When Should F.C. Local Elections Be Held? Voters to Decide Next Tuesday

‘Yes’ on Referendum Favors November, a ‘No’ Prefers May


Letters to the editor, blog comments, emails, social media posts, newspaper ads, yard signs, op-eds. Citizen activists in the City of Falls Church are firing on all cylinders  in the final days before the Nov. 8 election as the still-contentious issue of when the City’s municipal elections should be held careens toward an election day resolution.

The referendum that will be on the ballot for all City voters next Tuesday asks voters if they want the date of the City’s School Board and City Council elections moved to November – and if the voter’s answer is “Yes,” the “Yes” button should be pushed on the ballot – or kept in May, as has been the case since the early 1970s.

No one is disputing the indisputable record that voter turnouts are routinely much higher in November elections than they are in May ones. In fact, evened out over the years, turnouts are almost twice as high in November as in May.

But that’s the only thing the two sharply divided sides on this issue agree about, well, almost agree about.

Those favoring a “Yes” vote to move the elections to November favor exposing City elections to more City voters.

Those facing a “No” vote to keep things as they now are, with voting in May, worry that November elections will be tainted with party partisanship and involve voters who haven’t been paying attention to local issues.

Among those favoring the move to November are the City’s representatives to the Virginia state legislature and U.S. Congress. They’ve won easily in May elections before, it was noted, so they are not motivated to secure their own incumbencies.

The F.C. Democratic Committee is on record favoring a November election and the Republican Committee favors keeping the elections in May. Neither is interested in intervening into the local elections with partisan influences, no matter when they are held, they’ve claimed.

In fact, Falls Church Democratic Committee Chair Betty Coll told a town hall on the subject jointly sponsored by the City’s two major civic associations, the Citizens for a Better City (CBC) and Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS), last week that if her committee had desired to do so, it could have at any point in the past. Her Republican counterpart was no present at the meeting.

By Virginia law, local elections must be non-partisan, in part to enable the many federal employees in this region to comply with the federal Hatch Act while seeking local offices. The Hatch Act forbids federal employees from running partisan races for public office.

Among the most outspoken opponents to move the election date, and arguing for keeping the election date in May, have been Vice Mayor David Snyder and Planning Commission chair John Lawrence. Each has their arguments published in this edition of the News-Press.

The News-Press, on the other hand, explains its support for the move from May to November in its editorial this week.

In the last week, a political action committee supporting the move to November has also surfaced, coordinated by City Treasurer Cathy Kaye. Named the “Falls Church Votes Referendum Committee,” the effort raised over $3,000 from 19 local contributors (as of its Oct. 26 reporting) to produce campaign materials urging a “Yes” vote in next Tuesday’s election.
Kaye wrote a commentary favoring a “Yes” vote in last week’s News-Press.

Council member Lawrence Webb, who initiated the whole firestorm over moving the date of the local elections, posted a blog comment yesterday stating, “Out Little City is one of highly educated citizens with a strong sense of civic activism. By having our elections move to November gives our citizens even more opportunity to have their voices heard by the leaders of the community.”

Webb brought the issue forward in the fall of 2009, shortly after being elected to the Council for the first time. He said that, as a first-time candidate in the spring of 2009, he was surprised going door-to-door to find that many citizens were unaware that May elections even existed.

Webb joined three other Council members in December of 2009 to vote to move the election date from May to November. However, after the election of May 2010 replaced three of those members – Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, Daniel Sze and Dan Maller – the newly-formed Council reversed the December 2009 vote, with the proviso that a public referendum be held his fall as the proverbial final word.

Other issues on the Nov. 8 ballot in Falls Church include races for State Senator (incumbent Democrat Dick Saslaw versus Republican challenger Robert Sarvis and independent Green Katherine Ann Pettigrew), incumbent Democrat State Del. Jim Scott is running unopposed for re-election and Theo Stamos is running unopposed for Commonwealth Attorney.

Around Falls Church, a plethora of state senate and delegate races, and every seat on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors and School Board are up for election Tuesday. The News-Press provided its complete list of area endorsements in its editorial last week.

Critical statewide is the makeup of the State Senate that will emerge out of Tuesday’s election. Currently, the Democrats hold a narrow 22-18 margin, and if the Republicans can succeed in taking two seats away from Democrats, they will gain the majority (which a Republican lieutenant governor will be the tie-breaking vote) and thus have majorities in all three branches of state government.

However, State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, who has spearheaded the Democrats’ effort to hold onto the Senate, told the News-Press yesterday that “I feel pretty good about” Democratic chances of success.

“We have found that each race is its own, that it is not a statewide race,” she said. “Our candidates are being judged on their own merits and incumbents,” he said. “The Republicans are trying to nationalize the races, referring to the national economy and President Obama. But I don’t see that resonating with people.”