By Frank Blechman
Fairfax County may have a vibrant economy, historic sites, cultural & ethnic diversity, yet it still manages to be boring. It appears that we like it that way.
So little noteworthy happens here that the Washington Post closed its Fairfax bureau two years ago. With 1.2 million people, we have only a handful of murders every year, compared with hundreds in DC. We have angry demonstrations involving dozens, sometimes hundreds of people, but rarely thousands. Transportation is still a mess a lot of the time. Access to health care is hit or miss. Our public schools are not nearly as luminous as we like to claim. We have routine amounts of coronavirus, mental issues, domestic violence, and child abuse. We have one-half the number of police and one-half the level of crime vis-a-vis our population as the national average. Fairfax’s Tysons Corner, however, is the county’s central business district and a regional commercial center.
In the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, developers built the Fairfax County landscape we know today. They turned the #1 dairy producing county in Virginia into intentionally quiet cul -de-sac neighborhoods for people (mostly white flight in those days) who wanted to get away from the problems of the world. True, headquarters of the CIA was located here, but in those days it was a secret. The exit from the George Washington Parkway was unmarked. If you worked there, you couldn’t tell ANYbody. Even today, there are facilities in Fairfax (such as the National Counter-Terrorism Command Center in Vienna) that are unmarked and largely unrecognized. What sits under the hill at Tysons Corner? Nobody will say. Quiet was the word.
Reston (Robert E. Simon’s town), the planned community athwart the Dulles airport access and toll roads, was an exception. It got national attention for efforts to intermix development: residential and commercial areas, single-unit owner-occupied housing and high rise low-income rental apartments, development and open space. Once visionary Simon lost financial control of the project, however, the corporate owners and the Association that governs Reston as if it were a separate city, quickly fell back into the “get along” mode.
There have been a few other ripples in the serene surface. Scandals involving members of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors in the 1980s led briefly to an anti-development wave, which elected firebrand Audrey Moore as chair of the county Board of Supervisors. That wave lasted only one term, after which life went back to normal.
By 2017, that excitement [of being a political ‘swing’ county] was over. Fairfax has become so reliably ‘blue’ that today, every member of the General Assembly and Congress representing Fairfax County is a Democrat. Every member of the School Board and all but one member of the Board of Supervisors belong to that same political party.
Again, for a brief time in the 2010s, Fairfax County garnered political attention as a big “swing” county in a potentially changing state. By 2017, that excitement was over. Fairfax has become so reliably ‘blue’ that today, every member of the General Assembly and Congress representing Fairfax County is a Democrat. Every member of the School Board and all but one member of the Board of Supervisors belong to that same political party. The one dissent on the Board of Supervisors (Pat Herrity) valiantly objects to almost everything, but that too is routine, garnering no special notice, and rarely a second to his pleas. (His father, Jack Herrity, was chair of the Board from 1976 until being ousted by Moore in 1988.) No national media will converge on Fairfax this presidential election. No one will send special researchers digging for scandals here. Armed militias here attempting to intimidate voters will get laughed at.
It is very boring. We like boring.