2024-07-22 4:24 PM

Mayor Tarter Won’t Seek Re-Election This Fall

Four-Term Mayor Says It’s Time; Filing Deadline Looms

Following the blockbuster announcement last week that four-term City of Falls Church Mayor David Tarter will not seek re-election this fall, the pace has quickened among candidates filing before a June 20 deadline to make it onto the November ballot for City Council and School Board in the Little City.
June 20 is also the date for the Democratic primary in Falls Church that is pitting two candidates for both State Senate and Commonwealth Attorney against one another, and brisk advanced voting has already begun for that one.

But it’s the fall election in Falls Church that will draw the most attention, especially as Mayor Tarter has announced he will not seek another term and the health status of another veteran on the Council that had been expected to run, Phil Duncan, makes his status uncertain right now. Vice Mayor Letty Hardi is expected to seek a third four-year term.

As well, two leading members of the Falls Church School Board, current chair Laura Downs and Dr. Susan Dimmock, have already announced they will not seek reelection.

Given the June 20 filing deadline, it is not too soon for issues around the November election to be gaining traction, as exemplified by meetings this week. First, the League of Women Voters is hosting two opportunities for interested candidates to learn more about the electoral process in Falls Church, one this Wednesday and another Sunday, May 21, at 2 p.m. at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.

This Wednesday, a meeting was scheduled by Falls Church’s Citizens for a Better City (CBC) to which a wide array of civic groups were invited at the American Legion Hall to, as CBCChair Hal Lippman put it, “ensure that our City does not fall prey” to “an alarming trend that has developed around us and across the country to inject national politics and political contributions into local campaigns.”

“We are reaching out to find out if we have common ground on this issue,” Lippman wrote, “And if we do, to ask that you join with us in bringing it to the attention of the entire community.”

According to Falls Church Voter Registrar David Bjerke, so far two candidates have filed for the fall City Council races, Erin Flynn and Justine Underhill. Flynn is a board member, along with her husband Charlie Lord, of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society. Underhill is a founding member of the five-citizen group that earlier this month announced the formation of Falls Church Forward.

In an interview with the News-Press about his decision not to run again this fall, Mayor Tarter said that with his three children now all in or about to begin college, and all now in Europe over the summer, “it is time to do something new,” although he will not waver in his commitment to the City for the remainder of this term, which runs through December.

“This will mark the end of 17 years of civic engagement in Falls Church,” he noted, which began with his appointment to the Economic Development Authority.

He called the decision “bittersweet” because, he said, “I love it here and will miss it a lot when he’s not showing up for City Council meetings every Monday. He said he’s proud of his role in what Falls Church has been able to accomplish during his tenure.

The entirety of Mayor Tarter’s statement last week is reprinted here:

Statement of Mayor David Tarter

Today, I am announcing that I will not seek reelection to the Falls Church City Council. Serving the City of Falls Church as Mayor has indeed been my great honor and privilege. Although I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, it took coming to Falls Church to find home. The City, its schools and community have been good to me and my family. I, in turn, have tried to return the favor.
As my time as Mayor draws to its conclusion, I reflect on some of our important accomplishments, like constructing our long-sought, $120 million Meridian high school, renovating our library, city hall, and the rest of our schools, obtaining our first triple AAA bond rating from all of the rating agencies, purchasing new park land, and significant investments in affordable housing, traffic calming, sidewalks, storm water and other critical infrastructure — all the while preserving the City’s small-town charm.

I have sought to use my professional experience as a commercial real estate attorney to better Falls Church through smart redevelopment of our commercial corridors. These efforts began a decade ago with small area plans, which re-imagined our commercial areas to be more walkable, vibrant, and economically successful. Subsequent projects include West Falls, a half-billion dollars of place-making, mixed-use development next to the high school, a walkable Harris Teeter in the heart of the City, a flagship Whole Foods that will soon anchor our downtown crossroads, and the first movie theater in town in decades, set to open next summer.

These projects and others have created new energy and vitality in our downtown, and walkable destinations. They provided affordable housing, environmentally sustainable design, outdoor dining, more inviting sidewalks and streetscape, and a subsidized home for our community theater. Along the way, they have put the City on a successful and sustainable financial footing, allowing us to lower our tax rate 12 cents over the past few years and laying the groundwork for further reductions. These efforts will continue to bear fruit for many years.

As a small place, it has always been critical for Falls Church to get along with our neighbors and I have sought to further these important relationships. In addition to my mayoral duties, I am proud to have served with my regional colleagues as President of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and as Chair of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC).

My tenure as Chair of NVRC coincided with one of our great challenges — the Covid pandemic. From the start of the crisis, we coordinated the region’s response efforts, adopted best practices and advocated for the interests of Northern Virginia’s 2.5 million residents.

These efforts helped safeguard public health, supported struggling small businesses, and kept our residents informed. They also brought out the best in our neighbors and our community. The advocacy resulted in unprecedented funding and resources from the state and federal government that allowed the City to rebound quickly from the worst of Covid. These investments will continue to benefit Falls Church for years to come.

All in all, I have spent nearly 17 years in civic involvement in Falls Church — first as Chair of the Economic Development Authority, then interim City Attorney, and finally City Councilman and Mayor.

My children are now away in college and it is time for a new adventure.
Falls Church has, hands down, the best quality of life of anywhere I have lived. Its small town feel and a great sense of community are hard to come by in this day and age. Our schools are excellent and our government is small and responsive. People are friendly and welcoming. Long term relationships, shared experiences and community values bring us together.

There are so many people who quietly do so much to make Falls Church a special, welcoming place and I have had the pleasure of working with many of them. It has truly been gratifying to see this community up close as a part of your local government. Thank you all for the experience and honor of a lifetime.

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