GAITHERSBURG— On Aug. 26, the City of Gaithersburg Board of Elections certified three candidates in the race for City Council positions: Neil Harris, Ryan Spiegel and Robert Wu.
According to the city, the three spots up for election on the city council are at-large positions, meaning that once elected, each councilmember will represent the interests of the whole city as opposed to a specific ward.
Elections are scheduled to be held on Nov. 5 of this year, and each position is a four-year term.
As in previous years, the city of Gaithersburg will be offering absentee voting, which allows members of the community who are unable to get to a polling station to vote. In order to utilize absentee voting, residents can request an application through online download, by mail or by visiting the city hall. Applications will be available on Sept. 6.
“The city implemented both same-day voter registration and early voting in order to provide our residents with as many options as possible to vote and to encourage voter turnout,” said Lynn Board, who works as a city attorney for Gaithersburg.
Voting via absentee ballot is also a way for college students who are away at school to still participate in the local democratic process.
New this year is same-day voter registration. According to the city, the Gaithersburg’s Board of Supervisors of Elections authorized the decision, which will make it easier for more people to vote.
“City residents who are registered to vote in Montgomery County are automatically registered to vote in City of Gaithersburg elections,” the city wrote. “Those registering at the polls on Election Day will be asked to show an approved form of identification and will be casting provisional ballots. Upon verification of the individual’s eligibility to vote, the provisional ballot will then be counted.”
Harris has sat on the Gaithersburg City Council since his appointment in 2014 and will be running for reelection this November. He explained that some of his best work in Gaithersburg has been long term strategic planning, tough negotiations and addressing the needs of the city with practical solutions.
Harris explained that he has always been interested in politics.
“When I was a teenager, I was involved in a couple (of) campaigns in my hometown of Philadelphia, but what I found was that there were no good guys,” he said. “You know, it’s a big city with an old-school, rough-and-tumble (type of) politics, so I kind of stayed away and just followed from the sidelines.”
After moving to Gaithersburg, he found that residents can participate in local government and politics without getting involved with dirty or nefarious antics. So, when Sidney Katz, who was serving as mayor of Gaithersburg at the time, asked if Harris would consider running for a spot on the city council, he went for it.
“I thought that (sitting on the city council) would probably be something I’d be interested in,” he said.
During his time on the city council, Harris said, he has found working on tough projects very rewarding.
“As a businessperson who’s been responsible for much negotiation over my career, you always have to be prepared to ask for something at the end of a conversation. You have to know what you want, and that’s an area where I think that was very handy,” he said.
Councilmember Spiegel has sat on the Gaithersburg City Council for 12 years and will be running for reelection in November.
He noted a similar pull to effect change in local politics.
After a run for a state delegate position that would have represented the Gaithersburg and Rockville areas, Spiegel decided to set his sights on the city council.
“I had not thought much about municipal government, but as I began to learn about it, I realized that the city government is a wonderful place to effect change that really impacts people’s lives,” he said. “We are the level of government closest to the people, and we are able to build consensus and implement pragmatic solutions without getting bogged down in partisan politics.”
Spiegel said that during his time on the Gaithersburg City Council, he has been most proud of his work founding and implementing the Bank on Gaithersburg initiative, which includes workshops on building savings, responsible money management and understanding available resources.
“Banks and credit unions partner with the city to provide starter accounts and other products for our program participants. The ripple effects benefit all of us. Broader financial stability means that more of people’s hard-earned dollars stay in the local economy and that there is less need for taxpayer-subsidized safety net services,” Spiegel said.
Both Harris and Spiegel noted that Gaithersburg needs to continue to manage its growth and development, especially in places that need attention like Olde Towne and Lakeforest Mall.
Spiegel said that some of his favorite work has centered around economic development in the area.
“(That’s) because they are complex and challenging and require us to think creatively and to think long-term about how to respond to demographic trends, how to attract and retain good jobs and how to make housing affordable to people of varying means, while competing against other places around the country that are working on the same issues,” he said. “I enjoy the intellectual rigor and the challenge presented by these issues.”
Councilmember Wu has been sitting on the city council since 2015 and has thrown his hat in the ring for reelection in November.
He explained that being a part of the city council is important because of the positive impact local government can have on a community.
“Local government is the closest government to the people; we’re the most responsive and have the most impact on the lives of our residents,” he said. “As far as what drives the things that impact your day-to-day life, the trash being picked up and recycling, the development that’s going on, that’s around your house, your taxes, how you’re getting to your job. It’s all local government.”
Wu said that he is proud of the actions he has taken while serving on the council and pleased with the council’s ability to work collectively. He noted that the legislation that makes Gaithersburg parks free of cigarette smoke he had worked on with Councilmember Spiegel.
“Some of the other things I’m proud of since I’ve been on the council was that I introduced and was the proponent for the Styrofoam ban (in the city),” Wu said.
He also noted his work on transportation and environmental issues; for example, changing regulations to make it safer for bicyclists in the city and reducing Gaithersburg’s use of pesticides.
As of Sept. 4, Harris, Spiegel and Wu met the Aug. 26 deadline to be certified candidates. The deadline for write-in candidates to register is Oct. 18.