Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting was bittersweet, as it was the final meeting of this term, and we bid farewell to four members who are retiring from the Board at the end of this month. Chairman Sharon Bulova, Supervisor Catherine Hudgins, Supervisor Linda Smyth, and Supervisor John Cook have served county residents with distinction. Their departure signifies the largest change in Board membership since the Urban County Executive Form of government was created for Fairfax County by the Virginia General Assembly decades ago.

Chairman Sharon Bulova was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1987 to represent what was then the Annandale Magisterial District (now Braddock), succeeding Audrey Moore, who was elected chairman that same year. Sharon often is considered the “godmother” of the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), the commuter rail system that serves Fairfax, Prince William, Stafford, and Spotsylvania counties. VRE has grown from a glimmer of an idea decades ago, to a successful daily commuter system into Washington’s Union Station for thousands of regular riders. In 2009, Sharon won a special election for chairman when Gerry Connolly was elected to Congress. Under her leadership, Fairfax County successfully navigated through the Great Recession, maintained its Triple A Bond rating, and is nearing completion on the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport. Sharon was named one of the region’s most powerful women by Washingtonian magazine a few years ago, and is well known for her unflappability and even-handed approach to resolving difficult issues.

Hunter Mill Supervisor Catherine (Cathy) Hudgins was elected in 1999, when she defeated incumbent Republican Bob Dix. The first person of color to serve on the Board, she has been an outspoken defender of justice and fairness in all country services. A special passion is pre-kindergarten for all children; it is rare for a meeting of the Board to go by without Cathy making a quiet, but firm, appeal for the funding needed for universal pre-K. Cathy was the longtime chairman of the Board’s Human Services Committee, and also spent countless (and thankless) hours representing Fairfax County and Northern Virginia on the Metro Board.

Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth was elected in 2003, succeeding Gerry Connolly, who won election as chairman that year. Linda had served on the Planning Commission, and brought her intimate knowledge of the county’s land use processes to her work on the Board. Much of Tyson’s is in the Providence District, and the robust growth in Tyson’s (and Merrifield, also in Providence) reflects her hands-on approach to resolve land use challenges in our “downtown” areas. Linda also represented the county on the Transportation Planning Board at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook won a special election in 2009 to succeed Sharon Bulova after she became chairman. One of only two Republicans on the board, John found his niche as a moderating influence on Board matters, especially as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, overseeing new policies and processes for the police department, and ensuring that bullying and sexual harassment in the fire department was handled swiftly and surely. One of John’s hallmark efforts was to bring more attention to domestic violence in the community.

Campaigning is fun; governance is hard. Fortunately, these four Supervisors understood the role of governance, and the importance of working as a team on the Board. There were disagreements at times, but almost always respectful and collegial. That’s how local government should work, and Fairfax County is fortunate to have had four such outstanding public servants in leadership for such a long time.