Vibrant Political Arena Will Further Fairfax's Success

(Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
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Thursday, January 3, 2008

I carry in my wallet a quote from Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne in Paris almost a century ago that has guided me in public service. "It is not the critic who counts," he stated, "nor the individual who points out how the strong person stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. Credit belongs to the individual who is actually in the arena."

TR understood that to be in public service is to be in the arena. He also understood that the arena was all about passion and action.

Why do we seek elective office if it is not to get something done for our community? The arena provides the place where we forge agreement on that action, and it also is the place where we allow -- indeed we encourage -- the clash of ideas. But we also must approach the arena with a dose of humility and respect.

In public life, dogma serves us poorly. The idea that there can be only one way of seeing the truth or only one answer to a public policy dilemma debases the inherent democratic value of debate.

Vigorous debate with mutual respect, guided by the simple but profound ethos of action -- to get something done for our community -- is what we do, or should do, in local government.

When I worked in the U.S. Senate, we considered it a job well done gathering signatures on a "sense of the Senate" resolution expressing concern for Middle East peace.

Can you imagine the Board of Supervisors passing a sense of the Board expressing deep concern for congestion? [That] we're concerned about it? It is risible because, in local government, we are expected to provide results. In our arena, action is the yardstick by which we are measured by our citizens. We must deliver.

With that expectation, we in Fairfax County have delivered a government that works. We have made the investments providing the highest-quality services, and we are the envy of the nation.

Our model of holding summits and convening task forces to develop recommendations and implementation plans is successful and underscores our culture of citizen involvement.

Look at the outcomes from our initial gang summit. We hired a gang-prevention coordinator, expanded after-school programs to all middle schools and partnered with the community to provide more opportunities to at-risk youth. The results: We have seen a 50 percent decline in the number of young people who identified themselves as being involved with a gang and a 32 percent decline in gang-related crime countywide.

Government that works. Results that matter. Whether you serve on one of our many citizen boards or speak at a public hearing, you are in the arena helping to drive the policy debate.

Continuing to ensure that Fairfax County is a government that works is the imperative of our new Board of Supervisors. To do so, we must sustain the strategic investments in our schools, public safety, parks, human services and transportation that our citizens have entrusted to us, and which they overwhelmingly reaffirmed in the last election. How best we do all of this will be decided in the arena.

As we prepare, we gird ourselves with passion for the mission -- to serve the community, to leave it a better place than we found it -- with a sense of respect for and civility toward other viewpoints and an unwavering commitment to a government that works.

Gerald E. Connolly (D) was reelected chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and expressed much of what follows during his inauguration speech last month. For an idea of the challenges facing the new board, see "Many Contentious Issues Await Fairfax Supervisors," in The Washington Post's Nov. 11 Metro section or on the Web at; search for "many contentious issues."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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