July 25, 2002
Most people who’ve done the math on Stu Mendelsohn’s record of public service weren’t surprised that he won’t seek a third term as Dranesville District supervisor.
Mendelsohn has been a rarity in Dranesville District politics because he was re-elected. Not since Nancy Falck served two terms in the 1980s has that happened. In Dranesville District, supervisors usually get one term, and then get voted out.
Most of Mendelsohn's constituents in McLean, Great Falls and Herndon believed that if he wanted a third term, it would be his in a cakewalk.
Mendelsohn is known for his squeaky-clean image as a nice guy whose worst vice is the “designer water” he drinks.
The worst thing that even his political enemies have to say is that he is too conciliatory and waits to “take the temperature” of the electorate before he’ll take a position.
To many, it’s no surprise that such a nice guy wants to spend more time with his family: his wife, Laura, a former dancer who is now a stay-home mom, and daughters Michelle, 12, and Sarah, 10.
In March, 1993, when then-supervisor Ernie Berger appointed Mendelsohn as Dranesville District’s representative to the Fairfax County School Board, Sara, now a rising fifth grader at the gifted and talented center at Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna, was just a baby. Michelle, an eighth grader this fall at the gifted and talented center at Kilmer Middle School, was then young enough to spill a pack of Skittles all over the carpet on the floor in the supervisor’s office during the announcement.
Were he to seek a third term and be elected, Michelle would graduate from high school in June, 2007, halfway through his fourth year in office, and he would have been supervisor throughout her school career.
As it is, he has brought his family to many of the events he attends as supervisor.
But early this year, his mother-in-law, Faith Dick and his mother, Florence Mendelsohn, died within weeks of one another.
Mendelsohn will turn 50 on Aug. 8, and his daughter, Michelle, will become a teenager the same month.
During the year and a half that he served as Dranesville’s then-appointed representative to the Fairfax County School Board, Great Falls went through a contentious school boundary realignment when Aldrin Elementary School opened in Reston.
Mendelsohn aligned himself with fellow Republican Lou Zone, an appointee of Hunter Mill District Supervisor Bob Dix (R), and the two worked out a compromise that restored peace to the community.
In 1995, Mendelsohn was elected to his first term on the board, defeating former McLean Citizens Association President William Byrnes. Byrnes pounded on Mendelsohn’s record in four special exceptions that were granted to the Gannett Corporation when it relocated to Tysons Corner.
In 1999, Mendelsohn defeated Democrat Barbara Phillips, who ran after becoming disaffected by the Board of Supervisors' refusal to entertain a vote on a bond referendum to finance the purchase of Evans Farm as a park.
ALTHOUGH IT WAS not unexpected that he would relinquish his seat, several people said they were surprised by its suddenness. Mendelsohn’s term will continue through December, 2003. His successor will be elected in November, 2003. If the political parties choose to select candidates in primary elections, they will be held spring, 2003, with candidates declaring in February or March.
“I was a little bit surprised when someone called me a little while ago and said he had kicked it,” said former Dranesville Planning Commissioner George Lilly, a Republican, on Monday when asked his reaction to Mendelsohn’s retirement.
“I had heard he was holding off because he had great concerns about being a lame duck and didn’t want that,” Lilly said.
“The rumors have been going around for some time,” said McLean attorney John Foust, president of the McLean Citizens Association. “I am pretty surprised by the timing. I didn’t think it would come this soon.
“People are surprised he is making the announcement as soon as he is,“ said Susan Blakely of Great Falls, Mendelsohn’s chief of staff.
“He was a little tired of not being able to answer directly when people asked him the question” of whether he would run again.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Rick Thoesen, the mayor of Herndon. “I know how difficult the job is. It takes a lot of energy.
“I have enjoyed working with him on the parks' side of the formula,” Thoesen. “He gave me plenty of room to work independently on park issues. but we had a very solid rapport,” Thoesen said.
“He is a straight shooter and a man of integrity. I think the county is going to miss Stu Mendelsohn,” he said.
“I think Stu Mendelsohn has been an exceptional supervisor for the Dranesville District. I admire the way he has carried out his professional responsibilities, and I find it regretful he is not going to continue in this role. But I understand his reasons,” said Blakely.
“HE WAS, on a personal basis, a pleasure to work with,” Foust said of Mendelsohn. “His office was always supportive of what we were trying to do.“
Foust’s is the name most often mentioned as the likely adversary for the Dranesville supervisor’s post in 2003. He is a Democrat who ran in 1999 for his party’s nomination for the 34th District seat in the General Assembly, but lost to Carole Herrick. She was defeated by Vince Callahan, now in his 17th term.
Will Foust run? “I would say that is something I am going to think about and consider, but I definitely don’t have any firmed-up plans at this point,” said Foust, now serving his second term as MCA president.
He has been attending MCA committee meetings as well as monthly meetings of the McLean Planning Committee, where he’s been observed taking notes of discussions about the revitalization of downtown McLean, Mendelsohn’s most determined initiative while in office.
“I think [announcing his intentions] is an extremely considerate move on his part,” said Foust. “Other guys would not have allowed [other candidates] to do their due diligence.”
Dranesville District Planning Commissioner Joan DuBois, a Republican who worked for Dix in Hunter Mill District and for former Dranesville Supervisor Nancy Falck, has been named as the likely choice as Mendelsohn’s chosen successor.
She now works for Travesky & Associates in Fairfax, a consulting firm run by former Supervisor Marie Travesky whose clients include the Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project.
DuBois has accompanied Mendelsohn to many public functions in the months since her appointment, including McLean Day and the dedication of a bandstand in McLean Central Park.
“I think I’m disappointed [that he is stepping down]. He’s done a great job,” said DuBois. He has accomplished a lot for the district. He’s been accessible, he has shown leadership, he has been willing to take minority position on some issues, he has worked hard on the county budget, and reduced spending. He is very effective, very popular, and well-liked. I am disappointed to see him go. He was my supervisor,” she said.
Asked about her own intentions, DuBois said “I am seriously considering [running]. I have been contacted by a lot of people and am seriously considering it,” she said.
“My background is in public service. I know the people. I know the district. I know the county. I know the issues.”
“I am a good mediator. When issues come up, I listen. After all those years in public service, I know the Herndon area and the Dulles corridor.
It would be a great opportunity, with the experience I have.
I’d be going into it with no learning curve. I have done it for years, going back to when I sat outside the old [McLean] fire station, and shook hands to run for the governing board of the McLean Governing Board.”
BUT DUE TO THE EARLY announcement by Mendelsohn, “The Democrats have time” to field a strong candidate, said one political observer in Dranesville District. “And the Republicans who don’t like Joan have time, too. This will make firehouse primaries and primaries more likely” next spring.
Names of other potential candidates that have circulated in recent months include former candidates Bill Byrnes, Carole Herrick and Barbara Phillips, and Dranesville District School Board Representative Jane Strauss, who has said repeatedly she isn’t interested. All are Democrats.
Former MCA President Merrily Pierce, now a staffer for Board of Supervisors Kate Hanley, has been mentioned as a qualified candidate, and MCA Planning & Zoning chairman Adrienne Whyte has gained considerable knowledge which could be cashed in at the ballot box or leveraged for an appointment to the Planning Commission if DuBois is elected.
Former Dranesville Supervisor Lilla Richards, a Democrat, said she had “no comment” on persistent rumors that she has interest in running again.
Wade Smith of McLean Hamlet, Jan Auerbach, president of the Safe Community Coalition, Mendelsohn Chief of Staff Susan Blakely, are regarded as independents. Prominent Republican Alice Starr and Lewinsville Coalition chairman Jane Edmondson, a Democrat, have also been mentioned as qualified candidates, though neither has indicated a desire to run.
“Not in your lifetime or mine” would she seek the office, said Blakely, an attorney who has worked for Mendelsohn since 1996.
Former Dranesville supervisors are:
Happy Bradley (R), two terms: 1964-71
Rufus Phillips (D) 1972-75
John Shacochis (R) 1976-79
Nancy Falck, (R) 1980-87
Lilla Richards, (D), 1988-91.
Ernie Berger, 1992-1995 (ran for chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 1995 but lost in the primary to Elaine McConnell).
Stu Mendelsohn (R), two terms 1996-2003.