The Falls Church City Council voted 5-2 Monday to give final approval to an ordinance moving the date of municipal Council and School Board elections from May to November, beginning in 2011. An alternate ordinance to delay the change until 2013 was withdrawn following the epochal vote.
Voting in favor of the switch were Mayor Robin Gardner, Vice Mayor Hal Lippman, and Councilmen Dan Sze, Dan Maller and Lawrence Webb. Voting against were David Snyder and Nader Baroukh.
Mayor Gardner and Sze reacted strongly to Baroukh’s accusation that the change was “un-American in my view.” Sze retorted, “The term ‘unAmerican’ is unacceptable to me…it is a slander of the worst kind and makes me very angry.” Gardner concurred, saying she was “disheartened” by the comment. She noted that the citizens of Falls Church elected the City Council to make decisions of this kind, and the option was also specifically granted by a vote of the Virginia General Assembly.
Gardner noted there had been no changes of substance since the issue was thoroughly debated by the Council on Dec. 14. Tonight, there was only one citizen who spoke in the public hearing portion of the consideration of the item.
“We know there will be a higher turnout of voters this way, and this is sufficient grounds to do this,” Maller said. Webb, who had earlier favored a public referendum on the matter, said he’d “come full circle” from the point he first raised the issue of switching the date last fall. “When I campaigned for election in 2008, I found so many people who were unaware that there were May elections in Falls Church,” he said. “I came to realize that people are trained from the earliest age to expect elections to be in November. I believe that moving the date to November is the best thing to do.”
Webb responded to Snyder’s comment that moving the date amounted to a “disenfranchisement” of voters, because it ignored signatures of 138 citizens on a petition and a large number of letters and comments opposing the change. “It does not amount to a disenfranchisement,” Webb said. “That would be the last thing I would want to do. I am a member of two communities that are among the most disenfranchised, and would totally oppose that.”
Maller said the debate on the matter in the last two months revealed “a pattern” to him. Those most involved in the affairs of the community tended to be skeptical or opposed to the change, he said, while the average citizens he talked to at bus stops couldn’t understand why the Council would hesitate for a moment on moving the date to November to get a higher voter turnout.
Lippman, who was out of the country for much of the debate in December, said he’d followed it closely on the web through live coverage of Council meetings on the City’s web site. He said, “I felt keenly about this issue well before this (most recent debate),” adding, “I determined that when only 31 percent of voters turned out in May 2008 for one of the most important elections in the City’s history, with a referendum on the City Center development included, that something was very broken and needed to be fixed.”