A dispute over eviction of some black tenants from a Fairfax County apartment project evolved into a political free-for-all-all last night involving Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, a county supervisor, two candidates for the Board of Supervisors and a taxpayer group.
Before the evening was over, charges of racism, McCarthyism and "political showboating" were exchanged.
The focus of the dispute is the Lacy Park garden apartment development, a predominantly black project for moderate income families with about 320 units for south of Baileys Crossroads. Some of its residents have contended that the project's new owners are evicting dozens of black tenants without adequate cause.
They complained to Supervisor Alan Magazine, a Democrat whose district includes the project, and to representatives of the county's Tenant-Landlord and Human Rights commissions.
Tom Davis, a Republican running for the Supervisors' seat from which Magazine is retiring, has represented some of the evicted tenants in the county's General District Court and attempted to intervene with the owner, Allen & Rocks Inc., and Alexandria real estate firm.
Last night Davis brought fellow Republican Coleman, wearing a Davis campaign button on his lapel, to a meeting of the Springdale Civic Association, which represents the tenants.
Coleman gave a brief talk to the audience of less than 20 endorsing Davis and suggesting residents in the traditionally Democratic area consider voting Republican.
Davis also brought a press release from Allen & Rocks contending the company was only evicting tenants who didn't pay their rent. The release also announced a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant of an unspecified amount of money to renovate 166 of the apartments. It pledged to give current tenants "priority consideration" for the apartments.
All of which led Democrat Betsy Hinkle, who is running against Davis and who also was present last night, and Magazine to accuse Coleman and Davis of playing politics.
"It's just political showboating" said Hinkle. "I would have brought (Democratic Lt. Gov.) Chuck Robb and (U.S. Rep.) Joe Fisher if I'd known Marshall would be here."
"It's a local issue and it's none of the attorney general's business at this point," said Magazine, who did not attend because of a Board of Supervisors' meeting.
Magazine went on to assert that Davis had been one-time counsel to the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, a conservation group that Magazines described as "the most racist organization in the county -- they're as bad as the Klan and he's suddenly so concerned about the black community."
This drew an angry retort from Alliance vice president Gilbert R. Ryback. He denied the group is racist and described Magazine as one of several "lefist-leaning liberal Democrats who spend county money like drunken sailors."
Davis, who said he had only worked with the Alliance because of shared opposition to a school bond issue several years back, said of Magazine's charges, "That's McCarthyism at its worst."
Davis said his own involvement with the Lacy Park tenants is because "I'm a community activist and I like to help people. If I get a few votes, that's fine."
Coleman shrugged off charges that he was playing politics, saying, "Betsy wouldn't be so upset if I'd come here to endorse her instead of Tom." Coleman suggested that residents have their attorney call his office if they believe state discrimination laws were violated.
Left somewhat obscured by the political fireworks was the plight of the tenants. Their next step, said association president Houston Summers Jr., is to try to arrange a meeting with Lacy Park's owners to repeat their complaints.
Summers said the residents had trouble at first getting county officials interested in their problems. "Sometimes you need polities to get things moving," he said.