(April 18, 2018) Catherine Read, a former candidate for Fairfax City Council in 2012, talks with first time candidate So Lim about some of the challenges of running in a May election for local office. The walk list candidates use to determine whose door to knock on is based on who has voted in that election previously. Local elections – also called municipal elections – have notoriously low voter turnouts. Many towns and cities have moved their elections from May to November to capitalize on the higher voter turnout for major statewide and federal elections. Fairfax City is not one of them.
Two current Fairfax City Council Members, Jeff Greenfield and Ellie Schmidt, announced that they would not be seeking re-election this year. This has left two open seats on the six person City Council. There are now eight candidates on the ballot for those six seats and the six candidates receiving the most votes on May 1st will make up the 2018-2020 Council in Fairfax City. For the first time in the city’s history, there are two Asian Americans on the ballot: So Lim and Sang Yi. There is a substantial community of Asian Americans in Fairfax City, most are Korean Americans. Since incorporating as a city in 1961, there has been almost no diversity on the council. Mayor David Meyer, a former Council Member who is running unopposed, holds a Mayoral position that has been exclusively held by white men since the city was founded.
So Lim has found that people care about very local issues: traffic, housing density, redevelopment projects and the downtown economy in Fairfax City. She has branched out beyond those who have previously voted in a May election for City Council and has started to talk with others in the city who aren’t aware there is a May election. Fairfax City has a high median income and a high level of education among the residents who live there. It’s perplexing as to why this population of people are not civically engaged in determining who will set their tax rate, fund their schools and pave their roads. So further discovered that there are over 300 registered Asian American voters in the City and only 20 have ever voted in the City Council election previously.
They discuss the City’s relationship with George Mason University, where Catherine is a 1984 alumna, and consider ways to better engage the thousands of students who live just outside the Fairfax City border. These ideas include bike sharing, better sidewalks, and businesses that appeal to college students. Catherine points out that many city voters were here long before Mason became the largest university in Virginia (by enrollment) and that having a “commuter school” in the 1970s and 1980s is vastly different than suddenly finding you are a “college town” within a matter of 20 years.
Catherine and So discuss affordable housing in the context of providing a variety of housing stock that allows everyone who is currently here to remain here – like senior citizens who want to age in place in homes more appropriate to their space requirements, income, and mobility. Students who want to remain in the area after graduating from Mason find it difficult to find housing they can afford. Families with children are drawn to our residential neighborhoods – many of which have parks nearby – but have trouble affording them. There are numerous redevelopment projects in various stages of completion in the city that will provide more townhouses, condos and apartments but affordability is still an issue and traffic concerns make many of these projects unwelcome by city residents.
In discussing ways in which to tap into the rich diversity of Fairfax City’s residents, So Lim proposes an international festival in the city that will bring people together. Catherine shared information about the annual International Showcase organized by the Centreville Immigration Forum that does exactly that. Now in it’s 8th year, the International Showcase is a celebration of the culture, music and food of the many ethnic communities represented in the Centreville area. Creating opportunities for a richer community connection and fostering cross cultural appreciation is something former Mayor Scott Silverthorne attempted to do when he brought Walter Tejada, Chair of the Arlington Board, to the city for a forum on diversity in 2013. While the forum was well attended, there was no advancement of the ideas brought by Walter Tejada.
So Lim is a local business owner. She started her insurance business nearly 20 years ago when her youngest child was only 4 months old. Fairfax City has been a good place to grow her business to quadruple its original size. She’s lived with her husband Mark Hardy in Farrcroft since 2001, her sons attended Fairfax City schools, and she is the former President of the Korean American Association of Greater Washington. While successful in these ventures, she’s not been involved politically in the City. As a political neophyte, she’s navigating her way through this process. So enjoys talking to people at their doors and she’s interested in what they have to say about what they love – and don’t love – about Fairfax City. She’s hoping that voters will give her an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to council decision making, the future visioning of the city and some experience in building healthy businesses.
More information can be found about So Lim at www.SoLimForCityCouncil.com Election day is May 1st.