MAN ABOUT TOWN: Reading the (Next) Mayor’s Mind
June 21, 2010
I kind of feel like Falls Church City’s next mayor has already been chosen. Just a premonition. The vote won’t occur until the new City Council convenes July 1, but the four Council members who will make the decision have been dreaming and scheming since May 4, election night. That’s to be expected – it’s politics.
Who are those four members who will choose our next mayor? That’s where it gets fascinating (if you get excited about local politics). Last week I wrote about clairvoyants, and now I’ll try a little mind reading myself.
We know that incumbent independent Nader Baroukh is united with newly elected independent Council members Ira Kaylin and Johanna Barry. Call them B-K-B. That’s three votes looking for a fourth. The question is whether incumbent independent Dave Snyder will join up. The mercurial Snyder has a political career all over the map: once affiliated with the CBC (Citizens for a Better City), now no longer; once a Republican, now unknown; once on the outs with News-Press publisher Nick Benton, now endorsed by him; once opposed to loaning City money to build a housing project, now in favor.
Snyder would like another term as mayor (his first ended 10 years ago), but he doesn’t have the votes. B-K-B have offered him the vice mayor job in exchange for making Baroukh mayor, but Snyder’s not interested. Once you’ve been top dog, nothing less will satisfy. So Snyder is holding out for a long shot, which I’ll explain in a minute.
Absent Snyder, the Baroukh-Kaylin-Barry trio have paid a call on Councilman Lawrence Webb, who would love to be vice mayor. All Webb has to do is cast that fourth vote for Baroukh, and he gets to be 2nd fiddle. This is the scenario that gives News-Press publisher Benton fits, because it leaves him out in the cold (he has never supported Baroukh).
Webb owes his seat to the CBC, who ran him on their slate two years ago when he was a political unknown. Uniting with three independents in order to further his own career will brand him a Judas. Does he want the job badly enough? Yes, he does, and so you have:
Mayor: Nader Baroukh
Vice Mayor: Lawrence Webb
But wait — like Alan Greenspan, events could prove me wrong. Maybe Webb, after a sleepless night, will waver. It’s really all up to him. Waiting in the wings are fellow CBC members Robin Gardner and Ron Peppe. Add Webb and Snyder’s support, and they trump the B-K-B triumvirate.
Could it happen? Would Gardner, Peppe, and Webb actually back Snyder in a desperate effort to defeat Baroukh? The long shot is Gardner. Her husband detests Snyder, but conceivably she could hold her nose and vote for him in order to block power from B-K-B. Then Webb gets his vice mayor slot and also stays in the CBC fold.
Mayor: Dave Snyder
Vice Mayor: Lawrence Webb
But, but . . . what about Peppe? If the mayor were chosen by popular vote, Peppe would win hands down. He has been a popular School Board chairman, and won the most votes on May 4. Who should choose our mayor, anyway – the “people,” or just four people?
The Man About Town has a message for B-K-B (all of whom are my friends, by the way): Be careful what you wish for. Nader Baroukh, who is both my friend and my neighbor (in that order), would make a fine mayor under normal circumstances. But the next two years of City politics are going to make the last two look like a garden party. Baroukh has plenty of smarts, but he lacks the connections that School Board Chairman Peppe has cultivated. If the City hopes to stay solvent without another big tax hike, the schools will have to take the hit. Expect the proposed school cuts that were spared this year to become a reality next year. Or – expect another double-digit tax increase.
Who would want to be mayor under those circumstances? Ask Mayor Gardner how much fun she’s had this year. And others are competing to take her place? Can you spell masochist?
The person best suited to weather the next two years at the helm is Peppe. In addition to his qualifications, he comes to the Council unburdened by the baggage the other contenders have accumulated. Peppe has truly carved out a “middle of the road” reputation. Is there any way that he will be chosen? I almost had the answer, but my crystal ball clouded over. Without the advantage of a clairvoyant, I can only say that a united Council stands a better chance of surviving the next two years than a divided one. If by some miracle the Council comes together behind Peppe, here’s the lineup:
Mayor: Ron Peppe
Vice Mayor: Nader Baroukh
On July 1 we’ll find out whether the next Council will start off with consensus, or with the first of an endless number of 4-3 votes.
By George Southern
June 21, 2010