MAN ABOUT TOWN SPECIAL EDITION:
Who’s the Next Mayor?
May 5, 2010
It’s all over but the shouting, which broke out last night at Ireland’s 4 Provinces restaurant, informal election night headquarters for the CBC (Citizens for a Better City). The CBC has run this town ever since I’ve lived here, and quite a while before that. Now they’ve lost, and judging from the gossip, one or two key CBC members “lost it” at the 4P’s when they realized that fact. Whole lot of shouting going on.
I’m not a politician, a glad-handler, or a backroom guy. I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and I don’t care what parties the members of City Council or the School Board might belong to – although I think it’s healthy to have a mix.
But despite some vigorous protests expressed on this online newspaper’s comments section, it seems clear to me that CBC members tend to vote as a block. Current City Council makeup is five CBC members and two non-CBC. Come July 1, that equation will change to four non-CBC and three CBC. Hence the hysteria at 4 Provinces.
It’s a healthy change – reminds me of when Mexico’s PRI party finally lost after 70 years in power. But as Mexico learned, just because you get some fresh leadership doesn’t mean your problems are over. The winning non-CBC candidates better party hardy while they can, because when they step into Council Chambers on July 1, the party’s over. They are inheriting a real mess.
Just because the CBC lost power doesn’t mean the budget will stay balanced (and let’s see how long the fund balance can stay solvent even with the huge tax increase).
Just because the CBC lost power doesn’t mean there will be seats for the burgeoning number of pre-schoolers and 1st graders at Mount Daniel Elementary.
Just because the CBC lost power doesn’t mean we’re getting Sunday library days back, or mulch deliveries, or GEORGE bus service, or Easter Egg hunts and Halloween parties. You can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
All politics is local, they say. But I say to the non-CBC winners: take a page from the Obama campaign, and be gracious in victory. You can afford to be conciliatory to the CBC power structure, which at least on election night as I write this must be feeling nearly suicidal.
I don’t want to see a City Council delivering a series of 4-3 votes. I want to see a Council that pulls together for the good of the City. And the best way to start that off is to appoint the best qualified council member as mayor, regardless of affiliation.
Council member Dave Snyder has already served a term as mayor, and has 16 years on the Council to boot. It could be argued that he’s best qualified. Well, no doubt he has more institutional knowledge than anyone else, but the mayor’s role is very different from that of a president – it’s more like the Speaker of the House, who gets one vote, just like all the other members.
We need a mayor who can cajole this disparate group of seven into something cohesive. The long knives need to be put away for a season. And we need to honor the voters. The fact is, the top vote-getter ran on the CBC slate. That’s School Board Chairman Ron Peppe.
One change this city might make is to let the voters elect the mayor. I think it would give us voters more buy-in and maybe even increase turnout, which was disappointingly low this time. But in the meantime, if the non-CBC majority on the new Council wanted to really make a magnanimous start, they would elect the top vote-getter as mayor.
I don’t know Peppe well, so perhaps I’m taking a risk in endorsing him, but what I do know about him is impressive. He doesn’t seem to have enemies. That’s amazing. If I were to fault him it would be because he didn’t speak out strongly on some of the divisive issues of the campaign such as changing the election date and building a new Seniors housing complex. But I realize that’s because he’s a smart politician, and knew the niche that would serve him best. I’m not opposed to smart.
If you’ve read this far, you likely know someone politically influential in this little city. Even more likely, you ARE (or were) someone influential. Do the right thing. Urge the new powers that be not to let that power go to their heads. Let’s have a coordinated, friendly, and helpful transition – one that will help calm the old guard’s fears.
So I say to Dave Snyder, Ira Kaylin, Johannah Barry, and Nader Baroukh: there is a far, far better thing you can do than you have ever done. Give Peppe a chance. Don’t forget — Falls Church is all about the schools, so what could be more appropriate than to elevate a very successful school board chairman to the office of mayor?
And while you’re waiting to do that, go down to Ireland’s 4 Provinces and help the CBC losers clean up all that broken glass.
By George Southern
May 5, 2010