Former Vienna Town Councilmember Edythe Frankel Kelleher kicked off her campaign for Providence District supervisor on Mar. 9 at the Brine in Merrifield’s Mosaic District.
A sign bearing her campaign logo propped up on an easel stand greeted visitors who made their way to the back of the restaurant, which supplied the event with a spread of its signature oysters and shrimp.
Less than 24 hours later, supporters of a different Providence District supervisor candidate convened on the other side of the Mosaic District in the Sea Pearl Restaurant and Lounge.
Providence District Planning Commissioner Philip Niedzielski-Eichner shook hands and chatted with attendees as they munched on sliders, scallops wrapped in bacon, and sticks of tandoori chicken. A cake with the words “Phil for Providence Supervisor” scrawled across its surface in ropes of blue frosting rested on a table to one side of the lounge.
Kelleher and Niedzielski-Eichner are just two of the candidates vying to succeed Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth, who announced on Dec. 4 that she will retire at the end of her current term after 16 years on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Providence District School Board representative Dalia Palchik kicked off her own campaign on Mar. 3 in Fairfax, and Providence District Council vice president Erika Milena Yalowitz publicly announced her candidacy back on July 15.
While Kelleher and Niedzielski-Eichner entered the supervisor race later, they have established track records in local government, and they both argued at their separate campaign kickoffs that their experience will distinguish them in what has become a crowded field.
“Providence is a central part of Fairfax County. It’s the economic engine of Fairfax County,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “It needs strong leadership…Providence needs someone who has depth and breadth of experience.”
A resident of Fairfax County since 1988, Niedzielski-Eichner was elected to the Fairfax County School Board as its Providence District representative twice before resigning in 2009 to accept an appointment to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Prior to his tenure on the school board, Niedzielski-Eichner served on the Fairfax County Park Authority Board. He has also represented Providence District to the county’s Environmental Quality Advisory Board.
He describes chairing the use-of-force subcommittee in the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission established by Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova in 2015 as one of the most important experiences in his public service career.
Niedzielski-Eichner’s tenure on the Fairfax County Planning Commission, which began in December 2017, saw him lead the charge on Capital One’s redevelopment of its corporate campus in Tysons.
With Providence District rapidly urbanizing in areas like Tysons and Merrifield, Niedzielski-Eichner says smartly managing that growth would be among his top priorities if elected to the Board of Supervisors.
“Providence in particular is a mix of neighborhoods and this intense urban environment that we’re creating,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “They both have to be promoted: quality neighborhoods as well as a live-work-and-play urban environment.”
Smyth has thrown her support behind Niedzielski-Eichner, who was elected to the school board in 2003 at the same time that she first became Providence District supervisor.
“We always worked as partners when he was on the school board and now that he’s on the planning commission,” Smyth said. “Phil’s a great guy, and he has the qualifications for this job.”
Kelleher, a 40-year resident of Fairfax County, has received her own vote of confidence from a county supervisor.
After working as an economist for a U.S. Department of Defense contractor and then a property manager for Legum & Norman, Kelleher entered local government in 1996 when she joined Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross’s office as a land-use aide.
As a member of Gross’s original staff, Kelleher became familiar with the workings of county government, particularly the budget and the planning and zoning process.
She occupied the position for more than six years, making her the longest-tenured land-use employee that Gross has ever had.
“[Providence District] is really where you need somebody strong in land use,” Gross said at her former employee’s campaign kickoff. “Edythe, she worked very well with the community. She was very detailed. She asked a lot of questions. She had a good relationship with county staff. What more can you ask?”
Kelleher left Gross’s office in 2002 after winning an open seat on the Vienna Town Council. She eventually accrued seven terms of service on the council before stepping down after 14 years in 2016.
Among the challenges that Kelleher faced as a councilmember was guiding the Town of Vienna through the Great Recession that sent the U.S. economy reeling in 2008.
Budget discussions were especially difficult in the recession’s wake as the Vienna Town Council spent one meeting debating whether to further raise taxes on top of an advertised rate that was already higher than the previous year in order to fund the town services and pay employees.
With the end of the fiscal year looming, the council had reached its deadline for adopting a budget, and the town manager informed Kelleher and her colleagues that staff would have to be laid off if they did not increases the tax rate.
Kelleher suggested an alternative: street maintenance would be deferred for a year so the money could be allocated to other areas of the budget.
The proposal worked, enabling the council to adopt a budget it found acceptable.
“We had a lot of difficult decisions to make. There was not always agreement, and I really worked very hard to find solutions,” Kelleher said. “…[I learned how] to prioritize what services are most important to the citizens and maintaining those and not deferring things too long that you can’t recover from it, those kinds of lessons.”
Now executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, Kelleher says that, if elected to the Board of Supervisors, she wants to address a range of issues, including education and development, but her top goal is to ensure that they are all considered through the county’s One Fairfax framework.
Adopted jointly by the Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County School Board, One Fairfax commits county government officials to considering racial and social equity issues when making decisions and implementing policies, services, and programs.
“Equity is not just a nice thing or right thing or human thing to do,” Kelleher, a former appointee to the Fairfax County Economic Advisory Commission, said. “It’s also a smart thing to do for our community.”