We were delighted when it was announced last month that eight Falls Church citizens had filed to run for City Council in the May 6 election, and that seven of them actually chose to go through with it. It was a far cry from only two years earlier, when barely the minimum of candidates for the City Council and School Board were found, and the election was completely uncontested.
We soundly criticized the citizens of Falls Church for failing to step up and seek public office, and so we were happy to see a lot more participation this time. We’ve always been supporters of robust, hard-fought elections. They serve our citizens and our community far better than dull uncontested races.
Having said that, we cannot express enough our disappointment at the “no show” performances of three City Council candidates at this week’s important debate sponsored by the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce. Particularly distressing was the explanation by one candidate that, because the Chamber advocates a viewpoint different from her own, she would not participate. In fact, a number of the candidates, including incumbents Mayor Robin Gardner and Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, in the previous week’s forum co-sponsored by the Village Improvement and Preservation Society (VPIS) took part despite strong disagreements with VPIS board policy positions. VPIS, the F.C. League of Women Voters and the Chamber are to be commended for hosting forums and debates because they provide the voting public a unique opportunity to examine the candidates, listen to their responses and make educated decisions on Election Day. It is a total ruse to suggest that because a candidate doesn’t agree with a debate sponsor, he or she should deny the public that opportunity.
We don’t presume to tell any candidate how they should run their campaigns, but from our point of view, any candidate who chooses consciously not to accept one of the only two significant opportunities to test his or her meddle and share views in a forum or debate format is categorically disqualified, in terms of our support. The whole notion of free and fair elections is undermined by “boycott” tactics, leaving such candidates as effectively stealth and potentially capable of making ungrounded allegations without accountability.
We commend Gardner, Hockenberry, Lawrence Webb and Nader Baroukh for participating fully and intelligently in both forums. We are disappointed at Ed Hillegas, Margaret Housen and Patrice Lepczyzk for failing to do so, and we think voters should place a lot of importance on the willingness, or lack of it, of a candidate to stand in the presence of his or her opponents to give the public a good look at them.
There are other critical criteria, as well, such as experience and demonstrated levels of civic commitment. For us, opposition to the anti-development referendum on the May 6 ballot is key among them.