Herndon Group Takes On Council

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009

A group of Herndon residents who have been critical of the Town Council's positions on a variety of issues, including immigration and economic development, has formed an alliance aimed at electing new leaders in 2010.

The Alliance for Herndon's Future has been organizing for about six months but officially kicked off this month. Its goal is to provide an alternative political voice in the town of 23,000 residents, west of Reston along the Dulles Toll Road.

"We don't feel like the makeup of our current council is really representative of the overall community, and we've been dissatisfied with the direction we're going," said ex-mayor Michael L. O'Reilly, who was defeated by Stephen J. DeBenedittis, the current mayor, in 2006. "The group got together because of that."

In particular, alliance members said, DeBenedittis and several of his colleagues on the Town Council have pursued policies regarding immigrants and day laborers that have reflected poorly on the town.

Herndon burst into the national debate on illegal immigration in 2005, when the Town Council voted to establish a job center for laborers seeking a day's work. The goal, council members said at the time, was to keep the workers off the streets. But a national outcry over the center followed, because many of the laborers were in the country illegally.

O'Reilly and several council members who supported the center were ousted in the subsequent election. The new council closed the center and stepped up police activity and zoning enforcement to restrict loitering and crowded living arrangements, which many residents view as among the negative effects of illegal immigration.

"There are plenty of folks who would say that the town's reputation suffered as a result of these folks' efforts to bring the day-labor center to Herndon in the first place," DeBenedittis said, adding that the alliance is not new but represents the people who pushed the day-labor center into existence.

DeBenedittis said that he welcomes the group's participation in the political process, noting that he won majority votes in 2006 and 2008. Alliance members said one of their goals is to improve voter turnout, which has hovered at about one-quarter of registered voters in recent town elections.

O'Reilly said he has no plans to seek election.

Alliance leaders said immigration is not their only issue. They said they are also dissatisfied with the council's slow efforts to plan for Metrorail along the Dulles Toll Road. The Herndon-Monroe station is expected to open in 2015, but planning to change the type of development that is allowed nearby has not begun.

"It's now pretty clear that Metro is going to be built down the toll road," said Rich Stacy, the alliance's president. "We are concerned because we have not seen the Town Council take any proactive approach to dealing with development in the area nearby."

DeBenedittis said that starting the planning process is a top priority for the council but that he is focused first on planning the redevelopment of Herndon's downtown. He also said he doesn't think Metrorail planning is a genuine concern of the new alliance.

"They're a one-issue group," he said.

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