Council newcomers ready to serve, learn

John Connolly

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council’s newest and youngest members John Connolly and Bébhinn Egger might fall into the “millennial” age group. But in interviews this week, they show they don’t necessarily fit the generational stereotype.

Connolly, 29, and Egger, 27, won seats on council in November and are among the youngest elected leaders in the valley.

Age didn’t come up as much of an issue among voters when Egger campaigned, she recalled. She was 26 years old when she began campaigning. Rather, residents she met seemed more interested in the fact that she’s a woman, in a positive way and, as it turned out, one of only a few women ever elected to Town Council.

“Well, I’m really grateful that people put their trust in me ’cause I did feel at first, you know, I thought ‘nobody’s going to vote for me,'” Egger said, citing her age.

Connolly recalled that his age was the No. 1 question asked of him on the campaign trail.

Bebhinn Egger

“When people found out that I’m 29, I have three kids, I own my home, they stopped asking that question, they moved on,” Connolly said.

At the polls, one woman told Connolly she would not vote for him because he was “too young,” he recalled. The election results show voters did not see youth as a detriment.

“I think it speaks well of our town that younger people can have a seat at the table,” Connolly said.

The councilman said he hopes to change the sentiment among young people that the town doesn’t offer them any reason to stay.

“I’m not there to provide the youth vote but I do think that, in representing everyone, for me it’s going to be a matter of having [a] little bit [of a] different perspective,” Connolly said. “We need people with experience, but we also need people with that fresh perspective so I think we’ve got a pretty good balance moving forward here.”

Asked about her political stance, Egger said she doesn’t seem to fit into the usual categories but, instead, can identify with conservatives, liberals and, to a limited degree, Libertarians. Egger said many people on the campaign trail asked her if she was a Republican or a Democrat. Egger argues that switching elections from May to November makes the Town Council races more partisan than ever.

Mayor Timothy Darr and other town officials hosted an orientation session for Connolly and Egger last month to help the new council members get acquainted with department heads and operations. Egger and Connolly said they found the session helpful, though both expected they have more to learn.

On one lingering matter facing Front Royal, Egger said she would like to see the town and county reach an agreement on a solution for the issues surrounding the U.S. 340-522 North corridor. Egger said she doesn’t support annexation of the corridor — an idea Connolly had called during his campaign the “nuclear option.”

“I think it’s something that will benefit the town and the county to be able to put that behind us, and I want to see the town benefit as much as possible from this,” Egger said. “I think the town deserves some benefit from the corridor. Legally, I don’t know that we can get it anymore.”

The town should focus some of its attention on improving its streetscapes, Egger said. South Street “is in dire need” of improvements, she said, not just aesthetically but from a safety standpoint.

Egger also spoke about the connection between the town’s economic development and the makeup of its working population. The town needs living wage jobs to keep workers local who then will spend their money in Front Royal, she said.

“It’s not that we don’t have good businesses on Main Street,” Egger said. “The problem is that people don’t have jobs here and so that’s only going to change by attracting companies and by people starting businesses where people can make enough money to live where they work.”

Egger, who plays and teaches violin as a profession, said she feels fortunate to have a job locally because many town residents do not.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com