In a story on Herndon two weeks ago, the name of a restaurant was listed incorrectly. The reastaurant is Rick Walker's Scoreboard. (Published 2/11/88)
Richard F. Downer says he considers Herndon Mayor Richard C. Thoesen a decent man who is well-intentioned.
But that's where the tempered praise ends for the two-term incumbent he hopes to unseat in this year's mayoral election, set for May 10.
Richard Downer is angry. Sitting in the Shortstop restaurant, a popular gathering spot in the middle of Herndon, the 44-year-old insurance agent points out the window in the direction of stalled development projects that he says reflect poorly on Thoesen's leadership.
The Herndon native asserts that his opponent is disengaged and myopic, and suggests that the mayor saw the development train coming but failed to climb aboard.
Although Downer repeatedly says, "I'm not running against Rick Thoesen, I'm running for mayor," his pointed lobs against the incumbent sound a different beat. "The biggest problem I have had is that Rick doesn't consult the council before he does things."
Thoesen, who is "absolutely committed" to seeking a third term, refuses to respond to Downer's barbs, saying he will engage in debate only after he declares his candidacy, some time in late February. The filing deadline is March 8. But he defends his record and characterizes himself as a consensus builder.
Of Downer's quest, Thoesen says, "I guess you could say I'm still recovering from his challenge because I always considered him a supporter and an advocate. I'm concerned that this could polarize the town."
Downer, who served on the council from 1971 to 1974 and did not seek reelection, considers himself a watchdog of town government. He regularly attends council meetings, serves on committees and occasionally riles council members. He believes the Town Council, the Planning Commission and the Planning Department are out of sync, unable to make sophisticated decisions about growth and development. Downer says he favors "quality growth."
Several council members and observers agree with Downer's assessment that Herndon has moved slowly to develop the downtown area, or in deciding where to put the town swimming pool and library.
But they disagree that the government has squandered opportunities for the town's 14,095 residents. "I would suppose there are some issues where the council members disagreed or you could say that it was taking its time," says Christopher Riddick, a council member.
But, he added that his colleagues have proceeded cautiously, particularly regarding redevelopment, to ensure that the town's limited resources are distributed wisely. "I would think that we didn't make any rash decisions," Riddick says. "We have made sure that we got input from a variety of individuals."
Downer thinks otherwise, asserting that the Planning Department is a "bush league" operation, incapable of resolving vexing problems over mixed-used ordinances to achieve a balance of residential and commercial space in the 4.2-acre downtown area.
Some developers seeking business in Herndon have similar complaints, saying decisions could be expedited if the council were willing to hire outside consultants and experts to address complex zoning issues.
"They know what they would like to do but don't know how to do it," says Curt Bradley, a Fairfax developer who owns a 15-acre parcel of land downtown and has waited two years for the council to establish zoning parameters so he can proceed to develop his property. "Herndon has been reasonable as far as growth is concerned. Having recognized that, they should have brought in some help."
Several council members say they appreciate Downer's commitment to Herndon, noting that he has lived there most of his life and given time and energy to improve the quality of life.
But these individuals, most of whom requested anonymity, say they find his manner abrasive and his attitude "holier than thou," in the words of one council member.