Updated on July 2.
ROCKVILLE – Calling for more transparency and greater cohesion in city government, Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton announced she would be seeking a third term as the city’s mayor.
Newton, who previously ran as an independent, has now formed a coalition of candidates – with herself at the top of the ticket – as part of an effort to make government in the city more cohesive.
“I decided to run for another term because I am concerned about the direction and future of our city,” Newton said. “I want to make sure that we grow in measured and responsible ways that include everybody.”
While elections in Rockville are non-partisan, there has frequently been a strong political divide on the mayor and council. Political bloc Team Rockville has had majority control of the mayor and council for most of the four years in the city. Newton, who previously won election without forming a coalition ticket, now has changed tunes and formed Rockville Forward.
The coalition – consisting of herself, incumbent councilmember Beryl Feinberg, Kuan Lee, Monique Ashton and Suzan Pittman – is her attempt to break up the power that Team Rockville has on the mayor and council.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of 3-2 (votes) and I’d like to see a lot of 5-0. I’d really like to see the council collaborate and come up with, you know, the best solution for all,” Newton said.
Team Rockville is currently composed of councilmembers Virginia Onley and Mark Pierzchala. Onley announced she is running for mayor, while Pierzchala, along with Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, James Hedrick and David Myles are running for spots on the council.
Unlike Newton’s coalition, Team Rockville has traditionally had a united vision concerning certain issues in the city, namely development, where its members have argued for more density and more growth as a solution to the city’s growing cost-of-living and traffic congestion issues.
But Newton and Feinberg insist the divide is not just about disagreement over issues, but over the way Team Rockville has gone about the process.
“I’m running with Rockville Forward because the last four years have been exceedingly difficult,” Feinberg said. “The members of Team Rockville voted as a bloc more times than not, and there was an unwillingness to consider ideas and initiatives – more often than not – if they came from myself or the mayor.”
Feinberg is a former member of Team Rockville, but she left the bloc after several disagreements with its other members on key issues — mainly development.
Newton has a more conservative vision for growth than Team Rockville.
While she supports more development and housing in the city – with the addition of more townhomes, apartments and even duplexes – she said there is still a place for the traditional single-family housing, which is a staple in suburbs like Rockville.
Feinberg spoke about the challenge of grappling with a changing economy that has hurt brick-and-mortar retail stores, especially in the city. In the past few years, many stores in Rockville Town Square have closed their doors, as they have struggled to pay rent in Rockville’s expensive downtown district.
For the 2019 election, the city is moving to a vote-by-mail format, making it harder to campaign as an independent candidate, Newton said, adding that it is easier to get elected if she combines her resources with other campaigns.
The issue has become a hot topic of debate within the city as members of Team Rockville have pushed for greater density and development in Rockville’s downtown to promote more business.
The mayor serves a four-year term, and sits on the five-person mayor and council, Rockville’s legislative body. Newton began her career in Rockville government after first being elected to the city council in 2009.