Low voter turnout at the City of Fairfax City Council and School Board election Tuesday, May 2, meant that more than 80 percent of registered voters are either really happy or they’re really disengaged, said Mayor Robert Lederer.
“No one knows why turnout is bad,” said candidate Hildie Carney while campaigning in front of Precinct Three Tuesday afternoon.
The turnout, which was less than 19 percent of the 14,501 registered voters, surprised many candidates since pre-election debates and discussions were heated.
“We tried to make enough controversy to get people to vote,” said candidate Gordon Riggle. “But, it didn’t work.”
Maybe some would-be voters were stuck in traffic, since many voters who did show up said downtown redevelopment and traffic problems were the most important issues for this election. Another underlying theme of voters’ concerns was the desire to see the city maintain its charm and small town feel.
At Precinct One, Fairfax Presbyterian Church, 10723 Main St., nearly every voter between the hours of 8:30-9:30 a.m. on Tuesday agreed on which issues were most important to them.
“I’m tired of all this digging up and holes in the road,” said Betty Young, a 40-year resident of the city.
“It’s a mix of traffic and development in the city,” said Frank Worshek.
“Keeping the small town feel of the city,” said Laura Debrular. “Not over development.”
One condominium owner said he wanted to see incumbents go. John Bownik voted at Daniels Run Elementary, Precinct Three, and said his property taxes are twice as high as they were two years ago. It's because of this and candidates' willingness to "give in to developers," that made him want to see new council members this term, he said.
“I don’t think people should make a career out of public service,” said Bownik about long-time council members.
ONCE ALL of the votes were counted, all six incumbents — five City Council members and the mayor — are returning next term. R. Scott Silverthorne received the most votes, as he did in both the 2002 and 2004 elections. Voters picked Gary Rasmussen and Jeff Greenfield as their second and third picks, followed by Joan Cross, Gail Lyon and Patrice Winter with the fourth, fifth and sixth highest number of votes. Both Hildie Carney and Bill Foster came within 300 votes of Winter, making them the two closest challengers in the 11-candidate race.
Janice Miller, Julie Knight, Allen Griffith, Amy Craig and Jon Buttram took the five unopposed seats in the City's School Board race. Only 64 write-ins were recorded on the ballots.
Gloria Toner, a volunteer campaigning for City Council incumbents Gail Lyon, Gary Rasmussen and Scott Silverthorne. said they've done a lot in the last four years.
"I think my incumbents have worked really hard revitalizing the city," said Toner.
Greenfield said some had tried to put the message out that the council needed fresh faces this term.
“The three that have been on [City Council] since the 1990s made the top three,” said Greenfield. “The negativity didn’t work.”
However, the question of why voters stood the polls up this year remains. In the 2002 election, when the mayor race and City Council seats were contested, more than 31 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls. In 2004, only 15 percent showed, when both the mayor and City Council races were not contested. This year, however, had a mix of both. The mayor ran unopposed, but 501 people left the ballot blank in the mayor category, and 117 wrote in votes for someone else. Council seats were up for grabs, and since traffic and redevelopment issues had many citizens pointing fingers at politicians, election officials and the candidates themselves are confused as to why people didn't show up to vote.
“I don’t know why,” said John Harold, City of Fairfax voter registrar. “Maybe it's complacency; not enough reason to want to change things.”
Harold was in his office until after 9 p.m. tallying votes with his staff. Each precinct was given a Nextel walkie-talkie to call in totals, a system Harold said he put in place because the old way was a disaster.
"They used to have old borrowed radios and stuff," said Harold. "I bought these phones for $.99 a piece, and cut the costs in half."
While Riggle didn't win, he said he felt like he had just a much of a chance as any.
"I consider myself a true candidate now." said Riggle. "My signs were torn down, I was bit by a dog, and I was dissed by [fellow candidate] Jerry O'Dell."