Fairfax chairman candidates debate development, housing, transit

September 15, 2011

The major party candidates for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors met Thursday in their first debate, scrapping cordially over affordable housing, immigration, Metro expansion and other issues.

Incumbent Sharon S. Bulova (D) made her case for reelection on Nov. 8 by touting the country’s well-regarded schools, high-quality services, stable budgets and stellar bond ratings. “It didn’t happen that way by accident,” she said.

But Michael J. “Spike” Williams (R) lamented growth in county spending and rising property tax bills and leaned on his experience as owner of a real estate business. “I understand sometimes you have to tighten up the belt in order to fight another day,” Williams said.

The most pointed exchanges came over the county government’s affordable housing efforts. Bulova defended the board’s decision to provide incentives to developers to set aside some units for “workforce housing” that would be affordable for teachers, public safety workers and others. Williams said the policy amounted to “providing luxury affordable housing to people where they get amenities like weight rooms and trash service, and they drive a Lexus and hang a plasma-screen TV on their walls.”

Williams, who said he believed government should focus on education, transportation and public safety, added that “housing is not an area where government should dabble.”

At the debate, sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, both candidates touted pro-business stances. Bulova pointed to the recent decision by corporations such as Hilton, Northrop Grumman and Volkswagen to relocate their headquarters to the county as evidence of a business-friendly climate.

“People come to Fairfax County because of what I would like to describe as the mood,” she said. “We have enthusiasm for what we do. . . . Fortune 500 companies and their employees, they like to be where the actions is and they like to be where that enthusiasm is.”

She noted that the county did not offer any incentives to the corporations beyond its schools and services, though Williams called that claim “a little disingenuous” because the state had offered some tax breaks.

The candidates also debated how to proceed with the planned Metro line to Dulles International Airport — a portion of which was under construction a few hundred yards from the debate, held on Capital One’s corporate campus in Tysons Corner.

Bulova reiterated her commitment to completing the project out to Dulles and beyond, calling it her “number one transportation priority.” She said newly heated concerns about the cost of building the line beyond Tysons were no reason to abandon the project.

“When our landowners signed up . . . I don’t think they meant for there to be rail only to Wiehle Avenue in Reston,” she said. “They wanted to be able to get all the way to Dulles Airport.”

Williams said he was concerned that projections would do little to reduce traffic on the Dulles toll road. “Really, what we’re looking at here is putting money in the pockets of developers that exist along the corridor,” he said. “Which is great — I believe in the free market — but let’s not keep our eyes closed about it.” He also criticized Bulova for the board’s endorsement of a Tysons redevelopment plan without securing funding for more than $1 billion in estimated transportation needs.

In response to a question about immigration, Williams expressed concerns that Fairfax has become a “magnet” for illegal immigrants who have sought to escape neighboring Prince William County’s tough local enforcement of immigration laws. “I’m all for people who are legal citizens and operating in a legal way getting the benefits of government,” he said.

Bulova said she was committed to “provid[ing] a welcoming culture for people of all backgrounds” but rejected the suggestion that Fairfax has become a “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants. She noted that the county police work with federal authorities to identify arrestees who might be in the country illegally.

Williams has been heavily outspent by Bulova, who has raised about $425,000 thus far to Williams’s $74,460, according to public data collected by the Virginia Public Access Project. Two independents, Christopher F. DeCarlo and A. Will Radle Jr., will also appear on the ballot.

Pat Herrity (R), the Springfield District supervisor who ran against Bulova for the chairman’s post in the 2009 special election, said he thought Williams held his own.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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