Part ONE of a series chronicling interviews with activist Drew Powell and Silver Spring marketing director Susan Hoffmann, who are both running for mayor of Rockville.
I shake hands with Drew Powell, slow-growth activist and Rockville mayoral candidate, in the Rockville Town Square.
The Post covers the Town Square's grand opening earlier this week.
Drew Powell - soon-to-be-former Neighbor for a Better Montgomery - cuts an imposing figure across the low-rise Rockville landscape. It's not just the fact he's pretty tall (as tall as I am) or has become an outspoken critic of the Way Things Are Done in Montgomery County - it's the fact he and I went searching the bowels of Rockville Town Square last Friday to make an apology.
The jewel box-like Town Square is where Powell's fledgling mayoral campaign took a turn for the worst two months ago. A week before announcing his candidacy, a security guard threatened to have Powell arrested for taking a photo of his nine-year-old son in the square.
At the time he was worried, he says, that "people are gonna think 'he's gonna make hay of it, he's gonna do it for political gain'," so he kept his mouth shut, even after photographer Chip Py led a protest through Downtown Silver Spring for the very same reason. When he finally told his story - to Drew Pierson, a Montgomery Sentinel reporter trying to see if another Chip Py would surface in Rockville - the current Mayor of Rockville accused him of lying.
lots more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
"If I'm not mistaken, the "rumor" is the result of the Sentinel reporter trying to make a story out of nothing," wrote Mayor Larry Giammo in an e-mail to various city officials. Giammo suggests that Powell was trying to photograph a store display, but the proof is in the picture: just a cute kid and the pavement of the plaza.
And Giammo ate his words when the City spoke to the guard and found that Powell was, in fact, telling the truth - but that wasn't enough. "I believe that moving forward - in Town Center, in Silver Spring, all over the County - there are First Amendment rights that need to be made clear for citizens," Powell says. "I have the feeling this will be decided in the Supreme Court."
We're on Maryland Avenue, lined by posh restaurants with outdoor seating. The beer garden at Gordon Biersch is full; TVs facing the street are blasting ESPN. "I shouldn't have to be afraid to come forward on this," Powell laments. "These are First Amendment rights, and I still happen to believe in the First Amendment."
He starts searching the brick-paved sidewalks, and it takes a second before I realize that he's walking up to a security guard, decked in blue. "Do you know Leo?" he asks.
"Leo? Curly hair? He was transferred to D.C.," the security guard says. "Eight months ago."
Powell's face turns white. "But . . . I saw him, like, two weeks ago." There's a brief silence: was it all an illusion? Can't be. "Wait," Powell says, "do you mean" - and he says Leo's last name. The guard's expression changes. "Leo!" he says. "He's probably out back. Lemme take you to him."
We're led across the street, past the beer garden, and through the posh lobby of a still-unsold condominium. A metal door, hard to hide but easy to find, takes us into an alley, where the illusion abruptly stops and Rockville Pike comes into view. We've gone from turrets and lattes to parking lots and office blocks. A Red Line train screeches by a few blocks away.
"A side of Rockville Town Square you've never seen before," Powell jokes.
"I've seen this before," I say. "I've taken out the trash."
"I think Town Center is fabulous," Powell says earlier that afternoon, while munching on a chicken salad sandwich at Potbelly. "But there are things I don't think most citizens are cognizant of."
Three-fourths of the condos in Town Square have yet to be sold. In the sales office, three floors above Maryland Ave, office workers outnumber actual customers. And, then there's the parking garages: "Every taxpaying citizen of Rockville pays a large portion of their taxes - about ten percent - just to pay for the [parking] garages" in the Town Square, says Powell, explaining that the bonds taken about by the City to pay for the garages' construction and maintenance cost $1.5 million a year to service. "Public-private partnerships need to be gone into with open eyes."
The Public-Private Partnership - best described as a "deal with the devil" between local governments and Big Developers - goes a long way back in Rockville. Just ask any Rockville resident over the age of thirty about the Rockville Mall, the failed behemoth (paid for by Federal Urban Renewal grants) that was bulldozed to make way for the Town Square.
"Architecture classes used to take their students in there and say 'this is exactly what you're not supposed to do'," Powell says, completely straight-faced. As a result, Powell remains more than skeptical about the city's latest attempt at town-building.
"The City needs to be careful as it moves ahead - so we're not spending more money to subsidize Town Center I, Town Center II, Town Center III," insists Powell. "These projects have to pay for themselves."
We're back in the alley. The stench of trash is unbearable. Behind each gray door is a different surprise - a peek inside the Papery, a stairwell, a dank hallway. Powell starts peppering the guard - who's introduced himself as Eddie Warren - with questions about the Town Square's photo policy.
"You can take pictures, okay," he says, "but other sites I work at they have signs posted."
"It should've been posted," Powell repeats.
"Reston Town Center where I've worked, they had signs posted around," Warren continues. "You wanted to take a picture, you had to go to the main office . . .that came about five years ago, during the 7-11 [sic]."
"He was just doing his job," Powell says, shaking his head.
One door reads "Engineering Office." He'll be in here, the guard says, reaching for the handle. He pulls: it's locked, and he doesn't have the key. Powell sighs. No luck today.
Disappointed, Drew Powell and I walk back out to the street, where shiny SUVs slowly tread over the cobblestones and diners and pedestrians exchange awkward stares. We discuss taking a picture in the Square, in the exact same spot as his son. "Okay, but only if we get someone to take a picture of the both of us," Powell insists.
Then a voice calls out: just a sound, no real words. Once again, I'm lost for a second before realizing Powell's running down Maryland Avenue, towards the Fractured Prune. Eddie Warren is waiting, with a much shorter, stockier guard in a white shirt. His nametag reads Leo: this is the guy.
Powell looks flustered. "I know you were doing what you were supposed to do," he says. "I know they put you through a lot of shit." He tries to crack a friendly smile - hey, we're all in this together - but Leo isn't taking it. His face is completely blank.
"I didn't spoke to nobody about it," he says, almost too quietly to hear.
"Scott Ullery [Rockville city manager] said he spoke to you." Powell's voice is trailing off.
Leo shakes his head. I introduce myself and offer a card. "I don't want a card," he says, "and I don't got nothing to say."