It's not easy being a Democrat in the heavily Republican Sully District, and it's even tougher trying to unseat its incumbent Supervisor. But that's just what Georgette Kohler hopes to do.
On May 17 at Stone Middle School, she won the Sully Democratic Caucus, and she's now vying against Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) for his job.
"I've analyzed and reviewed the voting records in Sully District over the last 10 years — especially the last four — and discovered that people who declare they're Republicans are approximately 34 percent," said Kohler. "The declared Democrats are about the same — which means almost 40 percent are unaffiliated.
"They're independent thinkers and well-educated people, and I feel strongly that — with my leadership ability, business background and commitment to finding solutions — I can and will work hard to change those undeclared votes to 'Kohler for Supervisor.'"
Kohler, 55, of Centreville's Rock Hill community, studied business and marketing at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She's lived in Fairfax County since 1975.
She was a radio-station account executive and was the first woman on Mutual Broadcasting System's board of directors. At Mutual, she managed a large staff and a multi-million-dollar budget. Later, as an executive recruiter, she expanded the McCormick Group in Arlington from a one-person operation into an award-winning group of 20 recruiters in four cities.
Kohler is now president of Harbor Consultants International, a Vienna-based, executive-search firm she founded in 1991 and which serves a variety of international, management-consulting firms. She sees her success in this field as a reflection of her efficiency and ability to communicate and build strong relationships.
Her husband, Frank Ojeda, is in international sales. She has a son, Christopher, 34, a human-resources management consultant in New York City. She also has four stepchildren, Panchito, 21, Victoria, 20, Christopher, 16, and Michelle, 14.
Kohler worked on Carol Hawn's campaign against Tim Hugo for 40th District delegate, but didn't become interested in becoming a candidate, herself, until she heard about a huge, soccer complex planned for construction in Quinn Farm Park, near her home.
"I was concerned about citizen involvement," she explained. "I was [surprised] about how far along it was and how many decisions had been made before we found out about it. Then I found out there were other issues in our county that our community wasn't aware of."
That spurred the creation of the Rock Hill Civic Association, of which Kohler is president. As such, she began attending meetings of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee. "I find them fascinating," she said. "I like knowing what's going on and listening to the concerns of the citizens about what's being proposed to the county."
She's also a representative on the Sully District Council of Citizens Associations and a member of its Land-Use and Transportation Committee. She also belongs to the Sully Station II Homeowners Association. She's president-elect of Business and Professional Women of Greater Fairfax and is an advisor to the board of directors of Education for Independence, which helps single parents update their vocational skills to find jobs.
Kohler began working on her political campaign in November. People told her Frey hadn't been challenged since his first race and, she said, "Several felt that he didn't listen and we needed a better voice in Sully. I think like a citizen, not a politician."
Over the past few months, she's met with countywide Democratic leaders, including Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley and Gerry Connolly (D-Providence), met the governor and lieutenant governor and talked with many community leaders about a variety of issues. She's talked to the Firefighters Union and plans to speak to the Fairfax Education Association and to residents to find out their concerns.
Kohler says people are interested in traffic, taxes, retaining police and fire personnel and not losing them to higher-paying services, and affordable housing. Said Kohler: "Many firefighters, police officers and teachers feel they can't afford to live in the county they serve, as housing costs continue to rise and their salaries don't rise accordingly."
She says "no magic wand can erase the decisions made in the past that have brought us gridlock, overcrowded schools and a strain on all our services. But going forward, I can make decisions to provide a better quality of life for the citizens of Sully District."
This can be achieved, said Kohler, with "sensible growth to insure that we do not continue to overburden our roads, schools and utilities, by finding ways to enhance the ability of our first-responders to protect the health and safety of our residents and — working with other elected officials — by [finding] solutions to reduce the tax burden."
Describing herself as pro-active, she lists prioritizing plus organizing and implementing strategies as among her strong suits. And she believes she can solve many of the county's problems.
"I've been associated with employment-related issues for 18 years, and I realize that we have a talented and educated pool of people in Fairfax County," said Kohler. "In the current economic conditions, many aren't gainfully employed. Working in conjunction with the Economic Development Authority, we will attract businesses to the county to take advantage of these under-utilized resources. I will make this a priority."
She said she does this all the time in her business, and it would benefit county residents by keeping the professional talent pool working in the community and thereby reducing traffic commutes. "It'll enhance county revenues because of the new businesses attracted, and the increased businesses will support other local businesses, such as restaurants, printing and mailing companies, and office-supply companies. All combined, this will help rebuild our local economy."
Longtime Sully Democratic Committee member Linda Byrne says Kohler "knows how government, business and schools work and wants to make government better and more efficient. She wants to keep Fairfax County the best place in the world to work, live and bring up our kids."
And Sully District Democratic Committee Chairman Pete Contostavlos calls Kohler someone who's "active and concerned about local issues affecting our schools and communities. She's bright, quick on her feet and persistent — someone willing to stand up for things she believes in and fight hard for them."
He says it'll be a good race because she matches up well against Frey. "She believes deeply in the Democratic platform and she's not scared of a challenge," he said. "We're going to make him campaign and run hard against her — no more free ride."