Could Gardner Letter Upend Popular Duncan?

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 2, 2015

The revelation was a classic “October Surprise.”

That’s the name long given to the fears of politicians in Washington that something unexpected would come out of the blue at the last minute to change the course of an upcoming November election.

At the Federal level, the fear of a such an event has centered around foreign policy, such as a war or terrorist attack that could have the effect of rallying voters to the incumbent president and away from a challenger. But a last minute scandal also could have the impact of turning the election upside down.

And Falls Church City now has its own October Surprise — the posting on the Internet last month of letters written on behalf of Michael Gardner, the husband of former Mayor Robin Gardner, who recently pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse. The letters, written after his initial conviction in 2012, didn’t attempt to exonerate him, but asked the Arlington Circuit Court for leniency in his sentencing, citing his long public service to the Falls Church City community.

Among those who wrote the letters were some elected officials, along with other well-known local residents. Commissioner of the Revenue Tom Clinton wrote one, although he isn’t up for election this year. City Councilor Phil Duncan also wrote one, and he is standing before the voters tomorrow. Could that letter sweep him out of office?

With no polling on the subject, it’s not clear if there will be any significant impact, but it seems evident that some voters are disappointed in those who wrote the letters and are making their voting decisions at least in part on that issue.

Messrs. Clinton and Duncan both recognized the issue had resonance for many in town, either politically or morally, and quickly moved to apologize publicly for having written them. Mr. Clinton addressed the issue before the City Council during the public comment period, and Mr. Duncan did so from the Council dais after the public comment period ended. He also posted his apology on his Facebook page, and said he had misjudged Mr. Gardner’s character.

It was only a few weeks ago that a City insider predicted to the Times that Mr. Duncan would be the next mayor. But now, with this October surprise, that may be in doubt.

November 2, 2015 


15 Responses to “Could Gardner Letter Upend Popular Duncan?”

  1. TFC on November 2nd, 2015 4:16 pm

    Nicely summarized….without all the drama….”just the facts ma’am”. Hope the trolls don’t spill over to FCT.

  2. Stephen Siegel on November 2nd, 2015 4:20 pm

    Thanks, TFC. Note to everyone: Please keep it civil.

  3. TFC on November 2nd, 2015 5:15 pm


  4. Gail R Opitz on November 2nd, 2015 5:25 pm

    ” Mr. Duncan did so from the Council dais after the public comment period ended. He also posted his apology on his Facebook page, and said he had misjudged Mr. Gardner’s character.” You’re kidding, right?

  5. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church (703) 209-2005 on November 2nd, 2015 6:51 pm

    If anyone wants to speak with me directly on this (or any other) topic, I invite you to call me at (703) 209-2005. If I’m on the line, please leave a message and I will return your call as soon as I can. On Tuesday, I will be outside the polls all day — most of the time at Thomas Jefferson, my home precinct, but also for part of the day at the Community Center and Oakwood. I will have my phone with me, or let’s speak in person. Thank you.

  6. COL Mustard, FCC on November 2nd, 2015 8:52 pm

    I’m not sure this really qualifies as an October Surprise. Review the timeline. Gardner was convicted in late September. Until then, it’s my understanding that the letters were under seal and the parents were under a gag order (along with everyone else in the case). From what I understand, the father of one of the victims got a copy of the letters and while they were posted on another site, there was no political implication on the part of the father.

    Calling this an “October Surprise” has a negative connotation that may not be warranted.

  7. Claude Balz on November 2nd, 2015 8:57 pm

    Mustard, you have to kidding. Not political, HA!

  8. Stephen Siegel on November 2nd, 2015 9:27 pm

    COL Mustard,

    I appreciate your concerns, but I don’t see the October Surprise being negative by definition. As I described it, it’s simply something that changes the electoral landscape at the last minute.

  9. Stephen Siegel on November 2nd, 2015 9:29 pm

    Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone of the Falls Church Times comment policy. You can be anonymous, but not if you’re criticizing others by name. Additionally, you must leave a real name and email address. If you do not, and the Times cannot contact you, your comment is subject to deletion.

  10. Lou Mauro on November 2nd, 2015 9:41 pm

    Congratulations, FCT! Finally making a sensible policy about anonymous comments! Of course, it remains to be seen if you will enforce it.

    TFC. If you recall, the FCT was infested with slimy anonymous trolls before Stephen went silent for some reason and they slithered over to the FCP.

  11. TFC on November 2nd, 2015 11:42 pm

    @Lou, hope you don’t consider me a slime-ball :)
    I do agree with you and hope folks stay “over there”………….
    Tomorrow will be an interesting day in our fair City.

  12. Another FCC Resident on November 3rd, 2015 12:50 am

    In my view, the release of the letters was a good thing (with some sketchy timing) but a good thing. It exposes a lot and people can decide for themselves if they are important enough to change who they will vote for or not.
    I think the tying of the letters in multiple articles and comments “over there” to non-related candidates is not right. I highly disagree with that tactic and that, to me, also shows moral problems.

  13. COL Mustard, FCC on November 3rd, 2015 12:56 am

    Steve, I understand your point. I think I probably was looking at the issue from a different perspective, but I still think that the timing of the release of the documents was based on the resolution of the court case.

    I hope everyone will vote tomorrow and will vote to improve our community.

  14. Jeff P on November 3rd, 2015 7:00 pm

    Phil Duncan should have withdrawn from the election. Tom Clinton should resign. Once upon a time folks took responsibility for their actions. Nowadays they just try to figure out how to wiggle out and retain power in spite of themselves.

    Writing a “character” reference for a convicted child molester because he is in you political cabal shows what you are made of. You have eliminated all doubts about your own character. Thanks for that. That was a public service.

    If you don’t like something I have said, you come look me up. I’ll be happy to explain in no uncertain terms.

    -Jeff Price
    115 Jefferson st

  15. Lou Mauro on November 4th, 2015 3:48 pm

    No, TFC, you are not a slime-ball. Lol. You have been “grand-mothered” into the “OK -anonymous-commenters” club.

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