Retired librarian Margaret Szymczak is fed up with the ever-expanding sea of town houses and the congested roads in southeast Fairfax County, and on Tuesday she intends to blame the guy in office: Democrat T. Dana Kauffman.
Szymczak voted for Kauffman four years ago; she even contributed $200 to his 1995 campaign. But standing in front of a Shoppers Food Warehouse in Kingstowne last week, Szymczak said that she plans to vote for Kauffman's opponent this time around, even though he is a home builder.
"The building and development has been horrendous," she said, pointing to a construction project just across the street. "All of a sudden, everything mushroomed. I'm definitely going to vote against Kauffman."
If there are many Szymczaks, it would be bad news not only for first-term Lee District Supervisor Kauffman, but also for Democrats across Fairfax County. The Democrats hold a 6 to 4 majority on the Board of Supervisors, an edge that the GOP is hoping it can eliminate on Tuesday.
Republicans in Fairfax failed to field candidates against Democratic Board Chairman Katherine K. Hanley and three other Democrats, but they still see the chance for a broader kind of victory. If they can beat Kauffman and incumbent Democrat Penelope A. Gross (Mason)--and protect their hold on two other seats--the current partisan split would be turned upside down. And even if they unseat just one Democrat, they could force the board into partisan deadlock.
Either way, leaving Hanley as chairman of a board that is no longer controlled by Democrats would make her chairmanship a titular position, Republicans say. Their goal: to make Hanley "the Queen of Nothing."
"That was part of the strategy," said Republican Supervisor Michael R. Frey (Sully), a county GOP leader who decided against challenging Hanley. "How can we best use our resources to try to regain control of the board? To change the whole direction of the county?"
Members of both parties say a GOP sweep of all four contested races would have far-ranging implications for Fairfax County's future.
Soon after the election, the board must pick a new county executive to replace Robert J. O'Neill Jr., who resigned to head a government think tank in the District.
Some Republicans on the board had complained that O'Neill was chosen two years ago by the Democratic majority and answered to them, not the full board. Democrats now want to appoint Deputy County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to the top job. A Republican board likely would push for a broader search for a new executive.
"Last time, the Democrats took somebody whose total experience was public sector," Frey said. "The Republicans looked at somebody that had both private and public experience. I think you would see something along those lines."
In the last four years, the two parties on the Fairfax board have disagreed about everything from affordable housing to privatizing key county functions. Democrats have won most of those debates, joined on occasion by one or two Republicans.
With a new majority, Republicans say, their party would reduce the real estate tax rate, cut excess spending and hold school officials accountable for spending money in ways that directly help students.
Fairfax Republicans argue that they would be better able to lobby the Republican governor and the state legislature--which may be controlled by the GOP for the first time in more than a century--on behalf of county interests.
"I have personally talked to the governor about the Mixing Bowl" interchange project in Springfield," said Bob Jones, the Republican running against Kauffman. "A Democrat probably couldn't get through to the governor like that."
Democrats predict that a GOP-controlled board would slash financial support for public education and back away from programs aimed at revitalizing aging areas. Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence) said GOP control of the board would spell disaster.
"There would be a full-blown assault on affordable housing," Connolly said. "My biggest fear is that education funding would be in jeopardy."
If the Republican challenges fail on Tuesday, Democratic leaders say they will continue spending money on needed capital projects that had been delayed for years, such as construction of trails and repair of storm water facilities.
Democrats vowed to continue O'Neill's efforts to link county worker pay with performance and to make better use of technology, reforms which some Republicans had criticized. And Democrats said their party would defend programs that provide tax breaks to homeowners and businesses that renovate in aging parts of the county.
Members of both parties agree that whichever party controls the board will have enormous power over redrawing supervisors' districts after the 2000 Census.
Now there are nine districts, but rapid growth in the last decade means their boundaries have to be shifted. Republicans favor creating a 10th district in the northwest section of the county, where Republican voters are numerous.
"Redistricting is very important," said GOP Chairman Joseph Underwood. "In 1990, we saw some very strange lines cut here . . . [which] almost guaranteed that the Democrats would have a majority on the board throughout the decade."
To achieve a majority, however, everything has to fall into place perfectly for Republicans on Election Day.
Republican Supervisor Robert B. Dix Jr., who represents the Hunter Mill District along the Dulles Corridor, has to withstand a challenge by former Hanley aide Cathy Hudgins, a Democrat, and independent John Thoburn. Dix has raised an unprecedented $200,000 in his bid to keep his seat as supervisor from a district that has voted Democratic in most recent state and national elections.
The GOP also has to hold on to the Dranesville District around McLean, where incumbent Republican Stuart Mendelsohn is being challenged by well-funded Democrat Barbara Phillips, who got into the race because of anger about development of Evans Farm Inn.
In addition, the Republicans have to beat incumbents in two key races: builder Bob Jones's battle against Kauffman in the Lee District east of I-95 and former GOP supervisor Christine R. Trapnell's fight against Gross in central-county Mason District.
Hanley doubts the Republicans can pull it off.
"I don't see any chance of that happening," she said. "Dana and Penny are good, strong, community-based members of the board. They've been doing good work on behalf of their constituents."
Even Republicans say a victory wouldn't come easily.
"Clearly it's difficult," Frey said. "In an economy this good, unseating an incumbent is tough. I'd be hard pressed to say it's better than 50-50."
In Lee District, meanwhile, both Kauffman and Jones are feeling the last-minute pressure.
Jones continues to press his message that Kauffman has failed to get road improvements to go along with the area's rapid growth. The residents of Lee District are stuck in traffic, and it's Kauffman's fault, he argues.
"I do think that Lee District has a growth problem and it needs to be reeled in," Jones said. "The roads have not kept up with the development."
Kauffman defends his record, saying he has worked to improve roads and to stop development of thousands of new homes, something that's not obvious to voters. And he says voting for a homebuilder when you want to slow growth makes no sense at all.
"If people look at my record, I feel confident," Kauffman said. "If people respond to rhetoric, I feel nervous. I think once the public realizes they are opening up the henhouse to the wolf, they will have second thoughts."