’s a sense that this is a particular area of excellence and citizen satisfaction.’
He is right about one thing: A lot of people don’t like development. And so, yes, if he said, ‘Do you think it’s good that Rose is from the planning department,’ people would probably say, ‘Oh, they’ve approved way too much development.’ It’s something I’m very proud of because if the county doesn’t grow, it stagnates, and if we want to have money to do all the wonderful things that we do, we better continue to grow, or what the residents will find is their taxes continuing to go up. …I think the fact that I am so unabashedly saying I would like to encourage more economic development is something that sets me apart from several of my opponents.
The planning department is sometimes criticized by citizen groups as insensitive to their concerns. As a potential county executive, does this need to be addressed?
Yes and no. People hate change. What I think is great is that planners have the courage—and I do mean that—to realize things aren’t going to stay the same, that we have a growing population and need to provide places for them to live. They can put up with the tremendous resistance [they] get…and actually make sure that the county is able to grow and thrive.
Now here’s where I’m on the side [of the critics]. We always bragged at the planning department that our plans were in balance, that we don’t allow any more growth than what we have infrastructure for. But the development moves forward, and the infrastructure promised in the plan does not get funded; it’s not the planning department’s job to fund it; that’s the county’s. And I would try very hard to get some of that provided. So I do think there’s a reason that people feel they’ve been sold a bill of goods.
Over the next decade, what do you feel are the major challenges facing Montgomery County?
One of the reasons I got into this race is that I really felt that the demographics of this county have changed so tremendously and that we talk a good game, but we don’t live it. We say that we welcome the changing Montgomery County, but the fact of the matter is that we continue to perhaps favor certain ZIP codes with some of our policies. As a result, I don’t think the quality of life [in some communities] is the same as others, and I would really like to put in programs that would make it more equal.
It has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. It was not a well-to-do city, and it was a very segregated city. I worked very hard [in several campaigns while attending high school] to make sure that the African-American community in Memphis was able to get the same education, the same services as others were. That really shaped a lot of who I am, and I see some of the same problems in 2018 that I saw in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Notwithstanding your experience, are there areas where you feel you’ll face a learning curve if elected?
One of the things I hadn’t quite realized until I got on the campaign trail is that while the school budget is such a large part of the county budget, [and] because there is an elected school board, the county executive does not really get to decide how that money is spent. For me, it’s really figuring out [if there are] programs that we currently support in the schools that either aren’t producing what they should be for what they cost, or are there ways to re-prioritize? And I think if we reach out [to the superintendent and school board] and really sit down and talk, maybe there are some things we can change.
What needs to be done to grow the county’s tax base to fund the needs you’ve cited?
One of the first things is to simply make the business community feel like they’re appreciated here. I’ve talked to several well-known developers and consulting firms and others who really say they’re ready to throw in the towel. It was obviously great to be on the short list for Amazon, because it does point out that we really have a lot of things going for us. So why are we viewed so negatively? I do think that the business community would like to feel a little better appreciated.
Had you been on the county council in 2016, would you have been part of the unanimous vote that was required under the county charter to raise property taxes by an average of almost 9 percent?
I don’t think we had to have that big a tax increase. And I think I would have been very hesitant to approve the increase. [County Executive] Ike [Leggett] originally proposed a bigger tax increase based on the Wynne decision [which mandated refunds to county residents who paid local income taxes elsewhere]. And then, when he was able to push it further out, he told the council that he didn’t need that big a tax increase. …I’ve been a politician before, and I know the pressure they were under to please various constituencies. …I do feel their pain. And that’s why we have to expand the tax base or we are going to feel more pain going forward.
You’re on record as backing Ike Leggett’s decision last year to veto the first version of the $15 minimum wage. Would you have signed the second version of the bill, as he did?
I probably would have. It did spread it out over a longer period of time, [and] given the number of people who really felt this was something that would help them, it would have been very hard to look them in the eye and say no. I don’t know how anybody lives in this county on minimum wage; it’s not that I don’t feel their pain. But if it’s going to make McDonald’s go to robotic flippers, that doesn’t help anyone have a higher standard of life. It just takes away jobs.
In addition to Gov. Hogan’s proposed widening of I-270, what other steps need to be considered to deal with transportation in the county?
I would love to do more to extend some mass transit options outside of the county line, and all the way up to Frederick. …I have said publicly, and it’s certainly not where the planning department is, that I’m not sure we shouldn’t build M-83, the continuation of the Midcounty Highway, because we based our growth on it, and we haven’t provided it. [Editor’s note: The proposed highway would run for 8.7 miles between Clarksburg and Derwood; so far, only a 3-mile segment has been constructed.]
I’m not sure [bus rapid transit] is the way we should be going right now. Maybe on Route 29, where we’ve got the pilot project, because there’s so little transportation there and we’re getting so much traffic. If we’re really going to be going to more of a vehicle-on-demand sort of system, the problem with BRT is that you have to get to it. I live a mile and a half from the Rockville Metro station, and it’s still difficult for me to get there. But if I could just have a little vehicle that could come pick me up at my door, that’s a whole different thing.
Did you vote in favor of the 2016 term-limits referendum?
I voted for it because I did indeed feel this county is going in the wrong direction. I used to be adamantly opposed to term limits…but I have to say as a woman, when it’s so hard for women to get elected in general, we need to open up the process. I am surprised that three term-limited councilmembers are running for this job. To me, what they were basically being told is: ‘You have tried hard, but you haven’t gotten the job done that needed to get done.’ One of the reasons I got into this race was that it said to me that people are looking for a new way of doing things.
Read the extended versions of the interviews in the Voters Guide.