Northern Virginia elections center on smart growth, traffic, economy


Connie Hutchinson places a sign in a supporter’s yard as she campaigns during her bid to be elected mayor of Herndon. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The arrival of Metro’s Silver Line in Herndon within the next few years will inevitably bring more development to the area — change that worries many in the Fairfax County town near Dulles International Airport.

The extent of residents’ concern may be clearer after Tuesday, when voters in Herndon and across Northern Virginia cast ballots in town and city elections centered on nuts-and-bolts questions about smart growth, traffic and the local economy.

“Other communities try to create what Herndon already has, as far as a hometown feel and a real sense of community go, and I don’t want to lose it,” said Connie Haines Hutchinson, speaking passionately about her decision to run for mayor to oppose incumbent Mayor Lisa Merkel’s proposal for a high-rise multi-use development near the planned Silver Line station.

Merkel, in turn, spoke just as forcefully about “maintaining our quality of life” through strategic planning, such as creating walkable, mass-transit-oriented communities outside of Herndon’s picturesque downtown.

Largely devoid of partisan politics and national arguments over issues such as health care and foreign policy, local elections are opportunities for voters to weigh in on what, for many, matters most: What’s outside their front door.

In Fairfax City, where first-term Mayor R. Scott Silverthorne is facing a challenger and eight candidates are vying for six council seats, key issues include taxes and economic development.

Silverthorne, a veteran on the council before he was elected mayor in 2012, said he hopes to revitalize the aging Route 50 corridor and better position the city’s downtown strip to compete against the surrounding county for new restaurants and retail shops.

“Our downtown footprint remains too small,” Silverthorne said, adding that he’d also like to work on overhauling the city’s zoning ordinances to make them more business-friendly. Silverthorne noted that residential taxes, reduced earlier this week to $1.04 per $100 of assessed value, are among the lowest in the region.

John D. Norce, an insurance broker who is opposing Silverthorne, argued that the mayor has presided over rising taxes for business and professional licenses that Norce said have driven out retailers during the past two years.

“Either we’re not supporting them as a city or they’re deciding they can’t stay here based on revenues,” said Norce, 47. “Whatever the case may be, they’re obviously a reason why they’re leaving.”

Promising to lower commercial taxes and to fix what can be a horrendous rush-hour traffic problem along Main and North streets, Norce, a political newcomer, described himself as “a regular guy trying to help out the city.”

Candidates in other areas of the region also are trying that neighbor-to-the-rescue approach.

In Purcellville, the upcoming retirement of longtime Mayor Bob Lazaro sets the stage for the Loudoun County town’s first leadership change in eight years. Vice Mayor J. Keith Melton Jr. is facing off against newcomer Kwasi A. Fraser, a businessman who argues that out-of-control taxes and development are threatening the small town’s character.

Fraser says he’ll push for greater transparency in town government, lower utility rates and stricter zoning guidelines to avoid unwanted development in the historic community, which is still rooted in its rural past.

“My opponent lacks specificity in his plans for Purcellville,” Fraser said, adding that Melton “will just offer more of the same under the guise of ‘common-sense solutions.’ ”

Melton says he also wants to preserve Purcellville’s charm amid rapid growth in much of Loudoun but that smart planning is needed.

“I think people recognize that there will be growth and we need growth, but it needs to fit in the character of the town, so that’s what I’d really like to do,” said Melton, who has been endorsed by several local politicians.

In Prince William County, the race for mayor in the town of Dumfries has been marked by the on-again, off-again intentions of the incumbent, Gerald M. “Jerry” Foreman III.

In November, Foreman announced that he would run for reelection. He faced a challenge from Vice Mayor Willie Toney. After it was too late to get his name off the ballot, Foreman said at a town council meeting that he did not want to seek reelection. He was vague — and a bit mysterious — about why.

“Not personal reasons — it has nothing to do with family, friends, my life, balance of life, nothing,” he said this week. “Is it my opponent? No. . . . Is it that I felt I couldn’t make a difference? No.”

If elected, Foreman said, he would make a change in the way the town is governed, which would help explain why he had considered not running. “There needs to be a change in the way that things are being handled within the town government,” Foreman said. He refused to elaborate.

Toney, who advocates lower taxes for businesses and professional licenses, characterized the mayor as someone who “seems to be out of touch.”

He said that he is proud of his work on the town council to improve a local park and has focused especially on reaching out to the town’s Latino voters.

Both men agreed that their race has been divisive.

“He’s been saying that he’s a Democrat and he stands for Democratic values, and I’m a Republican and I stand for Republican values,” Foreman said. “It’s okay to be partisan when you’re running for state or federal office. . . . That’s not going to work in the town of Dumfries.”

Julie Zauzmer and Caitlin Gibson contributed to this report.

Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.
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