Against the backdrop of the Virginia Railway Express’s station at Backlick Road yesterday, Sharon Bulova, who is also the current vice chair of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, announced her candidacy for board chair, ending months of speculation that the Democratic supervisor intended to replace outgoing chair, Congressman-elect Gerry Connolly.
During the morning press conference, Bulova reaffirmed her commitment to continuing the “outstanding leadership” of Connolly, who was elected last week as the Virginia 11th District’s new representative in the U.S. Congress, and was at Bulova’s side yesterday.
“I will work with my colleagues and constituents to bring us into fiscal equilibrium as we address this current economic downturn,” Bulova said. “We will protect and enhance the excellence and the quality of life our county is known for.”
No other candidates have yet announced for the race, but Pat Herrity, the Republican supervisor for Springfield district and son of the late supervisor Jack Herrity, is rumored to be considering a run. The date for the special election which, has not yet been set, will be determined by the Fairfax County Circuit Court no less than 30 days after Connolly resigns his post in January to be sworn into Congress.
The location of the conference beside the Virginia Rail Express, which Bulova helped found in 1989, hearkened to her advocacy of and avid participation in building Northern Virginia’s transportation infrastructure.
Bulova said she supported extending Metro service to Dulles International Airport, which will cross through Tysons Corner, and along the I-66 Corridor to Centreville. Since 1988, Bulova has been a member and a former chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
Speaking on Bulova’s behalf, Connolly stressed the importance of electing an “experienced” candidate who has dealt before with financial crises in the county. Connolly said Bulova represented Fairfax’s best hope to maintain and increase the county’s “progress and diversity.”
“I am running for Fairfax County chair,” said Bulova, “because I believe I have the experience, commitment and priorities to keep our community moving forward.”
In an exclusive interview last month, Bulova told the News-Press that she intended “to continue the positive momentum that the board’s put in motion.”
Bulova commented on building the county’s relationship with the City of Falls Church, and also shared her outlook on the future of expansion in Tysons Corner. Additionally, she said she plans to bring “hands-on leadership” to tackling Fairfax County’s growing fiscal woes.
Bulova described Connolly’s departure as a “bittersweet loss” for the board. “I have very much admired him,” Bulova said of Connolly as board chair. “He has been great on the environment, human relations, housing issues, and has brought the board together to move the agenda forward.”
His election to the U.S. Congress, however, bears well for the county, Bulova said. “Connolly will be an effective member of Congress, and will give us a tremendous advantage as a federal contact. I know folks will be happy with his service as a congressman,” she noted.
With regards to Fairfax County – City of Falls of Church relations, Bulova said she aims to improve the sometimes tenuous dialogue between the two communities.
Historically, Falls Church and Fairfax have butted heads over jurisdictional issues, most importantly the city’s water system, which provides approximately 56-percent of Tysons Corner’s water needs, according to a 2007 Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force.
“As chair, I would work toward a positive, effective relationship with Falls Church,” she said, referring to her collaborative efforts with the City of Fairfax, where she helped devise a city-county joint committee that “discussed sister jurisdiction issues like the judicial center and the synchronization of traffic lights.”
Bulova also cited “no reason” for Falls Church and Fairfax County to remain at odds, saying she hoped during her time as chair to provide “more opportunity” for the two jurisdictions to “move outside of the issues that we’re struggling with.”
A county resident since 1966, Bulova has been neither a stranger to Fairfax, nor a stranger to her Braddock District constituents, whom she has represented as their supervisor since 1987.
Her activity in county politics has gone beyond her role as supervisor, serving as a member on numerous local, county and state-level initiatives and groups that promote positive growth and better transportation infrastructure across the county.
As chair, Bulova said she hopes to emulate Connolly’s skill at consensus-building, and to ensure that the board’s current “fiscal policies, environmentalism, housing policies and advances continue to happen.”
In contrast with Connolly’s powerful personality, Bulova’s disposition is more reserved, yet she is equally passionate in her aims to carry on the vision and growth of Fairfax County that Connolly set in motion over his 10-year-long tenure as board chair.
“I can truly help achieve consensus, bringing people together,” Bulova said about her style of leadership, which she honed from two decades on the board and committee assignments. “My style is to engage the community in adopting plans for the future.”
Bulova referred to her extensive work as the chair of the Budget Committee, which she has held for the past 16 years, and stressed that the importance of “bringing the community to the table” in discussing budget needs and proposed cuts.
In particular, Bulova has taken decisive action in dealing with the projected $430 million shortfall for the 2010 fiscal year, which the board will finalize next spring. “We’re preparing for this early in a new way, with intensive discussions within the community,” Bulova said.
So far, Bulova has organized 20 such community dialogues, which started on Sept. 20 and will run until Nov. 16. The dialogues are facilitated by country officials and address where “people see places we could cut back or organize differently.”
Nevertheless, Bulova remained confident of Fairfax County’s ability to rebound from the current financial crisis, which she blamed on “foreclosures and irresponsible lending practices.” But “it’s a cyclical thing,” said Bulova. “Properties appreciate, and inflation and the market do correct themselves.”
It’s a cycle Bulova has witnessed before, in the early 1990s when another recession hit the nation and Fairfax County. “We experienced a dramatic drop in revenues and real estate taxes. There wasn’t a recovery for six or seven years,” Bulova said, emphasizing that during that recession, “the board was able to handle the downturn in a responsible way.”
As the chair of the pro-growth initiative Greater Washington 2050, Bulova said current financial pressures will not impede long-term goals in the county, particularly in Tysons Corner, where ambitions for a Metro-connected, “walkable” urban center run high, even in the face of foreseeable transportation budget crunches.
For Bulova, the Tysons plan, which is now in review by the planning commission, remains “the blueprint for the future” of the county and should be pursued as “expeditiously as possible.”
“The Tysons Corner plan is going to increase the surrounding aura, the environment and create an exciting place for people to work, with close proximity to clean, open space,” she said.
Bulova was cautious, however, about progress in the near future, adding, “The current economy shouldn’t have an impact on the 50-year project in Tysons Corner, but with the downturn, we won’t see the same degree of development over the coming decade.”
Despite the Tysons plan’s status on paper, Bulova said that “federal funding seems to be coming together” and that the first phase of the Metro expansion to Dulles has been given “the green light” with the promise of federal funds.
Candidate Bulova’s cooperative efforts and vision for the county will depend on her success at the polls next year.
If elected chair, Bulova will leave behind her own vacancy for the Braddock District supervisor’s seat. Bulova named Ilryong Moon, a Fairfax County school board member, and Jan Hedetniemi, of the Oak Hill Citizens’ Association, as two individuals whom she believes could replace her should she win in February. Either way, Bulova said, “Braddock will be left in good hands.”
Looking forward, Bulova remarked that she has learned “more looking back, to how things have changed and what things didn’t work.”
Considering the immense role the next supervisor will play in rescuing the county economy and planning for expansion, Bulova said she “has seen a lot of change in the county since moving here. I’ve seen the county grow and mature; Tysons Corner was just a little town.”
Bulova said she believed the board has “a legacy to pass on to future generations.”