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Votes

Zen and the Art of Door Knocking

Candidates in the 35th burn shoe leather for votes.

Three things are absolutely necessary to run for the House of Delegates in Vienna: tens of thousands of dollars, a list of likely voters in a gubernatorial election year and a pair of comfortable shoes.

Going door-to-door in election campaigns has become almost expected. Candidates and the major parties comb through voter registrations to be able to better target voters, and thousands of dollars are spent on slick mailers, yard signs and advertising.

But, the cheapest method of campaigning, just walking around and meeting the people, might work the best. "It's a good feeling, I'm glad they do it," said Norman Gotter, a Vienna-area resident.

Gotter said he typically votes Republican, but after meeting Del. Steve Shannon (D-35) he might switch sides. "He seemed a decent enough guy, and I might consider it," Gotter said.

Shannon and his opponent Jim Hyland (R) have been walking through neighborhoods in Vienna and Oakton in recent weeks, trying to meet as many people as they can.

Shannon is finishing his first term representing the 35th. Hyland lost in a bid to become Providence District Supervisor in 2003. He has never held elected office.

The district has been voting for Democrats in recent elections, but only slightly.

Both have found people raising some similar issues, and transportation usually comes in near the top of the list.

Both men would like to see some additional funding used for transportation, and neither supports using transportation funding in other areas of government.

Hyland would take from the state budget for transportation. "I think we should spend transportation money out of the general fund," he said.

Shannon said that there is resistance in the General Assembly to spending general fund money on transportation, since it takes away from other needs. Shannon would try to find ways to get other money shifted into the transportation fund.

For example, he would take revenue generated from auto insurance and put all of it toward transportation — only a third is currently allocated to transportation. "We've got to try and find a nexus between the funding source and transportation," he said.

Hyland has a seven-point transportation plan which includes a laundry list of small projects such as turning lanes and intersection improvements. Intersections at Nutley and Maple streets, Hunter Mill and Chain Bridge roads, Route 7 and International Drive and Route 50 and Gallows Road, and others throughout the district which he would like to see studied and improved.

Shannon has been dealing with these smaller issues like working with VDOT to get neighborhood roads paved, and having the traffic lights along Route 123 in Oakton synchronized during his term.

Helping fix these smaller issues, he says, can let people feel like there has been some progress while larger projects are in the works.

Taxes are another issue that comes up. Shannon voted for the 2004 budget, and the tax increase that was part of it. The budget resulted in Virginia being able to maintain its AAA bond rating, Shannon notes, but it has also generated a surplus, which some point to as evidence that the increase was not necessary.

Hyland says he would not have voted for the budget. "I would have voted 'No' because there's not transportation money in it." Hyland has not said that the increases should be repealed.

Shannon questions whether the extra funds can even be considered a surplus. "For those who say it was unnecessary, the numbers don't," Shannon said. "Our transportation needs are so severe that this excess revenue could all go towards transportation in Northern Virginia and still not solve the problems," he said.

Although property taxes are assessed locally, both men have plans for how they might be able to help lower them.

Hyland says he is generally supportive of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore's plan to put a five percent cap on local taxes. "I will consider it and I lean towards it, unless the counties can show some restraint," Hyland said.

Shannon does not support it noting that those who set property taxes are elected officials, too. "I just don't think it's the right way to go," he said.

Shannon points to the county budget and notes that 53 percent of it goes toward education. He would like to find ways to increase school funding, reasoning that would allow the county to shift money into other programs and ultimately decrease the amount of money it needs. "Take some of the burden off local government and step it up at the state level," he said.

When Shannon came to Gotter's door, Gotter asked him about Nottoway Park, and changes to the park which the Fairfax County Park Authority is making.

In an interview later, Gotter acknowledged that the park is a local issue, not something that would be dealt with by the General Assembly. But he, like many voters, do not make that distinction between which level of government provides which service. "If President Bush rolled down here, I'd try to get him to do something about it," Gotter said.

Neither man wants to say to a constituent that he can't help them with a particular issue. Perhaps that's why both are looking at a very local issues, land use.

The 35th district, both say is getting squeezed. Redevelopment projects at MetroWest, Tysons Corner and a proposal for a dramatic increase in density on Hunter Mill and Sunset Hills roads surround the district.

Hyland said he would introduce legislation that would forbid the Fairfax County School Board from selling properties it owns for development.

He is also considering attempting to change zoning on pieces of property from Richmond. "I've given some thought to flat out legislating it," he said.

Shannon said he believes land use decisions should be made at the local level, but he supports trying to have a more inclusive process that crosses municipal borders. "There has to be a realization that the Town of Vienna should be able to weigh in [on projects outside the town]," he said.

Conversely, he thinks the county should be able to comment on project inside the town's borders. "The Hunter Mill supervisor and the Providence supervisor should have the chance to give constructive criticism on what's going on within the Town of Vienna."

For more information about the candidates, visit their websites, www.jimhyland.com or www.delegatesteveshannon.com.

Election day is Nov. 8. Fairfax County residents will cast their votes for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, the House of Delegates and referendum on a $246 million bond for school construction.