Q&A with Mount Vernon District Supervisor candidate Maritza Zermeño
On the MoVe is continuing to publish Q&As with local candidates running for office. Early voting for the June 20 Democratic primary election is currently underway. One of the three locations for early voting is the Mount Vernon Governmental Center, where voters can cast ballots weekdays from 1 to 7 p.m. On June 10, 13 additional early voting sites will open up, including the Lorton Community Center and the Franconia Governmental Center. Weekend voting will be available on Saturday June 10 and June 17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On June 20, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Maritza Zermeño is a self-described Latina grassroots leader who is active in the local political scene. She’s an unofficial advisor to Congressman Don Beyer, a member of the Virginia Democratic Party Central Committee, founding chair of the Fairfax Latino Caucus and board member of the Virginia Democratic Small Business Caucus. She also is a past chair of the Mount Vernon District Democratic Committee. Born and raised in Mexico, Zermeño moved with her family in 2000 to California, became a U.S. citizen in 2008 and moved in 2010 to the Mount Vernon, Virginia area. She recently answered some questions about her campaign for On the MoVe.
Q. What prompted you to enter the race for Mount Vernon District Supervisor?
A. I entered the race very late after learning that promises made several years ago while I was Chair of the Mount Vernon Democrats had been broken. The most important is the deplorable situation at the Kennedy Homeless Shelter located in a 100-year-old pump house next to Fort Belvoir. The building can no longer be maintained due to its age and condition. There is often a smell that is so noxious you must cover your nose to tolerate a short visit. A replacement shelter was funded years ago, and a promise was given almost two years ago that construction would begin. There is only an overgrown lot where the new shelter will stand. We should all be ashamed at how our wealthy county treats the most vulnerable when they just need a clean place to lay their head for a night!
The Kennedy Shelter is emblematic of the Mount Vernon District: projects are moving too slowly, especially when compared to other county districts. We are being left behind.
Q. What will be some of your priorities, if elected?
A. Fairfax County decided to concentrate low-income housing along the Route 1 corridor in the 1960s. The county has never developed a plan to provide employment opportunities or specialized training for this population. I was told “there are plenty of hospitality jobs for these people.” No there are not, and they don’t pay a living wage! Our district has a low-use high school building in the center of this low-income area. Like the WISH Center in the Franconia District, it should be turned into a trade school teaching good-paying jobs like auto mechanic, electrical, welding, plumbing, programming and other high-demand skills that can lift families out of poverty and give low-income students an alternative to college or other advanced education. The economic impact would be huge!
The Route 1 bottleneck is a critical issue. Subway service is needed to Fort Belvoir, which now employs more people than the Pentagon. The problem has been made much worse by changes to the Comprehensive Plan where even the few “multi-use” developments are being altered for as much as 150 units per acre to accommodate dense apartment buildings, adding thousands of cars to the middle of this mess; one even increases density from two to 12 dwellings per acre in the oldest African-American community.
We need to address the opioid problem in our schools head on! Ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
Q. What aspects of residential life in Mount Vernon District need improvement?
A. It is now common to see areas where old growth trees have been ripped out to accommodate building two homes where only one was allowed before. This might be acceptable if it helped solve the affordable housing problem, but it does not. These are very high-end dwellings that reduce the tree canopy, increase rainwater runoff and degrade neighborhoods. Unfortunately, this again is emblematic of the district where developers are maximizing profit by gaining permits to maximize density without regard to consequence.
The district also has suffered greatly from a lack of entertainment options for years: why do residents have to travel to other districts for a special birthday dinner?
Q. What aspects of business/economic development in Mount Vernon District need to be improved?
A. In short, there has been very little business/economic development in the district, other than developers building high-density, high-end dwellings. The few mixed-use developments have slowly morphed into residential-only. This may come as a surprise for many residents who do not realize that businesses on the west side of Route 1 from Costco to Beacon Hill are in the Franconia District, a district that has been thriving. In the Mount Vernon District, we have an old, run-down Wal-Mart, a Safeway that’s been closed for years, a few low-cost motels and very few new businesses.
Mount Vernon needs revitalization with entertainment areas and mixed-use developments. We are being left behind the rest of the county, which is painfully obvious to anyone visiting Reston, Tysons or other districts.
Q. How did you feel about the recent decision to raise the salaries of BOS members?
A. I was very disappointed when the Mount Vernon District Supervisor voted to raise his salary from $95,000 to $123,283, but only provide a 2% raise for teachers and first responders. His 23% raise for a “part-time” job was not the problem; his vote for the measly raise for others was. In my opinion, it’s way past time to have a full-time Supervisor who doesn’t have to also devote time to owning and operating a medical company in Washington, D.C. Frankly, this may be the root of the problem for the district falling behind the rest of the county, and it most certainly contributes to the high level of complaints about constituent service.
Q. If elected, you would be the second Latina woman on the Fairfax County BOS. What does that mean to you?
A. Being the second Latina means that 20% of the Board would better reflect the diversity of Fairfax County. It would mean that women would have a larger voice in our local government — with the retirement of Karen Corbett Sanders from the School Board, the Mount Vernon District could possibly be left with no woman representative at all!
Q. Anything else you’d like to share?
A. The most difficult part of being a first-time candidate has been asking for help — I have always been the one offering help. So since you ask, I would like to invite your readers to contact our campaign if any of my answers ring true. A few dollars contributed or a few hours helping would really be appreciated.