Five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to run for Providence District supervisor in November touted their qualifications and outlined their aspirations and concerns about Tysons’ future during an April 9 debate at the Silverline Center in Tysons.
The Democratic contenders are diverse in terms of age, race and professional experience. Three candidates are immigrants and three either hold or have held elected office.
Edythe Kelleher, a former property manager, spent 14 years on the Vienna Town Council and now is executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corp. She has been endorsed by Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason), for whom she previously was an aide.
Kelleher said given her experience, she would be able to do the job of supervisor from the get-go.
“I really enjoy talking with people and helping them resolve their issues,” she said.
Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, who formerly served on the Fairfax County School Board and was chief of staff to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman, currently represents Providence District on the county’s Planning Commission. He is endorsed by Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence), who will retire at year’s end.
Niedzielski-Eichner said he was eager to bring “fresh, progressive ideas, innovative solutions and new energy to the board in support of the future of all of Fairfax County.”
Linh Hoang, a technology professional who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion. He also serves on the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority and with multiple Democratic groups, including two LGBT caucuses.
Hoang, who said county leaders should “think boldly about the future,” diversify the local economy, implement “smart” development and transportation initiatives, and maintain a world-class education system.
Dalia Palchik was born in Argentina and formerly worked in international development and as a teacher before defeating former Fairfax County School Board member Patricia Reed (Providence District) in the 2015 election. Palchik, who holds the endorsement of Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), stressed the need for cooperation.
“It’s really important to listen,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”
Erika Yalowitz, a native of Colombia, is a court officer in Arlington County and serves as vice president of the Providence District Council. She lives in Tysons and wants to increase opportunities for walking, biking and mass-transit ridership there.
“We need to make these places comfortable, safe, purposeful and interesting,” she said.
Yalowitz arrived at the debate a half-hour late and was unable to deliver opening remarks, but said in her closing statement that she favored another Potomac River crossing that could lessen traffic congestion and preferably handle rail as well.
The forum, convened by the Tysons Partnership, was moderated by its president, Sol Glasner.
The candidates concurred that Tysons should be made more amenable to bicyclists and pedestrians. Hoang said the county should condemn land to make some of those improvements possible, but Kelleher and Niedzielski-Eichner were hesitant to do so, citing property rights and the controversies that usually come with such takings.
The contenders also agreed the Tysons Partnership would continue to play a key role in the urban center’s transformation and that affordable housing would be an important part of that success.
During the question-and-answer session, an audience member pressed the candidates on whether places of worship would be part of the Tysons community.
Kelleher said religious groups likely would meet in Tysons, but not at conventional churches or other such venues.
“As people come together, they’ll first meet in rental space, then find their places,” she said. “It won’t be the typical kind of worship places we’re used to seeing.”
Hoang said spirituality is an important part of life and could be fostered by creating a welcoming environment. Yalowitz suggested ecumenical worship spaces, similar to those in airports, could serve Tysons residents.
Regarding the company or institution they most would like to see in Tysons, Kelleher did not name a specific entity, but favoring doubling down on Tysons’ current mix of technology and cyber-security firms. Hoang supported creation of an “innovation ecosystem” in the urban center.
Microsoft was Palchik’s recruitment choice, but she added financial firms, as evidenced by major redevelopment at Capital One’s campus, also would benefit Tysons. Yalowitz and Niedzielski-Eichner would like to see Google come to Tysons, but the latter candidate also supported bolstering the local small-business base to foster “organic, sustainable growth.”
County Democrats will choose their Providence District nominee in a June 11 primary. The Fairfax County Republican Committee has one candidate who is interested in seeking the Providence supervisor’s seat, but has not filed yet. Republicans will hold a nominating event sometime between April 25 and June 11 to select a candidate for that race, said chairman Tim Hannigan.