No one wants a prison in their community but prisons have to be someplace," D.C. Mayor Marion Barry observed last week.
"This is an election year in Fairfax County," he continued. "All nine supervisors are up for reelection, and I'm sure that the rhetoric is going to heat up even more between now and the election."
The subject was Lorton; the charge Barry was rebutting, familiar: Fairfax is sick and tired of having the District's criminals shipped across the Potomac and housed in their county. If the District wants to lock up its criminals, it should do so on its own land.
"It's the correctional version of the Hatfields and McCoys," said Dick Leggitt, an aide to Northern Virginia Republican Rep. Stan Parris. "There's been lots of bad blood."
As with any long-festering feud, the issue is emotional, and the lines are clearly drawn. It is, for Fairfax politicians, one of those few no-lose situations: They anger few constituents by opposing Lorton prison, on 3,000 acres of federally owned land in southern Fairfax.
Few know this better than Parris. His frequent mailings to his Lorton constitutents about prison developments are powerful. "We do other mailings on other things to numerous groups," Leggitt said. "But Lorton gets the biggest reaction. It's the the most inflammatory. Look at our political track record down there and it's obvious that it's paid off in big dividends."
You could call it Lortonphobia, the political game of who hates Lorton most, a contest which, as Barry said, seems to heat up around Virginia's elections.
The day after Fairfax Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth, who represents the Mount Vernon District, toured Lorton with Barry, County Board Chairman John F. Herrity went on his own "unannounced" tour of the prison, accompanied by a television news crew.
Herrity later insinuated that Duckworth, who praised the prison's new security measures, may have naively fallen for a whitewashed tour, something Duckworth hotly denied.
Last week, Parris also got into the Lorton issue, requesting a General Accounting Office investigation of alleged city plans to expand the facility. The next day Herrity demanded a meeting on the expansion plans with Barry.
We'll sue, said Herrity, who wants county attorneys to find some way to block any expansion and maybe kick out the prison.
District officials have seen it all before. Ten years ago, then-Virginia attorney general Andrew P. Miller, a Democrat, filed a suit asking the court to declare Lorton a "public nuisance" and to order security improvements. The next day, Republican Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton said Miller had "embarrassed" the state, which was in negotiations with the District over security measures. Each accused the other of injecting politics into the controversy.
The whole thing was resolved about two years later when Miller dropped his suit after the District agreed to improve security.
"It goes in spurts," said a Fairfax supervisor. There's a "rash of breakouts or plans to expand, a flurry of protests by Fairfax politicians . . . . The District agrees to spend X amount on security, and then it dies down--until the next time."
Most Fairfax politicians seem skeptical the situation will ever improve. "It's like throwing money down a well," said one, adding that Lorton is not likely to improve until it gets a tough, efficient administrator. Even then, looking at the criminal population of Lorton, it will be difficult to turn it into a good neighbor, he added.
That was not always the case. When Supervisor Joseph Alexander, a Democrat from the Lee District, went to Mount Vernon High School in the 1940s, his football team used to play the Lorton football team on Thanksgiving Day.
But Lorton, Alexander said, started a personality change in the 1950s, and by the 1960s it was no longer welcomed.
Parris says the federal government can order the District off the Lorton tract and believes this may just be year it will happen.
Most Fairfax politicians, however, believe a move of Lorton will be a long time coming, if it ever comes at all. "The reality of life," as Barry said, "is that Lorton is going to be there."