Rockville election focuses on direction of city’s future

Beryle Feinberg
Beryl Feinberg
Photo courtesy of Lisa Smith
Sima Osdoby Photo courtesy of Sima Osdoby
Sima Osdoby
Photo courtesy of Sima Osdoby

In two months, residents of the city of Rockville, home to Montgomery County government and the pedestrian-friendly Rockville Town Center, will head to the polls to vote in an election that is centering on the city’s future.

According to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the city of Rockville and surrounding area are the center of the area’s Jewish population and is home to a Jewish Community Center, a Jewish day school and a complex of Jewish assisted living facilities.

The city is a mixture of urban and suburban. But according to campaign rhetoric, plans need to be updated and decisions should be made to ensure that Rockville can maintain its status in the future.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton is seeking another term in the Nov. 3 election. Also running for mayor in this nonpartisan election is Sima Osdoby, who announced her candidacy in an Aug. 27 event.

Osdoby is running on the Team Rockville slate which also includes four city council candidates: incumbent Virginia Onley, incumbent Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala and Clark Reed. Pierzchala previously served on council but stepped down two years ago to seek the mayor’s seat; he was unsuccessful.

Also seeking council seats are Beryl Feinberg, an incumbent, Brigitta Mullican and Richard Goffried, in an election in which four council and one mayor position are up for grabs. Councilman Tom Moore is not seeking re-election.

The city of Rockville was home to 66,000 residents in 2014, an increase of 4,500 since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median value of an owner-occupied house was $470,000 from 2009 to 2013, according to the Census Bureau.

Osdoby, who has lived in the city for 35 years, decided to seek public office “to make decisions,” she said. “Rockville went from a place that really had a sense of what it wanted, a strong sense of community” to a “fractious” city where nothing is getting done.

Osdoby is concerned that the city’s plan for development along Rockville Pike has not been changed since 1989, although an updated plan has been in the works since 2008, she said.

“There has been this lack of uncertainty,” which she believes has scared off developers and business owners from settling in the city of Rockville for fear that zoning designations may change at any time.

There are 15 vacant stores in Rockville Town Center, which Osdoby finds troubling.

“The future is passing us by,” she said. “We are surrounded by change, and we absolutely have to make action decisions.”

Osdoby holds a master’s in social work and is a community organizer. She chaired the first board of Emerge Maryland, an organization dedicated to helping women to hold political office, and is a senior partner with Global Concepts and Communications in Alexandria.

She grew up in New York’s Borscht Belt in the Catskills and is involved with Jewish Women International, the National Council of Jewish Women and J Street, she said, adding, “I have a very strong Jewish identity.”

Seeking a second term on council is Feinberg, deputy director and COO of the county’s Department of General Services. She has lived in the city of Rockville since 1994.

She has a “deep background” in public policy finances and “would like to see changes in how budgeting is done in the city. I would like to see managed growth” as well as affordable housing, she said.

Managing the growth means ensuring that the city has the necessary infrastructure to handle it, she said.

She recently voted against an amendment that aligned the city’s Adequate Public Facilities ordinance with standards set by Montgomery County.  The amendment, which was adopted, establishes minimum service standards for public facilities including transportation, sewer, water and fire protection.

The ordinance “enabled the City to have a policy of managed growth,” Feinberg said, adding that she believed the changes make the ordinance “less stringent.” Feinberg said she is concerned there will be “unbridled development without sufficient infrastructure to prevent school overcrowding at the individual school level.”

Economic development “should not be at the expense of our residential neighborhoods,” she said.

Feinberg is concerned that the current mayor and council are “exceedingly polarized.” If a person doesn’t agree “it was implied that you weren’t a team player,” she said.

Her goal is to build “a strong foundation” so that in the next 30 to 50 years, the city of Rockville will be able to maintain its growth. “I want to make it an attractive place to play and work. Ideally, she would like to piggyback on the biotechnology industries along Route 270, possibly luring cybersecurity firms there as well, she said.

Feinberg said she is most proud of her efforts to bring a job training and life skills program to the city, help minority female business owners and people with disabilities learn how to navigate the system to obtain contracts and her efforts to avoid duplication of city and county services.

She is a member of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase and has been on its board of trustees. She sits on the board of the nonprofit Montgomery Hospice.

Roald Schrack, who is considered the unofficial historian of the city and its elections, said that there are difficult decisions that shouldn’t be kicked down the road any longer. But unlike the nonpartisan city councils of the past, Rockville is now a very political small city.

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