In Fairfax County’s Lee District, south of Alexandria, four candidates are vying for the Democratic Party nomination: Kelly Hebron, Larysa Kautz, Rodney Lusk, and James Migliaccio. They hope to succeed longtime supervisor Jeff McKay, who is stepping down in order to run for chairman of the county board this year.
I attended two forums, on May 4th at the Lee District office in Franconia and on May 9th at an event organized by 350 Fairfax focusing on the environment. GGWash also recently published the candidates’ answers to questions on housing, transportation, and Vision Zero.
From “ditto” to differences
A recurring theme throughout the campaign has been that the candidates all have very similar ideas. It’s been a running gag that the one who answers a question last on the panel starts with “ditto.”
The candidates have mainly tried to distinguish themselves with their diverse background and experience, and by the emphasis they place on certain issues. Larysa Kautz says her role as chief of staff at Melwood, a cybersecurity training nonprofit, illustrates how she would be able to run a county district as successfully. For instance, she formulated a resiliency budget for Melwood from the bottom up, so there would be no surprises should the worst occur. Fairfax County currently does not have a resiliency budget and as such spent double it’s budget on snow removal last winter.
Rodney Lusk has been involved in many important roles in Fairfax County government as a longtime employee of the county. He’s served on numerous planning boards including EMBARK Richmond Highway, was Gerry Connolly’s land use zoning aide, and is currently the national marketing director for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. He says he would take these myriad experiences and the county connections they’ve engendered and use them to get things done from day one with no learning curve. Lusk said, “I know how things work.”
James Migliaccio similarly has an extensive background as an employee of Fairfax County and a member of numerous development boards, including EMBARK Richmond Highway and as the Lee District representative to the Fairfax County Planning Commission. He has also made addressing climate change a key tenet of his campaign. With his proven track record in attracting jobs and investment to the county, he says he would be well placed to carry on the improvements made in Lee District during the McKay era.
Kelly Hebron has focused on efforts to promote diversity and greater equity in Lee District. She has on multiple occasions lamented unequal development between the different parts of the district and vows to see that the Richmond Highway corridor is not left behind the rest of the county. As a community college professor she also has a unique insight into the education concerns of district residents.
What they say about affordable housing
The topic of affordable housing is perhaps the hottest of the hot-button issues in Fairfax County and Lee District. There are numerous concerns ranging from the inability of county employees to live in the county to the potential effect of Amazon’s HQ2 development on local housing demand, among others.
Rodney Lusk called affordable housing “Fairfax County’s Achilles heel” and wants to increase the “Penny for Affordable Housing Fund” with one additional cent on the real estate tax rate for affordable housing. He also suggests incentives for developers to build more affordable housing through waivers for parking requirements, extra density, and other regulatory tools.
James Migliaccio stressed the need for affordable housing near transit centers, as part of a holistic approach to the problem. In his capacity as EMBARK Richmond board member, he says he fought for the inclusion of a greater number of studio units along the path of the future Richmond Highway BRT. He also wants to see more affordable senior housing in the district, to accommodate the aging population.
Kelly Hebron brought up the issue of short-term rentals, especially as an issue of housing equity. She said many Lee District residents could better afford to maintain their residences if the county relaxed or eliminated rules limiting short-term rentals through sites such as Airbnb.
Larysa Kautz said that before running for office, she was not familiar with the term “NIMBY,” but has since grown to feel that sort of attitude is unacceptable when creating fair and equitable housing in the district. She also stressed the need for affordable housing to be built near transit centers.
Environmental concerns weigh heavy on the mind of Lee District voters these days, and for good reason. All four candidates for supervisor have vowed to support a Green New Deal for Fairfax County and Virginia. Here are some of the more immediately tangible efforts they would make to fight climate change and improve the quality of life for Lee District residents if elected.
Kelly Hebron sad she wants people to get back to the basic three R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle. Also, she would encourage the use of rain barrels at every home and enact a countywide policy on the upkeep of community lakes like Kingstowne Lake, which tends to fill with trash and local volunteers have been cleaning up, and Accotink, which is filling up with silt and would require a county-funded project to keep it from disappearing entirely.
Larysa Kautz also acknowledges the need for better policy regarding community lakes, and would work to address the inadequate and inconsistent funding for the Fairfax County Parks Authority so that they could better step in and address the issues at these developer created parks and lakes that have fallen into disrepair and neglect.
Rodney Lusk, who served on the Parks Authority board, would focus his efforts on attracting corporate money to help with the shortfall in funds facing our parks. He also proposed challenging local corporations to set and meet goals in green development, and incentivizing such by doing things like reducing parking spaces at new buildings and maintaining the highest LEED certifications for all county offices.
James Migliaccio, noting that most of the glass put in your recycling bins is just taken to the landfill, vowed to expand the “Purple Can Club” recently adopted in the Northern Virginia region. Unfortunately, there are no purple cans anywhere near Lee District, greatly reducing the likelihood that residents will take their glass to be properly recycled there, so he promised to get some purple cans, ideally in Kingstowne and by the South County government offices on Richmond Highway. He also is a strong proponent of the Solar Freedom bill, which would give the residents of Lee District much greater choice in how they obtain energy for their homes, as well as reducing the carbon footprint of the district.
Communication with constituents
One of the most commonly heard complaints in local government is, “Supervisor X doesn’t listen to me!” or, “It’s impossible to communicate with Supervisor Y.” Go on to any Nextdoor neighborhood in Fairfax County and do a search for the current supervisor’s name and that’s primarily what will turn up.
If you’re really lucky you’ll get to see my Nextdoor feed, which includes someone asking who pays me to push ultra-left wing views like housing should be more affordable and bike lanes are good. I wonder why Jeff McKay hasn’t rushed to return that guy’s calls?
Our four candidates did have some different ideas as to how they would improve communication with their constituents should they be elected. James Migliaccio wants the district to be more open and offer multiple town hall style meetings on a regular basis for residents to voice concerns and ask questions. He also proposed having more events and meetings at the South County Government Center on Richmond Highway, in addition to the one’s held at the Franconia government center. This would give the residents who live on the extreme eastern side of the district more opportunity to participate, as they are somewhat cut off from the rest of Lee by distance and geography.
Kelly Hebron also saw opportunity as key. She brought up the point that government officials need to be available when the people are, which often isn’t during typical business hours. She said that she would take the district to the people, and continue knocking on doors after elected and make sure her schedule will fit the needs of everyone.
Larysa Kautz said the supervisor needs to go where the people already congregate, for example schools and churches. She also mentioned that the gap between county services and income level in Fairfax County is an extreme hardship due to the relative high cost of living and would work to address that issue.
Rodney Lusk took a page from Whitney Houston with his answer: “I believe the children are our are future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” He didn’t actually say that, but it was the gist of his answer. In other words, technology is the key to better communication and it’s the kids who are masters of it. Getting the kids to teach the adults will not only improve communication but instill young people with a sense of civic duty and interest in local government.
For the last two months there have been at least one or two events on average per week, with all or most of the four candidates in attendance. This grueling schedule has been great for the voters, giving as many people a chance to meet the candidates as possible and make an informed decision.
For Kelly Hebron, Larysa Kautz, Rodney Lusk, and James Migliaccio, no matter what the final vote tally says they’ve all earned a lazy weekend at home when it’s all over. One will prevail in the voting on June 11. GGWash will be posting its endorsements soon.