Tag Archives: Rockville

Civil War Skirmish in Rockville

Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton has no opinion on whether the statue of a Confederate cavalry private outside the courthouse in Rockville should be removed. “It’s a County decision. It’s not my choice,” Mayor Newton explained, when I asked her for personal views on the subject.

The statue, which has a memorial plaque stating “To Our Heroes of Montgomery Co., Maryland, That We Through Life May Not Forget To Love The Thin Gray Line” has been the subject of controversy lately in Rockville’s City government. On July 20, the City held a 3.5 hour public meeting on the topic.

Mayor Newton has gone to great lengths to make sure that her non-opinion is the official opinion of the City of Rockville. Here is what appears to have happened: Though the Council had planned to take up the issue publicly at its next meeting, Mayor Newton communicated to the Council that County Executive Leggett wanted a letter from the City more quickly.

Remove the Statue

City Councilmember Tom Moore’s draft of a proposed letter in support of removal of the statue from the courthouse gained approval from two of his colleagues–Councilmembers Virginia Onley and Julie Palakovich Carr. Here is the letter: Moore Letter_Page_1Moore Letter_Page_2Councilmember Beryl Feinberg wrote her colleagues that she couldn’t support it as written. The Mayor did not weigh in on Moore’s draft. However, as she has just one vote among five under Rockville’s system of government, Moore’s letter still had a majority.

How “Remove the Statue” Became No Opinion

At that point, Mayor Newton had two options in my view. She could  sign the letter and send it on to the County. Alternatively, she could present a counter proposal and see if she could gain support for it from a Council majority.

Newton chose the second approach but appears to have gone about it an unusual, problematic way. The Mayor got two of her colleagues–Feinberg and Onley–to approve a very different letter that says nothing most eloquently on the key subject of whether the statue should be removed.

But she appears to have left Moore and Palakovich Carr completely out of the loop on this significant rewrite–a major violation of conventional Council order. While colleagues often consult each other separately, all are normally invited to weigh in on a final decision, especially when an alternative approach has already gained majority support.

Here is the letter Mayor Newton sent:

Letter to County Executive for Confederate Statue_Page_3 Letter to County Executive for Confederate Statue_Page_4Newton did not notify Moore and Palakovich Carr until she had secured approval for the new letter privately and sent it to the County. Here is the email she sent:

Hi – attached please find the letters to County Executive Leggett and Council President Leventhal.

As you know – I was asked by Mr. Leggett to send a letter regarding the Worksession and the need for the County to follow Rockville’s HDC process.  As I have also mentioned – we have received several calls (5) from the CE’s office asking where the letter was.   Mr. Leggett was appearing live at 12:30 today and wanted to have the letter by then.  Unfortunately – we didn’t meet the deadline.

This has been an arduous process and unfortunately there have been many iterations of this letter.   My thanks to Councilmembers Onley and Feinberg for their time today in working with me to create an authentic recap of Monday’s Worksession.  This letter has been approved by a majority of the Council.

You will remember that we did not have a discussion among the Body regarding any of the options proposed by the SME’s –  or the public  – and therefore it is not possible for us to opine on the position of the Council or our  recommendations.  We have removed any statements from the letter that do not accurately reflect what happened Monday evening. . . .

I know this letter will not be pleasing to all members –  and while I regret that – what I don’t regret is that it is an factual reporting of a very significant meeting. The Worksession was a highpoint for the City – I’ve had positive comments and reactions from many different sources.  I sincerely hope that we can move past this point and get back to the business of working together to govern our City.

Not the Way to Do Business

When I spoke with Mayor Newton yesterday, she explained that she thought that the changes were necessary:

There were changes that needed to be made to be consistent with the Council worksession held on Monday, July 20th. It was important the letter reflect what happened at the worksession. There were no votes taken at the worksession. It would’ve been improper to indicate that decisions had been made.

That’s a nice explanation and sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t explain why two colleagues seem to have been left entirely out of the loop while the Mayor was shopping her very different letter. Clearly, Mayor Newton does not want to take a position and worked very hard to make sure that the City took a similar approach, even to the extent of keeping colleagues in the dark.

Moreover, though the Mayor avers that it was inappropriate for the City to opine on the subject, expressing no opinion does not mean that no decision was reached. Indeed, this approach can be an oblique way of making a decision and rendering an opinion, as it appears to have been in this case.

Especially as the Mayor’s letter takes positions on several topics, which undercuts her contention that it was inappropriate for the City to express an opinion in the absence of a public vote. For example, the letter states that the statue “should be moved once” if it is moved, and declared that it is of “historical significance” and there are “lessons to be learned from it.”

The claims made regarding the importance of public consultation are further belied by the Mayor’s seeming decision not to consult with two councilmembers and notify them only after the letter was sent. Not a model of open decision making.

Finally, the Mayor’s contention to me that it is inappropriate for the City to express an opinion because it’s the County’s decision makes little sense since (1) the County Executive solicited their opinion repeatedly, (2) the letter thanks the Council President for seeking their input, and (3) the Mayor encouraged the Council to respond to the request.

No doubt Rockville’s next Council meeting will be interesting.

 

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Del. Kumar Barve to Announce for the Eighth

Kumar

Delegate Kumar Barve (D-17) intends to announce very soon that he will run for the Eighth Congressional District made vacant by Chris Van Hollen’s senatorial bid.

Career

Though born in New York, Barve went to Paint Branch High School. Barve was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1990, so he is now in his seventh state (pun unintended) legislative term. Currently, he chairs the Environment and Transportation Committee. Barve has also served previously as Majority Leader.

Pioneer

While it may seem ordinary now, it was a big deal when Del. Barve was first elected in 1990, as he was the first Indian American to win election to any state legislature in the country. At the time, he was also the only nonwhite member of the Montgomery delegation.

Kumar has supported efforts of other South Asians to win election, including Del. Aruna Miller (D-15) and former Del. Sam Arora (D-19). Miller and Barve have remained close. But no one was more peeved when Arora reneged on his commitment to back marriage equality–a bill that Barve sponsored and supported strongly.

Barve has the potential to receive substantial ethnic backing from Indian Americans not just locally but nationally. Currently, Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) is the sole South Asian American in Congress. Barve provides a strong opportunity to increase their number. He would also be the first Hindu Indian American in Congress and only its second Hindu member.

Territory

The 17th Legislative District includes all of the Cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg. The bad news for Barve is that the Eighth Congressional District includes Rockville but not Gaithersburg so about one-half of his legislative district is outside the congressional district that he seeks to represent.

The good news for him is that Rockville voters participate in primaries at a much a higher rate than in Gaithersburg, so he is hemorrhaging much less support due to district boundaries than appears at first glance. Until 2014, Kumar also represented much smaller Garrett Park, which is also in the Eighth.

Nonetheless, District 17 casts fewer Democratic primary votes than in either District 18 or District 20. Assuming that either or both Sens. Rich Madaleno (D-18) or Jamie Raskin (D-20) run, they each start out already representing at least 50% more primary voters. It will take more effort–and more money–for Barve to introduce himself to new voters.

Overlap and Challenges

I don’t see real overlap between Del. Barve and other candidates. He’ll probably start out with more experience in office than any of them. But they will all essentially share rather similar principles and struggle to accentuate differences.

Kumar’s real challenges are to raise money and to run a disciplined campaign. As for all candidates, he will need to spend far more time raising money than any sane person desires. And he will have to make sure it is spent very wisely.

Another key question is whether he can attract volunteers on the same scale and organize them as well as candidates who made their first bid for office more recently, and thus may have more of their original core supporters around to help them.

It will be interesting to see how much traction Del. Barve gains in the race. But I don’t think he will get lost in the shuffle. He is outspoken and certainly as ambitious as anyone seeking this seat.

Final Question

Will Del. Barve be tempted to switch to the Sixth District if Rep. Delaney jumps into the Senate race? After all, he lives in the Sixth even if his legislative district falls equally in the Eighth.

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Montgomery County District 3 Round Up

council_districtsThree major candidates are fighting for the Democratic nomination for the open seat in Montgomery County Council District 3: Ryan Spiegel, Sid Katz and Tom Moore. Spiegel is likely the early favorite but Moore and Katz both have a decent chance as well.

Spiegel has served on the Gaithersburg City Council since 2007. He is also a partner at Paley Rothman, one of Montgomery County’s largest law firms. Previously, he worked as an associate at the national powerhouse firm of Winston & Strawn. Spiegel ran a strong delegate campaign in 2006 in District 17, narrowly losing to Jim Gilchrist. He has the support of much of the Democratic establishment for his county council bid. In particular, he received the endorsement of MCEA, a particularly useful endorsement that also signals he is seen as a good bet.

Sid Katz has served as Mayor of Gaithersburg in 1998. If he can mobilize his base within the City of Gaithersburg, which makes up roughly one-third of the district, and appeal to seniors in Rockville and Leisure World, he may be able to pull off a win.

Rockville City Councilmember Tom Moore’s candidacy bears watching. He is the only candidate from the City of Rockville. If he can solidify his constituency within Rockville, which makes up the majority of the district, the seat is his. It remains to be seen if he can do that. I also hear good things about Moore from my spies in the business community, although the same is true of Spiegel and to a lesser extent Katz. Interestingly, Moore’s business support is also paired with a Progressive Neighbors endorsement. Pleasing both constituencies will be quite a juggling act if he is elected.

A fourth candidate, Community Activist Guled Kassim, is also running. He is not seen as a serious threat presently. However, Kassim has a compelling personal story as an immigrant who served in the Marines and been active in the County.

Interestingly, it seems likely that none of the candidates will have six figure budgets in this race, increasingly unusual in open seat races in this populous and expensive county.

Rating: Lean Spiegel

Disclosure: Guled Kassim is a former client of mine. I have pitched Ryan Spiegel on Direct Mail Services in the past but am not working with him this cycle.

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