The debate pitted Democratic challenger Janet Oleszek against the Republican incumbent, John Cook, but the biggest surprise of the evening was the forceful presence of the virtually unknown Green Party candidate, Carey Campbell.
Campbell, who called himself “the most fiscally conservative candidate,” repeatedly stressed the slogan, “more trains, less traffic.” An Air Force veteran, accountant, and North Springfield civic association leader, Campbell has run for Braddock supervisor three times and ran for chairman of the board in 2009.
In her opening statement, Oleszek vowed to “put Braddock first,” noting that she has lived in the Braddock District for 39 years and promised to be a full-time supervisor. She stressed her experience in all levels of government, including her work as a legislative aid in Congress and the House of Delegates and her service as an at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board.Cook, an attorney, cited his community engagement initiatives as a supervisor and promised to “take care of our neighborhoods.”
When asked how they would pay for needed road improvements, Cook called for the county take over the responsibility of roads from the state. Trying to get Richmond to spend more on our roads “is a policy that has failed for 20 years,” he said.
Oleszek said that would require the county to spend $200,000 to $300,000 to purchase heavy machinery to maintain roads. That money would have to come out of the county’s school or public safety budget, she said. “We can’t afford it.”
Campbell proposed putting solar panels on the roofs of all public buildings to generate revenue to build new rail systems. Rails would also attract new development, he said, which would generate more revenue.
Much of the debate was devoted to funding issues. Cook said his first priority in the county budget is the schools and said he supports a raise for school employees.
He also said he supports citizen involvement, noting that the Braddock District has a budget committee that is open to any resident who wants to participate.
Campbell accused Cook of being dishonest, saying “I never heard of a [Braddock] budget committee.” He also raised questions about a $40 million carryover in the county budget for asphalt subsidies and said Cook “received contributions from those folks.”
Campbell repeatedly referred to Cook as the “borrow and spend” incumbent and criticized him for backing a proposal to make Braddock Road and Little River Turnpike toll roads. He also accused Cook of spewing “neo-con ideological nonsense.”
A citizens budget committee is “a great idea,” Oleszek said, adding, “I believe strongly in the Democratic process.” She said she applauds Cook for getting the community together to talk about the budget, but “ultimately, it’s the board of supervisors’ responsibility.”
When asked how they would tackle fraud, waste, and abuse in the county budget, Campbell said he would increase funding for the county auditors.
“We don’t have rampant fraud and abuse,” Cook said and noted that a new assistant auditor found ways to save some $4 million by doing things like cutting overtime.
Oleszek said the school system doesn’t have an auditor and suggested the school board create that position.
All three candidates said they support the rail to Dulles project. Cook said it’s necessary “because of its development potential” and said the county should come up with the $100 million to complete the project. Oleszek said she would “fight very strongly to get that done” and that “the longer we delay, the more it will cost.”
In response to a question about attracting employers and jobs to Fairfax County, Cook said he would keep taxes low and said he supports redevelopment in Tysons Corner that includes workforce housing and environmentally friendly development.
According to Oleszek, “economic development in Fairfax County is enhanced by our good schools,” which encourage employers to relocate here.
“We need a strong infrastructure,” she said, vowing to “never vote against funding for the police, teachers, firefighters, and first responders.”
One audience member asked how the candidates would deal with a shortfall of more than $1.7 billion in the pension system. That’s “voodoo economics,” Campbell said. “It’s just not so. It’s bunk.” That would be problem if everyone pulled their money out, he said, but everyone isn’t retiring now.
He blamed the Republicans for the “horrible mess” in the economy, noting, “the incumbent’s party gave us Wall Street on steroids.”
“They are real numbers,” Cook countered. He proposed a broad-based commission with employee and citizen input to come up with a plan for the retirement system.
Oleszek clarified that the pension plan in question is the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), not the county retirement plan. “It’s not broke,” she said. It’s stable and it’s run fairly, and those who think it’s in trouble have an “alarmist attitude.”
“I don’t have a hidden agenda here,” Oleszek said, in response to a question about the candidates’ intention to represent Braddock, rather than a political party. “What you see is what you get. I don’t owe anyone anything.”
Cook said, “I break with my party when it’s the right thing to do,” citing his votes for the Dulles rail project and Tysons Corner development, which were opposed by other Republicans.
Green, the independent, said, as a Southern Baptist, “I love my neighbor as myself.”
One member of the audience raised a complaint about the huge number of campaign signs along the roads and asked the candidates if they will remove their signs after the election.
“Think of the signs as a colorful bouquet,” rather than litter, Oleszek said. If candidates didn’t put signs up, voters wouldn’t know there is an election coming up, she said.
Cook said he agreed with that sentiment—noting that there will likely be a 40 percent turnout on election day—“except I think they’re ugly.” He promised to have his signs taken down after the election even “if I have to do it myself.”
“I have not littered your highways with a single sign,” Campbell said. “I don’t have the corporate cash to do it.”