Last night’s election had the largest turnout in recent Vienna history — by a slim margin. Below is a graph of voter turnout since 2000, using data as posted by Fairfax County at this location. (The official 2019 turnout number has not yet been published, so I extrapolated based on total votes cast, and the median ratio of voters to votes from all prior contested elections in this period.)
In fact, that graph slightly overstates the the 2019 turnout relative to past years due to modest growth in active registered voters over the period. My best estimate is that 24% of active registered voters in the Town of Vienna voted in last night’s election. The corresponding figure for the next-highest turnout — 2006 — is 23%.
So, the turnout was good, but no one should claim that this election was hugely exceptional in terms of turnout. It took a lot of effort by a lot of people to achieve that. But it was completely of-a-piece with prior contested elections in the Town of Vienna. Where, presumably, a lot of people also put in a lot of effort to get people to vote.
To be completely clear, after accounting for the increase in registered voters, the difference in turnout for this election, versus 2006, was just a bit over 100 voters.
But even a glance at the numbers hows how exceptional the results are. What follows next is a little subjective, because it’s based on my staring at the last two decades of election results. But if it’s not 100% correct, I bet it’s pretty close.
Point 1, Line 5: Vienna voters resoundingly failed to return an incumbent to the Town Council, in favor of newcomers. (I started to say “resoundingly rejected” but that’s wrong — nobody dislikes Councilmember Bloch.) I believe that’s unprecedented in living memory. I sure can’t recall that happening, and if anyone reading this can give me an example of that occurring this century, I’d like to see it.
Point 2, Line 4: Voters failed to choose a Town government veteran who had the explicit and implicit backing of sitting Town Council members. One Councilmember explicitly endorsed Hays prior to the election, and I believe the Mayor offered her implicit endorsement via yard sign (and by casting aspersions on the opposition, but that will be the subject of a separate posting).
Point 3, line 2, this was not a backlash against incumbents. Councilman Springsteen did just fine. He also voted against 444 Maple West/Tequila Grande and has come out in favor of significant revisions to the MAC statute. That’s not a coincidence.
Point 4, Lines 1-3 versus 4: Three strongly anti-MAC candidates won by a large margin. Personally, had there been four seats open, I’d have been campaigning for Strike as well as for Patel and Potter. Great guy, strongly anti-MAC, called for a two-year moratorium on new MAC projects. But he just couldn’t get traction against the top three anti-MAC candidates.
There’s no way to describe this as anything other than a referendum on MAC zoning. Enough people were upset enough by some aspect of what MAC is doing to Vienna that they decided to vote an anti-MAC slate.
Throughout the year that I have now been involved in this, the pro-MAC Town Council members and their adherents have steadfastly maintained that most Vienna citizens want what MAC is delivering. They have maintained that those who oppose MAC are a small, loudmouthed NIMBY minority. When nobody spoke up in favor of MAC at public meetings, they needed some excuse to explain that, so they falsely claimed that that pro-MAC speakers were being intimidated (see Post 244 to see what these meetings are really like). In effect, they claimed to represent a silent majority. Fully recognizing that humans have an amazing potential for self-delusion, I hope this election puts an end to that talk, and removes that excuse for inaction.
I mean, it’s not as if they didn’t have a few strong hints.
Such as the number of signers for this petition …
Versus the signers for this other petition.
Town Council has said they’d make revisions to fix the MAC statute. But so far, the draft language of those fixes consists of a) tweaks, and b) changes that further favor large buildings with high density. As I put in Post #227, far from listening to citizen complaints about MAC, so far, the Town Council has done nothing but double down on MAC. I am hoping that will now change.
Beyond that, basic aspects of this MAC process are ludicrously uncertain and must be clearly settled.
For example, it appears that the Town Council does not actually have the right to reject a MAC project that meets the legal requirements — and that only came to light a week ago (Post 261 ). Nobody knew that the Town had no off switch for MAC. Hand-in-hand with that, apparently the much-touted “Statement of Purpose and Intent” of the law is just so much window-dressing. I thought — and I’m pretty sure some Town Council members thought — that if, in their opinion, a building ran contrary to that statement, they could reject the building. But now, as I understand it, the Town believes it’s not enforceable and cannot be used as a reason to reject a MAC project. Again, this is a recent development.
Further, the Town gives itself no more than 100 days to decide each MAC project. Putting aside the fact that the calculation of that 100-day period appears to shift from project to project, nobody else in the Commonwealth of Virginia does that (Post #247). If it really is the law that applies here, you really have to ask we don’t just change it, and explicitly give ourselves more time, as both Herndon and Leesburg have done?
Do I even need to mention the fact that the building that Town Council (may or may not have) passed for the Marco Polo project was not the same building that the Board of Architectural Review passed (Post 245)?
Let me emphasize that these are just the ones we know about. The ones that have come to light so far.
I have a goal of smaller buildings and more green, open space. You may not share that goal — perhaps you’d prefer something more akin to the smaller buildings in Tysons. Fine. We can disagree on that.
But I hope we can at least agree that the basic process that the Town is using is pretty screwed up, and that if we’re going to undertake wholesale redevelopment of Maple, something else needs to be done. We’re doing wholesale urban renewal, with a brand new law full of ambiguities, and for each new building, we’re pretending it’s just another one-off rezoning. If nothing else, that needs to change.