Tuesday is Election Day in the City of Falls Church. Four seats on the seven-member City Council and School Board will be filled by the winners, who will be sworn in July 1.
There are only four candidates for the four School Board seats, so there has been no competition. On the other hand, there are eight candidates vying to fill four seats on the City Council.
The campaigns of the eight candidates bidding to fill those seats gained momentum in the last month, fueled in part by two debates last week — one at City Hall co-hosted by the the City’s chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV) and its Village Preservation Society (VPIS), and a second in the office of the Falls Church News-Press, hosted by the News-Press, last Thursday. Both debates were video taped, the News-Press debate can be viewed it its entirety here. The LWV and VPIS debate can be viewed on its website.
Of the four Council seats, two existing incumbents are seeking re-election. Vice Mayor Hal Lippman is running for a second term, and former Mayor David Snyder is running for a fifth term. The two other incumbents, Dan Maller and Dan Sze, chose not to seek second terms.
Of the six other candidates, one has served on the Council before — former Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry served from 2000 to 2008 before losing by three-dozen votes — and another, Ron Peppe, was elected to the School Board, where he now serves as its chair.
Four of the candidates, Johannah Barry, Barry Buschow, Ira Kaylin and John Lawrence, are seeking elected office for the first time in Falls Church.
Two of the sets of candidates are campaigning as a team. Lippman, Peppe, Buschow and Lawrence are running together as the nominated slate for the venerable City candidate-vetting organization, the Citizens for a Better City (CBC).
Barry and Kaylin are also running as a slate, sharing a website and literature that affirms that fact.
Hockenberry and Snyder are both running their own campaigns as independents. Each has received the CBC’s endorsement in the past, but Snyder did not seek it this year and Hockenberry sought its backing at its nominating convention this February, but did not get it. The same was true for Sze, who chose not to run after failing to win the CBC’s nod.
Snyder, who has been re-elected successively every four years since 1994, is the only candidate who has sought election to an office higher than the City Council. He was the GOP’s unsuccessful candidate against State Del. Jim Scott in 2001.
Otherwise, political party affiliation has not been a factor in the non-partisan City Council election. Among the CBC slate, for example, two are nominal Republicans and two Democrats, but no mention of that surfaced in the race.
But this is the last Falls Church City Council election to be held in May. Frustrated by a long history of low voter turnouts in May elections, the City Council voted in January to shift the date of its elections to coincide with the general elections held in November.
The first November City Council election will be held in 2011, when three seats will be contested at that time.
The controversial move to shift the date of the local election was strongly opposed by many established leaders in the City, including the League of Women voters, who wanted more study before a vote. But the guaranteed far higher turnout with a November date persuaded four on the Council, including Lippman, who is now working hard to regain the support of constituents and friends who opposed him in that vote.
Snyder voted to oppose the date change.
In the two head-to-head debates, the candidates differed most on the causes of the current budget crunch that resulted in an 11 percent reduction in the City’s workforce in the last two years and a 17-cent rise in the real estate tax rate for the coming fiscal year (see story on the budget, elsewhere this edition).
The Barry-Kaylin team has been vocal in blaming the crunch on City Council and City staff mismanagement and failure to plan ahead. In fact, Kaylin, who was appointed to the City’s Economic Development Authority board, has gone to Richmond and to U.S. Rep. Moran to complain about the City’s housing decisions.
Lawrence, appointed to the Planning Commission and its current chair, has also been sharply critical of what he called a “dysfunctional” and “alienated” Council, even though Vice Mayor Lippman is on his CBC slate, in fact, a current member of that Council.
Lippman blamed the “perfect storm” of the wider recession, the Fairfax Court decision to deny the City its ability to draw a return on investment from its water fund, and a bookkeeping correction in sales tax revenues costing the City almost a million.
Hockenberry and Peppe praised, not criticized, the current Council’s efforts to wrestle with the budget, saying they felt the public is aware of the extraordinary circumstances the Council has faced, and appreciates its struggle.
Similarly, Buschow, who has served for two decades on a variety of City service organizations, boards and commissions, spoke favorably of the Council’s efforts as one of the candidates who stuck it out to the bitter end attending some of the five-hour work sessions. Although on the Council, Snyder, however, said the decision by the Council to initiate legal action against the Fairfax Water system was a mistake, even though he joined his colleagues in unanimous votes to do so at the time.
After the LWV/VPIS debate failed to ignite candidate comments directed at each other, the News-Press‘ debate format was designed to encourage it by giving the candidates two opportunities to ask questions and responses to each other.
However, the candidates’ language and comments were even more tame in the News-Press debate than the one held earlier that week.
The City’s five polling locations will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day next Tuesday, May 4.