Local Commentary

Editorial: No Direction & Twice the Voters

Two developments in the course of less than two weeks in the City of Falls Church have radically changed the political landscape in The Little City.

First was the referendum on Nov. 8 that moved the date of the local City Council and School Board elections from May to November, a result that will almost double, based on past patterns, the number of voters weighing in on these elections.

Second was the vote last Sunday night by the membership of the venerable Citizens for a Better City (CBC) civic candidate vetting organization in Falls Church to, effectively, withdraw from its traditional role of nominating and backing slates of candidates in the local elections.

Considering the two developments together, and their implications for little Falls Church, veritably takes the breath away. For anyone who’s been around awhile, even for only the 20 years the News-Press has been the City’s “newspaper of record,” the back-to-back developments have opened up a stunning new panorama of possibilities that could have both upsides and downsides.

First, the referendum vote was a shocker, not so much the outcome as its margin. By two-to-one, voters preferred November elections over May, and that came after almost two years of local activists wrestling over the issue as if it was dead-even. So much for anyone saying that, based on what they see being manifested at City Hall meetings, any loud faction, being a tiny percentage of the City, can credibly represent “a public mandate.”

Second, the board of the CBC, meeting two days after the referendum vote, decided to pull its organization out of the upcoming May 2012 Council and School Board nominating and campaigning process, catching many by surprise. The decision was upheld by a 47-3 vote of the membership at the CBC’s annual meeting Sunday.

Part of the reason given by CBC Chair Sally Ekfelt for the pullback was the evidence that the CBC had lost touch with its base, particularly in the local schools. It can be said, and was, that the decline in CBC influence in recent years was due to the fact that it won the battle for the schools, a big reason for its founding 52 years ago, such that no one will get elected in Falls Church who doesn’t support the school system. At least for now.

So now, there is a flattened and broadened political landscape: no direction and twice the voters. One could call that a more “purely democratic” environment, but it may advisable to revisit Plato’s “The Republic” for a poignant critique of the shortcomings, or, better, short livelihood, of “pure democracies.”

The CBC may have thought it could dictate by its action a newly-leveled political environment, but its withdrawal will likely encourage other groups, or the formation of other groups, to fill the vacuum. No wish to mandate that future elections be non-partisan, for example, can prevent the exercise of First Amendment rights to the contrary.