Most people in Gaithersburg don’t realize the city will hold an election this fall, says Mayor Jud Ashman, at least not until he tells them. That’s the mayor’s finding after knocking on many residents’ doors.
Yes, Gaithersburg really will have a contested election this very November. Three candidates running for mayor! Three, count ’em. And four candidates for three City Council seats! It’s a far cry from the last Gaithersburg election, when there were exactly enough candidates to fill the available seats. No competition; no reason to vote. But that was 2013.
This is 2015. The candidates running this year in Gaithersburg are an impressive bunch. And they’re not like peas in a pod. Voters have clear choices to make among qualified candidates. They’re all good, but in different ways and for different reasons. Actual local democracy in action, something you don’t see every day. Of course, it will only be democracy if voters show up at the polls, which is an open question.
First, voters have to be aware there’s an election. Remember how Thomas Jefferson opined that he’d rather have newspapers without government, than government without newspapers? Jefferson would not be pleased. Here in Gaithersburg, and most of Montgomery County, for that matter, we have government without newspapers. A sorry arrangement.
This fall’s Gaithersburg election is the first since the demise of the Gazette Newspapers earlier this year. In the 1950s and 1960s, the newspaper was called the “Gaithersburg Gazette.” Then Montgomery County took off on a seemingly endless development spree, and the Gazette went big time. That was the 20th century.
Now it’s the 21st century. The newspaper industry has all but collapsed. And MoCo’s long run of lucrative growth and development is on the brink of collapse as well.
The Gazette, like so many other marginal newspapers, could have been saved. (The Washington Evening Star and the Baltimore Evening Sun come to mind.) But modern capitalism is a cruel taskmaster. In keeping with the times, Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post Co. shut down the Gazette. One more dead newspaper. RIP.
The Sentinel is the last newspaper standing in Montgomery County, and it covers only the city of Rockville, with rare exceptions. Once in a while it mentions Gaithersburg. But The Sentinel is stingy with newsprint, except when it comes to selling legal ads. I do not expect The Sentinel to cover the Gaithersburg election worth a damn. In fact, you have a tough time finding a copy of The Sentinel outside Rockville. Not even in the Montgomery County libraries. Especially not in the MoCo libraries!
The Washington Post rarely ventures farther into Montgomery County than privileged Chevy Chase, where the wealthy reside and local government is prickly as a rose-bush; or idiosyncratic Takoma Park, where free-thinking progressives reside.
I doubt a Washington Post reporter could find Gaithersburg City Hall without a cell phone map. Note: it’s the least user-friendly City Hall in America. A Gaithersburg citizen can’t go in, walk around to city offices and conduct business. You’re stopped cold at the front desk. Wait here. A bureaucrat will come down and talk to you in the lobby. Most of City Hall is off-limits to the public.
But I digress, as usual.
We were talking about the Gaithersburg city election. It will be held at selected locations throughout the city on Nov. 3, with early voting at the end of October. “Absentee ballots” may be had for the asking.
As a public service, this humble blog will attempt to fill some small part of the void left by the Gazette, Post and Sentinel.
Coming soon, news and comment about the candidates.
— John Hayden