ROCKVILLE – Affordable housing, immigration, pedestrian safety and tree cover were some of the topics discussed Oct. 15 in a debate at the Twinbrook Community Recreation Center.
On Nov. 5, Rockville City residents who have not already voted by mail will go to the polls to elect four council members from a slate of 13 and one mayor from a slate of two.
Because there are so many candidates, the debate, sponsored by Twinbrook Village and Twinbrook Civic Association, was broken down into three sections.
The last section was reserved for the two candidates for mayor – incumbent Bridget Donnell Newton, who is a part of the Rockville Forward slate, and her opponent Virginia Onley, who is with Team Rockville.
Onley, who has been on the city council for six years, came out swinging, saying Newton has voted against affordable housing and the Fostering Community Trust Act and has not filled many vacancies on city boards.
Newton answered that she “supports all kinds of housing,” if they were part of a smart growth plan.
She explained that she voted against the community trust act, which stops employees from asking people what their immigration status is, because “Rockville already has a welcoming attitude.” It is up to the police to decide how to handle a person’s immigration status and whether to inform the federal government, Newton said.
As for vacancies, Newton said that “unfortunately not all the people I have put forward” were approved by the council.”
Newton, who spoke out against Maryland Gov. Larry’s Hogan’s plan to widen Route 270, also said, if re-elected, she would advocate for repairs at Twinbrook Elementary School, which she said was not ADA-compliant and some children had to sit on the floor.
Onley endorsed a solar panel initiative and urged voters not to be “stalled by business as usual.”
A standing-room crowd of about 150 people listened as the candidates described their backgrounds and spoke of their priorities. Some in the audience were upset that the debate did not include time for audience questions.
Running with Newton on the Rockville Forward Team are incumbent Beryl Feinberg, Monique Ashton, Kuan Lee and Suzan Pitman.
Running with Onley on Team Rockville are Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, James Hedrick, David Myles and incumbent Mark Pierzchala.
Independent candidates include Richard Gottfried, Charles Littlefield, Donald Masters, Brigitta Mullican and Matthew Perkins.
Voters will choose four of them to sit on the council, which has had only three members for almost a year following Julie Palakovich Carr’s election to the House of Delegates in District 17.
In order to accommodate the council candidates during the forum, they were split into two groups.
Griffiths said she would work for affordable housing so that more people would choose to live in Rockville and remain there their whole lives. She also would work to bring jobs to the city.
Feinberg called for balanced growth and sustainable budgets and said she would work for safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, a tax credit for first-time homeowners and pedestrian and bike safety.
Lee pushed for the inclusion of all groups.
“I am for progress but not (at) such a rapid rate” that services and school capacity cannot keep up,” he said.
Hedrick said he favored economic development and allowing seniors to age in place.
Gottfried said he would work to preserve parks and would be an advocate for those living near the proposed widening of Route 270 project.
Ashton vowed to help grow business in the city, work on pedestrian safety and improve schools.
“When our schools are suffering, we are all suffering,” she noted.
Pitman promised to protect the tree canopy and watershed areas. She also said she would work for neighborhoods.
Perkins said he would govern with an eye for the future. He said the city’s population, currently at around 70,000, would probably reach 100,000 in the next 20 to 25 years, and “we need to prepare for that.”
Myles said making parks more accessible and safer for pedestrians, as well as those who drive, are some of his campaign promises. He also said he would work to make Rockville more affordable.
Mullican vowed to “bring an independent voice” to the council. She said she favored widening Route 270 and was the only candidate to come out strongly against the way Rockville and Montgomery County deal with illegal immigrants.
She objected to all immigrants, both legal and illegal, being lumped together.
Pierzchala, who has been on the council for eight years, said he favored smart growth.
“We are not making room for our children. They can’t afford to live here,” he said.
Masters said he would work town environmental sustainability.
Littlefield, who has been a member of the planning commission for seven years, said he would if elected, continue to keep an eye on growth. He also said he favored expanding the size of the city council.
Most of the candidates agreed with smart growth and spoke out for affordable housing near public transportation while still allowing for green space.
“Retaining tree cover is important, but you do need flexibility,” noted Hedrick.
All members of the two political slates vowed not to merely vote with their slate but to have an independent voice.