Council member to challenge Leesburg mayor in May election

Councilman Thomas S. Dunn II.
Councilman Thomas S. Dunn II.
  Enlarge Photo    
By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Leesburg Town Council member Thomas S. Dunn II announced Wednesday that he will challenge Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd in May's election, setting up what could be a heated contest focusing on the town's future.

Dunn, who runs a mortgage banking business, said he wants to encourage development. Umstattd, a lawyer, has opposed several major development projects in an effort to preserve the town's charms.

"We've got the resources within our town government and business community to go out and recruit the businesses," Dunn said. "There frankly just has not been an active effort in town to do that."

Umstattd said in an interview that she plans to formally kick off her reelection campaign at a ceremony Jan. 22.

"I'll be running on my very consistent opposition to higher-density rezonings and just trying to maintain the sense of Leesburg as a safe, quaint little community," she said. "I'm running on my record, a record that includes reducing the average real estate tax bill four years in a row, my record to keep in-town water rates low and to maintain the higher out-of-town surcharge."

Leesburg's mayor has a two-year term. It is a weak-mayor system with many responsibilities that are ceremonial. Whoever wins the election runs Town Council meetings and shapes the agenda. The mayor's vote counts equally with members of the council.

Dunn criticized the power of "special interests" but declined to be more specific in an interview Friday. Much more needs to be done to coax companies to Leesburg, he said.

"It's time to give them the tools," Dunn said.

Town elections are nonpartisan.

Dunn, 48, has lived in Leesburg since 1998 and is in his first term on the council. He said one of his main goals is to change the date for local elections from May to November, despite a 5 to 2 vote by the council in October to reject such a move.

Umstattd, who has been mayor since 2002, moved to Leesburg in 1987 and first won election to the Town Council in 1992. Off-year, spring elections often have smaller turnout. Although 1,902 of Leesburg's 23,158 registered voters turned out in May 2008, 9,107 voted six months later in the presidential election.

Umstattd said she already has literature ready to go and looks forward to the campaign.

"As soon as the holiday season is over, I'll start going door-to-door," she said. "I think it'll be a fun race, both for Tom and myself, and hopefully the people of Leesburg."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company