The three candidates for Braddock District supervisor faced off Saturday in a debate that descended into a shouting match between independent candidate Carey Campbell and the debate’s host.
Host Denny D’Alelio and moderator Ellen Oppenheim warned Campbell multiple times that he was breaking the rules by levying personal attacks against Republican John Cook, whom Campbell repeatedly referred to as a “borrow-and-spend incumbent” and “ideological neo-con.”
The most heated moment came about two-thirds into the hour-long debate, when D’Alelio, who held the event on his front lawn in Annandale, said to Campbell, “If you keep talking that way, you will not be here any longer. I am the host here. I control the rules. If you keep doing personal attacks …”
Campbell interrupted: “It’s not a personal attack. It’s a statement of fact.”
D’Alelio told him, “You may think it’s funny, but you’re a jerk!”
“Is this maintaining decorum?” someone from the audience shouted.
Cook and Democratic challenger Janet Oleszek remained above the fray and did not respond to Campbell’s barbs toward Cook.
In the less dramatic moments of the debate, in response to a question about area traffic congestion, Cook said citizens groups could work with engineers for more friendly roadways. He also said Fairfax County should negotiate with the state to assume local control of local roads.
Oleszek said the supervisor should work at the state and federal levels to develop better relationships to benefit county roadways. Cook rebutted that those relationships were already in place. Campbell promoted bike-share programs, electronic roadway signs and passenger Virginia Railway Express (VRE) service.
Library Cuts and Money from Developers
On the subject of county library budget cuts, Oleszek said the county could make budget cuts elsewhere, sparing library funds – but did not specify where those cuts should be made.
“The library system is critical to the success of our students, our children, our seniors, and it is part of the civic life of Fairfax,” she said. “The fact that our local libraries have been reduced in hours is horrendous. And being closed on Sunday, I think, is a horrible situation.”
Cook said the decision to reduce library funding was a difficult one and that he has pushed for additional commercial development in Tysons Corner and elsewhere to raise taxes to fund public services. “Grow the economy, and we’ll have the money for the services we want,” he said.
Campbell – stressing that he was the most conservative candidate in the race – said local government spending was already too high.
He also told the crowd he supported having Fairfax County supervisors sign a pledge not to accept contributions from real estate interests with business before the board. Cook said he would not sign such a pledge, adding that he follows state law in disclosing all contributions.
“Why are we just saying one set?” Cook asked. “Why is it just real estate? Why not unions? Why not other people? Why not just interested citizens? The list could go on and on. … I vote the way I think is right.”
Oleszek said she would also decline to sign such a pledge but said any such contributions would not affect her governing decisions. “My values will always guide how I vote,” she said.
Education, Firefighters Among Priorities
All three candidates mentioned education first when asked what their highest priority would be if elected. Campbell also mentioned police and fire services, human services and rail. Cook said most education decisions are the job of the school board, and that taking care of neighborhoods and getting communities involved in schools were top priorities for him.
Oleszek and Campbell said they would spend more to add Fairfax County firefighter positions. Cook said having three firefighters per ladder truck – the point of contention – was appropriate, although a fourth firefighter might be added in the future. Oleszek, in a rebuttal, said the county needs four firefighters per ladder truck to meet current standards.
When asked about cuts to education, Cook said education funding is increasing and that local teachers deserve a raise. Oleszek said she would push for more federal money for the local school district.
Campbell responded, “I believe that we can take scissors and cut some of the county educational system. So, as the most conservative candidate, if you believe your property taxes are too high, I’m the one who advocates for the lowest property tax rate. And if we want a service, we’ve got to pay for it. That means we raise the business taxes or raise the property tax rates.”
Fairfax County residents, Campbell said, have told him they do not want property tax increases.
On keeping roadsides well-kempt, Oleszek called for better leadership. Cook called for county control of local roads rather than state maintenance and pushed for developing an Adopt-A-Highway Program, drawing applause. Campbell said he had personally picked up trash from roadsides and noted that to increase spending on roadway beautification would necessitate tax increases.
The candidates also weighed in on privatizing Metro – Oleszek was against the idea, Campbell said he would entertain it, and Cook said he would not sell the transit system, and that, in any case, no one would buy it.
In closing statements, Cook stressed the importance of working with local communities, seeking resident input and improving roadways. Oleszek said she would not reduce funding for education and public safety. Campbell advocated for more renewable energy use for the county.
Campbell added, “I have loved every second of this.”