Region Forward Blog

Q&A: David Snyder Vice Mayor City of Falls Church

Sep 11, 2014
Falls Church Vice-Mayor Dave Snyder announcing a new air-pollution reducing locomotive at Union Station.


David Snyder was first sworn in as a member of the City of Falls Church Council in July 1994 and has served as Mayor and Vice Mayor of the City. Snyder who is currently serving as the Chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee at COG has been an active leader on several other COG committees including the COG Board of Directors Transportation Planning Board the Emergency Preparedness Council and Human Services and Public Safety Policy Committee. In 2010 Snyder received COG’s highest honor the Elizabeth and David Scull Metropolitan Public Service Award which is presented annually to an elected official for outstanding service to residents of the region.

What got you interested in public service?

I was brought up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania and both of my parents were actively involved in their community. They were involved politically and my father did a lot with the local planning commission and my mother was chairman of the library board. Previous to that my grandfather was a state legislator and state judge. It’s something you did. Giving back to the community was as essential as breathing.

My first involvement in the community was as a volunteer firefighter. I started in high school and I still do a little bit of that. I participated in political campaigns. It seemed perfectly natural to feel that I had an obligation to give back to the community that we ended up residing in namely the City of Falls Church. Again it’s something you do. It’s not something you even have to think about. It just goes along with being a citizen. I had co-led a citizen’s referendum against off track betting and people asked me to be on the board of an affordable housing project in Falls Church. Those were my first starts locally and then I decided to run [for the City Council] in 1994 and I’ve been elected ever since.

What brought you to this region originally?

Law school. And then jobs during and after law school because Western Pennsylvania where I’m from the economy was devastated which is why you see so many Pittsburgh Steelers fans around Washington D.C. during football season. Literally towns that were thriving 40 or 50 years ago are practically non-existent. It’s quite an internal migration story and I’m just one of the many people who ended up in Washington.

I was here for law school. I helped set up a federal agency called the U.S. Fire Administration. Then I went back to Pennsylvania for six years for various political jobs under the governor [including] General Counsel of the state Commerce Department and Deputy Attorney General and then went into the private sector working for insurance. My wife had an opportunity to start up a publication in Washington so we moved back to Washington and have been here ever since.

How does Falls Church benefit from its participation at the Council of Governments?

It benefits in many ways. Indirectly we benefit from the overall coordination in the region on transportation air quality and public safety. We learn a lot and hopefully contribute something to the process. In that way as part of a collective we get a lot in terms of policy and different ways of doing things. Cooperation among police and fire [officials] and we all benefit from cleaner air and better transportation coordination. We directly benefit from group purchasing that COG coordinates. So those would be the two key areas.

What are some ways that COG and the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee help ensure cleaner air for area residents?

Being an umbrella group MWAQC plays an absolutely critical role in bringing together the key decision makers to coordinate a regional strategy so that we comply with federal requirements. And it helps regional decision makers see what may be coming down the road in terms of newer tougher standards and better ways of doing things. And I guess the third thing it does as epitomized by the Gold Book (a soon to be released publication) it helps COG members to be informed about what other members are doing and thereby helps to spread best practices more rapidly around the region. I view its role as fundamental for complying with [current standards] envisioning what might be coming down the road in terms of new standards and pressing the envelope about what more we can do to clean the air and thereby improve public health for the region.

Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee Chair Members on NBC4 Viewpoint from COG Video on Vimeo.

You have been an active regional leader for20 years at the Council of Governments. What do you see as the most significant changes in the region since you first participated at COG?

I think growth and the challenges—positive challenges—that growth entails. Coming from a region that was declining it’s been a great opportunity to be in a region that’s been on the move growing and as dynamic as this metro region. And it’s also the nation’s capital and arguably a place where the entire world wants to come to as tourists students and residents. To be able to play a role in a region of this size this dynamism this diversity and the nation’s capital is an extraordinary gift. The only frustrating thing to me about COG is I wish it had more authority. What it does it does very well and has first-rate staff. The best you can get anywhere. The only frustrating thing is it does not have more direct authority to act because I’m convinced the region would be better if it had more authority.

Tell us about a project or projects that you’ve contributed to while serving at COG that makes you most proud.

I’ve been blessed in this regard. All the emergency preparedness work including MATOC (the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination) program. The anti-gang efforts that have been so successful. The air quality efforts which have been immensely successful over time. Major transit projects such as the Silver Line. I’d say it spans public safety air quality and transportation.

In each case they have been long-term initiatives—they always take longer than you think—but when you see the outcomes people riding the Silver Line and breathing cleaner air and you see the region more coordinated in terms of public safety and health then you have to feel like your time is well spent. And there’s no question about that with regard to COG in my opinion. COG does play a role in absolutely the most critical subjects and issues for our region. And that role is positive coordinating and my only frustration is it doesn’t have the ability to act at a regional level more than we’re able to do under the current legal framework.

Who is a past or present DC area leader (elected or non-elected) that inspires you?

There have been so many which is another fringe benefit of working with COG. I mentioned the staff and that’s absolutely true as well as the other elected officials. Let me rattle off some names—it’s not going to be one person. Phil Mendelson Sharon Bulova Kate Hanley Gerry Connolly Jim Moran and Tom Davis. It’s way too long a list… All those people are people I’d put up at the top.There are no more important issues to people’s everyday lives and the welfare of the region than the issues that COG regularly deals with.

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