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With 3 Weeks to Go, Jockeying to Be F.C.’s Next Mayor Heating Up

New Council to Vote at July 1 Swearing In

There is no doubt that when the three newly-elected or re-elected members to the Falls Church City Council are sworn in three weeks from today, the mood and priorities of The Little City’s leadership will change dramatically. That will become evident immediately when the first act of the newly-constituted Council on July 1 will be the election of its mayor and vice-mayor.

New Council to Vote at July 1 Swearing In

There is no doubt that when the three newly-elected or re-elected members to the Falls Church City Council are sworn in three weeks from today, the mood and priorities of The Little City’s leadership will change dramatically. That will become evident immediately when the first act of the newly-constituted Council on July 1 will be the election of its mayor and vice-mayor.

Three very active members of the current Council — Vice Mayor Hal Lippman, and Councilmen Dan Maller and Dan Sze — will be departing. Three new citizens will join the Council for the first time, two in their first-ever elections to public office, and a fourth will be returned for a fifth four-year term.

The first major fall-out from the May election was the decision, officially announced this week, that current Mayor Robin Gardner will not seek re-election to a third two-year term. It came as no surprise, since all three of the departing Council members were among her strongest supporters on the Council.

But aside from Gardner, who was first elected to the Council in 2004, there will be only one member on the new Council, the just re-elected former Mayor David Snyder, who’s served for more than two years.

Council members Nader Baroukh and Lawrence Webb were elected in 2008 and Johanna Barry, Ira Kaylin and Ron Peppe will be boarding the Council dais at City Hall as rookies beginning to serve for the very first time.

In other words, five of the seven members will bring two years or less of experience to their challenging jobs, made even more difficult by the fiscal woes that persist after the biggest wave of government layoffs in the City’s history will officially kick in on the day of their inaugurations.

To make matters even more difficult, the City will find itself without its Chief Financial Officer in just two weeks, as John Tuohy will be leaving.

In the context of all this, there is plenty of attention already being paid to the new Council’s first decisions: the election of a mayor and vice mayor. In Falls Church’s City Manager form of government, the role of the mayor has much less clout than in other governmental structures, being limited to chairing Council meetings and ceremonial roles, such as ribbon cuttings and the like. Still, there is clout that comes with the title alone, and the mayor functions as the “public face” of the City on many occasions.

Interestingly, whoever gets those jobs will serve the shortest terms in the City’s history, notwithstanding re-election, as the next Council election will not be in two years, but in a year and a half, as the date of the City’s municipal elections was moved from May to November by a vote of the Council last January.

Three Council members, including current Mayor Gardner, Baroukh and Webb, will have their current terms expire pending the outcome of a November 2011 election.

So, for the next three weeks leading up to July 1, the Council may resemble seven walnut shells, one with a mayoral reward beneath it. There may be plenty of zig-zagging among the Council and Council members-elect in this interim.

While Gardner has announced she’s not interested in keeping the mayoral job, newly-elected Peppe, current chair of the Falls Church school board, told the News-Press Wednesday that he is, and he has the backing of Gardner.

The other name being bantied about is Baroukh, and although he expressed a keen interest in “taking a leadership role” on the Council, he told the News-Press in a telephone interview Tuesday night that he has “not made any final decisions.”

Likewise for vice mayor, while a number of names are being considered, Webb is the only Council member who’s explicitly said he is seeking that job. He told the News-Press this in a face-to-face interview on Monday.

Webb is considered the potential “swing vote” between Peppe and Baroukh in what is likely to be a 4-3 vote. Although all parties deny it, there is concern among some circles that Webb’s vote for mayor may be influenced by his personal desire to be vice mayor.

However, another uncertainty surrounds Snyder, who served as mayor for two years between 1998-2000 and has been on the Council since 1994. He has not indicated his preference for any mayoral option, and some, including the News-Press in its editorial this week, favor him as a finalist with Peppe for the job on grounds of experience.

Following up Tuesday night’s telephone interview with an e-mail yesterday, Baroukh wrote, “I am interested in a leadership position on the Council. However I have not made any final decisions. It’s time for those of us moving up in seniority on Council to step up and help find a path forward.”

Webb also followed up his interview with the News-Press with an e-mail, following a subsequent discussion he had with Baroukh. Webb wrote, “I have had a conversation with Nader about his interest in pursuing mayor in the city,” adding, “We had very many areas of mutual interest.”

“I have not committed to anyone yet, but I am, after my conversation with him, I am open to supporting his candidacy for mayor,” Webb wrote.

Baroukh, in his telephone comments to the News-Press Tuesday, said that he considers Webb qualified for the job as vice-mayor.

Peppe told the News-Press in a telephone interview yesterday afternoon that he “hoped for more open discussion of qualifications” for the mayoral and vice-mayoral jobs, noting that he has seven years of experience chairing “bodies like this” (the Frederick, Maryland and Falls Church School Boards). “There have been a lot of individual meetings and talking back-and-forth behind the scenes, but it should all be more public,” he said.