The mailers have been sent, the doors knocked, the candidate forums attended. The four Democrats vying for the Lee District Supervisor primary nomination have reached the end of their months-long campaign to replace Jeff McKay, who is now running for board chairman after holding the Lee seat for 12 years.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will be a near lock to become the next Lee District Supervisor. County Republicans have not named a candidate in Lee, and no independent candidates have filed to run so far. The GOP didn’t run candidates in 2015 or 2011 either, and the Lee seat has held by Democrats since at least the early 1960s.
The four Democrats running in Lee — Kelly Hebron, Larysa Kautz, Rodney Lusk and James Migliaccio — are all first-time candidates. While there are some policy differences between them, the four candidates agree more often than they disagree. The biggest difference is their backgrounds, and throughout the campaign each candidate has emphasized their unique experience to set them apart from the field.
Here’s a last look (in alphabetic order) at the four people running, and what they hope to accomplish:
Hebron moved to Lee District 20 years ago when she was “single with a Honda Civic and a Cocker Spaniel,” as she likes to tell audiences. The dog and car are long gone, she says, but she’s stuck with Lee District as her family and career have grown.
A lawyer and a college professor at Northern Virginia Community College, Hebron touts her experience helping others find jobs. She founded the From Prison To Paralegal program, and has been active in the local Democratic Party for many years.
While emphasizing she’s bring a fresh voice to the board, Hebron is quick to point out that she’s not a newcomer to local politics. Hebron says the decision to run for office was something she’s long pondered.
“I am committed to this community. You don’t just get up one day and say ‘I’m going to run for Lee District Supervisor,'” Hebron said at an April forum, noting she participated in the Leadership Fairfax program in 2010 and the Emerge Virginia program for woman candidates in 2016. “It has been a long journey.”
Policy-wise, Hebron says the three signature challenges facing the district — housing, transportation and education — are all tied together. Progress on any of the issues will only happen if the county begins taking a new approach, Hebron says.
“We need to take a holistic approach to our budget. We need to look at how we are going to address these issues,” Hebron said. “They are all interconnected.”
Hebron supported Embark Richmond Highway, but believes that more work needs to be done to ensure that people who currently live and work along the Route 1 corridor can continue to do so as the area redevelops.
“I think Embark is a great start,” Hebron said. “I think we can do more … we need to make sure our developments include [housing for current residents] to live, work and play.”
Hebron wants schools to continue to be fully funded — only the past two years has the Board of Supervisors been able to meet the full school board request — in order for the county to maintain parity with neighboring jurisdictions like Arlington. Hebron also thinks Fairfax should find a way to increase, in phases, the half penny on the tax rate that goes toward affordable housing to two cents.
“It’s not enough,” Hebron said of the county’s $21 million affordable housing fund. “D.C. is doing $100 million. We can do better.”
Kautz, who serves as chief of staff and general counsel for the non-profit Melwood, has said the 2016 election of Donald Trump inspired her to get more involved in local politics. A first-generation American, Kautz has worked her way from a childhood of poverty to the Ivy League to a partner a D.C. law firm to her current position at Melwood.
Kautz says now it’s time for her to take a bigger role in helping those who have less and shaping the county’s future.
“I truly feel like it would have been a waste … to just stay at a law firm forever and be a tax lawyer,” Kautz said. “We haven’t had that much change [on the Board of Supervisors]. I think we have to have some other voices and new perspectives.”
Like Hebron, she completed the Emerge Virginia program, and has served as the Lee District representative on both the Fairfax County Adult and Community Education Advisory Committee and the Fairfax County Advisory Social Services Board.
Kautz has named early childhood education and affordable housing as her top two issues. On the campaign trail she’s talked about the challenges she’s faced navigating the county’s early childhood services for her son, who is on the autism spectrum.
Kautz supports universal pre-kindergarten in the county, and believes that the county’s current goal of “no net loss” of existing affordable housing does not go far enough.
Kautz has also talked about the need for more voices to be at the table in Lee District and throughout Fairfax.
“I really want us to have more of a community [in Lee District],” Kautz said.
Part of that, she said after a forum at the South County Center that included residents who felt left out of the Embark Richmond Highway process, includes the supervisor’s office going out in the community more and meeting with constituents where they live.
“We need to have a lot more transparency and communication,” Kautz said.
Kautz has also come out in favor of renaming Robert E. Lee High School, and supported the renaming of the Robert E. Lee RECenter at Lee District Park, although she said the county needs to be more inclusive in how they come to those decisions.
“I’m a little frustrated by what seems to be (best case) a lack of transparency and (worst case) a lack of willingness to stand with the courage of our convictions,” Kautz said after the name change was announced. “If we decide something is wrong and needs to be changed, let’s talk about it, explain our decision and celebrate it.”
Kautz was subject to increased attention the last few weeks after an endorsement interview with The Washington Post included a question about how a mother of a young child would balance being a parent with her Board of Supervisors’ duties. Kautz bristled at the question’s implications and said that if anything, being a mom made her even more qualified for the position.
“I think our Fairfax County Board of Supervisors needs the perspective of working moms with young kids,” Kautz said on Facebook after the Post endorsed all males for the open Board of Supervisors seats in Fairfax. “So I won’t sit back. I’m going to fight harder than ever before. For my son. For other moms who have been told they can’t do what they want. And for other working families who are fighting to survive.”
Lusk has lapped his competitors in terms of endorsements and, as of late, campaign contributions. In his day job Lusk works as the director of national marketing for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, and he’s shown a knack for connecting with a wide spectrum of supporters, including seven different local labor organizations.
There’s no guarantee that the endorsement advantage will scale into votes, and because of that Lusk said he’s prided himself on a robust effort to connect with voters on an individual level. Lusk says he beat his initial goal to personally knock on 6,000 doors, and is proud of his team’s efforts on the ground.
“[W]e’ve been very aggressive with our field efforts. We’ve been knocking on a lot of doors,” Lusk said.
At community forums, Lusk has emphasized the many hats he’s worn during his 29-year career with Fairfax County. Among other things, he served as the Lee District Planning Commissioner from 2004-2010, as an at-large member of the Fairfax County Park Authority Board and was a staffer for former Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly.
Lusk also served on the Embark Richmond Highway Advisory Group from 2015-2018, and worked in human services on the highway earlier in his career. One of Lusk’s signature lines during the campaign has been about the gap between the wealthiest parts of the county and Richmond Highway.
“A child that’s born on the historic Richmond Highway corridor must have the same opportunities as a child that’s born on the Dulles corridor,” Lusk says. “And today that’s not the case.”
Lusk said it will take a combined effort from the public sector, the private sector and from non-profit groups to begin lifting up Route 1’s schools and attracting jobs that pay wages higher than the retail-oriented jobs that currently dominate the highway.
Lusk also says one of the highway’s problems is a lack of modern office space, which has made it difficult to attract new companies. He notes that the last office building built on the highway was the South County Government Center, and said he wants there to be an “innovation district” on the highway to help foster new businesses to headquarter and grow on the corridor.
“Office is a big part of bringing in jobs, bringing in companies,” Lusk said. “The innovation district … is a way to spur that by aiding accelerators/incubators to provide services. As those companies graduate from that incubator, they move to the new office space [on the highway].”
On housing, Lusk frequently calls the issue the county’s “achilles’ heal,” and said he fought more affordable housing to be included in Embark Richmond Highway.
“When I was on the Embark study, I argued the hardest for the expansion of affordable housing and the expansion of commercial office,” Lusk said. “We need to make sure those who work along the corridor are able to live along the corridor.”
Migliaccio has served as Lee District Planning Commissioner since 2010, and has worked with McKay on some of the biggest initiatives in the district, including Embark Richmond Highway, the new Springfield Town Center, attracting the TSA to Springfield and the Wegmans project.
Now Migliaccio is hoping to build on those efforts to move forward with three main priorities: Fully funding schools and ensuring parity in pay for teachers and support staff, implementing Embark Richmond Highway, and working on a plan to revitalize downtown Springfield.
Working as a planning commissioner has allowed Migliaccio to learn firsthand what residents are concerned about, he said. Many of those interactions are face-to-face, and Migliaccio says his down-to-earth style has allowed for effective communication with constituents.
“As a planning commissioner people feel more free to talk to you than an elected official. It’s advantageous for me,” Migliaccio said.
He says that his experience has also helped him better understand what’s actually doable and realistic in the county.
“It’s things like [serving on the planning commission] that help you understand the county, and know what works, not just for Lee but for Fairfax,” Migliaccio said.
While Migliaccio does not have the number of endorsements Lusk has, he has secured many from within the district itself. The two biggest have been State Sen. Adam Ebbin and Del. Mark Sickles, whose districts cover much of Lee.
While knocking on doors, Migliaccio says education has been the issue most often raised by residents. Many worry about losing teachers to neighboring jurisdictions, and want to know that their tax dollars are going toward maintaining and improving FCPS.
“They want to make certain that schools stay top notch and stay fully funded,” Migliaccio said.
A full-time communications consultant, Migliaccio has worked in politics both at the federal level — for former U.S. Sen. Chuck Robb — and as a staff member on the Board of Supervisors. Migliaccio says no candidate has that mix of public and private experience, and he wants to use his knowledge to continue to move the district forward.
“The past 10 years we’ve had tremendous success in Lee District. Embark, Richmond Highway, Wegmans, Springfield Town Center,” Migliaccio said, while noting many challenges that remain. “[But] by no means does that mean we’ve been perfect in the past, there’s always room for improvement.”