Retired from the CIA, Lisa Downing is now challenging for the county’s top elected position

Lisa Downing (photo courtesy of Lisa Downing’s campaign)

Retired CIA staffer Lisa Downing is challenging Jeff McKay for Fairfax County’s top governmental seat.

Last week, Dunn Loring resident Downing announced her candidacy to chair the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Running as a Democrat, she will face off in the June primary against current Chairman Jeff McKay, who was elected in 2019 after representing Franconia District (then called Lee District) on the board for over a decade.

A three-decade county resident, Downing worked for the Central Intelligence Agency prior to retiring in 2019. She was also the first woman of color to attend and graduate from New York Maritime College, where she studied the business of shipping and how to operate tankers.

She told FFXnow her bid for the county’s top seat is to provide residents another option.

“When I found out that there was only one person — the incumbent — running on the Democratic ticket for the primary, I thought that the residents of Fairfax weren’t being given a choice,” Downing said. “And, in America, we all need choices, even within the same party.”

The top issue she’s campaigning on is increasing funding for Fairfax County Public Schools, specifically teacher pay. Downing noted that pay for FCPS teachers and staff has fallen behind other neighboring jurisdictions like Arlington and Loudoun.

“We’re losing teachers. We’re not competitive. We haven’t put in the resources that our students and teachers need to thrive. So, schools are the number one concern for me,” she said. “If we don’t provide our residents with good schools, they will find other places to give their children education.”

Increasing the county’s housing inventory to boost affordable housing “for working class people” is another priority for Downing. She said it’s disheartening that so many people who serve the county — from firefighters to teachers to small business owners — can’t afford to live here.

“When you have townhomes and condos reasonably priced and a lot of them, it takes the pressure off the housing market. People are then able to afford the moderate priced homes,” she said. “We have concentrated so much on sweetheart deals for developers that only the big houses get built. That’s where the money is for the developers, but that’s not where the money is for Fairfax County.”

Downing confirmed she’s referring to a change in approach similar to the “Missing Middle” policies passed in Arlington last month, allowing multifamily structures to be built on single-family home lots.

To pay for these priorities, Downing says the tax base needs to increase. That doesn’t necessary mean raising taxes so much as increasing the number of residents who are paying taxes.

“We have a lot of taxes. Fairfax gets money through its taxes. The more people who live in the county, the larger our tax base,” she said.

Downing sharply criticized McKay and other county supervisors for increasing the board’s salaries, starting in January 2024. The supervisors who voted for the raises argued they were in line with how other county employees are compensated and will allow others to serve regardless of personal financial circumstances. During the public hearing, though, many residents spoke out against the increase.

“He and the Board of Supervisors voted to give themselves a huge raise, even after the teachers had not gotten a raise,” Downing told FFXnow. “And after an open session where people said, ‘No, no, no, you don’t deserve that raise,’ they still said, ‘Oh, yes, we do.’ That showed contempt for their constituency.”

The county’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes a 2% market rate adjustment for all county employees, lower than the 5.44% that staff recommended. FCPS is seeking a 3% adjustment for its employees, along with other salary changes.

If Downing wins the June primary and gets elected in November, she would be eligible for the approved salary increase for the Board of Supervisors chair and would make $138,283 annually.

The candidate also referenced a WJLA story that accused McKay of using a county car for personal trips, including to attend political fundraisers.

“As a retired fed, I was appalled to hear this,” Downing said. “So, I’m wondering about the integrity of a person who puts even small items before the needs of the county.”

McKay said his use of the car adheres to county regulations, which prohibit personal use of county vehicles with an exception for errands that deviate less than a mile “from the normal route traveled” to or from work.

“I attend official events and meetings across the County on any given day throughout the year and always obey traffic laws and follow all applicable County regulations as to the use of County-owned vehicles,” McKay said. “I use a County-owned vehicle for County business. I have when needed used that vehicle for occasional and rare personal stops on the way to and from County functions as permitted for Class 2 take-home vehicle use per County regulations.”

Downing emphasized that, as a Democrat, she aligns with the “platform” of the current Board of Supervisors but disagrees on priorities.

“Where we differ is how we prioritize what’s important for Fairfax. I see that the residents of Fairfax must come first,” she said. “If we don’t emphasize schools and housing, people will walk with their feet. They will leave Fairfax.”

The Democratic primary is set for Tuesday, June 20 this year with the general election on Nov. 7.