Sim Pace points to a picture of three smiling boys juggling pumpkins nearly half their size. The boys, Pace says, are part of the reason he's running for the Arlington County Board.
They are his sons, and Pace thinks they and other children deserve a better shake from Arlington schools.
Pace, an independent endorsed by county Republicans, is opposed by Democrat John Milliken. Both are seeking the seat being vacated by John W. Purdy, a Democrat-backed board member who announced last spring he would not seek a third term on the County Board.
Pace says his concern about the schools began shortly after he moved to Arlington in 1968. He and wife Mary, he said, decided to move to the county because they had heard rave reviews about the public schools.
But since then, Pace maintains, "We've started to see a deterioration in the quality of the school system, and I think a lot of other people in the county feel the same way, evidenced by the fact that a lot of parents are taking their kids out of public schools and are sending them to private schools."
Pace says he has no plans to take his three children out of the public schools, but is dedicated to returning the school system to what he considers the basics of education.
The problems, Pace cotends, began 15years ago when Arlington joined the nationwide trend toward experimental programs.
"I think it was the curriculum (changes)," said Pace, a Naval Academy graduate with a master's degree in business. "I blame the school board and the superintendent who, instead of emphasizing quality education, experimented with social programs -- open classrooms, open campus, freedom of action, that type of thing rather than emphasizing that the schools are there to educate. That is their sole function."
Pace is vice president for systems development at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Washington and teaches data processing at Northern Virginia Community College. Last spring, his concerns about the school system prompted him to consider seeking appointment to one of the two school board seats filled last July.
But Pace says he changed his mind after discussions with all three Republican-backed board members, who suggested he would be more effective as a County Board member.
"They felt I could do more good for the county by running for the County Board," he recalled. "It was my intention to work to improve the school system through the school board, but it germinated into this candidacy for the County Board."
So today, Pace, who will be 38 next week, finds himself campaigning all over Arlington, going from bus stop to bus stop, neighborhood coffee to wine and cheese party, on the move from 6 a.m. to nearly midnight.
"I shook hands with over 4,000 people in one week alone," he says, pulling out a precinct map to show where the campaign trail has taken him since mid-August. "I've knocked on every door on every one of these streets outlined. A great number of people don't get to civic association meetings, so you've got to go to them."
Pace hopes to raise about $25,000 for his campaign. So far he has raised about $16,000, most of it coming from more than 500 individual contributors.
Schools are not the only issue that propelled Pace into the campaign. Other major issues, Pace says, are spending and taxes.
Pace praises the work of the Republican-backed majority on the County Board, indicating that voters can expect the same from him. For instance, Pace says, the county real estate tax rate has been cut the past two years. And despite inflation, he says, the county spent only 6.4 percent more this fiscal year than last year.
"I think this is the type of thing county government is supposed to do," Pace syas. "If we don't contain spending and taxes, we're going to force homeowners and apartment-renters right out of their homes and apartments."
In his campaign, Pace emphasizes his background in financial management, noting that he is used to dealing with multimillion dollar budgets and looking for ways to cut costs. One way the county could be more efficient, he says, is by ending duplication of county and school services.
"Arlington has two separate computer facilities -- in the school system and one in the county system. Why can't we have one?" he asks, suggesting the same philosophy be applied to other county services.
"These are the types of things we have to look at that will gain efficiencieis for us and lessen the pressure to raise taxes to supply the various goods and services we want," he says.
Pace also thinks the county "has to insulate itself from the pressure of high-density development. Arlington is primarily a residential community and I think it has to stay that way."
While Pace believes he and his opponent agree on "90 percent of the issues," Pace says he is "reasonably confident" of victory: "a lot of people are looking for someone like myself who has not been a politician in the past but is coming out because he's a taxpayer, a parent, and is concerned about the way the county is going. That's how I identify myself -- as the average person in Arlington who's concerned about where the county is going."