Candidates for chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors squared off in a debate Tuesday, trading blows and staking out differing positions on such issues as all-day kindergarten, the rural economy and the need for a police department.
Four-term incumbent Chairman Scott K. York spent much of the evening on the defensive, responding to attacks from Democrat Phyllis J. Randall and Republican Charlie King, while independent challenger Thomas E. Bellanca mostly stayed out of the heated discussion. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Loudoun County, the debate was held at the Sterling campus of Northern Virginia Community College.
Randall attacked York’s record on all-day kindergarten, a key issue because Loudoun is one of the few jurisdictions in Virginia that does not offer it to all students.
“This year, Chairman York went down to the General Assembly and lobbied against full-day kindergarten,” Randall said. “And I would even wonder if he spent taxpayers’ dollars doing that, because if he did, I don’t call that . . . effective use of taxpayers’ dollars.”
York, who is running as an independent, responded that he had opposed an unfunded state mandate for all-day kindergarten, and that both the board of supervisors and the school board opposed the mandate.
“I support full-day kindergarten,” York said. “But I also support having a fiscally viable, healthy county, and you have to . . . implement it in a way that protects your county.” He said there is no room in the county’s Capital Improvements Program to create enough classrooms for all-day kindergarten“ because we’re building school after school just to keep up with where we’re at.”
The candidates also emphasized differing priorities for economic development. Bellanca called for creating an independent Economic Development Authority modeled after Fairfax County’s agency. King and York said Loudoun should emulate Fairfax by expanding its international business-development efforts.
“Loudoun County is not a rural county anymore,” King said. “We are in the world economy, and that is our market for attracting folks into Loudoun County.”
Randall said the rural economy is a “revenue engine” because people come to Loudoun to tour the state’s rural west. She also called for job diversification in such areas as cybersecurity and health care, and the creation of more night-life options to attract millennials.
Bellanca and King said they favor creating a police department that would be under the control of the Board of Supervisors, unlike the elected sheriff who oversees law enforcement in Loudoun.
“Every election cycle we have rather embarrassing allegations regarding the sheriffs,” King said. “The board should have some role in the general law enforcement powers of the county.”
York said that a government reform commission had recommended against creating a police department because it would require a referendum, and because of concerns about “the expense of doing the conversion.”
King saved his sharpest comments for his closing statement, after York had finished speaking.
“Character matters, folks,” King said. “If somebody lies . . . about their reelection campaign to obtain an award, that’s very relevant. If somebody . . . staffs their campaign with people with criminal records, that’s relevant.”
King’s remarks were directed at York, whom the Loudoun Times-Mirror named Citizen of the Year the week before he entered the race for chairman in June. In a subsequent editorial , the newspaper said the award had been “predicated on the idea that York was retiring,” and that he had assured the newspaper’s publisher that he was not running for office.
The newspaper also reported that York had hired a campaign consultant who had spent more than five years in prison for wire fraud and conspiracy.
After the debate, York responded in an interview that “the guy who did my printing, who was doing design work for the campaign, has a past that he is not proud of, but he has paid his debt to society.” He added that he had not made any references to the Times-Mirror’s award in his campaign literature, “out of respect” for the newspaper.
Barnes is a freelance writer.