News

Editorial: A No-Party System

Normally at this time of an even-numbered year in Falls Church, the banner headline in the News-Press would be about the results of the City Council and School Board nominating convention of the Citizens for a Better City (CBC). For the first time in its 50-year existence, the CBC has not had such a convention. For the first time in its 20 years of existence, the News-Press has had nothing to report of such a convention.

It’s just beginning to dawn on us, if not the Falls Church public, that as a municipal election is creeping up on us, there may be no socially-vetted measures by which to determine who in the heck should get elected!

Although municipal elections are officially non-partisan, in the 1990s in Falls Church, local elections were akin to a two-party system, with the CBC slugging it out with the upstarts of the Falls Church Citizens Organization (FCCO). The CBC was the “establishment,” even though any Falls Church citizen could show up at one of those conventions of theirs and cast a vote.

The CBC, and the august, wise citizens who made up its executive board, was deemed the “establishment,” with a strong bent to support the school system. The FCCO was made up of rebels against the CBC, some, it seemed, just to oppose its aura of authority, and others because they had principled differences on specific issues.

Beginning in 1988, when FCCO was founded, a titanic tug of war broke out. A slightly CBC-aligned Council seated in 1990 was rocked when, at its swearing in, a CBC- backed new member broke ranks to align with the FCCO to give him a margin to elect him mayor for two years.

The rancor in those days was considerable. Meetings went so long they often went long past midnight, eventually to be adjourned and reconvened the next night. In 1992, the CBC reasserted its majority and did things like place five-minute limits on comments by Council members, and require a vote to extend a meeting past 11:30 p.m. (that was later changed to 10:30 p.m., which is what it is now).

Through the decade of the 1990s, the FCCO mirrored the CBC’s long-standing nominating convention tradition with conventions of its own, always smaller but nonetheless important and always news-making.

The two sides had slates of its endorsed candidates, and all the campaign lawn signs and literature listed the full slates, including for School Board candidates when the City moved to elect its School Board beginning in 1994.

Candidates were aligned with rival causes, or at least cliques, but about a dozen years ago the FCCO disbanded. The energy of the 1990s faded. Clashes over occasional referendums substituted as the two-party system reverted to one. Now, with the CBC out of the nominating game, it is a no-party system.

It’s a whole new situation. How it plays out between now and May 1 will be interesting.