In what is shaping up to be one of the most contentious Falls Church City Council elections in the City’s 60-plus year history takes its first major step forward this Saturday at the nominating convention of the Citizens for a Better City (CBC).
For the last 50 years, the CBC has been the City’s primary civic organization whose purpose is to vet prospective candidates for local offices, and four City Council candidates have announced they will seek its blessing at the convention Saturday, which is open to participation by any registered voter in Falls Church.
The candidates include two incumbent members of the City Council, Vice Mayor Hal Lippman and Councilman Dan Sze, along with a former two-term Council member, former vice mayor and current Planning Commission member Lindy Hockenberry. Hockenberry lost her bid for a third term on the Council two years ago by 30 votes.
Others seeking the CBC nod are School Board Chair Ron Peppe, Planning Commission Chair John Lawrence and long-time Falls Church civic activist Barry Buschow. In addition, there is a provision for making nominations from the floor at the event, which begins at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of George Mason High School.
By a secret ballot, participants in the convention will select four among the six candidates who will be able to run with the endorsement of the CBC in the May 4 election. The voting will follow campaign speeches and questions from the floor for all the candidates.
While there are an abundance of City Council candidates, there is a dearth of School Board hopefuls, with only three citizens – incumbent School Board members Susan Kearney and Rosaura Aguerrebere and first-time hopeful Patrick Riccards – having thrown their hat in the ring to date seeking the CBC’s backing for the four seats.
Also, not participating Saturday are three other citizens who are planning to run for the Council this spring, including Councilman David Snyder, seeking a fifth four-year term and, considering runs for the first time, Ira Kaylin and Johanna Berry. Kaylin stressed to the News-Press yesterday that although he was circulating petitions at a Community Center town hall meeting Saturday, he is still only “testing the waters.”
Snyder, who served two years as Mayor of Falls Church in the late 1990s, has won handily in all his bids for re-election in the predominantly Democratic Falls Church despite being an unsuccessful candidate of the Republican Party in a state delegate race in 2001. City Council and School Board elections are non-partisan, and the only other prospective Council candidate with known GOP ties is Buschow, for years an active volunteer with an array of parks, recreation and service groups, who formerly sat on the Falls Church City Republican Committee.
First-term Councilman Dan Maller, despite urgings from his colleagues, has so far declined to seek re-election this spring.
Any and all citizens who chose to run for the City Council or School Board in the May election have to officially file with the Voter Registrar at City Hall by March 4. Filings must include the valid signatures of 125 City residents who are currently registered voters.
While there is nothing preventing the two candidates who will fall short of a CBC nod this Saturday from running, it has historically been a litmus tests for CBC hopefuls to say that, should they fail to win the CBC nod, they will not subsequently run against the CBC slate.
So, technically, there are nine candidates lined up to seek the four open Council seats, although the exact numbers will not be known until after the official filing deadline has passed.
Issues expected to dominate the campaign include the current budget shortfall and how to address it. The current City Council will approve a final FY11 budget that will plug the current 15 percent gap between revenues and expenditures with a combination of tax increases and program cuts on April 26, barely a week before the election.
Another major issue will be the funding of the City Schools, which are nationally known for their excellence and which are considered by area realtors to provide a “value added” for residential real estate values in the City.
A potential last-minute factor in the Council’s April 26 decision on its budget will be the annual banquet of the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation, an independent citizens organization set up to support the Falls Church Schools, that will occur on the Saturday before the final vote. The event traditionally draws several hundred citizens who are staunch supporters of the schools, who may decide to weigh in collectively at the Council meeting two days later when the final vote will be taken.
A third major issue will center on new development in the commercially-zoned corridors of the City, including its fiscal impact and environmental impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
While there is no other development currently underway due to factors related to the national recession, a senior affordable housing project of the Falls Church Housing Corporation will go forward if approved by the Council in the coming period. It involves City dollars and is bound to be a major bone of contention in the May election.
In the next weeks, the News-Press will publish campaign announcements from all the candidates who submit them.