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Votes

Providence Prepares for Debate

Democratic candidates to meet in only debate before June 12 primary.

Voters in Providence District are gearing up for a primary election that may decide who will represent the district on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors until 2011. So far, the only two candidates to file — or announce intention for candidacy — come from the Democratic Party.

Incumbent Linda Smyth will face challenger Charlie Hall on Wednesday, May 23, in the only announced debate between the two candidates. Hall says that Smyth has been reclusive and that it is rare for her to face the public. "The debate is a rare opportunity for the public to directly question her on some of her policies," said Hall.

Smyth, on the other hand, said her favorite part of the campaign so far has been canvassing neighborhoods and talking to the voters. "I enjoy talking to people in their neighborhoods, because then they can say, ‘See that’s the problem I’m talking about, over there,’" said Smyth.

Both candidates said they have been putting forth their best efforts to talk to as many voters as possible. Hall said he feels confident that the voters are seeing things the same way he sees them. "The community is deeply concerned with the same issues I’m deeply concerned with," he said. Hall added that many voters he talked to are unsatisfied with the current board’s work, especially when it comes to land-use decisions.

Smyth said overcrowding is an issue that has gained prominence among voters since she started campaigning. She said she is working with people who are placing complaints to her office about homes with too many people and too many cars.

WHILE HALL notes he is winning the race on the issues, he said a challenge to his campaign is logistics. His campaign, he said, is a small, citizen-based, effort attempting to overcome a long established political base. The two campaigns have had different success in terms of fund-raising. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Smyth has raised $77,856 for her campaign, while Hall has raised $3,685 so far.

"I never ever expected to match them for spending," said Hall, adding he is not worried about the large difference in the money raised. He said he would be concerned about the difference if the voters were not familiar with issues facing them.

While Smyth has much more money to spend in her efforts, she has promised not to place campaign signs in the public right-of-ways. She said the 2007 election is one that will turn those areas into seas of signs, since all of the seats on the county board and all of the seats in the General Assembly will be up for election.

"Differences in resources can be very important," said Scott Keeter, director of Survey Research at the Pew Research Center, an institute that among other things studies election trends. Keeter, who is not familiar with this particular race, said the candidates’ strategy for this campaign might be different than it might be for other campaigns, since the primary may decide the winner of the general election. He said the candidates would have to determine where the activists in their party are in order to win their support. Northern Virginia, he said, is interesting because different areas offer different activist groups.

"For Democrats, there are liberal activists in Alexandria and Arlington, but in Fairfax it’s a more moderate and business-oriented group," said Keeter.

Current supervisors, including Smyth, have in the past been criticized for making land-use decisions that favor developers. According to Virginia Public Access Project Smyth’s second largest contributor by industry is the ‘Real Estate/Construction’ sector, with $14,543. The sector is second only to ‘Miscellaneous’ sector, which contributed $14,543 to the campaign, including a $10,000 donation from a non-profit group. Smyth said the problem with the Virginia Public Access Project is that it is unclear how it categorizes donors. Also, she said, while some developers have contributed to her campaign, the amount of money they contributed was not that large. Hall has also received a contribution from the ‘Real Estate/Construction’ sector, totaling $500.

IN 2003, SMYTH had to win a primary before facing another candidate in the general election. She said the 2007 election is different, not because there are no candidates outside of the Democratic Party, but because in 2003 there was no incumbent. She said the May 23 debate is unusual in that it is a debate for the primary election. "I didn’t have any formal debates the last time around," she said.

Hall said the 2007 election is a type of election that comes around once every 20 or so years. "This is the year," he said, that will either bring a lot of change on the county board or will cause a lot of damage to the county’s future. He said he hopes people will be ready to vote in the primary election. "People are not used to making the final election decision in June, but this is the time to make a difference," said Hall.

The debate between Smyth and Hall will take place on Wednesday, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the James Lee Community Center, 2855-A Annandale Road, Falls Church. The Democratic primary will be held from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on June 12. The filing deadline for independent candidates for the Nov. 6 general election is 7 p.m. on June 12.