Election Contests, For a Change
Thursday, April 20, 2006
After several years of sleepy elections, the town of Vienna is being treated to a choice between candidates -- with some negative campaigning thrown in for good measure.
Mayor M. Jane Seeman is being challenged for the first time in the nonpartisan elections since she took office six years ago, by longtime council member George E. Lovelace. And the three council members who are up for reelection -- Laurie Genevro Cole, Edythe Frankel Kelleher and Michael J. Polychrones -- are having to defend their seats against two newcomers, R. Blair Jenkins and Susan Yancey Stich.
This contrasts with the lack of competition that has characterized recent elections. Last year, with only three candidates running for the three available council seats (members serve two-year terms, with elections held annually on a staggered schedule) only 561 people voted, out of about 10,000 registered.
The candidates agree on the major issues facing Vienna: traffic, parking and other symptoms of the intense development taking place in and around the town. These problems, which until now have mostly revolved around adjacent Tysons Corner, have been brought to the fore with Fairfax County's recent approval of the 2,250-home MetroWest project at the Vienna Metro stop.
The candidates have acknowledged that the town has a limited ability to control development on its edges, but each has proposed ways to mitigate the resulting problems. Seeman said she had encouraged more shared parking among businesses along Maple Avenue (Route 123). Kelleher, running for her third council term, said the town could reconsider measures such as traffic chokers, which narrow roadways, and circles.
Jenkins, a lifelong Vienna resident and a general contractor, said that as council member he would urge better enforcement of restrictions on cut-through traffic on side streets. Lovelace said that as mayor he would push for a bus line to shuttle residents to the Metro station.
Lovelace served on the council for 14 years before leaving in 1996 for a term in the House of Delegates, then lost that seat and returned to the council in 2003. He said he is running for mayor at the behest of residents who believe the town needs new leadership to confront development pressures, including tear-downs of older homes.
"I consider this to be a critical point for Vienna, and it seems like the right time to do it," he said. "I still have the fire in the belly."
Seeman said she welcomed his challenge, though she said she wasn't sure on exactly what grounds she was being opposed. She said she understood residents' concerns about tear-downs but noted that most are allowed under zoning rules.
Most important, she said, was for Vienna to maintain its identity amid all the growth around it. "We don't want to become just a pass-through," she said.
The tone of the debate has been toughest in the council race. A Web site maintained by opponents of the town's Windover Heights Historic District, allied with Stich and Jenkins, has sharply criticized Cole for her cool reception to a revitalization plan for Maple Avenue.
"It's certainly something I haven't experienced in the past two elections," Cole said of the criticism. "It's hard. If someone wants to attack me on my record, that's fine, but to attack me personally, I don't understand it."