Off-year municipal elections are often sleepy affairs, but in Rockville the races this year have been unusually heated. Talk around town has centered around campaign finance issues.
Three cities in Montgomery County have contested elections on Tuesday: Gaithersburg, Rockville and Takoma Park. But the Rockville contest has drawn particular attention because of accusations of campaign finance violations.
Council candidate Tom Moore wrote to the city’s elections chairman in early October, questioning whether another candidate, Bridget Newton, had violated campaign finance laws. Moore said Newton’s husband, Fred Newton, had donated $4,120.50 to her 2009 campaign, possibly four times the legal limit.
Elections officials investigated and concluded that Newton had not violated the rules, according to elections chair Dave Celeste. Newton wrote in an opinions piece on Rockville Patch that Moore’s letter was an attempt to “discredit me and cast doubt on my integrity.”
“I believe that this is politically motivated and unfortunately reflects an attitude of negativity and lack of good judgment expediently deployed to propel one’s self interest rather than the best interests of our city and her citizens,” she wrote. In a later interview, Newton said the accusations have been “destructive” and Rockville “is so much better than this.”
Moore said he had neither targeted Newton nor meant his letter to elections officials to be a personal attack.
The campaign finance complaints continued last week. In a letter to the elections board, Drew Powell, a former mayoral candidate and community activist, asked that it review campaign finance filings of Piotr “Peter” Gajewski, a council member and mayoral candidate.
Powell wrote that Gajewski reported two payments totalling $1,200 in in-kind contributions from the same address. Powell alleges, among other things, that the contributions come from the same source and that Gajewski has broken campaign finance rules that cap contributions from a single source at $1,000.
In a subsequent letter, Powell claimed that Gajewski had failed to report other in-kind contributions and had misrepresented information about his campaign headquarters on Rockville Pike.
Gajewski disagrees with Powell, and said the letters are a distraction.
“I’m trying to talk about the issues ... and not get sidetracked by talking about accusations that have little to do with the future of Rockville,” he said. “Personal attacks, that’s really what they are. My integrity has been called into question.”
Celeste declined to comment on the Powell-Gajewski case, saying the review is ongoing. He added that the spike in campaign finance-related allegations isn’t normal to Rockville elections, but “if you compare this to politics of some big cities around the country, this is very, very, very tame.”
Phyllis Marcuccio, the incumbent mayoral candidate who is facing Gajewski, said residents usually “aren’t so unpleasant” to each other. “Maybe there have been some contentious campaigns in Rockville, but this one seems to be filled with a lot of, ‘Let’s see how mad we can make you,’” she said.
Several candidates in Rockville say the most significant election issue is the city’s development plans. Beside the mayoral election, voters will also chose from nine candidates seeking four council seats. In addition to Moore and Newton, Les Francis, Richard Gottfried, John F. Hall Jr., Joseph Jordan, Virginia Onley, Dion Trahan and incumbent Mark Pierzchala are running for those four seats.
In Gaithersburg, Paula Ross, Tom Rowse and incumbents Jud Ashman Cathy Drzyzgula and Ryan Spiegel are vying for three spots on the city council. In Takoma Park, Lorig Charkoudian and Tim Male are competing in Ward 2; Kay Daniels-Cohen, Michael Graul and Jeffrey Noel-Nusbaum are running in Ward 3; and Barrie Howard and Fred Schultz are competing in Ward 6.