Northern Virginians who have complained for years that Virginia's governors have ingored their needs turned out a meager force of 25 yesterday when Gov. John N. Dalton brought his entire cabinet to the Washington suburbs to hear their grievances and petitions.
The "People's Day" promised by Republican Dalton in the election campaign last year apparently suffered from lack of publicity.
Of the 11 citizens who asked the governor to do something about traffic, education for the handicapped, welfare and teacher rights, nine said they learned of the hearing only because they chanced to hear a radio news announcement hours before the 2 p.m. session in the Fairfax County government building.
Those who did know of the governor's visit in advance expressed delight at the opportunity to talk to the chief executive about problems close to home.
"I could not pass up a chance to speak on my favorite subject - the Springfield Bypass-Lockheed Boulevard Extended" - Fairfax resident Mary Thonen told Dalton.
She pleaded for expedited construction of the road proposed to relieve 30-minutes standstills of commuter traffic between the rapidly growing Burke area and Washington.
Six of the 11 citizen speakers addressed highway construction and safety issues. Some were for and some against bigger and better highways and three Northern Virginia officeholders pleaded both for mass transit aid and highway improvements.
Nada Jacobs sought the governor's support of efforts to repeal the Virginia law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. Dalton informed her that he voted for the present law when he was in the Assembly and would make no promises to change his position.
James Clark, an Arlington salesman who said he is regular Capital Beltway driver, touched off a 30-minute discussion of speed limit enforcement by complaining that speeders flout the 55-mile-an-hour limit on Northern Virginia's expressways with inpunity.
Dalton and Public Safety Secretary H. Salwyn Smith expressed their dismay and cited a recent federal survey that showed a high level of obedience to the 55-mile limit in Virginia.
State Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), the senate majority leader, claimed in the use of more marked state police cars might deter speeders and Smith, apparently considering a policy reversal on the spot, said perhaps the state should reconsider its greater reliance on unmarked patrol cars.
The years-old conflict between traffic impacted Alexandria and Fairfax County car commuters surfaced when representative of the Mount Vernon Citizens Association asked the governor to help them stop the city from constructing "Berlin Walls" at intersections to divert traffic from Alexandria.
Eric John Smith of the Fairfax Education Association, criticized Dalton for vetoing two bills that would have expanded teacher and principal grievance rights. He said the vetoes, a state Supreme Court ruling against binding arbitration for teachers and small pay increases have triggered a National Education Association warning that teaching job applicants should avoid Virginia.
Some of the most striking testimony of the day flew in the face of a common perception in the state capital that Northern Virginia is an enclave of the affluent beset primarily with the problems of prosperity.
Eleanor Kennedy, executive director of the United Community Ministries, ticked off a list of pressing welfare needs resulting from the scarcity of moderate-priced housing and from rising utility bills. She said her organization has just completed a social needs census in the U.S. Rte. 1 corridor of Fairfax that, among other things, uncovered a large number of people so poor that they have never been to a dentist.
The People's Day in Fairfax was one in a series of such meeting being held in scattered parts of the state by Dalton, his cabinet, Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb and Attorney Genral J. Marshall Coleman.