Two years ago, many citizens were disappointed when the City of Falls Church held its first uncontested election for City Council in two decades. This year, as the filing deadline passed Tuesday, no less than eight candidates have filed to compete for three Council seats, making it the most heavily contested race in the City’s history.
In addition, four School Board candidates competing for three seats will be on the May 6 municipal election ballot, as well a charter-change referendum that, if passed, would limit mixed use development in the City’s commercial corridors.
While the City’s oldest and most established civic organization, the Citizens for a Better City (CBC), threw its lot in with the re-election ambitions of Mayor Robin Gardner, Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry and newcomer Lawrence Webb, as well as the group’s premier nemesis, former Vice Mayor Sam Mabry, surprised many by throwing his hat in the ring at the last minute.
Mabry, who has run three times previously, winning twice, is considered a behind-the-scenes mastermind of the failed effort to derail the just-approved $317 million City Center project, and of the successful effort to place the referendum on this May’s ballot.
Mabry made his opposition to the City Center plan, and his support for the referendum, clear in comments to the News-Press yesterday. He was the “petitioner of record” to the Circuit Court for the referendum.
Also in the running for City Council is Nader Baroukh, an attorney who was the foremost visible critic of the City Center plan.
Earlier announced independent candidates Margaret Housen and Edward Hillegas were also certified for the ballot Tuesday, as was Patrice Lepzyk.
While the CBC will back its endorsed candidates as a slate, no team effort has yet been forged among the other five candidates. “We’re having a shotgun start,” Mabry said, suggesting that a more collaborative effort might emerge.
In the race to fill three School Board slots, a fourth candidate will join three previously-announced candidates on the ballot. The CBC’s Executive Committee voted to throw its support to Charlotte Hyland, in addition to incumbent Joan Wodiska and newcomer Kim Maller, who received the group’s nod at its nominating convention last month.
The CBC sought a third candidate to back after incumbent Kieran Sharpe decided to run without its backing.
Not since 1992 have there been more than twice the number of candidates as slots to fill in a Falls Church City Council election in Falls Church. In that year, seven candidates vied for three seats. While eight have run before in elections to fill four seats, there have never been eight running for three slots since the City’s incorporation in 1949.
As for the referendum, it was certified for the ballot by the Arlington Circuit Court yesterday despite a hearing in which Falls Church City Attorney Roy Thorpe sought a delay because of concerns about its wording (see story elsewhere this edition).
The referendum wording will be, “Should the City of Falls Church amend the City Charter as follows: The City Council may approve a project, including a pending project, for construction on commercially-zoned property only if at least sixty percent of the total project’s square footage will be used for commercial or retail purposes. The City Council may not, by special exception or other approval, allow more than forty percent of such a project’s square footage to be used for residential purposes.”
Similar in wording and intent to a referendum that was soundly defeated by voters in 2002, if passed, the referendum’s proposed charter change would require approval by the Virginia State Legislature next January before becoming law.