Local Commentary

Editorial: Pyrrhic Victory for Next F.C. Mayor?

The die appears cast for the election of the City of Falls Church’s new mayor and vice mayor tonight. The July 1 swearing in of three new members of the City Council will be followed immediately by the election by the seven-member Council of its new mayor and vice mayor. By all the nose-counting among insiders in the City, barring any major change of heart at the last minute, it breaks down to a slim majority in favor of Nader Baroukh for mayor and Lawrence Webb for vice mayor.

Both Baroukh and Webb joined the Council only two years ago. With them at the helm, supported by votes from two brand new members of the Council who will be sworn tonight, the Council will be run by its four least-experienced members.

It is a rough time in the City for such daunting leadership tasks to fall into such inexperienced hands. The impact of the deep budget cuts that were built into the new fiscal year budget also effective as of today have yet to be felt, and it can be expected that the loss of key services and City employee morale issues in the wake of the most layoffs in the City’s history, combined with unfilled positions and wage cuts, will make it difficult to govern. Moreover, continuing revenue shortfalls are not expected to improve anytime soon.

With the expected new leadership as of Thursday night, it may also be that morale issues will rise to some of the highest levels at City Hall. Already, one top City Hall official resigned last month in the aftermath of the May 4 election, undoubtedly seeing the handwriting on the wall for his future in this City. Harshly criticized by the tandem that will now be running the Council, Chief Financial Officer John Tuohy tendered his resignation despite no clear plans for his next employment. That may not be the last such reaction at City Hall to the biggest overhaul of the City’s leadership in 20 years.

However, if tonight’s vote goes as expected, it could prove a Pyrrhic victory, a success in the short term at the expense of longer-term, sustainable gains. This is a time when the old saying, “Watch what you wish for, you just might get it,” applies.

With the fiscal problems all but guaranteed to get worse, over and above the current cuts, and with the next City Council election only 17 months away in November 2011, the leadership expected to be elected tonight could be short-lived, whereas deferring to more experienced Council members this time could prove more prudent.

This is especially true for Webb, who according to reports has offered his support for Baroukh in exchange for getting the votes to become vice mayor. This is guaranteed to alienate him from his former political support base, the Citizens for a Better City and others, and could trigger a concerted effort to short circuit his political career in 2011.