One of the major themes being discussed during community forums here in Fairfax leading up to election day is the idea that we need to set aside partisanship when it comes to local government and focus in on getting things done. This is an important concept and we definitely need to have candidates who are willing to sit down and have the difficult discussions needed to make hard decisions on issues that will impact the community. Unfortunately, we’ve seen far too many candidates give lip service to valuing bipartisanship while their record and rhetoric illustrates they’re not actually interested in working with the entire community.
A prime example of this came at a forum held by the Springfield District Council for the candidates hoping to represent Springfield on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Unlike several of his fellow Republicans running for the Board of Supervisors in Fairfax (one of whom could only make it 34 seconds before launching attacks), you have to give Pat Herrity credit for being able to stay focused in on a message of public service during his opening statement.
“I learned about the county from one of its greatest leaders, my dad, former chairman of the board Jack Herrity,” Pat said in the first of many statements that drew attention to his father. “I not only learned about the county and its issues, but I also learned about listening, about leadership, and most importantly public service.”
The problem is that after giving lip service to public service during his opening statement, Herrity made sure to bash Democrats who were trying to work towards improving situations that shouldn’t be even remotely partisan. While discussing a dangerous intersection in part of his district, for instance, Pat claimed it wasn’t possible to get something done earlier because “other members of the board” and members of the General Assembly are “getting involved in a district where they don’t belong.”
That statement certainly doesn’t sound like the rhetoric someone would use if they truly were interested in building strong relationships with other elected officials in order to address issues important to the community. When you consider how even Herrity pointed out that there was only one other Republican on the Board of Supervisors, this sounds like someone who’s trying to make Democrats look bad when it comes to keeping the public safe on the roads.
During another question that dealt with how the candidates would help ease traffic congestion, we saw how Pat wants to distract the voters from his actual record. While he spent some time listing projects that he supposedly was responsible for, he failed to mention that he was one of the people who led a group funding a lawsuit to stop the silver line expansion. Herrity apparently figured it was a good idea to file a frivolous lawsuit that aimed to prevent a project that eased the commute of Fairfax residents and took cars off our over crowded roads. Of course, he might have failed to mention this because he still managed to show up for the photo op when the Silver Line was opened and therefore doesn’t want to let the public know he’s actually standing in the way of real solutions to our traffic situation.
As the forum went on, we continued to hear excuses for Herrity’s lack of action on topics and attempts to shift responsibility on others. On the gun violence epidemic facing our country, for example, he claimed he wasn’t able to do anything to do anything because it’s “a state issue.” As Linda Sperling’s answer pointed out, however, there are plenty of ways for county level officials to take leadership on the issue.
Linda highlighted how she’d work with members of the General Assembly to ban firearms in government facilities and implement other reasonable reforms that could help address the issue. Since Herrity berated local members of the General Assembly earlier in the forum for “getting involved in a district where they don’t belong,” the logical conclusion is he simply doesn’t have good working relationships with General Assembly members and therefore couldn’t pursue that option.
In addition to the stark contrast on how the candidates addressed gun violence, we also saw a clear cut difference in their answers on education. After highlighting her experience as a college professor at both George Mason University and the Northern Virginia Community College, Sperling mentioned she was endorsed by the teachers after they heard her ideas on how to ensure our schools remain among the best in the country. Pat Herrity, however, decided to demean the work of public servants who serve as school administrators by claiming “administrative burden” is ruining education and repeatedly saying we need to “move away from administration.”
Herrity also decided to send dog whistles out to the anti-immigrant crowd by starting his answer out talking about gangs and murders when the candidates were asked about immigration. Sperling, on the other hand, spoke about how diversity is “part of what makes this county great” and said we need to stop scapegoating immigrants.
Of course, Herrity also took the standard Republican line that taxes are too high. When asked about how to look at the budget innovatively, Herrity complained about taxes supposedly being “through the roof” while Sperling focused in on striking a balance between a reasonable tax rate and being able to continue providing “world class services” to the community. She highlighted how thinking creatively and doing things like converting vacant office buildings into schools would help strike this balance.
All in all, the forum provided the audience with an opportunity to see some of the stark differences between the two candidates. The incumbent tried to distract from his actual record and shift the blame for anything that might not be going well, while Linda Sperling showed she brings a background that allows her to use strong working relationships with the community to actually address issues important to Springfield residents and Fairfax County as a whole.