Connolly's GOP Challenger: No Donations From Developers
Friday, June 8, 2007
Republican Gary H. Baise today will launch his campaign to unseat Democrat Gerald E. Connolly as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors with a pledge that Baise says underscores how he would lead Fairfax in a new direction: He will accept no campaign contributions from developers who do business in the county.
Baise, a lawyer from McLean, hopes to convince voters who are fed up with sprawl and traffic that the Fairfax board is to blame for allowing the development industry to sway its decisions. He is also seeking to turn his vast financial disadvantage against Connolly into a stand on principle. But with about $20,000 raised compared with Connolly's $1 million-plus, Baise says he will need more than a catchy campaign promise to deny Connolly a second four-year term.
"We'll see," Baise said this week at the McLean home of Dennis and Denise Garbis, where he spoke to about 50 supporters, including former senator George Allen (R-Va.), at his first big fundraiser of the year. "We're going to have to work on it hard."
Baise, a newcomer to local politics, and Connolly, who has been a supervisor or board chairman for 13 years, are competing in the Nov. 6 election to lead the region's largest jurisdiction at a time of momentous change and growing economic influence. The Fairfax board must contend in coming years with the county's evolution into a network of urban communities from Merrifield to Vienna to Reston, with highway congestion that threatens the region's economic prosperity, and with an increasingly diverse population of immigrants who number more than a quarter of the county's 1 million residents.
Baise invokes rhetoric that is common among Republican challengers in Democrat-dominated Fairfax this year: that the county is going in the "wrong direction," that county spending has grown unchecked and that property taxes are too high. He says Fairfax's congestion crisis has reached a critical point and that Connolly has done too little to devote county resources to the problem.
He also accused the current board of wresting too few transportation improvements from developers in exchange for the right to build.
"The leadership is not there," Baise said of the board, which is made up of seven Democrats and three Republicans. "Do you really believe your congestion problem is better today than it was four years ago?"
Connolly is sticking with the same themes he has emphasized over the past four years: encouraging transit-oriented development to reduce congestion and encourage job growth around Metro stations; preserving affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families who are increasingly struggling to make ends meet in costly Fairfax; and encouraging greater environmental stewardship by reducing carbon emissions through "green" building techniques, alternative fuel consumption and more use of transit.
Connolly has been a vocal advocate for securing new state transportation funding from the General Assembly and for extending Metrorail from Falls Church through Tysons Corner to Dulles International Airport.
In response to Baise's critique of his leadership, Connolly pointed to Baise's representation of industrial and agricultural clients in environmental litigation. A former Nixon-era chief of staff of the Environmental Protection Agency, Baise is also an honorary board member of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), an organization formed to oppose the liberal environmental movement. The council's president, Italia Federici, who came under Senate scrutiny last year because of her ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, agreed to plead guilty this week to charges of tax evasion and obstructing a congressional investigation.
"Mr. Baise has spent a career protecting dirty industry under the guise of environmental law," Connolly said. "His association with CREA and the Abramoff scandal ought to be troubling to all of us in the community. I guess I'm glad to see he has found religion when it comes to clean money."
Baise is quick not to accuse Connolly of any specific wrongdoing. But to have developers contribute to politicians who decide on their projects, he said, "undermines people's confidence in the integrity of the decisions being made."
Connolly has accepted more than $300,000 of his over $1 million in contributions from the real estate and development industries, according to the campaign finance database of the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
Baise also left himself considerable wiggle room with his declaration. By developer contributions, he said, he meant money from parties whose names actually appear on land-use applications before the board.
He didn't rule out accepting contributions from land-use attorneys, engineers, construction companies, surveyors, real estate management firms or any of the numerous other players who have financial stakes in growth and development in Fairfax.