Falls Church Leaders Will Step Down

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 15, 2005

Both the mayor and vice mayor of the city of Falls Church have decided not to seek reelection next year.

Daniel E. Gardner, the mayor for the last five years, and Martha R. Meserve, the vice mayor who has spent four years on the City Council, both cited personal reasons for their decisions to leave public office.

Gardner and Meserve have almost three decades of experience in local government between them.

"First and foremost, I want to have a little more time to spend with my family," said Gardner, who was first elected to the City Council in 1998 and became mayor two years later. "I have a full-time job with the Department of Defense, and this job [as mayor] eats up my nights and weekends."

Meserve noted that she has been in public life in Fairfax County for 20 years -- three years on the Tree Commission, 10 years on the Planning Commission and three years on the Economic Development Authority, as well as her tenure on the City Council.

"I think it's time," said Meserve, who was appointed to the council in 2001 to fill an incomplete term and was elected to a full term the following year. "I have grandchildren. I'm involved in other activities that I'd like to put a little more time and attention into. I'd just like to move into the next stage of my life."

Gardner and Meserve announced their decisions at the recent annual dinner meeting of Citizens for a Better City, a nonpartisan group that endorses and supports candidates for local government.

The simultaneous departure of the city's two top elected officials -- whose terms run until June 30 -- has aroused the curiosity of some residents of the city of about 10,600 nestled between Arlington and Fairfax counties.

"I just got wind there are some people in town wondering why we're both going at once, and what do we know that they don't," Meserve said. "The fact Dan and I are leaving is something people should not be worried about. There's nothing we see coming along. There's nothing we know."

Both Gardner and Meserve said they already have heard from several people who expressed interest in running for their council seats. The council's seven members each are elected to four-year terms, and every two years they select a mayor from among their ranks. The city election is in May.

Gardner and Meserve have presided over marked development in the city center, particularly mixed-use projects combining residential units and retail or office space. Among the projects that have been completed or are under construction are the Broadway, the Byron and the Spectrum, all on West Broad Street, and Pearson Square on South Maple Avenue.

Gardner said one of the biggest changes he has observed during his time in office is an increased interest in smart development.

"Before, there was very little or none to speak of for a number of years," he said. "I think there is the understanding that we need that change to survive as a city and entity, yet we have tried to blend it with the climate of a small urban city."

Though the regional real estate market has shown signs of softening in recent months, Gardner said several smaller projects are in the offing.

"City center redevelopment is just about ready to pop," he said. "There are exciting things in the near term."

Meserve said that as she looks back on her time in public life, she is singularly proud of helping to found Falls Church Arts, a nonprofit organization that supports artists and cultural events.

"We now feel we really do have a home for the arts in the city of Falls Church," she said. "A lot of good people have come together to make it happen."

Candidates for the May election have until early March to declare their intention to run and to file paperwork. In addition to City Council members, voters will elect School Board members. Three members of the School Board -- Ruth Brock, Jerome Barrett and Jay Grusin -- have announced they will not run for reelection.

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