A new breed of candidates for public office has surfaced in the race to temporarily fill a vacancy on the Falls Church City Council. All three are passionate about affordable housing, social equity, City walkability and economic development, and two of them don’t even own cars.
Some two dozen members of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce signed onto the Zoom online portal for a lunch hour meeting Tuesday to meet the three candidates for the first time that are on the ballot this season to fill the Falls Church City Council seat vacated by the untimely death of the late Daniel X. Sze in July.
The three candidates — Debora Shantz-Hiscott, Joshua Sharif Shokoor and Simone Victoria Pass-Tucker — are all either very long-term or lifelong residents of the City of Falls Church. All stated commitments that reflect the core values of equity, accessibility and opportunity for all in the Little City.
The winner will be able to take office as soon as the electoral returns are certified by the registrar of voters and sworn in by the City Clerk, which should be by mid-November.
The official Election Day is Nov.3. But the ballot they share with races for U.S. president, U.S. senator, U.S. congressman and two proposed Virginia constitutional amendments is already being mailed out to citizens seeking to vote by mail and as of tomorrow, voters can cast those ballots at the voter registrar office at City Hall.
In this context, more opportunities for Falls Church voters to evaluate the three candidates will occur beginning this Sunday, Sept. 20, when the Citizens for a Better City (CBC) will hold the first of three Sunday hour-long online candidate interviews. This Sunday’s interview is with Hiscott, the one on Sept. 27 with Shokoor and on Oct. 4 with Pass-Tucker.
Also, this coming Wednesday night, Sept. 23, will be a second joint, online appearance hosted by the City’s chapter of the League of Women Voters and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society.
The three candidates all indicated at the Chamber of Commerce’s event Tuesday that they are campaigning actively door-to-door throughout the community, and that they all intend to run again when the seat, one of seven on the City Council, will come up again in a year for a full four-year term.
Hiscott, 51, introduced herself at the event as a 24-year resident of the City who has served as the executive director of the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation for the last eight years. She said her experience working with this group with its 6,000 involved people, has developed her skill in fostering “mutually beneficial relationships.”
She stressed the importance of shopping locally and “smart growth,” equity and accessibility in the context of the current “tough fiscal realities.”
Shokoor, 33, born and raised in Falls Church, noted that businesses in the City are not back to pre-pandemic levels, and that the biggest threat to Falls Church families is the lack of affordable housing, disproportionately impacting the likes of people of color, teachers and small business employees.
His internship with the Housing and Human Services department of the City, ongoing role as a member of the Housing Commission and authorship of the “Affordable Living” chapter of the City’s Comprehensive Plan have heightened his fear, he said, “that nothing will be done to address the affordable housing crisis.”
Pass-Tucker, 22, also a lifelong resident of Falls Church with activist and advocacy experience in LGBTQ and Jewish community interests, said “I know what it’s like to be underrepresented,” and will stand up for “those with no voice, the environment and small businesses.”
As one of only two “non-binary” persons seeking public office in the entire nation now, Pass-Tucker said the City “should focus on its strengths to help those who need it most,” adding “the City is at a crossroads” concerning how well or poorly it stands up for people who need an advocate.”
On mixed use projects built here since 2002 and ones now coming forward, Hiscott said she’s “looking for well financed, well vetted developers to build more.” She said the Harris Teeter project has been a “great net positive” to the City and said she will evaluate the proposed Broad and Washington project in terms of its comparable impact.
Shokoor said, “I love density” and “what’s happened in the City since the days when the Red Lobster and fast food places were the City’s foremost restaurants. Development, he said, “creates more affordable housing options” as revenue generators, and that four of the top five tax revenue sources in the City are mixed use projects.
Pass-Tucker stated agreement with the importance of mixed use developments, but that more commercial spaces should be sought in the process. The idea of the “15 Minute City” was presented, that everything a person needs should be within a 15 minute walk or bike ride. “We’re not there yet, but moving in the right direction,” the candidate said.
All three candidates expressed strong views at redressing racial and social inequality in Falls Church despite the overwhelming majority of this City of 15,000 being White single family homeowners.
Pass-Tucker shared concerns for “structural racial inequalities” in the City, noting for example that current zoning laws favoring single family homes are “a legacy of Jim Crow racial segregation,” even while affirming that “Falls Church is really a unique place and it has been a privilege to grow up here.” They (the preferred pronoun for a non-binary person) feel “it is important to bring in diversity such that everyone feels welcome and has a seat at the table.”
Hiscott cited her commitment to public education, and for a valid response to the current national unrest, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and LGBTQ issues in Falls Church, in addition to addressing issues stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, and she hailed the “brave” action by the current City Council to introduce new gun control legislation in the last months.
Shokoor, citing his internship at City Hall, role on the Housing Commission, authorship of the City’s housing policy and articles he’s written for the News-Press about achieving racial equity though housing, said he’s been inspired by the activism of young people in Falls Church, including the BLM march in July and BLM signs around the City. As a “person of color” raised by a single parent in an affordable unit in the City, he said he wants to work to make the City more welcoming and accessible to “people like me.”
All the candidates supported zoning changes to encourage the development of so-called “granny flats,” or “auxiliary dwelling units” that can be built on existing residential properties to add affordable options.