On a Monday before Election Day, I took my son the 12-year-old to the orthodontist for routine adjustments and then we went to his former elementary school on a mission of mercy for his little sister. This mission required him to take something to her in her classroom and then return to the car where I was waiting to take him to his school.
This gave both of us an opportunity to look at the elementary school's playground, half of which is the site of a large construction project. It was the first time my son had seen the work and when he got back into the car he asked what on earth was going on. I told him they were building a 12-room addition to the school. He wanted to know why and I told him that the school was too small to accommodate all the new kids who had moved into the town houses that had appeared overnight in our community.
On the way to the junior high school, we passed the campaign signs that were posted all over McLean and we got into a yet another discussion about growth and traffic and the developers and the fact that this is what the upcoming Fairfax County Board of Supervisors election was all about.
The situation is particularly egregious where we live because the hot talents that do the planning had shut down the neighborhood's other elementary school several years ago and merged two elementary schools into one. Now the taxpayers are footing the bill for the addition to the surviving school, and the kids who are going to the elementary school have lost half their playground space.
This was not the first time that I have talked about overdevelopment and traffic while sitting in a car with my children. We live five minutes from Tysons Corner -- or more accurately, we used to live five minutes from Tysons Corner when you could still get there in five minutes. Thus, we have had a number of occasions to drive by there on Rte. 123 and watch the birth of Tysons II. My daughter was 7 when she first asked what had happened to all the trees and fields that had been on the right side of the road as you head toward Vienna. Office buildings were already beginning to march across the open spaces from Rte. 7 toward 123 and construction equipment was defacing the land and corrugating it with roads. With the wisdom that is the special province of children, my daughter said: "They cut down all those trees just to build more buildings?"
And another snail darter, as Jack Herrity calls the environmentalists, was born.
Traffic and the pace of growth were the issues in this election, but it got even more fundamental than that. For many of us who chose to live in Fairfax because we thought it was a wonderful place to raise our families, it came down to whether we were willing to stay home on Tuesday and let developers continue to destroy the fabric of suburban life we had sought. We did not settle in Fairfax to sit in traffic jams, or to shop in crowded supermarkets, or to send kids to schools that have to convert playgrounds into classrooms.
There is a school of thought that holds that growth is inexorable, it's the engine that drives the economy, and so forth. That may be so. A companion piece of thinking is the notion that people are helpless and that they can't exert controls over their environment.
There's another school of thought that holds that individuals can make a difference, they can control their environment, and that this is what our system is all about.
And that's what this election was about, too.
We will never know how much money the developers and their frontmen spent trying to reelect a progrowth board, principally Chairman Jack Herrity. What we can be sure of is that the financial stakes involved in the election were huge, and that means huge amounts of money were spent to protect them. The cynical assumption was that money can buy anything, even an election in one of the most affluent and best-educated communities in the country.
They were wrong. Nearly half of the registered voters voted, which is an unheard of turnout in a Fairfax County election. Of those, 57 percent voted for Audrey Moore -- who ran on a platform of controlling growth -- for chairman. And Herrity, widely perceived as a tool of the developers, got slaughtered at the polls. Symbolically, at least, the voters took the county back from the development interests who have been looting it for a decade.
Few elections are ever that clear-cut. But this is one to talk about not only with neighbors, but also with kids. There's a wonderful lesson in it about our whole system: Individuals can still make a difference.