In an historic victory marking the first time a Democrat ever won an election in the 10-year existence of the Sully District, Chantilly's Kathy Smith beat Republican Al White, Tuesday, for a spot on the Fairfax County School Board.
They, along with Ellyn Soefer of Fair Oaks, were vying for the vacated seat of former Sully District School Board representative Gary Reese. Many area residents expected White, of Virginia Run, to coast to an easy win since Sully is traditionally a Republican stronghold.
But Smith, of Poplar Tree Estates, said both parties supported her and her campaign workers got her message to the voters. "The people who knew me talked to the people that they knew, and word spread," she said. "This was a grassroots effort — person to person to person. I've been in the community since 1984, and I've worked in the schools — it's about people believing in people."
Smith, 47, has four children in the school system, was PTA president at three local schools, is a former teacher and has served on a multitude of countywide educational committees. With such depth of experience, she's also readily familiar with the issues facing the School Board.
In addition, since Reese was in the Republican minority on the board, he faced an uphill battle with everything he tried to accomplish. But Smith, who'll be part of an 8-4 Democratic majority, stands a far better chance. Right now, she said, "I just want to get in there and learn about things and make good decisions."
In Tuesday's election, she only carried six of 21 precincts, but won overwhelming victories in the Rocky Run and Cub Run precincts.
Altogether, Smith garnered 43.6 percent of the total votes for a 1,982 to 1,880 win over White, who received 41.3 percent of the votes. Soefer finished third with 684 votes for 15 percent of the total.
White was endorsed by the Sully District Republican Committee and by Reese, himself. A member of the federal government's Senior Executive Service, he oversees Department of Defense criminal investigations. Soefer was assistant principal of Franklin Middle School for 17 years and was also a former teacher. Smith was endorsed by the Sully District Democratic Committee and also by the Fairfax Education Association.
Smith praised her campaign manager LuAnn McNabb, treasurer Lynn Terhar and all her committee chairs for their hard work. "This has touched my heart — how wonderful people were to me and the effort, time and experience they put into [my campaign]. I've made new friends, and it's been wonderful."
Terhar, too, acknowledged the tireless efforts of Smith's supporters — people who backed their words with time and money and gave it their best shot. After all, said Terhar, when it comes to political campaigns, they're all amateurs.
"We brought our PTA organizational skills with us and did it by sheer blood, sweat and tears," she said. "And we were the only ones who had one person, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., at every single polling place. We PTA moms are a formidable group."
Terhar said mothers see, firsthand, what happens on the School Board. That's why, she said, "We wanted somebody on the School Board who knows every day how the board's decisions affect each classroom, kid by kid."
Oak Hill's Chuck Caputo, a Democrat who represented the old Centreville District on the School Board before Sully was created, said Smith's victory sends the message that "Democrats are alive and well in the Sully District." Furthermore, he said, "If quality schools are our community's greatest asset, then Kathy Smith personifies that philosophy."
He said it's obvious she has the knowledge, leadership and experience needed for the job, but she's also "passionate about making education work for all kids in our schools."
Caputo said Smith knows the school system and School Board from a policy and fiscal standpoint, as well, understands the needs for new facilities and school renovations and knows what has to be done to obtain adequate sources of funding for the budget.
"I understand what it takes to be on the School Board, and Kathy will do well in that environment," he said. "She has a good knack of working with people and listening to them."