King Farm Forum Offers a Study in Similarities—and Contrasts—of Mayoral Candidates
A campaign finance question revealed different approaches by Marcuccio and Gajewski.
The two candidates for Rockville mayor fielded questions about traffic, the Corridor Cities Transitway, school overcrowding and the future of the King Farm Farmstead during a forum sponsored by the King Farm Citizens’ Assembly on Tuesday.
While Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and her challenger, Councilman Piotr Gajewski, showed common ground on several issues, a question from the audience about campaign contributions provided a striking contrast.
An audience member asked the mayoral candidates how much they had received in contributions from developers.
“As of Sept. 30—I’m trying to think—I think I’ve had no developer money,” Gajewski said. “My campaign headquarters are pro bono, so I’m there for free. I’m not sure I’d categorize the owner of that building as a developer.”
In the Sept. 30 report, Gajewski reported raising $14,925. That included $13,525 in individual contributions and $200 from “Friends of John Britton,” the campaign committee for Councilman John Britton—who is not seeking reelection. It also included $1,200 from two in-kind contributions connected to office space in a former auto dealership building on Rockville Pike that Gajewski is using as campaign headquarters.
Marcuccio reported raising $13,187, including $12,187 in individual contributions and $1,000 in in-kind contributions related to her campaign website.
Click here to read the first campaign finance reports of this election cycle for all of the candidates.
After the forum, several audience members said that Gajewski’s Sept. 30 filing did report contributions from developers.
Among those to take note of Gajewski’s response—and his campaign report—was Drew Powell, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2007 and who once served as the executive director of the now-defunct political action committee Neighbors for a Better Montgomery. An op-ed by Powell appears on Rockville Patch today.
In his response during Tuesday’s forum, Gajewski offered a defense of taking developer contributions.
“Let me say this: There is no sin in taking developer money. And certainly if developers came forward and said ‘Let me help you get your word out,’ I would take it in a minute.
“The issue here is neither one of us is spending [an] exorbitant amount of money. As of last week, Mayor Marcuccio raised $12,000, I’ve raised $13,000. So we’ll be spending similar amounts of money getting our word out so that democracy can work.”
Money does not buy access, Gajewski said.
“It’s not going to get you much of anything because we’re all accessible,” he said. “Any one of you in this room give me a call and I’ll meet with you. A developer can meet with me also, but they’re not getting nothing from it. So maybe now they won’t be sending checks.”
Marcuccio said she is taking a different approach.
“Well don’t call me because I don’t want developer money,” she said. “I can tell you that everyone who’s contributing to my campaign are citizens of the city, with maybe two exceptions, which are good friends who always try to support me.
“There used to be a sort of unwritten rule, just among the candidates in the City of Rockville that you wouldn’t take developer money. That wouldn’t be the way you would raise [money]. In the last couple of elections, we seem to have lost that sort of gentleman’s agreement. So I think it’s wherever you can get it to try to get it. But as I say, don’t send it to me.”
Gajewski, who lives on Gaither Road in King Farm, said the traffic, including cut-through traffic using Redland Boulevard and Gaither Road, “affects me personally.”
The city needs to increase signage and police enforcement of traffic laws in the neighborhood, he said.
Gajewski used the opportunity to draw a distinction between he and Marcuccio, saying that the mayor voted on Nov. 15 against issuing bonds that will allow the city to pay down its debt on several construction projects, including $8 million on a new police station being built in Town Center.
The new station would allow for expanded police enforcement, Gajewski said.
“Mayor Marcuccio voted against financing. Had she prevailed it would not be going forward.”
Marcuccio mentioned this week’s announcement of that a Wal-Mart is proposed for Rockville Pike. “Imagine what that’s going to do for traffic on Rockville Pike,” she said. “Not bad enough yet? Well you just wait.”
There are traffic issues across Rockville, she said.
“We have the police force to help enforce this,” she said.
Delivery trucks serve businesses. But those who use the neighborhood as a cut-through need to be told “clean up your act, you’re not allowed to do that in King Farm,” she said.
There are “all kinds of extra ways in which we can warn the truck population they’re not welcome here,” including “No Truck Route” signs, increased enforcement and increased reporting of abuses by citizens, she said.
Corridor Cities Transitway
Candidates were asked how they’d mitigate the impact of the Corridor Cities Transitway’s path through King Farm and if they preferred that the CCT be a bus rapid transit system or light rail.
The question is not if the light rail or bus line is coming, but how, Marcuccio said. Light rail or bus line? “Exactly how it’s going to come across [Route] 355 is unknown. Is it going to go underneath? Is it going to build up?”
Another issue, she said, is the connection to Science City.
“It should be that they build the CCT before they build the Science City. But that’s never the way it is. It’s just the opposite. They build these monstrous spots and then they expect the transportation to kick in [after],” she said. “It doesn’t work. We know that for sure.”
Later, Marcuccio said that she would prefer light rail, but understands that is not feasible.
“I would love to see a real trolley line approach come—so I guess you’d call that rail. But I’m a realist and I know that we can’t afford to do that,” Marcuccio said. “So bus rapid transit and the new designs they have is absolutely fine. They use it in a lot of cities in the United States and all over Europe. It can work just perfectly here.”
Gajewski said he prefers bus rapid transit.
“If it were to be light rail it would involve much more disruption to our community” and many more discussions of how to design street crossings in the neighborhood, Gajewski said. “For that reason, I am firmly for the BRT, the bus rapid transit. If think for King Farm, there is not benefit to having rail.”
Rail would further divided a community that is already divided—along Redland Boulevard—between the Gaithersburg and Richard Montgomery school clusters, he said.
Gajewski said he would “look at every possible mitigation so this doesn’t disrupt our lives.”
Later, he said: “The only argument for rail is that theoretically a development up north will be more stable if it’s rail than if it’s bus rapid transit,” he said. “That doesn’t help us here in King Farm. Rail will disrupt our lives.”
An audience member asked about school boundaries.
Gajewski said that he had spoken to former schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast and has exchanged emails with new Superintendent Joshua Starr and was assured by both that “there’s no contemplation that King Farm would ever go all Gaithersburg [cluster].”
The city “has had a very rocky relationship with Montgomery County Public Schools”—most recently last year when the city attempted to use its planning authority to block the construction of portables at College Gardens Elementary School.
“We need to work on a relationship with Montgomery County Public Schools because there is a good argument to be made as to why we should all be one [school] community,” he said.
Rockville can do “very little about school boundaries,” Marcuccio said.
She called it “troublesome” that King Farm’s student population is divided between Gaithersburg and Richard Montgomery cluster schools.
“It separates our community,” she said. “It’s something I’m certainly not in favor of.”
But changing the boundary is difficult, Marcuccio said.
“Montgomery County Public Schools are pretty strong,” she said. “It’s very hard. We don’t control our schools.”
King Farm Farmstead
Candidates were asked about their visions for the King Farm Farmstead and the three nonprofit’s proposals that the council considered July 11 for reuse of the farm.
Gajewski said his family had a plot at the community garden until last year.
“It’s a wonderful property at King Farm that deserves to be maintained with a historic perspective,” he said. “It’s basically our connection to the past.”
Gajewski said that he is committed to Bikes for the World’s proposal to build a community bike shop. “They have been an extremely good neighbor,” he said.
A Habitat for Humanity proposal “also seems appropriate for the site,” he said.
A proposal by GrowingSOUL (Sustainable Opportunities for Universal Learning) to use the site as a farm “is a problem,” Gajewski said. “Some of the proposals they make are really farming proposals which are not truly appropriate in an urban-suburban environment.”
“The key here is going to be community input,” Gajewski said.
Marcuccio agreed that Bikes for the World has “been responsive” to the city’s needs, including giving bikes away through city programs and keeping the Farmstead, which it is already using, “in fair repair,” despite paying no rent.
Marcuccio said the Habitat proposal is “a good one.
“The only concern I would have is what would they want to do to the interior of the barns,” she said.
“I would want to make sure [changes] to the interior didn’t compromise those marvelous barns. They are spectacular,” she said.
As for GrowingSOUL, “I don’t think it’s a viable proposal,” she said, adding that she wished there was a way to keep the farmstead “operational without having to do [Americans with Disabilities Act]-compliant changes to it, which would change its historic look as well.”
There are five more forums scheduled before the Nov. 8 election, including one at 1 p.m. today at Rockville Senior Center (Carnation Room), at 1150 Carnation Drive, that is sponsored by Woodley Gardens Civic Association, College Gardens Civic Association and Plymouth Woods Homeowners Association.
Correction: This article has been corrected from its original version. In the fourth paragraph, the word "therefore" has been corrected to "there for." Rockville Patch regrets the error.