The three men who hope to succeed Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) traveled to his home base yesterday, highlighting their plans for education and transportation before more than 300 business people in Alexandria.
Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democratic candidate in the Nov. 8 election and a former mayor of Richmond, thanked Alexandrians for lending the popular governor to the state capital and sought to link himself to Warner's record.
Jerry W. Kilgore, the Republican candidate and former attorney general, said that although he grew up on a farm eight hours away in southwestern Virginia, his small town of Gate City had a lot in common with Alexandria. He said people in both areas often felt as if lawmakers in Richmond didn't understand their concerns.
H. Russell Potts Jr., the Republican senator from Winchester who is running as an independent, said he will present his transportation plan next week but added that he would be realistic about the need to finance state services.
Many who attended the forum, sponsored by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, said they were glad to hear the candidates spell out their plans on transportation and other issues. The city, a relatively liberal and Democratic-leaning section of a conservative state, is part of a region that is economically strong but suffers from traffic congestion.
Nancy Hughes, vice president of communications and information services with the American Academy of Physician Assistants, said she was grateful just to see the candidates all in one room.
"Unfortunately, it seems like we are sort of skipped over when it comes to events like this," she said. "Maybe they write off Alexandria as being so Democratic-leaning."
In the 2001 election, Alexandria gave 68 percent of its votes to Warner, a resident of the city.
Kaine told the audience that the results have been good for them.
"I'm here to give you a report card," Kaine said. In the past few years, Virginia has had the nation's second-fastest-growing economy and third-lowest unemployment rate, he said.
"We need to make sure we move forward. This is not a time to roll back or make a U-turn," he said.
He called Northern Virginia the "golden goose" of the state's economy and said that solving transportation problems would be the key goal of the next administration. He vowed to safeguard the state's transportation trust fund so it is not used for other purposes.
Kilgore highlighted his plan to establish regional transportation authorities and allow them to find funding and propose solutions, which could include raising taxes but only if local voters approved.
He also said Virginia should widen Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and build at least one more crossing over the Potomac River.
Potts said his transportation plan would include a proposal for extending rail service through Tysons Corner to Dulles. He did not say whether it would include tax increases, but he did say, "If you think you can pay for the transportation system out of the general fund, then you don't know what you're talking about."
Potts said he was the only candidate who would not tinker with real estate taxes, which he called the only reliable source of funding for schools and other services.
One audience member said he liked Kilgore's idea for regional transportation authorities but did not fully understand how Kaine's transportation proposal would help.
"He just said he's going to protect the money. That's all I got from it, anyway," said E. Andrew Burcher, a lawyer at Redmon, Peyton & Braswell.
Another audience member was tougher on Kilgore's plan to create transportation authorities. "Being a leader means making tough decisions, not passing them off to someone else," said Todd W. Ruopp, director of regional sales for a German insurance company and a Democratic Party activist.