The Nov. 8 election for Leesburg’s mayor and town council is nonpartisan, so voters won’t find the candidates’ party affiliations listed on the official ballots.
But that hasn’t stopped the local Democratic and Republican parties from making endorsements and supplying volunteers to help their favored candidates. Of the three people running for mayor and seven others vying for three seats on the council, all but two have received endorsements from one of the major parties.
With voter turnout expected to be high because of the presidential election, party endorsements — or a lack thereof — could make a difference in down-ballot races, such as those for Leesburg mayor and town council, several candidates said.
The three mayoral candidates have all served multiple terms on the town council. The Loudoun Democratic Committee endorsed Vice Mayor Kelly Burk, who was first elected to the council in 2004. Kevin Wright, who served from 2006 to 2014, received the endorsement of the Republican Committee.
Mayor David S. Butler, who has served on the council since 2008 and is pursuing his first full mayoral term, said he did not seek the endorsement of either party. Earlier in the year, the council selected Butler to complete the term vacated by former mayor Kristen C. Umstattd, who was elected to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors last year.
“The council just doesn’t deal with the kinds of issues that tend to separate the parties at the national level, so the party labels are not that relevant,” Butler said. “It’s not a good way to differentiate candidates at the local level.”
“The Republican Party doesn’t have a platform on whether or not sidewalks should be fixed,” he said. “What we’re really dealing with are the local issues and working with and engaging with the community, regardless of party. Once we’re elected, our job is to represent everybody.”
Butler said, however, that the lack of a party endorsement could put him at a disadvantage.
“It’s easier to get volunteers to knock on doors when you’re endorsed by a party,” he said. “The parties will be on the sample ballots” handed out by volunteers at the polls.
“There are a certain percentage of people that will vote for the party-endorsed candidate, regardless of any other factors,” Butler said.
Burk said “the value of the party is first and foremost volunteers, being able to pull people in to help with the campaign, because it’s not a small town anymore.”
In the council races, the Democratic Committee endorsed Ron Campbell, Evan Macbeth and Gwen Pangle. The Republican Committee is supporting John Hilton, incumbent Thomas S. Dunn II and former council member Kenneth D. Reid.
Only three-term incumbent Katie Sheldon Hammler, who is running for reelection, did not receive an endorsement from either party.
Hammler said she considered seeking an endorsement after Wright placed fourth in a race for three seats on the council in 2014. Wright ran without an endorsement in that election.
“I really thought hard about it, because my colleague Kevin lost two years ago,” Hammler said. “He did not win the election to town council because he ran a nonpartisan race. He realized he needed to get an endorsement.
“I just made the decision that I’d rather lose the right way than win in what I think is the wrong way for a local election,” she said.
Hammler was a vocal advocate for keeping Leesburg elections nonpartisan when the town charter was revised in 2012.
“We don’t need litmus tests dealing with national issues as it relates to what are local issues, and being able to focus on what’s important to Leesburg voters and Leesburg taxpayers,” Hammler said.
Umstattd (D-Leesburg), who served as mayor from 2002 through 2015, said the election dynamics changed in 2012, when the council elections were shifted from spring to fall to coincide with the national elections.
“Suddenly, the council races were thrown into a partisan election mix, and that has made it nearly impossible to keep partisanship out of those races,” she said.