Concerns About Growth Dictate Mayoral and Council Selections

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Voters in 17 towns across Northern Virginia straggled to the polls yesterday to elect dozens of town council members and mayors, and for the most part, they stuck with the status quo: a measured approach to growth.

Incumbents prevailed in Vienna in Fairfax County, in Leesburg and Purcellville in Loudoun County and in Dumfries, Haymarket and Occoquan in Prince William County.

Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd will serve a third two-year term, despite a feisty write-in campaign to elect Loudoun Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg), a former mayor whose supporters were seeking lower taxes and more willingness to negotiate with residential developers.

"I haven't always agreed with Mayor Umstattd, but this write-in campaign -- it sort of disturbed me. I'm not sure why they did that," said James Hershman, a fellow at Georgetown University who voted late in the day at the Leesburg Firehouse.

Hershman was unmoved by a Clem supporter dressed in an inflatable-pencil costume and urging voters to write in the supervisor's name.

Leesburg voters also reelected Town Council member Fernando J. "Marty" Martinez and elected Planning Commission Chairman Kevin D. Wright and transportation activist Kenneth D. Reid to the two other council seats.

In Purcellville, Vice Mayor Bob W. Lazaro Jr. fended off two rivals in a race to replace Mayor W.T. "Bill" Druhan Jr., who is retiring.

Lazaro, a spokesman for the Piedmont Environmental Council who received the endorsements of Druhan and Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (I), promised to do more to control residential growth and improve the town's worsening traffic.

Timothy S. Iversen, a 20-year-old Patrick Henry College sophomore, did not win his bid for Purcellville Town Council. Jeremy A. Hunley, a 27-year-old former library aide seeking a seat on the Hamilton Town Council, also lost.

Leesburg was not the only site of a write-in campaign. Hillsboro, population 96, featured no names at all on its ballot -- the prevailing practice there. The town is so small that Town Council members and mayors are regularly chosen by write-in ballot.

And in tiny Remington in Fauquier County, three candidates appeared on the ballot for six Town Council seats. County election officials said they also would tally 123 write-in ballots today to fill the remaining three spots.

In Haymarket, the crowded field included two married couples, but only one of the four candidates -- Susan M. Shuryn -- prevailed. And she barely did so, coming in as the sixth-highest vote-getter in a race to fill six seats. Shuryn's husband, Ozzie Vazques, was also vying for a council seat.

Timothy Benjamin challenged Mayor Pam E. Stutz. His wife, Vicki, ran for Town Council.

The campaigning by the two couples caused a stir in the town, as a few of the other candidates questioned whether the couples could vote objectively on issues if elected.

In other towns, Dumfries Mayor Melvin Bray lost to challenger Fred E. Yohey Jr., and Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman prevailed over George E. Lovelace. All three incumbent council members in Vienna -- Edythe Frankel Kelleher, Laurie Genevro Cole and Michael J. Polychrones -- also won.

Overall, issues continued to resonate from previous elections: improving traffic, whether to control development and how to keep taxes low while providing services -- including schools, parks and fire protection -- that suburban residents demand.

Some candidates surmised that interest in this year's town elections was less than in the past because voters are content with current leadership on issues of growth and taxes.

By midday, precincts in Loudoun's seven towns were reporting "slow and steady" turnout. At noon, Hillsboro had reported no voters at all in its races for mayor and five council seats. By 4:30, the number had risen to eight.

"Even if we had not gotten votes, they would have been able to handle that according to their charter," said John Shanton, assistant election chief at the town's polling place, Hillsboro Elementary School. "The mayor and council would have appointed the next group."

In Haymarket, the crowded field of candidates was prompted by concerns about increased traffic, fear of losing the community's small-town flavor and a debate about how to provide police protection to the town.

In Leesburg, Loudoun's largest town, the write-in campaign featured chatter on Internet blogs, yard signs that read, "We need a LEADER, not a 'nice lady,' " and a giant, inflatable pencil urging voters to write in Clem's name.

Clem supporters said they were unhappy with Umstattd's support of higher taxes; Umstattd said before the election that she believed that they were displeased with her efforts to restrain residential development.

One novelty among Loudoun's towns was the introduction this year of touch-screen ballots. Poll workers reported that about one-third of voters used the new devices, which are accessible to the blind and deaf.

Staff writers Scott Butterworth, Michael Alison Chandler, Michael Laris and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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