COMMUNITY COMMENT: The Voting Date Referendum: Remain Independent or Fall Prey to State Party Politics?

November 1, 2011

The November 8th referendum on voting in Falls Church is about much more than deciding what date to hold local elections; it is about the very democratic system under which we live. Since its creation, the City of Falls Church has held independent, local issue-focused elections that are separate from state and federal elections. This has worked well for the City. Now, however, some people want to change this approach and make our independent-based local political system more like the party-controlled system in Richmond, and even Washington.

There is mounting pressure coming from political machine-dominated Richmond to force local elections and issues onto state or federal Election Days in November, virtually assuring that the two major parties will control the candidates for whom we have the opportunity to vote. So far, the pressure has been in the form of statutes and fines that dissuade localities from continuing to hold local elections in May. However, according to the Washington Post, there is now additional movement to make municipal elections partisan, just as state elections already are, leading to the dysfunctional government we have in Richmond. [See “Virginia Ballots Skimp on Party Affiliation,” Metro section, October 26, 2011.]

By moving local elections from May to November, the City would hasten the day when our system would resemble the one in Richmond where two well-heeled, special interest-driven machines determine who our candidates are and require those candidates to adhere to rigid orthodoxies, until one of the parties achieves total dominance. Then that one party effectively selects who is elected, as is the case in the majority of the state legislative districts in Virginia. [See the Washington Post editorial “RIP Democracy in Virginia,” October 26, 2011.]

By contrast, citizens in Falls Church currently have a wider selection of candidates for local offices, including a pool of talented federal civil servants who, as a result of the so-called Hatch Act, are prohibited from running for office in partisan elections. Indeed, any resident of Falls Church can run for City Council or School Board because we have independent local elections: just get a relatively small number of signatures of registered voters, and you’re on the ballot. Further, we are probably one of the last few jurisdictions in a major metropolitan area where you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to successfully run for political office or swear allegiance to a political machine and its beliefs. No, here you only need listen to voters, have good ideas, and work hard to be elected and to serve.

Some who argue for November elections would like to believe we can preserve our independence and switch to state or federal-based elections by amending the City’s charter to safeguard non-partisan elections. But such a charter change requires the vote of the General Assembly, the same body that is pushing for more partisanship in local elections. And, a non-partisan clause relies for sponsorship on our own likely new State Senator, Richard L. Saslaw, who as Senate Majority Leader clearly has done well in the Richmond political environment and equally clearly stated his support for November elections in Falls Church.

So the referendum isn’t about just May or November. This vote one week from today is about how we define democracy and opportunities for citizen involvement in our Falls Church local government. A vote for May (“No” to the referendum) will help preserve true independence, assuring that any of our citizens has a real chance to hold office. A vote for November (“Yes” to the referendum) is a vote that increases the risk of being swept into the machine-driven system in Richmond, where the party apparatus determines who you vote for and demands adherence to party dogma.

David F. Snyder is Vice Mayor of Falls Church City

This is the first in a series of four Community Comments regarding next week’s referendum on moving City elections from May to November. The four commentaries include two opponents of the change – Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Edie Smolenski, a private citizen active in local civic organizations – and two advocates of the change – City Councilman Lawrence Webb and Robert Loftur-Thun, also a private citizen active in local civic organizations.

Those interested in the referendum also are encouraged to watch the Town Hall programs on FCC-TV. A link to the schedule is available here.

November 1, 2011 


12 Responses to “COMMUNITY COMMENT: The Voting Date Referendum: Remain Independent or Fall Prey to State Party Politics?”

  1. Peggy Monahan on November 1st, 2011 6:11 am

    Save the city money + better turnout = November election.

  2. COL Mustard on November 1st, 2011 9:04 am

    In matters such as this, I ask myself one simple question: What would the FCNP recommend? Then I do the opposite.

  3. D. Wayne Jones on November 1st, 2011 10:34 am

    Or, what would Col Mustard do, then do the opposite. Maybe you should look at the facts and then formulate your own decision. Then, you are not succumbing to any person or party agenda or pressure.

  4. Michael Baker Falls Church on November 1st, 2011 8:27 pm

    November Elections + Current Political Parties = End of Independent and Local Community Control of Their Local Offices.
    Neither the Tea-party Ultra-Conservative agenda nor the Pseudo-Liberal Democratic agenda has anything to add to the needs and desires of Falls Church. I want political action committees and their money banned from Falls Church. Any candidate for local office that seeks or receives a political party endorsement should be immediately disqualified as having something other than the best interests of Falls Church at the heart of their campaign. We should do anything we can to resist attempts to politicize our LOCAL elections.
    Those who are pushing for the change can’t stand the thought of independent, intelligent, voters who don’t kowtow to any political litmus test or unelected pundit and decide what’s best for their community regardless of what any party tries to tell them.

  5. Mike Novotny on November 2nd, 2011 12:35 am

    Dave, excellent piece, totally agree. Here is something I posted on the other election thread that I think speaks to one of your points:

    Some folks were asking about who paid for the yard signs…see the list below.

    Typically I have no issue with folks donating money to a cause, but why are State Delegate Jim Scott (D) and State Senator Richard Saslaw (D) both on this list? Are they trying to save our City a few bucks, or maybe it’s because statistically a November election gives party candidates an advantage.

    I consider myself independent especially on local issues and hope to see our City stay that way, I’ll be voting “no” on the referendum.

    Political Committee Report
    Falls Church Votes
    Filing Period : – 10/26/2011
    Renee Andrews $100
    Nicholas Benton $500
    Mike Beyer $100
    Citizens for Jim Scott $200
    Tom Clinton $100
    Sally Cole $50
    Katie Emmons $50
    Lindy Hockenberry $100
    Catherine Kaye $200
    Julie Kratchman $50
    Charles Langalis $30
    Hal Lippman $100
    Hal Morgan $100
    Chris Oconnor $30
    Reric Pelton $20
    Leah Porzel $100
    Salslaw for Senate $1,000
    Kent Taylor $25
    Robert Young $500

  6. George Franklin on November 2nd, 2011 10:06 am

    So this is what Mr. Snyder says about the Election Referendum, “it is about the very democratic system under which we live” and exactly how would a higher turnout and more people participating in electing those few people who run our City Government and City School System actually harm our Falls Church City democratic system? There is no vote that is more important than a local vote, so why not have more of them?

    When voter turnout in May elections was 40-50%, as it was in the past, this topic would have never come up, but it hasn’t been that high for decades. It just hit a new all-time low of 24% in the latest election, and that was a very contested election, during very difficult financial times. Should we wait until it hits 10% voter turnout like in Manassas Park before they did something about it and they moved theirs to November, before we are concerned about our decling voter turnout here?

    He goes on to say “our system would resemble the one in Richmond where two well-heeled, special interest-driven machines determine who our candidates are and require those candidates to adhere to rigid orthodoxies”. This too is interesting as I never heard anyone say they wanted Falls Church City to resemble what happens in Richmond whether they like May elections or November elections.

    But Mr. Snyder, not too long ago, did run as an identiifed Republican for the House of Delegates seat that represents Falls Church City in Richmond no less, all the while he was taking money from some of the same people that he railed against in his column above, and then he used that same partisan political money he solicited to then fund his subsequent “non partisan” City Council campaign. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! A real hypocrite. It’s all in the campaign finance reports.

    Will Mr. Novotny go looking through those reports? I doubt it. I saw Mr. Novotny vote recently in a Democratic Primary but I have never seen Democractic signs in his yard nor did I ever see him at a FCC Democratic Committee meeting? Strange?

    Don’t let anyone tell you that partisan politics haven’t already been a factor in May elections. Ask Bruce Swenson, the Chairman of the Falls Church City Republican Committee, what he did in the last May election? He is also the same one that won’t agree to having non-partisan elections made a part of our City Charter, and he didn’t show up at the CBC/VPIS Forum on the Election Referendum to explain the committee’s position, or release any kind of statement about this topic from the FCC Republican Committee.

    Why is Mr. Snyder so afraid of November elections? He has shown that he has been able to win in May elections four different times (in a City with a Democratic majority) and has been elected by fellow City Council members to both Mayor and Vice Mayor (twice) positions. He is on record as saying that he will respect the will of the people on this Election Referendum decision. He should have no problem with more people voting on his record. Be aware of people who say one thing and do another.

  7. Mike Novotny on November 2nd, 2011 12:06 pm

    George, I’m socially liberal, fiscally conservative. More inclined to vote Democrat so does that make me a Blue dog? I don’t know, maybe.

    But when it comes to local politics I am “fiercely Independent” and feel very strongly there is no reason to declare or rely on party affiliation. Issues and facts matter to me, not party. And I am proud to live in a City that has supported that same ideal in its elections since its inception.

    I really don’t care what Dave’s affiliation is, on this point he is correct and I will support him.

    Moving elections to November is a numbers game and a partisan move. The voter increase will be largely due to uninformed voters casting their ballot along party lines. And since FCC is predominantly Democrat, it practically ensures the Democrat-party candidates always win, period.

    I don’t know about you, but I appreciate having a difference of opinions at the local level. And I love the fact that Democrat, Republican and Independent candidates currently have an “unobstructed” opportunity to run for office on local issues, not along party lines.

  8. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church on November 2nd, 2011 12:34 pm

    Thanks very much to Mike Novotny for posting the list of folks who’ve contributed to the YES effort to hold local elections in November. I recognize nearly all of these contributors as active in various worthy civic organizations and community causes — helping the schools, promoting local businesses and working to bring in new ones, planting trees with VPIS, assisting people with housing needs, and yes, even serving in elective office (politicians can be people, too!)

    The news here seems to be that the YES cause is supported by a cross-section of citizens, young and older, who have a progressive outlook, and so, naturally, they endorse holding our local elections at a time when it is indisputable that more people will vote.

    I suppose it’s possible that having more people voting will lead to calamity and ruination in the Little City. But the people asking for a YES vote just have a more hopeful view, I guess, about the potential upside for our City of including more people in the discussion about local issues and priorities. Government is best when it derives its consent from the largest possible number of the citizens who are governed.

    I appreciate the politicians and other good citizens who are investing time and energy to argue “no” — Mayor Baroukh, Vice Mayor Snyder, Mike Novotny, etc. I know them, too, they are very fine people, valuable civic contributors, and on many issues I see eye-to-eye with them.

    But on the referendum question, I’m proud to be associated with the YES contributors listed above, and with the many other folks I talk to around town who tell me “November, of course.” I wish I’d written a little check in time to be included in the YES financial report. We do have two YES signs up in the yard. Since we live on busy S. West St., hopefully they’ll remind EVERYONE to get out and vote Nov. 8, so we can settle this election-date matter and move on to other important issues facing our City.

  9. Lou Mauro on November 2nd, 2011 5:51 pm

    No one is saying politicians can’t be people too. Of course they can. And are. Most of the people on the yard sign list are fine people who contribute in many ways to our City. That, however, is not the issue. The issue is keeping partisan politics out of Council and School Board nominations and elections. For example, in my opinion, it would have been bad enough if the contributions made by politicians Saslaw and Scott in an attempt to influence a local Falls Church referendum issue were only personal. But it appears to be even worse: the contributions seem to have come from campaign funds. What’s next? Push calls? Totally inappropriate, especially in light of all the assurances by the YES folks that moving our local elections to November would not result in their being caught up in partisan politics. If anyone still needs a reason to Vote NO on November 8, there it is.

  10. FCC Resident on November 2nd, 2011 11:22 pm

    I view FCC issues/elections totally and absolutely separately from how I view National elections; the criteria I vote on are not parallel at all. The issues we have facing the City directly affect us and gives us the power to vote on the actions of the City Council.

    To try to blend the two elections is a travesty for this City and the list of those donors Mike posted illustrates the problem we have here – partisan concerns and NOT City concerns.

  11. George Franklin on November 3rd, 2011 7:46 am

    FCC Resident how can you say that “the list of those donors Mike posted illustrates the problem we have here – partisan concerns and NOT City concerns”. Can you look though everyone’s soul and precisely tell what motivates them all the time? If yes, then you are wasting your time and talents on this silly blog. I can’t even do that with my own wife and we’ve been together for decades! Maybe you can help me with my kid’s motivations and save me, and their teachers, a lot of headaches?

    These are people that have given an awful lot to this community, I would easily say more than most. I don’t have to agree with someone, or them, all the time, or even some of the time, to recognize that they help contribute to what makes Falls Church City great. I have learned to be very civil with people that I would never be on the same philospohical, economic or political wavelength as me.

    Your first comment sounds like an endorsement for November elections “I view FCC issues/elections totally and absolutely separately from how I view National elections; the criteria I vote on are not parallel at all. The issues we have facing the City directly affect us and gives us the power to vote on the actions of the City Council.” What is the big difference then, we now go to the polls twice, once in November and once again in May, to only do what we could do, and it sounds like you can easily do this now, in just one election in November?

    It appears that you can separate and then make informed local and national candidate decisions, but you can’t possibly do that on the same ballot in November? That really makes no sense. If that is possible for people to easily do on one ballot, as FCC Resident admits, then this is all just fear mongering about November elections then isn’t it?

    We have had May elections in FCC for decades, what is the big risk here? We should be able to try holding elections in November for a while, we can always move them back to May. If we move them back to May, we can then probably watch voter turnout go even lower, as more new people move in (probably for the schools) and they have never voted in May where they’ve lived before, and they can probably decide to stay on the sidelines, and join the ranks of the many who already don’t vote in the May elections. This all sounds like a perfect recipe for the Little City to go straight downhill. Communities thrive when more people participate in the process, not less. History has tought us this lesson many times over.

    City Councils and School Boards will continue to have no consent of the governed if elections stay in May, and voter turnout keeps going lower. They both will continue to be very afraid to make any bold or innovative decisions on the future of Falls Church for fear that they may be voted out by a small angry voter turnout in May. Falls Church City wasn’t built on this kind of narrow thinking, and we won’t survive if it continues like this.

    I guess all the jurisdictions around us are doing it wrong by voting in November for both local and state candidates? This would include Arlington County and Fairfax County (all counties vote in November in VA by the way, and always have, and now over half of the cities in VA have switched and now vote in November, all done in just the last ten years since they were given the ability to move their elections to a more convenient and cost effective time of the year by the VA General Assembly. Only one jurisdiction has made this election change by referendum, all the rest have been by City Council action, and none have been moved back to May). Again, what is the big risk here?

    Now the nearby City of Alexandria has just recently moved their elections to November from May, are all these highly respected jurisdictions way off base? Or are we just a little too full of ourselves here in Falls Church that we have to continue to hold elections in May, despite declining turnout in hotly contested elections, where many civic groups and activists try everything under the sun to get more people to vote, and in fact, less are actually voting then ever before, all because we somehow have all the answers here and they don’t elsewhere?

    Many people that live here are very well educated, the highest in the country I hear, and they are no stranger to politics, be they local, state or national, and many do some of this politicking for their day job as Hill staffers, lobbyists, government political appointees, attorneys, CEO’s, non profit advocates, etc. They are certainly smart enough to make decisons say about the future of our school system and City government on one hand, and then decide if we need to cut Social Secuity, or not, on another hand, by choosing different people across the political spectrum when they vote.

    Is there an “uninformed voter” litmus test somewhere Mr. Novotny or is that just your humble opinion? That’s pretty arrogant do you think? How long have you lived here, three years maybe, and you know everyone and how they think and will vote, and you alone have all the answers? How do we know for certain that many “uninfomed” voters will go to the polls in November, as has been repeatedly claimed in this debate? Maybe it will be just the opposite, and it will be more convenient for intelligent and “informed” voters to cast a ballot in November?

    Have you read the actual Election Referendum question as it will appear on the ballot? The question of whether to move the election is one small paragraph, and the implementation of how this will happen, if voted yes, is four times as long as the question to move the election itself.

    I have never seen where the implementation of a referendum question is even on the ballot, especially when written in this mind-numbing lawyer-like detail. Shame on the Mayor and City Attoney! The impementation of the decision to move the election is purely an administrative function, and it should not be on the ballot, unless the intent is to confuse people so they vote no. See the sample ballot and decide for yourself at:

    Don’t sell the intelligence of Falls Church City residents short on the ability to make informed decisions when they vote!

    Vote Yes (Yes means November voting) on the Election Referendum on Tuesday, November 8th polls are open from 6 am until 7 pm or by in person absentee ballot before then, daily 8 am -5 pm and 9a m -5 pm on Saturday, November 5th in the Registrar’s Office, located on first floor of the East Wing of City Hall!

  12. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 3rd, 2011 9:24 am

    George makes some pretty good points. I actually don’t think it will be the end of the world if the elections are moved to November – I just don’t think it will really get us what it seems like people want (more people involved in local issues).

    I think it’s funny when people bring up the intelligence of the City residents. If we’re smart enough to separate issues in November then surely we’re smart enough to know that the elections are in May, right? And anyway, it’s not about how smart you are (people mention litmus tests – is the idea that we’d give November voters a test to see if they’re capable of separating state and local issues and only let them vote if they pass?).

    State and national politics (and that of the counties that George mentions) are based on a party system. The parties develop platforms and many people rely on their party to worry about the specifics. This makes voting fairly straightforward – they vote for their party (sometimes (often?) without having to dig into the specifics of the issues at hand because their party has done that for them).

    I think this is how the CBC worked in the City for years. It was all before my time but I gather that the CBC was highly respected by a lot of citizens and so when the CBC endorsed candidates some citizens felt comfortable voting based on that – without having to dig into the issues. With the CBC’s decline (no offense to the CBC – it just seems like in the past few elections they haven’t had the same influence) I’m guessing there’s some people who aren’t voting because they don’t see compelling endorsements that they can get behind. Maybe I’m wrong about this – I’m just trying to figure out why voter turnout has declined.

    I think it’s odd that we spend all this time talking about whether or not having elections in November is a solution to a problem. Why haven’t we spent more time trying to figure out what the actual source of the problem is?

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.