Washington re-elects four Council members, welcomes new face to Town Hall
Incoming Mayor Catlin and Treasurer Swift slide into office
There was little suspense in Town of Washington elections on Tuesday, given Frederic F. “Fred” Catlin ran unopposed to fill the seat of outgoing Mayor John Fox Sullivan, although voters were tasked with choosing five Town Council members from a slate of seven candidates.
The new Council will consist of returning members Mary Ann Kuhn who received 64 votes, Patrick O’Connell with 59, Katharine Weld “Kat” Leggett 49, Bradley C. Schneider, Jr., 47, and newcomer Joseph J. Whited, whose 40 votes barely secured the last remaining seat in Town Hall.
Coming up on the short end with 37 votes was J.R. “Jerry” Goebel, who was appointed to the Council in 2001 and served as the town’s Treasurer for 16 years; while Henry R. “Hank” Gorfein tallied the support of 31 voters. There were 6 write-in votes.
The unopposed Catlin received the support of 56 voters, and there were another 15 write-ins for mayor; and Gail K. Swift, the lone candidate for Treasurer, garnered 69 votes, with 4 write-ins.
Whited, the new face on the Council, is a 39-year-old consultant with the Department of Defense. He is a Navy combat veteran who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and has served as a senior intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency. A former U.S. congressional staffer, he has lived in the town since 2013.
The biggest outcome of Tuesday’s election, however, will be the official passing of the baton on Jan. 1, 2019 by Mayor Sullivan — who opted not to seek a third term in office — to Catlin, who has lived in Washington for five years and has served as Chair of the Planning Commission and on Town Council during that time.
Working in the education field for forty years, Catlin owns and teaches at the Albemarle Montessori Children’s Community, serving as a head of school for half that time. Additionally, he has chaired a statewide Montessori educators’ association and served on over fifty nonprofit boards.
Catlin refers to the historic town he will now lead as a “national treasure.”
“I have the strategic vision . . . to help the town sustain its unique character among American small towns, embracing its history while helping to guide a thoughtful plan for its future,” Catlin told this newspaper. “Little Washington should continue to be a place where people want to visit and live.”
The incoming mayor guided and was a primary author of the town’s most recent comprehensive plan, and proposed the creation of task forces that have studied for the past six months aspects of Washington’s future.
“I believe that the Town of Washington is at a unique point in its history — one in which we could seize on opportunities that could benefit the town, sustain its unique nature, and improve the quality of life for residents of the town and Rappahannock County,” he said. “I hope to accomplish a consensus among the town’s citizens that would balance gradual growth with improved amenities for townspeople — all while preserving the unique qualities and character of the town.
Targeted areas by Catlin include infrastructure, business and tourism development, housing opportunities, and fiscal management.
In a recent interview, outgoing Mayor Sullivan acknowledged that it’s “time for a change, both for me and the town.”
“I’ve had a good run,” he said, pointing out the decision not to seek reelection did “not come easily and indeed has evolved over recent months.”
Sullivan described being mayor “the capstone” of his 40-plus year career in national media, much of it spent as a magazine publisher in the big Washington. Besides his eight years in the town’s top leadership position, he served 10 years total on the Council, and two years on the Architectural Review Board.
His two terms as mayor weren’t always smooth sailing.
“I like to think there is a comity and a civility in our town that is lacking in our world at large, and the county for that matter,” he said, describing a fine line that separates the town and Rappahannock County.
Indeed, during the town’s few but significant litigation cases the mayor’s most outspoken critics weren’t even his constituents.
“I get terribly frustrated by the internecine warfare of [certain] people,” he said. “They don’t have a sense of the common good. I’m a believer in the common good. So many people seem to be living in their own little bubble — the mentality that if something good happens to the other guy it’s going to hurt them. It’s a zero-sum game. And I believe just the opposite.”
The town realized numerous accomplishments during Sullivan’s decade of public service, including developing and implementing a state of the art wastewater system; stabilizing the town’s finances through cost controls, sewer and water fees, meals and lodging revenue, the sale of Avon Hall; developing a new Comprehensive Plan with demanding goals; and beautifying the center of a village that is cherished by visitors from around the world.
The mayor said the town will “forever” be his and his wife Beverly’s home. “We’re not going anywhere,” Sullivan said. “We’re not going to disappear.”
Democratic congressional candidate Leslie Cockburn arrives at her Huntly campaign office Tuesday morning. Also on on Election Day, Rappahannock County Registrar Kim McKiernan (right) and Assistant Registrar Sheran Rigg check several absentee ballots received at the county’s election office.