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Thursday, Nov. 1 at 11:30

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Election

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Gerald Connolly
Chairman, Fairfax Board of Supervisors
Thursday, November 1, 2007; 11:30 AM

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly was online Thursday, Nov. 1, at 11:30 a.m. ET to take your questions about his campaign for re-election.

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A transcript follows.

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Gerald Connolly: Good morning. Thank you for hosting this online discussion. The election is just six days away, and I'm asking for your support to continue building on the success we have achieved during the last four years by expanding transportation choices, preserving affordable housing, protecting our parks and streams, steering our young people away from gangs, lowering the tax rate and maintaining our strong commitment to education. I look forward to your questions. Please remember to vote Tuesday, Nov. 6.

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Falls Church, Va.: Many of us in Northern Virginia are concerned about gangs. Can you please explain what Fairfax County has been doing to reduce the threat of gang violence and how I can stay involved?

Gerald Connolly: Four years ago, I started a gang prevention initiative. We expanded after-school middle school programs, collaborated with Cox Communications to start five Boys and Girls Clubs in high-risk areas, expanded our tatoo removal program and summer camp opportunities for at-risk youth. The results: Fifty percent decline in gang participation among our youth and a 32 percent drop in gang related crime. We need to build on the progress we've made these past four years.

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Fairfax, Va.: Gerry I know a lot of people move to Fairfax County for the excellent education system, can you tell us what the Board is doing to preserve and better the local public education programs?

Gerald Connolly: Education is and must remain our top priority. Fifty-three percent of our entire general fund budget is devoted to schools, and another $60 million is provided for school support activities like school nurses and School Aged Child Care programs. We've expanded our capital improvement program significantly for school construction and renovation and have dedicated a portion of our cable franchise fee for school technology. Results: Last year, we had the highest SAT scores in our history. Ninety-four percent of our high school graduates go on to higher education (versus 66 percent nationally). We must sustain our investments in education. It is what drives our high quality of life.

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Fairfax, Va.: Could you explain how the Cool Cities program will provide the substantive carbon reduction to address Climate Change?

Gerald Connolly: I launched the Cool Counties initiative earlier this year with the Sierra Club and the National Association of Counties. It is designed to reduce the carbon footprint of the 3,066 counties in the United States in order to meet the 80 percent reduction goal by the year 2050. We have put together a template that is 16 pages long offering a range of actions that includes expanding the tree canopy, switching to hybrid vehicles, using green building technologies and energy savings, expanding telework programs and the use of wind power. Collectively these and other measures can make a significant difference in our carbon footprint and save taxpayers money. I am a big believer in the effectiveness of collective action.

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Fairfax, Va.: If re-elected would you continue the cuts you initiated to the mental retardation programs over the last three years in comparison to full funding the county provided prior to your efforts? At the time you complained it was the state's responsibility not the county's to foot the bill so what have you done and will do to get more money from the state or will you just continue the cuts you made at the expense of our most vulnerable and defenseless citizens (many of whom are unable to speak up for themselves?)

And, as a businessman and promoter of outsourcing care for the mentally challenged, when is the last time you visited the programs the county supports and got a first-hand look at the quality of service being provided?

Gerald Connolly: We have not cut mental retardation programs at all. We have sought to expand state waivers, and have been successful in that endeavor working with MR advocacy organizations such as the Northern Virginia ARC to provide more services to more individuals.

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Greenbriar area of Fairfax, Va.: Many of us in Northern Virginia are concerned about gangs, which seem to be also another piece of the immigration issues as well. Can you please explain what Fairfax County should be doing to reduce the threat of gang violence?

Gerald Connolly: See earlier response.

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Reston, Va.: I'd just like to thank Chairman Connolly for his common-sense approach to dealing with immigration. I'm particularly interesting in hearing about the "strike force" that is cracking down on overcrowding and zoning violations.

Gerald Connolly: I formed the Strike Force earlier this year because the County government needed a different approach to code violations and illegal behavior that had become systemic in some older neighborhoods. The Strike Force is a multi-agency approach deploying the fire marshal, zoning inspectors, police, county attorney, health department and others to bring to bear the full resources of the county in order to prevent willful violation of County laws and ordinances. To date close to three dozen illegal boarding house cases have been successfully addressed with one individual actually being put in jail. We have more than 120 cases active and pending. In September, the Board agreed to add additional staff positions to institutionalize this new approach. We must build on the momentum we've created.

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Fairfax, Va.: First, congratulations on your service to date, I think you have done a very good job and your efforts to bring Metro to Tysons are commendable and you will get my vote. That said, one concern I have is that the so many of our schools have so many school kids in trailers instead of real classrooms, particularly older schools. Fairfax seems to give priority to schools for new developments rather than to schools serving neighborhoods whose residents have paid taxes for many many years. Why can't the newcomers to new developments be put in trailers and take care of longtime residents needs first?

Gerald Connolly: You are right that there has to be a balance between our older and newer neighborhoods when it comes to school construction and renovation. We are making progress. Woodson High School, for example, is under renovation. Glasgow Middle School is being rebuilt. And numerous other schools in the eastern part of the County are under renovation or are slated to be in the near term. We have to recognize the overcrowding problems in the west and south as well. However, at the end of the day, the School Board by law must make these decisions. I will continue to urge upon them a balanced approach such as you suggest.

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Washington, D.C.: Seems like the Warner endorsement is the big stick in Northern Virginia. Is that the clear measure of success in these regional elections?

Obviously not from Virginia, but watching these commercials these candidates appears on contradictory ends of the political spectrum.

Gerald Connolly: I assume you are referring to former Gov. Mark Warner with whom I have been privileged to work. I'm proud to have his endorsement and financial support and look forward to working for him as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate in 2008.

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Fairfax, Va.: Was Baise invited to the online chat as well? Will he be offered a similar forum for Q&A from the general public? If not, how come?

washingtonpost.com: Yes, he was on about two weeks ago.

Gerald Connolly: As was indicated by the Washington Post moderator, my opponent was on this chat two weeks ago. We have been working with the Washington Post to find an acceptable time for me to have this opportunity and I'm grateful to the Post for making this opportunity available today.

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Vienna, Va.: Mr. Connolly:

I recently (10/05/07) requested your public response to the following questions:

In consideration of your election campaign for the office of Fairfax County Board Supervisor, the Vienna Citizens Group has the following questions concerning the community:

Do you support/not support the use of tax payer funds to provide public services to those individuals with illegal status in the state of VA or county of Fairfax?

VA Attorney General Bob McDonnell has endorsed local governments to participate in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program 287(g). Do you support/not-support Fairfax County and surrounding local governments in participating in the ICE 287(g) program?

What specifically will you propose as measures to address the growing population of those who are of illegal immigration status in the Commonwealth?

The voters of Vienna, Va., are very interested in your reply.

Thank you.

Gerald Connolly: In Fairfax, we are focused on illegal behavior and getting results. That's why I formed the Strike Force to crack down on illegal boarding houses. That's why I started the gang prevention initiative almost four years ago. That is why our Sheriff participates in the immigration program that detains illegals already incarcerated and transfers them to federal officials. We already deny more than two dozen services to those who cannot prove they are here legally. We have an aggressive program that has produced results for our neighborhoods and our citizens.

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Vienna, Va.: What can be done about the traffic nightmare in Fairfax?

Gerald Connolly: Transportation is a state responsibility and has been by statute since 1932. The last time the General Assembly provided any net new investment for transportation was in 1986 (by the way, the Red Sox were in the World Series that year). This lack of investment -- we're on the cicada cycle in Virginia -- has significantly impaired mobility in Northern Virginia. In addition to my previous description of this year's legislative effort, Fairfax has not stood still. We will have pumped $600 million of our own local money into transportation in this four-year term. That is an unprecedented amount of local money for transportation. We will have asked the voters to approve two transportation bond referendums, upgraded Metro investments, completed 60 interchange and spot improvements throughout the County totaling $115 million, completed the widening of Route 123 down to the Occoquan, widened West Ox Road from Fair Lakes to Reston, completed six interchanges on Route 28 and started construction on the remaining four. The Springfield Interchange is completed, the first span of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge is open. Transit in the Richmond Highway is up by 40 percent. The Rail to Dulles project is proceeding as are HOT lanes on the Beltway. Just two weeks ago, the Board approved my second Four-Year Transportation Plan on a 9-1 vote. We've made a lot of progress in this four year period and we promise to do even more in the next term.

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Jefferson Manor: Chairman Connolly,

Candidate Jeff McKay has spoken at lengths about finding other revenue streams for the county. We rely far to heavily on property taxes. Could you discuss your thoughts for where the county can find these revenue sources?

Gerald Connolly: In the last four years, working with Gov. Warner and a bipartisan coalition in the General Assembly, we have secured several new sources of revenue. All of which, we have used to reduce the property tax rate. These new revenue sources include the recordation fee, cigarette taxes and a new transit occupancy tax which primarily captures non-resident revenue. We will continue to work with Gov. Kaine and the new General Assembly to identify new sources of revenue to both diversify our revenue base and to lessen the burden on our home owners.

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Fairfax, Va.: Gerry,

In her advertisements, Sen. Devolites Davis takes credit for "providing" Fairfax County residents with hundreds of millions of dollars. Could you help clarify how she is "providing" Fairfax residents with this money?

Gerald Connolly: A little history: For two years the majority in the General Assembly denied we even had a transportation funding crisis. This year, after looking at some polling data, they reluctantly got religion. A bill was passed which frankly was dead on arrival because it would have required the imposition by local governments of some very high taxes and triggered the take over of our own roads with no money. This poison pill frankly made the bill unacceptable and unworkable for all Northern Virginia local governments. Working with Gov. Kaine, I and my colleagues sought amendments to the bill that effectively rewrote the entire legislation. It provided the power to raise revenue to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and some new revenue options for transportation funding for and by local governments. That rewritten bill is what became law on July 1 and which the NVTA implemented two months ago. It will generate $300 million a year in new funding for Northern Virginia. That is a welcome new investment stream, but it only addresses about one-third of our projected transportation funding deficit. More work is needed from the General Assembly.

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Fairfax, older neighborhood: I am interested in what the county can do regarding the "McMansionization" of older neighhborhoods. My court has nine normal-sized homes and one gigantic monstrosity that has sat empty for more than a year -- it cannot sell due to size and cost. And is totally out of character. How can you help stop this sort of growth?

Gerald Connolly: Virginia is a property rights state that severely limits the ability of local government, especially in by-right development cases. To mitigate and better control the impact of the McMansion phenomenon, the Board adopted new requirements that would limit the sizes of proposed additions in order to exercise further review and control. We will continue to look for opportunities in the General Assembly to expand these powers of review and control.

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Centreville, Va.: If you are re-elected, what is your vision for the county in the next four years?

Gerald Connolly: Fairfax County has built a quality of life that is the envy of the nation. The lowest crime rate of the 50 largest jurisdictions in America. The highest graduation rate of the 50 largest jurisdictions in America. Triple AAA bond rating from Wall Street and Best Managed County in the Country. The creation of almost 600,000 jobs, most of them in the last 30 years. Nationally recognized libraries and parks. We've achieved this success because we as a community have been willing to make the investments in education, public safety and the other amenities listed above. We need to balance these investments with the lowest possible tax burden. I would like the opportunity to continue to move the Fairfax agenda forward on gang prevention, expanding affordable housing stock, maintaining strategic education investments, embracing an aggressive environmental agenda, reducing the tax burden on home owners and implementing our second Four-Year Transportation Plan. I feel privileged to serve this extraordinary community.

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Gerald Connolly: It's been a great pleasure being with you today. I regret time precluded my ability to answer all the questions posed to me, but I assure you I will follow up on each and every one. Remember to vote Tuesday, Nov. 6. Cheers!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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