Their faces barely stand out in the Washington crowd nowadays. One runs a small consulting firm. Another is director of a nonprofit educational research group. A third is a lobbyist. A fourth designs airports and worries about the cost of putting three children through college.
But 10 years ago, there was nothing obscure about them. Democrats Jean R. Packard, Alan H. Magazine, Herbert E. Harris and Rufus C. Phillips, all elected by one of the nation's most affluent and well-educated electorates, together formed the backbone of what many call the most liberal majority ever to sit on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Magazine and Phillips were elected in 1971 and joined Harris, who was already on the board. Packard was elected chairman in 1972 in a special election to fill a vacancy.
Their elections -- along with those of fellow Democrats James Scott, Audrey Moore and longtime supervisor Joseph Alexander (all of whom are still serving) -- were hailed by many as a turning point of sorts. They would usher out an era of conservative, pro-business, pro-development government in favor of citizen activism. They would be supervisors who considered their chief responsibilities to be controlling growth and protecting the environment.
Today, however, there are relatively few reminders in Fairfax County's Massey Building that Packard, Magazine, Phillips or Harris ever served there. Since the last one left the board in 1978, the county government has become more conservative, more open to development and less at odds with the private sector and the state courts, which overturned many of the Packard-led board's efforts to control growth.
But the former board members don't see these developments as a repudiation of their goals.
"The county got older, richer, more conservative, as suburbs are doing everywhere," explains Packard, who now runs a small consulting firm, Chelsea International Corp., which represents several counties. "People saw taxes get tighter and services more costly.
"It's not that the people [in Fairfax County] care less about the environment, it's just that they now are more concerned about the economy."
Magazine, director of the Business-Higher Education Forum, a nonprofit research arm of the American Council on Education, agrees that "economic times are a lot different now than they were back then.
"I wouldn't relish the idea of sitting up there now, having to decide issues that affect the livelihood" of builders, carpenters and other people, he says.
"At times like this, you have to face the hard question of what's more important: affecting people's livelihoods or decreasing air pollution by a marginal amount. I would not want to have to make that decision."
A decade ago, a major problem in Fairfax County was raw sewage flowing into the Potomac River and wastes from sewage treatment plants that were contaminating the Occoquan Reservoir and Lake Accotink.
It was out of such concerns that the Packard board was born.
The county then was just recovering from 10 years of headlong growth. Its population had risen from 249,000 in 1960 to 471,000 in 1970. Those who were calling the county home then were better educated and wealthier -- the median annual family income for the county was $15,700, almost double the $8,600 recorded just 10 years earlier.
Fairfax County "was ripe and fertile" ground for the environmental movement, says one longtime political observer -- and critic -- of that board who asked not to be identified. "Intellectual concerns and affluence are necessary for a no-growth movement. You won't find a strong no-growth movement in the poor black communities."
When the 1971-75 board was elected, few of the supervisors knew each other. Magazine, from Mason District (roughly consisting of the area around Seven Corners), and Phillips, from Dranesville District (which includes wealthy McLean and Great Falls), were professional planners.
Previously, Phillips' claim to fame had been as the former CIA operative in Vietnam who tried to warn the Kennedy administration that the United States was losing the war there. That episode was chronicled in David Halberstam's book "The Best and The Brightest."
Packard, elected at large, and Moore, a Democrat from Annandale District, were active in the environmental movement. Packard, who had been president of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens' Association, originally opposed Moore for the Annandale seat in 1971 but lost and then ran for the chairmanship the next year.
Scott was a former high school English teacher and director of a small research firm who became involved in tenants' rights and other human rights concerns as well as environmental issues.
Although they did not run on a common slate, Magazine, Phillips, Scott and Packard soon afterward recognized a common philosophy and style. And, according to one of them, they operated with the belief they had "a mandate" from the people to bring Fairfax County into the "mainstream" of American society, not only on the issues of development and environmental protection, but also on consumer protection, human rights and citizen participation.
They also found in incumbent Supervisor Herb Harris a philosophical ally, assuring them of at least a one-vote majority on most key votes. During those four years, the board passed numerous zoning restrictions, created an antidiscrimination ordinance, established an antipoverty panel, directed the county to hire more professional blacks, established a child-care assistance program and placed on the school board a student with voting rights, despite his conviction for marijuana possession.
They operated with style and declared victory after victory. But as some of the board's actions were shot down by the state courts and as the sewage crises became history, public support for the board began to waiver. More than a year before the 1975 elections, Northern Virginia builders, who had failed to anticipate the anti-development movement in 1970, went on the offensive with a massive public-relations campaign.
In 1975, the political seesaw shifted. Packard lost to Republican John F. Herrity, who had been the lone Republican member of the board. She went to work as a consultant to the National Association of Counties. In 1978, she made a unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for a state Senate seat.
Phillips also lost in 1975 -- by eight votes -- in an election in which he claimed developers spent enormous amounts of money to defeat him. Three years later, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Harris had left the board the year before when he won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1974 from Rep. Stanford Parris. He served three terms, representing southern Fairfax and Alexandria before losing the seat to Parris in 1980. Harris failed again last month in an effort to win back the seat.
Magazine left the board in 1978 to devote full time to his consulting job at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Magazine, Packard and Phillips acknowledge that numerous aspects of their land-use policies, as well as their antidiscrimination ordinance, were challenged in court, often successfully. Phillips, an owner of Airways Engineering Corp., a consulting firm that plans ports and airports, says the problem was that the board was "way ahead of its time, maybe too far ahead" in terms of Virginia law and the courts.
But a developer counters that the real problem was that the board "pushed about two steps beyond what they needed and then lost the whole thing in the courts."
Moore, who early on distanced herself from her colleagues, criticizes the Packard board for taking what she claims were too few steps forward. She says the 1971 board "was good at talking" about stopping development, but when it came to action, it was no more aggressive than other boards. Pointing to the continuing residential growth of Fairfax County over the past 10 years, Moore says the 1971-74 board had no impact.
Packard disagrees, although she says the board did not accomplish as much as it hoped to do. "To a certain extent, the county has little control over its destiny," she said. "The General Assembly has never given the power for long-term planning to the local governments."
Packard acknowledges that the Herrity board has reversed some actions taken by her board, from endorsing completion of I-66 inside the Capital Beltway to lifting some sewer tap moratoriums and eliminating the voting student on the school board.
But she says her board played an important part in the county by placing a high priority on planning. That policy, she says, did not die with the end of her board.