News

F.C. Council Campaigns Stumble Out of Gate as May 4 Approaches

worksessionphoto8 Candidates Are Vying for 4 Seats, But No High Profile Tussling Yet

Weeks after the filing deadline passed, the campaigns for election to the Falls Church City Council in the May 4 election appear slow getting off the ground.

8 Candidates Are Vying for 4 Seats, But No High Profile Tussling Yet

Weeks after the filing deadline passed, the campaigns for election to the Falls Church City Council in the May 4 election appear slow getting off the ground.

There have been little to no high profile indicators of the race, in which eight citizens are vying for four seats on the seven-member City Council.

It should develop into one of the more contentious races in the City’s 60-year history, given the number of candidates and the serious philosophical differences that separate them.

But so far, notwithstanding that the News-Press and some others have invited the candidates to submit general statements of candidacy or questionnaires for publication, there have been no fireworks and no controversy.

Still, it’s a highly unusual field for Falls Church, given the long history of domination of the City’s local election process by the Citizens for a Better City (CBC), the non-partisan institution founded 50 years ago for the sole purpose of vetting potential Council candidates and then backing those it endorses.

This year, it was business as usual for the CBC, holding its standard open convention in February where all prospective candidates were invited to show up, speak, answer questions from the audience and then subject themselves to the will of the assembled.

However, there was one significant departure from earlier events, and CBC President Deb Gardner told the News-Press at the time that it was deliberate.

In the old days, a litmus-test question to candidates took the form of, “Should you not get the CBC nomination, will you run anyway?”

If anyone dared to answer “Yes” to that question, it was like the kiss of death. The candidate would completely lose CBC support. The CBC would sanction no one who would not profess loyalty to the group and its slate of candidates once selected.

But when the question was not asked this February, it helped persuade one longtime CBC loyalist, former Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, to launch an independent campaign for Council when she failed to collect enough votes for the nod from the CBC’ers assembled in February.

So, right off the bat, one of the most popular CBC candidates announced she’d be running against the CBC slate.

worksessionphoto

AT A RECENT WORK session in City Hall, Falls Church Council candidates present included Lindy Hockenberry, Barry Buschow, Hal Lippman and Ron Peppe, while School Board candidates present included Rosaura Aguerrebere, Susan Kearney and Greg Rasnake. (Photo: News-Press)

Moreover, at least one candidate on the CBC’s chosen slate of four has rubbed more than a few longtime CBC loyalists a bit the wrong way. That candidate, Planning Commission chair John Lawrence, stood last month on the opposite side of a key City issue, the approval of a senior affordable housing project, from Hockenberry and CBC-backed members of the current City Council, like Mayor Robin Gardner, Vice Mayor Hal Lippman (also a candidate this May), Dan Maller and Dan Sze.

Adding to this, the Council’s longest-serving member, former Mayor David Snyder, has run with the CBC’s blessing in numerous previous races since his first one in 1994, but eschewed CBC backing in his campaign for a fifth four-year term this spring.

Finally, two incumbent CBC-backed Council members, Sze and Maller, chose not to run this year, heightening the challenge to the CBC even more.

So, the CBC wound up backing Lippman, Lawrence, School Board Chair Ron Peppe and civic activist Barry Buschow, while former CBC’ers Hockenberry (rejected by the CBC this time) and Snyder have launched independent campaigns. Finally, to sweeten the pot even more, two citizens seeking elected office in Falls Church for the first time, Ira Kaylin and Johannah Barry, entered the race as an independent tandem, for all intents and purposes running as a team.

This all transpires in the context of a massive, national recession-driven City fiscal crisis, requiring what will probably be the biggest single year’s real estate tax rate hike in the City’s history at 20 cents.

But there is no public, high-profile outrage, at least not yet, coming from the candidates over the fiscal crisis, and, even more unusually, there is no protest on the amount of funding the City’s school system will receive. Historically, these have been the kind of bread-and-butter issues that have driven Falls Church Council races.

That’s a lot of civility from such a diverse field of candidates, but it’s due to change (and this article may help to trigger it).

Still, the CBC is having difficulty getting its act together, as Gardner recently accepted a particularly challenging position in the Obama administration’s Health Resources and Services Administration, and no one as of press time has stepped forward into the role of the CBC’s campaign manager. (Ed. note – In a late development Wednesday night, the CBC announced Russ Wodiska will serve as the group’s campaign manager.)

But Lippman reported this week that the four CBC candidates held a productive meeting late last week, and the candidates began individually going door-to-door last weekend.

Gardner told the News-Press she was “pleased the CBC candidates want to find common ground and work together despite major differences,” but that with her new job, she conceded it had been two weeks, at least, since she’d had direct contact with them.

The search for a CBC campaign chairman has been fruitless to date, one veteran CBC activist told the News-Press, citing a “lack of cohesive organization.”

One CBC candidate conceded this week, “We don’t have our act together totally yet.”

But at least two high-profile events hosted by third parties will give the candidates equal and open opportunities to distinguish themselves with the 8,200 registered voters in Falls Church.

The Falls Church chapter of the League of Women Voters will host a candidates’ forum at the Council chambers in City Hall on Tuesday, April 20, and the News-Press will host a candidate round table in its office on Thursday afternoon, April 22.

All eight candidates have indicated they will attend the News-Press event, which will be for the purpose of a lengthy article in the News-Press and on its web site leading into the election. The event will also be videotaped and posted to the newspaper’s web site.