This is my 53rdInside Out column for Leesburg Patch, which means that this column is now one year old. And what a year it has been!
The biggest story in local politics was the Republican near-sweep last November, when Republicans won all nine seats on the Board of Supervisors, all the constitutional offices, and all but two General Assembly races in Loudoun County.
In my very first column, I wrote about board chairman Scott York’s decision to run for re-election as a Republican, which I characterized as a curve-ball. It was the first of several strategic moves by York that set the stage for the GOP sweep and began shaping the dynamic that is still evolving among the all-Republican board.
I questioned York’s strategy during the course of the campaign, but he proved that he knew what he was doing, winning every election district and placing himself in a position to lead the board with the strongest hand possible.
Although York seemed to be moving to the political right at times during the campaign, he is governing pretty much as he always has—as a conservative motivated more by pragmatism than ideology, drawing on his 16 years of experience to guide the board.
That experience provides a measure of maturity that is needed on a board that is otherwise composed of seven newcomers and returnee Eugene Delgaudio.
As the new board took over, I drew some parallels with Loudoun County’s last all-Republican board, which served 20 years ago.
That board, composed mostly of pro-business, Chamber of Commerce-type Republicans, also took office during an economic downturn. But it allowed its focus on economic development to be distracted at times by divisive social issues which earned Loudoun some unwanted national notoriety.
History may be repeating itself in 2012. The board has signaled that it values economic development above almost everything else.
But Loudoun received unwanted attention when an organization headed by Delgaudio was tagged as a “hate group” by a civil rights organization. And the board has not yet resolved its policy regarding religious holiday displays on the courthouse lawn, which placed Loudoun in an unflattering light in national media again last year.
My association with Patch has given me the opportunity to observe the Leesburg Town Council more closely. After two decades in which I have closely observed county government, it has been a refreshing change of pace to watch the council in action.
As I pointed out in a recent column, the atmosphere in town council meetings is much more cordial than at the county level. Council members tend to treat colleagues, staff and visitors with more respect than I have seen in my years observing the county Board of Supervisors. I feel that Mayor Kristen Umstattd and Town Manager John Wells deserve much of the credit for that.
Last month, I listed the top ten projects that I had seen completed in Leesburg during the years I have lived here. Topping the list were the Loudoun Greenway, Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets and Loudoun County Government Center.
One project from the past year made my list—the completion of Battlefield Parkway from Evergreen Mill Road to Rt. 15, north of Leesburg. Another project that narrowly missed my top ten list was the opening of Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park.
There are at least two potential projects that are of critical importance in Leesburg and Loudoun County.
One is the proposed Courthouse Square development in downtown Leesburg. Depending on one’s point of view, it could either give a shot in the arm to downtown commerce, or it could spell the beginning of the end of the historic district in downtown Leesburg (in the words of Umstattd).
Some fear that the size and scale of the project, standing cheek by jowl with the county government center and its parking structure, would irrevocably alter the character of that part of the downtown.
I have also written several columns about the extension of Metrorail to Ashburn. Although it technically is not a Leesburg project, it is potentially the most significant project the county will see in half a century.
It would seem to be unthinkable that an all-Republican, pro-business board would scuttle the project, and that it would allow Loudoun County taxpayers to be left paying for a rail extension that stops in Fairfax County. But the injection of anti-union ideology into the decision-making process has now made that scenario somehow thinkable.
Rather than a vital rail link to the nation’s capital, we might instead be witnessing a slow-motion political train wreck.
As these and other issues play out, they should provide plenty of grist for another year’s worth of columns. Thanks for reading!