When Alexandria City Council members deliberated in late June over three appointments to the city School Board, they were faced with more than simply the challengers' experience and the incumbents' records.
They also had to deal with the age-old tension of behind-the-scenes party politics seeking to influence a race that is, at least publicly, nonpartisan.
Specifically, a City Council with a Democratic majority was faced with reappointing a Republican, Eugene C. Lange, over a longtime Democratic activist, Jean Swersky.
In Virginia, the county boards or city councils appoint school board members and allocate money to the school systems.
Some school, government and community activists have criticized the process, saying that the nonelected seats are vulnerable to the political whims and infighting of the appointing boards.
Lange, along with incumbents Judith S. Seltz and Nelson E. Greene Jr., were reappointed to three-year terms June 23, but not before party politics had a whack at the contest.
"I was heavily lobbied by the Democratic Party," said Democratic council member T. Michael Jackson, one of the newest members of the council, who voted against the wishes of some of the party faithful.
"I've gotten a lot of telephone calls from a lot of disappointed Democrats, so we'll just have to wait and see."
Jackson said he received at least a dozen calls from people who held positions in the local Democratic Party.
Mayor James P. Moran Jr., who supported Lange, said his party credentials were criticized at a recent fund-raiser when a partygoer accused him of being "a Republican at heart."
Vice Mayor Patricia S. Ticer, a Democrat, said she, too, received calls from Democrats, including a few people "who believe you should not be going outside the party."
Party politics "always is and it always has been" a part of nonpartisan races, she said, adding that promoting a political party's point of view is the rightful goal of party lobbyists.
But, she said, the council should not be swayed by partisan interests. "You cannot justify displacing a good person" for party reasons. "You cannot just vote for your friend because it's your friend."
Seltz and Greene won the support of all seven City Council members, including its two Republicans, Carlyle C. Ring Jr. and Robert L. Calhoun.
Lange had the vote of everyone except council members Lionel R. Hope and Redella S. (Del) Pepper.
Political party influence in the nonpartisan School Board selection is a touchy subject for some people who are close to it.
Lois Hunt, Alexandria's vice president for the Northern Virginia Democratic Club who was mentioned by several people involved in the reappointments as one who lobbied for Swersky's appointment, would not discuss her position.
"You're not going to get me to say anything. Jean is a friend of mine. I don't have specific knowledge to say anything."
Pepper, who voted for Swersky, also said she would not elaborate on the role party politics may have played in the appointment process.
Hope said that the fact that Swersky managed his 1985 campaign "did not directly" affect his choice.
"I tried to play that down," he said.
"She decided, on her own, to run for the School Board."
Swersky, he added, had considerable experience in the schools, and he admired her straightforward approach to issues.
Susan B. Kellom, an executive board member of the Alexandria City Democratic Party and another person mentioned as a major Swersky supporter, said it is "natural" that ties developed during political work would result in support "I think it was the absence of politics that led to the appointments."
-- T. Michael Jackson
during nonpartisan elections.
Kellom said lobbying efforts by some Swersky supporters were actually independent efforts unrelated to the Democratic Party.
"We knew her because of her activism in the party, but we lobbied for her because of her activism in the schools," Kellom said.
Lange's candidacy also was the subject of speculation because of his conservative stance on school budget matters at a time when the School Board and the City Council are divided over the school budget.
Some school officials say that council members sought allies for what is expected to be a heated debate on the subject.
Council members disputed such an analysis and listed Lange's dedication and attention to budget detail as a desirable quality in public servants.
"We weren't looking for any kind of council sycophant," Moran said.
City Council members said that in the end, Lange's performance during his first term outweighed any political considerations.
"I think it was the absence of politics that led to the appointments," Jackson said.