ROCKVILLE — As election season approaches, potential candidates for city office are taking it slow: Only one has officially filed for candidacy so far.
While that differs from last year, it is actually closer to the norm, Rockville politicians say.
Prior to the 2013 elections, the Team Rockville slate – the current council plus Mark Pierzchala for mayor – announced in March. But that was because there was a lot to get organized, according to Pierzchala.
“In 2013, it was the first time in years there had been a slate. Nobody had done it in a long time. We just wanted to get all the organizational stuff out of the way as early as we could before the campaign,” Pierzchala said. “Team Rockville was early but not exceptionally so. I mean, there have been candidates out as early as April and May in previous years, but it’s also not unusual to have people decide at the last minute.”
The last election also had three open council seats and an open mayoral race, according to current Council member Tom Moore. Although this year no incumbent has yet officially filed, it is unlikely there will be three open seats, he said.
“There were going to be a lot of new people on the council, and the people who organized best and got their names out their best and worked the hardest had the best chance of winning,” Moore said.
He has not yet decided if he is going to run, nor has current Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton. Beryl Feinberg and Julie Palakovich Carr were not available for comment, but both have picked up candidate funds packets, although they have not officially filed to run. Only Virginia Onley of the current council said she is going to run, but she has not yet kicked off her campaign.
The only candidate officially filed with the city is Brigitta Mullican, a Twinbrook resident and head of Rockville Sister City Inc. Richard Gottfried, president of the Twinbrook Citizens Association, has said he’s running and filed paperwork to collect contributions. Zina Pizano has also picked up a packet but could not be reached for comment.
Mullican, who ran for mayor in 2005 and council in 2007, said she got her campaign started early this year because she wants to have time to knock on doors. Although she was in the parade this year as a candidate, that was a last-minute decision when the city reached out to her letting her know it was an option a few days prior. Soon she will start campaigning in earnest, she said.
“This weekend, I met a lot of people and a lot of them live in town center. And they’re new, never voted in Rockville. Those are the kind of people I need to reach out to and let them know,” Mullican said. “To reach the voters, you need to start now.”
But Newton said she is glad the campaigns have not already started this year.
“In some municipalities in Maryland, this is their law – that things don’t start up until September – and I think it’s actually a good thing. Do the job you’re elected to do, and if you’ve done a good job, people will let you know. And then you can run in the fall,” Newton said. “I think these long, drawn-out campaigns are hard. They’re not just hard on the person running; they’re hard on the electorate, who just gets inundated.”
Moore agreed. But Pierzchala said Newton also has the advantage of being an incumbent to think that way.
“If you’re a challenger, let’s say all five of them decide to run again, so other people would be challengers, no open seats, they really have to get started earlier, especially if it’s you’re first time in the campaign,” Pierzchala said.
Moore also said it is nice to not have the campaigns hanging over the last few months of the elected officials’ terms.
“I expect that most incumbents’ campaigns really won’t start until close to Labor Day ... so that’s an extra five months of being able to get city business (done) with minimum distraction,” Moore said.
The city also will, for the first time, elect members to four-year terms rather than two, which has multiple effects on encouraging people to run for office. Pierzchala himself announced in March that he would not run for council or mayor this year primarily because of the financial burden after four campaigns, two of which were successful.
But he is not sure the city can change much structurally to help a candidate like him. The four-year terms mean there is more time in office as compared with the time spent campaigning, but it also means someone who loses has to wait four years to run again.
City activist Drew Powell, who has also run for office in the past, said he has heard from people that the four-year commitment had discouraged them from running because of age or financial burden from juggling other jobs.
“I guess that’s what you call unintended consequences (of the change),” he said.
Joseph Jordan, who has closely followed city politics for years, also said the four years could be a deterrent, as well as the feeling the current council does not function as it ideally would.
“There is also the possibility that more and more people are turning their backs on City politics because they feel their voices are not always heard, there continues to be divisiveness among Council members, meetings run too long and there is increasing tension between the Council and senior City staff members,” Jordan said.
Candidates have until Sept. 4 to file as official candidates. Rockville will hold its city elections on Nov. 3.