Keith, with the Gaithersburg Newsletter, asks some good questions of the City Council and Mayor candidates. Here are my answers.
Why are you qualified to be on the Gaithersburg City Council?
Relevant Experience: Since 2015 I have served our city as a member of several committees. First as a member of a committee to design a new park for the city and later as a member of both the Community Advisory and Police Advisory committees. I’ve been a regular attendee at City Council meetings and advocated on a number of important issues including the Lakeforest master plan and the CCOC.
I’ve managed three, and started two, small businesses during my career and I am very familiar with how hard a person must work to make a small business successful. Over the last 20+ years I have worked with CEO’s, presented to boards of major companies, and run multimillion dollar international projects.
I look forward to using my leadership skills, business background, city service experience to benefit Gaithersburg. As a member of the City Council, my experience and expertise will help the city make decisions that benefit our communities and make good economic sense.
Knowledge of the area: I’ve lived in Montgomery county for over 30 years, and I’ve been a Gaithersburg resident since 2010. One of the things I love most about Gaithersburg is how it has a ‘small town’ feel while also being a growing and energetic city. Gaithersburg has a true sense of community that I have found is often missing in other cities.
Background: I am the first generation of my family to not be born into poverty. From my father and my grandfather, I know about the sacrifices that families must make when they do not have economic opportunity. Because of my family's sacrifices I was able to grow up middle-class and attend college. I don't take those benefits and privileges for granted though. My family, and my history, helps me to see both sides of the economic fence, and because of that, I am committed to ensuring that there is opportunity for all of our residents.
Why do you want to be on the City Council?
Growing up I was taught that it is our responsibility to help others when we can. I’ve volunteered for nonprofits, I’ve worked on campaigns to help elect leaders I believed were good for our people, and I’ve served on city committees. Now though, I have reached a point in my life where I have the time and flexibility to do more. There are nearly 70,000 residents in our city and if I can help make their lives just a small bit better – then I feel I will have done a great deal of good in this life.
If the city council could only work on one issue, what would you choose?
The pandemic has had a profound effect on our city just as it has the country. Before the pandemic we had a 9.4% poverty rate and a number of small businesses, especially on the East side of Gaithersburg were faltering. My top priority would be to strengthen our small business sector and build well paying jobs to help employ all of our residents.
What’s your vision for the Lakeforest Mall property?
That’s an important question and I have spent a good deal of time writing and talking about it. In May I submitted eight pages of testimony and suggestions to the city, many of which made their way into the final master plan. You can read the details of that testimony here: https://www.davebelgard.com/blog/2021/5/council-testimony-on-the-lakeforest-master-plan/
I have consistently said that “the reimagining of the Lakeforest Mall property represents Gaithersburg’s most significant opportunity to affect the feeling and direction of our city for the next several decades.” While we now have a master plan approved, it is future councils that will be responsible for implementing the plan well. I am running on a platform that focuses on: diverse job creation, increasing housing availability, and making the environment a key focus of everything we do. As a City Councilmember I will ensure that the Lakeforest Mall site rebuilding encompasses each of those values.
What’s your vision for downtown Gaithersburg (the real downtown Summit and E. Diamond)?
It is important that we spend our time, money, and focus on reviving and building up the East side of Gaithersburg. Working to draw in new small businesses, and supporting the ones we already have, will have numerous effects that will help with the revitalization. Olde Towne is in a unique position as it is in both and enterprise zone and an opportunity zone. These zones, new incentives or support systems that the city may implement, and the consistent focus and support of the City Council and staff will help support and build the businesses that support and build Olde Towne and the East side.