ROCKVILLE – Councilmember Virginia Onley will lead the Team Rockville slate in its pick for mayor in the upcoming city election.
The two-term member of the Rockville City Council will challenge incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton in November’s election, in what could be a contentious campaign.
While Rockville has nonpartisan elections – meaning, candidates who do not run as members of traditional political parties – there are political slates or blocs.
For the past few years, Team Rockville has been the main political force in the city, championing more growth and density.
In addition to Onley, Councilmember Mark Pierzchala and Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, James Hendrick and David Myles, are running as members of Team Rockville for city council.
“I’m running because I think that we need different leadership,” Onley said. “I think that the city is not harnessing all of its talent and culture, and I think I’m the best person to do that.”
Team Rockville does not have a platform yet, but the emphasis for Onley is on a few general issues, such as revitalizing Rockville Town Center and finding a way to utilize talent in the city better.
During the past year, several notable businesses have closed shop in Rockville Town Center, citing high rents. Chief among them was Dawsons Market, which briefly closed its doors before reopening, thanks to a city grant. But Dawson’s brief closure triggered a community outcry in Rockville, where residents blamed city officials for letting Rockville Town Center slip.
“We do need more density, and I think that businesses would have — those that went out of business — would have done better in Town Center if we had the density,” Onley said. “But we had a cap on heights, so we didn’t have the number of residents there that was needed to keep businesses going.”
While some in the city speculated that Pierzchala would run for mayor, he suggested to Onley that she run as Team Rockville’s mayoral candidate, saying he would prefer to take a more-minor role on the council.
“She can do something that other people in the city can’t do: she can unify the city, she can bring us together, she can calm down the political debate,” Pierzchala said of Onley. “She’s very respectful of everybody. On the other hand, she absolutely knows what she stands for, and she’ll stand up for it.”
Pierzchala has helped lead Team Rockville from the council, pushing for more density and development, especially near Rockville’s Metro Stations. This has led to attempts on Pierzchala’s part to amend the city’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance to allow for more development, which would mean raising the maximum capacity at Richard Montgomery High School.
Team Rockville is not the only political slate running in 2019.
In the previous campaign, in 2015, Newton ran as an independent, unaffiliated with any political slates. Now, along with Councilmember Beryl Feinberg, Kuan Lee, Suzan Pitman and Monique Ashton, she is running with the slate Rockville Forward.
While there may be some policy disagreement between the slates, the issue that divides them most is how the city has run over the past few years.
Newton and Feinberg have accused Team Rockville of acting as a political-bloc, often passing its agenda on 3-2 voting lines. The trust between Feinberg and Newton on one side, and Pierzchala and Onley on the other, has eroded. This is evidenced by the fact that they cannot agree on a replacement for Julie Palakovich Carr, who left the council in January after becoming a member of the House of Delegates.