Virginia state Del. Stephen E. Gordy, a freshman Republican who ousted an incumbent member of his party last fall, learned today that what worked in Northern Virginia doesn't necessarily make for good politics in the General Assembly.
Gordy attempted to convince a subcommittee of skeptical legislators to endorse his bill permitting the dismantling of the state's housing authorities. The idea was supported by an increasingly vocal anti-public housing movement in Fairfax County, but Gordy got an icy and somewhat condescending reception from the legislators and scores of public housing tenants who crowded into a Capitol hearing room to oppose his bill.
"I don't think it went too well," Gordy said after the hearing. "I think people misunderstood the purpose of the bill."
Gordy withdrew the measure today, saying he had come to realize that it "needed a lot of work." As originally drafted, it would have meant that upon receiving a petition from 100 voters a county or city would be required to hold a binding referendum on whether to deactivate its housing authority. If the voters abolished the authority its housing projects would have been put up for sale, with no provision made for the tenants.
"If they pass this bill, they're going to throw us out," said Carolyn White, a Richmond resident who was one of about 100 public housing tenants who crowded the hearing room Thursday to oppose the bill. "And if they throw us out, we're gone."
"People from all over the state testified it would put people out on the streets, which wasn't the intent at all," Gordy said. "The intent was to make the authority accountable to the voters."
The freshman Republican, who ousted Del. John H. Rust Jr. (R-Fairfax) last year, said he realized after the hearing that his bill contained imperfections, but he did not have time to correct them this year. "I don't want a bad bill to get passed," he said.
The bill, cosponsored by Gordy's fellow Fairfax Republican Del. Frank Medico of Mount Vernon, would have affected housing authorities across Virginia, but it was aimed at the Fairfax Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The authority, never popular in the wealthy suburban county, has come under increasing attack from Republican politicians and well-organized neighbors of proposed housing projects for making too many decisions without public hearings.
Supporters of the bill said a sunset provision was necessary because the Fairfax Board of Supervisors refuses to take control of the authority, which is run as a semi-independent board appointed by the supervisors but chartered by the state.
Norfolk Del. George H. Heilig Jr., a Democrat who chaired the subcommittee hearing, said that Fairfax voters should pressure the county board if they are dissatisfied with the authority.
Gordy said he probably will reintroduce a similar measure next year, increasing the number of signatures needed for a referendum and calling for the county government to assume complete responsibility for the authority's projects and debts if the authority is dissolved.