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Votes

Providence Primary Heats Up

Democrats set to elect county supervisor for district in June.

Without a Republican or independent candidate in the running, it seems Democrats in Providence District will decide on June 12 who will represent the district on the county board for next four years. With the primary less than a week away, candidates are stepping up their campaigning efforts.

"I am going to talk to as many potential voters as possible," said incumbent Linda Smyth about her plans for the last week of campaigning. She said she would walk the neighborhoods for a lot of door-to-door contact with the voters and her campaign would increase its mailing efforts. Since Smyth is the incumbent, she said she would also be kept busy with her regular duties as a supervisor. The county board held a public briefing on the metrorail extension to Dulles on Monday, June 4, and is scheduled to vote on the project on June 18.

For his part, challenger Charlie Hall participated in what was a one-candidate debate on Thursday night, May 31, at Thoreau Middle School. "I hope people are aware that as of now [the primary] is the final decision," said Hall. He said that people in Providence District, and countywide, have educated themselves on important issues, such as land use and transportation, because of their dissatisfaction with the county board’s handling of those issues. "People in Fairfax know we are hitting a crossroad," said Hall.

Debate organizers — Vienna Little League, Vienna Youth Soccer, Vienna Babe Ruth, Hunter Mill Defense League and North Gallows Road Coalition — said Smyth never answered their invitation for the debate. Russ Ekanger, Vienna Little League treasurer, said he approached Smyth about the event after the first and only debate, held on May 23, but said he received a negative response from her.

E-mails forwarded to The Connection show that Ekanger sent e-mail invitations to Hall and Smyth campaigns on May 18 and May 22 about the second debate. E-mails to the Smyth campaign were sent to the campaign manager Sean Corey. An e-mail sent on May 28 confirmed that the debate would take place at Thoreau on May 31, and stated the hope of the organizers that Smyth would attend. Some of the organizing groups did not advertise the debate with their members because of the fear that an advertisement of a one-candidate debate would seem as an endorsement of that candidate.

"I didn’t hear about this debate until Tuesday [May 29]," said Smyth. She said she heard about it from a constituent who called her office for another reason and asked her about the debate in passing. By that time the May 31 date was set, and she had another meeting on her schedule for that night. That meeting, held at Oakton High School, focused on the issue of building sidewalks on Hunter Mill Road. At stake, she said, is $325,000 of county bond money. "They [debate organizers] haven’t sent me anything, and I’ve had this meeting on the books for a long time," said Smyth.

VIENNA TOWN Councilwoman Laurie Genevro Cole attended the May 31 debate at Thoreau. She encouraged Vienna residents who live in Providence District to participate in the June 12 primary. "It is in the town’s profound interest to participate," said Cole. Decisions made by county supervisors in the Town of Vienna vicinity affect the town itself, according to Cole. She said the county serves town residents, a fact she often has to remind some town residents and county staffers about. Cole did not attend the debate in an official role, but as someone who supports Hall privately. She is a resident of the Hunter Mill District.

In the 2003 Democratic primary for the Providence supervisor seat, Smyth defeated civic activist and Hall supporter Becky Cate in a close race. She won 517 votes to Cate’s 444 votes. Differences exist between this year’s race and the 2003 primary. In 2003, there was no incumbent, as Gerry Connolly vacated the seat in a successful bid for county board chairman. In 2003 Democrats held a caucus primary, while the June 12 decision is an open primary, held at district-wide polling locations. Also, days before the 2003 caucus, a third candidate entered the race. Pat Morrison, a retired Fairfax County firefighter, won 406 votes.

Political consultant and resident of Fairfax Station, Frank Blechman, said Smyth is facing a strong challenge from Hall. "I don’t think she ever established that she has a political base in the district," said Blechman, but added that Connolly’s support could play a role. Blechman is currently working with the Margaret "Margi" Vanderhye campaign in the Democratic primary for delegate in the 34th District, a seat that will be vacated by Republican Vincent Callahan. Blechman said the fact that Smyth won in 2003 with 517 votes proves low voter turnouts impact local primaries. "If 500 people in that district decide they don’t like Linda Smyth she could lose," said Blechman. He added that 2 percent or less of the eligible voters would probably decide the winner of the race. "A 5 percent turnout would be very high," he said.