Knocking on more than 12,000 doors since June has underscored Georgette Kohler's belief that it's time for a new Sully District supervisor — her.
"What I have learned from the residents of Sully has only reconfirmed my own reasons for running — no leadership and empty promises," she said. "It is time to fire Mike [Frey] and hire someone that wants to help the residents and will take action to get problems resolved."
Kohler, 55, of Centreville's Rock Hill community, is president of Harbor Consultants International, a Vienna-based, executive-search firm she founded in 1991. Before that, she managed a large staff and a multi-million-dollar budget for Mutual Broadcasting System. She has a son, 34, and is stepmother to her husband Frank Ojeda's four children, ages 15-22.
She's president of the Rock Hill Civic Association and president-elect of Business and Professional Women of Greater Fairfax. She also advises the board of directors of Education for Independence, which helps single parents update their vocational skills to find jobs.
She's a representative on the Sully District Council of Citizens Associations and a member of its Land-Use and Transportation Committee. And Kohler, a Democrat, is now eyeing the Sully supervisor job.
WHAT'S NEEDED, she says, is "someone that will stand up for the community's needs — someone that will make sure that promises made are kept, proffers made are enforced, projects that are started are completed. People are tired of calling the Sully supervisor's office, over and over again, and getting no response. [They're] tired of expressing concerns for the safety of their children and neighborhoods, but nothing ever being done to alleviate the situation."
Kim Daily, of Chantilly's Winding Brook community, agrees. "I met her when she came to my house campaigning, and I think she'll be a positive change for the Sully District," she said. "She has concern for the community, listens to what people are saying and she's interested. I'm a registered Republican and I don't think Mike Frey is good for the Sully District. I'm tickled to death that she's running against him."
Kohler says she's modeled her political style after county Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley and Supervisors Penny Gross (D-Mason) and Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). "They're involved in their community," said Kohler. "People know them, they listen to the citizens and help solve their problems."
Regarding Hanley, Kohler admires her because "she's a strong woman and has done a very good job as chairman. She's knowledgeable and friendly and believes in being out with the people — and she's accessible and available."
Although in June, residents told Kohler they were most concerned about their taxes, she's since learned that traffic is uppermost in their minds.
"About 90 percent of the people [I've talked to] asked me what am I going to do about the traffic and getting other means of transportation into western Fairfax County," she said. "I tell them we're not going to stop building, but we're going to try to slow down building and let the infrastructure catch up to what's there."
KOHLER SAID cut-through traffic in neighborhoods is also a concern. "Because of massive building in Prince William and Loudoun counties, people are coming to Fairfax County for jobs, shopping and recreation," she said. "And because they don't have good access to the roads, they're coming through the neighborhoods."
Kohler said motorists are going down Route 29 from Prince William to avoid I-66 and cutting across Pleasant Valley Road to reach Route 50 or the Dulles Toll Road. Or they're driving past all the homes and schools on Braddock Road. "They're just zipping through — it's a very dangerous situation," she said. Compounding the problem, said Kohler, is South Riding traffic also traveling on Braddock.
She believes the solution is to widen and finish I-66 out to Route 234 and also improve bus service throughout western Fairfax. "We need relief now," she said. "There's bus service during commuting hours only, but you still need a car to get to where you pick up the buses because there are not enough buses getting out to the neighborhoods."
Noting the lack of bus service here during the rest of the day, as well, Kohler said, "In Centreville and Chantilly, public transportation is not provided on a level that people can depend upon. There's no local bus service — it's all commuter — and the community needs some other way to get around."
She's also concerned that many neighborhoods have no sidewalks or trail connections. "You could walk from Newgate to Trinity Centre if there were sidewalks or trails," she said. "Too many of the trails stop and aren't connected to each other."
SINCE MANY areas in Sully are built out, said Kohler, residents can't count on new developers proferring to do these things for them. "We have to get money through a federal, special-projects program," she said. "And we still need to continue to push for light rail to come down I-66 to Centreville. I think HOT [high-occupancy travel] lanes solve the moving of traffic, but that doesn't get traffic off the road. In transportation, you have to be working on multiple solutions to solve that problem."
As for taxes, when Kohler first began campaigning, she said people asked her what she'd do differently from Frey. "I'm going to bring you leadership, communicate with you, be in your neighborhoods and be available to you," she replied. "And I'm not going to raise your taxes to pay for a baseball stadium."
She said people are concerned that, with the area's already-heavy traffic burden, a baseball stadium in Northern Virginia would just add to it, without providing any solution to the road problems. Said Kohler: "Most people feel strongly that those building the baseball stadium should do the investment in building the stadium, rather than the Commonwealth of Virginia — or the taxpayers, via a bond — paying for it."
She's also against a real-estate tax cap, stressing that services to the community and school system have deteriorated in states, such as California, that have enacted such a measure.
In the realm of education, Kohler said the parents and teachers she's spoken with want flexibility in their educational system. "When there's such diversity in learning skills, levels and styles, there shouldn't be one system for all," she said. If it's not adapted to meet the needs of the individual child, she said, "there would be lots of children left behind."
Kohler supporters include Patsy Brown, a member of the Sully District Democratic Committee, and Oak Hill's Chuck Caputo, who ran against Frey in 1991, when Sully was first created. A volunteer for Kohler's campaign, he distributes her literature and talks to people at back-to-school nights and helps plant her campaign signs.
"I THINK she has the professional experience and background," said Caputo. "She's also been a leader of women in her business organization and she has a passion that she brings to this election. I met her at a back-to-school night, and I found her very personable, knowledgeable and practical."
Brown described Kohler as energetic and savvy. "She reminds me of Kate Hanley, the way she shows up at every event," said Brown. "She's a quick study. She's at every meeting, finding out the facts about issues and learning about the way things work. I have never seen a candidate work as hard as she has. She's been very earnest in her attempts to meet and talk to people."
Still, Kohler has an uphill battle to defeat an incumbent in predominantly Republican Sully. But it's not scaring her off. "People want a leader who will work for solutions and fight for their needs," she said. "They want a person with vitality, listening skills and the ability to get things finished. They want a strong, pro-active leader who will ensure that their quality of life will not disappear."
What Sully needs, said Kohler, is a leader who "will not let traffic grow unabatedly, who will keep public safety as a high priority and who will continue to support the excellent education system in Fairfax County. Residents want a leader who addresses the concerns of today with a vision toward tomorrow. I am that individual."