Fairfax City treasurer candidate J.L. Reed Jr. said he is fed up with the snide remarks about the treasurer's office, the focus of the biggest scandal to hit the suburban community in years.
"We were getting teased about the embarrassment," said Reed, one of five candidates who is using an embezzlement scandal involving a former treasurer as the springboard for his campaign. "I don't like it. I don't like the cute little comments we run into."
The scandal, however, has brought out the biggest crowd of candidates ever to seek the $30,000-a-year treasurer's job -- a position that usually attracted only token opposition to Frances L. Cox, the iron-willed woman who was elected to the job five times. Cox, who worked for the city 27 years, was convicted last month of embezzling public funds. City officials estimate that at least $600,000 disappeared during her last five years in office.
When Ray M. Birch defeated Cox last fall, he quit in frustration after only three weeks in the job, complaining the office was in chaos. But Tuesday's election to fill Birch's unexpired term has brought a range of candidates with long lists of credentials.
There's Reed, 58, a financial management consultant with a college degree in business and finance; Philip Ferraro, 55, a retired investigative auditor for the federal government with a degree in accounting; G. Thomas Lumpkin, 30, who has a master's degree in business and is currently assistant city treasurer; Stephen L. Moloney, 33, a certified public accountant and field auditor for the Internal Revenue Service; and W. Tilghman (Bill) Scott Jr., 51, president of a lawn-mowing business who studied accounting in college.
All say they were partially inspired to run for office by the Cox scandal.
Another factor is contributing to the rush for the job: "It's the first time there's been no incumbent running ," said Moloney, making his first try for public office. "She Cox had political strength in the city."
Most of the candidates say they spend as much -- if not more -- time answering questions about the Cox scandal as they spend explaining how they would run the office. During Cox's trial, her attorney blamed many of the office's troubles on her lack of accounting training, and all five candidates are campaigning hard on their experience in business, finance or accounting.
Most of the candidates are political novices. Reed ran for commissioner of revenue in Fairfax City last year and was defeated. Scott served on the City Council four years and did not seek reelection. Lumpkin, assistant treasurer under Cox, quit over disagreements with her on the way the office was operated, and returned to the position last January at Birch's request. Lumpkin has remained in the job under acting treasurer John Coughlan, who has attempted to clean up many of the problems.
In an unprecedented move, Fairfax City Mayor John Russell and the City Council have asked the candidates to sign a promise they will support policies designed to impose tighter controls on the independent treasurer's office and the other city financial officers. Ferraro and Scott, however, have refused to sign the statement. "These things are threats and get-tough solutions," said Ferraro. "Where were these solutions one or eight years ago?" Scott has issued his own statement, one he says is stronger than the city plan.