PHOTO: Kate Stewart is sworn in. Photo by Eric Bond.
Takoma Park has a new mayor and two new council members.
Kate Stewart, formerly Ward 3 council member, was sworn in Monday, Nov. 16, as was the new city council. Two new representatives, Peter Kovara (Ward 1) and Rizzy Qureshi (Ward 3), joined veteran councilmembers Fred Schultz (Ward 6), Terry Seamens (Ward 4) and Jarrett Smith (Ward 5).
Transition of power: outgoing mayor Bruce Williams shakes hands with incoming mayor Kate Stewart. Photo by Eric Bond.
A crowd of around 100 gave Williams a long standing ovation following his farewell address.
Several citizens rose to honor Williams and outgoing Ward 1 council member Seth Grimes during the public comment session. Residents such as Howard Kohn and Nadine Bloch, long active in civic and political affairs, praised Williams and Grimes accomplishments.
Williams, noted Kohn, has been involved in vital city issues since he worked on the city’s unification (in one county) in the 1990s. He called Williams “the best diplomat in town.” Grimes was thanked for his work on tax-dupication, Takoma Junction development, the city’s pesticide ban and styrofoam ban and voting reform that enfranchised 16-17 year-olds.
Mayor Williams was honored by a number of speakers as the first openly-gay elected politician in the tri-jurisdiction region of Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia.
Outgoing mayor Bruce Williams wearing a custom-made city t-shirt. Photo by Eric Bond.
Lorraine Pearsall, strong advocate on many issues before the council, said it was a “day of gratitude and celebration, I’ll complain later.”
Others chose to complain then. At least seven residents, one of them with a dog in arms, used their three-minute turns at the microphone to lobby for a dog park.
Dog park advocate. Photo by Eric Bond.
Former city mayor Kathy Porter came to the podium to congratulate Williams for long service and to say how pleased she was to have a woman as mayor again. Porter preceded Williams as mayor.
Diana Kohn of Historic Takoma, Inc. said that the inauguration of a new mayor, the city’s 22nd, was a fitting end to the city’s 125th year of incorporation. “The founding fathers would be pleased to know the city council is alive and well,” she said.
Appropriately, one of the first issues before the first city council in 1890 was dog permits, she said.
Certificates and other gifts were awarded to the outgoing politicians. The Maryland Municipal League gave a certificate to Mayor Williams and The Youth Activist Club gave one to Councilmember Grimes. The city police chief Alan Goldberg presented Williams with a plaque and a unique “mayor’s badge.” They each got a clock, the city’s traditional parting gift – representing, perhaps, the time they now had for themselves and their families.
Activist Nadine Bloch and a member of the Young Activist Club present a certificate to outgoing councilmember Seth Grimes. Photo by Eric Bond.
In his final address, Williams reflected on his decision to move on. He’s been, he said, part of every major city decision in over 22 years. “I enjoyed almost every minute of it,” he said.
But, he said, he found himself losing patience seeing issues coming up for the third or fourth time. It is time, he said for a new generation of leadership. They city has been led for thirty years by the same baby-boomer generation. Kate Stewart is 45, a member of Generation X.
However, Williams hopes to give his generation and those before the recognition they deserve. He plans to join the city’s Commemoration Commission.
Finally, he thanked his husband Geoff Burkhart for his support and patience. He looked forward he said, to doing a more things together.
Former mayor Bruce Williams and husband Geoff Burkhart watch the meeting from the audience following the inauguration ceremony. Photo by Eric Bond.
In a short inaugural address, Mayor Stewart thanked her supporters, especially “all the strong women” in her life, including her mother, mother-in-law, and her daughters. She also thanked the men in her life.
She pledged to work for environmental sustainability and she repeated the major theme of her campaign – making the city government accessible to all. She said she would make the city “an even more beautiful place to live.”
Council inaugurations are never exactly the same, but this one had notable differences. Unlike others, this meeting opened with a color guard – the council and audience stood as the US, Maryland, city, and police flags were marched by police officers to the front of the room and a recording of the national anthem was played.
The Takoma Park Police Dept. color guard started off the meeting. Photo by Eric Bond.
This year, the mayor, who was first sworn in by Montgomery County circuit court clerk Barbara Meiklejohn, swore-in the council members one at a time instead of in a group, as in previous inaugurations.
As this term’s council members were sworn-in, staff replaced last term’s name-tags on the dias – revealing a new line-up.
Mayor Williams had the most senior members sit next to him, the most recently-elected at the ends.
The new mayor has arranged the seating so the two freshmen are at either end of the lineup as before. Longest-serving council member Terry Seamens (Ward 4) is on her left, but she put Tim Male (Ward 2) on her right. Fred Schultz, second-longest serving member is between Male and Ward 3 representative Rizzy Qureshi.
Councilmember Seamens remains Mayor Pro-Tem as he was in the previous term. The Mayor Pro-Tem chairs council meetings when the mayor is absent.