Herndon Vote Shows Labor Site Anger Echoes

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Herndon voters reaffirmed their support yesterday for a mayor and Town Council that garnered national attention for closing down a job center for day laborers, saying it had become a magnet for illegal immigrants.

Voters reelected Mayor Stephen J. DeBenedittis and most of the incumbents on the six-member council, who were elected in 2006 amid outrage over the taxpayer-subsidized center. Council member J. Harlon Reece, who had initially supported the center and stepped down to challenge DeBenedittis, was succeeded by Richard F. Downer.

"Two years ago, people said that it was a fluke that we got in the way that we did," Vice Mayor Dennis D. Husch said. "This year, we had the exact same results. . . . I'm pleased the previous election was validated."

Across Northern Virginia yesterday, residents of towns and cities voted in more than a dozen municipal and school board elections, casting ballots on a range of issues, including community beautification and taxes.

Growth was a key issue in elections in the Fairfax County area. In Fairfax City, newcomers Steven C. Stombres, David L. Meyer and Daniel F. Drummond will join Mayor Robert F. Lederer and incumbents Gary J. Rasmussen, Jeffrey C. Greenfield and Joan W. Cross on the council.

Drummond said voters selected three newcomers because of unhappiness at the rapid pace of development in recent years.

"We need to make sure we have balanced growth," he said. "We can't lose that special something, that small-town charm."

In Falls Church, Mayor Robin S. Gardner won reelection to the City Council, but it remains to be seen whether she will serve another term as mayor. That decision will be made by the newly elected council, which will include newcomers Nader Baroukh and Lawrence L. Webb. M.R. "Lindy" Hockenberry, who had been the town's vice mayor, lost his seat on the council after coming in fourth.

Falls Church voters also rejected a ballot measure that would have amended the town charter to limit the square footage of new development to no more than 40 percent residential and 60 percent commercial or retail.

In Loudoun County, Purcellville voters reelected Mayor Robert W. Lazaro Jr. Lazaro withstood intense criticism from his opponent, Karl R. Phillips, over his opposition to a county plan to build a high school just outside town. Lazaro and the Town Council have pursued legal challenges against the county, saying the plans violate the town's rights.

Lazaro said his victory should send a strong message to county leaders that Purcellville residents support his position.

"For too long, the county has been saying, 'Oh, you got it wrong,' " he said. "I think the public spoke very strongly tonight that we all understand the need for the school, but it won't be built on the backs of the taxpayers of Purcellville."

Incumbent council members Gregory Wagner and Christopher J. Walker III and newcomer Joan S. Lehr, all of whom had aligned themselves with Lazaro, also were successful in the election.

Also in the Loudoun area, Lovettsville Mayor Elaine D. Walker and Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd won reelection. Walker had a challenger; Umstattd ran unopposed.

In Hamilton, incumbents Craig M. Green and Patricia Maher-Wade were voted out of the Town Council and replaced with write-in candidates Ken Wine and Tom Rollins. Voters retained incumbent John Unger on the six-member board.

In the Prince William area, two incumbents were ousted and newcomers Dorothea D. Barr, Willie J. Toney and Nancy H. West elected to the six-member Dumfries Town Council. In Quantico, there was a tie between Mary Lou Angell DiMarzio and Virginia L. Macfarlan for the fifth spot on the council.

In Haymarket, voters returned Susan M. Shuryn and husband Oswald Vazquez to the council. John C. Cole, whose wife, Ellie, was appointed to his seat this year while he is serving in Iraq as a civilian employee, also was reelected.

One of the most closely watched elections was in Herndon, where a steady stream of voters cast ballots yesterday in the first municipal election since officials voted in September to close the Herndon Official Workers Center.

The center was established in 2005 as an alternative to street corners for employers to connect with laborers looking for temporary jobs. Although some praised the center because laborers no longer congregated on the streets, it quickly became a source of controversy because many suspected a majority of the clients were illegal immigrants.

DeBenedittis, Husch, Connie Haines Hutchinson, David A. Kirby, William B. Tirrell and Charlie D. Waddell won on a wave of anger over the center. That frustration persisted this year at the polls.

"I sympathize with the workers because it's very natural and normal to want to become an American," said Mary Paine, 82, a retired nanny and emigrant from Canada who voted at the Herndon Community Center yesterday. "But you've got to come in the right way."

Also on the ballot for mayor was Jasbinder Singh, who like Reece had been critical of the Town Council's handling of the day-labor center issue. Downer, the sole newcomer on the council, has said he wants to establish a task force to develop a new solution to the problem of day laborers loitering on street corners, which the courts deemed a constitutional right.

Across Virginia, 161 towns and 24 cities held elections yesterday.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company