Five incumbent members of the Takoma Park City Council are seeking reelection in next Tuesday's voting. Four of the incumbents are members of Citizens for Sound Government. The fifth, Donald D. Ramsey, is not. He is an independent. The number of incumbents seeking reelection and Ramsey's affiliation were reported incorrectly in Thursday's Maryland Weekly. Elections in Takoma Park are nonpartisan.
Takoma Park residents will vote Tuesday in an election that could spell major changes for the city if a group of liberal, independent candidates is successful in unseating the conservativeincumbents.
For the first time in the city's history, the jobs of mayor and seven council members will be filled in a ward-style election, the result of a 1980 referendum.
The ward system has brought out a slew of candidates challenging the present council members, six of whom rolled into office unopposed two years ago after receiving the endorsement of business concerns and leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a major presence in the city.
The six incumbents seeking reelection all are members of Citizens for Sound Government, the conservative organization whose candidates have swept every city election for 30 years.
Riding on the outcome of next week's voting are decisions on how the city will deal with a batch of issues including rent control, "double taxation" by the municipal and county governments, the fight to save Takoma Park Junior High (which the Montgomery County school board has ordered closed), revitalization of the downtown shopping district, and untangling the city's twisted finances.
A dominant issue in this election is the governing style of Sammie A. Abbott, a 73-year-old civic activist and perhaps the most controversial mayor in the city's history.
Before his election, Abbott, a free-lance graphic artist, led various political causes, and recently won a $93,000 suit against the FBI and the District government when a federal jury decided the government had illegally attempted to disrupt his drive that halted construction of the North Central Freeway.
Most independent council candidates support Abbott, saying he has been able to overcome the opposition of an often hostile council to win passage of progressive legislation.
Abbott and his supporters charge that the present City Council is a divisive force that refuses to accommodate citizens' concerns.
"The work we've gotten done was like pulling teeth," Abbott said. "I wouldn't want to go through another two years with a council like that. But I'm grizzled. I can take it."
Incumbent council members, however, denounce Abbott's methods as "disruptive" and declare that he has "polarized Takoma Park."
"Sam Abbott has made major efforts in such areas as elimination of double taxation and saving the junior high school," wrote council member Don Ramsey in a letter distributed to city residents. " He has become something of a folk hero. No complaint. We owe him our gratitude. But the place for Robin Hood is in the forest . . . not in the town hall. Even when Sam is right, he is the wrong mayor."
Abbott's opponents are pinning their political hopes on Abbott's Republican challenger, Ronald J. Wylie, an attorney and an assistant to the director of the 1981 White House Conference on Aging, who promises "cooperation instead of confrontation."
"I've worked with Ron and I've seen Ron deal in a nonviolent way with people who disagree with him violently," said Mary Ann Leary, a Ward 1 candidate. Wylie, a member of the city landlord-tenant commission, has served on the Washington Adventist Hospital's board of directors. He was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 1980.
Wylie's detractors, however, denounce him as a "glad-hander" and insist he represents the business interests and the local Seventh-day Adventist organizations that "have been running this city for the past 30 and 40 years."
Wylie faces a sex discrimination suit filed by a former secretary who worked for Wylie when he was director of the Food and Drug Administration's policy regulation department. Linda Musselman alleged in her suit that Wylie subjected her to "repeated sexual assaults" and made "sexual advances" to other female staff members. Musselman also alleged that Wylie's "actions were intended to humiliate" her and to "put her in fear of her physical safety and job security."
Musselman filed the suit in May 1979 in Washington federal district court. The case was transferred to a federal court in Baltimore the following November. An attorney representing the FDA and Wylie asked the court in 1980 to dismiss the case. Musselman's attorney opposed the motion and the court has not yet issued a ruling.
"I categorically deny every single one of those charges," Wylie said in a recent interview.
Rent control is a major issue in the campaign. Several challengers who favor stronger tenant rights are trying to woo renters, who, according to the 1980 census, make up 53 percent of the city's population.
For years, landlords have constituted a major force in the city. It wasn't until the last two years, largely at the insistence of Abbott, that the City Council adopted a rent stabilization plan and set up a landlord-tenant commission to settle disputes. The stabilization plan limits rent increases to 10 percent yearly unless landlords can show cost increases.
A recent measure, passed by the council over Abbott's objections, allows landlords to rent apartments for whatever the market will bring once they become vacant.
The Takoma Park Apartment Association, a landlord coalition, warned its members in a newsletter last month that they were "playing right into Abbott's hands" by not fighting rent stabilization, and encouraged them to support Wylie, a candidate of "considerable experience and talent."
Wylie said he did not consider that an endorsement. He said he was against rent stabilization because "it would be ineffective" and would increase the city deficit by "at least $50,000 . . . in direct and indirect costs" to enforce the ordinance.
City officials, however, said the program is funded by rental permit fees.
All the candidates can agree on another campaign issue: opposition to what they call "double taxation." As in many municipalities in Maryland, Takoma Park residents pay a city tax for city services in addition to county taxes for county services. But unlike any other city in the state, Takoma Park straddles two counties--Montgomery and Prince Geroge's.
Takoma Park's city services--including police, a library and public works department--often serve in place of equivalent county services. But city residents are charged at the same property tax rate as those living in areas that depend entirely on county services.
Although the counties return some of the money in annual payments, Abbott and City Administrator Alvin Nichols published a detailed account in the city newsletter this month showing that city residents still are left with a $2.5 million "double taxation"--money the counties keep for services they don't provide.
All the council candidates pledge to fight double taxation, and most would support pending legislation in Annapolis that would require counties to formulate equitable tax rebates for city services.
One way to increase county tax returns and solve complications in city administration, several challengers said, would be to persuade the state legislature to alter the county borders so that Takoma Park would lie entirely in Montgomery County, which is more generous in its tax rebate to the city.
Council members passed a bill last week that would set a November referendum in which city residents may vote whether they want the city unified in Montgomery County.
Both mayoral candidates and most independent council contestants said they would support a city ordinance that would require organizations that are now tax-exempt to pay for city services such as police, lighting and street services. All candidates said they would encourage negotiating voluntary payments first, and stressed that any ordinance would have to steer clear of constitutional violations of church and state separation.
The Adventist Church, a long-established presence in the 2.2-square mile city, occupies several large land parcels--including the sites of the Washington Adventist Hospital, Columbia Union College and an Adventist school. The church pays nothing for the services the city provides these three institutions.
The incumbent council members shied away from asserting that they would pass a law requiring payments if the organizations were reluctant to pay voluntarily.
Fighting the Montgomery County school board's decision to close Takoma Park Junior High is a unanimous stance among the city's current and aspiring leaders.
The school board decided to close the school last year, touching off roaring opposition in the city. More than 85 percent of its students walk to school, supporters say, and the school was naturally integrated because of its location in multi-ethnic neighborhoods.
Wylie was alone in suggesting that critics of the school closing should refrain from charging that the action was racially discriminatory until court cases prove it.