F.C.’s Citizens for a Better City May Vote to Withdraw from Historic Role

Proposed By-Law Change is Highlight of Sunday Meeting

In what could be interpreted as the single most momentous change in City of Falls Church municipal politics in half a century, the little city’s premiere civic association, the Citizens for a Better City, is on the verge of dropping its long-held historic role of vetting, nominating and campaigning for slates of candidates running in City Council and School Board races.

The CBC membership, at their annual meeting this coming Sunday, will vote on a proposed by-law change, recommended by its board of directors, to remove the organization from its practice of hosting a nominating convention a few months before each municipal election to hear from all the candidates seeking CBC support, aimed at establishing slates of preferred nominees.

If passed, it would be a first for the CBC, which came into existence in the late 1950s for precisely such a purpose. Then, the organization was forged by a cadre of citizens concerned that more pro-school candidates got elected to local offices.

The CBC ruled the roost in Falls Church for many years, as a setback to a slate of Chamber of Commerce-backed City Council candidates in the early 1970s only redoubled their efforts and resolve. In the 1980s, the City went through a sequence of elections that were effectively uncontested as no one challenged the CBC slates.

That changed with the rise of a rival group, known as the Falls Church Citizens Organization (FCCO), in the late 1980s. The two groups wrestled for control of the City Council, and the School Board when elections for that body were introduced in 1994, until the FCCO fell away and disbanded a decade ago.

Still, the CBC’s ability to dominate in local politics, despite its solid base of long-term and deeply entrenched citizens, waned over the past decade, due only in part to an increasingly transient make-up of the population here.
But the last municipal election cycle in 2010 was a fiasco for the CBC, foredooming what will probably happen with the vote this weekend.

Ironically, it was the issue of when municipal elections should be held in Falls Church – in May, as it was since the early 1970s, or November, when higher turnouts are guaranteed – that divided and weakened the CBC in 2010. (It is ironic, because just last week, Falls Church voters overwhelmingly approved, by a two-to-one margin, a referendum to move elections to November. It wasn’t even close.)

In December 2009, five Council members previously nominated by the CBC voted to move City elections to November. The next February, at the CBC’s nominating convention, of the three CBC-backed incumbents up for re-election who voted for the move to November, two – Lindy Hockenberry and Dan Sze – failed to receive the CBC’s nod, and a third, Dan Maller, backed out in advance. The one who did pass muster at the convention, then Vice Mayor Hal Lippman, became part of the doomed CBC slate that was veritably massacred – all losing but Ron Peppe – in the May election.

Hockenberry took to launching an independent campaign, but she, as was Lippman, was unceremoniously dumped.

The News-Press sub-headline reporting that election result noted, “Surprise Outcome Spells Trouble for Future of CBC.”

With no love lost between the once-vice mayor and once-ever-loyal CBC’er Hockenberry and the CBC establishment, Hockenberry scheduled an event of her own at her home this Sunday night that conflicts with the CBC meeting.

The by-law changed proposed for a vote this Sunday was crafted at a CBC board meeting on Nov. 10 last week, two days after the election. The News-Press learned that, to the surprise of some in attendance, there was little objection to the proposal from within the group.

According to reports, the proposed change does not rule out the CBC endorsing individual candidates, if it so chooses, in the future, but only that it will not establish slates of candidates to campaign for. The CBC may go ahead with a “convention” in February, as well, but it would be only for informational purposes, functioning as a form of candidate’s forum or debate.

Meanwhile, the buzz is already swirling around Falls Church about who will and won’t run for the City Council and School Board in the coming May 1 election (the election date will not shift to November until 2013).

There will be three seats up for election. So far among the incumbents, Councilman and former mayor Robin Gardner has declared she will not be seeking yet another four-year term, Councilman Lawrence Webb has already held one fundraiser (on his birthday at a restaurant in D.C.) for re-election, and Mayor Nader Baroukh has stated emphatically that he has not yet made up his mind about running for a second term.

Names of Planning Commission members (including chair John Lawrence, who lost as a CBC-backed candidate in 2010), Economic Development Authority members, and even Chamber of Commerce board members are being bandied about.

Historically, those seeking CBC backing often announced their candidates at the CBC’s annual meetings in November. It is not known if anyone is planning to announce this Sunday, however.
As for some of those formerly-backed CBC Council members who were dumped because of their stands on November elections, there remains a high likelihood that some of them will be back for another try – but not this May. They’ll be waiting for November 2013.