Fielding questions on topics ranging from Medicare coverage and costs to one man's complaints about development damaging his home, Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) had his hands full during a town meeting Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Lorton Station Elementary School.
The first in a series of seven town hall meetings which will end on Saturday, Feb. 4, Davis met with over 100 residents inside the school's cafeteria, many of whom came prepared with lists of talking points and prepared questions.
Davis was welcomed by Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who reminded Davis of the "21,000 people coming to Mount Vernon because of BRAC."
The influx of people who will relocate, in some capacity, to Fort Belvoir as a result of last year's Base Realignment and Closure Committee's findings will put a strain on existing roadways, Hyland said, that will require some federal financial assistance to maintain.
"We'll need the money for transit and infrastructure," he said. "We'll need to count on Tom for that help."
The opening question, which Davis admitted was "the only part of the evening that's been scripted," came from Lorton Station student Thomas Gibbons, who inquired about Davis' support of the D.C. Fair Act, which would provide Washington residents a vote in Congress.
"There's no reason D.C. residents shouldn't have the right to vote," Davis said. "It's an anomaly of American history."
Early in the evening, Davis was asked if he had received any money from Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist who has recently been indicted on several counts of taking bribes and large donations from various sources, including Native American tribes, in exchange for political favors.
"I received a check for $5,000 from him in 2000," Davis said. "A lot of people send us money, I don't necessarily screen it. But as soon as I saw that it was from him, I gave it to charity," he said.
WITH PLANS TO close the Walter Reed Hospital during the BRAC changes, improvements to the DeWitt Hospital on Fort Belvoir have been suggested, said Neal McBride, a Fairfax Station resident. "I like the idea Congress has come up with to hurry things along," he said, but asked what changes could be expected at the former Engineer Proving Ground site, a large portion of land owned by the Army that is becoming a popular site for potential BRAC-related expansions.
"My judgment is that the hospital must go to the EPG and not onto Belvoir directly because of traffic problems," Davis said. "It's much easier to get to."
However, plans to expand the Fairfax County Parkway through the EPG have been stalled because of soil contamination concerns issued through the Environmental Protection Agency, one man pointed out.
"Whatever problems are at the EPG, it's nothing that can't be solved with a memorandum of understanding between the county, the federal government and the Army," Davis said. "The problems there are minuscule. We will get it resolved."
Davis also promised to help Robert Mumford, a Lorton man who brought pictures to demonstrate the damage caused to his home by a housing development across the street near the former Lorton prison site.
"A company came in and told us they were going to build all these multi-million dollar homes and do all these great things right next to us," Mumford said. "They said they had to come in and take 30 feet of dirt across the front of my property, which was fine. Next thing I knew, there were cracks in my basement wall. Then my granddaughter saw some cracks on the side of my house."
Mumford said he'd tried to contact Hyland about the problems "but he never called me back."
Mumford took out several packages of photos he'd taken at his home, showed them to Davis and asked him for help.
Davis agreed to call the developer, KSI, on Mumford's behalf and had him talk with one of his staff members as the audience cheered.
One woman, Danella Halle of Springfield, asked Davis when her family in New Orleans will see the help that's been promised to them for the past five months.
"The government didn't require people to get flood insurance," she said. "Some people did, but the ones who didn't were poor. They're Americans too, why can't they get help from their government? If we were to have a catastrophe in Fairfax County, who would determine that we're not worth rebuilding?"
Halle, a 15-year resident of Fairfax County, said her family living in New Orleans was devastated and are still waiting for the federal aid that was promised to them and countless others along the Gulf Coast last fall. "I'm pleading with you. You have the power to help. It's a wonderful city, it deserves what every American deserves."
Davis said he didn't want to blame FEMA for their actions following Hurricane Katrina.
"Help is on the way," Davis said. "It was the worst storm in history. If we give people a blank check, the cost would be astronomical."
He said that the federal government is responsible for rebuilding the levies that surround the city, but it is a matter of determining to which level of storm they should be built to withstand.
When Laura Sonnenmark of Mount Vernon asked Davis about his vote to support the war in Iraq, one man became angry and yelled at her on his way out of the meeting.
"You told us before the war began four years ago that this was going to be a cakewalk," Sonnenmark said. "Later, you told us you knew the occupation was going to be difficult. The question is, if you knew it was going to be difficult, why did you vote for it? You said this wasn't going to be the same as Vietnam, but it sure feels like Vietnam."
Sonnenmark told Davis she didn't support the war but agreed with the responsibility to "pay my fair share." Her real concerns were for what kind of country the soldiers who are serving in Iraq would find when they came home.
"There's no solution in sight. If we have another attack, we won't be able to defend ourselves," she said. "When are you going to admit you made a mistake?"
The man who became angry at Sonnenmark made some accusatory remarks about who the war was being fought against as he walked out of the meeting.
Davis said that the Iraqi people had more faith in their nation's democratic future than Americans.
"Our job is to allow them the chance to control their own companies and government. There isn't one of us who voted for this without some sense of trepidation," Davis said.
But at the end of the meeting, it was a 15-year-old student from Fairfax Station that put things into perspective.
"What is the difference between us, black, white, young, old, upper class, middle class? Are we not all human? As I sit here and listen to what everyone's saying, there are so many laws that make each group treated differently," said Michael Kidd. "What is the real difference between us?"
Kidd said he had come to the meeting on his own volition, not for school or any homework assignment.
"Politics is very interesting to me. If I had the chance, I would've been able to answer every questions asked here tonight," Kidd said.