GAITHERSBURG – While two of the candidates for Gaithersburg mayor in this fall’s election –incumbent Mayor Jud Ashman and Council member Henry Marraffa – have many years of experience with the city government, the third is an outsider who is running to make the city more transparent and responsive.
Darline D.H. Bell-Zuccarelli was born in Washington, D.C., but moved to her grandmother’s home in Poolesville after her mother murdered her father. She graduated from Poolesville High School and moved to Gaithersburg in 1978. She earned a degree in business administration from Towson University and currently works as the controller for the ARC of Montgomery County.
Bell-Zuccarelli first considered running for office some 20 years ago.
“I really liked Mayor [Edward] Bohrer,” said Bell-Zuccarelli. “He cared about citizens; he made sure that everybody was happy. I thought that was the kind of job I’d like to have. But I didn’t want to run against Mayor Bohrer because I liked him.”
After Bohrer’s death, Council member Sidney Katz was appointed mayor, and he served until his election to the County Council last year. At the time Katz was appointed, Bell-Zuccarelli was working for the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was contemplating a presidential run.
“I liked Sidney Katz, too,” Bell-Zuccarelli said. “He had Mayor Bohrer’s flavor, he cared about people. You could come down to his store if you wanted to talk to him about something, and he’d really listen to you, so I didn’t want to run against him, either.”
Bell-Zuccarelli said she felt compelled to run in this election because she has perceived a shift in the attitude of city officials in recent years.
“Old town Gaithersburg is a ghost town,” Bell-Zuccarelli said. “Nothing’s happening over hear and nobody knows why one section of Gaithersburg is being abandoned while another is prosperous.”
Marraffa has also frequently raised the issue of lack of development in east Gaithersburg, stating that the city’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance is an impediment to economic development in the area.
“If the APFO is the thing that’s holding up development, then it’s something we should discuss,” Bell-Zuccarelli said. “But this is not just something that happened overnight; it’s been going on for a while. The APFO didn’t stop development in Crown and the other parts of town. We’re getting mixed information about the APFO, about development and other things. It’s unclear what our problem is, and that’s one of the main reasons I’m running. If the source of your problems is unclear, you lose the public trust. I think there’s an opportunity for someone new to run and clarify these matters.”
Bell-Zuccarelli said that, if elected, she would develop mechanisms for better explaining city issues to the public.
“We need to have Gaithersburg 101 for anyone who wants to be involved with the city and understand what’s going on,” Bell-Zuccarelli said. “For instance, with school overcrowding, people need to understand if the APFO is the problem, if competing priorities are the problem, and they need to know whether or not the Gaithersburg City Council can actually do anything about it or not. School overcrowding is an important issue for me, and the way it’s explained to us, it makes you think that Gaithersburg can do something. But if you listen long enough, you realize they’re saying, ‘No, we can’t do anything about Montgomery County Public Schools.’ That’s poor education and people are dissatisfied.”
Bell-Zuccarelli previously coached boxing for truant students at Gaithersburg High School, telling them that receiving training was conditional on their remaining in school.
“That’s my activism,” Bell-Zuccarelli said. “When I feel like I have to do something for the people, I actually get out and do it.”
Bell-Zuccarelli attends every Monday night meeting or work session of the Gaithersburg City Council. She still lives in the city with her daughter.