Next Tuesday’s election for City Council and School Board in the City of Falls Church includes two all-time firsts, and one all-time last.
It is the first time that Council candidates, seven of them competing for three seats this time, have run without the backing or endorsement by one or more civic organization in the City.
It is the first time that voters will have only three, instead of five, polling places to find to cast their votes, due to legislation making that change earlier this year.
It is the last time that such local elections will be held in May in Falls Church. A public referendum last November revealed that City voters vastly prefer voting in November rather than May, and that will begin with November 2013.
The polls, all three of them, will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 1. Traditionally, turnouts at such elections have been very low, despite the superior educational levels of most City residents. Chances that last week’s major dust up over a plan that would have diminished on-street parking in residential areas may lead to a higher turnout may have been defused by decisive Council action Monday to pull the plan, promise to reduce no parking, and put off further consideration until late June.
There is no competition for the School Board seats. Incumbents Kieran Sharpe and Joan Wodiska are joined by Justin Castillo on the ballot for the three full four-year terms that are up, and incumbent Charlotte Hyland is on the ballot to complete the term for a slot vacated by a recent resignation.
The seven City Council candidates will be listed alphabetically with no party affiliation or other designations on the ballot. In order, they are Nader Baroukh, Phil Duncan, Paul Handly, William Henneberg, John Lawrence, Dave Tarter and Lawrence Webb.
Of course, citizens who have been paying attention know that Baroukh is the current mayor, pegged for the job by his fellow Council members in 2010 after first being elected to the Council in 2008. He replaced Robin Gardner, who had been mayor for two terms from 2006-2010 and while remaining on the Council, is not seeking re-election this spring.
Lawrence Webb is the other incumbent running this for re-election. He made headlines in 2008 when he was first elected to become the first-ever openly gay African-American elected to public office in Virginia.
John Lawrence is well-known among civic activist circles for his role on the appointed Planning Commission, including two years as its chair. He ran unsuccessfully for the Council in 2010.
Phil Duncan is running for public office for the first time, despite a long history as a community activist, serving on the boards of the Economic Development Authority, the Business in Education Alliance and the local Chamber of Commerce, as well as being an avid high school booster whose son was quarterback on the football team.
Dave Tarter has been on the Economic Development Authority, including as its chair. He is a commercial real estate attorney who served as the City’s interim attorney before John Foster was hired to serve in that capacity full time.
Paul Handly brings entrepreneurial business experience and grass roots volunteer community service to his first bid for public office.
William Henneberg grew up in Falls Church, living here all his life except for going to college. He works on the Hill now and is on the Tree Commission. He’s the youngest of the candidates.
Aside from endorsements by the regional Sierra Club going to both Lawrence and Tarter, and News-Press endorsements, there have been only smatterings of personal endorsements in this election.
Among Letters to the Editor, six former members of the Planning Commission linked up to endorse John Lawrence, while Vice Mayor David Snyder puts in a good word for Henneberg and organizers of an anti-Citizens United group cite that only Lawrence Webb showed real enthusiasm for their efforts.
Also, former Councilman Dan Maller challenges the proclaimed accomplishments of Mayor Baroukh and the current Council, citing other former Councilmen, Dan Sze and Hal Lippman, as sharing his views. Sze’s wife, Elisabeth, also has a letter challenging campaign claims about who’s responsible for the BJ’s locating to Falls Church.
Around Falls Church, yard signs have sprouted by marigolds and in a wide array of configurations. There is no apparent consensus as far as combinations are concerned, and a few yards have four signs (only three candidates can be elected). But then, even the News-Press has an “alternate” to its endorsements.
Controversies have also sprung up on blogs around the City, including one that erupted on the Falls Church Times blog in which it was found that an anonymous Arlington resident, subsequently identified as Elliot Mitchell, had apparently been given access to F.C. voting records and used them to post on the blog, apparently falsely in at least one case, that a couple of Council candidates had not voted in recent elections.
The Times’ Stephen Siegel traced the IP of the sender last weekend and found it to be located in the office where John Lawrence works. Asked about it, Lawrence said at first he had “no comment.” Siegel also noted that access to and uses of such voting records is closely circumscribed by law. Subsequently on Monday, Lawrence wrote in the Comments section of the report that “I made a mistake and apologize to all for the posting and for my delay in responding.”
School Board member Greg Rasnake weighed in among the 28 online comments, saying, “I take issue with anyone calling into question John Lawrence’s character.”
Then there was the candidate finance reporting, with some filing paperwork at City Hall and others filing with the State Board of Elections online. Duncan claimed the most total donors at 80, noting that 80 percent of them were “small-dollar givers” (only contributions above $100 have to be reported). No real surprises on the lists, no big out of town contributions except from relatives or business associates. Henneberg reported one contribution in his first report, from his sister who is a reporter for Fox News.
The winners Tuesday will be sworn in to four-year terms on the Council on July 1.