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Claims community responses are statistically insignificant

 

Last week the Confederate Names Task Force (CNTF) voted to rename two highways in Fairfax County. 

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) established CNTF back in July to review the names of Lee Highway (U.S. Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (U.S. Route 50), and to make recommendations to the Board on whether to change the names of one or both roadways.

After months of meetings and public input, the task force voted 20-6 in favor of changing the name of Lee Highway and 19-6 on a name change for Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway. At-large member Tim Thompson abstained on the vote to change Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway. 

“I’m pleased to see the task force’s recommendation, and believe it is aligned with the community support I’ve heard for removing Confederate names from our public spaces,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay. “Obviously, however, there are still many steps that must be taken before any final decision is made.”

Task Force Member Ed Wenzel said he thought the issue should have been on the ballot in November. He speculated that it would have been defeated by “common sense voters”. “No 26 people on any task force should recommend changes to primary highway names while the county’s 1.2 million voters have no say whatsoever,” said Wenzel, of the Springfield District. He voted against renaming the roads. 

McKay said that a referendum on this subject would have required authority from the General Assembly. “It’s important to note that this was an open and public process in which all residents were invited to express feedback,” he said. “Ultimately, the state, through the Commonwealth Transportation Board or the General Assembly may make the final decision.”

Although the task force conducted multiple listening sessions, distributed surveys and mailed out postcards, those responses were deemed “not statistically significant.” According to Chairwoman Evelyn Spain, the survey was only meant to obtain a ‘pulse’ of what people were thinking about the potential to rename the highways.

“Out of the county of more than a million people, only an estimated 23,000 or 1 percent responded,” said Spain. “While this response was great, it did not represent the entire county because there was no sampling associated with this survey. A survey that was designed to provide statistically significant political polling data would have had purposeful sampling of a small portion of the population based on demographics that would allow extrapolation.” She explained that they did not use that tool, but rather a Survey Monkey link which was accessible to anyone who could access the internet.

The survey could have been expanded to an official survey poll if the chairwoman had given the CNTF more time, according to Jenee Lindner, a member representing the Springfield District. “The chair refused to do it because it would take too much time,” she explained. “She would not extend the CNTF ending by a few weeks and refused to ask the BOS for an extension.” Another member of the CNTF who asked not to be named said this was the largest county poll on record.

Thompson said he decided to abstain on the vote to change the name of Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway because he did not like the suggestion of using proper names for what Lee Highway would be renamed.

“I didn’t want to get in on the proper names. I wanted something welcoming, not a personal name and that criteria was the exactly the reason we’re looking at changing the names in the first place,” said Thompson, an at-large member representing Mount Vernon and the northwestern part of the county. Someone wanted to name the roads after the two Union generals who died at Ox Hill. Other suggestions were to name the roads after Native American tribes, he said. 

Thompson suggested naming the roads after the state bird or the state flower. He said the danger of renaming after people is we could end up in a similar situation 20 years down the road. Thompson also said he thought the task force only considered a narrow time in history. “They don’t look at what a person [Lee and Jackson] does from soup to nuts, they only considered the time period from 1861 to 1865.” One thing he’d been working on was to possibly have the roads have the same name from their starting point to termination, explaining both roads stretch from one end of the state to the other.

Edwin Henderson, a historian and former Fairfax County history teacher was a member of the CNTF and also served on the task force to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School. A member of the African-American community whose family’s history in the county dates back to before the Revolutionary War, he founded the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation in 1997 to preserve African-American and civil rights history in Northern Virginia. He voted to rename the both roads.

“Portions of land for both roads were taken [through eminent domain] from my direct ancestors (Henderson and Foote families),” explained Henderson. “But more importantly, I voted to change the names because of their [Lee and Jackson] relationship to those who fought to keep my ancestors enslaved. The Civil War was not about state’s rights, but rather about state’s rights to keep people in bondage and exploit them economically for their labor.” 

He went on to explain that the highways being renamed for the Confederate generals was associated with the 50th Anniversary of the war. “These highways were named to embolden the ideology of white supremacy and to protect white privilege during Jim Crow segregation and I feel it is time to put this ideology to rest,” he said.

Henderson shared that Route 50 was named Little River Turnpike before becoming Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway around 1918. Interestingly, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors just voted to change the name of Route 50 in Loudoun from John Mosby Highway back to Little River Turnpike.

Susana Marino, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was the lone Hispanic member on the task force. She had no idea who appointed her and didn’t recall receiving an invitation or being asked to reply with a decision to join. 

“All of a sudden, I began receiving a great deal of e-mails back and forth with my name included and I quickly became aware the committee was perhaps selected by political affiliation or by the assumption my political tendency would match the ideological mission of Chairman Jeff McKay to purge all visible evidence of Confederate history and heritage from Fairfax County using the so-called ‘One Fairfax’ misguided political policy,” said Marino.

Marino said she was one of the six who voted in opposition to the name changes. “During a survey done, public feedback was decisive. More than 58 percent of the public responses opposed renaming. We felt it was our duty to represent the public’s interest.” She also explained that she felt the estimated $1 to $4 million dollars required to rename the roads would be more effectively used pursuing a community engagement project like a museum, historical markers or an African-American Heritage Trail. 

Marino and others also felt that the task force did not have equal representation of all demographic groups. “Asians are 19 percent of Fairfax County population. There should be at least five individuals from the Asian community.” She also said that non-African American and other minorities were underrepresented on the task force and added that the online survey only received 200 responses from non-English speaking minority communities. “Within this sample size, the respondents were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the names,” she said.

A name change will impact approximately 504 private residences and 665 businesses along two segments (14 miles) of Lee Highway, and 50 private residences and 221 businesses along the 8.4 miles of Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway under consideration.

The task force dismissed an idea to survey business owners located in the Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway corridor, said Marino. “Marketing is expensive and changing addresses for a business owner may seem like an unimportant task, but in the busy life of an entrepreneur every minute counts.”

The task force process has been called a charade and a political show in various media accounts. Even some task force members and other government employees alluded to the fact that renaming the roads was already a foregone conclusion and this body just political top cover.

“There is no public outcry or support for changing the names,” said Blake Myers, a CNTF member. “It is a divisive issue that will drive people into separate camps.” He said in all the meetings there was no historically factual reason ever presented that supported the name changes. “The lack of knowledge of U.S. and Virginia history within the CNTF was frankly frightening,” he said. “Flaws in the CNTF process led me to conclude that the recommendations to change the names were preordained, and are a political action advocated by agenda-driven activists.”

Robert Floyd, a member representing the Braddock District, said he accepted the position with an open mind but was never “inflexible in his opinion.” He said there is a growing lack of trust between the citizens of Fairfax and the Board of Supervisors. “Many citizens expressed the opinion the CNTF was a ‘sham’ or ‘façade’ to provide political cover for the BOS to change the names anyway,” he said. “Citizens don’t believe this is the beginning or the end of this current wave of names being expunged from the county. I, too, have my reservations.”

The CNTF will now come up with and vote on a list of two to five names which will be presented in their final recommendation report to the BOS at the end of this month, according to Spain.

(1) comment

MolonLabe76

This is so important! I cannot live another day if the names of these roads aren't changed...Ohh the horror...

Welcome to woke central....

Land of the loons...

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