The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of February 3, 2015.
Gerry Hyland, the Epitome of Public ServiceAt Saturday’s town hall meeting, we learned that we are losing another 28-years of public policy wisdom, seniority and experience.
In 1987, Mount Vernon was a different place. In 1987, we had just emerged from a divisive high school merger battle driven by a decline in the number of students. Mount Vernon had seen a tsunami of homes built between 1955 and 1970 and about ten years after the construction stopped, the area found itself with thousands of aging empty nesters, fewer children and vacant schools.U.S. 1 was blighted by over a dozen old motels, a reputation for its hard knocks and crime, two strip clubs and curiosities like Northern Virginia’s last duck pin bowling alley and the Thieves’ Market. Lorton was known for its prison, from which inmates escaped periodically, a landfill and not much else.
In 1987 when I got my driver’s license, Mount Vernon elected a local PTA activist, former President of United Community Ministries, 30-year Air Force officer, farmer and lawyer to the Board of Supervisors on a campaign focused on nourishing schools and closing prisons, landfills, and incinerators and bringing our area a better quality of life. That was Gerry Hyland.
I was part of West Potomac High School’s inaugural freshman class and graduated in 1989. I mainly remember two things about graduation: Channel 4’s Jim Vance’s stirring commencement address and Supervisor Hyland (with hair) getting out of his chair to shake my hand as I walked across the dais. That stirring memory is the main reason I try to attend every high school graduation in my district and shake the hand of as many kids as I can. You only graduate from high school once and Gerry Hyland understands that that’s a big step in life. Today, West Potomac High School is a community institution.Over the last 28, most of the notorious “no-tell motels” are gone. Crime on U.S. 1 is down. Lorton Prison closed in 2001, Laurel Hill is springing up and South County has never looked back.Population and jobs on Fort Belvoir have probably tripled since Gerry took office. The Fairfax County Parkway now bisects the base and provides access to the west. Belvoir boasts a state-of-the-art, billion dollar hospital and has become the largest employer in the County.Gerry has addressed New Alexandria and Belleview’s flooding, secured a $30 million floodwall to save Huntington, mediated dozens of complaints about infill housing stimulated by the desirability of our community, endured dog park battles and relentlessly protected Mason Neck’s unique bucolic character.When rumors started building that Mount Vernon Hospital was in danger of closing, Gerry led the charge to save the facility. Today, INOVA has just completed the first of five planned expansions including a 30,000 square foot emergency room scheduled for construction in a few months. Having hospital service closer to Mount Vernon than Alexandria or Fairfax saves lives.
He has been the leading voice on the Board of Supervisors for funding education and he has had the courage to propose new revenue sources. Every year, he has pressed his colleagues to fund Fairfax County’s schools at a level deserving of our community.
Recognizing the need for affordable housing and building on his early charity work, Gerry has fought to fully fund a safety net and pick up where the state and federal governments fail to meet their responsibility.
Our schools are bursting at the seams the Mount Vernon’s population has matured, diversified and young families flock to our community. Population south of Fort Belvoir has quadrupled and it’s hard to find a house in the 22079 zip code for less than $500,000. South County High School is a focal point of community activity and sits astride a nationally recognized public golf course. West Potomac High School stands as one of Fairfax County’s oldest schools; Mount Vernon High School, as a community institution.
Gerry has skillfully steered Mount Vernon through a generational transition and helped us set the stage for bringing rail and the next 30 years of responsible growth and change in Mount Vernon.
Thank you, Gerry, for your 28-plus years of public service and best wishes on a well-deserved retirement.