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Testy exchanges mark Dranesville District candidate forum

Democrat, Republican are seeking to succeed John Foust in seat
Jimmy Bierman and Puneet Ahluwalia are seeking to succeed John Foust as Dranesville District supervisor on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

While frequently exchanging unpleasantries at a forum hosted Sept. 27 by the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA), candidates seeking to become the next Dranesville District supervisor fielded questions on taxes, the environment, law enforcement, Metro funding and drag-queen shows.

Republican Puneet Ahluwalia and Democrat Jimmy Bierman, who are vying to succeed retiring Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), kicked off the event at the Great Falls Grange with opening statements on why they were running.

Ahluwalia lamented what he termed were “dysfunctionalities” plaguing Fairfax County, including high taxes and problems with its education system.

“I’m one of you,” said Ahluwalia, a business consultant who made a failed bid for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in 2021. “I’m here to be a supervisor for all of us.”

Bierman, who won the Democratic nomination by defeating David Fiske in the June primary, left his job as an attorney with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to pursue elected office.

“Government should be responsive to, and a reflection of, the people,” he said.

Moderator Richard Solano, GFCA’s vice president, kicked off the forum’s question-and-answer period by asking the candidates if they favored one-lane bridges on Walker and Springvale roads – as the association does – or the two-lane spans being sought by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Ahluwalia supported single-lane spans, saying Great Falls is a rural community. Bierman favored doing a safety study first and said his job was to “be a thorn in VDOT’s side.”

The candidates diverged widely on the subject of high property taxes. Bierman said those higher bills were the result of residents’ homes becoming more valuable. He favored expanding tax relief for seniors, increasing the threshold for tax deferments and diversifying county revenues to lessen the burden on homeowners.

Ahluwalia said Bierman would like to accomplish that last objective with a meals tax and said the Board of Supervisors should seek to make the county more prosperous, as commercial properties account for only 16 percent of real-estate-tax revenues.

“It’s become very hard for families to survive,” he said of the tax burden.

The candidates held divergent views on the county police department’s difficulties in recruiting and retaining officers. Ahluwalia said he strongly backed the county’s police officers and favored helping them with workforce housing and additional resources. He was not a fan of Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and said criminals were roaming freely while local police were “handcuffed.”

Bierman, who served on the Fairfax County Police Civilian Review Panel, said the police department currently has a large academy class with 59 cadets and has benefited from a recently 10.6-percent pay raise from the Board of Supervisors.

County Police Chief Kevin Davis “thinks we’re turning the corner,” said Bierman, adding, “I will make sure we have a strong, highly accountable, effective police force.”

Queried about the desirability of an independent county auditor, Ahluwalia favored hiring one.

“The wolf is guarding the chickens and the hens,” he said. “There is no accountability and transparency.”

While favoring fiscal accountability, Bierman said he did not “want to hamstring the Board of Supervisors and School Board when they’re trying to do their jobs.”

Asked if they favored using funds from the federal Inflation Reduction Act to finance environmental initiatives, Bierman said he supported putting solar panels on county buildings and incentivizing “green” development. Ahluwalia supported obtaining energy from a variety of sources, saying it is “hard to live on wind and sun.”

The office-seekers had different views on how to support local businesses and services. Ahluwalia said the county over-regulates its businesses, and people are starting to leave.

“We know how to create jobs,” he said. “We have a workforce problem. We have to have jobs for our kids.”

Bierman, who noted the Board of Supervisors does not set the minimum wage, said Fairfax County is a “great place to start a business.”

“We must make sure small businesses don’t get pushed out,” Bierman said.

Both candidates supported measures to save more mature trees in the community and favored increased regulation regarding data centers.

In response to a question regarding whether Metrorail’s budget should be cut because of low ridership, Ahluwalia favored more accountability for the transit system and ferreting out fraud and abuse. Bierman opposed cutting Metrorail’s budget, calling it “not a smart move,” and instead suggested leveraging development around Metro stations.

The candidates also diverged on whether or not county tax funds should be using to finance drag-queen performances. Ahluwalia suggested the county should use its funds “more wisely,” while Bierman would not commit to banning such expenditures.

The candidates’ sparring was much more heated than GFCA’s forum for General Assembly candidates, held minutes earlier at the same location. Apart from a few responses on hot-button issues such as abortion, those four candidates conducted a largely respectful exchange of views.

But at the Dranesville supervisor forum, Ahluwalia took shots at what he said was Bierman’s privileged upbringing and said the Democrat was closely aligned with the Board of Supervisors’ lopsided Democratic majority. Bierman questioned what county Ahluwalia was living in and pointedly asked for a question to be repeated after the Republican had done so numerous times in a row.

Election Day is Nov. 7, although early voting already has begun. All 10 Board of Supervisors seats will be up for grabs this year, and the new board members will begin their four-year terms in January.

The current board is comprised of nine Democrats and a lone Republican, Springfield District’s Pat Herrity.