Photo captions identifying R. Terry Robarge and James S. Morris Jr., independent cnadidates for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, were inadvertently switched in early editions of Metro yesterday. (Published 9/22/87)
Standing side by side, which they often do, they resemble a pair of old football linemen, still imposing and prosperous a decade after they trotted off the gridiron for the last time.
If physical heft equaled political clout, James S. Morris Jr. and R. Terry Robarge might be sitting pretty. But Morris and Robarge, a pair of political unknowns who decided this year to become independent candidates for the chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, have spent much of their time trying to persuade the county's political establishment that they should be taken seriously. They have met with little success.
In a race dominated by two well-known major-party candidates -- Republican Chairman John F. Herrity and Democratic Supervisor Audrey Moore of Annandale -- Morris and Robarge have been excluded from debates, derided by party regulars and largely ignored by the media. They have no paid staff members, no campaign headquarters and no network of supporters to arrange coffees and teas.
When the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican committees in Fairfax were asked in separate interviews what impact Morris and Robarge would have in the Nov. 3 election, they responded with the same one-word answer: "None."
All of which leaves Robarge, at least, undaunted. "The likelihood of success for the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria to come across the ocean was also small," he said.
At the functions to which they are invited, Morris and Robarge often talk to each other while Moore and Herrity attract all the attention.
That circumstance irks the two independents. In their view, Moore and Herrity -- who have served on the board since 1972 -- are the villains in county politics, and they blame the two officeholders for the traffic jams that exasperate commuters.
"Jack and Audrey had the opportunity to work for a solution 10 to 20 years ago and they ignored that," said Morris, 47, an Oakton real estate broker and lifelong Democrat. "It's poor management, frankly, that they have not seen the future."
"I think it's time for some smart people," said Robarge, 46, a Centreville mortgage banker and lifelong Republican. He hastened to add: "I'm not saying I'm the smartest guy in town. I'm not the dumbest either . . . but I think we need a change."
Calling for a change and blaming Herrity and Moore for suburban ills seem to be the central planks in the two men's platforms. While each has said that Herrity is beholden to developers and that Moore is too strongly opposed to growth, neither has issued a detailed statement outlining programs or ideas. Both mention transportation and affordable housing as priorities for the county.
Morris portrays himself as a centrist alternative to Moore and Herrity, and he is a strong advocate of property rights. He says he opposes virtually every effort the county has made to limit development.
He said he would shift the focus of the county's transportation spending away from building new roads, which he calls "almost impossible" given the density of development in Fairfax. Instead, he said, he would concentrate on short-term improvements such as better intersections and additional turning lanes, signals and crossing guards. He said he would "pave over" flood plains to make new commuter parking lots -- an idea that horrifies many environmentalists.
Said Morris: "You gotta step on some toes."
How about environmental risks?
"You gotta control all that, obviously."
Robarge says he would freeze all real estate taxes for three years, but he mentions a number of other taxes he would try to raise to pay for transportation improvements. He says he would increase levies on developers through impact fees -- a taxing power the state legislature has repeatedly denied localities.
Also, he said he would try to extend Metrorail south to Stafford County and west to Manassas, insisting that financing such an undertaking "wouldn't be that big a problem" once he had worked it out with "industry leaders." Pressed in an interview to elaborate, he snapped: "You're asking me for specific answers!"
Outside of a stint as a Democratic field worker 20 years ago, Morris has little political experience. He was kicked off the Centreville Democratic Committee when he announced his bid for the chairmanship in January. Robarge worked for one year on the staff of Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.). Both independents attended college; neither graduated. Robarge is a Navy veteran, and Morris served in the Air Force.
Despite his lack of campaign experience, Morris has shown some political know-how. He has printed up cards with his photograph on one side and the Redskins' 1987 schedule on the back.
And he has borrowed $100,000 to run his campaign and has placed $35,000 worth of advertisements on county cable television. Since midsummer, he has appeared every night in the first advertising slot on the cable station's "Fairfax Evening Report." He says he plans a mailing to 128,000 households throughout the county.
"I'm not a dummy," Morris said with a twinkle. At the Herrity campaign headquarters, the Redskins card is posted with the schedule side showing and Morris' face down.
Party officials and politicians of all stripes in Fairfax ridicule Morris' heavy spending. "It might buy him some baked beans and bacon, but it isn't going to buy him a whole lot of votes," said James M. Swinson, the county Republican chairman.
Robarge has a spending target of $35,000 and said he is planning to mail 60,000 letters to county voters. He claims a "broad base of support," particularly from auto dealers he knows from a long stint as an auto parts distributor.
According to financial disclosure reports, neither Morris nor Robarge has raised more than $1,000 in contributions. By contrast, Herrity has raised at least $200,000 and Moore at least $165,000.
Both Morris and Robarge, frustrated by reporters' preoccupation with Moore and Herrity, seem to have soured on the news media. Asked by a reporter recently how he felt about the media, Robarge replied: "Grumpy. You know how I feel about all you guys."
In an interview recently, Morris declared that when he is elected, The Washington Post will find itself up a particular creek "without a paddle" and "a second-class citizen in Fairfax County."
Fairfax Democratic chief Harris Miller scoffed at the candidacy of the two independents. "I'd be shocked if they got 1 percent between them. They have no following; they have nothing to say. It's not worth my time or your time. They just don't make any difference," he said.
But Morris declared recently that he cares not a whit for such conventional thinking. "If I don't win," he said matter-of-factly, "I'm certainly going to control who does."
Minutes later, in a more reflective mood, he said, "Who knows? I could surprise everybody. I'm not going to run off crying if I don't get elected . . . . I may be a hero, I may be a bum, but I felt that everybody should do what's right in their hearts, and that's what I'm doing . . . . I'm a gambler. I'm a fighter. People have told me I walk where angels fear to tread."
Said Robarge: "You have to put up or shut up."