In Fairfax’s Mason District, Mysterious Newcomer vs. Reliable Incumbent


    Have mercy on my mailbox!  It has in recent weeks been carpet-bombed by slick flyers, most of them from a young lady named Jessica Swanson –  also known as “who?”  

    Well, a few things about her are clear – she badly wants Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross’s job and is willing to say lots of nasty things about Gross to win it. And she clearly has a ton of money and political consultant resources to back up that desire. Hence the mystery…

    But that mystery has been clearing up lately, as Gross’ team has finally begun to fight fire with fire and send out its own flyers clarifying where Swanson got that cash – a record $87,221 of it from an organization known as Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).  LEE is described in an American Prospect article as a sort of PAC for the Teach for America / school privatization crowd.  

    Now, I don’t focus much on education issues and wouldn’t be the best person to comment on the battles over how best to save our schools.  But if this is Ms. Swanson’s agenda, she is not even mentioning it – all she talks about in regard to education is upping the county schools budget (and blaming Gross for cutting it).  

    For that matter, despite her withering criticisms of the incumbent, she proposes very little in the way of substantive policy changes.  Most of the issues page on her website consists of bland statements like “I believe in listening to the community’s input in a real way.”  After attacking Gross for taking contributions from developers – the main source of campaign funds for nearly every local official – Swanson makes no pledge to refrain from such donors herself.  

    This soufflé of pabulum with hot sauce is not particularly appetizing.  And that’s a shame, because I am generally supportive of energetic young people stepping up to take the place of entrenched incumbents.  I was interested when I first heard about Swanson – from, of all places, an email I received from Penny Gross containing a Falls Church News-Press editorial with a direct link to Swanson’s website.  That sort of clumsy move is a perfect example of why Swanson’s attacks on Gross as some sort of slick backroom wheeler-and-dealer are destined to fall flat.  

    Penny Gross is in fact about the farthest thing from a slick politician that you can imagine.  She is certainly an old-fashioned public official – but not, for the most part, in a bad way.  Gross has always seemed more the work horse than the show horse.   She is always there meeting with the community, always there at the long, dull planning meetings, always showing up and doing the work, like a sort of local government Cal Ripken.  

    And those long, dull development meetings are frankly generating some exciting ideas – none more compelling than the prospect of fixing the world’s worst intersection, Seven Corners.  

    Would I like to see some new faces on the Fairfax County Board?  Sure.  But what’s more important is to bring on the new policies that will regenerate our communities.  And if the long-time incumbent is the one with the ideas and the newcomer the one with little to share, then it’s time to stick with the incumbent.

    That’s why this Tuesday, I’ll be voting to keep Penny Gross as my Supervisor.  Even as I fill up my recycling bin with a whole bunch of shiny but ultimately empty mailers.  


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