Leesburg Council Candidates Share Platforms in Debate

With Election Day less than a month away, candidates for Leesburg Town Council seats had an opportunity to share their campaign platforms and visions for the town before a packed house at the Leesburg Senior Center on Monday night.

The three candidates for mayor, as well as four of the five vying for three Town Council seats on the ballot, participated in the League of Women Voters-organized forum. The lone absence was Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox, running for re-election for a second four-year term. Fox had to make an unexpected early trip to Idaho for the birth of her first grandchild.

The concerns about increased partisanship on the council and questions about whether town elections, which under state law are nonpartisan, should move from November back to May were raised by audience members during the 90-minute forum moderated by Loudoun Now publisher Norman K. Styer. Several candidates said they would be in favor of moving the elections back to May. Although lower turnout would be expected, many said they felt the elections then were far less partisan when not lumped in with November’s general elections.

But some defended their decision to seek a party endorsement.

“I am not ashamed to say I accepted the endorsement of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee,” council candidate Neil Steinberg said. “By accepting the endorsement, I got an army of people that know more about running campaigns than I do. Getting there is the hardest part and it takes a lot of work. Trying to do it by yourself would be virtually impossible.”

Steinberg said he would not be in favor of moving the elections back to May, as staffing polling locations for non-November elections costs the town a significant amount of money.

Mayoral candidate Ron Campbell, a current sitting council member who won his first council term in 2016, said the partisanship on the council can be problematic. Campbell sought and received the support of the LCDC two years ago, but did not seek party endorsement for his mayoral bid.

“People refuse to talk to each other because of the party they belong to. I’ve received criticism from the democratic committee for talking to Republicans. It’s ridiculous when we need to get the people’s business done that it can come to that level,” he said.

The issue also was addressed by Fox’s husband Bill, who read statements to the audience on her behalf. “[Suzanne] has decided to take on the motto ‘principles not partisanship.’ She’s made a genuine effort to live by this motto. This approach has served her well. You can ask anyone who’s served with her she is a principled problem solver, a ridiculously hard worker and a great advocate and representative for her constituents,” he said. In her first bid for council in 2014, Fox sought and received the endorsement of the Loudoun County Republican Committee. She did not seek an endorsement this year. “I think it’s important now more than ever to improve our quality of discourse. I believe people want leaders who are … productive. I think we’ve seen too many examples lately of government bodies plagued with divisiveness and dysfunction,” she said in a statement.

Candidates were also asked what council accomplishments they were most proud of, and what they believed could have been done better or differently. Mayor Kelly Burk, running for her second mayoral term, said she was proud of the council voting to deny the controversial Meadowbrook commercial application over the summer. In terms of “do-overs” she said she wished she had not supported the creation of the Economic Development Steering Committee. That committee was formed following the spring 2017 budget deliberations at the suggestion of Campbell, one of her two challengers, to look at updates to the economic development section of the Town Plan and formulate recommendations. Burk criticized both the money spent on the facilitator, who largely did not run the meetings herself, as well as on staff time spent on the endeavor.

“I regret that I supported that,” she said.

Although not currently on the council, candidate Kari Nacy said she was proud of the council’s decision last week to support the HHHunt application to construct a memory care facility on Morven Park Road. She, along with incumbent Vanessa Maddox, said she would like to see some better collaboration between the town and Loudoun County.

Development was also a key question posed to candidates. In particular, they were asked to share their viewpoints on the potential development of both the Westpark Golf Club and Rogers Farm.

Nacy said the potential development of the golf course was one of the big drivers in her decision to run for council. She noted the golf course is literally in her backyard as a resident of the Country Club neighborhood.

“The biggest thing I’ve heard from the citizens of Leesburg is slow down the residential development, give us a break, let us have a breather,” she said. “I understand we don’t have any control over people’s private property. But what we do have control over is rolling up our sleeves, doing the hard work, meeting with staff, meeting with the developer so when it does come across council’s desk it’s something that everyone wanted; it isn’t a surprise.”

Councilman Tom Dunn, re-elected to his council seat two years ago but now challenging Burk in his third bid for mayor, said that opposition to the Meadowbrook application showed that neighboring residents did not want the commercial development eyed for that area. Other areas of town, however, would prefer commercial over residential, he said. Perhaps another look at the Town Plan is needed to determine what the best zoning for remaining vacant land is, he suggested.

“Government does have the ability to rezone properties,” Dunn told the audience.

Burk called the potential development of the Rogers Farm property a “heartbreaker.” She suggested that the council could explore putting a historic overlay on a part of the property to save some of the historic structures, like had previously been done with the Paxton property.

But, with Virginia a Dillon Rule state that limits the authority of localities, sometimes the council’s hands are tied when it comes to by-right development, some said.

“Property owners should have the right to do what they want with their property even if we don’t like it,” Councilman Marty Martinez, vying for his fifth council term, said.

The matter of the Eastern Gateway plan, currently before the council for review, was also broached. That area of the town, stretching from River Creek Parkway to the bypass, is eyed as the last frontier for development in the nearly built-out county seat. Some candidates also pointed to needed updates in the Town Plan for guiding future development.

“We need to have a vision of what we want Leesburg to look like in 20 years,” Martinez said.

Campbell pointed to sections of the Town Plan he called outdated to underscore the need for comprehensive updates.

“It says by 2030 we should have over 30,000 jobs created in the Town of Leesburg. I’m not sure how we can fit that. The reality is not an achievable vision. To talk about jobs, jobs, jobs and do nothing about it. … We must change the vision and then have a process and procedures that match that vision,” he said.

The protection of historic resources was also a hot topic, with Leesburg lately weighing the future of its ownership of the Sycolin Cemetery.

“We need to be as diligent about protecting African American cemeteries as we are Confederate cemeteries so we make sure we have an unvarnished picture of what history is,” said Steinberg, who noted that state law had long held special protections for Confederate burial sites.

Maddox said it was important that Leesburg preserve “American history,” including the legacy of African Americans in the town.

“The matter of protecting historic cemeteries and American history is critically important,” she said.

Adequately staffing the town government was also addressed, with Town Manager Kaj Dentler noting in recent budget presentations that significant staffing additions could be needed to meet service levels in future years. Several candidates pointed to the Leesburg Police Department in particular.

Maddox pointed to a recent tour she took of the police department, which is planned for a $12 million expansion.

“You really need to see how crammed they are in there. There’s no space left,” she said.

Several candidates voiced support for adding to the police force, although some were more reluctant to give carte blanche for more staffing increases.

“We don’t need to add to staff just for adding to staff’s sake,” Dunn said, although he voiced support for providing the police with needed resources.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

5 thoughts on “Leesburg Council Candidates Share Platforms in Debate

  • 2018-10-16 at 1:52 pm
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    Kari Nacy was the showcase last night. She was prepared, articulate, and confident. Her response to every question demonstrated that she is knowledgeable about the issues, is in tune with the people, and is smart enough to step in and work toward solutions. She showed everyone in that room exactly why she deserves a spot on Council. Leesburg needs her.

    Martinez and Maddox said nothing of substance. How is Martinez not more knowledgeable about town issues? He’s been on council for 15 years! Maddox is simply an embarrassment. She could not answer any questions and responded by either talking about something totally unrelated or mimicking the answer the person before her gave. Even in her opening and closing remarks, she had to read from her campaign material. Really? You don’t know what you stand for by heart? At one point she mentioned being a hard worker and I nearly fell over in my chair laughing. Has anyone seen her to anything for her campaign? Anything at all? She’s hoping Martinez, Steinberg, Burk, and the LCDC can bring home a victory for her just as they did last November when she also didn’t lift a finger. Voters – watch a town council recording or go to a meeting. You’ll see.

    Steinberg pranced around like a pony at the fair. Each time it was his turn to speak, he sauntered up to center stage and preened for the audience. When seated, he blocked out Nacy in an attempt to rattle her. Didn’t work – she was the star of the night. Steinberg is your typical tax and spend Democrat, so if you like higher taxes and money spent frivolously, then he’s your guy.

    Three candidates for mayor. None of them really swayed a voter last night. If you prefer tax/spend democrats, then pick from Burk/Campbell. If you want more bang for your buck, pick Dunn.

    • 2018-10-18 at 5:38 pm
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      Not sure who “LocobornandRaised” is (don’t you hate it when someone will not disclose who he or she is??) so I don’t know what his/her hidden agenda is. But I did not see this forum the same what he or she did. I was also at the debate and I thought that the League of Women Voters did a great job of soliciting questions from the audience and did not find it boring at all. It was all based on the questions asked by the audience so the candidates addressed the issues brought up by the audience–this is as it should be. This forum was a chance for the citizens of Leesburg to ask questions directly. I was not looking for a “Star of the Show”, as LocobornandRaised was (I thought this was a forum anyway) so I would not call anyone the Star. However, I was impressed with the way Kari Nacy answered the questions and noticed that she agreed with many of the answers that Vanessa Maddox gave. Vanessa said she would listen to the citizens before making up her mind on any issues, sounds good to me! I also thought that Neil Steinberg showed that he knew the issues and had good responses to the questions. He also discussed a very important issue that was not asked by the audience, transportation. Neil is a business owner in Leesburg and knows the town, as well as the budget and will make a great council member. There were sound system problems that night and Neil did step in front of the table so that the audience could hear him–commendable!!! Marty Martinez has been a member of the town council for many years and knows the same issues that Mayor Burk knows about so it was hard to understand what else he could add to the answers that the mayor gave adn why or why not the town acted in a certain manner. There were three candidates for mayor, as noted, and Kelly Burk has my vote–she has been a school teacher here , SERVED the community on the council and on the Board of Supervisors. She knows the area and she highlighted what she has done, while still keeping taxes low, over the years. So she has my vote ! Council member Tom Dunn has been on the council for a long time also and has lost two previous tries at being elected mayor. I noted that he never used the word Republican but considered himself a Conservative (which Republicans were known for before President Trump) –I have previously thanked Tom for stopping Ron Campbell’s attempts to besmirch the character of Mayor Kelly and I thank him again now.
      There were two themes that were mentioned at the forum:
      1. When should we vote for council? and
      2. How to get these “non-partisan elections” back to being non-partisan?

      Actually both questions are related. Council seats are supposed to be non-partisan but they never really were (same as school board races). Each party usually endorses their candidates. This year the Loudoun County Democrats endorsed a slate of candidates(
      full disclosure–I AM A MEMBER OF THE LOUDOUN COUNTY DEMOCTRATIC COMMITTEE-LCDC) and endorsed Kelly Burk for mayor–mayoral candidate Ron Campbell had been endorsed by the LCDC when he ran for council in the past and won but did not re-join the LCDC this time and did not seek their endorsement. Interesting to note though that all the candidates who are not endorsed by the LCDC have their yard signs located next to Republican signs so the inference is clear.

      May or November, that is the question. I have lived in Leesburg long enough to recall when town elections were held in May–turn out was very low(10%?). So it was decided to change the elections to November to coincide with other elections (decrease costs and increase voter turn-out). I think that this has happened but I also think this only added to the partisanship of the elections and almost required parties to endorse, since many vote straight party lines (those sample ballots handed out on election day do make a difference). So I think we should go back to May–(my personal opinion) if we truly want to try to get back to some sort of no-partisanship.
      Again thanks to the League of Women Voters and to Norman Styer for moderating this very informative forum.

  • 2018-10-16 at 4:02 pm
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    If one needed any proof of why the Leesburg Town elections need to stay in November, as it is now, just look at the comments by Locobornandraised. Clearly, that republican poster plays the partisan game to the hilt. So, I would guess that the only way to really know what happened at the debate, was to be there, or maybe find a website showing the debate.

  • 2018-10-16 at 4:21 pm
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    Doesn’t anyone notice that in the picture, most have a look of total boredom, or is it just lack of respect?

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