After serving two terms as Rockville mayor—and two terms as a city councilwoman before that—Phyllis Marcuccio’s name will not appear on the ballot in November's election.
Marcuccio, 79, has decided not to run for re-election. Instead, she has thrown her support behind Councilwoman Bridget Donnell Newton, who announced last week her plans to run for mayor.
“It's been a tough two terms," Marcuccio said. "I haven't had what I would consider to be a supportive council. It's been contentious. You have to say, if you can't make it work, maybe somebody else can.”
Marcuccio has been a Rockville resident for more than 50 years. She came to Rockville at age 9, the daughter of a businessman and contractor. She’s watched the city grow into what she described as one of the most robust municipalities in the state—the hub of Montgomery County government.
“It's always a little hard to let go of anything you feel passionate about,” Marcuccio said. “I care about Rockville a great deal.”
Patch caught up with Marcuccio to talk about her decision not to run and to reflect on her time in public office. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
PATCH: What made you want to
get involved with public service in the first place?
In 1961, there was the announcement that WMATA was coming, that Washington, DC was at long last going to get a Metro system … The Rockville Metro stop was going to be three blocks from my house. I helped organize the East Rockville Civic Association. Being the president, I dealt a lot with the city. What I began to realize is that the citizens have got to step up and make their needs known otherwise others make the decisions for you.
I decided not just to represent my neighborhood, but that maybe I should get on the council because I can't make decisions that will impact us all unless it's a global decision that impacts the city. You've got to be a part of the action to make anything happen. That's why I decided to run for council.
PATCH: Tell me about that.
As a candidate, I thought I would have some say-so about what's going on in the city. I was frustrated that an awful lot would happen and the citizens didn't know and could do nothing about it.
When I got on the council, I felt a similar frustration. I couldn't get the things done I was interested in doing. In particular, I wanted the representation of the citizens of the city to be as seriously reckoned with as the interest of the business community. We do an awful lot to make it possible for business to operate in the city and yet the citizens are the main taxpayers and we somehow have a little less strong voice than what I think would be a fair exchange.
PATCH: So, what made you
confident that you'd be able to do as mayor what you weren't able to do as a
Well, I think you always have high hopes. To some extent, you get so involved in the mechanics of what it takes to keep the policies operational and reactive to the pressures of the world as it develops, but you lose a certain amount of ability to make the things happen that you want to have happen.
What I've felt is, if nothing else, Rockville needed to build a stronger relationship between the city, other jurisdictions and other parts of our governing that didn't pay much attention to Rockville. Before I became mayor, nobody talked much to the people across the street—the people across the street are the [Montgomery] County Council. The County Council saw Rockville as the place where they had their headquarters.
PATCH: So, what would you
consider to be highlights of your time as mayor?
I think the fact that I've opened the doors of communication. We have a marvelous relationship with the county now. We have a great relationship with the state now. We changed our relationship with the Maryland Municipal League so that we were involved every time the state was making a new law that would have an impact on us as a city.
It was very hard to convince our council that things should be a little different. So I just did what I thought was appropriate.
PATCH: Why do you think
there is so much tension on the council?
I think the first theory is that we have two-year terms. That in itself is ridiculous. You can't be distracted to whether or not you get to the next level you want and work in tandem with something. I think that's what is really fundamentally wrong because people aren't settled.
Do you know how long it takes to really get a feel for the job? It takes you six months to a year before you understand all the things that a mayor can do, should do, and must do. And then you're going to have competition to run for re-election in the following year.
That's a real tough situation because you've got this tension all the time: Who's right, who's wrong who's got the best ideas. I feel for the staff because they are stuck with trying to run the city and keep a balance of the kinds of policy efforts that the council wants to make.
PATCH: You've endorsed Councilwoman
Newton in her bid for mayor. That aside, what advice would you give to any person interested in becoming mayor?
You have to have a mission; you have to have it in the gut. You have to have that fire. If you don't have the fire, don't touch it because it's demanding. It expects you to do everything with no faults. People are fairly reasonable to you, but you are at the mercy of the job.
PATCH: Looking over your
time as mayor, is there anything you would have done differently?
I'm having a little trouble answering you that way because so much of what you do is putting out fires. It's not so much that you could structure what you'd like to have happen. It's rather that the structure comes at you, and you're in a reactive position, rather than you're in a "I'm driving the bus" position." I'm driving the bus in that somebody's got to be called the bus driver, but it doesn't mean that I've chosen the route. I will go where they tell me to go. In a way, that's what the council does. It tells you where to go. The Mayor of Rockville doesn't have much role except the leading of the meetings and being the representative for this council.
PATCH: What would you say
makes your role as mayor different from the council members?
Well, it's not much different. … I have many times said—and I am saying this in an informal way—why do we bother having someone running for mayor? We might as well just elect five council members and let them chose a leader because to run for mayor, you have to raise a heck of a lot more money than a council member and you have to compete in a different way. You're competing for a job, but when you get the job, you have no more authority than any other member of the council, except that you do run the meeting.
PATCH: Do you have any
No, no. I realized when I was a council member I never had any interest in changing it [the Council]. But I do think the problem lies in the face that we have two-year terms. If you go to four, then this kind of tyranny—and that's what it is, when you have people who are not willing to work together—corrupts the whole thing. The staff is left to make a silk purse out of it. The staff has to keep the continuity of everything operational, can't have gaps because the mayor and council is arguing.