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Two distinct visions of Fairfax emerge in race for board chair

Incumbent Democrat McKay works to fend off challenge from Republican Purves

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) and his Republican challenger, Arthur Purves, politely exchanged views – with the occasional sharp elbow – during a televised Oct. 2 forum.

Purves, the 26-year president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, said he was “running to create a Fairfax County that is safe and affordable for all” and lamented that county real-estate taxes for decades have risen far more than household income.

“What have we gotten in return?” Purves asked. “We’ve gotten more crime; a 27-point drop in SAT scores; a massive resignation of police; lockdowns; vaccine mandates; school closures; high gas prices; expensive groceries; the lowest commercial percentage of the real-estate-tax-base in 39 years; a $350 million shortfall in WMATA’s next operating budget; cuts to park staff; the premature shutdown of reliable, affordable fossil-fuel plants; a mental-health and fentanyl crisis; a diminished citizens’ voice in zoning; and elections corrupted by ballot harvesting.”

Incumbent McKay said he’d had a completely different perception in his last three and a half years, when the pandemic tested the county’s government to the extreme.

“Because of the way the county responded when people needed us most, we saved lives,” McKay said. “We vaccinated more people than anyone else in the commonwealth of Virginia, we saved small businesses, we supported people who were being evicted from their homes and we provided critical health support for residents of our community.”

Supervisors also made progress on affordable housing, addressing climate change and mental health, supporting public safety, reducing firearm violence and fully funding schools, he said.

“When it comes down to the issues, it’s not an issue between Democrats and Republicans, it’s an issue of a different worldview – one in which we think about the future of the county or one in which we want to look backwards to a county that was many, many decades ago,” McKay said.

Sponsored by Inside Scoop TV, the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area and 11 other organizations, the forum aired live on Fairfax County Channel 10.

McKay, who was chief of staff for former Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) before being succeeding him in 2007, was elected board chairman in 2019. He is a lifelong Fairfax County resident.

Purves grew up in Washington, D.C., and moved with his late wife to Vienna in 1976. He worked as a computer programmer for four decades and has served as a Scoutmaster and as booster-club president for two high-school sports teams.

Purves is an indefatigable campaigner, albeit coming out on the losing end in each of his previous runs for office.

He lost to state Sen. Janet Howell (D) in 2019, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) in 2015, Del. Stephen Shannon (D) in 2007, Fairfax County School Board member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill District) in 1995 and 2003 and Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine Hanley (D) in 1999.

Moderator Deborah Alpha Woolen asked the candidates what they viewed as the county’s biggest challenge.

Purves said county schools for decades had used the “whole word” approach to reading instead of teaching phonics, which doomed many students to failure.

“A lot of damage has been done,” especially to economically disadvantaged students, said Purves, citing welfare, affordable-housing and public-safety issues.

McKay pegged pandemic recovery as the county’s biggest challenge, but said the county had responded well because of investments it made. The county now has more business establishments and people who are working than it did in 2019, he said.

Asked for their top legislative priorities, McKay favored an increase in state funding for public schools, more firearm-safety laws and measures to support a robust mental-health system. Purves said academic achievement varies considerably between Fairfax County high schools, owing to differences in reading ability and affluence.

Regarding the county’s Economic Mobility Pilot Program, Purves said county officials had not specified metrics to evaluate the initiative’s success.

McKay said the program is designed to counter generational poverty.

“We want to uplift all people,” he said. “We might have an opportunity here to change a family’s life. The point of this pilot is to look at the metrics, look at data coming in and see whether or not it is making a difference in our communities who need it most.”

He also weighed in on climate change.

“I think that we are in a race to address climate change in a way that our young people know is necessary to save the planet for future generations,” McKay said. “I’m proud to live in a county where people follow the science and they understand this and they turn out and support the very major initiatives that our board has put on the table, by a 9-1 vote, to support addressing climate change across the board.”

These include tree-canopy goals, a zero-waste program, environmental vision, a pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2040, a pilot electric-bus program with Fairfax Connector and county schools, and a plastic-bag tax, McKay said.

Purves agreed with the county’s tree-canopy objectives, but blamed the school curriculum for generational poverty. He also disputed temperature information presented at a recent climate program held by a county supervisor, saying it used data from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is a “heat island.”

The candidates differed widely on a question about voting.

Purves said corrupt – and much more expensive – elections have resulted from efforts to expand early and mail-in voting. He cited vast disparities in the percentage of in-person Election Day votes Glenn Youngkin (R) received in the county during the 2021 gubernatorial election, versus his much lower tally from mailed-in ballots.

“Yes, more people have a right to vote, but does their vote matter because it’s manipulated so much?” he asked. “Democracy depends on elections we can trust.”

McKay called Purves’ assessment “dangerous.”

“Fairfax County conducts free, fair and safe elections,” he said. “Election integrity matters in this county. Suggestions that it doesn’t, I think, are reckless . . . The truth is, there is a disparity that exists between who votes and we make elections really hard in this country, especially in Virginia.”

To view the debate, visit