- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

The race for chairman of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors initially centered on basic issues such as taxes and transportation, but has turned increasingly negative as Tuesday’s election nears.

When asked in separate interviews this week to discuss their platforms, Providence District Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat, and Republican Mychele Brickner wasted little time before turning the conversation into personal attacks on their opponent.

“He wants another blank check for the next four years,” said Mrs. Brickner, who has been a member of the Fairfax County School Board for the past eight years.

Mr. Connolly responded: “To be chair, you need to bring people together, and my opponent has never done that.”

Both are seeking the chairmanship currently held by Katherine K. Hanley, a Democrat who chose not to seek a third term. Instead, Mrs. Hanley will challenge Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, for his congressional seat next year.

Both candidates for Board of Supervisors chairman have raised a substantial amount of money. Mr. Connolly has raised $692,417 in political donations, according to a Oct. 27 campaign-finance report. Mrs. Brickner has raised $518,246, according to her campaign report.

The chairman’s position pays $59,000 a year, but the job is widely seen as Northern Virginia’s top elected post. Fairfax County is one of the most populated and affluent counties in the country, and few have questioned why candidates combined would raise 20 times as much as the job’s annual salary to fill the seat.

With only a few days left before voters go to the polls, Mrs. Brickner, 52, and Mr. Connolly, 53, are trading charges of wasteful spending, poor leadership and political gimmickry. Behind the politicking, two very different candidates emerge.

As Mrs. Brickner casts herself as a political outsider, Mr. Connolly boasts of experience. As Mr. Connolly calls for “a carefully plotted plan,” Mrs. Brickner says she wants an immediate change in the mind-set of county government.

While Mr. Connolly refers to Mrs. Brickner as a extremist who favors banning books that she says are too graphic from school libraries, Mrs. Brickner calls Mr. Connolly a tax-and-spend politician and blames him for a 53 percent rise in property taxes in the past four years.

Beyond those personal attacks, the race largely has focused on taxes and transportation. The candidates have different ideas on each of the issues.

However, they agree on one thing: “There are stark differences between us,” Mrs. Brickner said.

On taxes, Mrs. Brickner is calling for an annual 5 percent cap on tax increases.

“The county government needs to restrain itself,” Mrs. Brickner said. “There are things the county could be doing to address wasteful spending and inefficient spending that they have not been doing.”

Mr. Connolly said Mrs. Brickner’s cap would prove disastrous to county finances because it would cause the county’s bond rating to drop.

“Her solution is a cap, and that would prove ruinous to services in Fairfax County and cost us our AAA bond rating, which has saved us about $250 million,” Mr. Connolly said. “Gimmicks and slogans are no substitute for a carefully plotted-out plan.”

Mr. Connolly said he wants to provide additional tax relief for residents and will lobby state lawmakers in Richmond to provide more money for schools and school construction.

“The biggest consumer of dollars ironically has been the school system,” Mr. Connolly said, referring to Mrs. Brickner’s eight years on the school board.

“We bear the cost of 78 percent of school budgets and 100 percent of school construction,” he said. “Voters need someone to be an advocate and fight for Fairfax to get its fair share.”

As a Republican on the Democrat-controlled school board, Mrs. Brickner said, she learned how to push for major initiatives across party lines.

“I pressed for a number of accountability measures for the school system,” she said. “We hired an auditor for the school board who in the first year found savings of $20 million per year. Anything I won, I got by building consensus through both parties.”

To ease gridlock in Fairfax, Mrs. Brickner has called for spending $180 million in transportation bonds, including $50 million that she says was authorized but never issued through 1988 and 1990 bond referendums.

Mrs. Brickner said the bonds could be used to widen Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and Telegraph Road, and improve the Interstate 66 and Interstate 495 interchange.

Mr. Connolly’s plan calls for a $115 million transportation bond referendum next year to fund rail service from Tysons Corner to Washington Dulles International Airport, which he estimates will take 86,000 motorists off the roads and ease highway congestion.

Mr. Connolly also said he wants to place high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway, or I-495, and he has asked the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to study that plan.

He said he also will continue efforts to increase the number of people who work from home to ease congestion.

Overdevelopment also has been mentioned prominently in both campaigns. However, the candidates tend to speak more about each other’s record than their own plans.

Mrs. Brickner paints Mr. Connolly as a close ally of the building industry, citing contributions to his campaign from developers. She also has pointed out that Mr. Connolly favored approving zoning variances for a luxury condominium project in Tysons Corner, while working as a consultant for a company with ties to the developer.

“I think the biggest surprise in the race is that I spend a lot of my time talking about honesty and integrity as the most important characteristics for this position,” Mrs. Brickner said. “There are a lot of conflict-of-interest-type issues because of my opponent’s ties to development.”

Mr. Connolly calls Mrs. Brickner’s accusations “a smoke screen” and portrays his opponent as an extremist who cannot garner bipartisan support either on the school board or in the campaign for county board chairman.

“I have broad support from business and labor,” Mr. Connolly said. “I’ve got the capacity to reach out to a broad swath of voters. … My opponent is running away from her record. She has never been bipartisan on anything.”

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