Local Commentary

Editorial: The Coming Year In Falls Church

The tiny City of Falls Church stands to be embroiled over the course of the entire coming year in a mighty struggle over which four people will be elected to the City Council next May.

The start of the new fiscal year this week also marks the one-year countdown to decide who will be sworn in on July 1, 2010 to fill four Council seats that will almost certainly be hotly contested in a race that has, in fact, already begun.

There are no named candidates yet – even the four incumbents seem far from deciding for sure whether they will seek re-election or not – but in an unprecedented move, one venerable City leader has already made it known that he is looking for candidates to recruit.

Kieran Sharpe, former City Councilman and currently on the City’s School Board, held a meeting last month aimed at culling some potential Council and School Board candidates.

Sharpe confirmed the fact in an interview with the News-Press Tuesday, but said he hoped there would not be a lot of publicity about it at this early stage.

However, the move was clearly a “shot across the bow” to the long-established protocol for the candidate selection process used by the City’s veteran candidate-vetting institution, the Citizens for a Better City (CBC).

It has signaled that the coming year’s election will be far more lively than the one just three years ago in 2006, when all the same four Council seats were uncontested. For the seven-member City Council, either four or three are elected every two years to four year terms.

Most likely to seek re-election again next spring is David Snyder, who has been on the Council since 1994 and served a two-year term as mayor in the late 1990s. But neither current Vice Mayor Hal Lippman, nor Dan Maller or Dan Sze has suggested yet whether they will seek second terms.

Among the new names most rumored to challenge the current City Council make-up is John Lawrence, chair of the Planning Commission. Lawrence, in an interview with the News-Press, conceded that Sharpe invited him to last month’s meeting, but that his job took him out of the country at the time.

Still, Lawrence said he’s made no decision about running, suggesting the task is a daunting one of serving on the City Council. But he made a public announcement, in the form of a letter to the editor published in this week’s edition of the News-Press, that he’s officially switched loyalties from the Republican to the Democratic Party.

That would be a smart move for anyone seeking elective office in Falls Church, since the City routinely votes about two-to-one Democratic, even if the City Council election remains non-partisan at this stage.

Sharpe, on the other hand, remains a Republican, as does Snyder, and both have histories of breaking ranks with the CBC to win elections – Snyder to the City Council in 2002 and Sharpe to the School Board in 2008.

The CBC was founded in the late 1950s, about 10 years after the establishment of Falls Church’s standing as an independent city, to help elect candidates who supported better funding of the City schools. With the exception of two elections in the early 1970s, it ruled uncontested into the late 1980s, often facing no opposition to its endorsed candidates, whatsoever.

In 1988, a counter-organization, the Falls Church Citizens Organization (FCCO) was formed that won some Council elections in the 1990s, before disbanding in 2002. The CBC began another era of dominance, running its four candidates unopposed in 2006. In 2008, three candidates opposing the CBC slate were on the ballot, and one, Nader Baroukh, was elected.

This time, however, the opposition to the CBC, including any among the incumbents who may seek re-election, could be much stronger and better organized.

However, Sharpe told the News-Press he doesn’t necessarily view his efforts to date as adversarial toward the CBC. “I have no idea yet where we may go with this,” he said. “It may be that we will try to encourage the CBC not to limit its endorsements to four candidates for four seats. Maybe it should endorse six or eight candidates, instead of just four, if they are all qualified.”

Sharpe would not name any names of those who were at the meeting or who he’s contacted. “Anyone who shows an interest in this type of service, which pays nothing and demands so much time and commitment, should be encouraged,” he said. “But I want to move in a careful fashion. It is important to carefully knit a cohesive group of prospective candidates, to have them feel comfortable and good about their long-term prospects.”

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