Candidates running to represent the Springfield District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors met to debate questions posed by residents on Monday evening, Oct. 23. The debate, sponsored by Springfield District Council, was held in the historic Sydenstricker Schoolhouse which previously educated children in grades 1- 8, from 1928 until 1939. As a bit of nostalgia, for the debate an old style hand-held school bell marked the end of each candidates’ allotted time, clocked by modern cell phone.
A large crowd filled the small schoolhouse. Politely responsive at times; boisterously loud on questions of political controversy, such as gun rights and panhandling. Herrity was targeted by both of his opponents, with Foley attacking his voting and support record, and Vega saying the District’s problems are not being solved correctly. Herrity talked about his accomplishments, and twice mentioned his endorsement by the Washington Post editorial board.
In opening statements the candidates described themselves. Herrity called himself “a minority member of the board “ with “a long list of common sense accomplishments,” including, pension reform, stopping the meals tax, moving over $600 million of transportation projects. “I bring balance to the nine-to-one board so we can get better answers for our residents.” He cited work on senior programs, reducing the machinery and tools tax, and protecting the Occoquan watershed. Foley described herself as “the first Filipino American, Asian American and only woman candidate.” She promotes integrity by not accepting campaign donations so as not to be “beholden” to any group. She said failed promises for a Springfield senior center led her to run for office. She says “seniors are being stripped of our assets and I want to change that.” As a supporter of the Fairfax One policy, she underscored, tongue in cheek, that her election, as a woman, would create equity.
Vega described himself as “a different type of candidate. I’m an electrical engineer and small business founder and I’ve been solving some of the world’s toughest problems for most of my life.” He spoke of working multiple jobs while pursuing his education, and earning his doctorate although only a small percentage of Hispanics attain that level. He described his life-saving work in Afghanistan and following that, establishing his small business in Virginia training service members to be better problem solvers. “We can’t solve modern problems when we keep on thinking as business as usual. So I’m going to put a fresh perspective on the board.”
Council chairman and moderator Jim Kirkpatrick read questions from the audience related to several issues. A few of the questions and responses are summarized here.
Q- Support for data centers?
Vega: “The bottom line is I oppose them especially as right now they’re huge energy hogs, a waste of water, until we actually use renewable energy and do rainwater collection systems. … I’m going to call proffers to make sure that they do serve our communities and are designed very well. But right now they’re not showing a connectivity to our community and they’re not showing a representation that protects our environment. So I’m opposed to them.”
Foley: “I know there are some people who would prefer data centers rather than development houses. It has to have a certain distance from where people live. I recognize the need to get the people involved in that community to discuss the issues, the pros and cons, and then we make a decision as a community.”
Herrity: “Probably the environmental issue of our decade. We’ve got 12 of them already. But they need to be properly sited; not in the Occoquan watershed. Not up against residential, where they loom over residential buildings.“ He said he led the Board effort to write to Prince William to protect the watershed. Also, “We need to look at the other electrical infrastructure so we don’t end up shorting ourselves …”
Q- Property taxes? Herrity: “I think people know that I’m a fiscal conservative on the board. Not only do I vote ‘no’ when there are significant tax increases, I actually put on the table … an alternative budget that shows how I would balance the budget without significant impact on our residents, keeping the services that are a priority with our residents.“ He says, “we are taxing everyone out. Our seniors are leaving because their tax bill is higher than their mortgage used to be.” He says the Board took the first step on senior tax relief in the shape the future of aging plan, and made a commitment to look at homesteading.
Foley: “I am one of those angry about this. One of the major costs for us, that the property taxes fund, is our schools. We need to work with the State of Virginia to provide more funding for Fairfax because we are being treated very unfairly. We need to get other sources of revenue added to property taxes. In other states, specifically Georgia, [they] actually cut property taxes for seniors on the basis of age, without income as a qualification.”
Vega: “I don’t like paying taxes, but when they’re used efficiently, I don’t mind them. I want to look at the modernization of our tax system. Right now we’re operating on a tax system, about 50 to 100 years old.” He wants to work with all levels of government on taxing authority to keep more of our tax money here, working for the county, instead of going somewhere else in the State. He mentioned disappointment that his opponent’s campaign statements inaccurately portrayed him as in favor of a meal tax, when he has not made such a recommendation preferring to gather facts. He said looking at other funding sources is necessary to provide relief from taxes and alternate budgets “which keep pulling money from schools, to balance the budget.” He says the Springfield District “has been the least financially conservative office in the county, it returns the least amount of money back to the county.”
Q. Will you support new taxes?
Vega: “I’d like to see taxes that actually benefit our community. I’m not looking to try and raise the burden on people and that’s the reason why I’m having conversations with people at the state level so that we can actually try to modernize what our tax systems look like. I want to apply technology so that we can make sure that whatever our tax dollars, they are going as far as possible.” He favors bringing people from the community, small business and teachers together to have conversations. He acknowledges difficulty with aging in place due to high property taxes and a likely need to shift from property taxes. Concluding he would favor new taxes, if they are smarter and replace those not working.
Foley said she is following Delegate Vivian Watts discussion of our rising share of property taxes for housing and suggestions for alternatives if we can afford to live there; alternatives such as income or meal taxes. Foley summarized that perhaps new taxes should be considered, “but only as a grand bargain. Cut our taxes.”
Herrity says, “Fairfax County has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. The budget doesn’t have to go up by 50 percent over ten years; your taxes don’t have to go up by 50 percent over 10 years.” Instead of supporting new taxes, he favors a “hard look at the budget for efficiencies.” He is critical of the current board for tasking a budget review by the county executive instead of the supervisors and for increasing the district’s budgets by a million dollars across the board.
Q. Eliminate the car tax? Herrity sees a need to work with the State to eliminate the tax without creating a revenue hole. He acknowledged that people avoid the tax by registering their vehicles in other states.
Foley touted her ability, as a third party candidate, to work with both Democrats and Republicans at the State level to eliminate the tax. Vega called the tax regressive, but said it couldn’t be dropped without a revenue safety net. He repeated his call for more modern, smart tax systems which keep dollars in the county.
Q. Would you vote to repeal prohibition of guns in parks and government facilities? Vega - “No.” Foley - “No.” She cited frequent comments from seniors about their nervousness in seeing open gun carry. Herrity: “Yes,” to loud applause from supporters. Herrity said police shortages could mean police would not be there for women who may need protection when in parks.
The candidates also addressed senior programs, reducing the carbon footprint, panhandling solutions, public safety, housing shortages, and loss of tree canopy,
In closing statements, Vega highlighted bringing a different approach to the Board to use technology and science solutions to modern problems. He spoke of the need to consider that guns were a leading cause of death in children; and the need for LGBTQ+ kids to have a voice. He wants to foster communication with small businesses and veterans to give more “brain power” to county issues. Foley acknowledged her campaign was triggered by the Board’s refusal to honor her husband’s military and civilian service and work on creating a senior center. She spoke of the importance of centers for combating senior social isolation and the importance of tapping the “treasure trove” of seniors. She suggested Herrity’s acceptance of large donations, particularly from casino developers, made him susceptible to their lobby, while pledging to donate her own supervisor salary increase portion to the senior center. Herrity described his “honor to serve” and his “many glowing endorsements,” which he attributed to his willingness to listen to constituents. Referring also to his response to The Connection’s candidate profile (see pages 8-9). He named accomplishments and goals to include: addressing crime, including panhandling and fentanyl; keeping politics out of schools; controlling taxes; supporting affordable housing, such as with a 400 unit market rate development in Fair Lakes; seeking athletic revenues and pickleball courts; and working for funding of highway improvements to Chapel Road.
With just 14 days until General Election Day, and with early voting underway since Sept. 22, final decision time is approaching.