In Falls Church in years past, the annual spring budget deliberations (such as are going on now) were always interspersed with campaigning for seats on the local City Council in a May election. The connection between positions taken on the budget – usually involving tax rates and school funding – were in the forefront of everyone’s minds for the municipal election in early May.
But that changed for the first time in 2013, when the whopping 2-to-1 landslide in a November 2011 referendum in favor of moving municipal elections from May to November went into effect, and four City Council members were elected that November.
The last May election was held May 1, 2012, when current Council members Nader Baroukh, Phil Duncan and David Tarter were elected. Now, going on three years later, the legacy of May elections has faded already, but the seats that were filled in that election will be coming up for contention this fall.
That’s right, the current mayor, Tarter, the former mayor, Baroukh, and Mr. Duncan will find themselves faced with what will undoubtedly be lively election challenges that are still a half-year off. Among other things, in order to make the timing work with the shift from May to November elections, these three will be completing their current terms in three-and-a-half rather than four years.
So, the new distance between the spring budget deliberations and November elections means that some of the heat that arises from tax rates and other important decisions embedded in a potentially contentious budget process will be cooled by months of separation. Also, the turnout in November will be considerably higher than ever in May. This November, for example, every single state delegate and state senate seat in Virginia will be on ballots all across the commonwealth, and this means for Falls Church that State Sen. Richard Saslaw and State Del. Marcus Simon will likely be facing challenges.
Moreover, three Falls Church School Board seats, and the attorney and clerk of the Arlington Circuit Court, which covers Falls Church, will be up for re-election on the Falls Church ballot.
So, from our point of view, the prospect of this coming November’s election should be seen as a relief for the three F.C. City Council incumbents whose seats will be contested, assuming that one or more will be running for another term. That’s because there will be far less need to kowtow to the Little City’s citizen activist core on two counts: 1. the heat of the budget tussle will be history, relatively speaking, and 2. the turnout will be far higher than the relatively small, intimate May elections when that activist core had much greater influence on the election outcomes.
So, the challenge these Council members face this spring is to gauge decisions not in reaction to the activists who will be in their faces, and instead from the standpoint of a silent but voting wider majority.