Srilekha Palle and Supervisor Kathy Smith came together for a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters last night at the Sully District Government Center. When candidates are limited to two minute opening statements and 90 second answers to questions, there’s usually not going to be anything groundbreaking said during a debate — at least for those who have been closely following the campaign. But it does provide an opportunity to see how the candidates handle themselves outside of one-on-one discussions and conversations with their supporters.
That was especially true last night as Supervisor Smith spent the night discussing her record during the four years she’s spent on the Board of Supervisors and the 14 years she was on the School Board. Palle, however, didn’t appear to have much of a platform to run on as she focused her time on regurgitating right wing talking points and trying to bash her opponent.
A prime example of this can be found in how Palle avoided talking about any plans she might have to help address the affordable housing crisis in Fairfax County and instead claimed Kathy Smith was simply too close to developers and wanted to raise taxes. She then went on to say Democrats were using the affordable housing issue “for political purposes” and suggested Supervisor Smith and others only wanted affordable housing in certain precincts so they’d become more diverse. The clear implication of this statement was that diversity is bad and anything that changed the demographics of predominately wealthy neighborhoods would ruin the county.
Anybody who has spent time talking with Kathy Smith understands that Palle’s comments are completely out of touch with reality. As Smith pointed out during the forum, one reason she wants to address affordable housing is so “young families can live in the county.” The impact of housing costs on young people is something she’s seen firsthand as she has adult children and wants to make sure folks their age have an opportunity to live in the area they grew up in. She realizes that isn’t always an option as housing costs continue to rise, unfortunately, but believes we need to take steps to address the issue.
With that being said, Palle isn’t the only conservative candidate in Fairfax County who’s been claiming Democrats want to play political games with the demographics of local neighborhoods. The conservatives running for School Board, for instance, have been blatantly lying about school boundary discussions in attempt to scare parents into thinking students of color will be bused all over the county in an attempt to make schools more diverse. Some have even gone as far as suggesting some wealthy kids will be bused outside of Fairfax County all together. They claim this will ruin community schools and lower house values.
In reality, the discussion the school board is actually having is focused in on McLean and Langley High School. McLean is highly overcrowded while Langley has several hundred seats available and could actually lose staff allocations if it doesn’t receive more students. There is therefore talk about adjusting the boundaries to have some McLean students attend Langley instead. Many of the communities that would change schools already have relationships with the neighborhoods in the new school district through swim teams and other similar programs. And as the discussion has progressed, the school board and staff members have said there should be efforts to make sure boundary discussions have a clear process that’s transparent to the general public.
Perhaps in part to address the attacks on diversity that conservatives are making, Smith made it clear she is “sick and tired of us talking about criminalizing parts of our community.” She went on to say “this is a great community and we’re at an interesting moment when people are trying to claim it isn’t.”
When she wasn’t trying to scare people into thinking diversity is bad, Palle was using the traditional Republican talking point of claiming Kathy Smith is a tax and spend liberal. She claimed families are moving out of Fairfax due to high real estate taxes that are responsible for pricing people out of the area.
While real estate taxes in Fairfax are higher than in some other jurisdictions, Supervisor Smith was quick to point out that the Board of Supervisors isn’t “willy nilly about raising taxes” and 65 percent of the county’s budget is funded by real estate taxes. The revenue collected through this is used to secure funding for crucial services, which Smith helps ensure is directed towards projects that need it the most. For example, she played a major role in securing the $40 million needed by the school system to hire instructional staff.
Palle wasn’t deterred after Kathy illustrated how the county funded crucial community services. She continued to use her right wing talking points and claimed the supervisor was raising taxes while failing to address crucial issues like traffic in western Fairfax. She argued that Democrats were not only raising taxes, but forcing commuters to pay tolls on route 66.
“I do not believe ridiculously high tolls will solve the [traffic] problem,” Palle said in reference to tolls collected inside the beltway on 66 during rush hour. While she was trying to imply this was somehow Supervisor Smith’s fault, she clearly didn’t realize was the plan she was discussing was implemented by the Republican controlled General Assembly.
Smith responded by pointing she believes “we should own our infrastructure and pay for it,” but folks at the state level went for the private investment option instead and we’re now left with corporations charging tolls that are partly designed to turn a profit. She also highlighted how “VDOT owns the majority of our roads,” which means state level officials are the ones who are making decisions on how they are handled.
After pointing out that there needed to be a discussion with the state government about transportation, the supervisor did highlight how there are some projects that the county does control. She highlighted how a new program will be implemented that will bring in 10 new buses traveling between the Stringfellow commuter lot and downtown DC during rush hour to help make things a little easier for some Sully residents.
Throughout the debate, it absolutely became clear that Kathy Smith was well informed about the issues facing the community. While understands there is progress to be made in some areas, she highlighted her history of engaging constituents and working together to help make Fairfax a great place to live.
Palle, however, failed to articulate a vision for how she’d help lead the community and illustrated how she didn’t appear to have a full understanding of how crucial programs actually worked. This forced her to devote most of her time launching attacks instead of discussing what she’d bring to the table.