If voters in the Mount Vernon and Springfield Districts are concerned about the issues, it wasn't apparent this week. The Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce garnered fewer than 50 participants, and most of those were press, campaign personnel and Chamber personnel.
“The people who represent us in Richmond at the General Assembly probably make more decisions that affect our daily lives than any other level of government,” said Holly Dougherty, executive director of the Chamber. “It is really important to focus on these races and know the people who are running and their views.”
Barbara Sullivan, president of the chamber, said, “I felt the candidates' night was a great opportunity to ask questions directly of the candidates and find out their positions on the issues that face the Mount Vernon-Lee Districts, whether it is transportation, BRAC, education, crime or the revitalization growth in their individual districts. I would hope that every voter takes the opportunity to vote on Nov. 8. This is an important election and every vote counts.”
Those who did attend, however, were rewarded with a quick-paced, but informative session with candidates from the 42nd, 43rd, 44th and 45th districts.
Two of the candidates, Dave Albo and Chris Gregerson, could not attend and sent alternates, Dave Oblon and Craig Romm respectively, to speak for them. Greg Werkheiser, Democratic candidate for the 42nd district, was unable to attend.
With three minutes to give opening statements and one minute to close, candidates took advantage of the open-ended question and answer period to elaborate on the issues.
Oblon, speaking for Albo, emphasized more transportation money for Virginia; smaller class sizes for schools; and tougher penalties for crime, especially gang-related crimes.
Grignol spoke about the fact that it wasn’t necessary to raise taxes given the fact that Virginia now has a $1.4 billion surplus. He believes that more can be cut from the budget and that a seven-cent gasoline tax increase is unnecessary.
Sickles reminded voters of his prior campaign slogan, “If you elect me, I will not forget you.” He hopes that he has lived up to that promise and emphasized that the Commonwealth is healthy and that the final budget came only after cuts and reorganization. “We are in a position now to fund our own mandates,” Sickles said. “We are going to work to give existing taxes back to the localities.”
Regarding transportation, Sickles pointed out some positive issues: environmental concerns with EPG are being worked on so that the Fairfax County Parkway can be completed; companies are negotiating for hot lane contracts and the bottleneck on Telegraph Road near Hayfield is being resolved.
Kris Amundson reflected that she moved here exactly 20 years ago and that she has been doing community service ever since.
“I’ve worked 20 years to make the community a better place,” she said.
She emphasized that she worked to improve the affordable housing situation, and to help the assisted living. She also believes that it is important to recruit and help the best teachers.
Amundson then reminded voters of how they found the Commonwealth after the last governor — it was $6 billion in the red and they were underfunding basic services. They had to downsize state government and make business-like reforms. Once that was done they were able to give more money to public education, public safety and the environment.
“This area used to be an unwanted stepchild; now it’s a great place to live, work and raise a family,” Amundson said.
Gail Parker continues to advocate for rail, saying that it is: safer, cleaner, an alternative to higher gasoline prices, and it provides a means of evacuating in case of emergency.
“I believe rail is the solution,” she said. “Now is the time to develop alternatives to high gasoline prices and our dependence on oil. We need rail and we need it now.”
Greg Scoma, reflecting on the incumbent’s strong background on schools, said it’s not just about the schools, but also about safe environments. He is concerned about the housing situation and doesn’t see anything happening to improve it.
“Seniors are being forced to move,” he said. “I want lower, fairer taxes and support for the local business community.”
David Englin wants to carry on the tradition of Marian Van Landingham, and said, “I am a life-long Democrat and have more than a decade of public service leadership. We chose to make Northern Virginia our home because of its strong values and community.”
Englin would like to strengthen public education and is a strong supporter of Tim Kaine’s “Start Strong Initiative,” a program that that will make high-quality pre-kindergarten available to all Virginia four-year-olds.
He believes that we need new ideas to reduce cost of healthcare, and closed by saying, “I earned a reputation for somebody who will stand up for what’s right in the face of great challenges.”
Craig Romm, speaking for Chris Gregerson, said that Gregerson’s life has always been one of service — for the county and for the community.
“He has a strong love of community and a strong platform,” Romm said.
Gregerson is in favor of a 5 percent property tax cap and supports funding education.
QUESTIONS WERE THEN given to the candidates in order. They focused mostly on transportation, gangs, eminent domain and some local issues.
All of the candidates wanted to rein in the power of the government regarding eminent domain and favor stronger penalties for gang-related violence. Amundson advocates looking at the issue of prevention in the middle schools and is in favor of a pilot program for safer after-school programs. Parker believes that rail will help to crowd the crime element out and Scoma would like to see more officers walking the beat, getting to know the neighborhood, in particular the troublemakers.
Only the candidates in the 43rd district were asked about phasing out the car tax. Grignol wants to get rid of it as fast as possible; while Sickles said that he would like to phase it out over the next six years. Regarding affordable housing, Sickles thinks that we need to build on the one-cent tax set-aside; Grignol said that we have to quit hurting people with property tax increases and be careful with the restrictions placed on builders.
Englin and Gregerson addressed the issue of traffic congestion, with Englin saying that the transportation trust fund needs to be locked up so that it can’t be used for other areas, while at the same time making sure that we don’t take money from other funds. He would like to see a multimodal holistic transit system.
Gregerson advocates buses and ride sharing, picking up the slack where rail can’t be; more telecommuting and greater use of biodiesel. He believes that this is a win-win situation because it will get cleaner air while keeping money in Virginia.