As Mayor's Allies Depart, Several Big Issues Remain
Thursday, May 1, 2008
The City of Fairfax is facing large debts, flat revenue and big questions on its future development, sharpening campaigns for elected office and drawing a flurry of candidates for Tuesday's contests.
Eleven people are seeking spots on the six-member City Council, and two others are challenging the incumbent mayor, a showing that reflects the pivotal moment and the opportunity to grab one of two council seats being vacated by R. Scott Silverthorne and Gail C. Lyon, who are not seeking reelection.
At issue is the direction of the council, including financial priorities and questions of what should be built where in the city. Silverthorne and Lyon were close allies of Mayor Robert F. Lederer, and the three at times voted together to alter or block development projects they considered out of scale with Fairfax.
The next council will decide how to handle development along a swath of the city following Fairfax Boulevard. The area is viewed as a potential home of higher-end development that would be friendly to pedestrians, rather than the current succession of strip malls and other older projects.
Although the council, mayor and other advisers involved in a long-standing planning effort for the area have said they are in general agreement on the scope of development there, some on the council have said Lederer has not moved swiftly enough to push the plans forward, especially given what advocates say is the potential economic upside.
Lederer said the city must carefully vet redevelopment policies and particular projects. He cited a recently opened development in downtown Fairfax as an example of the success of the "cautious and balanced" approach he favors, which he said netted a scaled-back and successful commercial area that fits Fairfax's character.
"Land use issues have at times bitterly divided this City Council," Lederer said. "This next council is going to . . . be the architect of the future of Fairfax Boulevard, no question about it."
Challengers, meanwhile, have pointed to the city's financial strains, hefty debt burden, snarled traffic and competing -- or encroaching -- development across city borders in Fairfax County as key issues that need new leadership.
"I'm coming to the City Council with fresh ideas and a fresh pair of eyes," said candidate Daniel F. Drummond, a public affairs executive who has proposed creating a transportation advisory board of residents and business representatives to weigh the effect of projects.
Some candidates were more pessimistic about the city's ability to fundamentally alter its traffic equation. The city of 22,000 sits amid Fairfax County's 1 million residents, making it a key pass-through zone for commuters.
Congestion has been a problem "since I lived here. It's one I don't even know if we can solve . . . because you can't circulate around the city," said candidate W. Randy Myers, a retired Navy submariner who was depth-charged in the Pacific during World War II.
"I've been living here for 44 years, and I'm getting to be an old rascal, and I thought maybe I would devote full time to doing whatever it takes to make the city continue to be a good little city," Myers said.