Politician's Priorities Live On in Son's Race
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Lying in a hospital bed with just a few days left to live, John F. "Jack" Herrity was planning a return to political life after nearly 20 years on the sidelines of Fairfax County politics. Herrity was not happy with the direction the county was taking, and he was ready to continue where he left off in 1987, when his 16 years on the Board of Supervisors ended with a crushing electoral loss.
Herrity died Feb. 1, 2006, at the age of 74, never getting the chance to run in this year's race for board chairman. But Herrity's name might yet live on in county politics. His eldest son, Pat S. Herrity, 47, is seeking the Republican nomination for county supervisor representing the Springfield district, and will face Stan L. Reid, 49, in the June 12 primary.
Herrity is keen to capitalize on the legacy of his father. As chairman of the county board for 12 years, Jack Herrity led Fairfax during its transformation from sleepy bedroom community to regional economic engine.
Pat Herrity shares his father's view of current county leadership. He believes Fairfax has demanded too little from developers in exchange for the right to build and has allowed too much residential development at the expense of its commercial base. If those trends could be reversed, he says, the county could lower taxes and spend more money on its top priority: improving roads and transit.
"Our taxes have doubled in eight years, and we really haven't seen double the benefits," Herrity said on a recent weeknight while walking door-to-door in west Springfield. "We've got to get our commercial tax base back. Then we can make transportation a priority, which it hasn't been."
Like his father, Herrity is a Republican in a GOP-leaning district that stretches from just west of the Springfield interchange nearly to Centreville and forms most of the county's southern border with Prince William County. Unlike most of Democrat-leaning Fairfax, the district will give Herrity the advantage in November against Democrat Mike McClanahan if he beats Reid.
Herrity and Reid have embraced similar positions in their bids to replace Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield), who is retiring after six terms. Reid also believes that county taxes are too high and that the county must exact more concessions from developers. Reid is so bothered by the influence of developers in county government that he has centered his campaign largely on his refusal to accept contributions from builders and developers.
"Frankly, I think it is a conflict of interest if you accept development dollars and vote on land-use decisions," Reid said. "We need one person on the board who's not going to have a conflict of interest, and I'm willing to lead the charge on that."
Despite their similarities, Herrity and Reid have tried to paint different portraits of themselves for voters of the sprawling Springfield district. Herrity, chief operating officer of a communications technology firm, presents himself as a candidate with the experience of working with his father and the backing of McConnell and most of the county's Republican establishment. He is also the choice of the political action committee of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
Reid characterizes himself as a political outsider, although unlike Herrity, this is not his first attempt at elective office. Reid lost to McConnell four years ago. He also is a longtime Republican activist in Fairfax and was a political appointee in the Energy Department during the Reagan years. Reid owns Strategic Sciences, a management company that works with government-contracting technology firms.
Reid also thinks the current board has allowed too much commercial development in residential areas and has done too little to prevent clear-cutting. On budget matters, he believes the county tax rate is too high, but he also believes the school system needs to put more teachers in the classroom to reduce class size.
Herrity takes a different tack on commercial development. Although, like Reid, he supports efforts to allow high-density, transit-oriented development near Metro stations, he is concerned that it puts residences on potentially valuable, tax-producing commercial land.
"If you only have residential taxpayers, your taxes go through the roof, because those taxpayers are also demanding expensive services," he said.
The candidates disagree sharply on one issue: the continued existence of the county Economic Development Authority. Reid believes the it should be disbanded; Herrity believes the agency, which was established under his father's leadership to increase the county's commercial tax base, performs a crucial mission.
Both want to beef up county zoning enforcement to crack down on overcrowding and illegal boarding houses. Both support efforts to revitalize struggling commercial areas and to encourage transit-oriented development. Both say the county should spend more money on mass transit.
Reid thinks supervisors should take the bus occasionally to understand how difficult it is to get around quickly; perhaps then they would improve the system, he says. Herrity believes the county should contribute less money to the regional Metrobus system and spend more on the Fairfax Connector system, which he said is more efficient and cost-effective.