Gary Aiken is aware that he faces a somewhat uphill battle in his campaign to become Fairfax County’s next Mason District supervisor.
Conventional political wisdom holds that unseating an incumbent always presents a challenge, and when she concludes her sixth consecutive term this year, Supervisor Penny Gross will have represented Mason District for 24 years.
Gross, who was first elected to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 1995, is currently out-raising Aiken with $85,454 to the Republican’s $2,150, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Despite those obstacles, Aiken believes he can triumph by listening and responding to the concerns of constituents who are dissatisfied with the status quo and feel overlooked by Fairfax County’s march toward urbanization.
“One of the things that people kept pointing to was a lack of development that they felt was benefitting them,” Aiken said regarding what he has heard from residents. “…There’s development in Mosaic and Merrifield. There’s development in Tysons and Herndon and all the way out, but nothing seems to be going on here in Mason District.”
Stretching from Annandale to Bailey’s Crossroads, and West Falls Church to Lincolnia, Mason District has 510 housing units under development with almost 60 percent of its existing housing inventory built before 1970, according to Fairfax County’s 2018 annual demographic report.
Mason District is right in the middle of Fairfax County supervisor districts in terms of gross floor area for industrial and commercial uses, including retail, with roughly 25.6 million square feet total.
According to the Urban Institute, which published a racial equity profile for Fairfax County in 2017, 41 percent of the families in Mason District have an annual income below $75,000. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator estimates that a family with two children needs to earn $79,762 annually before taxes to support itself in Fairfax County.
If he is elected, Aiken says he wants to bring more development to Mason District, particularly emphasizing mixed-use and senior living communities while maintaining existing residential neighborhoods.
“I’m running to make sure we’re doing everything we can as a Board of Supervisors to promulgate additional development and speed it along so that people can get things they want that will make Mason a desirable place to live and grow,” Aiken said.
A 15-year resident of Fairfax County, Aiken lived in the Bailey’s Crossroads area and Falls Church before moving to his current home in Fairfax.
In addition to serving as treasurer for the Fairfax County Republican Committee, Aiken works as the chief risk officer for American Armed Forces Mutual Aid, a not-for-profit association that provides life insurance and survivor services to members of the U.S. military community.
Aiken argues that his familiarity with finances could prove useful when it comes to dealing with the county budget or addressing issues like pension reform.
He testified when the Board of Supervisors voted to amend the county’s employee retirement systems in December, rolling back an annuity increase and getting rid of pre-Social Security supplements for hires that come on board on or after July 1.
Aiken was glad to see the pre-Social Security benefit eliminated but thinks the board should have gone further in reforming the county’s retirement systems.
“When you’re making a decision to have a new insurance policy or make some promise to people 50 years in the future, you have to think about where that money is going to come from,” Aiken said. “…Are we making promises that we can actually deliver on?”
This is Aiken’s first attempt to run for elected office, but he cites his experiences advocating for students in high school and college as illustrations of what he would be like as a public servant.
According to his campaign website, Aiken served as president when attending Sherwood High School in Montgomery County and led a countywide campaign to stop a “controlled choice” effort by the school board that would have bussed nearby students to a new magnet school.
Aiken also got involved in student government while studying at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., in the late 1990s.
He says that, as chair of the residence halls committee, he lobbied administrators to install blue-light kiosks to illuminate dark areas and connect passersby to emergency services if needed. Blue light phones are now a relatively common site on university campuses.
“Any time I want to get involved in something, it’s because I want to be a catalyst for meaningful, positive change,” Aiken said. In Mason District, I see a lot of places where I can be a catalyst if the people will elect me.”
Reducing crime is another priority for Aiken, alongside increasing development.
He points to repeated acts of vandalism that have occurred in the past two years at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and the nearby Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale as evidence that not everyone feels safe is Mason District.
“We have the largest immigrant community and the most diverse community in Mason District out of all the districts in Fairfax County,” Aiken said. “If those vulnerable communities can’t feel safe in Mason District, then that’s a real problem.”