Herndon Town Council candidates turn up heat

posted Mar 20, 2010, 12:30 PM by Jacob Hutchinson   [ updated Mar 20, 2010, 12:41 PM ]
Mar 17, 2010 | Fairfax County Times

A dozen candidates join race for six-member council. -   by Kali Schumitz, Staff Writer

As the Town of Herndon wrestles with major land-us decisions that will potentially shape its future for decades, more people are angling to have their say in the process.  A dozen candidates have filed to run for six seats on the Herndon Town Council, although Mayor Steve DeBenedittis is running unopposed.  Town elections will be held May 4.

The diverse field of candidates includes incumbents Connie Haines Hutchinson, Dave Kirby, William B. Tirrell Sr., and Charlie D. Waddell.  Challengers are Daniel E. Alvarado, Cesar A. del Aguila, Philip R. Jones, Lisa C. Merkel, Sheila Olem, Jasbinder Singh, Carl I. Sivertsen and Grace Wolf. 

This civic fervor is not so unusual for Herndon, a town of 4 square miles in western Fairfax County with a population of 23,000.  Ten candidates ran in 2008, and nine ran in 2006.

"It's not unusual for Herndon to have a race with a lot of candidates.  We have a lot of people willing to serve, which is great," said Hutchinson, who is serving her fifth term on the council.

This year, two incumbents decided not to seek re-election, which may have added to the interest level this year, Hutchinson said.  Councilman Dennis Husch, a council member since 1994 and the town's vice mayor from 2006-2008, decided not to seek re-election.  Richard Downer, another multi-term councilman, also is not running.

Although the town drew national headlines earlier this decade for its struggles in dealing with an influx of Hispanic immigrant day laborers, the top issues on candidates' minds this time around involve land-use planning.

"My No. 1 priority is Metro-rail," Merkel said.  "It's coming in 2016,and I feel like we're behind in our planning."

Herndon will have two Metrorail stations on its borders once the second phase of the new rail line to Dulles Airport is completed, now anticipated by the end of 2016.  The Herndon-Monroe station will be on the town's eastern border with Reston and the Route 28 station, although located wholly within Fairfax County, will be very close to the town and to Loudoun County.

Several challengers said they believe the current council has been moving too slow to plan for growth around the station areas.  The multi-year process to consider potential new development in Herndon's historic downtown has also dragged on too long, according to some challengers.

While he supports the current council on other issues, Jones said he has disagreed with their approach to the downtown redevelopment because they are trying to put too many restrictions on developers.  Jones and Merkel both said economic development and attracting new business to the town needs to be a priority.

"I really think we're at a crossroads right now," Merkel said.

Hutchinson said the council is moving ahead with its planning for Metro.  She serves on an interjurisdictional committee with members of the Loudoun and Fairfax county Boards of Supervisors that is working on issues related to the Route 28 station, and the town is soliciting proposals for the the land next to the Herndon-Monroe station.

As for the downtown plan, "We need to get it right, so I'm not really concerned about how long it takes to do it," she said.

Debates over the town's inclusiveness of its diverse population and its treatment of day laborers do remain in the background.  A town-sponsored day labor center led to mass turnover on the council in the 2006 election and was what got some of the current candidates involved in town politics for the first time.

"There isn't any bridge between the Hispalic community and the town government," Alvarado said.  "There are about 1,000 Hispanic citizens in Herndon and we don't have any representation on the town council."

Jones, who was a vocal opponent of the day labor center even before he moved into the town three years ago, said he generally feels the matter is settled.  He criticized the activist group Alliance for Herndon's Future, which some of the challengers are affiliated with, for trying to resurrect the debate.

"I don't see that at the top of anybody's list," Jones said.  "This slow, consistent poicy about not allowing laborers to gather and seek work is slowly working."



Kali Schumitz