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Votes

Citizens Count Down to Election Day

Citizens will vote in May for mayor, City Council, School Board.

Like any candidate or incumbent running for local office, one of the biggest challenges is deciding whether to throw one's hat in the race. With Karen Bryan's term ending as PTA president of Daniels Run Elementary, friends and family urged her to run for the city's School Board.

"They felt I would do a good job, so I thought, let's try it," Bryan said.

Bryan is one of several candidates in a contested race this year for Fairfax City's School Board. All of the incumbents are running, as well as three additional candidates: Bryan, Julie A. Knight, and Gerald T. "Jerry" O'Dell. Each will be vying for a spot on the five-member School Board.

"We need members of the School Board who are connected to the schools, who have children in schools, who can understand concerns," said Knight, on why she's running. Knight has two children in grade school.

The greatest issue the School Board will have to face this year is the upcoming November bond referendum to renovate Lanier Middle and Fairfax High schools.

The election also comes at a time when boundary changes were recently decided by Fairfax County Public Schools to draw more students from Daniels Run Elementary to Providence Elementary.

"There's still some unfinished business, and we need to finalize the plans for the Lanier and Fairfax renovations," explained current School Board chair Janice Miller, on why she's seeking another term.

UNLIKE THE School Board race, the race for Fairfax City Council and mayor appears less contested. Fairfax mayor Robert Lederer will be running unopposed, and all incumbent Council members are seeking re-election. The only candidate for City Council who's not on it is O'Dell, who is also running for School Board.

Although the race for City Council isn't as competitive as the 2002 election, when there were 10 candidates for six Council seats, Lederer said he urged other Council members to run their campaigns as if there were significant opposition. That would mean knocking on doors, greeting neighbors, and attending civic association debates.

"On one hand, it's very easy to draw conclusions that people are very satisfied," said Lederer. "On the other hand, we want to make sure it's not a sign of complacency."

Lederer said he's seeking a second term because many of the issues that the City Council has faced over the past two years are still ongoing.

"A lot has been accomplished, but there's a lot left to be done," Lederer said. "There's just a lot of unfinished business that I feel I would shortchange the process if I left it."

Seeing those projects through is a reason why Councilmember Patrice Winter, one of three women elected in 2002, is seeking a sophomore term.

"We need more time to finish what we started, and be responsible for the things that we started," Winter said.

Like other Council members, Winter said she's running again because she liked serving Fairfax.

"I have really enjoyed it. It is a great time commitment, but it's very fulfilling. I have heard encouraging responses from constituents," Winter said.

Country Club Hills Civic Association president Paul Sullivan conjectured that citizens decided not to run for City Council because they have been generally satisfied with the actions the Council has taken so far. Since the 2002 election, when a new mayor and three new Council members were installed, the Council has grappled with the open space acquisition, downtown redevelopment and the project to renovate and expand City Hall and build a new police station.

"Nobody's done anything ethically wrong. The services in our city our fantastic," Sullivan said.

The Council "holds extensive public outreach meetings. As a result of that, they have a pulse on the town," he continued.

Indeed, that outreach may have impressed citizens who would have otherwise been would-be candidates.

Outreach "may delay things, it might rehash old issues, but Lederer wants to make sure residents have good input, and the Council agrees with that," said Douglas Schauss, president of the Fairchester Woods Civic Association.

Schauss, the former publisher of a Fairfax City community newspaper, added that the majority of past elections for City Council have been relatively uncontested. The reason why the conditions were different two years ago was because three seats opened up on the City Council. Furthermore, open space and overdevelopment were much more on people's minds.

"Over the years, uncontested races are more of the norm," Schauss said.

Yet despite this year's lack of competition, Winter thought the 2004 election might see more action, as developers will have broken ground for downtown redevelopment and as the community potentially deals with renovating Fairfax and Lanier.

"People want to see what we can do," Winter said. "My guess is, the next election, a lot of people will come out. There'll be a lot more commotion."