Colleagues look back on Duncan’s Rockville legacy

Popular county executive is credited with paving the way for a new downtown, hiring key administrators

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

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Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan announces Stuart Simms as his running mate at the New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore this spring.

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Douglas Duncan works the polls during his 1987 campaign for mayor against incumbent Steven Van Grack.

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Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan greets supporters and news crews after announcing his bid for governor last fall. He made his announcement in front of his boyhood home on Van Fleet Court, a home still owned by his mother, Ellie Duncan.

The foundation of Douglas M. Duncan’s political career was built during his 12 years of service on the Rockville City Council and as its mayor.

Using a hometown style that referenced his family’s Rockville roots, Duncan is remembered as a popular politician in the wake of his announcement last Thursday that he would not seek the Democratic nod for governor because he is battling depression.

Duncan’s former city colleagues, some of whom still work with him, praised him for knocking down the failed Rockville Mall and hiring two of the city’s most recognizable administrators.

‘‘He had a vision for downtown Rockville years ago,” said James T. Marrinan, who twice served as city councilman while Duncan was mayor. ‘‘During his term and my term, we knocked down the old Rockville Mall and started the whole process of redevelopment. He learned a lot from that and put it to use as county executive in Silver Spring and Wheaton.”

During his first term as mayor, Duncan replaced key administrative officials.

Bruce F. Romer, from Davenport, Iowa, replaced Richard Robinson, who was fired as city manager shortly after Duncan took office in 1987. Duncan criticized Robinson during the campaign for what he described as a ‘‘closed management style.”

Romer now serves under Duncan as Montgomery County’s chief administrative officer.

Another key city administrator, Terrance N. Treschuk, replaced Rockville City Police Chief Jared Stout, another campaign target and a Robinson ally who resigned after publicly clashing with Duncan.

‘‘I think the legacy Doug has had everywhere he’s been is that he has hired some of the best people,” Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville said.

Describing his boss as decisive and impatient for change, ‘‘in a positive way,” Romer said Duncan’s Rockville legacy is impressive.

Duncan championed the Wootton Parkway project, he said, which established a needed link between Route 355 and Falls Road, spurring development in the Tower Oaks area.

The seeds to Town Center redevelopment and the Montrose Parkway project were sewn, Romer said.

Duncan first ran for City Council in 1982 under the local Independents for Rockville party, later resigning from the group over its support for then-mayor John R. Freeland.

Controversy surrounded Freeland for accepting a job with Eisinger-Kilbane, a company doing business with the city.

Despite being close to Freeland, ‘‘Doug vocally attacked him,” said Steven Van Grack, Freeland’s son-in-law who lost to Duncan in the 1987 mayoral election. ‘‘I think that was his coming out as an elected official.”

After three terms on the council, Duncan, promising people-oriented government, beat one-term incumbent Van Grack.

‘‘I call it the hometown boy approach,” Van Grack said of his former political rival. ‘‘As mayor, he certainly tore down the Rockville Mall and that’s something he’ll be remembered for forever.”

While literally paving the way for future Town Center redevelopment, Duncan failed to implement a workable solution to the hole left in downtown Rockville by the failed mall, Van Grack said.

‘‘What Larry Giammo did with downtown Rockville is something that no other mayors did, present company included,” he said.

Others remembered the many development initiatives Duncan accomplished.

The Twinbrook native found ways to expand development while managing growth, said school board member Stephen N. Abrams (Dist. 2) of Rockville, who served on City Council during Duncan’s first two terms as mayor.

‘‘Rockville was much more a pro-growth attitude during the Duncan years,” he said.

That included transportation projects, such as Wootton Parkway and the Gude Drive bridge.

‘‘The only thing he didn’t do is support me on extending Jefferson Street,” Abrams said.

Abrams pushed for extending the downtown street from Edmonston Drive at Wootton Parkway to near Woodmont Country Club as an emergency access road parallel to Rockville Pike.

Praising Duncan for his role knocking down the mall, former mayor Rose Krasnow admitted butting heads with Duncan after County Executive Duncan left money for the Rockville Library out of his budget in 2000.

‘‘We got into a battle over Rockville Library,” Krasnow said. ‘‘There’s certainly times when he’s taken a road I didn’t agree with.”

While some have questioned if clinical depression was all that was behind Duncan’s decision to leave the campaign trail, Krasnow said she has learned never to county him out.

‘‘He loves politics,” she said. ‘‘He loves leadership and he’s really made a study of it. And I just can’t believe he won’t be back.”