Protege's Fate in Primary Could Be an Omen for Connolly
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Linda Q. Smyth's résumé in Fairfax County politics carries the unmistakable imprint of Gerald E. Connolly.
As Providence District supervisor in 1999, Connolly appointed the Briarwood neighborhood activist to the county Planning Commission. When he left his seat in his successful bid for Fairfax Board of Supervisors chairman in 2003, he backed Smyth as his replacement in a tight three-way Democratic primary that she won before defeating Republican James Hyland.
Smyth has Connolly at her side once again as she faces a primary challenge for her central Fairfax district seat, which includes Tysons Corner. And this time, her benefactor has something at stake as well, because the race might provide an early indication of any anti-development backlash that could affect Connolly's own reelection campaign in November.
Smyth's challenger in the June 12 primary, former Washington Post editor Charles W. Hall, says Providence voters are upset about her consistent support of high-density development in their district over the past four years, including MetroWest, a community of 2,250 townhouses, condominiums and apartments that will go up just south of the Vienna Metro station.
Primaries in the county's supervisor districts are the electoral equivalent of family squabbles: low-turnout affairs that draw mainly party activists and insiders. Smyth won last time with 514 votes out of 1,367 cast. But because Connolly has no primary opponent and Providence is his political back yard, the race there is being watched partly as a scene setter for his contest in the fall against Republican lawyer Gary H. Baise and independent Glenda "Gail" Parker.
Connolly is clearly a player in the primary, which will effectively elect the next Providence supervisor because there is no Republican or independent opposition. He acknowledged that he helped prepare Smyth for last week's League of Women Voters debate with Hall and has lent her some of the campaign staff he will use this fall. Still, he rejects the idea of Providence as an early indicator of his political health.
"I haven't put a lot on the line. I haven't been asked to," he said. "Linda is perfectly capable of building her own case."
Politics does not come naturally to Smyth, 56, a former substitute teacher who did her doctoral dissertation at the University of Virginia on disputes over authorship of the Federalist Papers. In defending her position on MetroWest at the debate last week, she offered a chronology of the project so laden with land-use jargon -- "out-of-turn plan amendment" and "APR" (area plans review) -- that only those steeped in its history were likely to follow.
As supervisor from Providence, she has presided over some of the county's biggest construction projects. They include MetroWest as well as plans to build 720 apartments and stores at the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and an overhaul of Tysons Corner Center that will surround the mall with a ring of eight office and residential high-rises.
Smyth, who supported all of those, said they are exemplars of a "smart growth" policy to cluster construction around mass transit. She also cites as major accomplishments the board's decision to spend a penny of the real estate tax rate on preservation of affordable housing and on storm water management.
"This has been the most progressive board in Fairfax County history," she said at the debate.
She said in an interview that she's no puppet of Connolly's. "I'm my own person. Gerry has never told me what to do, and he doesn't now. If he did, I'd bite off his head."