Tag Archives: Bridget Hill-Zayat

Incumbent turns aside former ally’s challenge in Kensington mayoral race

from a correspondent:

Tracey C. Furman won a third term as Kensington mayor on Monday, easily turning back a vigorous challenge from her immediate predecessor and onetime ally, Peter Fosselman.

In the town’s first contested mayoral election in eight years, Furman won 420 votes to Fosselman’s 368 – a six percent margin.

The race scrambled Kensington’s recent tradition of mostly sedate local politics. Campaign-related advocacy became intense enough on Kensington’s private listserv that Furman posted a call to participants to “find a way to stick to the more mundane topics like bears, plumbers and give aways on the listserv at least until” the election was over.

Running for local office, Furman added, “should not be a blood sport.”

Given the restrictions imposed to counter the Covid-19 pandemic, residents voted by mail with the option to deposit ballots at a drop-box at Town Hall. Participation soared by 42 percent over the contested mayoral election in 2012.

Most remarkable in this year’s voting was the electoral clout demonstrated by the winning candidates for Kensington’s part-time Town Council. Bridget Hill-Zayat, a first-term incumbent, rolled up 549 votes and her campaign ally, Nate Engle, a newcomer to Town politics, won 511 votes. They easily outdistanced the third candidate, Jon A. Gerson, a longtime Kensington resident and former Council member who received 356 votes.

Hill-Zayat and Engle were allied against the controversial Knowles Manor Senior Housing project, which was the subject of a neighbors’ lawsuit challenging parking plans and traffic patterns. The litigation has been settled.

Furman’s relatively easy victory came as a mild surprise, given Fosselman’s local prominence. He previously served 10 years as mayor before stepping down in 2016 — and encouraging Furman to seek the position. She ran, and won without opposition. She was unopposed for reelection in 2018.

Furman has lived in Kensington 40 years and her supporters include many townspeople who attend the local Methodist church, where she works as facilities manager. She also is popular with members of the K’town Ladies Guild, a social club for women.

Furman ran an aggressive campaign, sharply challenging Fosselman in their lone debate nine days before the election.

At one point during the debate, which was conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform, Furman accused Fosselman of “making this stuff up” — a testy response to his criticism that incivility and disrespect had intruded into Kensington’s official life.

Also during the debate, Furman took issue with Fosselman’s call for close enforcement of regulations on graffiti, signage, and parking, saying he preferred “to live more in a gated-type community.”

For Fosselman, defeat may mark the close of a once-promising career in electoral politics. The loss was his second in row: In 2018, Fosselman sought the Democratic party nomination for the District One seat on the Montgomery County Council, finishing a distant fifth to Andrew Friedson.

Shortly before the mayoral election, unflattering material about Fosselman, a master plan ombudsman for the county, was circulated anonymously through the mail. Fosselman said in an email to supporters that he had been called a liar, anti-Semitic, racist, and unfit to run. He also said the County Attorney “was contacted by someone making the case I have too many conflicts of interest to run … If anyone believes this is coming from some crazy person outside of Town, as has been suggested, think again. I know who some of these people are and you would be shocked.”

He did not go into specific detail, however.

Furman’s call for restraint was posted at the listserv three days before the election. She said she was not intending “to infringe on anyones [sic] right to free speech” but added, “could we possibly find a way to stick to the more mundane topics like bears, plumbers and give aways on the listserv at least until Monday June 1 at 9 p.m.,” when voting closed.

Furman, who likes to be called “Mayor Tracey,” claimed during her campaign to have brought nearly 20 businesses to Kensington. She also noted that her terms in office coincided with movement on development projects, including two senior-living complexes, one of them Knowles Manor.

She characterized herself in campaign literature as an active and engaged mayor, which is a part-time position.

“Under my leadership,” she declared, “the Town has stepped up fast and furious providing information both on our website and through bi-weekly eblasts. The Town created a COVID-19 webpage with links to important resources, virtual classes, shopping and take-out dining guides. The Town also sponsored a webinar for our small businesses to help them in applying for SBA loans.

“Keeping the [town’s] Farmers Market open every Saturday has been a priority,” she said, adding that “I’ve worked with the county to ensure our market met the requirements of the health department in order to remain operating.”

Mail voting was a departure from Kensington’s practice in local elections of voting at Town Hall during three hours in the evening on Election Day — and this year participation surged. In all, 790 votes were cast, not counting 27 ballots that were disqualified.

In the contested mayoral election in 2012, 556 ballots were submitted.

The winners begin their terms next month.


Three Vie for Two Seats on Kensington Council

by a correspondent in Kensington

Local politics in Kensington typically is a sedate pursuit and contested elections tend to be the exception. This year, not only has the mayor’s race attracted competition but three candidates are seeking to fill two seats on the nonpartisan Town Council.

Incumbent Duane Rollins, mayoral candidate Peter Fosselman’s husband, is stepping down but Bridget Hill-Zayat is seeking reelection to a second term. She won a seat on the Council in 2018, after having lived in town just three years.

Councilmember Hill-Zayat and Mayor Tracey Furman clashed in 2018 over the Knowles Manor Senior Housing project. In letters to planning staff, Hill-Zayat noted inadequate parking and “our town’s intense dislike of this project” while Furman expressed support on behalf of the Town Council.

A group of Kensington residents appealed the Planning Board’s approval but settled after improvements made regarding parking and the traffic pattern. Nate Engle, a senior climate change specialist for the World Bank who has lived in Kensington since 2011 and active in that group, is now seeking election to the Town Council.

Also running is Jon A. Gerson, a former director of economic development in Montgomery County and longtime town resident. Gerson regularly attends town meetings and helped support the creation of a town dog park. He served on the Town Council in the early 1980s but remains best known as the former political director for the county’s teachers union (MCEA).

The Washington Post editorial board was then a fierce critic, accusing Gerson of demanding that endorsed candidates donate to MCEA’s campaign and that he “threatened to withhold the group’s political support” from anyone backing an MCEA-opposed school board candidate.

Others might simply place Gerson’s actions under the rubric of “politics” and point out that he was an effective advocate. Locally, he played a significant role in trying to clear a path for now Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher when he first ran for delegate in District 18 in 2006.

The last contested Council race in Kensington was in 2017.

Voting this year will be conducted by mail, but ballots also may be deposited at a drop-box at Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street. This represents a marked shift from the Town’s normal practice of voting in person during the evening on election day. The impact on turnout is unknown, especially among the town’s apartment residents who usually vote at low rates.


Former allies now opponents in race for Kensington mayor

by a correspondent in Kensington

Two former political allies — Kensington’s top elected official and her immediate predecessor — are facing off in the Town’s nonpartisan mayoral election June 1.

The incumbent, Tracey C. Furman, is seeking a third two-year term against Peter Fosselman, who served 10 years as mayor before stepping down in 2016. At the time, Fosselman said he was excited that Furman, then a council member, was succeeding him. He said he had encouraged her to run for mayor, a part-time post.

Since then, their political friendship has soured over the conduct of Town affairs, including the pace and character of development in Kensington.

In a statement posted at the Town’s website, Furman takes credit for having “helped to attract nearly 20 new businesses” to Kensington. She also touts development activity in town that has coincided with her two terms, stating:

“When I took office, we were four years into a new Sector Plan without a single redevelopment to show for it.” Kensington’s sector plan was updated in 2012 after considerable wrangling. Furman has been closely allied with Councilmembers Darin Bartram and Conor Crimmins, whom she appointed to the Town’s development committee. Their terms expire next year.

Fosselman, as mayor, spearheaded approval of the sector plan. In a position statement at his campaign website, Fosselman pledges to adhere to the sector plan, “hold developers to their responsibilities for providing proper public amenities,” and “attract projects we envisioned,” as well as “seek fitting developers for our key intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Plyers Mill Road.”

A self-storage facility proposed at the southeast corner of that intersection drew considerable opposition in Kensington, which is bisected by the six north-south lanes of Connecticut Avenue. The Town government and the Montgomery County planning commission came out against the facility.

The candidates in Kensington’s first contested mayoral election since 2012 are long-established town residents. Furman has lived in Kensington 40 years and is facilities manager at the Methodist church in town. She likes to be called “Mayor Tracey” and often speaks about the importance of encouraging sense of small-town community in a densely populated area.

Fosselman, who ran unsuccessfully for state delegate in 2002 before winning election as mayor in 2006, began rising to local prominence years ago by operating a dog-walking service and gym in town. More recently, he has been a master plan ombudsman for the county. He is a past president of the Maryland Mayors’ Association and a former Maryland deputy secretary of state.

In 2018, Fosselman sought the Democratic nomination for the County Council’s District One seat but finished a distant fifth in an eight-candidate field.

Tomorrow: Kensington’s Council Race