It may be season for spring fever, but politicians in Northern Virginia are complaining that local voters seem more infected with sleeping sickness.
Candidates in Tuesday's municipal elections in eight Northern Virginia cities and towns say they are still meeting voters on door-knocking forays who either don't know about the elections or don't care.
"There seems to be a great deal of voter apathy," says Lee H. Wigren, a Fairfax City council member and one of four candidates challenging incumbent Mayor Frederick W. Silverthorne.
The Fairfax City council and mayoral races were expected to be volatile this year. The reorganization of the city fire department, which provoked an emotional debate last fall, promised to be a major issue for the mayoral hopefuls and the nine candidates for six at-large council seats.
But the reorganization, which placed a volunteer fire chief in ultimate control of volunteers and paid personnel, has worked so well by all accounts that the coals which seemed so hot a few months ago are now stone cold.
It has not even been raised by any of the candidates," says John T. Perrin, one of four incumbents running for reelection to the council. "This year's campaign is not anything like the election two years ago."
The 1978 campain was dominated by one issue -- whether to finance an independent school system or continue to contract with Fairfax County for school services. The issue provoked bitter debate and seemed to be the decisive factor in the campaign -- all the candidates who supported an independent school system were defeated.
The decision to stay with Fairfax County, which surrounds Fairfax City, along with this spring's serene campaign are futher evidence of a radical change in the city image.
Fairfax City has been a little feisty since it broke away from Fairfax County in 1961 to became an independent jurisdiction. In the past few years, the city has seemed to be involved in a dizzying number of battles.
Three years ago the city stopped paying for Metrobus service, vetoed a regional gasoline tax and sued Metro and most metropolitan jurisdictions to recover its $2 million contribution to the subway system. The city lost the suit, but not before it had tweaked half a dozen municipal noses.
The sounds coming out of the city now are so conciliatory that officials in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, particularly Fairfax County, are relieved if somewhat skeptical.
"I'm not complaining, but I wouldn't bet the ranch that we'll all live happily forever after," says one Fairfax County official.
"Fairfax City has a great deal to gain by fostering a harmonious relationship with our neighbors in Fairfax County," Mayor Silverthorne said in a press release that might have gotten him hung for treason in earlier years. "Confrontation politics . . . had a very negative effect on all concerned."
But not all the Fairfax City candidates are promoting peace and harmony. Clifford W. Overcash, a mayoral candidate and owner of a uniform company in the city, has accused current city leaders of allowing "ripoffs, sellouts and giveaways" in negotiations with the county.
Overcash, who lost a council bid in 1976 as well as the 1977 Republican primary for an 18th District House of Delegates seat (Overcash placed sixth out of seven candidates), has made Metro his prime campaign issue. He claims that Fairfax City could avoid imposing the new 2 percent regional gasoline sales tax by simply withdrawing from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC).
"The way the law is written, the tax is imposed on members of the transportation commission," Overcash says. "And there is absolutely nothing to preclude Fairfax City from writing a letter to the commission withdrawing our membership."
Stephen Roberts, an NVTC staff member, admits "that is one of the problems we have thought about . . . it is not a pleasant thought." But if Fairfax City tried to avoid imposing the tax, says Roberts, the issue would most likely end up in court and Fairfax City might not get the subway station in Vienna it has fervently sought.
"We'd be absolutely foolish to withdraw from a regional body which affects many more things than Metro," says Wigren.
Susanne W. Max, another council member challenging Mayor Silverthorne, said she is not happy with the regional tax because the money goes directly to Metro rather than to the individual jurisdictions. In Fairfax City the tax is expected to generate $570,000 the first year, while the city's share of Metro costs will be only $199,000.
"The rest of that money we'll be losing," said Max, who nonetheless does not support withdrawing from the NVTC.
Frederick J. McCoy, a Fairfax City dentist and former council member running for mayor, has campaigned for six years on the slogan, "Stop Metro, I want to get off." But McCoy says he does not regard the regional gas tax as an issue because it goes into effect July 1, the same day the new mayor and city council will take office.
"Anything that could be done, would have to be done prior to any of us taking office," said McCoy.
Polling hours in Tuesday's elections are 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Offices to be filled and candidates for each office:
Fairfax City -- Mayor: Frederick Silverthorne, Susanne W. Max, Lee H. Wigren, Frederick J. McCoy, Clifford Overcash, Six at-large council seats: Carl J. Hemmer, John T. Perrin, William T. Scott Jr., Glenn L. White, John Spence, Mary L. Roper, Eugene P. Moore, Edmund L. Kanwit, William M. Calnan.
Falls Church -- Three at-large council seats: W. John Cameron, John C. Gannon, Edward B. Straight.
Herndon -- Mayor: Thomas D. Rust. Six at-large council seats: Haley M. Smith, Daniel B. Krisky, Lloyd H. Johnson, Robert P. Jensen, William L. Burnette, Sheila P. O'Leary, Henry Zigler Jr., Charles F. Fisher, Howard Nachman.
Clifton -- Mayor: Mynor F. McIntyre. Three at-large council seats: Robert F. Achor, Kenneth D. Buckley, Robert F. Lindholm.
Vienna -- Mayor: Charles A. Robinson Jr., Donald Upchurch. Three at-large council seats. Vincent Olson, Ross Buckley, Robert Robinson.
Manassas -- Mayor: Harry J. Parrish, John Paul Molier. Three at-large council seats: James H. Payne, Louisa F. Galleher, John M. Webber, Paula A. Faraday, Maurice Gerson.
Manassas Park -- Mayor: Jay F. Murphy, Robert Murphy, Wendell Hite. Three at-large council seats: Frances Embrey, Robert Maitland, Douglass Parks, Donald Tickner, John Bowling.
Leesburg -- Mayor: Kenneth B. Rollins. Three at-large council seats: Stanley D. Herrell, Charles A. Bos, Howard M. Willis Jr., James M. Bles.