Attracting businesses to the city, enhancing existing development and embracing Rockville’s diversity were among the top priorities cited by candidates for the Rockville mayoral and City Council seats at the Sept. 26 forum.
About 60 people attended the forum, hosted by the Greater Rockville Chamber of Commerce at the Thomas Farm Community Center to share their visions for Rockville.
Mayoral candidates, councilmembers Monique Ashton and Mark Pierzchala, were joined by eight of the 12 City Council candidates: Kate Fulton, Richard Gottfried, Barry Jackson, Ricky F. Mui, incumbent David Myles, Anita Neal Powell, Paul Scott and Adam Van Grack.
Candidates Izola Shaw, Marissa Valeri, Danniel Belay and Harold Hodges did not attend though Shaw and Valeri sent statements to be read aloud at the forum stating they were unable to attend due to prior commitments.
Brian Barkley, host and chief at the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, asked Ashton and Pierzchala to share their vision for the Rockville Town Center as well as areas of improvement for the city.
Pierzchala said that he brought the idea of the Town Center Master Plan to the City Council–which adopted the project proposal in January and February of this year–and hoped to collaborate with businesses, developers and other stakeholders to discuss and create a shared vision for the Center. He added that giving a voice to businesses is most important.
“I will be the one who brings the businesses together with the people. As I’ve said before, when business exceeds, people succeed,” Pierzchala said. “These are not contrary ideas and the whole idea that business is a dirty word, that’s going to end.”
Ashton said she would look to promote the Rockville small business incentive fund, help fill storefronts and commercial vacancies and look for ways to attract students and staff at Montgomery College’s Rockville campus to the Town Center.
“During the pandemic and through my work I know a lot about what businesses go through and how they struggle,” Ashton said. “I led the city on doing the first business center roundtable to help them understand how to do permitting, how to be able to adjust their business, how to connect accounting services and resources that were available to bring their e-commerce online. I heard from so many businesses that it helped to save them during the pandemic.”
Ashton said there needed to be more action on planning for RedGate Park–previously a golf course the council voted to keep the land as a park–and King Farm Farmstead.
Pierzchala also mentioned that making sure Rockville would be a place for the city’s youngest residents to be able to come back to and afford to live was key. To do this, the city would need to create more housing units and “[get over] the fear of density that we can build near our transit centers,” he said.
“We can provide not just hundreds but thousands of new homes for our young adults and our grandchildren. And let’s say my mom, 95 years old, a downsizing elder they need those housing prices to come down too,” Pierzchala said.
Ashton said that she saw increases in juvenile crime and said that she would continue her initiative of creating youth programming in the city so that the city’s young residents “have positive things to do.”
City Council candidate forum
Many candidates shared similar priorities including work to attract and retain Rockville’s business community, improve public safety and support local schools.
“I want to make sure that what we’re doing here is efficient and effective, achieving the goals of our community,” Fulton said. “That’s what I want to bring to Rockville, is efficient, effective, practical, common-sense solutions that make all of our lives better.”
Gottfried said future and ongoing developments in Rockville in the Town Center and King Farm Farmstead would be very important for him.
Jackson, Mui, Myles and Van Grack mentioned that it was critical to fully fund the police department and address community policing.
“Making sure that we have adequate police force, making sure we have good community policing,” said Mui. “They’re visible, out there partnering with us to keep drugs out of our neighborhoods.”
Jackson and Myles also said that pedestrian safety was a key part of public safety in ensuring that streets are safe to walk, rides bikes and roll along.
Myles mentioned prioritizing ways to “appropriately treat and decriminalize mental health and substance use,” and taking care of the environment.
“Leaving the planet better than we found it by implementing the climate action plan–on an individual level for homeowners and those apartments–but also leading by example from the city’s level,” he said.
Neal Powell also brought up hiring a new city manager as a key priority. In August, Rockville’s city manager, Rob DiSpirito, resigned after he had been on a performance improvement plan. The acting city manager is Barack Matite.
Scott said he had a vision of creating a “thriving” music environment in Rockville Town Center.
Asked how they would communicate to businesses looking to move to or expand in Rockville about what makes the city a good place to operate, candidates mentioned that it would be key to focus on encouraging business investment in the Town Center. Solutions included creating a strong support system for new and long-term businesses and ensuring the high-quality of schools, parks, housing and transit in the city.
“They want to know that you have good schools, that you have a good infrastructure [that] you have the transportation system, and it’s safe,” Scott said.
Gottfried added that the Rockville Chamber of Commerce was important in helping him build a network, create relationships and grow his accounting and tax business.
Neal Powell said that she would like to see more promotion of Rockville’s businesses from the city government as well as promoting the nearby Metro stations that connect Rockville to the region.
Fulton said to help attract business even more could look like “reducing barriers and creating incentives” for business and improving connectivity and transit in the city and around Rockville’s big industries, such as the life sciences and higher education.
Myles said that he has seen the benefits of using financial incentives to recruit businesses.
Van Grack said that increasing residential density was going to be an important factor in helping businesses grow in the city and that the city must “work on our zoning and policy procedures.”
Jackson and Mui mentioned Rockville’s diverse population as a strong benefit for businesses. Mui said that there is a demand for diverse businesses in clothing and food.
“Our city is a diverse place, an inclusive place. And the Chamber of Commerce and the Rockville Economic Development, Inc. both do a great job of promoting Rockville and offering inclusive business owners a chance to succeed,” Jackson said. “So, women, people of color, or other Americans who maybe are retired who are looking for a second job, entrepreneurs, disabled communities. All of these people have a home in Rockville.”
The second Rockville candidate forum was held from on Oct. 5 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, hosted by Community Reach of Montgomery County with Rainbow Place Shelter.
The final candidate forum will be held at noon to 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 at the Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County and Montgomery College.
Replays of the forums will be available on the Rockville 11 cable TV station and on the City of Rockville YouTube page.