Local Commentary

Editorial: They Still Don’t Get It

The Falls Church City Council’s hollow, meaningless vote Monday night, seeking to bother the Virginia State Legislature with approving a pointless charter change, is clear evidence the results of the Nov. 8 referendum were completely lost on it.

Seldom have we ever witnessed the Council to so thoroughly dump on its own machinations as it did in this case – with everyone conceding in advance their action would have almost no effect on making local elections non-partisan. Bound by the First Amendment, as counseled by F.C. City Attorney John Foster, they were quick to concede that the vote would do virtually nothing to mandate them.

By a 6-1 vote (Robin Gardner opposed) the vote calls for a change in the City’s charter to establish that candidates for City Council and School Board can qualify for the ballot by petition, only, and not by a nomination from a recognized political party. That’s fine, except that no candidate in the history of Falls Church has ever qualified for the ballot except by petitioning, and it is not a difficult process.

The Council members conceded that nothing could prevent a heavily partisan-tinged local election if any local branch of a national political party decided to endorse candidates, give them money, and work for their election (all are their protected First Amendment rights).

So, Monday’s vote was merely a symbolic effort to go on record in support of non-partisan elections in Falls Church, even if the gesture involves meddling with the sacrosanct City Charter and burdens the State Legislature with having to weigh in.

In reality, Monday’s move was a lame afterthought that failed to mitigate the impact of the landslide blow out result of Nov. 8. That was when more than two thirds of Falls Church voters determined they want local elections henceforth held in November, rather than May. To the voters, despite all the loud protests of many local civic activists, the issue was clear: have elections when more, not fewer, people will vote.

Now, that was a popular mandate. The problem is, the City Council didn’t pick up on that fact.

That’s because the majority on the Council felt it represented no problem to go right back to its old ways of proclaiming what constitutes a popular mandate: namely, the loud voices of a tiny, elite cadre of City activists.

You would have thought that the recital of a short list of names at Monday’s Council meeting, even if they were those of the same “usual suspects” so often skulking around City Hall, would have faded to inconsequence after the Nov. 8 election so blew away prevailing miscalculations about such “mandates.”

Who says local elections should be non-partisan? Why not go back to November voters to seek a real mandate, if you want one?

All Monday’s vote did was establish how out of touch the City Council remains, not only with its constituents but, in this case, reality, as well.