A former member of Leesburg’s Planning Commission, and a recent candidate for the 10th District House of Delegates race, is back on the appointed body, but the move was not without controversy.
On Tuesday night, the council voted 4-3 to reappoint Nick Clemente to the commission. Clemente was Councilwoman Kari Nacy’s nominee, and replaces Rick Lanham, who recently resigned.
Clemente previously served on commission in 2020 and was also considered by council members that year to be appointed to fill a vacant council seat on an interim basis, following Josh Thiel’s resignation. That consideration met with its own controversy, with the council ultimately choosing to not appoint anyone, and the council seat remaining vacant for the last half of the year.
Clemente recently was the Republican challenger to Del. Wendy Gooditis (D) in the 10th District House of Delegates race, falling less than 1,000 votes short of victory.
Councilman Neil Steinberg pulled Clemente’s appointment from Tuesday’s consent agenda—a list of items slated to be approved without debate—and went on to state his reason for opposing the nomination.
While acknowledging that council member nominations are usually a pro forma matter routinely supported by fellow council members, Steinberg said in his opinion Clemente “mispresented himself and subsequently personally attacked the integrity of several members of council when he didn’t get his way.”
“That’s his prerogative as well as it is mine to withhold support,” for the appointment, he said.
Mayor Kelly Burk also raised objections to Clemente’s appointment.
“In my 20 years of [council] service, I don’t remember challenging a council member’s selection of appointment to any commission, but this one I feel compelled to do so,” she said. “From past actions both in public and private [Clemente] doesn’t have the temperament, judgment or integrity to be appointed to this position.”
Burk declined to elaborate on her claims following the vote.
Burk, Steinberg and Vice Mayor Marty Martinez opposed the appointment, while council members Zach Cummings, Ara Bagdasarian, Suzanne Fox and Nacy voted for approval.
Reached Wednesday, Clemente commended Cummings and Bagdasarian for “putting politics aside and doing what is best for the Town of Leesburg and the smart growth opportunities that we face in town.” He said he was excited about rejoining the commission and again working with commissioners and town staff, and especially was looking forward to working with commission Chairwoman Gigi Robinson, who he called “an institution of knowledge in the Town of Leesburg.”
While he commended Steinberg for “standing for what he believes in,” he questioned why Burk brought their political differences into the advisory panel appointment.
“I’m a little blown away it’s become so partisan and she has to make an appointment to the Planning Commission so personal,” he said.
Clemente’s term on the Planning Commission runs through 2024.