By a surprisingly wide margin of 63.6 percent to 36.4 percent, voters in Tuesday’s Falls Church City election approved a $120 million school bond referendum to build an all-new George Mason High School. The blowout marked a decisive victory for all on the F.C. City Council and School Board who’d deliberated and labored for much of the last decade to arrive at the decision to pursue a course that required an ask for the funds.
The margin was augmented by a significant bump in the voter turnout, despite a steady rain throughout the day. The 64.6 percent of active registered voters casting ballots this time was far higher than the 42.1 percent who voted in the last City Council election in 2015 and the 54 percent who voted in 2013, the last time statewide races joined them on the ballot.
The high turnout helped pad the margin of the victory for the bond referendum — 3,590 for and 2,053 against, a surprise given it will be the biggest bond in the history of the City and will have a marked impact on real estate property taxes — and also helped provide solid votes of confidence for the three incumbent City Council members on the ballot. Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly, a primary activist supporter of the bond referendum, came in first with 3,707 votes, followed by David Snyder with 3,254 and Dan Sze with 2,889 votes.
The fourth Council spot was carried by newcomer Ross Litkenhous with 2,695 votes, substantially ahead of Dan Maller (1,796 votes) and a more inactive candidate, Spencer Parsons (782 votes).
The School Board race was far closer, but a decisive victory for pro-bond referendum candidates, led by the lone incumbent and current School Board chair Lawrence Webb with 2,714 votes, followed by first-time candidates Greg Anderson (2,674 votes). Shannon Litton (2,628 votes) and Shawna Russell (2,614 votes). Russell came in 100 votes ahead of the lone anti-referendum candidate, Alison Kutchma (2,514 votes), who lost for the second time, and first-time candidate Richard Crespin (2,491 votes).
Falls Church’s representative in the Virginia House of Delegates, Marcus Simon, won 78 percent of the vote over independent Mike Casey, and the City’s three “constitutional officers,” Treasurer Jody Acosta, Sheriff Steve Bittle and Commissioner of the Revenue Tom Clinton, all won new four-year terms by running unopposed.
In the case of statewide candidates, Falls Church voters were overwhelmingly in favor of the three Democratic candidates, all of whom also won statewide. Ralph Northam was on top with 79 percent of the total votes for governor, Justin Fairfax with 78 percent for lieutenant governor, and Mark Herring with 78 percent for attorney general.
Comments by the happy winning candidates and others crammed into the reception room at Mad Fox Brewing Company after the polls closed Tuesday night all echoed the same theme, that “now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work” on the high school campus plan. It has a lot of moving parts, including soliciting effective offers for 10 of the 34 total acres that have been set aside for economic development. The City is also moving ahead with a renovation and expansion of both City Hall and the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.
In a written statement posted online Tuesday night, School Superintendent Peter Noonan said the Falls Church public school system “extends its sincerest appreciation to our community for overwhelmingly supporting the referendum to fund the George Mason High School campus project.”
It will “make a significant difference in our ability to maintain high quality and high performing educational programs, services and opportunities for our students during their critical last four years” in the system.
He added, “On a personal note, I am in awe of all the discussion, planning, and serious work by the thousands over the last 10 years that have allowed us to reach this critical moment in the life of our independent school system.”
Vice Mayor Connelly also issued a statement, saying, “The election was important, but it is also just another day in the history of Falls Church, another day that helped define what our City believes and how the citizens want to go forward into the future…Now let’s get to work, together.”
David Snyder, re-elected to a seventh consecutive term on the Council as the longest standing member of the body, stated, “The local voting results strongly reaffirm our community’s core values and principles. They remind us that we must effectively govern civilly, inclusively and prudently. The statewide voting results are a stinging repudiation of alt-right extremism in all its forms, including Trumpism.”
Snyder also offered a shout-out to the Falls Church News-Press, thanking it for its “tireless advocacy of what is right,” adding, “It made a huge difference and our community is what it is in no small measure due to the FCNP.”
Losing School Board candidate Crispin issued a statement. He said, “Backed by one of the smartest and most civic-electorates in the nation, armed with better questions, and supported by an outcome-centered governance process, I have no doubt that we will build schools and a school system that will be a beacon and a model to our commonwealth and our country, and that our Little City will be a Mighty Little City.”
Falls Church’s Registrar of Voters David Bjerke told the News-Press Tuesday that the election “came off without a hitch,” despite using new paper trail voting machines for the first time at all three City voting locations..
Unofficial results below: