Candidates running in the Fairfax mayoral and City Council races squared-off in a question and answer session Wednesday, April 19 in a candidate debate at Old Town Hall. The issues on the table, from “McMansions” and property taxes, to Route 50 and the downtown redevelopment, were too complex to sum up into a one-minute response, said Mayor Robert Lederer. Most candidates’ responses were cut short by the sound of the timer.
They did, however, have two minutes to talk freely about the community that will vote for or against them.
“I have listened and considered all sides before making a decision, and will continue to do so,” said incumbent Councilmember Jeffery Greenfield.
“I am retired and have the time to spend on city business,” said candidate Bill Foster.
“A vote for me is a vote against real estate hikes,” said candidate Gordon Riggle. “That is my whole theme.”
Riggle’s theme seemed to percolate into one of the major debate themes. One of the six questions candidates answered was whether homeowners would face increasing financial burdens in the near future. Most incumbents answered the question similarly.
“Based on city spending priorities, I think we’ve seen the worst,” said Councilmember R. Scott Silverthorne.
“I think we’ve done a very good job with controlling spending,” said Councilmember Gary Rasmussen. “The city has high standards, and has been willing to pay [its share].”
The mayor pointed to the many services the city provides and the fact that the city has the lowest tax rate in the region.
Challengers had more ambitious answers for the financial burden question.
“We’ve got to tighten the discretionary part of the budget,” said Foster. “We need to start looking at alternative sources, and not focus so much on real estate taxes.”
“Most of the burden is on homeowners,” said candidate Hildie Carney. “We should work on some ways to give relief.”
Another major question addressed concerned the city’s role in development and traffic projects, which did allow for more concise and definitive answers. Candidate Allen Dobey said he’s in favor of enforcing city zoning laws, and Riggle said development is going to pay the city’s bills. Others pointed toward the county as the major culprit in development and traffic issues.
“Fairfax County is going to do what Fairfax County is going to do,” said Lederer, who is unopposed. “I believe we can move the Route 50 corridor forward.”
Both Councilmembers Rasmussen and Gail Lyon called for more communication between the city and county, in order to control development issues.
“The county is the elephant and we’re the gnat,” said Rasmussen. “The key is maintaining a good dialogue and a good relationship.”
The issue of infill development came up, with regard to the appearance of “McMansions” all over the city. Carney said home enhancement increases property values, and Greenfield said he’d “continue to support people fixing up their homes, while considering the character of the community.” The community aspect came up a lot with this issue, mainly expressing concern for the “feel” of the city.
“[Remodeled homes] need to be tailored to support the character of each neighborhood,” said Dobey.
“The property owner owns the property, but there are limits to what we can do,” said Foster.
“You can’t legislate taste,” said Silverthorne. “We can support some basic parameters, but we have to be very cautious.”
COUNCILMEMBER PATRICE WINTER agreed with Silverthorne on one's own preference for building and originality. She said size, scale and zoning issues "need to be tweaked" in order to keep diversity while also regulating some of it.
However some candidates showed some distaste for the city’s land-use measures.
“You can’t call yourself a compassionate conservative if you’re bulldozing people’s properties,” said candidate Jerry O’Dell.
“Just because a McMansion is next door, your assessment shouldn’t skyrocket without having made significant changes to your home,” said Councilmember Joan Cross.
The final issue of the debate concerned public safety and the use and location of the Lamb Center, a day-time drop-in facility for the poor and homeless. Nearly every candidate said the center provides a useful and necessary service to the community, but they agreed its program is too ambitious for such a small location. The candidates also agreed the center needs to be relocated away from such a busy intersection.
“The Lamb Center is a victim of its own success,” said Cross. “Their mission is overcastted by the numbers their serving.”
After wrapping up the six question-and-answer portion of the debate, each candidate re-stated their opening statement as a closing statement. Each expressed their ability to represent the citizens of Fairfax as best as possible, and also stressed the integrity of the city and of its councilmembers. In closing, the mayor told the audience and television viewers why voting makes a difference.
“I love to have the last word,” said Lederer. “I believe a good representative listens to you, and doesn’t tell you what to think. I believe you should tell us what our priorities should be.”