GAITHERSBURG — Next Tuesday, Gaithersburg residents will cast ballots for mayor and two members of the City Council. Early voting was held last Saturday and Sunday at City Hall.
Incumbent Mayor Jud Ashman was originally appointed to his position by his colleagues on the City Council in 2014, following the election of longtime Mayor Sidney Katz to the Third District of the County Council. In 2015, he won a special election to serve the remaining two years of Katz's final term, defeating longtime Council Member Henry F. Marraffa, who passed away in October of 2016, and community activist Darline Bell-Zuccarelli. As he seeks his first full four-year term as mayor, Ashman is unopposed on the ballot. Bell-Zuccarelli had originally planned to seek the office again, but scrapped her plans due to health issues. Despite this, Ashman said he is still actively campaigning.
"We have a great group of candidates and I'm hoping that we get a big turnout of voters," Ashman said. "It's easy to take for granted, but so much of our daily lives is impacted by decisions at the local level, that it's really worth our time and attention on Election Day."
Council Member Michael A. Sesma, the Council's most senior member, is seeking a fourth four-year term on the Council. Sesma and Ashman became active in Gaithersburg politics together, organizing city residents against a development scheme which they believed would further burden the city's schools. In 2005, they ran as a slate, challenging two incumbent members. While Sesma won election, Ashman lost by a narrow margin to Marraffa.
"I think people are generally happy with the direction of the city, with what the Council has been working on, and with what my role is," Sesma said. "I think when that's the situation, it makes it for challengers to make a case for why we need to have a change, but there are always issues where people want to see new blood and new ideas."
Yvette Monroe, the recipient of Gaithersburg's 2016 Distinguished Citizen Award and a past chair of the city's Educational Enrichment Committee, was selected in January out of a dozen applicants and five finalists to serve the balance of Marraffa's final term. She is seeking a full term this fall.
"I have enjoyed talking to the many residents of Gaithersburg and finding out what their concerns, thought and hopes for our city are throughout the campaign," Monroe said. "I believe that the people know I am the candidate who is concerned, compassionate and committed to their needs. My record of consistency to the city through my leadership roles and work on committees, various events and most recently on the council provides the stability that people want in their city council."
Laurie-Anne Sayles first sought appointment to the Council in 2014, when she applied to serve the balance of Ashman's final term after he was appointed Mayor The seat ultimately went to current Council Vice President Neil H. Harris. In, 2015, she ran for a council seat and received more than 2,000 votes, but fell short to incumbents Harris, Ryan Spiegel and new Council Member Robert Wu. Sayles was a finalist for Marraffa's seat before Monroe was selected. This fall, she is again running for a seat on the Council. Sayles serves on the city's Economic and Business Development Committee and previously served two terms on the Education Enrichment Committee.
"The response has been overwhelming, very positive," Sayles said. "We've been knocking at doors since May and voters are really responding to our leadership with vision message. They want a fresh voice and they want someone who's knowledgeable about the issues affecting the different neighborhoods in the city. I'm feeling very optimistic about my second run."
Jim McNulty, another finalist for Marraffa's seat, is seeking election to the Council. He said his interest in public service began when the Montgomery County Police saved his life after a hostage situation in 2010. He founded The Upper Room, a support group for sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and became active in the Saybrooke Homeowners Association. As president of Saybrooke HOA, McNulty testified many times before Ashman and the council in 2016 about quality of life disturbances in Saybrooke. He said that after the police implemented new regulations in response to non-residents staying out late, littering, fighting, and leaving cars unattended near Victory Farm Drive, the situation improved markedly. McNulty also serves on the city's Olde Towne Advisory Committee, whose mission is the economic revitalization of the neighborhood on the city's east side.
"I've had a pretty positive reception from people," McNulty said. "It's been great to go around, knocking on doors, and meeting city residents. People are responding to my 'new voice' message, so I'm cautiously optimistic."
"I just moved here and I voted for the incumbents because they seem to be doing a good job," said MEgan Efhimiadic, who voted on Sunday.
"I voted for Jim McNulty because I've worked with him on the Board of the Saybrooke Homeowners Association," said Rob Krebs, another Sunday voter. "I've found him to be really honest, caring, up-to-date." Krebs and his wife Michelle both said that they supported McNulty because of his plans to address school overcrowding.
"We don't have anyone from our neighborhood on the Council and there are over 500 homes there," Michelle said. "I voted for him because our signature grade school is the pits. People move out of our neighborhood once their kids hit school age because they don't want to send their kids to Gaithersburg Elementary."
"Our homes' values are dependent upon the educational system," Krebs said. "I've talked to Jim about it. I think he's knowledgeable about it. I think he'll represent this side of Gaithersburg, rather than the Kentlands side, which is often pitted against us."
The Krebses also voted for Laurie-Anne Sayles.
"I met her, she's very personable, and she listened to me when I said I wanted to talk about the grade school," Michelle said.
Gaithersburg's election clerk reported that 355 votes were cast over the weekend, with the total split nearly evenly between the two days. Polls will open at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday and close at 8:00 p.m.