With the election less than a week away, the 10 men and women running for Town Council and Mayor in Clifton had one more chance to make their case.
"All of us are here because we're passionate about Clifton," said Thomas C. Peterson, the only candidate for mayor in the May 2 election. "We can see how much people care about the oasis we live in."
At a candidate forum hosted by the Fairfax branch of the League of Women Voters, the nine candidates for Town Council and Peterson were given the opportunity to answer a series of questions, submitted by the 30 or so town residents, on why they should be selected to fill the five, two-year terms up for election.
"We've never had this many people interested in running for office at one time," said current mayor Jim Chesley. "It's very encouraging to see this many people who want to be a part of this town."
In his opening statement, Peterson compared his current position as a baseball coach at Robinson Secondary School to the workload of being mayor.
"Running a baseball program is much more than playing games, just like being mayor is much more than just going to town meetings," Peterson said.
A relative newcomer to Clifton, Michael F. Anton said he is probably best known for being "the guy who runs through Clifton chasing after a little dog." In the past year, he has run over 800 miles on Clifton town streets, he said.
After leaving the Coast Guard, Marilyn D. Stoney said what captures her interest is "working to make things better for other people. I've dealt with laws, rules, regulations and problems, I know how to work with all kinds of people on all kinds of different things," she said.
Patrick J. Layden has lived in Clifton since 1969 and raised two children in the town. "I practice an approach to town government based on communication and respect for each individual," he said. "I have the desire, commitment and time to devote to the town and a commitment to keeping the quality of life here, if not making it better."
As a member of the town's Architectural Review Board, Jeff E. Stein said he is an advocate for "consistency and fairness. I don't like to keep reinventing the wheel," he said.
Current council member W. Mac Arnold reminded the residents that he was part of the council that created the historic district that preserves some of the older structures in town. "I think the town is fortunate to have such an excellent group of people to choose from," he said.
C.M. "Chuck" Rusnak, Jr., said he felt compelled to run for town council because "I'm concerned some of the character of the town may be slipping away from us. Some of these issues have been divisive, but I will make a concerted effort to make your voices heard."
For Lane C. Johnston, she felt this was the "right time in my life to give back to the small town way of life that I love." A former business owner who hopes to find "creative solutions to any problem," she promised to look to other small, historic towns for guidance through conflicts if elected.
A resident of Clifton for 35 years, Wayne H. Nickum said he would work for the "preservation of Clifton's image, encourage the restoration of remaining historic structures" and make sure any new renovations or constructions were done in a manner that "fit in" with the town's appearance if elected.
With his two sons in the audience, current council member J. Brant Baber proclaimed himself a "bottom line kind of guy," who would be willing to "stick my foot in my mouth and chew on it a little bit" if needed.
The candidates answered three questions submitted by residents, the first of which involved the ever-present traffic concerns on the town's small streets. Many commuters use Clifton Road as a short-cut to the Occoquan River area or to the Prince William County Parkway, clogging up the streets in the early morning and afternoons.
Most of the candidates agreed that traffic has decreased in recent years, from about 12,000 cars per day to about 8,000, but that more needed to be done to keep their streets safe.
"The police presence has deterred people from coming through in excess of 60 miles per hour," Stein said, but "we need to explore different methods. A bypass is economically not feasible," he said.
Stoney said the current methods of speed humps and stop signs is "the best we can do. We aren't going to be able to stop traffic, but as a town we need to ensure we have a person present [at VDOT meetings] who consistently reminds elected officials about Clifton," she suggested.
The answer may lay in working with other jurisdictions to come up with a bigger solution, said Layden. "The top thing on my list is to look at reducing the speed in town to 10 miles per hour and increase the law enforcement," he suggested.
"Drivers are resourceful," said Rusnak. "We can make it as miserable as possible for them to drive through here, but we can't solve the problem because it's regional. We need to find a better solution."
When asked if the town should consider hiring an administrator or manager, some of the candidates felt a part-time position may be helpful to disperse information, while others didn't believe the town had the resources to support such a position.
"This town has been run on a volunteer basis for over 100 years," Peterson said. "The key is getting more people involved. I think the money can be spent better elsewhere."
Anton suggested an increase in real estate taxes to fund the position. "We need to look at all alternatives to make sure we're getting our fair share," he said.
"We are a town whose volunteers are volunteered out," Baber said. "We need the help an administrator could bring. Things are not getting done ... we need to make sure our facilities are getting fixed."
The candidates inadvertently led themselves into the third question, which asked how they would encourage more residents to volunteer around Clifton.
"I'd like to ask everyone here if they'd be willing to give some time," Arnold said. "We have a Web site that will be helpful in listing what activities are available, but we need additional people. Our volunteers are volunteered out."
If residents could find out what committees were available, perhaps more people would sign up, Nickum suggested. "What we need to do is give out certificates of recognition for volunteers. It's easier to get people to help out when you give them a pat on the back for it."
Johnston called for an "increase in camaraderie. We need to show more appreciation for our volunteers."
In their closing statements, the candidates thanked the residents for the opportunity to run and serve them on the council.
Peterson, a guaranteed winner, said he looked forward to serving "a special place," where people "get things done. We'll continue in the same direction. It'll be interesting but I know we'll have a council that will get your needs met."
Baber said he was "more interested in seeing some new blood on the council," and encouraged people to vote for Anton, Stoney and Johnston. "If I don't win, it won't break my heart, but if I do, I'll continue to work for you," he said.
In his closing statement, Nickum said he had four priorities if elected to the council: parks, participation, process and preservation. "What you see with me is what you get," he said.
Having an election is a "good way to identify issues and goals" within a town, Johnston said. "I hope we can work together to enhance our village life."
Since deciding to run for office, Rusnak said he's committed himself to "talking about what the council can do for you. I will listen to learn, I will not be judgmental and I will build trust with honesty," he pledged.
"We've got something special here in Clifton," Stein said. "It takes work to protect it."
If elected, Layden said he wanted to listen to the residents to find out what was important. "There is a duty to the citizens to improve and preserve our way of life here," he said.
Stoney said she would work to provide "a relationship with the council across the board" in order to make the town a better place.