Despite Challenging Start Alcorn Doubles Down in Reston

Despite Challenging Start Alcorn Doubles Down in Reston

The Independent Progressive

Barely halfway through his term as Hunter Mill District Supervisor, Walter Alcorn has announced plans to seek re-election in November 2023 to a second 4-year term. It’s a demanding job which pays $95,000/year for theoretically part time work. Having known him for 25 years, back to when I briefly considered running for Supervisor, I was curious and talked with him about his decision.            

His start as Supervisor was hardly auspicious. It coincided with the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic. Building chemistry for an effective Board of Supervisors, four of whom were newcomers, proved difficult in part due to all-virtual work. Still, he feels he’s been able to get some things done.  Looking around Reston, I agree. I see tangible improvements, e.g., gaps  filled with sidewalks so needed in Reston, improvements in bike safety with added lanes, and intersection signals and crosswalks. He proudly notes a joint initiative with Supervisor John Foust to get the County to commit $100 million to pedestrian and bicycle safety over the next five years.        

A priority Alcorn goal was creating a “community-driven” process to prepare an update of the Reston Comprehensive Plan to guide land-use decisions for a generation – to a time when our still unincorporated settlement’s population is likely to surpass 100,000. Good progress to report here. A first draft plan is in hand, written largely by reps of community organizations with a notably smaller developer role than in the last plan. The Task Force is likely to reduce some densities further from transit stations and to establish an ultimate target Reston population in the 110,000-120,000 range. Equity, a current County buzzword is assured throughout with little explanation of how it is assured. Natural open space will shrink relatively but we are assured that there will always be two fully 18-hole golf courses!    New plan ETA-Fall 2022.            

Alcorn pledged to continue to make affordable housing a priority.  Homelessness, a perennial problem in wealthy Fairfax, has been the subject of grand initiatives with mixed results. Most eligible beneficiaries have incomes up to the county median level, $100,000. People earning Virginia’s minimum wage, $11/hour, even with two in a household, are not served by such programs, and need much lower cost units. Mr. Alcorn has an innovative idea for addressing them. He suggests repurposing long-vacant commercial space into basic home units for transitional housing for lower income homeless people. As I write this column, tents occupied by homeless people have sprung up outside his office. Yet, to date he has found no traction for his common-sense idea, nor any compelling reason not to try it, he tells me.            

Sometimes private business groups pose difficult challenges. For example, he’s been unable to engage Reston Town Center ownership on questions about their puzzling public parking policies which have kept Restonians away and discouraged formerly popular businesses, many of which have left. Most recent examples are Chicos, Clyde’s and Bowtie Theatre.         In Lake Anne, the Supervisor has been forthcoming, conditionally offering county assistance for Reston’s original village center to address critical aging infrastructure. Dealing with feuding groups in the Condo association has not been easy. Unfortunately, in one case he may have fueled tensions by appearing to put his hand on the scale to tilt a Board election in favor of one side in the voting, and in another he’s commissioned consultants to recommend a “sustainable” model for the village center, mentioning, e.g., becoming an arts center.  The scope of work was discussed with neither the Condo Board nor the merchants potentially most affected. Some fence mending seems in order to successfully move forward.                What, I asked, made him decide to run again. His main reason is that he wants to see initiatives  that he has worked on actually implemented, and it was taking more time and effort than anticipated to get things done on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.                 

I asked him if he had a re-election fundraising goal and to outline his approach to fundraising. It's too early to have a goal, not knowing what opposition he might have, and he plans no changes in approach from what he used the first time around. I was pleasantly surprised that he had raised a lot in small, non-special interest money and almost nothing from land development interests for his first campaign.                          Mr. Alcorn clearly has learned the political game. For example, he hired one of his stronger primary opponents on his staff, likely neutralizing her.  Another of his staffers was recently elected Chair of the local Democratic Party, discouraging competition from that area. He is ready for another campaign.