Martha Pennino, a tiny woman who has earned the nickname "Mother Fairfax" after 14 years on the county Board of Supervisors, has lived for 23 years in the same house in Vienna, her original political base. She has no desire to move.
While Pennino has remained in Vienna, thousands of young, affluent and mostly Republican families have settled in new subdivisions to her west. As a result, the boundaries that Democrat Pennino and her colleagues drew five years ago for the eight districts they represent no longer reflect the political reality of Fairfax County.
"What do you want me to do, move?" Pennino says, acknowledging that logic might dictate lopping Vienna from her Centreville District, which now stretches from her hometown to Dulles International Airport.
Pennino, the second-ranking Democrat on the Board of Supervisors, says no to such a plan. "I don't think we should draw up a plan that would remove a supervisor from his district. If the supervisor's not doing a good job, the people will remove him."
For more than a year, Pennino and her fellow supervisors have met secretly, drawn maps creatively and looked over their shoulders nervously as they sought to ensure their own political survival while forming new districts of similar size. Their politicking will emerge into public view next Monday when the board considers plans -- some with sausage-shaped districts, barbell-shaped districts and fish-with-gaping-mouths-shaped districts -- that will in turn be reviewed later at a public hearing.
The new boundaries will affect Fairfax for years, since the board, with no elected county executive, has broad powers over the county's pattern of growth and its half-billion dollar annual budget. The redistricting, some say, could also produce the first Republican majority on the board -- now split 5 to 4 Democratic -- and could strand school board and planning commission members outside the districts they represent.
The supervisors' jockeying began as soon as the 1980 Census showed that Fairfax, the developer's paradise of the 1970s, had grown from 454,000 to just under 600,000 people in 10 years. Most of the growth was in formerly rural districts such as Pennino's Centreville, which was picking up 1,000 people each month as the decade opened, and Springfield, which ended the decade with 105,500 residents.
Those 105,500 Springfield citizens are represented by the same single vote on the board as the 64,000 in Mount Vernon, the county's easternmost district -- a discrepancy the courts would not approve.
The obvious solution was to create eight new districts with about 74,000 people each, and last year a well-meaning bureaucrat began piecing together a possible map. His map was logical, statistically sound, constitutional -- and a political disaster.
"Jay told them to take the map and stick it in the furnace," one supervisor recalls, referring to J. Hamilton Lambert, the appointed county executive whose job it is to keep Fairfax's supervisors happy. "I think it moved Martha's district right from under her."
The supervisors took matters into their own hands. During the summer, their aides shuttled from one district office to another, maps rolled under their arms. They traded precincts back and forth, while publicly proclaiming there wasn't a voter they wouldn't want to represent. They tried to form coalitions while worrying that coalitions were forming behind their backs.
Some were in stronger positions than others. Board Chairman John F. Herrity, a Republican who is elected at-large, had nothing to lose and a vote to trade. "Everyone's been being very nice to Jack for a long time," one supervisor said.
But last month the supervisors, having failed to draw a map that a majority would support, went back to the bureaucrats for help. After meeting privately with each supervisor and carrying messages back and forth, Lambert developed a range of plans for the supervisors to consider.
Despite Lambert's diplomacy, most supervisors expect one or two of their number to end up very unhappy. The likeliest loser appears to be Democrat James M. Scott, Pennino's neighbor to the east and as close to a liberal as Fairfax has to offer.
Scott's Providence District must follow Fairfax's population surge to the west. But to Providence's west lies only Vienna, where he bumps into the unbudgeable Pennino, and Oakton, which last week supported GOP gubernatorial candidate J. Marshall Coleman and his running mate Nathan H. Miller, who trailed dismally almost everywhere else in the area.
"Those precincts would be death for Jim," one Republican supervisor says gleefully, pointing out that Scott defeated Republican candidate Gwendalyn Cody, now a state delegate-elect, by only 550 votes in 1979.
Scott is not the only supervisor with troubles. Republican Marie Travesky, whose 26-mile-long Springfield District once held more cows than people, probably will have to give up some of her most heavily Republican precincts just east of Rolling Road.
Democrat Joseph Alexander, in turn, would be happy to let Travesky keep those precincts. But Alexander's Lee District, home to some of Fairfax's most dilapidated neighborhoods, has lost population and must shift toward the Republican west while Democrat Sandra Duckworth's Mount Vernon District nibbles at Lee's eastern -- and Democratic -- flank.
Civic associations and citizens in the border precincts have been lobbying not to be shifted at all. "More than anything else, I think people here feel a lack of roots, a lack of community," says Democratic Supervisor Audrey Moore, who represents Annandale. "Everything goes along, and now and then there's a shopping center. There are no towns. So anything that changes anything, it bothers people a lot."
If Fairfax voters are confused by the overlapping supervisor, state delegate, state Senate and congressional districts, it should come as no surprise. Thanks to past redistrictings, Centreville is no longer in the Centreville District and much of Annandale is no longer in the Annandale District. This year a good chunk of Springfield will be taken out of the Springfield District, leaving the Springfield planning commissioner in the Lee District.
But Mother Fairfax -- who was able to defeat an incumbent in 1967 because Vienna was redistricted into Centreville -- and her colleagues insist they will end up in the districts they now represent.
"It's a question of doing the best job possible without damaging too many people, including yourself," one supervisor says. After a pause, he corrects himself: "Especially yourself."