Who’s the Next Mayor?

Falls Church Times Columnist

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.

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By George Southern
May 5, 2010 


Who’s the Next Mayor?”

  1. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 5th, 2010 9:45 am

    Hey, George and I agree on two things! I’d also like to see Mr. Peppe as our next mayor and I’d also like to look into the feasibility of allowing the mayor to be elected directly by the people (sometime in the future).

  2. Lindy Hockenberry City of Falls Church on May 5th, 2010 1:30 pm

    Oh, George that last sentence was very expressive, but wasn’t needed. You also need to put away your long knives and help to bring a more cooperative attitude within our diverse community.

  3. Lloyd Crowther on May 5th, 2010 2:03 pm

    My only reservation about Mr. Peppe serving as mayor is the possibility he will not be available at some critical time, given that his work takes him overseas. Since I’ve gone through the overseas visiting routine myself, it has been a consideration since I first read his answers to your questionnaire. I noted on the FNP website last night that he was leaving today on a 22 hour flight overseas to assist some country with its election. This being said, I know very little about Mr. Peppe and I wish him every success, both on the council and at work.

    Speaking of the FCNP web site, this is the first time I visited it on an election night (and maybe the third or fourth time ever). I was hungry to learn the election results before I went to bed but found no FCT coverage, so I went to that web page with little expectation. l thought the moment by moment coverage of the CBC post-election gathering was very good, and by bedtime I had followed the ups and downs of the hopes and realities of that group until I felt like I was on site with them, even when the blame (name) calling began.

    While I am spreading good words around, I’d like to thank whoever totally cleaned my entire neighborhood of every political sign before I took my dog for a walk this morning. It was a very nice touch!

    How about electing the Planning Board while we’re at it?

  4. Ron Peppe (Falls Church City) on May 5th, 2010 2:17 pm

    I do want to clarify one thing that Mr, Crowther said — I am not the candidate who goes overseas frequently — that would be John Lawrence, who is taking his well deserved rest on the way to the Philippines right now. I do not travel overseas for work (though I do go to Canada from time to time — it was snowing in Quebec last week!).

    As many folks had already said, I hope we can find a consensus among the new council for the mayor position. In my mind, the role has to focus on facilitating communication, transparency, and open dialogue among the council and between the council and public (and staff). I have spent a total of about 7 years as a school board chair — almost 5 in MD and 2 here, and I learned during that time that the chair of a group like this has only one vote, and needs to help all the members work together if we expect to get anything done.

    I spoke with each of the current and incoming council members last night (except one who was not available, so I left a message), and everyone seemed very enthusiastic about working together and getting things off right from the start.

    I do want to thank EVERYONE who worked on this election, from all of the candidates, to everyone who worked on the campaign, and ESPECIALLY the folks who took the time to come out and vote.

    I have received a bunch of emails with suggestions this morning, and am listening and taking notes.


  5. Pat Harmond (Falls Church) on May 5th, 2010 4:04 pm


    First off, let me thank you for your tireless service to our community, as a teacher, on the City Council, and on other local boards.

    Now, in regards to George’s comments, I do see how that could be taken the wrong way. The fact of the matter is, though, that he’s simply making light of the situation by commenting not on the CBC leaders themselves, but rather on their extreme and uncalled for reactions last night.

    George has shown time and time again that he absolutely does believe in cooperation – just look at this article. His comments are mild compared to what we heard throughout the campaign from Mike Gardner. So while I applaud your efforts to help build a more respectful and cooperative community, I regrettably cannot see them as anything but politically motivated if you refuse to take the same stance against Gardner, one of your supporters.

  6. Lloyd Crowther, FCC on May 5th, 2010 4:49 pm

    My sincere appology to Mr. Peppe for mixing people up. I get kind of muddled in the evening (and some times in the morning too). I repeat my sincere wishes for his successful adventure on the City Council. In MHO all of the newly elected Council Members will need all the good luck they can muster to straighten out the problems they are facing in these troubled times – Go do your best, folks, that’s all we can ask.

  7. Lindy Hockenberry City of Falls Church on May 5th, 2010 9:07 pm

    Pat, I have spoken with Michael. My concern is that George was not there last night and I don’t think that you were. George’s “creative ” writing went a little too far in creating a picture of the situation that was not just about one confrontation—that’s all. Yes, I will always work on cooperative efforts and positive attitudes and I would love to see a more positive attitude from George and I’ve told him that too.

  8. Pat Harmond (Falls Church) on May 5th, 2010 9:10 pm

    That’s all I needed to hear, so thank you for your efforts.

    And no, I wasn’t there. I’m beginning to wish I had been, though!

  9. Peggy Monahan, Falls Church on May 6th, 2010 11:37 am

    George, I would agree with you about electing the top vote-getter in this election for mayor (I voted for Mr. Peppe), except that criteria automatically excludes all incumbents who did not have to run. They should not be penalized from the get-go just because their terms have not yet expired, and I hope the Council takes all pertinent factors/qualifications + character into consideration.

    On a personal note, those of us who know you (disclaimer: we’re next-door neighbors),”get” your tone . Keep doing what you’re doing. That’s why it’s called an opinion piece. You’re entitled to it, and you do it well.

  10. Barry Buschow on May 6th, 2010 12:15 pm

    Electing the Mayor was on my response to the FCT questions to the candidates. Essentially candidates run expressly for the Mayor position, like Fairfax City. If you do not win you are out, you don’t become a Council member because you recieved more votes than those running for Council alone.

    Lloyd, you can thank Tom Clinton and Dr. Theisz from CBC for getting the CBC signs up. I still see many other signs out there and several in illegal spots.

  11. Barry Buschow on May 6th, 2010 12:21 pm

    Sorry, forgot to say that Ron Peppe would make an EXCELLENT Mayor. The best thing that came out of this election for me was having the opportunity to work with some very excellent people, that have a lot of experience in our community and are willing to work together to get the job done……

  12. Victoria Kwasiborski (Falls Church City) on May 6th, 2010 1:21 pm

    I think Mr. Peppe should get his feet wet as Councilman first. I’d like to see Mr. Webb as Mayor. Unless I missed something, of our current Council members he’s the first to congratulate and to publicly pledge to work with the newly elected Council members-a mayoral-like statement.

  13. Charlie Anderson, City of Falls Church on May 6th, 2010 1:53 pm

    Webb would make a fine mayor – he defintely has the peacemaking ability, but Peppe has no need to get his feet wet – he has proven his abilities on the School Board, especially in financial management which is one of the City’s biggest issues right now. Either one would be a fine mayor.

    Any thoughts on Snyder as mayor? I think the constant in-fighting between him and the current mayor disqualify him in terms of being able to work together.

  14. Victoria Kwasiborski (Falls Church City) on May 6th, 2010 2:33 pm

    Exactly. Mr. Webb can be peacemaker while Mr. Peppe talks finances. How about Mr. Webb as Mayor and Mr. Peppe as Vice-Mayor?

  15. Mike Novotny on May 6th, 2010 2:39 pm

    Seems to me Mr. Baroukh should be part of this discussion as well. In fact if Mr. Baroukh and Mr. Webb shared the two top spots of mayor and vice I think it would be a very strong combination, and bridge any potential factions in the new council.

    Both are smart, very capable and have two years Council under their belts. And I’ve watched Baroukh stand up for issues critical to the City time and time again despite being marginalized by the current mayor. Someone able to work through that while still getting some really important work done (ie. 5-year budget planning resolution, Long-term Financial Working Group, challenging the City Manager’s initial budget, etc.) is worthy of consideration.

    Mr. Peppe also seems smart and capable, I’m happy he was elected to Council, but I think having two years experience on Council first would go a long way to making a quick transition and being the most effective in the mayor role.

  16. Brenda Rogers, City of Falls Church on May 7th, 2010 1:12 pm

    I agree a strong combination that would bring the Council together:

    Mayor: Nader Baroukh
    Vice-Mayor: Lawrence Webb

    Let’s see the Council make the right choice and not just talk a talk and really show that they want to work together for the better of our Little City.

  17. Lauren Buonaugurio, Falls Church City on May 8th, 2010 3:08 am

    I know Mr. Peppe and his family personally and based on his ability to juggle his work, school board responsibilities, two children in college (one of whom is out of state) and still maintain the ability to run for City Council and gain the most votes, I think he is well equipped to handle the position of mayor. He is a great father, husband and friend and I think he would be an excellent mayor as well.

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