FAIRFAX COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

Chairman Candidates Spar on Immigration, Spending

GOP challenger Gary H. Baise, right, tried to get Gerald E. Connolly, the Fairfax board chairman, to clarify his intentions about running for Congress.
GOP challenger Gary H. Baise, right, tried to get Gerald E. Connolly, the Fairfax board chairman, to clarify his intentions about running for Congress. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

s The two major candidates for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors clashed on transportation, immigration and government spending in their first full-blown debate yesterday, with Republican challenger Gary H. Baise saying that the "failed leadership" of Democrat Gerald E. Connolly has led to a decline in the county's quality of life.

"I think it's beginning to deteriorate," said Baise, 66, a lawyer and Nixon-era Justice Department official running for his first elective office. He said the county needs "a new approach, a private-sector approach."

Connolly, 57, seeking his second term as chairman, urged the audience not to "buy the salesmanship" that the county is in trouble.

"He would have you believe that things are going to hell in a handbasket. Nothing could be further from the truth," Connolly said, citing high test scores in the Fairfax school system, declining tax rates and unprecedented investments in transportation improvements.

"We've built a quality of life that is the envy of the United States," he said.

The one-hour exchange, sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce at the Westin Tysons Corner hotel and moderated by Derek McGinty of WUSA (Channel 9), was lively but civil and substantive.

Baise, a trial lawyer who represents corporate and agricultural clients in environmental cases, went on the offensive from the start. He said the chairmanship is the only elective office he will ever seek, a reminder to the audience that Connolly is expected to run for Congress if Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) gives up his Northern Virginia seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

"I'm not running for higher office," Baise said. Later in the debate, Baise asked Connolly about his plans for Congress.

"Yes or no?" he said.

Connolly refused to answer, saying that Fairfax residents will decide in November whether he is committed to the chairmanship. "My voters will make up their minds about this race and my future."

The two candidates displayed differences on immigration policy. Connolly and the supervisors have resisted pressure from Prince William County and other jurisdictions to follow their lead in trying to drive out illegal immigrants.

Connolly said that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility and that the county is best suited to focus on symptoms of the immigration problem, such as overcrowded housing. The county created a task force on the housing problem this year.


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