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Votes

Vienna Votes for No Change

Election brings no upsets to town government.

All of Vienna's incumbent candidates handily won re-election Tuesday. Mayor Jane Seeman beat out her challenger, longtime council member George Lovelace with 1,358 votes to Lovelace's 922.

"I feel very humbled, actually," said Seeman. "A lot of people were out there working for me, and I appreciate that very much." As for the results, she said, "I just think people were happy with the way things were going in Vienna."

Lovelace remains on the Town Council, as his seat was not up for re-election this year.

Council members Laurie Genevro Cole, Mike Polychrones and Edythe Kelleher averaged about twice the votes garnered by their challengers, town residents Susan Stich and Blair Jenkins. The biggest vote-getter in the election was Councilmember Edythe Kelleher, with 1,728 votes.

It was the first time in 16 years that both Vienna's mayoral and Town Council races were contested, and voter turnout was the highest in almost as many years, with about 23 percent of voters coming to the polls. Turnout was still considerably lower than the last contested mayoral election, when about 33 percent of the voters came out and re-elected Mayor Charles Robinson over challenger Michael Covel.

Regina Jordan of the Fairfax County Electoral Board, who was in charge of the poll, noted that the senior demographic carried the election, with very few young people turning out. "That's sort of typical of Vienna town elections," she said.

ALTHOUGH THE CAMPAIGN was spirited, with all of the candidates knocking on doors, handing out flyers and dotting the landscape with signs, it was a campaign noticeably lacking in controversy.

Challengers complimented their incumbent opponents and generally offered modified versions of the town's current agenda. After all, the town is not exactly in dire straits. Last year, Vienna was named the fourth best place to live in the country by CNN Money Magazine, and proposing dramatic change was not likely to be a winning strategy.

The most talked-about issues were traffic and parking, real estate taxes, and the impending pressure on the town's infrastructure from residential developments planned for the Vienna Metro station and Tysons Corner. No candidate disagreed that traffic calming measures should be taken to manage traffic, that shared parking should be phased in along the commercial district, that the possibility of form-based code should be explored for controlling development on Maple Avenue, or that a small-town, pedestrian-friendly environment should be maintained to whatever extent possible.

Suggestions from some candidates, such as working to improve the bus system in town and staying involved with the county's plans for the surrounding area, went unchallenged.

WITHOUT ANY CANDIDATES coming down on opposite sides of any issue, how did voters make their decision?

"It really came down to who had the best understanding of [the issues] in terms of what the town can do," said voter Joe Kelly, adding that he found the candidates' official statements to be nearly identical.

"It was basically personalities for me," said resident Greg Perrier on his way out of the polls. "I knew a lot of the people."

"I think it's who you know," said Bob Borgatti, who runs the Vienna Drug Center on Maple Avenue, also noting the similarity between candidates.

Longtime council member Maud Robinson, who was not up for re-election this year, took issue with the idea of the election being a popularity contest. "Most voters in town are very savvy," she said, adding that they vote based on "knowledge of the town and knowledge of what the candidates have been doing."

Voter Diane Natale seemed to support Robinson's statement. She said her vote was "based on candidates' record and experience, and whether I'm pleased with what the mayor and council have done, and if I think a change needs to be made, and whether the issues the challengers feel need changing are important. And whether they articulate them."

Jim Kiefer, who has lived in town for 40 years, agreed that it was not an issue-oriented election. His analysis, based on his time in Vienna: "It's hard to beat an incumbent." However, he said, he enjoyed seeing new candidates offer a challenge. "It brings people out."

Estelle McNeil, a 50-year resident of Vienna, said she likes its small-town feel and was voting to "keep the town like it is."