It was cold and drizzly, but residents of the Northern Virginia's 37th House District ventured out anyway one night last week to the John C. Wood Center in Fairfax City.
There, holding steaming cups of coffee, they filled almost every seat to hear Democrat Jeffrey J. Fairfield heatedly challenge their state delegate, Republican Stephen E. Gordy.
"I have serious reservations about Steve Gordy," said Fairfield in a booming voice, attacking the number of bills the incumbent pushed through the legislature during the last session in Richmond. "Only two of his bills have become law."
Gordy, countering that Fairfield had forgotten to mention 77 bills Gordy cosponsored with others, described himself as an "active member of the Northern Virginia delegation."
In an interview at his law office in Herndon, Fairfield, 34, continued to hammer away at his message: "I think the major issue of the campaign is the performance of Mr. Gordy."
Fairfield pointed to a poll conducted by The Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star newspapers that ranked Gordy as the third least effective legislator among the 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates.
"That's a reliable indicator of the amount of respect he commands from his colleagues," Fairfield said. "Either he is pursuing lost causes or doesn't have an understanding of the process."
Gordy, 65, a retired Army colonel and a member of the House since 1983, appears unruffled by Fairfield's charges. "I run a positive campaign," he said in an interview. The Mantua resident, who said he spends 20 to 25 days a month trying to serve his constituents, said one of the reasons he has been unable to get more bills passed is that the bills he sponsored had "guts to them."
The candidates agree on the number one problem facing voters in the district, which includes Fairfax City and the Oakton area to the north and the Mantua area to the east. Or, as Gordy said, the top three problems in the district: "traffic, traffic, traffic." But when it comes to proposed traffic solutions, the candidates differ.
"We need to try to get some of the vehicles off the road," said Gordy, adding that 33 percent of the traffic going through the area is When it comes to proposed traffic solutions, the candidates differ. not stopping in Virginia. To accomplish that, Gordy supports the construction of the Springfield Bypass, the widening of I-66 to eight lanes from the Capital Beltway to Manassas, the widening of Sully Road (Va. Rte. 28) to four lanes from I-66 to Leesburg Pike (Va. Rte. 7) and the proposal to build an outer beltway.
Gordy also says he would support two commuter rail lines -- from Manassas and Fredericksburg to Union Station in the District -- for a two-year trial period. That alone would get about 3,000 to 5,000 commuters off the road, he says. He also says Dulles International Airport is underutilized and urges more flights be diverted from National Airport.
Fairfield, who lives in Fairfax City with his wife and new daughter (named Ashleigh Virginia because of his fondness for the state), called the proposed Springfield Bypass "a great road, but we just don't have the money to finance it."
He says one key way to ease the traffic problem would be a state law amendment enabling Fairfax County to acquire and maintain its secondary roads -- which he points out comprise most of the streets and highways in the county -- thus divorcing them from control by the state highway department.
"I think we have the resources to raise the money here," said Fairfield, who envisions that developers would shoulder the greatest burden. He said he would seek the authority to impose special revenue districts to allow for surcharges on real property tax where road needs are the greatest. Another way to raise funds would be a local-option sales tax, he says.
Gordy, who is married with three children, draws from his past as he speaks with feeling about the importance of education. The former teacher and principal said the district is not getting its share of education funding, but added: "I can't vote for a tax increase because people in my district say they don't want a tax increase."
He strongly believes that better-qualified teachers need to be attracted to the teaching profession, that teacher salaries in the state should be improved and that classroom discipline needs to be improved by increasing parental involvement in education.
"Back when I was a math teacher and we had a back-to-school night, I had two parents come," said Gordy, although he acknowledges parents are getting more involved. "I behaved in school because if I got in trouble in school, I got in more trouble at home."
Fairfield said that if he is elected Nov. 5, he will advocate measures to strengthen the state's courts and prisons, including judge sentencing, which he said would result in stiffer sentences. "You're asking a jury to sentence someone blindfolded," he said. "The judge will know the criminal record and know the parole eligibility."
Fairfield, a Democratic candidate in what is generally believed to be a largely Republican district, is planning to spend $20,000, twice as much as his opponent says he will spend.