Opinion: Independent Progressive: Fairfax Primary—A Blue Wave

Opinion: Independent Progressive: Fairfax Primary—A Blue Wave

Interviewing the four impressive Democratic candidates for County Board Chairman.

With five vacant seats, including our Hunter Mill Supervisor and Chairman of the Board, the 2019 elections promise big change in Fairfax County. Imagine 22 candidates (20 Dems, 2 Republicans) for just those 5 seats. My focus here will be on a Chairman’s race where energy and vision would be welcome.

First, I need to clarify a matter of donations to Hunter Mill Supervisor candidate Walter Alcorn. After it was revealed that he took donations totaling $500 from the CEO and Strategist of the American Legislative Exchange Council (powerful lobby of the Koch brothers), he opted to return the funds, and did so on May 2, “To avoid confusion about where I stand.” He also accepted funds from two developers, personal friends from college days. Walter has taken different positions on accepting developer cash. In candidate forums, he said he would “not take money from developers in the Hunter Mill District.” In campaign emails, he said he would “not take contributions from developers”. He assures me his two friends are not in Hunter Mill and that his policy going forward is: “[he] is not accepting contributions from developers with land use cases in the Hunter Mill District…” Three other Supervisor candidates — Laurie Dodd, Shyamali Hauth, and Parker Messick accept no developer contributions.

Turning to the Chairman’s race. What a pleasure I’ve had interviewing the four impressive Democratic candidates: Tim Chapman, Ryan McElveen, Jeff McKay, and Alicia Plerhoples! All are progressive and have considerable strengths, with some differences in style and vision. Ryan McElveen, the young Yul Brynner look-alike, has served eight years on the School Board. He is popular among students, having led improvements in student mental health programs and food offerings, inter alia. He speaks Chinese and coordinates activities of the Brookings Institution in Beijing, China. He promises pre-K for all, a greater innovation focus in schools, and county policy to increase renewable energy use. Land-use is not an area of his emphasis, although it is a primary function of the BOS. McElveen is at least Supervisor material.

Jeff McKay is the 3-term Lee District Supervisor, Chair of the Board’s Budget Committee, and the Party’s heir apparent. McKay’s 12 years’ experience is a plus and a minus. For example, he supports expanding pre-K but the program has grown slowly in his tenure; and, the number of trailers at FC schools has increased. He claims credit for the “One Fairfax” policy of inclusivity, yet refused to sign the Fairfax for All Pledge. As Budget Chair, he succeeded in getting full funding for the School Board’s request last year, for the first time in memory. I am troubled by large amounts of developer cash he routinely accepts — totaling over $80,000 in this race alone, including $50,000 from one developer via five corporate entities. The house he now occupies is on land sold to a developer/builder friend who bought it from the same developer who gave $50,000 this year. Not illegal as far as I know, but worrisome.

Alicia Plerhoples is an amazing new prospect. A Georgetown law professor with degrees from Harvard and Yale, Alicia is also a mom and advises small businesses. Both Plerhoples and Tim Chapman share an experience, homelessness, while growing up, that helps shape who they are. She began 2019 by signing up to run for the Fairfax County School Board, but decided instead to make the leap to run for Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Before I talked with her, I thought that impossible. After getting to know her, I’m thinking maybe I was wrong. She has the intellect, vision and determination to lead. Chairman or Congresswoman?

Last, but by no means least, is Tim Chapman, like Plerhoples, got a close, personal look at poverty while growing up. Unlike Plerhoples, he does not have eye-popping diplomas on his wall. His brain and determination led him to start his own businesses, developing and building affordable housing in the Metro region. He’s also a manager par excellence. In fact, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Virginia Housing and Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe, then elected Chairman of the Board by his fellow Directors. Mr. Chapman is the only one of the strong group of candidates who actually has been a Chairman of the Board of a multi-billion-dollar operation. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine says this about him: “Tim Chapman understands that integrity and compassion are the foundation of public service, and he’s lived those values through his work to expand access to housing in Fairfax County.”… I’m thinking Tim Chapman’s leadership and integrity are what we need to get the ponderous machinery of Fairfax County moving again.