In Council Race, Incumbents, Mixed-Use Defender Win; Duncan Survives

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 3, 2015

Falls Church City voters were given a golden opportunity on Tuesday to stand athwart 300 Park Avenue and yell stop, or at least time out, before proceeding with any more mixed-use developments. But they declined to do so, defeating the two candidates who called for a moratorium on the controversial projects and sending to the City Council three who generally favor them.

Mayor David Tarter was the Council’s top vote recipient, gaining 25 percent of all votes with a total of 2,344 . He was closely followed by newcomer Letty Hardi, who will take the spot occupied by the departing Nader Baroukh. She gained an impressive 2,223. Incumbent Phil Duncan just squeaked in ahead of Johannah Barry, gaining 1,625 to her 1,544. Sam Mabry was not far behind with 1,462.

Mr. Duncan was likely hurt by the revelation Oct. 20 that he, along with other elected officials and prominent residents, had written a letter to the Arlington County Circuit Court in 2012 on behalf of Michael Gardner, who pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse in September. The letter asked for leniency in sentencing and was written following Mr. Gardner’s initial conviction on the charges. Mr. Duncan apologized after the letters were publicized, saying he had misjudged Mr. Gardner’s character.

Nevertheless, Mr. Duncan prevailed, although it was closer than he no doubt would have preferred.

Taken together, the results suggest City voters are comfortable with the mixed-use projects that became a defining issue in the election.

Mr. Mabry ran a spirited campaign, and played to the uniqueness of Falls Church City and its Little City identity, urging voters to “keep our city little.” Ms. Barry, who had previously supported the Harris Teeter and Tinner Hill projects now nearing completion, sought to return to the Council by suggesting it was time for the City take a breather in order to see just what impacts the two new projects have before approving more.

Many voters clearly agreed, as she and the like-minded Mr. Mabry ran competitively. But in the end, the three winners were those that are identified most closely with the mixed-use developments that are changing the look and feel of the City.

Mr. Tarter, a real estate attorney, was initially elected in part by playing up his knowledge of development issues. But he has been cautious in his support for some projects, including the controversial Mason Row development proposed for the busy corner of Broad and West streets. In fact, he opposed sending the project forward at the Council’s most recent vote. Still, he is not considered to be a vote against mixed-use projects generally, and it could be argued that he occupies a middle ground on the issue.

The surviving Mr. Duncan, by contrast, is generally viewed as the candidate most in favor of such projects. The fact that he won re-election despite the drag of the Gardner letter certainly doesn’t suggest there’s any great groundswell against Mason Row or other similar projects, such as the one now being proposed for Broad and Washington that is said to include a Whole Foods grocery.

Additionally, the strong second place showing of Ms. Hardi also suggests there is considerable support for mixed-use developments. She made no secret of her support for such projects, repeatedly noting that the Broad Street projects centered in the area around the Mad Fox Brewing Company have helped hold the City’s high property tax rate down.

Of course, the results don’t mean voters want to see just any mixed-use developments; they almost certainly want Councilors to exercise care in the vetting of the designs dancing in developers’ heads. But the results also suggest there will not be a moratorium on them, and that more mixed-use projects will probably be on the table going forward.

November 4, 2015 


28 Responses to “In Council Race, Incumbents, Mixed-Use Defender Win; Duncan Survives”

  1. grateful2binfc on November 4th, 2015 2:34 am

    Thank you for having this up tonight in the FCT, Stephen – first place I checked this evening!

  2. COL Mustard, FCC on November 4th, 2015 3:47 am

    Well, it was quite a campaign but the people have spoken. Honestly, I was surprised that Phil survived. Now can we please put this behind us and move forward? Please remember the girls and their families, whether or you have a sign.

  3. Brian Williams on November 4th, 2015 4:14 am

    Thanks for the coverage, Stephen. Great to have you writing again.

    I’d like to think that the election results show in part our city’s resistance to the negative campaigning that was going on, much of it clearly orchestrated by the 5 candidates who banded together early on. They have some reasonable ideas that are worthy of debate, but took on a strategy that was so poisonous that I expect at least some voted against them simply to vote against that style of politics in our city. I would hope that future elections focus on intelligent debate about real issues discussed with transparency and respect.

    Congrats to all the winners and a sincere thanks to all the candidates for working to make our city better.

  4. John Dunbar on November 4th, 2015 4:36 am

    Thank you for posting the results. I so dreaded having to go to the FCNP site and support that awful business with my clicks. I feel like I need a shower after going there.
    I do wonder, good Colonel Mustard, about the contradiction in your post: you say “Now can we please put this behind us and move forward?” and follow that with “Please remember the girls and their families.”
    I think the populace sadly rewarded molester-supporters and rampant, money-first development. However, Barry and Mabry were competitive and I thank them for their efforts, along with those of Kaye, Kutchma, and Smerdon.
    Even Independent Green Terry Modglin did better than to be expected against senator-for-life Dick Saslaw. Thank you, Terry, for your pro-life witness! So many people seem to think the (formerly) Little City is best known for good schools; in fact, most people know it for being home to two abortion clinics (yes, two, in our little city of 2 square miles) and at least one palm reader.
    Pray, hope, and don’t worry!

  5. COL Mustard, FCC on November 4th, 2015 12:02 pm

    John, no contradiction in my statements. I want the community to heal, and I want to make sure people support the girls, and their families.

  6. Lisa Varouxis on November 4th, 2015 6:36 pm

    To the Citizens of the City of Falls Church who are registered, and physically capable, voters yet failed to vote on November 3:

    Shame on you. Please do not complain about any decisions the City Council makes, whether it has to do with school funding, the height/size/location of any new developments, or your taxes. Moreover, do not criticize decisions or actions taken by the School Board. You gave up that right when you failed to cast your vote. Perhaps you will find a way to take the 10 minutes or so out of your busy day the next time elections are held.

  7. Theodore White, Falls Church City on November 5th, 2015 1:48 am

    “Mr. Mabry ran a spirited campaign,” you say. He ran the nastiest, most vicious campaign in the history of Falls Church. I would call it — and him — reprehensible. “The Girls” had nothing to do with this election, and the attempt to use them to smear Phil Duncan was a foul blow to our politics. As far as I’m concerned, Mabry and his “slate” should be run out of town. I’m grateful to our voters for rejecting therm all.

  8. Dale Walton on November 5th, 2015 3:58 am

    I can agree with the description of it being a “spirited” campaign. Nothing wrong with campaigns being rough and tumble which is how I would describe it. Don’t mis-understand, one could view the campaign as crossing the line beyond rough and tumble to some extent….but I personally had no big issue with the campaign and how candidates approached it. There is a tendency around her to have a low threshold of what a tough, aggressive campaign can be. Bottom line – – congratulations to the winners and also to everyone who took the effort to seek office.

  9. Alison Kutchma on November 5th, 2015 12:37 pm

    Brian —

    I have read a lot of comments and articles about a truth that people just create themselves. Your comment is like that.

    I am one of the five candidates you mention in your comment and I did nothing of the sort. I spoke about the issues and mine were the school budget and the lack of detail over which the members deliberate and vote; communications with integrity (ethics etc.); kids in the middle (and I had many people reach out to me privately to state that had been their experience and they too shared my concern;) the Mt. Daniel situation and I talked about giving our teachers more of a voice etc. etc.

    Please explain what evidence you have for making this statement as it relates to me. I find the Falls Church News Press to be worthy of a Nobel Mud Prize when it comes to leading the Mud-slinging by basing an entire article on a statement by a person who came to a committee meeting and spoke with no authority other than she heard people say about their experience from the year before based on not having attended it herself and then calls for the resignation of one member who sat on the committee last year but did not lead it. This was all to smear one person. That person was running for school board so she became the target not the woman who actually chaired the committee during the time that the alleged “terrible environment/situation” existed. (That wouldn’t be logical — she wasn’t running for office.) Somehow all of this (whatever it was) is the fault of one member who attended the meetings. Makes zero sense but that’s the nature of mud. The Falls Church News Press also deleted a long comment critical of Dr. Jones and Justin Castillo. I read it and then it disappeared. Mud and censorship.

  10. David Chavern on November 5th, 2015 2:26 pm

    To be honest, I think it is very hard — anytime, any place — to run “against” incumbent school management. Polling consistently shows that while people bemoan education in general, they believe (or want to believe) that their neighborhood schools are an exception. It is much like how people view Congress. With few exceptions, to be an appealing school board candidate you have to first convey sunny optimism about the future of the schools. This is particularly true about appealing to voters to are relatively new to the jurisdiction.

    As noted in my comments to the FCNP, I think the entire “opposition” in this last election misunderstood the electorate. Not the people they talk to every day, but the real electorate. That means appealing to a whole bunch of people who are either transient or relatively new to the City — who aren’t weighed down by grievances. Contrary to many people’s expectations, I actually want vibrant and differing views on Council and the School Board and I was very heartened by the election this year. (I do think changing to November dates made a positive difference.) But all candidates in the City need to be better “practical politicians” and appeal to the voters we have, not the ones they want to think we have.

  11. Brian Williams on November 5th, 2015 4:06 pm

    Alison –

    My impression of the election was that the majority of the negativity was coming from Sam’s blog. You chose to align yourself in that band of 5 and go along with what I consider to be a very negative strategy to try to win the election. That was your choice.

    I’m glad there were a lot of candidates this year and, for those who managed to see through the muck, there were good points being made on all sides (including you) and reasonable debates to be had. Unfortunately, the cloud of negativity distracted from what otherwise could have been more productive discussions. I fear it also served to discourage qualified people from participating in our local government (either running for election or joining a board/commission).

    All that said, since it didn’t work, I have hope that future candidates will decide that the best strategy is to stick to the issues and try to win on their own ideas and qualifications rather than attacking (either directly or through their allies) their opponents.

    As for the News Press, it’s well known that they are slanted in their views and I think that’s unfortunate. That’s why I like FCT and Stephen’s articles — he provides the most balanced coverage in our city.

  12. Lou Mauro on November 5th, 2015 4:41 pm

    1. David has a good point about the need for challengers to put more effort into appealing more broadly to people who are “either transient or relatively new” and not (yet) “weighed down by grievances.”

    2. Brian. Once again you reveal the ignorance caused by your not being around long enough. What you call “negativity” has always been a part of our local elections, whether directed at challengers or incumbents. And the News-Press has always been an integral driver of that negativity, whether before or after the advent of the online “newspapers.” You want to see “poisonous,” go back and take a look at what the CBCers/News Press were saying about me in 2004.

  13. Lou Mauro on November 5th, 2015 6:21 pm

    And before you and/or Stephan wet your pants,”ignorant” is not intended as an epithet. Consult your Funk and Wagnall”s and you will see that the primary definition simply is “lacking knowledge or awareness.”

  14. George Bromley on November 5th, 2015 6:44 pm

    Falls Church City Dictionary

    City Council – An advisory board for developers.

    Civility – The quality of agreeing with Phil Duncan.

    Negativity – The quality of disagreeing with Nick Benton.

    News-Press – An oracle of wisdom, published weekly.

    Objectivity (in media) – A quality found only at FCT.

    School Board – A governing body that oversees the city council.

    Smart Growth – Any mixed-use development, regardless of location or size.

    Tax Rate – A value set annually, not subject to decline.

    Voters – A group of residents, mostly under the spell of the oracle.

  15. Alison Kutchma on November 5th, 2015 7:39 pm


    Thanks for weighing in, I can’t be responsible for people who comment on a blog. If people think I should be then I just will let them do that.

    I did talk about the issues and now I hear a lot of people talking about Mt. Daniel, communications with integrity and our school budget and I am proud to have been part of that with the other challengers who ran. I think a lot more people are aware of the fact that we spend close to $50 million dollars a year on our schools for 2500 mostly incredibly advantaged children and for that the board deliberates over hand-outs instead of a full spread sheet with every category fully analyzed with at least some of them directly tied to educational outcomes.

    I think a lot more citizens are talking about the fact that our teachers want and need more of a voice and a safe place to voice concerns if they are going to stick around. Many more people are much more interested in our ESOL program and what happens there and finally yes many more people are interested in what happens in our special education program and even what happens at our monthly special education advisory committee meetings (last one — standing room only and someone was running a live feed.) So all in all I am very proud of my campaign and for all of the above reasons I think it was a grand success.

  16. Brian Williams on November 5th, 2015 8:06 pm


    Again, all good issues. I, too, am glad people are talking about them and I’m happy to give you and all the candidates some credit for that.

    To be clear, I’m not talking about blog comments. I’m talking about the blog that Sam (and others) created and publish articles on. You chose to be associated with all of that stuff, which is certainly your right to do.

  17. Lou Mauro on November 5th, 2015 11:12 pm

    Ha Ha! George. That is great!! May I share it? With attribution, of course.

  18. COL Mustard, FCC on November 5th, 2015 11:52 pm

    George, you almost had to buy me a new iPad. I laughed out loud at your dictionary. Thanks!

  19. Dale Walton on November 6th, 2015 12:04 am

    George, good to hear you speak up and take the time to write this and describe with creativity and humor.

  20. Ira Kaylin on November 6th, 2015 5:20 am


    It is great to have you both back!! Stephen you have published an excellent suite of articles. George I never knew you had such a wonderful sense of humor. We all hope to hear more from both of you.

    @ Brian

    When I noticed your comment I thought you were referring to the comment stream on the Post. Clearly the use of “anonymous” posts has created some commentary, from all sides, not tethered to facts or informed opinions. In that regard I think the Times’ comment policy makes a lot of sense.

    However, you mentioned that it was actual articles that were too negative, i.e. poisonous. I assume you are referring, at least partly,to me since I published a couple of articles expressing my view that the so called “optimistic” view was based on hope rather than observable facts or analysis. If not to whom are you referring?

    If I recall from many of our previous on line exchanges you are a firm believer that economic development is the lynch pin of the City’s sustainability. I had fully agreed with that view and had, in fact, supported the Harris Teeter and Tinner Hil projects. Both are expected to provide substantial net income, though maybe less than projected due to the limitations of the existing Net Fiscal Impact Model.

    You have, if memory serves, recognized the need to retain those residents who do not have children in the Schools. A number of these residents are pensioners living off of fixed incomes. You recognized that their lower public cost are a net benefit to the City’s Balance Sheet while families with children in schools are a net negative (in Balance Sheet terms). Following that logic you also recognized that if families with school children moved in to these homes there would be added pressure on public service costs.

    If I recall you (perhaps it was Andy) went so far as to consider an expanded real estate tax deferment plan to facilitate retention.

    Your conclusion was/is that economic development would solve the Balance Sheet problem. Taxes would stabilize and, at the same time, school funding could be increased.

    Well, school funding has grown about twice as fast as overall City revenue (including real estate assessment growth and the fiscal benefits from all of the recent mixed use development). Moreover the School Board is projecting significant enrollment increases. The fact that taxes are lower than they would have been absent the MUDs is true but there must be a “bridge” to something if we are to solve the never ending pressure on City services. That pressure is not solely for school enrollment growth but also long term capital requirements generated by a 1/3 increase in the population size of the City.

    At the moment economic development does not appear to be that “bridge”. Brian do you have any Excel spreadsheet projections that show how much development would be required to cover expected City cost increases over the next five or ten years? If you haven’t undertaken that analysis how do you know that I am being too negative? If you have done that analysis please call and we can review your findings.

    In recognition of the limitations of the current Net Fiscal Model the Economic Development Authority with the City’s Economic Development Office hosted a meeting with the Model’s developers to see how the model could be updated and improved. It is a shame that you were unable to attend the meeting.

  21. Brian Williams on November 6th, 2015 5:57 am

    @ Ira

    Indeed, I was disappointed to have to miss the meeting this week as I was traveling for work. I have been a vocal supporter of revisiting the model to ensure it’s as accurate as can be. I’m looking forward to catching up on the results of that discussion soon.

    The topic you bring up isn’t the negativity I was referring to in terms of the campaigning, but it’s a good topic to discuss.

    I’d be interested to see a 10 and 20 year projection of how the city’s finances would compare assuming (b) no new mixed use projects vs. (b) 5-6 of them (e.g., Mason Row, Whole Foods, GMHS portion, etc.). I assume we need the updated models from the EDO to guide us (and make some logical assumptions), but have you done any of your own analysis for this kind of comparison?

  22. Ira Kaylin on November 7th, 2015 5:13 am

    @ Brian

    Thank you for your response. The discussions regarding the fiscal model are on-going so there should be time for you to participate.

    To answer your last question both John Lemoine (a retired International Monetary Fund, PhD economist and long time Falls Church resident) and I have invested a great deal of time analyzing the model. We have discovered that the mathematics of the model produce some counter intuitive results, for example, that mixed use projects appear more desirable (in net fiscal terms) as the provision of City services declines. That is the model appears to have what is called an “upward” bias. More work will need to done to measure the significance of these “biases” or whether there are “biases” in the opposite direction that have not been detected.
    I believe that the projections and the assumptions would be a joint effort between the CFO and the EDO.

    You mentioned that “The topic you bring up isn’t the negativity I was referring to in terms of the campaigning, but it’s a good topic to discuss”.

    I would like to follow up on your suggestion, could you please provide an example of the negativity to which your refer, especially those “campaign” articles that you believe to be “poisonous”. You have been straightforward in your view, and to your credit, have posted using your own name.

    I can speculate as to what you are referring but I would strongly prefer to hear it directly from you. In particular I would be specifically interested in what constitutes a “poisonous” comment.

    Thank you in advance.


  23. Brian Williams on November 7th, 2015 3:54 pm

    @ Ira

    I’m glad you’re digging into the model. My understanding is that TischlerBise is one of the best consultants in the country doing this kind of analysis. That said, I would hope that any reasonable questions our community can ask regarding their model would help make the end result more accurate and useful for the specific challenges our city faces.

    If I understand your discovery, you’re saying that the mixed use projects appear financially favorable because they don’t account for investments needed to improve services? Or are you referring to the “tipping point” problem? I look forward to working with the EDO and CFO to help make sure the model provides objective guidance to city council with regard to the financial impact of future projects.

    Have you done analysis on the existing projects that have been built in the past decade and their economic impact?

    Regarding the negativity, you misread my comment. When I said “it’s a good topic to discuss” the topic I was referring to was the economic impact of mixed use projects, not the negativity of the campaign and your blog. To be blunt, I doubt it’s worthwhile to discuss the negativity issue with you.

    Frankly, if you don’t understand what I’m referring to, all the explanation in the world isn’t going to help. I’ve talked with you about this over the years and we will simply never see eye-to-eye. Your blog took it to a new level this year and does a disservice to our community, in my opinion. It’s disappointing to me because, as I’ve said many times, somewhere in all the negativity are some valid, important points that would make our city better if we could discuss them openly.

    However, I find the approach you, Sam, and whomever else is behind it take drives most reasonable people understandably to disregard much of what’s shared there. But, it’s certainly your right to take whatever approach you’d like, and it’s my right to be critical of the approach. We’ll just have to disagree.

  24. Lou Mauro on November 7th, 2015 9:41 pm

    Brian. Ira asks for examples of negativity and you say you doubt it’s worth discussing and that all the explanation in the world will not help. That is the lamest of excuses, typically used by arrogant people who cannot or will not support or provide any evidence or backup for what they say. That,”frankly,” is what “drives most reasonable people understandably to disregard much of” what you and others who take that “approach” say. And it is representative of what is so wrong with the way our City and schools are governed.

  25. Ira Kaylin on November 8th, 2015 10:19 pm


    As to the technical issue I was not referring to “tipping point” or the variables that are being used. That will be discussed at a later date. I was referring to the mathematics of the model, i.e., the manner in which the numbers are inter related and calculated. TischlerBise, at the EDA meeting, agreed that the concerns raised by John and me are valid.

    Brian we are not saying that the concept of having a Net Income Model is invalid were are saying exactly the same thing as the City Manger and EDO are saying—the model needs to be updated and upgraded.

    Considering that the candidates that you, no doubt, supported won the election I don’t understand the angry tone of your last comment. Please reread your “good topic to discuss” sentence. I do not think my interpretation is unreasonable.

    In spite of your proclaimed aversion to negativity all your comments are declarative “negative statements”. There is no supporting data or thought process. You state that some of the articles and views that are published in the Post have valid points but are lost in all the “negativity”. However, you have never mentioned one example of a valid point that was “lost”. It appears that your efforts to demonstrate your “reasonableness” are hollow.

    The negativity agenda is one that Nick Benton has aggressively pursued. In fact it appears that in his Editorial lamenting all the negativity and “vitriol” of the campaign half of the negative comments can be traced to the News Press or to unknown sources who do not appear to be real individuals. Benton has added a new dimension to the concept of “negativity”. He and his friend, the author of the Blue Weeds blog, did more damage to civil discourse in Falls Church than any other individuals in the City.

    Have you ever criticized his “negativity” or does he say the things you like to hear?

    I think your last paragraph is misleading. You say, ” However, I find the approach you, Sam, and whomever else is behind it take drives most reasonable people understandably to disregard much of what’s shared there. But, it’s certainly your right to take whatever approach you’d like, and it’s my right to be critical of the approach. We’ll just have to disagree”. This piece of “even handedness” was preceded by …” Your blog took it (negativity) to a new level this year and does a disservice to our community, in my opinion. It’s disappointing to me because, as I’ve said many times, somewhere in all the negativity are some valid, important points that would make our city better if we could discuss them openly.

    You are not reaffirming our 1st Amendment Rights you are implying that opinions should not be presented in manner to which you disagree. It appears that you are equating strong differences of opinion with being “negative”. We are now in the terrain of “social censorship” in which tone trumps substance and disagreements, while permitted, can not be critical (as determined by you) or direct.

    If you have specifics backing up your “even handedness” please provide them.

  26. Brian Williams on November 9th, 2015 12:08 pm

    @ Ira

    I’m not angry.

    I have been critical of the FCNP in the past and will continue to be unless they change their approach.

    I’m not opposing strong differences of opinion. Quite the contrary. I am, once again, offering neighborly advice for how, in my opinion, good ideas can be most effectively shared and debated in a community such as ours. You disagree, which is fine, so carry on.

  27. Ira Kaylin on November 9th, 2015 7:44 pm


    So that’s your story and your sticking to it.

    Since you are providing “neighborly” advice here is some for you. Value judgments such as being too “negative” add nothing to the type of well reasoned thoughtful debates that are the most productive. If you have a fact based rationale, or a least a supporting logic for why you disagree you should present it. There may be other readers of the Falls Church Times who may be interested as well.

    Brian you have declared that, “I have been critical of the FCNP in the past and will continue to be unless they change their approach”. Could we get just a little bit more information. The only comment that comes to mind is one made to the above article in which you state “… it’s well known that they (News Press) are slanted in their views and I think that’s unfortunate…”. Did you ever inform the News Press of your view? Did you ask them to change their approach?

    During the recently completed election cycle could you provide just one example of where you publicly criticized the News Press. Actually any example of a public criticism from any time, other than the one noted, would be appreciated.

  28. Brian Williams on November 9th, 2015 10:09 pm

    @ Ira

    I don’t carefully keep track of my online comments, but you’re welcome to hunt around and find them. I also “publicly” criticize the FCNP in discussions with neighbors often, though those discussions aren’t recorded (to my knowledge) so you’ll just have to trust me.

    In terms of informing the FCNP, I haven’t directly contacted them because I don’t know them personally. I’ve never spoken with Nick Benton other than a polite hello when passing him at city hall. I have had the pleasure of speaking with you on many occasions, hence my willingness to offer up the neighborly advice.

Feel free to leave a comment. Please increase the credibility of your post by including your FULL NAME and CITY. All comments are subject to editing for courtesy and content.