Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Race for city seats could be crowded

Former city manager Sanford Daily is among eight potential hopefuls showing interest in November’s election

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With longtime incumbents undecided and the number of potential new candidates — including former city manager Sanford W. Daily — already double the number that ran in the last election, it looks as if Gaithersburg could see one of its hottest political races ever this fall.

Only two weeks in to the 11-week filing period, eight residents have picked up the paperwork needed to run for three council seats up for grabs in November.

To make the ballot, candidates must collect the signatures of 100 city residents who are registered to vote.

In years past, the candidate packets have not been available until 90 days before the filing, but in response to a recommendation from the city Board of Supervisors of Elections this spring, hopefuls this year have four extra weeks.

Newcomers have applauded the extra time and some incumbents have called it unnaturally early, while residents observing the situation predict it won’t be the extended filing time that will most affect the election outcome, but rather the turbulence of hot-button issues that have lingered since the 2005 election.

Some of those issues include the ongoing debate over how to best accommodate day laborers in the city, the rise in violent crime in Olde Towne and the dilemma over how to provide a stock of affordable housing in Gaithersburg

Besides Daily and the three incumbents – Stanley J. Alster, Geri Edens and John B. Schlichting – potential challengers Jud Ashman, Cathy Drzyzgula, Wilson Faris and Brett Cosor have picked up candidate paperwork.

Some of the faces are familiar to city issues, especially the day-laborer debate which centers in large part on illegal immigration.

Julius Persensky, a former councilman and current compensation review committee member, said he fears the strength of the immigration debate is enough to make November’s race a one-issue election.

‘‘Right now I think we need to make sure the people running and the people voting understand a lot of issues in the city, and not just one,” said Persensky, a 37-year Gaithersburg resident.

Richard Arkin, a member of the historic preservation committee and a 19-year resident, said while it’s hard to predict sweeping results, ‘‘there is potential for some volatility.”

There could be ‘‘a retirement or two” around the bend for some incumbents, Arkin said.

Edens, a councilwoman since 1995, has not yet committed to run. ‘‘It’s premature,” she said.

Schlichting, a councilman since 2001, also said he hasn’t decided whether he will run.

‘‘I’ve got a lot of things going on and I haven’t made the decision yet,” he said.

Alster, a councilman since 1986, said it’s early, but confirmed his plan to defend his seat.

Ashman ran in 2005 on a ticket with Michael A. Sesma. Though Ashman didn’t receive enough votes, Sesma was elected.

This time, Ashman tapped civic activist Drzyzgula for his slate.

‘‘Although I am very pleased with the difference Mike has been able to make in less than half his term, I still have priorities for the city and I’m very excited to pursue them,” Ashman said.

Drzyzgula, a Greater Historic District Committee member, said she decided to run for council for the first time after witnessing last month’s budget debacle. The dispute hinged on funding for a pilot homeownership assistance program that stalled budget approval and nearly triggered a shutdown of city services.

‘‘I think there was too much posturing going on and they were willing to apparently put the city’s operations at risk for winning a battle,” she said.

Another newcomer is Faris, who said he’s concerned about the city’s lack of response to the illegal immigration issue, and believes this election ‘‘could be a defining moment in Gaithersburg’s future.”

‘‘I think there are some issues that need to be addressed a little more forcefully than council is likely to do,” Faris said.

Cosor, a Police Chief’s Advisory Council member, said he’s never run for public office before, and decided this time because it seems there’s been a disconnect between the city government’s actions and the public’s needs.

‘‘I’ll have a complete transparent plan ... and I expect people to hold me to it, and I’ll bring data back into the decision-making process,” he said. ‘‘We’re going to ask people to participate in government and not be victimized by it.”

Daily, Gaithersburg’s city manager from 1968 to 1995 and the man for whom the Sanford W. Daily Municipal Center, or City Hall, was named, said he’s made no decision whether to run and is ‘‘just considering it.”

All the election paperwork, including the 100 signatures and campaign finance reports, must be filed by Sept. 24.

There are 25,445 Gaithersburg residents currently registered to vote. New voters can pick up registration applications at City Hall, 31 S. Summit Ave., until Oct. 8.

Lace up

Anyone who wants to run for one of the three open seats on the Gaithersburg City Council can pick up candidate information from the City Manager’s Office on the second floor of City Hall, 31 S. Summit Ave.

To qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot, candidates must collect the signatures of 100 registered Gaithersburg voters and submit the necessary paperwork by Sept. 24.