By Joe Beck - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL - The town has two candidates for mayor who share a first name of Timothy, but other similarities are much harder to find.
For Mayor Timothy Darr, the campaign is an effort to gain vindication for a style of leadership that he said he believes has calmed a local government beset by turmoil before his election in 2010.
"The whole thing is about trying to give back to your community," Darr said in explaining why he is running. "If you do this job for any other reason, you're doing it for the wrong reason."
Timothy Ratigan said he doubts Darr has been as effective as he claims. Ratigan said he is running on the belief that he can get more done and prod town government to move the community forward in key areas such as job creation and downtown revitalization.
"Front Royal needs new blood; Front Royal needs new and exciting leaders," Ratigan said in a statement on his campaign website. "It is time for our citizens to take a good hard look at our current leaders and ask the question, is this the best we can do? Are these the type of leaders we really want for our town? If the answer is no, then let's do something to change that."
The differences between the candidates start with their biographies. Both graduated from Warren County High School, but Ratigan, 46, moved here from Nebraska in his childhood while Darr, 50, has been a lifelong resident.
After high school, Darr moved into an apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 672, since changed to local 26. He continued working as an electrician for 14 years. He took a job with the federal government in 1995 where he remains today as a division chief overseeing contracts, maintenance and quality control for the Department of Defense Force Protection Agency. The agency's work includes working with police and other law enforcement agencies in providing security to the Pentagon and Department of Defense agencies around Washington.
Before winning election as mayor, Darr also won terms on the school board from 2000 to 2004 and the town council from 2004 to 2008.
Ratigan joined the Navy in 1987, two years after graduating from Warren County High School, and served as a hospital corpsman until his honorable discharge in 1993. He works as a receptionist and clerk with Human Life International, an organization that describes itself as "the largest international pro-life organization in the world."
Activities described on the group's website include lobbying lawmakers in El Salvador "to amend the constitution so as to secure and protect 'the life of the unborn from conception'" and leading an investigation into defective condoms in Tanzania that "resulted in the destruction of over 10 million condoms."
Ratigan has not held elective office outside of student government in high school, but he does tout his prominence in a campaign to get the town to move its biennial elections from May to November. In doing so, the town would be encouraging more voter turnout, Ratigan says.
Darr cast the tie-breaking vote in June when the council rejected moving the elections, but Ratigan is not about to let the issue fade. Darr said at the time he doubted moving the election would save money as proponents claimed. He also noted that most towns in Virginia hold their elections in May.
Ratigan said Darr ignored a voter survey sent to about 9,000 residents. The survey showed 560 in favor of moving the elections and 260 opposed. Darr's vote showed an inability to lead, and the issue continues to come up among voters he meets, Ratigan said.
"The mayor broke the tie against the wishes of the majority of the people. That was a sticking point," Ratigan said.
Ratigan is also critical of the council's decision to fire former town manager Michael Graham, although Darr did not vote on that decision.
"Mike Graham was moving the town forward," Ratigan said. "We were seeing repairs to the roads done on a timely basis. People were taking more pride in the town. These are things that Front Royal citizens notice because they drive on the roads on a regular basis."
Darr said he is trying to run a campaign that avoids criticizing Ratigan, but showed irritation over what he called the challenger's failure to offer any meaningful answers to the problems he identifies.
"If you're going to offer problems, then offer solutions," Darr said.
The firing of Graham came during a period of turnover among other key personnel. They included Town Attorney Thomas Robinett, who left to take a job as town manager and town attorney in Onancock.
Darr said he has been effective in improving trust and building relationships among council members.
"I think we're working more as a professional unit, and I'm kind of proud of that," Darr said. "Several months before the last election, the town was in a state of flux with infighting among town council members. I think some of those things, through my management skill, have settled down a bit."
The two candidates also disagree about the how much money the town will spend to extend water lines along the U.S 522/340 corridor north of town. Ratigan promises to investigate "the current situation . . with regard to supplying the county with water for their economic development."
Darr said relations between the county and city have improved in the last two years. He cites the county's willingness to take over the Samuels Public Library as one example of progress.
As for extending water lines north, Darr said the town is committed to providing water to businesses along the highway as part of a 1995 agreement. He said town and county officials are trying to find ways by which the town can benefit from growth in the corridor.
"The county is working with us there," Darr said. "There are no real solutions yet, but we're working toward it, which is more than what we were doing two years ago."