F.C. Council, School Board Races Heat Up; Election 2 Weeks Away

SPEAKING AT THE MONTHLY luncheon of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce Tuesday were the four candidates on the ballot next month for election to the F.C. City Council. From left to right, incumbents Phil Duncan, Letty Hardi and David Tarter. Far right is Stuart Whitaker. (Photo: Brenda Shrier)

With election day less than two weeks away, campaigns remain in full swing all over Virginia and in the City of Falls Church.

Virginia is one of only three states in the U.S. with elections this November as every one of its 100 state delegate district seats and 40 of its state senate district seats are up for election. It is the only one where a sea change can occur in the control of both houses of the legislature, where Republicans hold hair thin margins at present, and as such is a bellwether for how national elections may go a year from now.

Virginia Democrats are optimistic that they may follow on the trend set in the 2017 election when they gained 17 seats to come within a coin-flip of winning control of the House of Delegates when one race came in a dead heat. They are buoyed by two things: a court-mandated redistricting this summer of a number of key Republican-held districts on grounds they had been drawn unfairly by the Republican controlled legislature, and the continued enthusiasm within their own party and political base for political change, due in no small part to disfavor with President Trump.

On the ballots that City of Falls Church voters will encounter in the upcoming Nov. 5 election include their representatives for the State Senate’s 35th District, Sen. Dick Saslaw, and the House of Delegates’ 53rd District, Del. Marcus Simon, and Commonwealth Attorney Democratic nominee Parisa Delighani-Tafti, all running uncontested.

However, there are two hotly-contested races for local offices, for the City Council and the School Board, both non-partisan races. There are four candidates seeking three contested seats (out of seven total) on each body, and all eight candidates have been active and seriously campaigning for election.

The Falls Church League of Women Voters has provided a four-page insert in this week’s edition of the News-Press that publishes the biographical information and responses to questions on affordable housing, traffic, the environment and candidate-choice important issues (see elsewhere, this edition).

Additionally, there remains one important public forum for each race. For the City Council, the forum will be held tonight (Thursday, Oct. 22) at the American Legion Hall, 400 N. Oak, at 7 p.m., co-hosted by the Citizens for a Better City, the American Legion Post 130, the F.C. Chamber of Commerce, and the F.C. Republican and Democratic committees. All four candidates are scheduled to attend, including the three incumbents seeking another four years in their current seats — Mayor David Tarter, Phil Duncan and Letty Hardi — and one challenge, Stuart Whitaker.

Then on Monday, Oct. 29, the School Board candidates will have one final major forum co-hosted by all of the City’s Parent-Teacher Associations that will be held at the cafeteria of the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, 601 S. Oak Street, at 7 p.m. Again, all four candidates are expected to participate, including incumbent Phil Reitinger and three seeking positions for the first time, Laura Downs, Douglass Stevens and Susan Dimock.

On the Nov. 5 election day, the number of voting locations will be diminished from three to two, as the Ward 2 location at the Falls Green (formerly Oakwood) apartments will be unavailable due to renovations there, such that all Ward 2 voters will be directed to the F.C. Community Center, 223 Little Falls St., to vote there along with voters from Ward 3, who normally cast ballots at that location. Ward 1 voters will also use their usual location at the T.J. Elementary School.

Also, absentee voting is currently underway, with voting by mail requiring an arrival time by Nov. 5, and in-person voting at the Voter Registrar office in City Hall, 300 Park Avenue, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the deadline to vote that way being Nov. 2.

The News-Press has endorsed the three incumbents, Duncan, Hardi and Tarter, for the City Council and incumbent Reitinger, Downs and Dimock for the School Board.

To date, City Council candidate forums have been held by the F.C. Chamber of Commerce, the same combination of groups holding the School Board forum tonight, and together with the School Board by the F.C. League of Women Voters and Village Preservation and Improvement Society held at the Mason High auditorium last Thursday night, and the Lasso student newspaper for all the Mason High student body Monday at the Mason High auditorium.

To date, while incumbent candidates have touted the achievements in the City for the last four years, including the progress made on the ambitious West End development plan, the deployment of the 36 acres the City acquired as partial payment for the sale of its water system to Fairfax County in 2014. The effort has led to the current construction of a brand new, state of the art George Mason High School due for completion next year, and a contract for the dense mixed-use economic development of 10 acres that promises to do more than pay for the school with expected revenues to the City. That includes the sale this week of the largest bond issue in the City’s history, for $126 million, at an extraordinarily low 2.71 percent interest rate.

City progress and challenges on issues of stormwater management, walkability and alternative transportation options, environmental sustainability and affordable housing have also been touted by the incumbents, while challenger Whittaker, a relative newcomer with no experience on the City boards or commissions, has touted the superiority of Fairfax’s Marshall High over F.C.’s George Mason High, and the need for the City to do more on transportation and climate control.

While incumbent Reitinger has been an important part in the West End developments cited above, two new candidates, Laura Downs and Sue Dimock, have called attention to their extensive service on City school-related groups (Downs heading the Elementary PTA and on the board of the F.C. Education Foundation and Dimock on the schools’ Health and Wellness Advisory Committee) Stevens has cited experience with a variety of Naval institutions.

Stevens has held forth through a series of public forums insisting that equality calls for protecting the right of students to disagree on issues associated with transgender identity.