The Washington Post
Democratic primary in Fairfax likely to set agenda for new era of leaders
On Tuesday, Democratic voters in Fairfax County will weigh in on issues ranging from affordable housing to crowded schools to public safety during local primary elections that will create new leaders in Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction.
Four Democrats hope to replace Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, who is stepping down after 31 years on the county board.
Meanwhile, 16 primary-election candidates are competing for the board’s four other open seats, and Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh is seeking a fourth term against former federal prosecutor Steve T. Descano.
The races for county board chair and for commonwealth’s attorney broke fundraising records for a local primary in Virginia. As of Friday, the four candidates vying to replace Bulova raised $1.763 million, while the two candidates running for commonwealth’s attorney raised $819,523, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
Democratic primary winners are likely to prevail in November against the handful of Republicans who are also running in the solidly blue county that is home to 1.1 million residents.
For the 10-member county board, that will mean at least five Democratic supervisors new to their seats as they work to maintain Fairfax’s status as the Washington region’s chief economic engine while attending to deteriorating parks and a widening gap between the area’s wealthy and poor.
“Our solid reputation for stable, responsible government is at stake,” said Bulova, 71, who has served as board chair since 2009. “We need to make sure that good thing continues.”
The race to replace Bulova has largely focused on issues of affordable housing in a county where nearly 70,000 live in poverty among some of the country’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
Georgetown law professor Alicia Plerhoples, Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), School Board member Ryan McElveen (At Large) and developer Tim Chapman all also say that the county should deal more aggressively with the effects of climate change, increase school funding to eliminate the need for about 750 classroom trailers in use and make prekindergarten programs available to everyone in the county.
Fairfax’s first primary election for board chairman since 2003 has also been marked by some controversy, with McKay and Chapman — who have spent $1.2 million combined on the race — trading allegations.
Chapman accused McKay — initially in an anonymously circulated memo — of benefiting from a relationship with two developers when buying his family home in 2017.
McKay called the claims “borderline libelous” and hired a lawyer who produced a report that refuted the allegations, prompting Chapman to file an ethics claim with state police.
Meanwhile, Chapman was forced to defend his own past after public records revealed several speeding tickets and a 1995 misdemeanor charge of attempting to drive while impaired by alcohol.
The five-person primary to replace outgoing Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) has also featured some controversy.
That race — between real estate company spokeswoman Maggie Parker, recent Roanoke College graduate Parker Messick, Reston community organizer Shyamali Hauth, attorney Laurie Dodd and former county planning commissioner Walter Alcorn — is fueled by local frustrations with traffic and other development-related problems along the Silver Line corridor.
But a dispute over whether a plaza at the Reston-Wiehle train station should be considered a public space erupted after Parker’s employer — Comstock Companies — allowed her to post campaign signs on the site it leases from the county, while barring her opponents from campaigning there.
County officials accused Comstock of violating free speech rights.
Comstock chief executive Christopher Clemente — whose company granted Parker a $14,000 in-kind donation for outdoor advertising — argued the land is private under the terms of its lease. He said other candidates could have paid to post signs there.
On Monday, after the county threatened legal action, Comstock invited all five candidates to campaign on the plaza free of charge.
Another five Democrats are competing for the seat in the county’s Providence district being vacated by Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence).
There hasn’t been any drama in the race between Erika Yalowitz, a court officer in Arlington County; School Board member Dalia Palchik (Providence); planning commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner; southeast Fairfax economic development director Edythe Kelleher; and technology consultant Linh D. Hoang.
But the election holds high stakes in a district that is home to some of the region’s worst rushhour gridlock and both Tysons and Merrifield, the chief drivers of Fairfax’s economy.
The candidates all say they want to control development, relieve crowded schools and add more public transportation to the area.
“Smart growth will have to happen for us to build our tax base,” Kelleher said.
In the Lee district, the race to fill McKay’s soon-to-be-vacated seat has been driven by the challenges surrounding a county plan to add 13,000 homes, office towers, hotels and a new street grid to the Richmond Highway corridor.
Planning commissioner James Migliaccio, County Economic Development Authority marketing director Rodney Lusk, nonprofit administrator Larysa Kautz and Northern Virginia Community College legal studies professor Kelly Hebron all say the plan must guard against displacing lower-income families in the area.
In the Braddock district, where Supervisor John C. Cook (R) will step down, community activist Irma Corado and James Walkinshaw, chief of staff to Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), are competing for a chance to flip one of the county’s two remaining Republican districts into the blue column.
Corado has campaigned on ending cooperation with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and steering Fairfax away from fossil fuel energy. Walkinshaw’s platform includes improving commuter and bus transit options and expanding county services for small businesses.
The race between Morrogh and Descano for commonwealth’s attorney exemplifies the outside cash and energy that have poured into the primary races from outside interests.
A political action committee funded by Democratic megadonor George Soros has given Descano most of the $522,000 the candidate has raised to advocate criminal justice reform, including discontinuing the use of the death penalty and decriminalizing marijuana.
Morrogh, who raised $226,000 from mostly local donors, prefers an approach that uses drug treatment court and diversion programs.