Two Dranesville District supervisor candidates – a three-term incumbent and a political activist with governmental experience – jousted verbally Oct. 17 on issues ranging from the county’s future to gun control and immigration-law enforcement.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) and Republican challenger Ed Martin, who will face off in the Nov. 5 election, debated the issues at the McLean Community Center during a debate held by the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area.
Foust, a lawyer, told of coming to Northern Virginia in 1981 and serving as president of the McLean Citizens Association before first being elected supervisor in 2007.
“What I love about the job is working for you,” he said. “I listen, then I lead and we deliver.”
Foust highlighted several accomplishments on which he’d worked, including obtaining $300 million for the Route 7 widening project, all-day kindergarten at county schools, renovations at the Lewinsville Senior Center, sound barriers on roadways and two library renovations.
Republican challenger Martin pressed for more transparency, accountability and accessibility within the county government.
“I ran because I think we need in this county, and especially in Dranesville, a different kind of leadership,” he said, adding, “Our conversation should be spirited and it should be focused on the future.”
Martin, a lawyer and Great Falls resident, did water-quality work in Indonesia, taught in Italy, ran the elections office in St. Louis and now is an author, radio-show host and president of the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, a conservative political-advocacy group.
Asked about their top priorities for the county, Foust listed a strong economy, excellent public schools with well-paid teachers and a multi-modal approach to transportation.
Martin cited the need to maintain good schools, reduce traffic congestion and address crime. He also raised concerns about group homes coming into neighborhoods without public knowledge, and said county supervisors recently had approved a 600-foot-tall building at The View in Tysons that will be 200 feet above the usual height limit.
Regarding ways to address climate change, Martin said the top solution was nuclear power. Foust said the county had committed to a community-wide action plan, expressed interest in solar panels and begun replacing 50,000 streetlights with energy-saving LED bulbs.
The candidates disagreed over how well Fairfax County is handling an influx of new residents. County taxes have increased three or four times faster than household income and the school system, which receives about 52 percent of the county’s general-fund budget, has proved resistant to spending changes, Martin said.
Foust touted the county’s infrastructure preparations, from building new fire stations and libraries to boosting the school system’s annual capital-improvement allocation from $155 million to $180 million.
“We’re doing what’s necessary to prepare for the growth,” he said.
Martin had a different view.
“That’s the old way of thinking, that we’re going to have our leaders make the choices for us,” he said. “That won’t work . . . We the people in Fairfax County have a vision, too, of what we want for our kids and how we want our community schools and neighborhoods to be.”
Senior residents likely will have longer and more active lives than in the past, but will be priced out of the county, Martin said.
“The mind set has to change dramatically so that we can be cutting-edge – not cutting-edge of the old guard, but cutting-edge of the new frontier,” he said.
Foust took issue with that assessment and added that even after traveling around the world, there was no place he would rather live than Fairfax County.
“You can’t demonstrate with numbers that we’re not No. 1, in terms of attraction of businesses and the quality of our neighborhoods,” he said.
Foust also took issue with Martin’s comparative lack of community experience in the county.
“The thing you missed, because you just moved here, is that for the past 30 years I’ve been in this room – this specific room – night after night, holding meetings with the community,” Foust said. “You can be critical of what we do and how hard we work as a community to get things done and to form a vision and implement that vision, but I have never once – never once – seen you at community meetings, ever.”
The candidates took different sides regarding banning firearms in all county facilities, except for those carried by law-enforcement personnel. Foust favored the idea and noted county officials routinely have asked the General Assembly for permission to do so.
“I am extremely optimistic that with the changes that are going to occur in the Virginia legislature in about three weeks, we’re going to see some seriously good things happening in Virginia” regarding firearm safety, he said.
Martin favored deferring to law-enforcement officials on the matter and said having trailers on school grounds was a security concern.
“We want to spend our money on lawyers for illegal immigrants and all these other things,” he said. “You explain to me, John, why McLean has trailers that are not as safe as secure buildings and why it’s gone on for all of your tenure.”
Regarding having the county serve as a “sanctuary” from federal immigration law, Martin said this would lead to violence against local residents and gang influence in schools.
Foust countered that Fairfax County was the safest jurisdiction of its size in the county and that children in school trailers were less secure because Republicans consistently have opposed gun-control measures.
“We are making the community safer by working with immigrants,” he said. “We don’t enforce civil warrants issued by a group called ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] against immigrants.”