Duncan's Name Could Grace New Library

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

As Montgomery County executive Douglas M. Duncan was winding down his official duties late last year, a group of political supporters proposed naming a new county library in his honor.

But the suggestion -- spearheaded by his press secretary, David Weaver, and County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) -- encountered criticism that Duncan's record on library funding had been less than stellar. The matter, as is often the case with sticky political issues, was sent to a study group.

Now, a majority on the panel has proposed naming the $26.3 million Rockville library for Duncan (D), who grew up in Rockville and served as mayor before being elected county executive in 1994.

The final decision will rest with Duncan's successor, Isiah Leggett (D), who would have to waive a county regulation that bars naming a building for officials who have been out of office for less than five years.

The question over whether to name the library after the man who loomed large over county politics so long has divided political insiders and community activists. Duncan boasted often of vastly increasing spending on county services -- particularly schools -- but some critics say he fell short in his support of libraries.

The discontent dates to at least 2000, when library advocates in Rockville and Germantown said Duncan's six-year capital spending plan unfairly delayed money for library projects. They successfully lobbied the council to speed the funding by three years.

Critics also credited the council -- not Duncan -- with adding more than $500,000 to the proposed fiscal 2007 budget for book acquisitions and staff.

But Duncan backers said that he was a supporter of public libraries and that he increased funding, expanded library hours and fought for state money for the Rockville project during his 12 years in office.

Leventhal, a longtime Duncan ally, said yesterday that he thought the move to honor Duncan, now an administrator at the University of Maryland, was appropriate.

Duncan did not return a call seeking comment.

The panel, which Leggett appointed, voted 4 to 2 with one abstention to name the library for Duncan. Besides Leventhal, the group includes two career county employees who had top posts in the Duncan administration, Scott Reilly and Al Roshdieh. Both voted for the name. The fourth pro-Duncan vote was from Lee Burstyn, a member of a historic preservation panel and a donor to Duncan's political campaigns.

Dissenting were Rockville City Council member Anne M. Robbins and library activist Gayl Selkin-Gutman.

Selkin-Gutman said it would be a "travesty" to name the building for Duncan.

Barbara Norland, a top county library official, abstained. She had wanted the facility to be the Rockville Library, which would have followed long-standing custom to name libraries for their location. Two county libraries, the Noyes Library for Young Children in Kensington and the Davis Library in North Bethesda, are named for people who donated the properties. Noyes, Norland said, is about 100 years old and began as a private lending library before it was acquired by the county.

The group reached its decision to honor Duncan after a public hearing in March and solicitation of proposals from the public. Among the ideas floated was the Rockville Memorial Library, to honor the county's service members killed in the Iraq conflict.

Other suggestions included naming the library for author Harriet Beecher Stowe or Josiah Henson, whose life story and slave cabin on Old Georgetown Road were said to have been the inspirations for Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Robbins said she would prefer honoring the fallen troops.

"It would mean a great deal to the families. I am also concerned about precedent setting. I am just very worried that all kinds of politicians in the future, including some still running for office, could say, 'I want a building named after me.' "

The next move is Leggett's. So far, he hasn't said what he will do.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company