With Friends Like Beryl Feinberg, Who Needs Enemies?

In Part 1, I explained how Councilmember Beryl Feinberg was the single person most responsible for the Mayor and Council’s aligning Rockville’s APFS school standards with Montgomery County’s this term.  Here in Part 2, you’ll learn what happened between the time when she (a) forced the issue but then (b) voted against the changes.

Beryl, Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr, and I worked intensely and closely (either in pairs or over email, always careful to stick to the letter and spirit of Maryland’s Open Meetings Act) to figure out the best strategy for getting the measure passed.

In the weeks leading up to the planned February 9 vote, things looked good.  Julie was on board to pass the changes, and though Beryl had gone her own way several times on the schedule – adding another public hearing and delaying the final vote until February 9 – every time she did, she absolutely promised me that no matter what, she would be with me on the final vote. I believed her.

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This is the Gazette op-ed Beryl and I wrote. Click on it for the full-size version.

For example, Beryl and I drafted an op-ed to pitch to the Gazette in favor of the changes, and she wrote and edited the piece with me for the better part of a week.  On the evening of Dec. 11, Beryl wrote to me about her efforts to get even more signers for the piece. But the next morning at a legislative breakfast, Beryl pulled me aside and asked that her name not go on the article, saying she didn’t want to be out in front so publicly on the issue.  I wasn’t super-pleased about this, but didn’t have much choice but to agree; those opposing our position were writing a counterpoint essay to ours, and we couldn’t leave our space blank.  And I was mollified because Beryl, once again, absolutely promised to vote for the APFS changes on the final vote. I believed her.

Beryl continued to make those firm promises to me as late as two weeks before the vote.  And because of Beryl’s rock-solid promises, I continued to go out on a limb for her, taking the arrows that otherwise would have been aimed at her. As I was a second-term councilmember who had won significantly more votes than first-time candidate Beryl had in the 2013 election, the thought was that I had a little more political capital to spend.  And to get the win and to protect my colleague, I was happy to take those arrows.

But then something happened. I wrote an email to Beryl and Julie on the evening of February 4 to wrap up our legislative planning. Nothing but radio silence from Beryl. Julie, concerned, wrote to Beryl two days later and said she’d give her a call the next day to discuss.  Beryl stopped responding to our e-mails and calls.

Concern turned to alarm when Beryl showed up at Julie’s baby shower on Sunday, February 8, the day before the scheduled vote.  After Beryl and I chitchatted for awhile about other less-pressing City business (Julie was elsewhere), I asked her about the next evening’s AFPS vote.  Beryl’s tone shifted abruptly.  She told me that she didn’t want to discuss City business at a social event, ignoring the fact that we had been doing just that for the previous 15 minutes.  When I asked her flat-out if she would vote for the measure the next evening, she refused to answer.

At the next night’s Mayor and Council meeting, Beryl kicked off our discussion with a prepared speech about how she wanted us to wait for County Councilmember Roger Berliner’s big public discussion of school capacity issues, scheduled for March. Taking her and others at their word that a delay was all they wanted, I pulled the measure and asked that it come up again after Councilmember Berliner’s meeting.  I wrote a note on Facebook the next day:

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But it soon became clear that Beryl was indeed no longer supporting the measure, and had broken all the promises she had made to me. She threw me under the bus quite publicly in comments to The Sentinel, not just confirming that she had changed her mind, but actually confirming that she was breaking public and private promises in doing so, and then criticizing me for pursuing the course she had insisted upon:

But Feinberg said some parts of Moore’s Facebook post were inaccurate and changing the APFS was never her top priority. Although she said during the campaign a year and a half ago that she would support changing the city standards to align with the county’s, she had not spoken publicly about the issue once elected. She also said she told Moore privately she supported him “several months ago” but changed her mind after going through the public hearing process.

“I was very proud of that vote (the vote to add a second public hearing) because I thought it improved the process. (Moore) was the one who was only looking at letting us just get this resolved very quickly,” Feinberg said. “His error is that he was not really serving the city by refusing to hear all the comments and I think that’s what you have to do as an elected official.”…

In response, Moore said he believed Feinberg would keep her word when the issue came back to the council for a vote until he heard otherwise from her directly, even given her statements Monday night. He said Feinberg had not communicated with him prior to Monday’s meeting and did not tell him she was going to change her vote.

“She gave me her assurance she would be with me on the final vote and that’s the reason I was out there in front on her behalf for months,” Moore said. “I believe her to be an honorable person and I will believe she is breaking her word on this when I see it.”

It became obvious that I was wrong: Beryl Feinberg is not a woman of her word. I regret making the mistake of trusting her. She annihilated her relationship with those of us who had busted our tails in 2013 to get her elected.  Beryl has now completed her journey of political expedience by aligning herself closely with the same Mayor she has spoken of so disparagingly – publicly and privately – for years.

Only Beryl knows for sure why she did it. Her explanation in switching her vote is that she heard things at the public hearings that changed her mind. But she has never specified exactly, precisely what those facts were that caused her to totally reverse course.

My best guess is that she got spooked by those in the West End who told her she would lose her seat if she supported the APFS changes, and thus decided to betray all the promises she had made to her friends on the issue she had championed and insisted that they take up.

One thing is for sure, though: When Beryl said at the WECA debate this week that “Being consistent on the issues and keeping campaign promises is ‘something to celebrate, not denigrate,'” she must have been talking about someone else, because Beryl has neither been consistent on the issues nor kept her campaign promises on the most important issue the Council tackled this term.

Beryl walked away from Team Rockville and is running as an independent this time around, and has been proclaiming that she didn’t want to have to pass a “litmus test” to remain part of the team that had supported her in 2013. Team Rockville did indeed have and still does indeed have a litmus test for its members.  But it’s not issue-based.  The requirement is that you live up to your word.  Beryl, sadly, completely failed that test.

In the 2015 election, Rockville’s voters will have to decide if they want to return someone to office who betrayed her principles and blindsided her friends in an attempt to save her political skin. Beryl Feinberg has lost my vote.

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