By Jessica Swanson
I get the question a couple times a day now.
“Why run against someone so well-known who has served for 19 years on the Board of Supervisors?”
It’s nothing personal against our incumbent. I just have a different vision for Mason District, and it starts with really hearing the homeowners, the business people, the seniors, the diverse communities and the students who make Mason District so strong – and really trying to incorporate their voices into our local governance.
When I served as Vice President of the Ravenwood Park Citizens Association, my neighborhood experienced firsthand the challenge of getting our voices heard.
My husband Nate and I live in Falls Church near J.E.B. Stuart High School with our two big dogs, Sammy and Lily.
Down the street from the high school and adjacent to our neighborhood, a developer bought a 1.89-acre property that had housed a century-old home. The property also featured lush vegetation, including old trees, and water runoff issues.
The developer initially proposed building 14 townhomes on this sleepy lot. My neighborhood united to advocate for a different kind of development that would better fit alongside our vibrant neighborhood – and not tower over our homes, reduce green space, and exacerbate drainage problems. Our Supervisor sided with the developer right from the start, ignoring my community’s concerns. My neighborhood has fought major aspects of this development and although the final results remain to be seen, I learned a clear lesson from this experience: community input was not a key factor in this land use decision.
I’m an active Democrat – and so I tentatively asked around at party events about our Democratic Supervisor – and it became increasingly clear my neighborhood’s experience was not a singular one. Just look around, many said, at how Mason District compares to some more smartly developed communities just outside our borders.
As I’ve launched my campaign and knocked on hundreds of doors across Mason District, neighbors have told me about questionable land use decisions – from Spectrum in Bailey’s Crossroads, to Campbell and Ferrara in Willow Run – in which their feedback was ignored.
Our Supervisor must listen. And together, we must pursue more thoughtful redevelopment that better takes into account the impact on the environment and lessens our shared traffic concern, in part with better access to public transportation and greater bike lane and pedestrian access.
I’m Jessica Swanson, and I’m running for Supervisor in Mason District in the June 9 Democratic primary. I’ve been an active volunteer in the District. For the past two years, I worked with leaders from around the county on a campaign to fully fund our public schools. In addition, I served on the Fairfax County School Board’s Human Relations Advisory Committee, and I have served on the Fairfax Democrats’ Education Committee.
Professionally, I am an educator. I taught middle school social studies in Washington, D.C., and I have provided schools with finance, budget, and facilities support; I’ve supported new teachers and school leaders; and now I support curriculum and professional development for teachers across D.C. Public Schools. Around my day job, I’m earning my doctorate in education from the University of Virginia.
In the past few years, Fairfax school enrollment has exploded, and so have students’ needs. For example, more than a third of the entering kindergarten class this school year included students receiving free and reduced-price meals, and nearly 40 percent of these kindergarteners receive English as a Second Language supports.
Many of our school buildings are severely overcrowded. One Mason mom told me that she feared her child would “attend K-12 in modulars.”
Despite the system’s growing needs, funding from the Board of Supervisors has been nearly flat. Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Garza summed it up: since 2008, we have experienced cuts of more than 2,175 positions and almost a half billion dollars in operating funds. “We cannot cut our way to greatness,” she wrote.
Recently, two of my neighbors moved to other parts of northern Virginia because they were concerned about the future of our schools. Whether we have children in schools or not, school performance matters. For starters, if our schools decline, our property values will decline.
We live in a county Time Magazine called “one of the great economic success stories of our time.” Our median household income is more than twice the national median. Our county economic developers tout “one of the world’s largest clusters of technology firms, services and workers.”
We can and must do better. I’m excited by the challenge and ready to lead Mason District to a better future.
If you believe it’s time for a change, please visit www.swansonforfairfax.com to learn more, volunteer to help, or help me raise funds to take on a well-funded incumbent. And please vote on June 9th in the Democratic primary for Mason District Supervisor.
Jessica Swanson is running for Mason District Supervisor in June’s Democratic primary.