In most cases, the outcomes of Tuesday’s municipal election are foregone conclusions. But that’s not the case in Purcellville, which features three hotly contested races expected to shift the balance of the town’s sharply divided leadership.
Voters in five of Loudoun’s seven incorporated towns head to the polls May 3 to cast their ballots for mayor and Town Council. Most races are uncontested.
Purcellville has 12 candidates on the ballot. Two are running for mayor; seven are running for four-year Town Council terms; and three are running in a special election to fill two years remaining on a vacated seat.
The town has been in search of a new political balance since 2014, when long-time mayor Bob Lazaro and several veteran council members did not seek re-election. Voters that year swept in a slate of political newcomers who had criticized the work of prior councils on everything from utility planning to development.
The split on the council between new and old members made for a rocky two years, with philosophical differences and lingering distrust from the election often breaking through the tenuous veil of amicability.
The 2016 election is expected to close that council split—one way or the other.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser is challenged in his bid for a second two-year term by longtime Councilwoman Joan Lehr. The two have often sparred during council sessions, and Lehr, who was serving as vice mayor in 2014, was the only council member not to be assigned town committee responsibilities when Fraser took the mayor’s seat. As the longest serving member of the council, Lehr’s experience and knowledge of government often clashed with Fraser’s desire to bring new ways of doing things.
Interest in running for council has been high ever since then-Vice Mayor Ben Packard announced at the Jan. 12 council meeting he would step down immediately as he and his family would be leaving the area. The council interviewed a number of candidates before unanimously appointing former Economic Development Advisory Committee member Melanie Fuller to fill the seat until the May 3 special election.
Those running for a four-year seat on council are: incumbents Vice Mayor Patrick McConville and John Nave, Planning Commissioner and former council candidate Chris Bledsoe, Purcellville businessman Sam Chapman, Northrop Grumman executive Ryan Cool, Patrick Henry College senior Chris Hamilton, and Planning Commissioner Nedim Ogelman.
Fuller is running in the special election to complete Packard’s term, as are former council and mayoral candidate Kelli Grim and Sandy Nave, wife of incumbent Councilman John Nave.
Divisions on council cover a number of topics—including managing the town utility debt, which is budgeted to be paid off by 2034; distrust of town government; a push to sell off town assets, such as Fireman’s Field or a portion of the town’s reservoir property; and—probably the biggest—the town’s development policies. This council has shown itself sensitive to the impacts of its development decisions on those living just beyond its borders, although there are grumbles in town that the interests of tax-paying residents should take priority.
The town is in the process of making revisions to its comprehensive plan and has sought to include the opinions of both residents and those living on its edges—many of whom do not want to see the town grow larger. With a population of almost 9,000, there is little room for growth left within Purcellville’s borders, and there is concern in town government that without some population growth and revenues from availability connections, residents will face steadily increasing utility rates. Two annexation proposals are under review by the town council, which is divided on the issue.
The polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday, May 3, at Emerick Elementary School on South Nursery Avenue in Purcellville. Polls close at 7 p.m. While written absentee voting concluded Tuesday, in-person absentee voting is open at the Loudoun County Office of Elections, 750 Miller Drive, in Leesburg from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday, April 30, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.