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Candidates for Vienna Town Council square off in first forum

Next major event in campaign season will be held Oct. 13
Some of the candidates running in the Nov. 7, 2023, election for Vienna Town Council – (from left) Roy Baldwin, Jessica Ramakis, Howard Springsteen, Mayor Linda Colbert, Ray Brill Jr., Charles Anderson and Sandra Allen – pose for a group photo following a Sept. 19 candidate forum at the Vienna Community Center, which was hosted by the local chapter of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

Candidates seeking Vienna Town Council seats in the Nov. 7 election brought different perspectives to a Sept. 19 forum held by the local National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association chapter, but all stressed their commitment to public service.

Mayor Linda Colbert, who is running unopposed, led off the discussion at the Vienna Community Center by highlighting transportation improvements that soon will be coming to the town.

Starting at the end of the year, a contractor will begin installing signal modifications to move traffic along more smoothly along Maple Avenue, Colbert said. There also will be new bike racks, intersection improvements and a signalized crossing at the intersection of Maple Avenue, E., and Follin Lane, S.E., she said.

The Council continues to approve sidewalk projects using funding from the Maud Ferris Robinson Charitable Trust and recently OK’d landscaping upgrades along Maple Avenue and Church Street, Colbert said.

The mayor also said she wished to improve communication between the town’s government and residents, and said the town already offers an app that the public can use to send reports and photographs of problematic situations to Vienna officials for follow-up action, she said.

Colbert said she hoped the town could continue to distinguish itself from surrounding Fairfax County.

“We are all one community,” she said. “We work well together.”

Incumbent Ray Brill Jr. related anecdotes from his days at the U.S. Air Force Academy and working on legislation with then-U.S. Rep. Al Gore (D) of Tennessee.

“Creativity and practical solutions has a place to play in government at all levels,” Brill said.

Brill also told of his work with Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (“If you’ve never met a quadriplegic, it will move your heart and soul”) and of how he convinced a young man to stay with Scouting and eventually become an Eagle Scout (which Brill also is).

Next up was Sandra Allen, who touted her multiple volunteer efforts throughout the town and pressed for more housing diversity in Vienna and offerings for seniors at the town’s community center.

Allen inveighed against traffic noise and advocated for free speech and respect for all people.

“I believe in equal justice for all,” she said.

Incumbent Charles Anderson said he always has believed in community service and realized after giving a Sunday School lesson that there was no point in lamenting the apparent paucity of good people in politics.

“You need to stop complaining and run for office,” he said.

Anderson, who served on the Vienna Planning Commission for eight years before being elected to the Council in 2020, said the key characteristics of a Council member are experience, judgment, compassion and commitment.

“The issues we face aren’t black-and-white and easy,” he said.

Planning Commission member Jessica Ramakis said she was running for Council to preserve the town’s vibrancy and hoped the Council soon would approve Code Create Vienna, a comprehensive rewrite of the town’s zoning code.

A 20-year federal employee and mother of two young children, Ramakis said she enjoys opportunities to collaborate with others.

“We need to listen to as many perspectives as possible,” she said.

Roy Baldwin, an attorney who also chairs the Vienna Board of Architectural Review, said the town values its individuality.

“Vienna doesn’t have delusions of grandeur,” he said. “We don’t want 400-foot-tall skyscrapers. We want to be a nice little town. This is a precious asset, one we need to defend.”

Baldwin said serving on the Council would allow him to give back to the community and help steer the town through challenges and opportunities.

Incumbent Howard Springsteen,who first was elected to Council in 2009 and has the longest tenure of any current member, cited his service with the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department and other community efforts, including his work as crew-club president at James Madison High School.

Springsteen noted the Council’s recent accomplishments, including myriad sidewalk projects, a new police headquarters and upgraded pay scale to keep the police department competitive in the search for recruits.

Asked what most vexed them about the town and how they would like to fix it, Baldwin pressed for the developer of an approved mixed-use project at 444 Maple Ave., W., to finally get going after razing a former hotel and restaurant at the site.

Allen worried about traffic speeds in the town, comparing crossing streets to playing the video game Frogger, and favored sidewalk improvements, reducing cut-through traffic in neighborhoods and perhaps implementing more one-way streets.

Springsteen said it was important to manage the public’s expectations, especially on issues such as tree-canopy replacement, which might take years or decades to effect.

Brill wanted better traffic-light synchronization, especially between the close-by intersections of East Street and Follin Lane, and also urged more tree preservation.

Anderson warned that while the town has a strong sense of community, it could become a victim of its own success. Rising housing prices are not an easy problem to solve and the town should examine opportunities for more multi-family housing in appropriate locations, he said.

Ramakis said it was crucial for the town to get more residents engaged in community affairs and ensure their concerns are heard.

“We need to meet people where they are [and] prioritize together,” she said.

Colbert went last and cited the challenge of balancing competing interests.

“I wish I could say ‘yes’ to everybody,” she said. “We have limited resources.”

Town Council candidate Shelley Mountjoy was unable to attend the event, and former candidate Elizabeth Korodny has pulled out of the race. Beth Eachus is conducting a write-in campaign for Town Councill.

Candidates will appear together again at forum held by the North East Vienna Citizens Association on Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Vienna Community Center. Auditorium doors will open at 7 p.m.