The Town of Leesburg will hold its first ever November election this fall, coinciding with the election of U.S. senators, representatives and president. Voter turnout has long been a source of disappointment for town leaders, but with the Election Day change, record numbers should take part in choosing who will fill the three seats on Town Council as well as who will be the town’s next mayor.
There are nine candidates vying for votes. Mayor Kristen Umstattd faces a challenge from Linda Shotton, Dwight Dopilka, Jim Sisley, Bob Zoldos and Ann Robinson are set to square off against council incumbents Tom Dunn, Katie Hammler and Dave Butler for three council seats.
Dunn is seeking re-election after his first four-year term on council, which began in 2008. He also ran for mayor against Umstattd in 2010. Dunn is frequently a lone dissenting vote on council motions, and he said he hopes to gain two or three allies from the coming election.
“It’s been challenging over the last four years,” he said. “I feel there’s still unfinished work to do in Leesburg and some things I’d like to get accomplished.”
Dunn, who spent the majority of his career as a mortgage banker, now works as a marketing specialist and helps with real estate closings. He said issues he plans to focus on in the campaign are the town’s utility rates—he wants to discuss alternative solutions to simply raising them, such as selling water and partnering with Loudoun Water—making the town more business friendly and lowering taxes.
“The current council likes to use what I call political talk. They like to say things like average tax bills have been lower,” Dunn said. “Unfortunately, it’s just not true. Last year, a certain number of people in town had their taxes go up. This year I would not be surprised if most taxes went up.”
Dunn said he wants the council to have a serious discussion about cutting staff positions and seeking outside contract services as a way to reduce residents’ tax burden. One of his complaints over the past four years has been other members’ of council’s unwillingness to hold discussions on some topics, he said.
“I’m not running for council, I’m running to change council,” he said. “You have to at least be able to be willing to be able to discuss these things, and too often, council doesn’t even want to entertain discussions.”
Hammler has been on the council since 2004, and the former U.S. Army captain, who now owns KSH Technology Solutions, said she hopes to continue the work that has been going on for eight years now.
“I’ve found working on the town council to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my entire life. We’ve accomplished so many things,” she said, noting the town’s honor of being named the fourth-best place to live in the country by CNNMoney. “That did not happen by accident.”
Hammler said Leesburg’s taxes have been “reduced year over year,” but, with an anticipated budget gap in 2017, the town needs to find ways to reduce capital expenditures. She touted the town’s achievements in transportation, specifically the Battlefield Parkway extension, but said that will also require more work in the future.
“We need to complete Crosstrail Boulevard to Rt. 7, that will be an interesting challenge,” she said. “Something I’ve fought is the pressure for residential overdevelopment that’s clogging our roads.”
Hammler stressed the importance of the town’s nonpartisan elections—a point of emphasis for all candidates—and referred to herself as a “citizen legislator” who will steer clear of any party politics.
“You don’t need a party affiliation to fill in potholes,” she said. “I’m going to be doing the most important thing… seeking endorsements from every single voter and not from a political party. Our residents are seeing what’s happening on a state and federal level with the stalemates. Our citizens want someone who will be nonpartisan.”
Dave Butler, who is seeking his second term on council, said he’s worried the November election will alter the nonpartisan nature of the election—which is why he voted against moving the date. He said 80 percent of those in the voting booth won’t be well informed of the candidates on the town level.
Butler is the chief security officer for National Electronics Warranty in Sterling.
“Being in November, it’s not going to be a partisan election,” Butler said. “The vast majority of people going to the polls are going to be very partisan, and they’re going to turn the council partisan as well, even though it’s going to be officially nonpartisan.”
Butler also said he’s running again to continue the improvements made in the town, citing Battlefield Parkway as a major achievement. He said, if re-elected, he wants to continue to guide the town to make wise decisions for the future.
“I think we have to continue to be wise in our investments, but we can’t stop all investments. We have to continue to move forward and solve problems,” he said. “We have to finish the downtown improvements, and we’ll finish some of the key roadways.”
Butler and Hammler both mentioned the possibility of Leesburg becoming a city, which Butler said could mean some tax advantages. Although neither advocated the change, they said it was something that was worth exploring.
With more time and more voters than in previous years, the candidates will have more chances to go door-to-door and meet the 25,000-plus-member electorate than ever before. The election will be held Nov. 6.