By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Residents of central Fairfax County are preparing for their second special election this year, as three candidates make their final push this weekend to secure a seat on the Board of Supervisors.
The race pits School Board member Ilryong Moon (D) against lawyer and community activist John Cook (R) and accountant Carey C. Campbell, an independent. Moon and Cook are vowing to continue the legacy of Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D), who vacated her Braddock District seat when she was elected chairman of the 10-member board last month.
Turnout is expected to be especially low Tuesday for the latest in a string of contests triggered in November, when former chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) won a seat in the House of Representatives. If Moon wins, it will prompt a special election to fill his School Board seat.
Each candidate has spent the month-long campaign trying to boost turnout. Moon has energized education advocates and fellow Korean Americans eager to see him become one of the highest-ranking Asian Americans in elected office in Virginia. He has the upper hand in name recognition, endorsements and cash.
Cook will call on the considerable support he has garnered as a member of the Kings Park Civic Association, which represents more than 1,100 homeowners in the Springfield area. As president of the group since 2006, he worked closely with Bulova to launch a revitalization effort to spruce up unkempt homes in the neighborhood and to persuade the county to purchase an abandoned swimming pool and annex the land to a local park.
Cook, 45, has a disadvantage as a Republican running in a district that has voted Democratic recently, including during the fall presidential election. But Anthony Bedell, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, said Cook in many ways is a natural successor to Bulova, who was known for her attention to street-level neighborhood issues.
"I think party affiliation doesn't matter when you've really worked closely with a neighbor to solve an issue," Bedell said. He imagined voters would conclude that "that guy might not be of the same party as me, but I support him because he helped get this pothole fixed."
Campbell, 52, who characterizes himself as a centrist, has used the campaign primarily to push for more rail lines in the region to reduce traffic. He also advocates for lower property taxes.
Moon, 51, has served 10 years on the School Board and also served on the county Planning Commission. Moon, a quiet presence on the School Board, was the only representative last year to vote against a proposal to expand the school administration building, and in the past he has argued for full-day kindergarten and a greater emphasis on foreign-language instruction. Supporters say he is a good listener with an inspiring personal story as an immigrant from South Korea who became a Harvard-educated lawyer.
"I think he's a person of great integrity," Bulova said. "He really wants to give back to a community that has significantly changed his life through education."
Tuesday's winner will have little time to prepare for the county's most pressing matter, the budget. Fairfax is grappling with a projected $650 million shortfall next year, and the Board of Supervisors is contemplating a host of program cuts, fee increases and a real estate tax hike to help bridge that gap.
In a letter to supporters, Cook said he will fight to keep property taxes low and criticized the county's efforts to buy apartment complexes to preserve affordable housing. However, he said, he will seek to protect services for the poor and the mentally ill, and he opposes any increases in fees for the use of county-owned athletic fields.
He has criticized Moon for declining to offer specific proposals to balance the budget during recent debates.
"I think it's important that we talk about our priorities and what we want to do," Cook said. "I've put out my ideas. Is he completely devoid of ideas?"
In an interview Friday, Moon said he would "take a hard look" at scaling back the county's effort to purchase affordable-housing units, and he said he would be skeptical of a proposal by the county executive to increase the real estate tax rate to pay for stormwater management. He said he would deflect cuts to programs for seniors, emergency services and schools.
Republicans also have questioned a large donation Moon received last year from a friend, retired coal company executive In Chung. Chung contributed more than $100,000 to Moon's campaign, a staggering amount for an individual donation to a local campaign.
Chung, 77, of Potomac said in an interview that he contributed the money in the hopes of seeing more minorities in public office. He said he has no business interests in Fairfax. To characterize it as anything more than an act of generosity "is way, way off the line," Moon said.
Staff researchers Julie Tate and Meg Smith contributed to this report.