By Michael Laris and Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Republicans captured a seat on the six-member Alexandria City Council last night, defying political trends that have prevailed in the city since 2003 and giving an emotional boost to local party officials.
With all 27 precincts counted last night, supporters of challenger Frank Fannon IV, a banker at SunTrust Mortgage, were jubilant about breaking the Democratic stranglehold on the council.
"A lot of people in Alexandria thought there was no way Republicans can win," Fannon said. "The citizens of Alexandria are ready for a change -- and not having a one-party system. People like to have options."
The GOP victory is the latest in a series of wins in low-turnout elections in Northern Virginia that have been taken as a sign of resurgence for an otherwise embattled party. Democrats, though, have described the trend as a fluky product of highly localized contests.
A second Republican-backed candidate won a seat on the council as well. Alicia R. Hughes is active in Republican circles but could not seek the party's formal endorsement because she is employed by the federal government, as a patent examiner. She ran as an independent.
Fannon said winning along with Hughes was especially significant.
"To get anything discussed, you need to have a second vote. It was very important. If I were the only one up there, it could have been a lonely spot," Fannon said.
The other winners in the City Council race were challenger Kerry J. Donley, a former mayor, and incumbents Rob Krupicka, Redella S. "Del" Pepper and Paul Smedberg, all Democrats. Mayor William D. Euille ran unopposed.
Two incumbents on the council were defeated: Justin M. Wilson and Timothy Lovain.
"I think we're all in shock," said Patty Donmoyer, who campaigned for Wilson. "The two Democrats who fell were the ones who were on the council for the least amount of time."
Yesterday's local elections in Northern Virginia also included an Alexandria School Board race and a Town Council vote in Vienna. The potential volatility of a low-key May election had party backers from both sides scurrying for the upper hand in the run-up to yesterday's contest.
In a city that went 72 percent for President Obama in November, Republicans were counting on some Democrats and independents to cross over. In interviews outside polling places, some residents said they split their votes, preferring to back individuals rather than vote along party lines.
Standing beside a firehouse precinct dotted with 25 campaign signs, Jessica Tava, a retired human resources manager, said she voted for four Democrats, one Republican and one independent. Her goal was "a more diversified council, because I just think it's good for the process," Tava said. If a Republican makes it, she said, her hope is "real bipartisanship, which I know doesn't exist in Congress."
Three seats were also being contested on Alexandria's nine-member School Board. Two new members were elected: Helen F. Morris and Mary Mein "Mimi" Carter. Incumbent Sheryl K. Gorsuch won another term, but Scott Newsham was bumped from the board. Six other members ran unopposed and were guaranteed to keep their seats. Eileen Cassidy Rivera did not seek reelection.
In Vienna, five candidates, including two incumbents, ran for three at-large seats on the Town Council. A key issue was maintaining the town's character as Tysons Corner is transformed with the coming of Metro's Silver Line.
That contest was a cliffhanger. Unofficial results showed that incumbent George E. Lovelace and challenger Laurie A. DiRocco secured two of the three seats up for election, but the third remained too close to call.
Although challenger Howard J. Springsteen held a one-vote lead over incumbent Dan M. Dellinger, one provisional ballot was cast and could not be examined until this morning under Virginia law.
"I grew up in New Jersey. A lot of races got decided by one or two votes," Springsteen said shortly after the vote totals were released. "I guess we won't know until tomorrow."
The voter whose ballot is in question had requested an absentee ballot but voted in person instead. Elections officials will determine the validity of the vote this morning. If the race ends in a tie, the Fairfax County Board of Elections will choose the winner "by lot," or by chance. In the past, county officials have broken ties by flipping a coin and by drawing a name out of a hat.
Lovelace served two decades as a Town Council member, and DiRocco is chairman of the planning commission. Dellinger has served one full term on the council, and Springsteen is president of the volunteer fire department. Mike J. Gadell, a Marriott executive, came in fifth.
In Alexandria, Fannon had argued that increasing the tax rate in the midst of an economic downturn will make it "very difficult for a lot of people. We really need to control the spending."
City GOP leaders made a cartoon elephant named Plunkee their mascot for the election, barraging thousands of voters with fliers and mailings pushing them to vote for the three Republican-backed candidates and no one else. That tactic is called plunking, and the goal was to get at least a single voice on the council.
Voter Mike Denk, a federal employee, voted for just four candidates: the three backed by the GOP, including Hughes, and independent Rich C. Williamson, a federal government project manager. Denk, an independent, said his voice mail was filled this week with an unusual number of last-minute campaign calls, and his priority was ending the Democratic lock on the City Council.
"You need another voice, another party," Denk said.
Fannon said voters took the time look beyond party labels. "They didn't look necessarily at the party lines. We have a very smart citizenry here," he said.
Virginia voters head to the polls again next month for a Democratic primary in the governor's race, and statewide elections will be held in November.
Staff writer Theresa Vargas contributed to this report. For the latest results, go to http://washingtonpost.com/metro.