Taking their campaign for supervisor to the local airwaves, incumbent Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and her Republican challenger Doug Bushée focused on Hudgins' leadership during their first campaign forum Thursday afternoon.
Answering questions from a panel of three local journalists, the candidates sparred with each other at the hour-long Reston Impact-sponsored debate at the Comcast Studios in Reston.
In her opening remarks, Hudgins said she had lived up to the promise she made to the voters four years ago. "I promised you that I would work hard and collaboratively and I look forward to serving you again," she said.
Pointing to the Fairfax County schools, Hudgins said she helped reduce the number of trailers parked in area schools. In addition, Hudgins took credit for the county's acquisition of a 14-acre school site in the Herndon-Dulles area.
Hudgins pointed to her record of inclusion and partnerships as proof of her open-door leadership policy, including county partnerships with the Reston Association (RA) on the new Southgate Center and renovations to the Snakeden Branch stream.
Bushée, who is a director on the RA board, painted a different picture of Hudgin's first term in office. "Real estate taxes are up 53 percent while family income has essentially stayed flat," Bushée said. "We have a crisis in affordable housing and yet all of these issues are not new."
BUSHÉE INSISTED THAT his opponent had too often shifted the blame to the federal and state's government. "The future does look bright and we can maintain our commitment to the schools without double digit tax increases," the challenger said. "It just takes hard work, leadership and involvement from our county supervisor."
Moments later, Hudgins expressed sympathy for the skyrocketing tax assessments. "It is a burden to tax payers," she said. "In addition to all the assessments going up, all of our other revenue has decreased. We need help from other partners."
Bushée disagreed with Hudgins' assessment of Fairfax County's belt-tightening measures. County spending grew by 5 percent this year, he said. The key to unlocking the economic uncertainties lies in "reining in spending."
When asked what county-funded programs would cut to help to get the county's finances in order, Bushée declined to get specific. He said he would rely on his background in small business to help determine what programs need further evaluation.
"I didn't hear what he said he would cut," Hudgins said.
Later in the debate, Hudgins returned to criticizing Bushée's tough talk on the budget. "You can talk about how you want to cut our revenue, but I don't understand what he's going to do," Hudgins said.
Hudgins added that her top three priorities have and will continue to be schools, public safety and social services. "Guess what gets cut every time?" she asked rhetorically. "When you talk about cutting services that really hurts families and communities."
Bushée scoffed at Hudgins' ranking of priorities. "I don't rank individual organizations," he said. "My goal is to continue to improve our quality of life in all of Hunter Mill District."
THE SPARKS CONTINUED when the issue of congestion and transportation took center stage on Thursday. "Certainly, I believe that we have got to widen some roads around here," Bushée said, adding later that he would like to widen Routes 7 and 66.
Hudgins was ready. "This election is about issues and we differ on widening roads," the supervisor said. "We need to work better and differently with VDOT."
Hudgins defended her transportation record, saying that she favors a "balanced" plan, a plan she says should include everything from rail-to-Dulles to increased pedestrian safety measures. Hudgins praised the idea of bringing rail-to-Wiehle and assured the panel that bus commuters have seen a dramatic increase in bus service in the last few years.
While a supporter of rail-to-Dulles, Bushée expressed concern that the current plan would create havoc for the Hunter Mill district. "Make no mistake, Wiehle is going to be a terminus station," he said. "Again, we need leadership on the issue. We should be calling for an environmental impact study (EIS)."
Throughout the 60-minute debate, Bushée accused Hudgins of a lack of leadership. Besides calling for a new EIS, Bushée said Hudgins has lacked leadership in challenging the idea of raising tolls or enacting a tax district along the corridor. "The plan has changed from $4 billion to $1.5 billion and, yet we are still increasing tolls and taxing business all the way out to Route 28," he said. "It is a question of fairness for Hunter Mill."
For her part, Hudgins said she supported and fought for the current plan to bring Metro into the corridor and initially to Wiehle Avenue. It would have been devastating for phase I to stop in Tysons Corner, she said. "We need to get into the first phase," she said.
While she said she would rather not use money from increased tolls, Hudgins acknowledged the economic realities. "Tax districts are tools and we are using what is available to us," she said. "I think it will be equitable."
In his closing remarks, Bushée continued to hammer Hudgins for, what he described, as absentee leadership. "We need a champion," he said. "We need someone to shout when we are not getting our fair share."
In her closing remarks, Hudgins dismissed Bushée, a first time candidate, for simplistic solutions to complex problems. "My opponent has come up with a simple solution: cap our real estate tax," she said.
Such a solution, she said, would have negative consequences on the county's schools, public safety and social services. "This is not about Fairfax County today, but about Fairfax County in the future."