Whether the subject is development, Metro, affordable housing or school discipline, Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) is confident progress is being made.
Hudgins, who joined the board after ousting incumbent Robert Dix (R) in 1999, will step down at the end of December. She discussed her career and retirement plans in a March 15 interview.
Why did you decide not to seek re-election this November? “Twenty years is a long time. I’ve always believed I should leave time for other things that I need to do as well. I thought it was a good time.”
Any plans for your retirement? Will you remain in the area? “I intend to be right here. I don’t plan to move out of Reston. I haven’t made that real long-term plan. It’s time to take a break and figure that next part out. I’ve always been able to land in the right place.”
Will you travel? “I was thinking about the sister-city relationship that had been developed [by the Reston Citizens Association] with the Kenya folks. I promised that I’d visit, so maybe I’ll put that one on my list.”
What will you miss about your job? “I’m a people person. I enjoy working with folks. I’m a math person. Solving problems is what you do and that’s what the job has been about – not seeing them only as problems, but maybe as opportunities.”
What have been some of your biggest accomplishments? “When I came into office, there was a big parking lot at Wiehle Avenue [in Reston]. Today, that is a whole different place. It’s taken a lot of time to do it and we’ve spent a lot of time in the community planning what you see today . . . That big parking lot is now a transit station, a community of uses that bring the people together, from restaurants to apartments. It’s exciting to see all of that happen.”
What changes do you see coming to Hunter Mill District’s part of Tysons? “Those little shops and things along the way are probably going to be redeveloped, just like the area of Tysons across the street [in Providence District], but probably not with the same level of intensity. Tysons on the other side will have lots and lots of high-rises, but this may not be quite like that.”
Some residents and political candidates want to put the brakes on development. What do you say to them? “These people think you can stop planning. It’s sort of like trying to grab a plane out of the air. You can’t do that. It’s driven by markets. Over the 20 years, I’ve gone through a couple of market cycles in which we’ve written plans and those plans never left the desk until the market, which is the economy, comes back in order for someone to implement it.”
Several candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination to succeed you. Are you endorsing one now or will you back the nominee? “I really want to support the nominee. I may make an endorsement, but I’m not sure.”
You’ve long advocated for affordable housing. Should the county get into the business or let the private sector handle it? “I think it’s going to have to be a combination of both. We need to look at the market and understand that what people would think would not have to be affordable housing [actually is]. We have folks who are making just under $100,000 and they can’t really find a house in Reston. The goal is to create over 5,000 houses in the county over a decade . . . We need to build houses so schoolteachers and public-safety folks can come in. We have folks who work for Fairfax County government and they can’t live in Fairfax County.”
What did you learn while serving as former Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine Hanley’s chief of staff? “Kate’s a very sharp lady. She served well and she was always full of ideas. She had a very unique way of listening and responding and it’s a good one that I wish I could emulate in the same way. She was very good at helping people come to a solution.”
Any county staffers you especially admire? “There have been a lot of exceptional folks in our county government. I can’t call anybody out specifically, but I’ve always found that they serve the community in such a balanced and supportive way. These people go out in our community and do this work and sometimes our residents don’t stop and think they’re spending the evening with them. If you don’t like something, yelling at them isn’t quite the thing you need to do to get what you want.”
Why did the county create the One Fairfax program? “It had been identified that there was a disproportionate disciplining of brown and black boys [in school] – that is, kids acting out. So what can we do? We’re putting them in jail and not just disciplining them, as it should have been. The courts looked at [the situation] and said, ‘This isn’t fair. This county shouldn’t be like that.’ And out of that came One Fairfax.”
You’ve served on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board for many years and now are an alternate. Can the agency fix its reputation? “I think it’s going to come back. [General Manager and CEO] Paul Wiedefeld has been exceptional, because the things he has concentrated on aren’t ‘sexy’ things. What he said is, ‘I want to make this system work.’”
What advice do you have for your successor? “You’re going to have to truly love the job if you’re going to do it well, because it’s a very big job.”