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Nonpartisan in Name Only?

Party endorsements of candidates in “nonpartisan” town council election put some at a disadvantage.

In this year’s election for the Leesburg Town Council, two candidates – Katie Hammler and S. Ann Robinson – may be at a disadvantage because they did not seek the endorsement of either political party. Other candidates appear to have lined up endorsements from one party or the other.

That doesn’t seem quite right, since Leesburg’s town council elections are officially nonpartisan.

Robinson said that she did not seek endorsement from either political party “due to the inherent strings attached, which are contrary to good local government.”

Hammler said that she was “dedicated to the spirit of our nonpartisan elections with the singular mission to serve the Leesburg taxpayer.”

“It has been a great opportunity to differentiate myself because I have been running a nonpartisan campaign versus other candidates who have sought national political party endorsement,” she said. “I will serve no other interests other than what is best for our town and have a proven record of leadership for Leesburg issues.”

I agree with former Congressman Tom Davis, a moderate Republican who previously served as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Davis recently said in a radio interview that he preferred that politics be nonpartisan at the local level. He remarked that he had never seen a Republican or Democratic pothole.

Of course, local government deals with more than potholes. But many of the issues local government deal with transcend party labels.

When we think of some of the major issues the town council has grappled with recently, it’s hard to see how party affiliation informed the decisions the council members ultimately made.

The council spent months gathering input and deliberating over whether to open a street in the Lowenbach neighborhood. Was that a Republican or a Democratic issue?

The council has been making a series of important decisions about Courthouse Square, a major development that is planned in downtown Leesburg. Again, opinions on this development appear to cross party lines.

In Leesburg Country Club, there was controversy over whether the town should purchase a house in order to put through an access road to the Linden Hill neighborhood. I don’t believe party affiliation entered into that discussion either.

Council members also discussed the issue of extending Metrorail to Loudoun County, another issue that crossed party lines. Although some Republicans seemed to be the most vocal opponents of the project, others were also among the project’s strongest supporters.  

But in recent years, partisanship seems to be creeping more and more into the town elections.

One of the reasons I opposed moving the town elections from spring to fall was because I envisioned the political parties playing a bigger role. I suspected – although I can’t prove it – that some of those who pushed for the change did so because they saw a political advantage in being linked with a political party on election day.  

I didn’t like the thought of getting sample ballots that included endorsements for town council elections along with top-of-the-ballot races for the presidency, vice presidency and senate. Now that the town elections have shifted to November, that appears to be where we are headed.

When I approach my polling place on election day, I usually try to avoid the partisans who are handing out sample ballots, partly because I take a little bit of pride in thinking independently.

That’s not to say that I ignore party affiliations at all levels. But I believe that party affiliation is just one thing to consider in making an informed decision at the polls.

I encourage Leesburg voters to research the issues and candidates before they head to the polls, and not rely solely on a handout from whichever political party thrusts a sample ballot into their hands. Take advantage of the election information that is available from Leesburg Patch and
other news media. If you have the opportunity, talk to the candidates themselves.

If party affiliation is important to you, then by all means consider that. But above all, make an informed decision.

And don’t forget to consider the candidates who respect the fact that the town elections are still – officially, at least – nonpartisan.

Anthony Fasolo November 03, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Leesburg Town Council elections have historically been nonpartisan but when it as decided by the voters recently to change the town elections from May to November , this effectively killed the nonpartisanship of these elections. As I understand it, the stated intent of proponents was to save money(combining elections) and to improve voter turn-out, which historically was below 20%. However, those who were against this change argued that the result would be the end of nonpartisanship, which appears to be happening. BUT the council race is on the BACK of the ballot where it may be missed. Also some observers at the early election polling places have stated that many voters were even unaware that the town was having an election along with the federal elections because the local races were over-shadowed by the federal elections.

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