5 Step Up to Run in May F.C. Council Election

As Tuesday’s filing deadline for the May 6 Falls Church municipal election approaches, petitioning has been fast and furious around the city this week. So far, two independent candidates for the three contested seats on the City Council have been certified for the ballot by the Registrar of Voters.

Margaret Housen and Ed Hillegas submitted the required signatures as candidates for the City Council to City Hall last week. A petition to place a referendum on the May ballot was also submitted, but has not yet been certified.

The filing for three City Council candidates endorsed by the Citizens for a Better City (CBC) at its 24th biennial nominating convention last weekend will occur later this week. Incumbent Mayor Robin Gardner, incumbent Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry and newcomer Lawrence Webb are all currently circulating petitions to run for City Council, as are three candidates for the School Board.

In a surprise development at the CBC convention last Saturday, incumbent School Board member Kieran Sharpe circulated a statement indicating he would break from his earlier path and not seek the CBC nod for his re-election effort.

That left the CBC with only two School Board candidates to support, incumbent Joan Wodiska and Kim Maller, running for the first time.

According to CBC President Jody Acosta, the CBC is still working to find a third School Board candidate to back in the election. She said that a unanimous vote of the CBC’s Executive Board authorized the recruitment effort, with the Executive Board empowered to provide the endorsement if a candidate is found.

The attendance at last Saturday’s CBC convention was 92, down past years. There were no nominating ballots cast, since there was no competition for any of the seats. After candidate statements and some questions from the audience, convention chair Brian O’Connor, another former mayor, sought and received endorsement by acclamation for all three City Council and two School Board candidates.

Still, unlike 2006, the City Council race will be contested in May, with Housen and Hillegas, who did not seek CBC backing, challenging the CBC slate.

While Housen ran unsuccessfully for treasurer of Falls Church in 2006, Hillegas and the CBC’s Webb are seeking public office for the first time, as is School Board candidate Maller. Webb, who moved to Falls Church four years ago, is a member of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee and his nominating speech was delivered by former City Councilman Ed Strait. Maller has served on the Schools’ Family Life Advisory Committee. All have already had statements on their campaign issues published in the News-Press.

This year’s campaigns will be set against a backdrop of two other developments:           * First, the referendum that citizens are now seeking to qualify for the May ballot would sharply restrict the ability of the City Council to approve mixed use development. The referendum backers hope to capitalize on backlash among some citizens opposed to the $317 million City Center plan that the current City Council is expected to approve tonight. 

* Secondly, the current Council will be challenged over the next two months with one of the most difficult budget deliberations in the City’s 59 year history. While individual residential real estate assessments are not yet public, it is anticipated that there may be some significant cuts, leaving the Council with no added revenues to meet the School Board’s request and other pressing City service needs.

The result is pressure on the Council to raise the tax rate, or make serious cuts to the schools and other services. Either way, it will be a challenge for Council incumbents seeking re-election in May to make such difficult decisions in the course of a campaign.

It was budgetary considerations that Sharpe cited in his letter eschewing the CBC endorsement in his bid for re-election to the School Board. He said he did not want to be seen as aligned with moves to restrict access to day care and other measures that would disadvantage lower income residents.