A quartet of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to succeed retiring Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) faces a challenge: how to differentiate themselves to district voters.
The candidates share similar views on many topics, but their credentials and life experiences cover the gamut. Three of the contenders are women, two are foreign-born and three have held (or currently hold) public office.
The field is not yet set and Fairfax County Democratic Committee soon will decide when and how to select the party’s Providence nominee. In alphabetical order, here are the announced candidates:
Originally from: Long Island, N.Y.
Education: Bachelor’s degree (concentration in economics) from Johns Hopkins University and master’s in business administration from George Washington University.
Occupation: Executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corp.
Experience: Was an aide to Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason); served seven two-year terms on the Vienna Town Council; and served the Virginia Municipal League’s board of directors. She formerly was an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a program administrator for a military contractor and a property manager with Legum and Norman. Kelleher also has served on the Fairfax County Economic Advisory Commission, Merrifield Task Force and the Affordable Housing Resource Panel.
Campaign Website: www.edytheforsupervisor.com
Kelleher is highlighting her long experience on the Vienna Town Council and economic-development work in Mount Vernon. She was among Town Council members who helped guide Vienna past the recent recession and obtain a AAA bond rating for the town, which saves residents money on interest payments.
“It was hard to leave,” she said of her Council service, which ran from 2002 to 2016. “It was someone else’s turn to take that on.”
Kelleher now resides in Merrifield’s Mosaic District and said she’s loving life in that new mixed-use community.
“Development done right – balanced and sustainable – can help with a lot of other issues,” she said, citing potential increases in the tax base and reductions in vehicular traffic.
But the public must be involved when the county revises comprehensive plans for certain areas, Kelleher said.
“It’s the people’s plan,” she said. “It must come from the community as a whole.”
Kelleher also is keen on maintaining excellence in Fairfax County Public Schools, growing the county’s tax base and preserving single-family residential neighborhoods.
Echoing a theme that’s popular with the other Providence candidates, Kelleher is eager to improve the district’s affordable-housing stock.
“We need to get more creative and look around the country for things that have worked in other areas,” she said, adding that housing affordability especially is a problem in up-and-coming, expensive Tysons. “The low-hanging fruit has been taken.”
Originally from: Columbus, Ohio.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology from John Carroll University and master’s in public administration from Ohio State University.
Occupation: Represents Providence District on Fairfax County Planning Commission, runs consulting firm Governmental Dynamics Inc.
Experience: Worked for the Public Works Department in Columbus, Ohio; was personnel and risk-management director and later economic-development director for city of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; did nuclear-waste-disposal work for state of Texas; crafted national strategy for managing military nuclear materials; and served in national-security positions in the U.S. Department of Energy, ending as chief of staff to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. He also represented Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board, served on the Environmental Quality Advisory Council and the Fairfax County Park Authority Board.
Campaign Website: www.philforsupervisor.com
After Niedzielski-Eichner retired from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2014, he decided to return to public service. He served on the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission and Smyth tapped him for the Planning Commission.
“It’s been good,” he said of his Planning Commission experience. “Tysons, Merrifield and Inova all are very interesting and present continuous opportunities to attend to them.”
Niedzielski-Eichner said county officials should revise the 2010 Tysons comprehensive plan. He wants to know whether developers are making sufficient progress on the planned grid of new streets, which would reduce traffic on main arteries, as well as athletic fields, open space, community centers, public-safety facilities and art venues.
In Merrifield, parcels near Luther Jackson Middle School still need to be redeveloped and traffic issues in the Mosaic District must be addressed, he said. In addition to developing area’s near Inova’s campus and the Fairview Park area, Niedzielski-Eichner said he would like to revitalize some of Providence District’s older shopping centers, but also preserve the character of local single-family residential neighborhoods.
The son of two educators, Niedzielski-Eichner touted his public service, saying none of the other declared candidates could match his experience.
“I’ve dealt with some of the most complicated problems that confront the United States,” he said. “I don’t shy away from complexity. I’m willing to make the judgement calls and be accountable.”
Originally from: Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Education: Graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology and studied anthropology and French at Tufts University in Boston.
Occupation: Elected to Fairfax County School Board in 2015, she chairs the board’s Public Engagement Committee, co-chairs its Women’s Leadership Committee, is liaison to its Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee and liaison to the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s Schools Committee. She formerly served on the School Board’s Audit Committee and the Foundation for Fairfax County Public Schools.
Experience: Has served on the board of the Woodburn Village Condo Association.
Campaign Website: www.daliaforsupervisor.com
Palchik’s top priority is to obtain more funding for the county school system, which she said occupies five times more space than the Pentagon, and improve access to its advance-academic and pre-kindergarten programs.
“We have a lot of wealth and privilege, but also growing needs” in Fairfax County, she said.
Palchik, who promised to bring a “fresh voice and perspectives” to the Board of Supervisors, favors increasing the amount of affordable housing in the county, possibly by adaptive reuse of existing buildings.
She also would like make Fairfax County a more inclusive and welcoming place and have the county become a leader in using more clean energy and reducing green-house emissions.
In Providence District, Palchik would like to see the comprehensive plans fulfilled in Merrifield and Tysons, provided that residents are included in the process, and protect neighborhoods and trees in the Vienna area and Oakton.
She would emulate Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova’s practice of bringing parties to the table to resolve issues.
“There’s usually a solution to every problem,” she said. “We need to bring the community and developers together. We need to listen and take things into account.”
A Mantua resident and the daughter of two small-business owners, Palchik wants to make it easier for such enterprises to thrive.
“We need to help them through the process,” she said. “There’s a lack of clarity and predictability. We need better communication and more office hours.”
ERIKA MILENA YALOWITZ
Originally from: Colombia.
Education: Bachelor’s degrees in political science and international relations from the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, Colombia, and a graduate-studies degree in political management and governance.
Occupation: Court officer in Arlington County.
Experience: Vice president of the Providence District Council, corresponding secretary for the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, member of the Tysons Partnership’s Emerging Leaders Council, board member with the Rotunda Condominium Unit Owners’ Association and founding member of Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition. She formerly was an international-trade consultant for a Washington, D.C., firm and worked for the former Hispanic College Fund. She also often helps clear litter from streams.
Campaign Website: www.erikaforsupervisor.org
Fairfax County may be trying to make Tysons a livable, walkable community, but Yalowitz experiences the reality of residing in that ever-redeveloping urban center. A resident of the Rotunda, Yalowitz takes Metro’s Silver Line and a Fairfax County Connector bus daily to and from her job in Arlington.
She lives within a few blocks of two grocery stores, but must drive to them because of the major roads that must be crossed.
“A characteristic of urbanity is walkability,” she said. “We are still not there.”
She hopes to expand mass-transit choices so residents will leave their vehicles at home, spend fewer hours in traffic and have more time for their families and personal pursuits.
“If you don’t take public transit to people’s front doors, they’re likely to use cars,” she said. “The behavior can be changed if you offer the right options.”
Yalowitz would like to see more affordable-housing opportunities in the county, and suggested county officials should look at repurposing vacant buildings for dwelling units and encouraging housing with separate rooms but shared kitchens and bathrooms.
“Creativity can be a solution for many of our problems,” she said.
Regarding education, Yalowitz hopes to address school overcrowding and teacher pay.
“Teachers have been underpaid and are leaving the district,” she said. “We have been our immediate needs, reacting instead of planning for the future.”