Ahead of Virginia’s Nov. 5 election, 11 candidates from Fairfax County butted heads on issues like education, transportation, affordability in Fairfax and the environment.
Candidates from three county districts — Providence, Braddock and Mason — answered questions Sunday at Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax.
In Providence District, school board member Dalia Palchik, a Democrat, is running against Republican Eric Jones, a former foreign service officer.
Jones entered the race about two weeks ago after candidate Paul Bolon died in August. “I deeply value education,” Jones said. “I want education policy that is in the interests of students, parents and teachers not beholden to particular ideological or social engineering.”
On immigration, Jones said he is against sanctuary counties, and for legal immigration.
“The work of the supervisor, it is not about ideology. It is not about state politics or federal politics,” said Palchik, a member of Congregation Olam Tikvah and an immigrant from Argentina. “And no, national immigration policy is not [part of] that.”
Tensions were also high between Mason District supervisor candidates Republican Gary Aiken and incumbent Penny Gross (D-Mason), who has held the position since 1996.
“After 24 years in Mason District, it’s time for a change,” said Aiken, an Olam Tikvah congregant. “I’m running because when I was sitting here a year ago, I decided that I needed to do something about the fact that our JCC had been attacked twice in 18 months. That the Lutheran Bethlehem church right next to it in Mason district had been attacked because their pastor was African American. Keeping Mason district safe will be a top priority for me.”
Gross said her priorities are raising teacher salaries to reach affordability and expanding housing choices. “Some of that will mean that we are changing our zoning ordinance to allow for greater density in areas that can handle the greater density,” she said.
And for Braddock District supervisor, Republican Jason Remer faced off against James Walkinshaw, who was chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) for 12 years. The two were asked about their positions on “more aggressive enforcement of zoning regulations related to multifamily and rental housing.”
Walkinshaw said the biggest challenge his district faces is in neighborhoods near George Mason University because of limited housing on campus.
“The important thing is that we enforce our zoning ordinance,” he said. “We have some challenges with state law in terms of what the county can do … So I’d like to work with our state lawmakers to make sure we have the tools that we need.”
Remer also discussed overcrowding at the university, and said good neighbors should follow the zoning laws.
“I want to make sure that our zoning laws are reasonable … we don’t want one house in the middle of otherwise residential neighborhood just overwhelmed with cars and trash in the yard. It doesn’t help anybody,” Remer said. “So as your supervisor, I’ll make sure that we enforce the laws. And we look at them to make sure [if] we need to make some adjustments.”
Running to represent Providence District as Fairfax County school board member were former teacher Andrea Bayer (Independent) and public policy advocate Karl Frisch (Democrat).
Answering a question about the school board’s effort to allow for redistricting on basis of socioeconomic and racial diversity, Bayer said, “We [in Fairfax County] celebrate our diversity. Look at the restaurants. I mean, when I go out to eat, I don’t want to eat American food. Where’s this coming from? We have no boundary issues. We want neighborhood schools.”
She added, “Sitting next to a kid who’s a different race is not going to close the minority student achievement gap.”
In response, Frisch said that Fairfax needs a school board that will not play to people’s fears.
“You cannot celebrate our diversity by victim blaming. You cannot celebrate our diversity by ignoring problems that are systemic,” he said. “The answer to looking at the achievement gap or discipline disparities that people of color or students of color face in our schools is not to ignore it and say just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
Also speaking were candidates for commonwealth’s attorney, former prosecutor Jonathan Fahey (Independent) and former prosecutor and U.S. Army pilot Steve Descano (Democrat).
When asked whether they support the restoration of gun rights to felons, both Fahey and Descano mentioned voting rights as part of their answer.
Said Fahey, “The primary role of commonwealth’s attorney is to keep our community safe. And when you put guns in the hands of felons, I don’t think you’re doing that.
He added that felons “shouldn’t be shut out of society for the rest of their lives, and they shouldn’t be shut out of voting.”
Descano agreed with those positions, but said “the idea that we’re going to do that one a one-by-one basis,” as Fahey suggested, means it will never get done. “Living here in this community means that we have a set of ideals and that means everybody gets treated fairly.”
The event was hosted by the Men’s Club of Congregation Olam Tikvah and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. Herb Bachner said he attended to support Walkinshaw and Palchik.
He said, “hearing the back-and-forth between candidates for the same positions made their positions [on issues] clearer.”