The Board of Supervisors holds immense power in Fairfax County, and its elections are extremely important. Because there are no term limits, it’s possible for the board to comprise the same people for decades. This makes it important to choose candidates who will be pro-transit and pro-housing, especially affordable housing.
This year, the board has some big shoes to fill. Sharon Bulova, the county’s Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, announced in December that she was retiring at the end of her term, opening her seat to new leadership.
Throughout her long career in the county, Bulova steadily championed transportation projects and economic growth, including turning the Tysons corridor into Fairfax's downtown and launching the Virginia Railway Express. Bulova, a Democrat, became the head of the Board of Supervisors in 2008 and shepherded the county through the recession.
Last month, GGWash previewed the changes coming to Fairfax County, and the opportunities that new leadership have to continue building better transit and walkable, urban communities. So far, three people have thrown their hat into the ring, and the GGWash Elections Committee will be following this race closely. Here's an overview of each candidate.
1. Jeff McKay, Lee District Supervisor
Democrat Jeff McKay, currently the Lee District Supervisor, is the only candidate with experience on the Board of Supervisors. He also has the backing of both Bulova and Gerry Connolly, former Chairman of the board himself, and now a member of the House of Representatives.
McKay has represented the Lee District, centered on Franconia, for more than a decade. He has served on numerous transportation boards for the county and state, including the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and WMATA. It seems that Bulova essentially handpicked him to be her successor. McKay has roots in Northern Virginia; his grandmother, Dorothea Morris, was active in Fairfax County politics and civic service in the Lee District.
After Virginia approved $154 million in dedicated funding for Metro, McKay encouraged Governor Ralph Northam to increase the amount so that fewer dollars would be taken from county transit projects. McKay has supported dedicated funding, writing an op-ed for the Washington Post in 2017.
In it, he wrote, “The costs associated with world-class rail service are undeniably high, but so is the return. Lack of investment in Metro and VRE puts more than the commonwealth's finances at risk. It risks frustrating commuters, alienating tourists, tarnishing our business-friendly reputation and diminishing our quality of life.”
2. Ryan McElveen, Fairfax County School Board (at-large)
Ryan McElveen, a Democrat who has served at-large on the Fairfax County School Board since 2012, launched his campaign earlier in the month. During his tenure on the school board, he has supported increasing gun control measures and changes to the school dress code to avoid shaming and objectifying female students’ dress.
His campaign website makes clear his intentions to be a different kind of supervisor than Bulova and McKay, saying that “decisions made by our Board of Supervisors have increased the stark divide between the haves and have-nots, effectively creating two Fairfaxes.” At his campaign kick off event, McElveen focused on schools and environmental issues, endorsing the goals of the Green New Deal.
There is not very much information on his views on affordable housing or transit. Of the former, he says in his campaign video that he supports residents having “a roof over their heads” and of the latter, he says that the county must repair its roads and “[make] our infrastructure sustainable.”
McElveen, like McKay, grew up in Northern Virginia. Outside of politics, McElveen is the associate director of the The Brookings Institution's John L. Thornton China Center, where he works on Chinese politics and foreign policy.
3. Tim Chapman, CEO of Chapman Development
The third candidate so far is Tim Chapman, CEO of Chapman Development, a real estate developer based in Reston. Aside from being a developer, Chapman is the former chair of the Virginia Housing and Development Authority, serving for approximately 10 years.
Not much is known about Chapman’s policies so far, though he has said that he will run as a Democrat. He does not appear to have a campaign website or social media (aside from a LinkedIn page), despite the fact that he apparently announced his campaign with a Facebook post, which is now missing.
That post said, in part, “there hasn’t been a competitive primary for this office in decades and perhaps this is why one of the wealthiest counties in America has settled for effectively ignoring a crisis in affordable housing, sending its children to school in trailers, for not paying our teachers and firefighters and police officers what they deserve, and for the horrific traffic that imprisons us in our cars and steals away precious moments with our children and families.”
If Chapman Development sounds familiar, you may remember it as the developer of the Big K parcel in Southeast DC. In 2018, almost a decade after the District purchased the property, the project is still in progress. Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White alleged that Chapman Development provided an inaccurate list of DC employees to back up its claim that the project had the amount of DC residents required by the city. Residents have complained that Chapman Development did not include them in meetings and did not provide them with information or solicit input or feedback for the project’s development.
How the race is shaping up so far
McKay appears to be the frontrunner in this race. He’s part of the establishment, has much more money than the other two candidates right off the bat, and has been cultivating support among current elected officials for years.
McElveen may not have the same political backers yet, but he’s a hit with high school students, who turned him into a meme in 2014 after he announced a snow day before the news was released on FCPS’ official Twitter account. It may sound glib, but high school students may be an underrepresented group and if the photoshops and the Twitter support are any indication, McElveen may have cachet (or at least their enthusiasm). McElveen has 305,000 Twitter followers, compared to Jeff McKay’s 1,507.
There are thus far no Republicans declared in the county, which is increasingly deep blue. Pat Herrity, the Springfield District Supervisor and one of the two Republicans on the board, has yet to declare his candidacy for the Chairman race. In November last year, the Washington Post suggested that he might do so, especially since he may be facing a strong challenger in his own district. The deadline to file is March 29.
Bulova’s retirement isn’t the only shakeup in Fairfax County. Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) recently announced her retirement at the end of her term, making a total of four district-level vacancies on the board in addition to the chair. After the next term, which will end in 2024, there will likely be others. Of the 10 current members, only one is below the age of 50 (McKay) and most are close to retirement age.
Those who are elected to these seats—and to Chairman in particular—will get the opportunity to shape the county’s growth and direction for at least four years. They have their work cut out for them; there's an estimated $54.33 million shortfall in the county’s FY 2020 budget.
The board will have to balance the books before adopting the budget in May. Whoever is elected to the board will be responsible for a good deal of implementation, as well as the next phase of the Silver Line, desperately-needed affordable housing initiatives, and attracting Amazon employees coming to work at HQ2.