Whiff of Partisanship Arouses Angst in F.C. Council Election

A mere scent of partisanship wafting over the upcoming Falls City Council election has generated some major heartburn among community activists, expressed by a lot of chatter and website comments this past week.

The dust-up derives from an uncommon decision by the Falls Church City Republican Committee to invite all seven City Council candidates running in the May 1 non-partisan City Council election to an open candidate forum on April 22 at the Community Center.

“Don’t Go There!” was the title of a comment by Stan Fendley on a local on-line blog, urging the Republican group not to introduce the tinge of partisanship into the election. The remarks drew 16 remarks and a lot of buzz throughout the community.

That’s because the issue of partisanship was a major one among those who fought the shift of Falls Church City Council elections from May to November, a shift that was achieved through a public referendum last November.

Opponents of the shift argued that local City elections would be hopelessly infused with major party influence if that happened, and it is ironic to some that the local Republican committee opposed that shift, as well.

It is no mystery that the voting electorate in Falls Church is predominantly Democratic and some Republicans feared the move to November would dilute their ability to influence a low-turnout election. It was feared that the local Democratic committee would begin endorsing Council candidates, virtually ensuring their election.

So, to have the Republican committee jump into the fray this spring seems to some a bit ironic, and as Fendley commented, “There is a real risk of emulation on the Democratic side.”
But the Republicans who organized their event, Mark Q. Rhoads and Ken Feltman, have defended their decision, both online and in a letter published in this edition of the News-Press.

“I regard this unjust criticism as a transparent attempt to preserve the old monopolies on candidates forums by so-called ‘non-partisan’ groups that have dominated the civic life in Falls Church City for decades,” wrote Rhoads.

He said his group had invited both the Democratic committee and the local chapter of the League of Women Voters to co-sponsor the forum with them, but both declined.

The League of Women Voters announced last week that its has teamed with the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) to sponsor a City Council candidates forum of their own, set for Wednesday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m. in the Council chambers of City Hall, and the Republican committee will be going ahead with its forum on Sunday, April 22, at 2:30 p.m. in the Community Center.

Meanwhile, the Citizens for a Better City (CBC), the City’s venerable Council candidate vetting organization that abdicated that responsibility in this election, added that it will hold a public meeting next Wednesday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m. in the ArtSpace Falls Church, 410 S. Maple. While the subject of the forum is “School Facilities in Falls Church,” the CBC has cleverly announced that City Council and School Board candidates have been invited to attend and engage in a “meet-and-greet” preceding the discussion, meaning the forum in intended to provide attendees with an opportunity to evaluate their choices for the election.

The CBC also announced it will be hosting “several discussions over the next several weeks” on the “strategic priorities for the City of Falls Church.” In the CBC’s first such event March 21, all seven Council candidates attended.

Weighing in on that event, which focused on economic development, former Falls Church vice mayor Hal Lippman submitted a letter published in this week’s News-Press critical of all the candidates. “None of the candidates acknowledged the long-standing role of ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ (NIMBY) individuals and groups seeking to undermine, delay and/or kill development projects,” he intoned.

He also assailed them for failing to acknowledge the role of the recent recession on stymieing development in the City and the failure of City leaders to recognize what developers need to succeed.

On the fear of partisanship debate, however, many comments implied that local Falls Church politics are already de facto partisan, favoring Democrats. One anonymous remark offered that the current City Council “looks like six Democrats and one ‘RINO’ (Republican in name only-ed.),” and noted that on Council candidate John Lawrence’s website, he cites that “he politicked for Obama,” quipping, “Guess that makes him ‘non-partisan.'”

“Like it or not, Falls Church is a liberal city whose City Councilors run on a non-partisan slate, but govern like Democrats,” he concluded.

But it was Fendley’s concern that will resonate most over the coming period, as the next City Council election after this one May 1 will be in November of next year. “Invariably,” he wrote, the Republican committee’s dabbling in a non-partisan election “will raise suspicion and provide cover to others who want to make City Council races de facto partisan.”

The GOP committee’s invitation to Council candidates was ostensibly an outgrowth of an effort to pump new life into the group, including the installation of new board members at their monthly meeting last month. Feltman was named the new chair, with Patricia Dauhtry as vice chair, Margaret Whitehead as secretary and Marian Starr as the treasurer. Regular monthly meetings have been scheduled for the third Thursdays of the month at the American Legion Hall on N. Oak Street.