Mount Vernon: Crowd Fills Candidate Forum

Mount Vernon Gazette

Tim Peterson

Without an incumbent running for Mount Vernon District supervisor, the candidates meet and greet event at the Sherwood Regional Library was understandably crowded. Republican Jane Gandee is running against Democratic primary winner Dan Storck to replace longtime supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who announced he would not seek re-election last year.

The League of Women Voters hosted the debate on Sept. 16; it’s one of numerous such events taking place across the Fairfax County leading up to the November election.

Each candidate was given several minutes for opening statements, then each had about a minute to respond to questions submitted by the audience. Some questions were directed at specific candidates, not giving their opponent a chance to respond, while others elicited a response from both candidates.

On the supervisor side, Gandee touted her business acumen as owner of a ServiceMaster National Capital Restoration franchise, as well as her community leadership: serving on the Rising Hope Mission Church board and as vice president of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce.

Storck has served several terms as Mount Vernon School Board representative, but also highlighted his own medical service business.

To replace Storck on the School Board, Karen Corbett Sanders, a former vice president at Verizon and Parent-Teacher Student Association president for West Potomac High School, is facing W. Anthony Stacy, who works for Booz Allen Hamilton and served as chief of staff for The Nature Conservancy’s philanthropy department.

In light of the meeting two days earlier of the Fairfax County ad hoc commission to review police policies, several of the questions for the supervisor candidates dealt with the death of Natasha McKenna and whether there should be independent civilian oversight for the police and sheriff’s departments.

“I think we have to make significant changes,” Storck said. “I’m committed to whatever the task force recommends, but I haven’t decided about an oversight board yet. I have no objection, but I want to see the task force response first.”

Gandee and Storck both attended the commission’s public forum at Walt Whitman Middle School, where protesters demanded justice for McKenna, the 37-year-old woman who died in February after she was forced into shackles and tasered four times by Sheriff’s deputies in an attempt to transport her to Alexandria police.

“It was probably three of the most difficult hours of my life,” Gandee said, referring to the forum. “It was distressing, there was some confusion and blame placed on the Board of Supervisors, while she was with the Sheriff’s department.”

The School Board candidates each fielded a number of questions about the $100 million projected budget shortfall the school system is facing, the recent addition of gender identity to school nondiscrimination policy and changes to the Family Life Education curriculum.

“Reading, writing and arithmetic should always be at the core of what children learn,” Stacy said. He added he doesn’t think there is “social engineering” at the core of Family Life Education and “parents should have the option to opt out.”

Corbett Sanders responded that the Family Life Education curriculum is “very full and there’s an opportunity for parents to read it before it’s taught — if they’re not comfortable then they can opt out.” Sanders commented on her Catholic faith, saying that it doesn’t compel her to “dictate to others.”

For both alleviating the financial crisis with Fairfax County Public Schools and improving transit along the Route 1 corridor, all four candidates agreed on the need to bring more businesses to the area, develop private partnerships with the schools and seek more money from the state of Virginia.

After the question-and-answer session was over, residents had a chance to meet with candidates one on one.

“I thought they did very well,” said John Tolleris of Mount Vernon. “I was impressed with all the candidates.”

Allyson Carter is president of the Walt Whitman Middle School parent teacher association and recently moved to the Mount Vernon area. “I enjoyed the opportunity to hear them speak, it was very beneficial,” she said. “My impressions were they were very well prepared, with a lot of knowledge and experience.”