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F.C. Council Candidates Strive To Establish Ways They Differ

The impact of the decision of Falls Church’s venerable civic organization, the Citizens for a Better City, to withdraw this year from its traditional candidate-vetting role has left the seven candidates running for three seats on the Falls Church City Council this spring fending for themselves in ways seldom seen in this city’s history.

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3 OF THE 7 F.C. City Council candidates running in the upcoming May 1 election are shown at the home of Jane Clinton last week: (left to right) Incumbent Mayor Nader Baroukh, William Henneberg and Phil Duncan. (Photo: News-Press)

The impact of the decision of Falls Church’s venerable civic organization, the Citizens for a Better City, to withdraw this year from its traditional candidate-vetting role has left the seven candidates running for three seats on the Falls Church City Council this spring fending for themselves in ways seldom seen in this city’s history.

For the last 50 years, the CBC held a ritual process of vetting, endorsing and backing its preferred slate of candidates for each election. This not only led to cohesive and identifiable collective campaigns for the CBC-blessed candidates, but it also helped to define and bond candidates that did not win, or rejected CBC support.

This election season is more like an Easter egg hunt where participants scatter in all different directions to chase down votes when the whistle is blown.

Time tends to melt away much faster as election days loom, and this year it is just a month out before the May 1 election. It’s quickly moving toward halftime between the deadline for filing to run, and the day of reckoning when voters will decide.

At only two events so far have all seven candidates been in the same room and had the chance to claim why they, and not the other guys (by the way, all the candidates are males), deserve to be elected. Those were at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, when there was time for only two questions from the audience, and from the comfortable living room of Joan Clinton at an informal CBC soiree last week.

The News-Press is currently unaware of any other plans to summon all the candidates under a single roof at a single time for a debate or dialogue. The local League of Women Voters chapter is preparing a voters guide, and the News-Press has invited all the candidates to provide a 400-word campaign statement and photo to run in its April 26 edition. In addition, by Election Day, the News-Press will have provided all the candidates an opportunity to publish an 800-word policy paper (so far, John Lawrence, David Tartar, Phil Duncan and, with today’s edition, Paul Handly have done so).

Yet to weigh in are Mayor Nader Baroukh, Council member Lawrence Webb and William Henneberg.

It should also be noted that there are four candidates for the Falls Church School Board who will also be on the ballot May 1, but they are all running uncontested, which is making their campaigning jobs much easier. Bidding for full four-year terms are incumbents Joan Wodiska and Kieran Sharpe, and Justin Castillo. Running to fill two years of an unexpired term is incumbent Charlotte Hyland.

Will incumbency help or hurt Baroukh or Webb? This is one of the many open questions in the upcoming election. Then there are the “virtual incumbencies” of candidates who have extensive, visible community service, like John Lawrence’s service on the Planning Commission and earlier unsuccessful Council bid, Tartar’s chairmanship of the City’s Economic Development Authority and Duncan’s ubiquitous presence around town for many years, including the fact that that he’s the son in law of former Mayor Carol DeLong.

Although newer faces to the prospective Falls Church voter, Handly brings a lifetime of residency and business venturing in Northern Virginia and the unique idea of following the Shirlington model by establishing a land bank. The same goes for Henneberg, a recent appointee to the Tree Commission, with deep roots (no pun intended) in the community, being a lifelong resident except for college and grad school and a 2003 graduate of George Mason High School.

This is the last election for City Council and School Board in Falls Church that will be held in May. As per the lopsided results of the public referendum last November, beginning in 2013 elections will henceforth be held in conjunction with state elections in November, and it can be expected at that time that turnouts of voters will be considerably higher.

So, while this will be the last election in which a candidate’s appeal to a relatively small segment of concerned voters, including some aroused by very local “not in my back yard” issues, could be decisive at the ballot box.

But compared to the last time Baroukh and Webb ran, for example, some of the hot button issues then have faded, specifically a large-scale City Center plan and a senior affordable housing project in the downtown area. Both have, effectively, gone away, and instead the impact of the Great Recession on the City, and the City’s bumpy ride facing adversarial relations with giant neighbor Fairfax County on the issue of its water system, have arisen in their place.

On technical matters, April 9 is the deadline for citizens to register to vote for the May 1 election. Also, the May 1 election will be the first with the number of voting locations in the City reduced from five to three.

 

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