About 600 people gathered inside a Fairfax County church recently to hear how the four Democratic candidates for chairman of the Board of Supervisors would address a widening gap between the rich and poor in Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction.
At the VOICE group candidates forum, organizers displayed photos to show how the organization believes that rift is reflected in county spending.
First came pictures of a lonely looking teen center with a tattered baseball field in the lower-income Gum Springs neighborhood.
Next were people shooting pool at a community center in wealthier Falls Church that sported freshly painted basketball courts.
“The way I was raised was: You take care of the things that are important to you,” Elias Anwar, a high school senior from Gum Springs, told the candidates vying to replace retiring board chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At Large), who is stepping down after 31 years.
Developer Timothy M. Chapman, school board member Ryan McElveen (At Large), Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (Lee) and Georgetown University Law School professor Alicia E. Plerhoples all nodded in agreement.
Whoever wins the June 11 Democratic primary will be favored to prevail in November against Republican Joseph Galdo in the increasingly blue county of 1.1 million residents, where Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 36 points and Sen. Tim Kaine beat his Republican challenger, Corey A. Stewart, last year by 44 points.
That next board chairman will be tasked with improving areas such as Gum Springs while maintaining the vaunted schools, parks and other amenities that have helped make Fairfax the Washington region’s premier economic engine.
At the same time, the chairman must oversee the overhaul of Tysons, address increasing demands for affordable housing and manage the needs of an increasingly elderly population that is stretching county services — all at the helm of a board on which half the members will be new next year.
Voters at the forum were far more interested in those issues than in the scandals that have grabbed headlines in the chairman’s race so far — Chapman accusing McKay of benefiting from a quid-pro-quo relationship with two developers when he purchased his family home; McKay hiring a lawyer whose report rebutted those allegations; and Chapman defending his own past after public records showed a long trail of speeding tickets and a 1995 misdemeanor charge of driving while impaired by alcohol.
Here’s how each candidate says he or she would govern:
A developer who has built affordable housing in the District, Chapman says that he is the most capable of solving that problem in his home county.
The Vienna resident touts his experience as a former chairman of the Virginia Housing Development Authority board, to which he was initially appointed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) in 2011. Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) reappointed him two years later.
Chapman, 50, wants to use more county-owned land for cheaper homes and give out more tax credits linked to affordable housing.
He has said the county should freeze the real estate tax rate for county employees after five years to make it easier for them to live in Fairfax and charge an annual fee to developers who build mansions on land zoned for higher density, with the proceeds going to an affordable-housing trust fund.
To help pay for those initiatives, Chapman wants to make it more difficult for companies to appeal their property tax assessments, obtaining lowered values that siphon tens of millions of dollars away from the general fund budget.
As a political donor, Chapman has supported both Democrats and Republicans — giving $50,000 to former Democratic congressman Tom Perriello’s 2017 bid for Virginia governor and, in 2013, $15,000 to former Republican attorney general Ken Cuccinelli when he ran for governor. He later said he regretted the Cuccinelli donation, calling it “stupid, thoughtless and ill-conceived.”
Chapman has raised $64,500 as of the most recent filing deadline — but loaned his campaign $835,000, leaving him with more to spend than his rivals.
If elected, Chapman says, he will cut through what he described as a lethargic government bureaucracy.
“We’ve got a county board of supervisors that wonders and ponders over a decision about what we shouldn’t do, as opposed to what we can do,” Chapman said during a public appearance.
A school board member since 2012, McElveen, 33, is hoping to become the youngest Board of Supervisors chairman in Fairfax history. The record is held by Republican Tom Davis, who was 42 when he was elected chairman in 1992. He later represented Northern Virginia in Congress.
He advocates building charging stations for electric cars, hiring a chief technology officer and coordinating with telecommunications companies to ensure residents are connected to the growing 5G wireless network.
McElveen, who lives in McLean, has raised $54,000 and loaned his campaign $26,000. He advocates for more eco-friendly development in Fairfax and reviving the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which died in 2014 after neighboring Arlington County rejected the plan amid controversy over construction costs.
Lower-income housing should be spread throughout Fairfax, he says, including on land owned by religious organizations.
McElveen says two “pennies” of the county real estate tax of $1.15 per $100 of assessed value should be dedicated to affordable housing, the equivalent today of $46 million. The county currently dedicates $15 million a year to its affordable housing fund.
To generate more county funds, the county should look for ways to increase business taxes, McElveen says. He supports revisiting the question of an additional tax on restaurant meals and prepared foods in Fairfax, a $100 million proposal that voters rejected in 2016.
Primarily, he says, Fairfax should be a regional leader on battling the effects of climate change and Trump administration policies that hurt immigrants and other county residents.
“In Fairfax County, we have to be a bulwark against what we are seeing in Washington,” he said at one candidates forum last month.
McKay, 43, who has represented the Lee District on the board for 11 years, heads into the chairman’s election with endorsements from Fairfax’s employee unions, McAuliffe and nearly every Democrat who represents the county.
He has highlighted his roles as chairman of the board’s budget and legislative committees and co-author of the 2017 “One Fairfax” initiative, which uses racial and social equity as a prism for spending and planning decisions.
In his southeast Fairfax district, McKay’s chief accomplishments include the renovation of the once crime-ridden Springfield Town Center mall and the planned overhaul of a portion of Richmond Highway.
He says the board should dedicate a “penny” of annual real estate tax revenue to affordable housing, or about $23 million.
McKay, who lives in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax, said he would move to combat gentrification by requiring that developers leave behind at least as many lower-priced homes as they found in neighborhoods where they build.
He wants to bring prekindergarten programs to lower-income communities before expanding them countywide, he said. And he has vowed to push for more solar energy in Fairfax and put more pressure on businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
McKay said Fairfax needs to diversify its tax base by focusing more on commercial development and luring technology companies that want to be near Amazon’s planned headquarters in Arlington. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
McKay, who has raised $533,000, says he is the only candidate who understands how to navigate the complicated layers of government and put ideas into action.
“This is not a time to take a chance to elect somebody who doesn’t know how to run a county,” he said during another candidates forum.
Initially a candidate for the school board, Plerhoples said in an interview that she switched races after realizing that — in a county where nearly half of the residents are people of color — the other candidates to succeed Bulova were white men.
Plerhoples, 40, lives in McLean and runs a law clinic at Georgetown University that caters to the poor. She would be the first African American to hold the seat.
She, too, supports dedicating a “penny” of real estate tax revenue to affordable housing.
Plerhoples says more of the county should be zoned for higher-density development, noting that 82 percent of Fairfax’s residential neighborhoods are dedicated to single-family homes.
She wants to make local businesses do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And she says schools should get more funding to raise teachers’ salaries and allow lower-income families greater access to prekindergarten programs.
To achieve those goals, the county should revisit the idea of a meals tax, Plerhoples said.
Plerhoples, whose campaign has collected $103,000, says Democrats are poised to take control of the General Assembly in November. If they do, she said, the assembly would be more likely to approve legislation to allow Fairfax to adopt a meals tax without voter approval.
“We deserve a chairman who treats affordable housing as a crisis because that’s what it is,” Plerhoples said during one debate. “We deserve a chairman who treats climate change as a crisis because that’s what it is. And we deserve a chairman who treats the trailers at our schools as a crisis.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated VOICE’S name.