Initial interest in the new supervisor from the Broad Run District may have had something to do with his being the younger brother of the federal budget director, but Steven Stockman quickly began making a name of his own when he joined the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in January.
In his first week Stockman, who attends a fundamentalist church near Sterling, created a furor by saying his appointment to the planning commission "had to be a Christian man." Shortly afterward, in the face of angry criticism from board members and others, Stockman apologized and said he meant that he wanted an appointee who shared his "basic belief in the Judeo-Christian ethic upon which this great nation was founded."
In the 12 months since, Stockman, 35, has become the most controversial member of the Loudoun board.
Some say it's his style, a sort of rush to get things accomplished, to change things, combined with frequent offhand remarks made with bad-boy mirth, and flip statements that might or might not be jokes.
Others say it is his many proposals and his voting records that have won him a dual reputation: He is either a hardworking, conservative yet innovative supervisor, or a maverick with baffling attitudes and little understanding of the county he lives in and helps to govern.
An analyst for the energy department, Stockman moved to Leesburg in 1979 and then to Sugarland Run in 1981. He received a law degree from Georgetown Law School in 1975, but was dissatisfied with the work and practiced law for only a short time. Subsequently he worked as a Washington real estate broker, then for the National Taxpayers Union, then as a carpenter in Leesburg, then spent two years with a career consulting firm in Washington. In April 1983, he took the job he now holds.
Over the past year, Stockman:
* Proposed changing a widely supported, 25-year-old county law that in most cases prohibits house trailers. "If there's a bomb around, he's going to drop it," was the reaction of board chairman James F. Brownell. Said Dulles Supervisor Ann Kavanagh: "Over my dead body." Leesburg Supervisor Frank Raflo said, "He'll be lucky if it gets referred to committee." (It was referred, and it died for lack of support from the board.)
* Proposed amending the animal ordinance so that a dog would be ordered destroyed after two attacks on people. Currently there is no law regarding animals attacking humans. The proposal died for lack of support.
* Proposed eliminating the use of industrial development bonds, a move that some said reflected Stockman's consistent opposition to tax breaks for private industry and that others said was inconsistent with his prodevelopment stance. The proposal died for lack of support.
* Proposed merging the county department of planning and zoning with the department of economic development, a move he said would help accelerate business and industrial growth. The proposal died for lack of support. However, the supervisors decided that the county's efforts toward attracting businesses and industry should be scrutinized and appointed a committee of citizens to take a look at the situation.
Stockman's public statements and votes on farmland preservation issues have won him the distrust or outright disapproval of some land preservationists in the county.
Frank Reynolds, an attorney for the Piedmont Environmental Council, said that while "the IRS and our board of directors forbids us from engaging in any political activity, it does not appear to me, when dealing with the issues of the value of Loudoun's agricultural economy, that Mr. Stockman understands what is important to Loudoun County residents."
Stockman responded that at one time, "I'm sure in Fairfax farming was probably the majority of the economy. But things change. Let's take the changes that are coming on, and not try to preserve something just because that's the way things have always been."
He also said that preservation of western Loudoun farmland, high on the county's list of priorities, is low on his list. Furthermore it would be of no benefit to residents of eastern Loudoun, particularly those in his own densely populated district. "They should drive by and look at it?" asked Stockman, who grew up on an 80-acre farm in Michigan.
On farming and other issues, Stockman clearly baffles some supervisors and others. "I don't know where he's coming from," said planning commission chairman John Stowers.
Board chairman Brownell has often said in meetings and at other times that he does not understand Stockman. "He may be way above us, or way below us, I don't know which. But he certainly isn't on our plane."
Stockman said the only way to preserve farmland is to keep taxes down. The way to do this, he said, is to bring in new businesses and industries that will give Loudoun a "balanced tax base," and to approve only "good" planned communities.
At least two supervisors openly said they like Stockman's approach.
"He's not afraid to come up with an idea that hasn't been done before, instead of the very traditional things the board has been accustomed to doing," said Catoctin Supervisor Frank Lambert. "Some of his ideas are probably not saleable, but at least he's thinking, not plodding along."
"He's a hard charger, he goes after things he wants to get done," said Sterling Supervisor Andrew R. Bird III, adding that Stockman has an attitude of " 'there's work to do and I'm going to do it, and I'll take my bruises . . . . 'He feels a sense of urgency."
Those who criticize this, said Bird, "might be going too slow."
Stockman knows that his actions often elicit criticism, that many of his proposals fail to receive support from his fellow supervisors and that some political observers say he tries to use the policies of the federal government to solve Loudoun County's problems. "What I try to do is suggest things that the federal government has done that have direct analogy to things we're trying to do here," he said.
Stockman said he talks to his brother David, the federal budget director, about farm programs and Loudoun's emphasis on preservation. He said he is proud of his brother ("he's making a contribution") but acknowledges that living so near a brother with so public a job can cause discomfort.
"I guess there's innate jealousy that comes up. You'd like to be referred to as your own person," said Stockman, who once thanked a reporter for not referring to him as "the brother of."
Stockman says he is still learning the ropes of county government, but feels satisfied that even if his proposals haven't won many votes, the ideas are getting talked about and may have an impact some day.
"I'd like things to go fast; I'd like the board to agree with me. But when they don't I learn to grin and bear it, and eat crow," he said.
He has retained his brand of humor, one that makes people wonder, as planning commission chairman Stowers recently said, "Was he joking or wasn't he?"
At the Sept. 4 board meeting, Stockman was the first supervisor to arrive. Somebody at the back of the room, seeing only Stockman in front of the room, yelled, "Hey, Steve, are you the quorum?" Stockman nodded and laughed, then answered, "Funny thing, it's all been split votes so far."