Thursday, May 6, 2004

Michael L. O’Reilly emerged as the winner of Tuesday’s mayoral election in Herndon after more than half of the voters split their votes between two candidates who vowed to crack down on illegal immigration.

Mr. O’Reilly, who promised inclusion of the town’s burgeoning immigrant population but otherwise steered clear of the illegal-alien issues, captured 960 of the 2,053 votes cast — the largest turnout in years for an election in Herndon.

The remaining votes were divided almost evenly between the candidates who wanted to stop allowing illegal aliens to receive taxpayer-funded aid and reside in the town’s overcrowded group homes.

Mayoral candidates William B. Tirrell Sr. and Connie H. Hutchinson received 578 and 512 votes, respectively, according to unofficial results from the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Voters elected to the Town Council incumbent Dennis D. Husch and community activist Ann V. Null, who both support a police crackdown on illegal immigrants. Mr. Husch received 1,274 votes and Mrs. Null received 791 votes.

Other winners in the Town Council race were incumbents Carol A. Bruce with 1,265 votes and J. Harlon Reece with 1,180 votes. Steven D. Mitchell, who served two terms on the council, won a seat with 811 votes.

Capt. Darryl C. Smith of the Herndon Police Department was elected to the council with 1,572 votes — the highest vote tally among council members, which won him the job of vice mayor.

Mr. Husch, who yesterday stressed his commitment to helping the town’s population of legal immigrants and distanced himself from Mrs. Null’s aggressive illegal-alien opposition, said the election results reflected the community’s frustration.

“What it says to me is that we do have a portion of our community that is very angry and when provided an outlet for that anger against a group, some people gravitate toward that,” he said. “Given a different set of alternatives that would give those folks confidence that we could solve the problem, I think they would have been less angry.”

Mrs. Null said her victory and the split vote in the mayor’s race demonstrated support for illegal immigrants to be weeded out of the day-laborer pool, cut off from taxpayer-funded aid and rounded up by the Herndon Police Department.

“The fact that the mayor got less than 50 percent of the vote is a real strong statement,” she said. “The other two candidates were much stronger in their stance against illegal immigration.”

Still, Mrs. Null acknowledged that the issue “is something that is dividing the community, definitely.”

The immigration issue has been brewing for at least five years in Herndon, a town of 22,000 residents with a Hispanic population that exceeded 5,600 — more than 25 percent — in the 2000 census. The issue came to a head last summer over a proposal to build a shelter for day laborers — a town-sanctioned alternative to the parking lot of the 7-Eleven store in the middle of town, where as many as 100 laborers currently gather every morning to await work.

Despite support by the majority of the council, the proposal died amid public outcry. Then the council authorized day-laborer shelters in the zoning code and made plans for a $1.3 million center for social service programs, most of which apparently do not check recipients’ immigration status. Those actions galvanized candidates such as Mrs. Null.

“I just don’t know yet what [the election results] tell us,” said Mr. Reece, who maintains that the Town Council should not get involved in immigration issues. “The fact that Ann Null was elected certainly suggest that there were people out there who heard her message; but the fact that other incumbents, like Carol Bruce and myself who had a message of inclusion, were elected suggests something else.”

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