In the May 10 News-Press Guest Commentary, Sam Mabry explains why he believes the current system for choosing candidates and electing people to the Falls Church City Council is an improvement over the system that had prevailed for as long as anyone in the city can remember. In making his arguments Mr. Mabry engages in sweeping generalizations and selective editing of history that does a disservice to the citizens of Falls Church City and especially to those who have been active in civic life in the last 20 years.
Mr. Mabry speaks of “a candidate selection process that permitted 100 or so interested individuals to ‘nominate’ Council members for near certain victory…” I assume Mr. Mabry is speaking of the former nomination process of Citizens for a Better City (CBC). In my experience CBC has in fact enjoyed wide citizen participation in both its electoral activity and other endeavors to improve the quality of life in this city.
Although it no longer supports specific candidates, in the past CBC chose its candidates at a convention open to all citizens of the city. After the convention CBC would involve a large part of the local citizenry in fund raising and extensive grass roots efforts to help the candidates so chosen get elected. The candidates generally worked as a team and canvassed different parts of the city. This is participatory democracy at its best! Anyone who has paid attention to recent elections results would have to doubt that CBC’s nomination meant “near certain victory” as Mr. Mabry asserts. This has not been the case in any election I can remember.
In contrast the system Mr. Mabry seems to favor – each candidate deciding to run and working independently for election – has enormous disadvantages vis a vis the former system. It requires a tremendous investment of time and money for each candidate. This could lead to a process where only the wealthy or those with wealthy backers are able to participate. While I believe the recently elected city council members are all well qualified, I have considerable doubt that the best people would be willing to put themselves through such a process in the future.
Contrary to Mr. Mabry’s assertion past Councils have not been incapable of diversifying the tax base in this city. It was CBC that led the way in promoting commercial developments such as the Taco Bell and the Broad Street improvements against vehement opposition at the time. Mr. Mabry seems to think that all commercial development in the city should be “solely commercial” not the mixed use development that has been the trend in recent years. But Falls Church is not a socialist state. If a developer does not see a market for “solely commercial” development, it will not happen.
When I served on the private-public partnership approximately 15-20 years ago we were told then by Stephen Fuller, a well respected expert on the local economic scene, that mixed use was probably the best route for commercial development in Falls Church City. That continues to be the case. The only candidate that seemed to completely accept Mr. Mabry’s position in the recent City Council race was Mr. Henneberg, who lost. Mr. Mabry cites the experience of surrounding jurisdictions. Based on the relative size of Falls Church City with respect to these surrounding jurisidictions, I do not believe the comparison is valid. Perhaps Mr. Mabry would like to suggest a place in Falls Church where we could put a development such as Tyson’s Corner or Ballston.
It is ironic that Mr. Mabry’s column should appear the same week that it was announced that George Mason High School was one of the 20 best high schools in the country as determined by U.S. News and World Report. This is a tribute to the city councils and school boards elected through the help of CBC and other civic organizations. This is what the wide citizen participation CBC has championed had led to. Mr. Mabry and a number of others in this city seem to have some problem with any development that adds to housing and thus possibly adds to the school population in Falls Church City. While the increase in housing stock may add something, to a large degree the increase in our school population – which has far outstripped the increase in the city’s population during the time that my children have attended these schools – is a symptom of our own success.
People with children move here because of the excellent schools. And the increase in student population is not necessarily a bad thing. With more students comes the opportunity for a wider variety of courses and extracurricular programs. With respect to my daughter, the swim team and the ever increasing music program come to mind. Would our schools be so highly regarded if we were not able to offer these programs because of the small student population?
Tom Devlin is a member of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee.