With less than two weeks until Leesburg’s municipal elections, the Loudoun County League of Women’s Voters held a candidates forum Thursday night to showcase the vision and core principles of each incumbent and challenger. About 40 residents came to Rust Library to hear the differences between each candidate through a question and answer session.
Mayoral candidate Tom Dunn and council challengers Jeff Phillips, Suzanne Fox and Dwight Dopilka featured themes of revitalizing the town by adding businesses, while the incumbents—Mayor Kristen Umstattd and council members Kevin Wright, Kelly Burk and Marty Martinez—highlighted successes they’ve achieved during their time on the council.
“We accomplish so much through the community, there is a great dedication to preserving what’s best in Leesburg,” Umstattd, who’s seeking her seventh term as mayor, said in her opening remarks. “It’s given me such joy serving as mayor because of that. Multiple sites list Leesburg as one of the best to places in the U.S., to raise families and do business, and we hope to build on that.”
Dunn, who is serving his second term on the council and mounting his second challenge to Umstattd after running unsuccessfully in 2010, said those previous national accolades don’t reflect the work of the current council and that he would lead the way to bring new businesses into town.
“Right now we have vacancy numbers that are the highest-ever for Leesburg,” Dunn said. “We can’t talk about articles from 2010 talking about data from 2009. We have to get it turned around today, not wait until tomorrow.”
Many of the incumbent candidates’ comments were focused on fixing the transportation problem in town, including creating a final solution for the Rt. 15 Bypass and Battlefield Parkway. The challengers are seeking to have a more transparent government, citing closed sessions such as those dealing with the controversial Oaklawn rezoning to allow the expansion of Leesburg-based K2M, and say they’ll push to create a more business friendly downtown.
Each candidate also was able to showcase his or her priorities through several questions: one about their vision for the town; another about what actions they’ve taken to improve the town or prepare for public office; a question on what the town’s economic engine should be; and another on their opinion on seeking city status for the town.
Kevin Wright, seeking his third term, mentioned that being a councilmember “isn’t about partisanship, it’s about doing the best thing for the town,” and he also stressed efforts to responsibly balance the budget, building roads and reviewing development plans while preserving Leesburg’s quality of life.
Kelly Burk, seeking her third term, said she has seen extreme growth in the town since she moved here when there were fewer than 8,000 residents—there are nearly 50,000 today—and she said the addition of 185 new jobs created in 2014 demonstrates the town has a vibrant economy. Marty Martinez, eyeing a fourth term, noted that there are 20 percent fewer town staff members than when he started as a councilmember in 2002. He said he wants to complete some of the town’s small and big projects, particularly those that improve transportation, to make Leesburg a better place to live.
The challengers each demonstrated differences in their styles. Suzanne Fox runs a wedding planning business and said she would give small businesses a voice in the council. While Leesburg elected officials are not elected on party affiliations, there is still a sense of partisanship on the council and Fox wants to mitigate that.
Jeff Phillips, a 35-year army veteran, called for a greater focus on public safety, including getting more police officers out of their cars and on the street, and he said he hopes to create a more robust economy.
Dwight Dopilka said the council “needs fresh approaches and out-of-the-box solutions” and introduced a five-point plan: produce solutions that help people, lower taxation between Leesburg and Loudoun County, restore transparency, reduce cost of town services and standardize the hiring process of town government.
Leesburg Today’s Norman K. Styer moderated the event.