Democrats and Republicans have played musical chairs with the District 15 senate seat for years. Before losing to incumbent Rob Garagiola (D) by less than two percentage points in 2002, Republican Jean Roesser was senator for eight years and a district 15 delegate for eight years before that. Roesser, who has since been appointed Maryland Secretary of Aging, had in turn unseated long-time Democratic Sen. Larry Levitan.
This year, Bill Askinazi, a business attorney from Potomac, hopes to regain the seat for Republicans.
“It’s going to be tight because the Republican Party in Maryland has already said that they’re going to go gung ho, full force to try to win this seat and get it back into Republican hands,” said Potomac resident Gail Ewing, an adjunct professor in political science at Montgomery College who served on the County Council as a Democrat from 1990 to 1998.
Ewing ran against Jean Roesser for the state senate seat in 1998 and lost by two percentage points.
Ewing noted that Askinazi ran for delegate in District 15 four years ago and has therefore laid a groundwork of support.
Garagiola, a business attorney from Germantown, is the only one of 12 first-term state senators to chair a standing committee, the Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families. He is also senate chair of the Veterans’ Caucus. At 34, Garagiola is the youngest state senator.
“Rob has been extremely successful in the General Assembly – he was taken under the wings of leaders in the senate from the get go and he’s been on some of the most important committees,” she said. “He has sponsored a lot of legislation and been very successful at getting that legislation passed, which is practically unheard of for freshmen legislators.”
GARAGIOLA SAID his successes over the last four years would enable him to “hit the ground running.”
“I’ve brought millions of dollars back for Project Open Space, for the Agricultural Reserve, for local projects like the Ivymount School, and for the C&O Canal and a range of other projects in the up county from town halls to museums to boys & girls clubs,” he said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’ve made great strides over the last four years, and in the next four years I will provide even more leadership … to serve district 15 and the Potomac community very, very well.”
Garagiola authored legislation to create a solar energy grant program whereby homeowners, businesses and nonprofits can purchase subsidized solar panels for their electricity needs, as well as solar water heaters. He secured $1.5 million in grant money for the program and said that it has been “a huge success … in promoting renewable, alternative energy.”
The first-term senator also led opposition to Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s plan to close commuter train stations upcounty. The first legislation of 2006 was his bill mandating that the stations remain open, a move that he said brings relief to commuters upcounty as well as to Potomac residents since “fewer cars are traversing through River Road and on Seven Locks Road to get to work in the morning and home in the evening.”
Garagiola also authored a bipartisan bill requiring better coordination among public service agencies in juvenile justice cases. He said that too often the Department of Human Services had focused only on a juvenile committing a crime instead of simultaneously addressing domestic abuse issues, mental health issues and other problems underlying their criminal behavior.
“The legislation emphasizes cross-agency coordination both locally and statewide,” said Garagiola. “It will really go a long way to helping these children.”
A CHILD OF Greek immigrants who arrived to the United States “with literally 10 dollars in their pockets” and worked their way up to success with a family-owned business, Askinazi’s lifelong passion has been helping other small businesses succeed.
“I enjoy the challenges of helping a small business person achieve capital and penetrate their different markets,” he said. “I find it very rewarding to see a family achieve its dreams.”
As Maryland Assistant Secretary of Business & Economic Development, Askinazi helped manage a $115 million agency and was responsible for awarding grants and loans to small businesses.
Askinazi said that the public school system should be run more like a business, with increased accountability. He would call for an immediate state audit of the school system to determine why “the number of portable trailers at our schools has doubled over the last five years, despite record spending in education.”
Askinazi said he would eliminate the use of portable classrooms by 2008 if elected, although Garagiola called the promise "disingenuous."
"A lot of that is out of the state legislature's control, and out of his control even more so if [Askinazi] did get elected, because he would be in the minority party," said Garagiola. "It's easy for someone running for office to make a lot of campaign promises. It's getting things done that's more difficult."
Garagiola said that since being elected, he has helped quadruple school construction funding and double operational funding for schools. He introduced legislation regarding mold in trailers, and he said that he expects it to be successfully addressed next session.
To address traffic gridlock, Askinazi said he would encourage employers to stagger workers’ shifts “all around the clock” through tax incentives.
A tenet of Askinazi’s platform is the need to “globalize Maryland” by strengthening business relationships with China and India, assisting international business incubators, and encouraging student exchange programs with that area of the world.
“I would double or triple the amount of mentor programs where our students go to China and the Chinese students come here to learn about each others’ businesses,” he said. “Only 20,000 Americans learn Mandarin Chinese, but 20 million Chinese learn English. There’s an imbalance there.”
Potomac Elementary is home to a Chinese immersion program in which students study reading and language arts in English and learn math and science in the Chinese language.
ASKINAZI AND GARAGIOLA’S differing stances on the Fair Share Health Care Bill, also known as the Wal-Mart law, illustrate philosophical differences between the candidates. The bill required companies with more than 10,000 employees in Maryland to spend 8 percent of their payroll on health care benefits, or donate that amount to state health programs. Wal-Mart was the only company in Maryland that would have been affected by the legislation.
Garagiola helped pass the bill, whereas Askinazi described it as “an embarrassment.” The bill was overturned in July by a federal district court because it violated a 32-year-old federal law permitting multi-state employers to maintain uniform administration of health and welfare plans across the country.
Askinazi said he was concerned that legislation like the Wal-Mart law could have a chilling effect on the business community in Maryland. He said that Wal-Mart stores in Maryland do not mistreat low-income workers but rather provide them with thousands of jobs.
“It was bad for business,” he said. “The free market should make those decisions, not a legislator.”
In contrast, Garagiola said that Wal-Mart was shirking its ethical responsibility to provide adequate healthcare to its employees – and that the corporation was doing so at the cost of taxpayer dollars. He said that instead of paying for employees’ healthcare, Wal-Mart paid them part-time, low wages and encouraged them to sign up for Medicaid on the state’s tab.
“The legislation we passed a couple years ago said ‘Look, if you’re a large multinational corporation and you have 10,000 or more employees in the state of Maryland, you must provide at least a bare minimum of heath care to employees,’” said Garagiola.
Both candidates support protection of the Agricultural Reserve, investment in renewable energy, and public transportation expansions like the Inner Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway. Both oppose a Techway across the Potomac into Montgomery County, although Askinazi said he would support a bridge across the Potomac near Point of Rocks, which is located in Frederick County, about seven miles from the Montgomery County line.
ASKINAZI’S NEIGHBOR Vaikunth Gupta is a Potomac resident and a partner at a local management consulting company. While chatting in the neighborhood one day, Askinazi, who had recently been appointed Maryland Assistant Secretary of Business & Economic Development, offered to introduce Gupta to Maryland officials who could help advance his business.
“I thought it was small talk, but he actually took it very seriously, and he set up a meeting for me with the guy who runs the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, and put me on a board led by [Maryland first lady] Kendal Ehrlich,” said Gupta. “He knew my background is technology, and he could relate my background to the right people who could benefit by meeting with me. It speaks to his ability to gauge what peoples’ strengths and needs are in the community.”
Gupta, who is a Democrat, said that he supports Askinazi’s run for senate because of Askinazi’s business expertise.
“Any business that’s looking for help, he’s happy to volunteer his time to help them in any way he kind, and he gives any resources he can,” said Gupta. “I think the community would benefit immensely, especially Potomac, which is very business-oriented.”
Amy Gleklen, former vice president of Seven Locks Elementary and founder of the Seven Locks Civic Association, said Askinazi was helpful in their campaign to keep the elementary school from being closed. She served as Askinazi’s treasurer when he ran for state delegate in district 15 in 2002.
“He testified for us on the merits of the inspector general report,” she said. “He’s definitely a mover and a shaker. He’s a doer, he’s really dynamic, really personable and very approachable – all the things you’d want out of a candidate.”
Del. Jean Cryor (R-15) of Potomac praised Askinazi as well.
“I’ve seen him speak, and he speaks with such warm affection about his wife and children,” she said. “I think he brings the finest motives and reasons to be doing this campaign.”
However, Cryor noted that it will be a difficult race.
“It’s a Democratic registration and the incumbent does have an advantage,” she said. “But frankly we’re still [40 days] away from [the general election], so we have yet to really see them in the real throes of campaigning.”
GARAGIOLA HAS earned the accolades of Potomac resident Diana Conway, who is active in the West Montgomery Citizens Association and the Potomac Elementary PTA, though she was not speaking on behalf of either organization.
“He’s always very responsive regardless of the issue and is interested in hearing from constituents and always available to us,” she said. “I emailed the entire delegation regarding the question of the mold and whether the state was going to pass enforceable standards for portables at public schools, and he was the first person to respond to me. He told me what his view was of the likelihood [of a bill] for the upcoming session and urged me to stay in touch with him.”
Conway added, “Sen. Garagiola has been an excellent advocate for our area, but I know also that Mr. Askinazi is a long-time resident and an involved parent and community member.”
Del. Brian Feldman (D-15) of Potomac described Garagiola as a “very proactive legislator” who was “very quick to the punch” in protecting commuter train stations from closure.
“He had to literally bring in emergency legislation to get that resolved,” said Feldman. “That’s the kind of guy I want looking out for me in Annapolis – someone prepared to react quickly and take the lead. He has been at the forefront of some important legislation in Annapolis.”
Sen. Brian Frosh (D-16) of Chevy Chase is chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which Garagiola serves on.
“He’s very effective, he’s right thinking, and he represents his district extremely well,” said Frosh. “I think he’s been a real asset to his district and his community, and he has a great future in the senate. For a freshman senator he has a terrific track record, especially for somebody who’d never served in the General Assembly before.”
<b>Bill Askinazi (R)</b>
Education: Georgetown Law, JD, International Business Law Review; University of Connecticut, MBA; Penn State University, BA, Political Science, cum laude; Exeter University, Devon, England, comparative government (non-degree)
Occupation: business attorney
Lives in: Potomac
Experience: Maryland Assistant Secretary of Business & Economic Development, 2002 through 2004; Capital Region Assistant Secretary (2005); Founder and Board member, Maryland-India Business Roundtable; Asia Heritage Center Advisor; President’s Merit Advisory Counsel (2006); Basketball Coach, Montgomery County Rec. Department, (1997-2004); Adopt-a-Road Sponsor; Serpentine-Barrows Environmental Committee
Family: Wife of 24 years, Lori; children Matthew (21-years-old), Jessica (19) and Alex (13) all attended Hoover/Churchill cluster
Endorsements: National Federation of Independent Business, Asian American Association, Maryland-India Business Roundtable; Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce
Campaign finances: Askinazi said that he has raised $108,000 total and has $73,000 cash on hand.
<b>Rob Garagiola (D)</b>
Education: B.A., Rutgers University; Distinguished Honor Graduate, Primary Leadership Development Course, U.S. Army Reserve; U.S. Army Airborne School, U.S. Army Reserve; J.D., George Washington University
Occupation: health and administrative law attorney
Lives in: Germantown
Experience: State Senate, 2003 – present; served as a senior aide to a U.S. Congressman, 1994-1998; staffed the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic Health Care Task Force, 1995-1998; U.S. Army Reserve, Sergeant, 1995-2001
Family: Married to college sweetheart, Cindy Garagiola; have three children, a boy and two girls, ages 8, 6, and 5
Endorsements: Maryland State Teachers Association; Montgomery County Education Association; Montgomery County Medical Society; NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland; Montgomery County Council of Supporting Service Employees (SEIU); Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO, Progressive Maryland; Montgomery Green Democrats; Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats of Maryland
Campaign finances: $240,714.92 in campaign contributions and $237,486.52 in expenditures since the 2002 election; cash balance of $38,415.07 as of Sept. 1