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Group Pushes For a United Gaithersburg

Immigration, Housing At Issue in Council Race

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007; Page B01

Interstate 270 cuts through Gaithersburg, dividing Maryland's third-largest city physically and economically. To the west are neighborhoods of high-end homes, sushi restaurants and spas. To the east are a hodgepodge of low-income apartment complexes, Latino groceries and a Spanish-language bookstore.

With a majority of the city's council seats up for grabs next week and emotions still raw after a bruising debate over a day-laborer center, Tuesday's contest has drawn attention from Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), labor unions and liberal activists, who say they want to unite the city on issues such as affordable housing, health care and immigration.

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A coalition calling itself One Gaithersburg also sees the election as an opportunity to remake the council to reflect the city's changing demographics, which is more than 20 percent Latino; in 1990, that number was 9 percent.

"There's no reason that within a city limit you should have two cities," said resident Jeanne Ellinport, one of the coalition's organizers. "We need new blood and people who can help unite the city and take it forward."

The group's opening came this year when three incumbents on the five-member council decided not to seek reelection. The announcements came after a difficult period in which the longtime mayor, Sidney A. Katz, threatened to veto the budget because of disagreements over a homeownership assistance program and the council failed to find a location within the city for a center to connect temporary workers with prospective employers.

The coalition, which includes liberal advocacy group Progressive Maryland, has endorsed three candidates in Tuesday's election: Ahmed Ali, a U.S. Navy veteran born in Bangladesh who runs a technology company; Carlos Solis, a 20-year resident originally from Ecuador who runs his wife's dental practice; and Ryan Spiegel, a Stanford University-trained lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for delegate last fall.

Gloria Aparicio, a member of the coalition originally from Venezuela, said she became disillusioned by the tone of the debate on the day-laborer center, which emerged after dozens of men, mainly immigrants, began gathering in a parking lot near a residential neighborhood to wait for work.

The controversy prompted the formation of a Maryland branch of the Minutemen Project, the anti-illegal immigrant group that led opposition to a day-laborer center in Herndon, which closed in September. Even now, Aparicio said, she is worried about how she would be treated if she were mistaken for an illegal immigrant, especially on weekends when she is casually dressed.

"I don't carry my passport. Are people going to question, 'Am I legal?' " said Aparicio, who works in community relations at the University of Maryland. "I don't want Gaithersburg to become another Herndon."

Katz, who is not up for reelection, said passions have cooled since the county stepped in and found a location for the center just over the city line. The perceived divide, he said, is somewhat overblown because so much of the new development in the city has occurred west of the interstate, leaving an aging housing stock in the east.

He has endorsed Jud Ashman, who is in charge of several parent-teacher associations and runs a mailing services business; Cathy C. Drzyzgula, coordinator of Olde Towne's neighborhood watch and a member of the city's day-laborer task force; and Spiegel.

Two other candidates -- Shawn Ali, an information technology consultant who ran unsuccessfully for delegate in 2002, and Wilson Lee Faris, a sales specialist at Lowe's -- are also seeking a four-year term on the council.


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