Former Virginia governor Charles S. Robb has told a coalition of seven Northern Virginia business and development groups that its plans for a $1 million public relations campaign on transportation issues could backfire unless "questions of partisanship are resolved."
The group, called the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, has been attacked by some Fairfax County Democrats who say it is designed to help Republican County Board Chairman John F. Herrity win a fourth term.
In an interview yesterday, Robb said he told the group it "needs to be more broadly based" and should postpone much of its publicity campaign until after the November local and state elections.
The group has asked Robb to become its chairman. He said he has "not yet agreed" but left open the possibility that he may play a role in the alliance if his conditions of bipartisanship are met.
Herrity is running against Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), who is widely opposed by the county's business and development interests for her advocacy of measures to slow growth in the booming suburban locality.
Moore has branded the alliance a "feel-good campaign" whose message is designed to dovetail with Herrity's campaign rhetoric that traffic -- not the pace of growth -- is the county's overriding problem.
Aides to Moore have expressed fear that the alliance, with its formidable fund-raising potential, could swing a lot of votes in the election for county board chairman, which is expected to be close.
Members of the alliance, which includes some well-known business leaders, insist that the group is nonpartisan and does not seek to influence the Nov. 3 elections.
Rather, they have said, the group's mission is to examine transportation problems in the region, propose solutions and explain the issue through a public relations campaign.
"The alliance feels that the major ingredient in sustaining the quality of life here is to resolve significant transportation problems," said Edward S. DeBolt, president of the DCM Group, a politically oriented public relations firm that is a consultant to the alliance.
DeBolt said the alliance was seeking to enlist Robb, a popular and respected politician, to bolster its credibility.
Robb said he had no doubts about the "pure motivations" of the alliance, adding that "even though their heart's in the right place, the perception may be to the contrary."
He added, however: "It is very clear to me that unless its mission and goal is modified . . . , probably its efforts would be at best neutral and possibly counterproductive. It would simply lose its credibility in terms of providing a bipartisan approach."
The transportation alliance comprises the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks, the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Apartment and Office Building Association and the Northern Virginia Board of Realtors.
Most of those groups fought bitterly against a proposal before the county board last fall that would have severely restricted office construction on about 10,000 acres in Fairfax County. The proposal was defeated 5 to 4, with Herrity voting against it and Moore supporting the measure. The alliance was formed about three months after that vote.
The head of the alliance, Fairfax Savings Bank President Linda Wright, said yesterday that Robb's suggestions were "excellent, right in line with what we want to do."
She said the alliance was seeking to include environmentalists, civic activists and citizens groups -- organizations that might balance the predominance of business interests.
She added, "It's very tough when you're trying to do something good and worthwhile and people keep beating you up."