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A District Turning Blue?

At Candidates’ Forum, Democratic candidates express optimism about the changing politics of the Dranesville District.

According to Richard “Rip” Sullivan, there was an earthquake in Virginia in March.

“I’m sure you all felt it,” said Sullivan, speaking at the April 24 Dranesville District Democratic Committee Candidates’ Forum at the McLean Community Center. “The epicenter was over in the Potomac Hills area of McLean where Vince Callahan lives – literally a political earthquake, both here in Northern Virginia and statewide, when Vince Callahan decided to retire. It has been two generations since the people of the 34th have had an open seat, and we’re gonna turn it blue.”

In March, Del. Vincent Callahan, Jr. (R-34th) announced his retirement after 40 years of serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. Dave Hunt, a McLean resident and Republican who previously ran unsuccessfully for Virginia Senate against incumbent Janet Howell (D-32nd), recently announced his candidacy for the seat left open by Callahan. Who Hunt will run against however, remains to be seen in the approaching June 12 Democratic primary.

Two Democrats from McLean – Margaret “Margi” Vanderhye and Richard “Rip” Sullivan – are vying for the role of Hunt’s competitor, and at last week’s Dranesville District Democratic Committee Candidates’ Forum, local Democrats had the opportunity to size up their choices in an intimate question and answer session at the McLean Community Center. After giving a general overview of themselves and their platforms, Vanderhye and Sullivan answered audience questions submitted on index cards. Queries were posed on a range of topics, including general issues such as environment and traffic, to questions about the candidates’ stance on specific legislation and bills.

Vanderhye’s campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates 34th District seat reports raising more than $37,000 in the first quarter of 2007, while Sullivan’s campaign reports over $100,000 raised and nearly $90,000 cash on hand at the first quarter filing.

BOTH CANDIDATES were asked about their position on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project, and both Vanderhye and Sullivan said they were strong advocates of the underground tunnel option in Tysons Corner, but neither consider the tunnel to be a deal-breaker for the entire project.

“I would not scrap the whole project,” said Sullivan. “We need rail to Tysons … but the tunnel is clearly the best option and we are not yet ready to give up the fight. This is a 180-year decision that we’re about to make — a decision that our children and grandchildren have to live with.”

Vanderhye also referred to the tunnel as “the best option,” but like Sullivan, said she does not think the entire Dulles Corridor Metrorail project should be thrown out if an overhead track for Tysons ultimately wins out in the end.

“This isn’t a short-term project, and we haven’t been working on it for a short period of time,” said Vanderhye. “It’s a project and a program that needs to happen. Connecting your international airport with your international city and all the economic growth areas in between only makes sense economically.”

Vanderhye said that if she is elected, she will “push with all of her might” to pursue the tunnel option for the stretch of Metro line that will run through the Tysons Corner area.

“Am I willing to forgo $1 billion in federal funds if we can’t do it? The answer is no,” said Vanderhye. “We need rail to Dulles. We need it for all the reasons that this area needs the economic boost of rail to Dulles, and all of the … growth and the development that goes on around it, and we can work with that and make Tysons a walk-able, achievable community regardless. Let’s keep fighting for the tunnel, let’s not lose sight of what the long term objective is.”

Vanderhye currently serves on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, having been appointed by Gov. Mark Warner and then re-appointed by Gov. Timothy Kaine. In addition, she was previously appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the National Capital Planning Commission. Vanderhye says her background in government and international relations sets her apart from competitor Rip Sullivan.

“The experience that I’ve had in all levels of government, drafting legislation, advocating for legislation and testifying on legislation at the local, state and national level gives me the qualifications to hit the ground running when I get there,” she said.

However, Sullivan defended his qualifications, noting that his experience as an attorney and his commitment to public service make him as strong a candidate as Vanderhye.

“The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of ways to serve a community,” said Sullivan. “We’ve learned over the course of the last several years that there are a lot of ways to get to elected office, a lot of paths that qualify one for elected office. Mark Warner was a very successful businessman who had never held elected office and became … one of the leading forces in the changing of the Virginia Democratic party. Jim Webb wasn’t even a Democrat 18 months ago, yet here he is the biggest rock star in the United States Senate as far as the Democrats are concerned.”

Sullivan went on to note that in his career he has fought for the rights of indigent people, created the U.S. Institute of Peace and run a business.

“I have been fighting for the last 25 years for the principles of the Democratic party – economic equality and fairness and opportunity, freedom around the world from violence,” said Sullivan. “Those are the kinds of things that have motivated me over the course of my last 25 years, and those are the kind of things I will bring to the General Assembly.”

McLEAN RESIDENT John Foust also spoke at the forum. In November, Foust will run against Republican incumbent Joan DuBois for the position of Dranesville District supervisor. This will be the second time that Foust goes up against DuBois, having made an unsuccessful bid against her in the 2003 election. However, Foust is optimistic about his chances in this year’s race.

“I’m in a good situation and I intend to take advantage of it this time,” said Foust. “I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last four years. In my opinion, a truly good supervisor will listen to you, will respect you and your opinions, and be a very aggressive advocate for you.”

Foust added that the role of Dranesville District supervisor will be particularly important in the coming years, given the multi-faceted transit oriented development slated for Tysons Corner.

“There is so much happening in Tysons Corner in the next four years that the person you elect to Supervisor is either going to be able to control and mitigate and direct the impacts, or not — and the impacts are inevitable,” said Foust.