Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman candidate Jeff McKay has held steady through all the pressure and challenges of a primary race unprecedented in recent county history, counting on his experience to prevail with voters over the promises of change offered by his opponents.
McKay, who currently represents Lee District on the board, was the first person to declare his interest in succeeding Sharon Bulova after the sitting board chair announced in December that she would not seek reelection.
Since McKay announced his candidacy on Dec. 6, three other Democrats and a Republican have entered the race for Fairfax County’s most prominent political position, which will be contested in a primary on June 11 for the first time in 40 years.
However, the Lee District supervisor remains at least the perceived frontrunner, garnering endorsements from seven of his fellow board members, state officials including former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and The Washington Post.
Braddock District Supervisor John Cook and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, both Republicans, are the only county supervisors who have not backed McKay.
“The success that I've had for the last 11 years as a supervisor…certainly convinced me that I have what it takes to lead this county,” McKay said when asked why he decided to run for board chairman. “So, really, the number one driver was having the right experience and having a record of success on the board for over a decade.”
First elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2007, McKay has represented Lee District for three terms and currently chairs the board’s budget and legislative committees.
He is particularly proud of the work that he has done as the budget committee chair after the board managed to fully fund the Fairfax County School Board’s request for two consecutive years, something he says the county had not done in more than 20 years.
That accomplishment stems partly from efforts by both the county and the school board to build a more collaborative relationship after the two governing bodies clashed over funding allocations in the years following the 2008 recession.
“We've made huge improvements in our budget process over the last couple of years, and candidly, that's the most important thing we do,” McKay said.
If elected to be chairman, McKay says his top priority would be to cultivate camaraderie among the new supervisors, since at least four seats on the board will be filled by completely new faces.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Catherine Hudgins, Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, and Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth have joined Bulova within the past year in choosing to step down at the end of the year instead of seeking reelection or running for another office.
McKay is required to relinquish his seat as Lee District supervisor in order to run for board chair.
Establishing cooperative relationships with new board members early on will be crucial, because they will have to tackle the county budget and adopt a new countywide strategic plan shortly after taking office, McKay says.
The culmination of a process that has been underway since November 2018, the countywide strategic plan will define Fairfax County’s priorities for the foreseeable future and set goals and implementation strategies for how to address those stated priorities.
Though he believes the county needs to build off of what it has already done, rather than seeking drastic change, McKay says the strategic planning process could provide a forum for the board members, both incumbents and newcomers, to share their ideas about where the county should go.
“I think the reason why the county has such a good reputation is because we never stop making improvements,” McKay said. “We never stop evolving, and I look at this next board and new, fresh faces as a golden opportunity for us to continue to refine and improve the way the county does business.”
McKay’s campaign has not been without hurdles.
An anonymous memo alleging that the supervisor had violated Virginia bribery and conflict-of-interest statutes began circulating online in March.
Posted on the community forum Fairfax Underground on Mar. 26 by a user with the screen name Truth Fairfax, the memo accused McKay of joining the board’s approval of a rezoning application for the Kingstowne Town Center in Alexandria in June 2016 without disclosing that he had a business affiliation with a developer involved with the project.
The memo alleged that, after the rezoning application was approved by the Board of Supervisors, the developer sold McKay and his wife a newly constructed house for significantly less than its assessed tax value in November 2017.
An updated version of the memo and accompanying documents that supposedly supported its allegations were sent to all county supervisors and Fairfax County’s attorney on Apr. 23. This time, the memo was put on paper showing it was written by the national law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.
The American University radio station WAMU published a report on the memo’s allegations on May 14, noting that McKay denied any wrongdoing and hired an attorney to support his case that his housing purchase was for a fair price and had no connection to the board’s zoning decision.
McKay released his lawyer’s responding report to The Washington Post that same day.
Dated May 9, the report from Reed Smith senior counsel Grayson Hanes states that the criminal allegations are “completely baseless” and that there was no criminal conduct to investigate, attributing the memo to “a political operative” that had hired the law firm to provide a legal opinion “not based on credible facts.”
However, rival Board of Supervisors chair candidate Tim Chapman filed an ethics complaint against McKay with the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney on May 21.
A developer who co-founded the construction contractor BrunoClay Management, Chapman argued that there was sufficient evidence to suggest a violation of Virginia’s State and Local Government Conflicts of Interest Act, which prohibits public officials from accepting gifts or favors that might influence their performance of duties or threaten their impartiality.
“There is sufficient evidence that Supervisor McKay received a sweetheart deal on his home, from a developer who routinely has dealings before the Fairfax County board,” Chapman said. “This favorable deal was not disclosed in any of McKay’s required disclosure statements, and is a breach of trust his constituents have placed in him.”
Chapman told WTOP on May 20 that his campaign had hired a law firm to compile the memo on McKay as part of its public records research.
McKay maintains that the allegations of criminal conduct against him are “one hundred percent untrue,” dismissing the whole controversy as an attempt to smear his reputation by a political opponent.
“I think it’s a bullying tactic and unfair, but he decided to do that,” McKay said. “We’ve responded to it, and we’re going to win this race and prove that negative campaigning doesn’t work.”
Chapman’s campaign says it received guidance from the Virginia Office of the Attorney General to contact the Virginia State Police about its complaint, which the campaign did.
“At their request we will have no further comment,” a spokesperson for Chapman’s campaign said in a statement.
The race for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair also includes School Board at-large member Ryan McElveen, Georgetown University law professor Alicia Plerhoples, and former Department of Defense technology intelligence analyst Joseph Galdo.
Polls will be open for a Democratic Party primary on June 11, while the Republican Party opted to select its candidates by other means.
The Fairfax GOP officially picked Galdo as its nominee for board chairman in a 51-to-1 vote following a question-and-answer session on May 23.