While the Town of Herndon had its most hotly contested mayor’s race in 14 years, it did not have a compelling divisive issue to bring voters to the polls as exhibited in the Town of Leesburg to the west and the City of Fairfax to the east.
"Voters were presented with a clear choice with the direction the candidates wanted to take in Leesburg and Fairfax. I don’t think Herndon had that with its mayoral candidates," said Herndon Town Manager John "Ed" Moore. "What points me to that premise is the lack of turnout." Last Tuesday, May 7, just 1,670 voters turned out to the polls, or 17 percent of the over 9,800 registered voters. That voter total is down by 26 voters from 2000.
"I did not see a galvanizing issue in Herndon to increase voter turnout," said Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-86th), who served the town as mayor for 19 years. "The Town of Herndon had two quality candidates, but I did not detect any major disagreements." In the mayor’s race Town Councilman and former Mayor Richard "Rick" Thoesen defeated Town Councilman William "Bill" Tirrell, Sr. by a 958 to 690 margin.
"Rick came out on top. He had the job before. People felt reasonably comfortable with the direction of the town. This was not a growth versus less growth" as it was in Leesburg and Fairfax. "Herndon is pretty much developed," said Rust.
"The race in Leesburg was a referendum of whether or not they should have annexed 2,800 acres of land," said Rust.
"A significant portion of the population was not in concert with it. All they needed was a champion and they got it," said Moore.
Leesburg Mayor B.J. "Webb wanted to annex and [vice mayor Kristen] Umstattd did not — it was very controversial," said Rust, noting that the issue of the police chief in town may also have been a contributing factor to Webb’s defeat. "Umstattd voted against dismissing the chief of police. The chief sued and got several million dollars."
"What people voted on in Herndon was personality and method of management. There was no one compelling issue. There was no incumbent that had to take a position on going in a new direction or staying the course. Leesburg had their polarizing issue which we lacked and have lacked for the last 25 years," said Moore.
"We’ve done a better job of planning in the past — anticipating growth and development and there’s still work to be done. We’ve had a better handle on it than other jurisdictions," said Town Councilwoman-elect Connie Hutchinson, who served on the council from 1992 to 1995.
"A prime example is the Herndon Parkway. Sure, it took 20 years to build, but we don’t have the same traffic problems as Fairfax City. Leesburg went anti-sprawl. They grew too fast before they were able to handle it," she said. The majority of the people I encountered on the campaign trail were very happy with Herndon. They didn’t have problems or complaints," said Hutchinson.
"FROM A BUSINESS standpoint, I’m especially happy with Connie on the council as a chamber communications coordinator and Visitors Center coordinator," said Eileen Curtis, president of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce. "She understands the economic development and business issues in Herndon and the region," said Curtis.
But the defeat of pro-growth mayoral candidates does have an effect on chambers of commerce, said Curtis. "We will be supporting a referendum that may not appeal to all people," she said.
In Leesburg and the City of Fairfax incumbents B.J. Webb and John Mason, respectively, were turned away in landslide defeats.
"In both cases, the mayoral candidates faced constituents concerned with growth and how to control growth," said Thoesen, not only mayor-elect in the Town of Herndon, but deputy general manager with the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority located in Leesburg.
"Herndon is dealing with how to deal with the growth that has already occurred. In Leesburg and Fairfax City, they’re looking for redirection. Herndon citizens are more comfortable retaining experience and staying the course. Our growth issues are not as troubling. Growth issues brought voters to the polls in Fairfax City," said Thoesen.