Less than two weeks remain before the May 1 City of Falls Church municipal election, when three of the seven City Council and four of the seven School Board seats will be up for grabs.
There’s no competition for the School Board seats, so the public attention on that election is minimal. But with seven persons contending for the three Council seats, and with no local groups announcing a slate of endorsements, candidates are scrambling to make their cases to as many of the City’s 12,300 residents – especially those of voting age – as they can.
All seven candidates – incumbents Mayor Nader Baroukh and Councilman Lawrence Webb and challengers, alphabetically, Phil Duncan, Paul Handly, William Henneberg, John Lawrence and David Tarter – were expected at the season’s most significant candidates’ forum, hosted by the F.C. League of Women Voters and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society at City Hall tonight.
Results of that forum were not available to the News-Press before press time, but it was videotaped for broadcast on the F.C. Cable channel (Cox channel 11, Verizon channel 35, RCN channel 2) this Saturday, April 21, at 3 p.m. It will also being streamed live at www.fcctv.net.
All seven candidates were in the same location this Tuesday night at a home in the Broadmont neighborhood where the weather was so nice, all the proceedings took place in the backyard of the new home beside a covered pool.
City residents Mark Carrigan and Michael Ankuma co-hosted the event, Carrigan being active in the Falls Church Education Foundation and Ankuma is the current president of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce.
Even as the darkness descended, proverbial daylight emerged on policy issues among some of the candidates. Handly said the City should not rush to sell its water system. Henneberg said that the current Council should find a way to shave a penny off the tax rate.
But Baroukh disagreed sharply with Handly’s argument, urging him to “check his facts” about the pressures being placed on Falls Church by Fairfax County now to, effectively, override the City and set rates for all Falls Church water delivered to the county.
Baroukh also took on Henneberg’s tax cut idea directly, saying as it had been debated on the Council, the only way that could be achieved would be by eliminating two new positions in the Planning Department that will be vital to future economic development opportunities in the City.
Concurring with Baroukh’s theme that the City has weathered the Great Recession and that “great things are beginning now to happen,” Webb said, “We’ve worked hard for four years and had to make tough decisions, and things are starting to turn around.” Citing the Council’s decision to fully fund the School Board’s requested budget, Webb said up front that he supports a “revenue sharing” agreement with the Schools, something the School Board has been pushing for strongly.
Phil Duncan, a ubiquitous figure around Falls Church for years, serving on high school booster and Chamber of Commerce groups, said his focus is on community, civility and progress. He said, “We have to be willing to take some prudent risks to lean forward on economic development,” and said the City “needs to face up to what developers are saying, that we need to accept more residential to create the market for retail and commercial development.”
Handly, a resident since 2004, said he favors dense development in some areas and “appropriate” development elsewhere in the City, and said “it is a shame the high school is in the condition it is.” He pointed to his “entrepreneurial experience” and “ability to make rapid decisions,” and wants the City to lower its gross receipts (BPOL) taxes on business.
Planning Commissioner John Lawrence was present with his wife and his “campaign manager,” their son, Evan, in the fourth grade. Moving to Falls Church in 1999, he said, “We’re never leaving.” On the library board, he was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2007 and has done a stint as its chair. He wants incentives to help commercial entities fill vacant retail spaces.
David Tarter, a nine-year City resident, is a commercial real estate attorney and chair of the City’s Economic Development Authority who said, “We’ve lost a lot of opportunities for commercial development,” and the City needs his skills to turn that around. He said he favors selling the water system “for a fair price and using the proceeds wisely” on a new high school or unfunded pensions.
Baroukh said his priorities are to see economic expansion in F.C., to deal with storm water management needs, especially with costly federal mandates coming, and to ensure the needs of the City’s “world class schools” are met. He cited the incentives the City offered BJ’s to develop its site here as evidence of the kind of things there should be more of.
Henneberg, a lifelong City resident, said he feels the minimum bid for sale of the water system is too low, that money from the sale of the system should go to fund the pension plan for City teachers, and that he doesn’t like the aesthetics of some development that has already happened on W. Broad. “We must not lose our small town feel, and say ‘no’ if it’s not the right look for Falls Church,” he said.