There's this pear-faced man, with saggy jowls and a broad smile, sitting in a Rockville office in a small leather chair tagged for moving, chatting and laughing about how much he loves his job and how he would choose this job if he had any one in the world to pick.
He's going on and on, praising his job and lauding his city and he's even got the city flag pinned to his gray lapel and his enthusiasm is beginning to become infectious as he offers a flag pin.
Finally, there's space for a question.
If it's all true, Mr. Mayor, if you'd choose this job over any other, then why, in the name of Rockville, are you leaving?
For the first time in 14 years, Willliam E. Hanna, Rockville's biggest fan, won't be on the ballot this Monday when the voters in the City of Rockville go to the polls. After four terms as mayor--during which Rockville was named not once, but twice, an All-American City--and three terms as a City Council member, 61-year-old Hanna, the father of seven daughters and mayor of 45,000 citizens, is stepping down from a job he swears he loves.
If that's true, then as they're saying these days in Rockville: Is there life after Hanna?
"There are four reasons why I've decided to leave. First, essentially all I've wanted to get done is done. . . . Second, I've already been mayor one term longer than anyone else has in the city and I didn't want people to think I was trying to build a dynasty. . . . Third, there were two people on the council who've supported me who I've known for years would love to be mayor and I felt they deserved a chance, . . . and finally, it's no secret that politics is not my wife's first love and she would like to have more time to spend with me."
But, this man who looks like he belongs in a Hush Puppy advertisement or who could be a cross between Chicago's late mayor, Richard Daley, and Baltimore's William Donald Schaefer, says before another question can be added, "I'll miss it. As much as my wife hates it, I love politics and while other (political) jobs are time-demanding, there is no more demanding job than mayor. But there also is no more rewarding job."
But, he laughs, "there's no question I'll run for something. I couldn't stay away from this completely." Next month, he says, he'll announce whether he'll run for a seat in the General Assembly or the County Council. "Oh, lord, they're something else aren't they?" he says of the council members. "My friends say I couldn't stand it--they talk themselves to death."
These are quiet days in Rockville, five days before the nonpartisan election in which four council members and a mayor will be chosen. There is one candidate for mayor--Air Force colonel and council member John Freeland; two slates of four council candidates each and one independent candidate for the council, incumbent John Tyner.
Running as members of the Independents for Rockville (IFR), Hanna's party and the organization now in complete control of the City Council, are first-time candidates Douglas Duncan, Glenn Looper and Lisa Taylor and incumbent Stephen Abrams. Affiliated with Alliance of Rockville Citizens (ARC) are John Brewer, Viola Hovesepian, Kay Morrison and Howard Silberstein.
The one election year issue--what to do about the development of the proposed $82 million Town Center and the Rockville Mall--was swept away two weeks ago when the City Council and mayor unanimously decided to sign a letter of agreement delaying the final closing of the Town Center deal with developers Winmar Company and Nordal Associates . The agreement requires the developers to study whether they can link their development with the Rockville Mall, a now virtually vacant complex in the middle of the county's new office building and courthouse. Even before this deal was struck, the question of the Town Center development was almost a non-issue, with most agreeing that the mall and center should be considered in one pacakge.
Other than that, all agree something must be done about traffic, all want to believe citizen involvement in government is important, and all want to preserve the residential quality of Rockville while expanding its commercial tax base.
Other than that, as Hanna says, "it's all personality."
Consider this from Cora Alter, campaign chairwoman of IFR, a group emphasizing its strong business background: "I think ARC has taken the lead from our positions. If, as it is said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I think that's what you could call it. . . . These people are not saying the same things they were two or four years ago. They've come a long way round to our position."
Or, from Viola Hovesepian, a candidate for City Council and chairwoman of ARC, a group touting its broad-based involvement and grass-roots community workers: "IFR seems to have gotten on our bandwagon these days in terms of recognizing the need for citizen involvement. . . . That's always been our big thing; now they seem to be talking about it also."
For the most part, then, in Rockville when people talk about the election, they talk about the non-candidate Hanna. For while Baltimore has the man Jimmy Carter called "my favorite mayor," Rockville has the man Carter's favorite calls "unquestionably one of the outstanding mayors in the country." They also have the man who insisted the city get its own flag and its own seal.
"The fact that Rockville was twice named All-American City (by the U.S. Conference of Mayors) while he was mayor is evidence enough of the man's capability," says Schaefer, also called Baltimore's biggest fan and the man who donned swimming togs and flippers to jump in the city aquarium when he promised he would. "Hanna is a strong adminstrator and a determined man. He is a good friend of the mayors and a good friend of Baltimore."
Hanna also thinks Rockville's being named one of the country's 10 All-American cities is great.
"If there's one thing that I'm most proud of, it's that," says Hanna, before aiming an affectionate dig at his good friend Schaefer, who has turned Baltimore into a magazine cover success story. "Nothing would give him greater pleasure than to catch up with us."
There are a lot of things Rockville has that a lot of cities would probably want, says Hanna. Among the other things Hanna says he's most proud of are a goal-setting white paper, prepared with the participation of 200 residents, that laid out the future of the city. All but one of the goals, development of the Town Center, has been met. He also likes his senior citizen sports program which he says is an "active sports" program, not a "rocking chair kind of thing" and an arts program that he claims is nonpareil.
This, he doesn't have to say, is the twinkle that keeps him going.
"We started an art series program; while not the Kennedy Center, it's on the next level. Next week we will have the Joffrey II Ballet. . . . We have a 1 percent public buildings ordinance which requires that 1 percent of any money spent on a public building be spent on the artistic improvement of the building, paintings on the wall, sculpture. . . . We have enlarged the historic district. . . . We have Street 70 (a theater). We actually bring art (performances) into the streets and into the neighborhoods. . . . We have an Autumn Festival. . . . We have Rockville Day where everything is free--the popcorn, the balloons, the games, the cotton candy."
Art budgets, he quickly adds, should be increased during times of economic trouble rather than decreased.
"As things get tough, the lower-income segment of our population feels the pressure the worst. . . . The government has got to fill in in bad times and provide recreational outlets. The poor never have a large share, but to take away from what they have only makes it worse."
Despite all his accomplishments, Hanna is quick to point out that there have been mistakes. Some residents have criticized him for making decisions first and then telling the public what he was going to do. Local newspapers lambasted him earlier this year for initially telling County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist that Rockville was not interested in joining the county's cable pact.
"There is a difference between being a king and a mayor. A king issues orders and an elected official has to listen to people. I could put a big computer in that would solve our problems much quicker, but that's not how a democracy works," said Hanna.
"I learned early on a politician has to listen to people.
"Lord, I'll miss it."