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Photos | Submitted (Top, L to R) Incumbents Neil Harris, Ryan Spiegel and Robert Wu and (bottom, L to R) write-in candidates Juan Aguirre, Carol Johnson and Nicole S. Ukiteyedi.

Photos | Submitted
(Top, L to R) Incumbents Neil Harris, Ryan Spiegel and Robert Wu and (bottom, L to R) write-in candidates Juan Aguirre, Carol Johnson and Nicole S. Ukiteyedi.

The City of Gaithersburg Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. Six candidates are running for three City Council seats. They are incumbents Neil Harris, Ryan Spiegel and Robert Wu and write-in candidates Juan Aguirre, Carol Johnson and Nicole S. Ukiteyedi.

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Citizens in our readership area vote at the Kentlands Clubhouse. For an interactive map of municipal polling stations, visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov/government/elections and click on “Polling Site Map.”

The Town Courier asked candidates four questions. Answers to question one were published in the print edition. The full Q&A is published below.

Incumbent City Councilmember and Kentlands resident Neil Harris has lived in Gaithersburg for more than 30 years and has served on the Gaithersburg City Council and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board since 2014. In addition, he was Kentlands Citizens Assembly chairman, 2012 to 2014, and president, 2006 to 2008.

Q: What issues are you concerned about and want to seek legislation on as a City Council elected official?

A: Redeveloping Lakeforest Mall and other aging retail areas around Route 355 are the biggest opportunities for the city—it’s critical to guide this in a direction that has the potential to transform the 355 corridor and Olde Towne into a much more vibrant area that is much more of an asset to us going forward. A study of the county’s retail environment found that this area had more retail than it could support and lower quality retail than we should have. The vision for Lakeforest is to create another mixed-use development combining residential, retail, services and transit.

Another area of focus is schools. We need to make sure that MCPS provides the school capacity we need, which is not under our direct control—but I’ve found that having a deeper relationship with the school board and MCPS senior staff has resulted in great progress for our kids—MCPS agreed to fund a new high school in Crown Farm and a new elementary school for the Gaithersburg cluster, and they are re-examining the Quince Orchard cluster to alleviate overcrowding here, too. The old way of doing things was not working—where new developments are proposed and then we hope MCPS meets the new demand—now we are talking to MCPS well in advance of our city’s growth to make sure they plan in advance to meet the needs along with us.

Q: How important do you think that the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) system is for Gaithersburg and the nine-mile busway between Shady Grove and Metropolitan Grove MARC commuter rail station in Gaithersburg? Will you be looking to get this project up and running? Why or why not? Recently the State of Maryland cut funding for this project.

A: I was a member of the Corridor Cities Transitway’s Area Advisory Committee years ago, when I was still on the KCA Board. The initial plan was for that route to be light rail, which is more expensive to build but less expensive to operate year by year. To save on capital costs, the first change was moving away from rail to Bus Rapid Transit, then the route was expanded with a loop through the future Johns Hopkins development, and then several overpasses were eliminated. The result of all these cost-saving measures was to slow down travel on the route to the point where the latest plan shows that the trip from Metropolitan Grove MARC (off Clopper Road) to the Shady Grove Metro station would take 45 minutes. That is about twice as long as a bus takes today!

The bottom line is clear―we need transit improvements here but this plan needs to go back to the drawing board―if we are going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a new transit line, it has to be designed so people will actually use it. I have spoken with County Executive Marc Elrich about this, and he agrees.

Q: City of Gaithersburg received its recertification as a Sustainable Maryland Community. What do you think City of Gaithersburg’s environmental responsibilities are?  If elected or re-elected, would you ask the City of Gaithersburg to opt in to Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act?

A: I wonder if the county regulations are designed to be effective enough. The Healthy Lawns Act takes local authority as far as legally allowed, where stores selling lawn chemicals are required to post warning signs. But the county is still using these chemicals on county parks! Since local jurisdictions do not have the authority to take stronger action, it’s important to look for help at the federal level to make sure we are making our environment safer.

I also wonder why there is a 5-cent bag tax that applies to paper bags as well as plastic. Plastic bags are not recyclable. If they are an environmental hazard, then why are they allowed to be used? And why do we penalize use of biodegradable and recyclable paper bags?

Q: Would you consider asking Mayor Jud Ashman to join coalition such as www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about to mitigate climate change by committing the City of Gaithersburg to lowering its carbon footprint?

A: The city already has a low carbon footprint. One hundred percent of the city government’s energy comes from renewable sources, and we have been at the forefront of LEED certification to ensure that all new buildings are designed to the highest standards of energy efficiency.

I also advocate for aggressive efforts to move the transportation sector to zero-emission vehicles. The state provides a limited pool of funding for rebates that reduce the cost of zero-emission vehicles. I’m lobbying our delegation for increases to this and other incentive programs because this is the most effective way in the near term to reduce CO2 output.

City Councilmember and Washingtonian Woods resident Ryan Spiegel has lived in Gaithersburg for 14 years and has served on the City Council for 12 years, beginning in 2007. He is the current Maryland Municipal League (MML) statewide president, and he has served the MML in a variety of capacities since 2012.

Q: What issues are you concerned about and want to seek legislation on as a City Council elected official?

A: I don’t believe in introducing legislation just for legislation’s sake. But as challenges arise in the many areas we touch—whether it’s housing, transportation, public safety, parks and recreation, environmental sustainability, or economic development—I try to be innovative in employing practical solutions to complicated problems. Sometimes that means legislation, and sometimes it means other programs and initiatives that do not require a change in law. In my 12 years on the council, I have sought, supported, and voted on hundreds of resolutions and ordinances. I have also spearheaded novel initiatives like Bank on Gaithersburg and the city’s FHA certification program.

On my radar for the near future are bills to solidify prohibitions against wild animals at circuses and fairs, to establish rules for bike-share or dockless scooter programs, to update restrictions on the possession and use of weapons on public property, and to modernize parking regulations.

An important piece of our work is not only to legislate at home but also to advocate to the county, state, and federal governments on behalf of our residents. In my next term I plan to continue advocating to state leaders to give us our fair share of transportation revenues that are supposed to go to local governments for road maintenance under a formula set by law. I also plan to continue the fight against any state or federal laws that meddle in our local control over so-called “small cell” towers that the telecom industry wants to erect throughout our public right-of-way.

Q: How important do you think that the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) system is for Gaithersburg and the nine-mile busway between Shady Grove and Metropolitan Grove MARC commuter rail station in Gaithersburg? Will you be looking to get this project up and running? Why or why not? Recently the State of Maryland cut funding for this project.

A: Transit is a key ingredient to traffic relief and environmental sustainability, along with other factors in what must be a multifaceted approach.  The city has limited resources for extremely expensive transit investments but can leverage our effective advocacy to our state, county, and federal partners.

To the surprise of many, the state recently cut the CCT completely out of the state Consolidated Transportation Plan after years of planning. A number of smart growth developments in and near the city were approved on the promise that a CCT would be coming.  The county is looking to add it back into the state budget, even if only as a placeholder with no funds allocated while the county and state work on a path forward that may involve handing the project over to the county as a local project or funding it from a portion of revenue from future I-270 managed lane tolls.

I will continue to advocate for sensible multimodal solutions, including some version of the CCT so long as it is not too much of a burden on existing neighborhoods, and if headways, ridership, and travel times are good enough to justify the cost.

Q: City of Gaithersburg received its recertification as a Sustainable Maryland Community. What do you think City of Gaithersburg’s environmental responsibilities are?  If elected or re-elected, would you ask the City of Gaithersburg to opt in to Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act?

A: I was proud to personally accept our Sustainable Maryland recertification on behalf of the city.  I have long been a leader on environmental initiatives for the city, and I believe that in today’s day and age, local governments need to lead by example in facilitating

greener practices, together with our residents, businesses, and nonprofit partners.  Over the years, I have supported our investment in hybrid and biodiesel vehicle fleets, experimenting with alternative brine products for treating snowy roads, stormwater management efforts, stream valley restorations, environmental site design requirements for new development, expansion of preserved open space, converting to more efficient technologies such as LED street lights and benchmarking energy use, green building codes that require LEED-style certifications for commercial and multifamily buildings,

single stream recycling, a composting pilot, banning Styrofoam, installing eco-friendly turf fields, and much more.  Most recently, I have asked our city staff to explore placing solar panels on the roofs of city government buildings.

I consider sustainability to be a key responsibility of our local leaders, to ensure our community remains healthy and green for generations to come.  My family tries to lead by example, with our own solar roof, water reclamation efforts, urban gardening, hybrid vehicle, LED bulbs, and regular recycling and composting in our home. As president of the statewide Maryland Municipal League, I also work together with the 156 other cities and towns in Maryland to grow the scale and impact of our collective environmental efforts.

The city delayed action on Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act while the new law was being challenged in court.  It was prudent to see how the case would play out before proceeding.  Now that the final appeal is over and the law has been deemed to not be preempted by state regulations, it is time for Gaithersburg to revisit the Act and discuss whether to adopt it or perhaps some other variation of a pesticide restriction that best fits our community.

Q: Would you consider asking Mayor Jud Ashman to join a coalition such as www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about to mitigate climate change by committing the City of Gaithersburg to lowering its carbon footprint?

A: I appreciate the value of symbolic statements and gestures.  They are a reflection of our values.  But I prefer concrete action.  Our mayor and our city have signed on to several national and international climate change statements and commitments over the years, but I’d rather spend our time and effort on actually implementing changes locally.  Gaithersburg already offsets 100 percent of its carbon emissions through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits, but we can do more. That’s why I’ve asked our staff to research installing solar panels on the roofs of city government buildings, as just one example of the many additional steps we might take.  We have also installed a number of electric vehicle charging stations throughout the city, and we recently adopted an updated electrical code using an international template that requires electric vehicle charging lines in all newly constructed residential garages―to encourage and support the expanded use of clean electric vehicles.  Much of our cutting-edge smart growth  development in recent years is designed to reduce carbon footprints in the long term by putting homes, retail, offices, and parks in close proximity to each other and to existing infrastructure, as opposed to traditional suburban sprawl.  And we now audit our programs and facilities for energy efficiency to find more ways to reduce consumption and waste.

City Councilmember Robert Wu has lived in Gaithersburg for seven years and has served on the City Council for four years, beginning in 2015. In addition to his municipal service, Wu is part of the Government Accountability Office (2013 to present) and the U.S. Army Reserves. He served in the U.S. Army on active duty from 2003 to 2009 and U.S. Army Civilian from 2009 to 2013.

Q: What issues are you concerned about and want to seek legislation on as a City Council elected official?

A: Development, quality of life, environmental and budgetary issues, among other things, keep me up at night. We need to ensure that we take advantage of development opportunities that make sense within the context of the entire city, and that any such growth is done deliberately, thoughtfully, and with emphasis given to adequacy of infrastructure. I would like to advance certain environmental initiatives in the coming term, such as expanding composting within the city, reducing reliance on harmful pesticides, and pursuing energy alternatives for the city. All of this has to be done within the context of a fiscally responsible budget.

Q: How important do you think that the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) system is for Gaithersburg and the nine-mile busway between Shady Grove and Metropolitan Grove MARC commuter rail station in Gaithersburg? Will you be looking to get this project up and running? Why or why not? Recently the State of Maryland cut funding for this project.

A: I support increasing transit infrastructure and access for all residents of the city.  I am particularly excited about the prospect of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) creating greater capacity and transit choices to the 355 corridor.  I am less optimistic about the CCT in its current formulation and along its current route.  I would like to see improved transit infrastructure to permit development of the Great Seneca Science Corridor plan, and look forward to working for solutions in that regard.

Q: City of Gaithersburg received its recertification as a Sustainable Maryland Community. What do you think City of Gaithersburg’s environmental responsibilities are? If elected or re-elected, would you ask the City of Gaithersburg to opt in to Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act?

A: Gaithersburg should be an environmental leader.  Yes, I think the city should pursue opting in to the county’s legislation.

Q: Would you consider asking Mayor Jud Ashman to join a coalition such as www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about to mitigate climate change by committing the City of Gaithersburg to lowering its carbon footprint?

A: Yes, in fact I did.  In 2016 the City considered opting in to the Mayor’s Compact.  I pushed for the City to join because the initiative had real, tangible goals for meeting our collective obligation to mitigate our impact on the planet.  The majority of the council did not support signing on to this particular initiative, but we did adopt the National League of Cities position, which was a positive step, but did not come with concrete steps as the Mayors Compact did.

Juan Aguirre has lived in Gaithersburg for two years and is a small business owner/principal of Juan Aguirre Insurance Agency-State Farm. He has served as past president, vice president and secretary of the Puerto Rico Association of Life Underwriters, was Life Underwriters Training Council Fellow, and the Life Underwriters Training Council – Chairman for Puerto Rico in 1994.

Q: What issues are you concerned about and want to seek legislation on as a City Council elected official?

A: I am concerned about many issues affecting our community.

  • I will start by limiting the terms for city councilmembers terms to a two-term maximum, same as the mayor. I believe that being for 12 years as a councilmember you become ineffective and callous to the plights of the citizens. Currently we have three councilmembers that have been there way too long in the Council.
  • We must also take a very close look at the rules concerning conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest for councilmembers.
  • I am committed to Save Kelley Park; that should be a no brainer, and some of the incumbents are dancing around that issue. All parks—but especially this one—should never be converted into a school. Parks are necessary for the psychological wellbeing of individuals. This multipurpose park should be saved.
  • There are some projects that need to be scrutinized before being approved. Lately, in an effort to attract business, I have seen approvals of projects without thinking them through (i.e., Wawa—here a councilmember voted for it because it brought him fond childhood memories… it’s on record, look it up!!!) Another worrisome project is the office building in front of Harris Teeter which will create havoc and major traffic disruption to an already heavily traffic area, thus affecting the quality of life in our community. There is a lack of commonsense (with very few exceptions) in the Council, which is precisely what I bring to the Council if elected.
  • The Board of Elections needs to revised after this election; the write-in candidacies and their access to the electorate, the absentee ballots might have to be contested as they went out before the Oct. 18 date (last day to be certified as a write-in candidate). There were ballots submitted where the voter did not have a chance to vote for the three write-in candidates. Either we move the date of the certification to 60 days prior to the election or we coordinate that absentee ballots to go out only after all certifications are approved—but something has to be done.

Q: How important do you think that the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) system is for Gaithersburg and the nine-mile busway between Shady Grove and Metropolitan Grove MARC commuter rail station in Gaithersburg? Will you be looking to get this project up and running? Why or why not? Recently the State of Maryland cut funding for this project.

A: The continued development of the CCT is crucial to the economic development of Gaithersburg and Montgomery County. The state has already spent $38 million and to cancel it at this point will result in a waste of taxpayers’ money.  Traffic congestion has a direct impact on productivity. The City Council has spent time and effort in meetings to make this project viable.  The economic considerations are important in a project of this magnitude, but there will be a bigger impact if nothing is done.

Q: City of Gaithersburg received its recertification as a Sustainable Maryland Community. What do you think City of Gaithersburg’s environmental responsibilities are?

A: We are stewards of our environment. Our logo for the city is a tree!!! We must be vigilant that we have the right balance between growth and the environment.

Q: If elected or re-elected, would you ask the City of Gaithersburg to opt in to Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act?

A: Bill 52-14 prohibits using harmful pesticides—including weed killers—on lawns, playgrounds, children’s facilities and some county-owned properties. Another no brainer … I think we all want to safeguard the health of all our children and the people that use the public playgrounds and facilities.

Q: Would you consider asking Mayor Jud Ashman to a join coalition such as www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about to mitigate climate change by committing the City of Gaithersburg to lowering its carbon footprint?

I think our mayor cares deeply about our city and he has done many initiatives that are good for our environment and it will be up to him to decides if we join or not.  I personally try to lower my carbon footprint; it takes a whole village and it should start at home.

Carol Johnson has lived in Gaithersburg for 34 years and is a physicist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. She volunteers at Seneca Creek State Park and is secretary for the Germantown Masters Swim Team.

Q: What issues are you concerned about and want to seek legislation on as a City Council elected official?

A: I was in opposition to the Wawa that was approved for 405 S. Frederick Ave. because of fundamental questions like it is a high-volume gasoline station in close proximity to Bohrer Park and the Gaithersburg High School, which I understand means it would not be approved if it were in the county. My other comments are in the public record. Secondly, I was frankly shocked at the procedures of the city when considering such impactful projects. There is no responder to public inquiry other than the applicant. There are no impartial expert reviews solicited by the city. The city seemed to interpret the Master Plan with a large degree of leeway. I felt the procedure was unfair. So I would work to improve the process and investigate the need to revise or improve City Code. The overall goal is to develop long-term plans that will support and improve existing, e.g. long term, neighborhoods, businesses, and traffic corridors.

Q: How important do you think that the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) system is for Gaithersburg and the nine-mile busway between Shady Grove and Metropolitan Grove MARC commuter rail station in Gaithersburg? Will you be looking to get this project up and running? Why or why not? Recently the State of Maryland cut funding for this project.

A: CCT and phase 1 SG to Metro. Grove MARC: I am in favor of growth of public transportation. My impression is this would serve many workplaces in a high-tech area of Gaithersburg/Montgomery county and help get people out of cars and off I-270. I would also add that I support the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) where the proposed route is 355. I believe this project is now called RideTheFlash.

Q: City of Gaithersburg received its recertification as a Sustainable Maryland Community. What do you think City of Gaithersburg’s environmental responsibilities are? If elected or re-elected, would you ask the City of Gaithersburg to opt in to Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act?

A: As far as environmental responsibilities, my view is the City has an opportunity for leadership. I believe economic growth and a transition away from fossil fuels are compatible and necessary for a sustainable environment in the future. Yes, the Healthy Lawns sounds good to me. We can all work on converting grass to native plants, and the City has a nice Rebate program to this effect.

Q: Would you consider asking Mayor Jud Ashman to join a coalition such as www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about to mitigate climate change by committing the City of Gaithersburg to lowering its carbon footprint?

A: Yes, I would support the mayor to join other mayors to mitigate our carbon footprint.

Nicole S. Ukiteyedi has lived in Gaithersburg for 23 years and holds an MBA in Health Services Administration and BS in Nursing. She volunteers with local PTAs, the Montgomery County Democratic Party and as director of Board of Administration of the Congolese Community in the DMV area.

Q: What issues are you concerned about and want to seek legislation on as a City Council elected official?

A: My family and I have always been engaged in the community for decades. We provide a helping hand to friends, neighbors, schools, nonprofit organizations and local businesses here in Gaithersburg whenever possible. This is our home and we have a vested interest in the overall health and collective achievements of the entire community. The issues facing the City Council are issues that matter to me, my family and our community—issues such as housing, homelessness, economic development, education, and the environment.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.

I recognize that my family’s capacity to volunteer is a privilege, and I am mindful that my service in public office is an even greater privilege. My motivation to serve as a city councilmember is to be a voice for all residents of Gaithersburg, not only the wealthy and well connected. The high quality of life that Gaithersburg purports to offer is not currently accessible to all who live and work in our fine city. I sought to serve to break the silence—the silence of apathy and the silence of suppression.

As a councilmember, I aim to be responsive to concerns and transparent about process. There is important work to be done, and I am ready to roll up my sleeves, reach out to residents and engage with the community. I feel extremely fortunate to call Gaithersburg my home, the place where my family can live, work, play and learn together!

Q: How important do you think that the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) system is for Gaithersburg and the nine-mile busway between Shady Grove and Metropolitan Grove MARC commuter rail station in Gaithersburg? Will you be looking to get this project up and running? Why or why not? Recently the State of Maryland cut funding for this project.

A: Maryland transportation officials have cut plans for a busway in upper Montgomery County from the state’s proposed transportation budgets, saying the county should pay for its final design and construction.

The bus rapid transit line, known as the Corridor Cities Transitway, has been planned for more than 20 years to connect auto-dependent communities and job centers in the heavily congested Interstate-270 corridor with Metro Red Line at Shady Grove.

The nine-mile project has been on hold since 2016, when the state postponed additional funding after spending $38 million to assess its potential environmental impacts. State officials cited budget constraints but said money could restored if gas tax revenue picked up. Seeing the project dropped from the budget completely, some transitway advocates said, felt like the final blow.

So I can’t take up this project if I run as a city member, because even Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, called the news “extremely disappointing” and, myself I will say that’s, I can’t  take away something without suggesting an alternative. The money Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) Administration wanted to spend for the first nine-mile segment was estimated to cost about $500 million. Why don’t we spend that money on helping people who don’t have Healthcare, Food,Veterans and daycares. We have more important money needs than this situation of Corridor Transitway System, etc. …

Q: Would you consider asking Mayor Jud Ashman to join a coalition such as www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about to mitigate climate change by committing the City of Gaithersburg to lowering its carbon footprint?

A: Yes,I will consider asking Mayor Jud Ashman to join the coalition. But Mayor Jud Ashman  doesn’t make a final decision.  Mayor Jud Ashman works with his teammates and decides together before doing anything.

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