Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mayoral race picks up steam

Drew Powell enters the fray for Rockville’s top seat; Marcuccio opts for council

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The race to decide who becomes Rockville’s next mayor went from zero to 60 miles per hour on Monday, as an outspoken citizen activist peppered criticism upon his only opponent minutes after announcing his candidacy.

Drew Powell, a telecommunications consultant and director of a government watchdog group, announced his candidacy to replace departing Mayor Larry Giammo.

‘‘I believe it is essential for good government to avoid even the appearance of potential conflicts of interest,” he told the audience of about 20, including the press. ‘‘By that, I mean that my ‘day job’ will not find me working on behalf of another community, competing for county or state resources at the potential expense of Rockville and its needs.”

Powell’s only announced opposition, City Councilwoman Susan R. Hoffmann, is a marketing and special events manager at the county’s Silver Spring Regional Center.

During the press conference, Powell said Hoffmann is legally able to run for mayor, but is foisting an ethical conflict upon the city.

‘‘I think those two jobs are in conflict with each other, especially when it comes to state and Montgomery County resources,” he said.

Hoffmann, who has served on the council since 2001, has repeatedly asserted that no overlap exists between her county and city positions.

‘‘I have no control over the amount of money the county executive or the council allocate for Silver Spring,” she said in response. ‘‘It appears that my opponent does not know how the county budget process works or even how the city budget process works, if he thinks we are competing for county funds.”

Last month, City Attorney Paul Glasgow issued an opinion declaring no conflict exists.

Hoffmann’s employment with the county as a merit employee ‘‘would not preclude her from holding the office of mayor, just as it does not preclude her from holding her current office as council member,” according to the Glasgow memo.

Powell, who serves as the executive director of Neighbor’s for a Better Montgomery, promises not to take money from developers, something he said Hoffmann did in the last election.

Hoffmann has said she does not take money from developers doing business in the city of Rockville.

‘‘The implication is that there would be some favor given,” she said last week. ‘‘But if someone isn’t developing in Rockville, how am I doing him a favor.”

Records indicate her 2005 campaign received hundreds of dollars from Aris Mardirossian, a real estate investor and convenience store mogul who bought the 180-acre Crown Farm property in Gaithersburg two years ago.

‘‘I do not subscribe to gotcha politics,” Hoffmann said last week.

Less than two dozen people attended Powell’s announcement, including County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park, who said he supports Powell.

County Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg attended, but said he was just there to listen.

County Executive Isiah ‘‘Ike” Leggett showed up, but said he probably would not endorse anyone in Rockville’s races.

Powell decided to run for mayor the day after City Councilwoman Phyllis R. Marcuccio cleared the way by deciding to seek re-election for her seat, instead of running for the highest city office.

The two have said they did not want to run against each other in the mayor’s race.

‘‘I’ve gotten a lot of good experience in the last 16 or 18 months,” Marcuccio said. ‘‘I’ve kind of learned that you don’t have to be mayor to make a difference.”

The first-term councilwoman debated the issue with supporters for hours before finally deciding against a mayoral bid in the early morning hours on Thursday.

Powell welcomed the decision.

‘‘I know that she and her people did a tremendous amount of soul searching,” he said. ‘‘And I think the world of her. I think she made the right decision.”

Powell also counts Councilwoman Anne M. Robbins as an ally, as evidenced by her introduction of him at his Monday campaign kickoff.

‘‘I’m looking forward to running for council and being an ally of ‘Mayor’ Powell,” she forecasted. ‘‘It will be a breath of fresh air.”

Powell calls for continued cuts in property taxes and an amendment to the city charter capping property taxes billed to residential homes, not including increases for inflation.

‘‘We have nothing like that and the city tends to live rather high on the hog when assessments are up and there is no protection,” he said. ‘‘It seems that there has been a blank-check philosophy.”

In particular, he wants an in-house attorney, which he says would end any potential conflicts of interest with outsourced law firms, and questions the amount of city investment in the Town Square redevelopment project.

The last criticism did not make a friend of Mayor Larry Giammo.

‘‘The question comes down to: Do you want a Town Center or not,” Giammo asked. ‘‘Without investment in infrastructure, we would not have a new Town Center.”