P. David Tarter was re-elected to a second term as mayor of the City of Falls Church by a unanimous 7-0 vote in the first meeting of the newly-constituted Falls Church City Council Monday night, and Council member Marybeth Connelly was elected vice mayor by another unanimous vote.
The new Council, officially installed as of Jan. 1, after being sworn in mid-December, included one personnel change as Letty Hardi was seated for the first time since winning election in November, replacing Nader Baroukh who did not seek re-election to a third term.
The new Council now includes three women – Connelly, Hardi and Karen Oliver – for only the second time in Falls Church history and first since the late 1980s (when Carol DeLong, Betty Blystone and Betty Havlick served at the same time).
As has been the custom whenever the election of a new mayor and vice mayor takes place in the first meeting after an election, the meeting Monday was called to order by the City Clerk, in this case Celeste Heath was performing the duty for the first time. After leading the chamber in the Pledge of Allegiance and calling the role of Council members, she asked for nominations for mayor.
Council member Oliver nominated Tarter, who was first elected mayor by his colleagues two years ago and was the top vote getter in achieving re-election in the November 2015 general election, and there were no other nominations. The roll call vote ensued with its unanimous outcome.
Then Tarter took his gavel and control of the meeting and asked for nominations for vice mayor, and Councilman Dan Sze nominated incumbent vice mayor David Snyder.
In a step that appeared to have been worked out in advance and intended to signal a spirit of concord, Snyder declined the offer and instead nominated Connelly, who is two years into serving her first term on the Council. Connelly had been the top vote getter in 2013, and her elevation this time was considered an acknowledgment of the significance of her high vote total as well as the election of Hardi, the second highest vote getter, in this November’s election.
Connelly and Hardi not only share their gender, but also the primary passion for maintaining the excellence of the Falls Church school system. Connelly has actually been a school system employee, working in its outreach efforts to the Falls Church community, and Hardi, with three young boys in the Falls Church schools, started to take local politics very seriously less than a year ago when she and another parent with young children, Erin Gill, decided to pay careful attention, attend meetings and make frequent public comments at City Council and school division budget hearings last spring.
As Hardi was elected to the Council, Gill was elected to the School Board, in what became a highly contentious election last fall.
After the votes were taken at Monday’s meeting, Snyder, who’d served as both vice mayor and mayor for two year terms in the 1990s, welcomed Hardi onto the Council, saying she’d run “the best campaign I’ve ever seen.” He said he will continue to “have a very full agenda serving the City,” including working as the D.C. region’s Council of Government’s chair of its Emergency Preparedness Council.” He said that “I believe this Council has the capability and will no doubt achieve greatness.”
He also had praise for Nader Baroukh, whose seat on the Council Hardi filled. Baroukh chose not to seek a third term last fall, even though he’d served four years as mayor from 2010–14. Health issues at home contributed to his decision not to run.
Speaking after the vote Monday night, Mayor Tarter thanked everyone for “the trust placed in me,” adding, “Falls Church is a great city that we all love.” He hailed Connelly’s “integrity” and Hardi’s “keen intellect and fresh perspective.”
Tarter then summarized a long list of accomplishments in the City in recent years to underscore his optimism about the future, including its multiple mixed use economic development projects, quality schools, park and open space development, holding the line on taxes, making the City more walkable and bikeable, improvements to the W&OD Trail, traffic calming, investment in the downtown with lighting and crosswalks, government openness and transparency and all while maintaining the City’s “small town charm that all, young and old and of every socio-economic background can enjoy.”
Connelly, hailing the Watch Night downtown celebration on New Year’s Eve, cited her appreciation for the large “LOVE” statue the City borrowed from the state’s outreach entity, saying “We are the Little City With a Big Heart.”
The Council then adjourned for a lengthy work session on the Mason Row project covering 4.3 acres on the northeast intersection of W. Broad and N. West streets, which will come up for a vote of final approval at the City Council meeting this coming Monday night (see story elsewhere this issue).