For all the political campaign signs that have begun to spring up all over the City of Falls Church, and elsewhere throughout Virginia, just since Labor Day last week, it is like a springtime flowering. Lawn signs are going up, and doors are being knocked on, with handbills left if no one answers, by hopeful candidates.
Labor Day marked the kickoff of the fall season, which will be furious in Virginia in ways unlike anywhere else. It’s here in this state that all 140 seats in the Richmond House of Delegates and Senate are up for grabs, one of only four states with legislative elections this fall and the only one in the U.S. where control of the state legislature, with its current razor-thin margins, is at stake.
Republicans currently control the House, 51-49, and the Senate, 40-39, with currently one vacancy in each chamber. Democrats are hoping they can continue the momentum that led to picking up a net 15 delegate seats in 2017 by holding onto those gains and adding enough to achieve a majority in both bodies.
A lot is always at stake, but this year it is more than usual because whomever winds up controlling the state legislature in Richmond is going to be in the driver’s seat to redraw all the state and federal congressional district boundaries following the 2020 U.S. Census that will apply for the next decade.
The state legislative elections also matter more in Virginia than elsewhere because of the state’s so-called Dillon Rule which mandates that no local jurisdiction can enact a law that is not explicitly permitted by the state legislature. It means that issues pertaining, for example, to gun control and equal rights for women and other minorities cannot be affected at the local level unless a majority sympathetic to the issues is elected to serve in Richmond.
That means that candidates for the three open seats on the Falls Church City Council and School Board who are competing this fall will be tempering their promises on these kinds of matters on the hopes of gaining the right majorities in Richmond.
An irony for the City of Falls Church is the fact that neither of its representatives in Richmond — Democratic State Senator Dick Saslaw or State Delegate Marcus Simon — are facing any electoral challenge this fall, although they will be on the ballot here, but the local races promise to be very hotly contested.
All three incumbents on the City Council whose seats are up for election this November are already actively campaigning for re-election, including Mayor David Tarter and Council members Phil Duncan and Letty Hardi. Between them, they have one opponent, Stuart Whitaker, a newcomer to the City who has not held prior public office or served on any City board or commission.
For the School Board, there is only one incumbent seeking re-election, current vice-chair Phil Reitinger, while three first-time candidates are vying with him for the three total slots. They are Laura Downs, Susan Dimrock and Douglas Stevens.
Last weekend in Falls Church, two major events were held to set the tone for the November election races here. One was a social hour held at a local residence sponsored by the Citizens for a Better City (CBC) on Friday night where all the local candidates were invited to mix with local citizens and make introductory remarks, and the second was the annual potluck hosted by the Falls Church City Democratic Committee held in the Community Center Sunday night.
The keynote speakers at that event were Democratic National Committee member Atima Omara and Falls Church’s U.S. Rep. Don Beyer.
Omara stressed the opportunity and need represented by this November’s elections overall, stating there is a “moral imperative” to draw on the strength through diversity that is the hallmark of the party to “not just win, but to dominate in Virginia.”
Beyer struck the key tone to his party’s prevailing not only in Virginia this fall, but nationally in the 2020 presidential year coming up.
He cited the lessons taught by his late mother over long conversations at the dinner table in his earlier years that focused on drawing out as much empathy as possible, something in sharp contrast to those who advance policies that put children in cages or deny health care to persons with preexisting conditions.
He said that the proper role of the politician is like that of a doctor, nurse or pastor, to “help people with their problems and to relieve their pain.”
The three keys to effective leadership, he said, are “empathy, knowledge and wisdom.” Empathy puts one in the shoes of another to see their problems and feel the motivation to fix them. Knowledge is the capacity to talk about ideas and the life of the mind, instead of just petty gossip about who’s doing what to whom on a given day. Wisdom addresses questions like why we are here, and what is the meaning of life, versus just hurling slogans like “Lock her up.”
These three qualities of empathy, knowledge and wisdom are “the opposite of our national leadership now,” Beyer said. This demands that “we get rid of Moscow Mitch, and recognize that every one of the Democratic presidential candidates now is better than Donald Trump.”
He hailed the 80.08 percent Democratic majority vote that Falls Church voters provided in the most recent re-election last year, and urged citizens to reach beyond the City this fall and engage the races that will make the biggest difference in shifting the state legislative balance.
His remarks echoed those of Falls Church Mayor David Tarter who opened the formalities with his own remarks stressing the notion that for a nation to be “great” it has to be “good,” integrating compassion and respect for all. “You can’t bully your way to greatness,” he said. “How we conduct ourselves matters. The world and our kids are watching.”
Other speakers were Commonwealth Attorney Democratic nominee Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who will be on the Falls Church ballot in November, incumbent Del. Simon and incumbent Sen. Saslaw. The Democratic Committee presented its annual Marian Driver award to volunteer Tom Devlin.
At the CBC social Friday night, incumbent City Council candidate Duncan said he hopes voters will appreciate what the Council has been doing to bring about “change for the better.” He said, “ ‘Better’ and ‘improvement’ are in the DNA of Falls Church. It is in the name of the Citizens for a Better City. It is in the name of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society.”
Hardi said she is proud of a lot of the progress that has been made since she was first elected in 2015, and that there is a lot more to do.
Mayor Tarter made similar remarks, and Whitaker said his focus is on climate change and the effects of transportation on it.
The F.C. League of Women Voters announced that candidate debates will be held on Oct. 3 for the School Board and Oct. 24 for the City Council.