|From the left: Ryan McElveen, Jeff McKay, and Alicia Plerhoples.|
The Democratic primary is June 11.
The presumed frontrunner, Lee Supervisor Jeff McKay focused on his experience and accomplishments on the BoS during the past 11 years, while Alicia Plerhoples, a law professor at Georgetown University, and Ryan McElveen, an at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board, argued that the board needs a new leader with a fresh vision and innovative ideas.
The fourth candidate, developer Tim Chapman, couldn’t attend due to a family emergency.
McKay cited the challenges he addressed on the board, including adding millions of dollars for early childhood education, providing more affordable housing, ending and preventing homelessness, and bringing infrastructure to underserved communities.
Plerhoples says she is running “to improve the quality of life for every Fairfax County resident.” Her priorities including affordable housing, addressing the climate crisis, supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, and relieving overcrowded schools.
“I will eliminate trailers,” she said, and, “I want to make sure people who work here can afford to live here.” Plerhoples is the only candidate who is not accepting contributions from real estate developers and said she is not interested in climbing the political ladder.
McElveen says his top priorities are universal preschool, internet access for all, sustainable buildings, and opportunities for everyone to have training for jobs of the future.
“I am the only one with experience as a proven progressive leader and the only one who is a countywide elected official,” McElveen said. He said he is proud of the statement in the Washington Post editorial endorsing McKay that called him “a school board member who has antagonized supervisors.”
Budget and taxes
McElveen proposed pursuing a meals tax again and looking at sin taxes, as well as more tax relief for seniors and young people. He also called for recruiting “industries of the future,” such as artificial intelligence and data science.
McKay called the tax burden on residents “very concerning” and said he would work for more flexibility from Richmond, so the county could rely less on the “fairly regressive, antiquated” real estate tax.
He also called for the General Assembly to change its classification of Fairfax County. As a county, we get less flexibility in taxing authority than the tiny City of Fairfax.
Plerhoples vowed to work with the General Assembly to increase state funding for the county, noting that “for every dollar we send to Richmond we only get 23 cents back.” She also said we need to expand the commercial tax base and that losing Amazon was a big disappointment as that would have generated a great deal of tax revenue.
“We didn’t lose Amazon,” McKay said. “We’ll get a huge economic benefit and a major opportunity for high-tech jobs in our area.”
McKay touted the Board of Supervisors’ success in increasing teacher pay 12 percent and fully funding the school board’s requested budget in the past two years.
Before that, the school system had not been fully funded since 1995, McElveen countered. “Two years of full funding is a failing grade. I would fully fund what schools actually need.” He would also get rid of the school system’s 800 trailers.
McKay has not fully funded the schools for 10 of the past 23 years, and “that is unacceptable,” Plerhoples charged. Teacher pay is still not competitive with nearby jurisdictions, and support staff salaries need to be increased, too, said, adding developers should contribute more funds for schools.
“It’s nice to say you’re going to eliminate trailers,” McKay said, but part of the reason we have so many trailers is because “the school board lacked the political courage to have conversations about boundary adjustments.”
Help from Richmond
When asked about top priorities they would advocate for at the General Assembly, McKay mentioned increased flexibility with zoning, the need for a more equitable funding formula that directs more education dollars to Fairfax County, and more flexibility for alternative energy.
There are 30,000 more people living in poverty in Fairfax County than there were 10 years ago, Plerhoples noted, so her top priorities are more funding for schools and affordable housing. She would push the General Assembly to allow the county to have more sources of revenue, such a meals tax and taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, and the tourism industry.
McElveen echoed the need for sin taxes or a meals tax and promised to “sue the state to get the education funding the state constitution demands.”
When asked about their plans for redeveloping older, deteriorating commercial areas, Plerhoples said, “revitalization is important but people live in those places. We can’t just build, build, build, because where are those people going to go?”
McElveen also raised the gentrification issue, and spoke about the need for community schools with health and other services in the same building.
“Our older areas have been forgotten,” McKay said. “We need to make investments in revitalization areas. We do need to incentive better quality growth, better integration with transit.”
“We had some success revitalizing Springfield but we had to break some rules to get that to happen,” McKay said.
“We don’t need to break rules to get redevelopment,” Plerhoples countered.
“Sometimes you do have to fit a square in a circle in a revitalization area,” McKay responded. “We had to do that in Springfield. That’s leadership.”
McElveen proposed more housing assistance to help seniors, young people, and the special needs population. Housing will become more of a crisis due to Amazon’s new headquarters in Arlington, which will result in higher prices, he said.
“We haven’t been aggressive enough,” said Plerhoples. The Affordable Housing Task Force said we need at least 5,000 new affordable units, while she believes we actually need 15,000 units for people in households with less than 60 percent of the area median income.
“We need to hold developers’ feet to the fire” to force them to provide housing for people at the lowest incomes, she said, and also called for preserving existing affordable housing and not let it be replaced by infill development.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done in my district,” McKay said, including the construction of hundreds of new affordable housing units through the development process and by working with nonprofits.
McElveen said the county should move forward in equipping police officers with body-worn cameras. Two major crime issues the county needs to address are the rise of gang violence and human trafficking, he said.
McKay also said gangs and human trafficking are major problems but also cited the opioid epidemic and noted the county recently filed suit against opioid manufacturers.
Plerhoples said we need to make sure all communities, including the immigrant population, can feel that they trust the police, adding, “We still collaborate with ICE in certain circumstances, which breaks down that trust.”
McKay called the One Fairfax resolution, which calls for the board to view all policies and programs through an equity lens, “one of the most important things I’ve done on the board.” It has to be “more than words on paper,” though, he said; it has to be enforced.
To make sure the One Fairfax framework is implemented, the county’s chief equity officer needs to be empowered to enforce it, McElveen said.
According to Plerhoples, the county needs more than just one person responsible for One Fairfax. The chief equity officer needs a team and a direct line to the board chair. It also needs community input and community buy in.
Noting that “small businesses are the backbone of Fairfax County,” McKay called for the county to be more robust and flexible to allow businesses to occupy vacant big box stores.
McElveen said the county needs to be more innovative to allow office buildings with high vacancy rates to serve as incubators for small businesses.
Plerhoples largely agreed and said the county also needs to do more to help home-grown entrepreneurs.
In response to a question about whether the county should roll back pension benefits, Plerhoples said, “we need to look at pensions but not be alarmist or kowtow to outside pressures. County employees work very hard for very little. We need to support them.”
McElveen opposes cutting pensions. He vowed to fight to increase teacher salaries while “making sure pensions are fair and equitable.”
“We have one of the best managed retirement plans in the county,” McKay said. If pensions are cut, employee salaries should be increased. We shouldn’t have to train new police officers every year because current officers get jobs with other jurisdictions that pay more.