Gross Withstands Stiff Primary Challenge; Upsets in Region

News-Press photo
News-Press photo

Facing an aggressive challenge in her bid for a sixth four-year term representing the Mason District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Penelope “Penny” Gross was up for the fight and carried the winning margin once the polls were closed Tuesday. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Gross had 56.16 percent of the vote (3,028) to 43.84 percent for first-time candidate Jessica Swanson.

As other Democratic primary results in Northern Virginia showed Tuesday, Gross’ win was by no means automatic. Democratic “establishment” candidates went down to newcomers in at least two other cases in the area. Four term Mayor Bill Euille lost to Allison Silberberg in Alexandria, and two candidates backed by established Democratic elected officials lost in a 45th District primary race to Mark Levine.

Although a former aide to Rep. Barney Frank and openly gay, Levine ran as a Democratic outsider, having finished far behind among the nine candidates who vied for the Democratic nomination for the 8th District U.S. Congressional seat a year ago. He had no major party official endorsements for this race.

Gross, in comments to the News-Press yesterday, said the strong showing among challengers in the Democratic primary Tuesday “reflects a general grumpiness in the electorate we’ve seen nationwide, and we in Northern Virginia are not immune.”

But she attributed her ability to buck that trend to “20 years of good hard work in the community.” She’d won the endorsements of virtually all elected Democrats in the region, and of the Falls Church News-Press and the Washington Post.

In a formal statement issued Wednesday, Gross said, “I am thrilled to once again be the Democratic nominee for Mason District Supervisor, and I thank Democratic voters for having faith in me. All politics is local, and our robust door-to-door campaign, with a broad base of community support, proved that Mason District cannot be bought by out-of-state interests.”

Gross added, “This unprecedented primary campaign was hard-fought, and I applaud Jessica Swanson for her effort. As my constituents know, I am a workhorse, not a showhorse. I love my job, I love my district, and the people in it. As we head into the November general election, I pledge to continue the positive, enthusiastic, and honest approach that has been the hallmark of my service to Mason District.”

Gross now looks to face another challenger, running as an independent, in the general election. Mollie Loeffler, former chair of the Mason District Council of Community Associations, issued a statement confirming that she’s qualified for the ballot to as an independent.

In her concession statement, Swanson said, “I’ve spoken with thousands of residents who shared my concerns about the direction of our county government, about needed investments in our schools, and about development decisions that haven’t always seemed to reflect the best interests of residents.”

She added, “I am truly humbled by the more than 2,200 voters who turned out today to support our cause. I would also like to congratulate Penny Gross on her victory tonight. Her almost two decades of service to this community are deeply appreciated.”

Loeffler, in a statement Wednesday announcing her independent challenge, cited her community organizing efforts in the Mason District saying, “Together, we made a difference by advancing the discussion about important issues in land use that have affected our neighborhoods and schools.”