Of the dozens of debates Gerry Connolly and Mychele Brickner have done together, few resembled last Wednesday's contest in front of seniors of Madison High School in Vienna. Connolly, the Democratic candidate for chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and Brickner, his Republican opponent, traded blows in front of some of the county's newest voters. Unlike the adult debates, where the format is more staid and audience members listen quietly, this one featured loud laughs, jeers, and applause. The reaction led the candidates to take potshots at each other and exposed how far apart their positions are.
Brickner slammed Connolly for his financial ties to developers, which she said cause conflicts of interest when he is faced with land use cases."
Connolly shot back: "I hope we all know what the meaning of the word slander is because we've just heard it," as the audience erupted in a chorus of cheers and boos.
After the debate, students commented on the tone of the candidates' remarks.
"I thought that they focused on ripping each other more than they did on actual issues," said senior Paul Droke.
"They were a bit on the aggressive side but that goes on in debates," said Omar Shafqaat.
AS THE CAMPAIGN to replace outgoing Board Chairman Kate Hanley (D) enters its home stretch, voters who showed up at the debates, forums, meet and greets, candidates nights and other events have found that the two hopefuls have little in common.
To Brickner, Connolly is a classic tax-and-spend liberal, who has no reservations about raising homeowner taxes every year to pay for a bloated county government.
"He basically wants a blank check for the next four years," she said, adding that the blank check for the last four years produced a 53 percent increase in real estate taxes.
But Connolly said he is working towards "genuine homeowner tax relief."
He has called Brickner's pledge not to raise property taxes more than 5 percent annually a "risky gimmick" while reminding voters that the high real estate taxes have brought county services with them.
"We want to build on the investments we've made," said Connolly. "Why would we want to throw away the incredible things we've built with a risky gimmick?"
To Connolly, Brickner is a dangerous ideologue whose conservative positions on social issues make her unfit to be the county's public face.
"Those are not mainstream Fairfax values and I believe Fairfax County voters are just not going to choose a book banner to be chairman of the board."
During her eight-year tenure on the School Board, Brickner has voted to remove books from school libraries after parents complained they were inappropriate for the grade level they were being assigned to.
Brickner has also said she would not support expanding the county's human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation. Every year, the county asks the General Assembly to allow localities to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and every year, the General Assembly rejects the county's request. Connolly said he has "led the effort against discrimination based on sexual orientation."
But Brickner said the issue "would not rise to a priority for me."
"We already have a policy against discrimination. I don't see a need to add in additional categories."