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Votes

Wilson Inches Ahead of Challenger Griffith

Canvass to verify vote totals after unofficial results show 150 vote difference.

Four-term incumbent Braddock School Board member Tessie Wilson stood with a narrow margin above challenger Liz Griffith after unofficial election results were released early Wednesday morning.

Wilson edged Griffith by a little more than 150 votes after unofficial tallies were announced. The results will now be verified with a routine "canvass" procedure to verify vote totals, according to election officials.

With all precincts reporting and a relatively high turnout of more than 35 percent, Wilson led Griffith 11,467 votes to 11,315, according to unofficial results Wednesday morning from the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Griffith, speaking at the Democrats' election night party, said that extremely close nature of the race will definitely result in a recount. Griffith also noted that absentee ballots had yet to be tallied.

"It is going to be a long couple of days," she told reporters Tuesday night. "I thought I would beat her really badly. I am shocked that the race is neck and neck."

THE RESULTS of the race were "much closer" than first predicted, but understandable given the highly Democratic climate during the elections, Wilson said on the day after the elections.

"It’s no secret that last night was a bit of a Democratic sweep, so that played into it," she said. "But in my race, I’d like to think that this was about doing what is best for our children and our voters ended up seeing that.

It was her advocacy of issues like the ongoing Woodson High School renovation project and work supporting community partnerships in schools that likely made the difference on Election Day, according to Wilson.

"You see throughout the district with my advocacy work what we have been able to accomplish," she said. "I think that is what made the difference. That dedication and commitment."

THE FOCAL POINT of the race was in the two different objectives of the candidates, with Wilson looking to meet shrinking budgets with a tempered spending approach and Griffith favoring a greater push to institute later school start times and county-wide full-day kindergarten.

Wilson, a Fairfax accountant, was challenged by Griffith, a former parochial teacher running in her first election.

The results came amid a high Democratic turnout at the Kings Park precinct in Springfield, according to co-chair of the Braddock District Democratic Committee Marc Greidinger.

"I think in this race, there is a certain degree of loyalty because [Wilson has] obviously been in her office a long time," said Greidinger. "But, we have been seeing people who are open to change and they’re looking at Liz Griffith as a bright and energetic alternative."

Members of the Fairfax County School Board do not run with party affiliations, although both have been endorsed by one of the main political parties. The Democratic Party endorsed Griffith and the Republican Party endorsed Wilson.

WILSON, who was first elected in 2000, expressed a need to keep budgets "manageable" in the face of smaller county budgets on the horizon.

"We are not going to have any extra money next year, and the best case scenario is that we’ll have the same amount of money," said Wilson in a phone interview prior to Tuesday’s elections. "We need to have people pay attention to this issue, because the reality is that we just don’t have all of this money to spend."

Her background targeting gang activity in the Braddock District and her dedication toward bringing private and public partnerships to school programming over the past eight years helped to push her over the edge with voters, Wilson said.

For Griffith, the fact that her campaign was able to bring together so much attention on key needs of local students and families made it worthwhile, regardless of the ultimate result.

She was not alone in her fight for the Braddock seat. The Fairfax Education Association and Fairfax County Federation of Teachers both endorsed her.

As a candidate speaking among members of the Braddock District community, Griffith said that she quickly saw a strong desire to establish later school start times and countywide full-day kindergarten. Her platform on later start times won her the endorsement and campaigning attention of Fairfax County non-profit advocacy group Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal [SLEEP].

"They’re a grassroots organization, they don’t have any money, but they’re out there helping out because they care so much about this issue," Griffith said in a phone interview prior to Tuesday’s elections. "These guys, their people know about the School Board race, they know about the issues and they’re very passionate to get their message across."

While expensive, establishing later start times are worth the effort, said Kathy Carter, a SLEEP volunteer stumping for SLEEP-endorses candidates at the Willow Springs precinct in the Springfield district during Tuesday’s election.

"I think it’s an expensive proposal because it’s about rearranging a transportation system that has been in place for several years," Carter said. "We know it’s an expensive proposition, but it’s one that we feel is worthwhile."

While the results of her campaign still hang in the balance as of press time, it’s attention to voter desires for change and the widespread calls for countywide full-day Kindergarten and later start times brought light on an issue that had been long ignored, she said.

"I feel like I made a difference by bringing these issues to the forefront," Griffith said. "With my presence in the race alone, I think that we were able to draw more attention to this growing demand."