Local Commentary

Editorial: F.C.’s Council Of Incumbents

Generally overlooked in the November 2019 City of Falls Church municipal election last month was an historic result. It marked the first time since the incorporation of the city as an independent jurisdiction in 1947 that all three incumbent candidates, seeking re-election to new four year terms, won.

Considering there are elections for City Council every two years in Falls Church, this is no mean feat. There was a stretch from 1988 to 2002, for example, when there was a new mayor elected, albeit by the seven-member Council, each and every two years. While the Council did that electing, the succession of seven different mayors in 14 years was reflective of who was on the Council and who was not, and the high turnover rate. (Who can name all seven of those mayors?) In that tumultuous time, the City’s citizens fought energetically over whether or not the City needed to adopt a more robust regional economic development posture.

The News-Press stepped into this fray near its outset, in March 1991, with its strident, unrelenting pro-growth, pro-schools editorial slant (the relatively unappreciated notion then that one spurs the other) to help stir the debate.

By the time Dan Gardner was sworn into a second term as mayor in 2002, the battle for progress was almost won with the approval of the first two large-scale mixed-use projects, The Broadway and The Byron, in the 400-500 block of W. Broad. Garnder wound up serving a third term until 2006, and he was succeeded then by Robin Gardner (no relation) who logged in two successive terms to 2010.

But by then the Great Recession was taking its toll, derailing the biggest new project of all and plunging the City into near fiscal peril when neighboring Fairfax County challenged the City’s operation of its 120-mile long water system. It was compounded by the passing of the City’s most progressive City Manager ever, Dan McKeever, in 2006.

The mayor elected in 2010, Nader Baroukh, allied with two new fiscally conservative Council members attempting to slow the growth in the City, but by 2014 the mood had changed back to a more progressive posture in the City and current Mayor David Tarter, former chair of the Economic Development Authority, was elected mayor and re-elected in 2016 and 2018. The Council is expected to re-elect him again in January. It would make him only the second mayor in the City’s history to serve four successive terms (Carol DeLong, mother-in-law of current City Councilman Phil Duncan, served from 1980-1988).

Along with his fourth consecutive general election victory last month, Duncan’s third and Letty Hardi’s second, the three incumbents are now poised to oversea their greatest achievement yet, the massive West End Development Plan including the new high school and 10 acres of dense economic development, eying collaboration with their neighbors for something really big.