Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Garrett Park to hold first contested mayoral race in four years

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For the first time in four years, Garrett Park will have a choice in their vote for mayor.

Chris Keller, a former town councilman of 10 years, will run in May against incumbent Mayor Carolyn Shawaker. Both were nominated by the Garrett Park Citizens Association, a group for residents to discuss town matters.

The election will be held 7 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. May 5 at the town post office in Penn Place, 4600 Waverly Ave.

Shawaker ran unopposed in the 2004 and 2006 elections, after serving on the Town Council for four years. The mayor and council members serve staggered two-year terms that are unpaid.

Keller served on the council from 1995 to 2005 and then chose to volunteer on town committees in lieu of a sixth term.

The deadline to file candidacy for mayor and two open council positions is April 14, but town officials said candidates nominated by the Garrett Park Citizens Association are traditionally the only candidates in the race. The nomination is not required to run. Residents need 10 signatures of registered voters in order to throw their hat into the ring.

Shawaker said she hoped that running against a long-time friend wouldn’t create a negative atmosphere in town.

‘‘Chris has been a dear friend for so long, and he was my number one council member when I first became mayor,” she said. ‘‘I really hope this doesn’t become contentious.”

Keller said he wanted to serve the town as mayor, having already been a council member, because he is concerned about preserving the town’s history while living in the present. A good example of that, he said, is the renovation of Penn Place. The historic hub of the town holds the town post office, Black Market Bistro and the town offices.

‘‘We pride ourselves on our history, but how do you find ways to balance [that] and live in the 21st century,” he said.

One of his main concerns would be to protect the Garrett Park MARC station from closing.

County planners have discussed adding a MARC station near the White Flint Metro Station as part of a 20-year growth guide called the White Flint Sector Plan.

‘‘I’ve used the train for 27 years when I worked downtown,” Keller said. ‘‘While I don’t anymore, I still have great affection for it.”

He said he would like to prevent the loss of green space in town, as well.

Shawaker said she worked hard for three years to start repairs on streets in town, and work began last week.

Gaithersburg-based VIEW Engineering submitted a study of which roads in Garrett Park needed to be repaved, had potholes to fill and curbs to rebuild. In February, the council adopted a list of road improvements based on VIEW’s findings to be made by 2009 at an estimated cost of at least $300,000.

‘‘I want to go two more budget cycles and plan to make sure the capital improvement plan study we paid $50,000 for is used,” Shawaker said.

Shawaker is president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Maryland Municipal League.

She said she also would like to establish volunteer programs where kids can earn Student Service Learning credits.