Jubilation reigned in the Kathy Smith camp, Tuesday night, after she defeated Carl Cecil to retain her seat as Sully District's representative on the county School Board.
Smith, 48, of Chantilly's Poplar Tree Estates community, has served on the board for 18 months, after winning a special election to replace her successor, Gary Reese, when he became 67th District delegate.
Her victory then was a real milestone, because it marked the first time in the 12-year history of heavily Republican Sully that a Democrat was elected to any public office. And although the School Board is supposed to be nonpartisan, the Republican Cecil made his party affiliation well-known. So in the face of tough odds, Smith's win on Tuesday was especially sweet.
"We couldn't be happier," said her campaign manager, Laura Floyd. "It was a hard-fought battle, but we wanted to prove the special election wasn't a fluke — and we did. All along, we knew we were the incumbent, but we felt like we were the challenger because we were so outnumbered [by the Republicans]."
But in the end, Smith's qualifications and experience won out. At press time, with all 225 precincts reporting to the Fairfax County Election Board, unofficial results showed her beating Cecil by 9,819 votes to 7,558.
"I was surprised by winning — it's Sully District," said Smith afterward, from the county Democratic Committee celebration at the Fairview Marriott in Falls Church. Cecil called and conceded the election around 10:30 p.m.
"I REALLY HAVE to believe the voters saw that I was doing a good job for the schools," said Smith. "I didn't come in this with an agenda; I was open-minded. Public education is my passion, and I'm willing to spend my time and effort to make sure we're doing what's right for our kids."
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) also acknowledged Smith's win over a fellow Republican. "People do appreciate local service and, in 18 months, Kathy's worked hard," he said. "Sully is still at heart a Republican district, but the fact that Kathy ran so strongly shows that people also vote for the person."
A former elementary-school teacher, she's been involved with PTAs for more than a decade, and she and her husband Steve have four children. The oldest is in college, and the other three attend Chantilly High and Rocky Run Middle School.
In her first term on the School Board, Smith played a pivotal role in paring $18 million from the board's budget. When Gov. Warner pledged not to take money from K-12 education, Smith remembered the board had set aside $18 million in case he did — and recommended it reduce its budget by that amount.
In her recent campaign, she tried meeting as many voters as possible and made sure people in the newly created Poplar Tree, Brookfield and Rocky Run precincts knew where to vote. Afterward, she said she felt good knowing voters realized how hard she's worked on their children's behalf.
Smith said she'll make sure the board uses its resources correctly to meet students' needs. She also wants the board to set priorities. "We're going to have some tough challenges because of salary/benefit issues and the cost of the retirement system and No Child Left Behind," she said. "I'm looking forward to [re-focusing] on my School Board job."
"I want to thank everyone who helped me [during the campaign]," continued Smith. "I had wonderful people supporting me; that's why I was able to do it."