Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Herndon Voters Validate 2006 Vote

Herndon Voters Validate 2006 Vote
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
May 7, 2008

Throughout the Democratic primary the mantra of its leading candidates has been to seek change. Voters in the Town of Herndon yesterday took to the polls and in their non-partisan Mayoral and Town Council elections decided to keep the change – keeping those members they voted into office two years ago during the highly publicized 2006 races.

For those folks who have been out to sea for the past two years, the Town of Herndon, about a four square mile town in Western Fairfax County, VA, received national attention simply because it had a group of candidates who believed then, as they believe now in some basic core values. Such values include law and order, controlling spending, an expectation of safety for all its legal residents as well as a hope that those legal residents – both native and those who have chosen this great nation as their own, will succeed in garnering their American dream.

However, what the average viewer of “mainstream” television news or reader of “mainstream” newspapers received to their eyes and ears made this particular group of political candidates appear as if they had just stepped out of D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation. These candidates were portrayed as racist, ignorant, back-water dolts simply because they did not want the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to pay for a day laborer center that would be used by illegal aliens to the tune of about 90 percent of its users – a Fairfax County statistic. (I use the term illegal aliens because they are not legal immigrants and I do not wish to insult the hard-working immigrants who entered this country legally. Ironically, a liberal friend of mine inspired me to use the term illegal alien.)

Complicit in this crime to provide sanctuary or a safe haven to those who have no legal rights to either work or live in the United States in the first place, Fairfax County, in cahoots with Reston Interfaith and a majority of the Herndon Town Council from the 2004-06 term gave its blessings, and the people’s money, to the creation of this center.

Herndon’s police force, at the time, again thanks in part to the 2004-06 council, did not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, thus leaving illegal aliens free to harass people attempting to access certain businesses around town as well as appear in public intoxicated and even relieve themselves at times on private property not belonging to them. Overcrowding in private homes became a serious concern in terms of safety, sanitation and potentially decreasing home values.

The time had come for Herndon citizens to take back their town. And take it back they did. In an overwhelming response, Herndon voters in 2006 rebuffed those who supported the day labor center with one exception and installed a new group of council members and a mayor who lived up to their words about cleaning up the Town of Herndon.
Rookie mayor Steve DeBenedittis had a mostly veteran council in spite of three newly-elected members with which to work.

It pleases me to say that the three newcomers to the council are friends of mine – Dave Kirby, Charlie Waddell and Bill Tirrell and each opposed the day laborer center. It is interesting to note that neither Kirby nor Waddell served on either the town’s Architectural Review Board or the Planning Commission, typically stepping stones for council candidates. The voters, hell-bent on real change, decided to give some new folks a chance. Make no mistake, they have worked hard and served the community well – so well both Kirby and Waddell have been rewarded with a second term yesterday.

Bill Tirrell not only served on both the above mentioned boards, but also five terms on the council prior to make two unsuccessful bids to become mayor. Tirrell is tenacious and a solid Navy man whom the voters returned to the council in 2006 and again yesterday. He is fair and balanced, to borrow a phrase. Actually, he has to be as he has umpired community baseball for many years. Sadly, his true downfall is his animus toward my alma mater – Maryland and the fact that he is a Yankees fan.

Dennis Husch, reelected to the council for his seventh term, found himself in the unusual position of being vice mayor – meaning he earned the most votes of any council candidate. This shocked not just Husch, but just about anyone with a pulse in Herndon as he had finished in sixth place in each of his six previous campaigns to reach the dais of the six member council. No longer did anyone have to listen to the oft-told joke by Husch, “what do you call the candidate who finishes sixth? Councilman!”

I give him jazz about those sixth place finishes, as I did again last night as Husch was returned to council for an eighth term in his usual sixth place position. Husch is a good man and good friend who truly looks out for the Town of Herndon – the whole Town.

Also reelected in 2006 were Connie Hutchinson and Harlon Reece, both for a fourth term. Hutchinson is a hard worker who was one of the driving forces that made the Herndon Visitor’s Center a reality.

Reece, a good soldier, literally, well, actually a Marine, was the only holdover of those who supported the day laborer center. Reece is also a good man who believes he is working in the best interest of Herndon, but on the issue of the day laborer center, we had to part ways. I still consider him a friend, but politics is politics, issues are issues, and I could not support Reece in his quest to become the next mayor of Herndon in yesterday’s election.

The huge turnout spoke volumes with the major shakeup of the council in 2006. The turnout yesterday shrunk by a couple of hundred voters, but that is because they did not have the same anger held over from 2006. By and large, voters were satisfied with the work of the 2006-08 council and rewarded all who sought reelection with an additional terms.

Reece, the lone holdover initially supporting the day laborer center lost his bid to replace DeBenedittis. In fact, DeBenedittis faced and withstood two opponents, Reece who is a true Southern gentleman, issues notwithstanding, and Jasbinder Singh, an arrogant individual who had no respect for the rules or the office he sought.

In an encounter with Singh yesterday, he was campaigning too close to the entranceway of the Herndon Community Center where the lone poll was located. Clearly a violation of the rules, I politely told Singh he couldn’t campaign where he stood. He said to me, “I am running for mayor, you must respect me.”

After a split-second recovery from that moronic statement, I said, “if you are running for mayor, you should know the rules, and to not follow them is not the sign of a good leader.”

To which he responded, “I don’t have to listen to you,” followed by his son calling me an “asshole.” I reported the incident to an election official.

Fortunately, the Town of Herndon has been spared the wrath of an individual who couldn’t be less knowledgeable of the issues facing the community.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was impressed with not just DeBenedittis’ knowledge of the issues, but his recollection of virtually every person he encountered on election day. As people approached him he remembered where he met them, often times what street they live on and even an issue of concern the voter may have discussed with the reelected mayor. That is a real talent. As someone who has run for public office a couple of times, that is one of the most challenging aspects of a campaign, to remember the names of that many people.

Throughout the day, voter after voter approached the incumbents to offer good luck wishes, congratulate them on a solid term, reassure the candidates they earned the votes of the well wisher, as well as discuss issues of importance.

One Asian-American gentleman related how he has been a Herndon resident for more than a decade. He said how deplorable it is when people come to this country illegally, don’t follow the rules, laws and customs of the United States. The voter then thanked the two incumbents with whom he spoke for doing such a good job during the current term and hopes they will continue in the term ahead.

Another voter, a Hispanic gentleman voiced similar thoughts and added how embarrassed he gets when he reads in the paper about Hispanic males arrested for public intoxication or the overcrowding of single-family homes by large groups of Hispanics.

Don’t hold your breath waiting to read such comments in The Washington Post or the Herndon Observer, Herndon Connection or Herndon Times. Full disclosure, a number of years ago, I labored for the Herndon Connection. That said, the Observer is considered the alleged voice of the people of the Town of Herndon with its deeper roots in town and actually located in Herndon. Truth be told, the paper was nothing short of being a shill for the candidates running in opposition to the incumbents that won reelection. Far from fair and balanced, one only needs to turn to their editorial and letters pages.

Obviously, the voters saw past the local media and remembered why they elected the incumbents in the first place.

On the economic front, the council controlled spending, a genuine rarity these days, and they did so by not increasing their operating budget for FY-2009. Just as importantly, the Town Council did not reach into its citizens pockets any deeper as they did not raise the tax rates during this same time period.

While keeping their hands out of citizens’ wallets, the council managed to make the Town a more pleasant place to live as residential overcrowding was decreased from 120 cases to roughly 40 cases. This is important as it keeps property values high and sends the message that there is an appropriate way to live and the Town will not be taken advantage of by people not willing to live by the rules.

Couple this with the closure, finally, of the day laborer hiring site, now no longer a magnet for illegal aliens and no longer giving the impression of Herndon as a sanctuary town. This too, is good for maintaining safe streets and does not rob people of their tax dollars to pay for the day laborer site.

Thanks to the Town Council, the establishment of the 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement with Homeland Security, ICE has empowered the Herndon Police to enforce federal immigration law for those miscreants arrested on felony and DUI charges.

Improvements have been made to Runnymede Park and Alabama Drive Park continuing Herndon's reputation as a green-friendly place to live, work and play.

This is why the voters returned the mayor and five incumbents to continue their work for the people of the Town of Herndon. But don’t expect the local press to share this with anyone. That’s why it can be found on my blog:

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

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