VOICE hosted a spirited community forum featuring Democratic Party contenders for Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on May 19.

by Lori Ostrow for The Fort Hunt Herald

May 20, 2019

In a spirited community forum on Sunday, May 19, 2019, Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) obtained commitments from the Democratic Party contenders for Chairman of the Board of Supervisors on a range of important local issues, to include millions more dollars in County funding for affordable housing projects, and an expansion of the legal defense fund for local immigrants who are in the country illegally.

“VOICE can be the difference in this election,” VOICE leaders told people at the packed-out Bethlehem Baptist Church of Gum Springs, which hosted the event.

“We can get more done together than we can apart, and we will apply pressure.”

Almost 700 people showed up to the “Fairfax Action” candidates forum. The non-partisan group hosted Democratic Party candidates in anticipation of the political party’s primary election on Tuesday, June 11.

Only one Republican Party candidate has thrown his hat into the ring, Joe Galdo.

Four Democrats are vying for the top elected position in Fairfax County, which is being vacated by outgoing Chair Sharon Bulova, also a Democratic Party member. The candidates are School Board member Ryan McElveen, Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, Georgetown Law professor Alicia Plerhoples, and developer Tim Chapman.

Before hearing from the candidates, each organization represented by VOICE pledged to turn out a certain number of votes during the Democratic Party primary. The total was 3,250 voters, which organizers said could be the difference between a candidate winning or losing.

At the top of VOICE’s list of concerns was the planned removal and redevelopment of more than 1,000 mobile homes along the Route 1 corridor, including the Audubon mobile home estate. These communities are some of the only sources of affordable housing for low-income residents in the Mount Vernon and Lee District areas.

VOICE obtained commitments from the Democrat candidates to raise affordable housing funds if elected, with a goal of adding $60 million in new money from the general fund over the next four years, and $120 million over the next 10 years.

The candidates also threw their support behind an expansion of the legal defense fund established as a trial in the fiscal year 2020 Fairfax County budget, to protect illegal immigrants from potential deportation and separation from their families.

This fund, which received $200,000 in the newly adopted budget, has attracted criticism from the Republican side and is drawing Fairfax County into the fiery national political debate over immigration policy and border security.

The candidates all backed a VOICE proposal to raise funding for the legal defense fund to $875,000 per year.

“Fairfax residents with access to legal representation are 10 times more likely to not be separated from their families,” according to VOICE’s platform.

Although the candidates backed an expansion of the fund, some of the candidates wanted to ensure funding was also available to some of the poorest residents of the community, not just immigrants who face deportation. That idea seemed to be welcomed by the audience.

Some candidates raised the prospect of discontinuing cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is responsible for removing illegal immigrants. Local faith organizations have been at odds with ICE for many years over its removal of local residents who have been staying in the U.S. illegally and faced deportation proceedings.

Other issues discussed were the neglect of the Gum Springs Community Center, which the candidates promised to address. McElveen even pledged, if elected, to mow the lawn himself if it wasn’t done by the Fairfax County government at least once each month.

VOICE raised the need for more support of youth struggling with mental illness, more pre-kindergarten slots, after-school programs and more action on the “One Fairfax” policy.

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