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Stella Pekarsky is running for state senate in the 36th District (courtesy Stella Pekarsky for Senate)

Fairfax County School Board member Stella Pekarsky is running for Virginia’s State Senate in the redrawn 36th District, potentially challenging long-time senator George Barker.

The one-term Sully District representative announced her candidacy earlier today, saying she’s running to “stand up” to Governor Glenn Youngkin.

We are at a critical turning point as a Commonwealth where the lived experiences of our elected officials matter more than ever. The new 36th district deserves a Senator who has deep roots in the community with a long record of serving its residents and the bold energy it takes to stand up to Governor Youngkin’s extreme policies. As Chair of the School Board, I led the charge when we successfully sued Youngkin to protect our children against anti-science Executive overreach just days after he was sworn into office. I am focused on the future prosperity of the 36th district and its residents. It is critical that we protect abortion access, high quality public education, expanded voting rights, champion climate change solutions, and stand up for our progressive values. I look forward to talking with my neighbors in the weeks and months ahead as I seek to represent them in Richmond.

Pekarsky was first elected to the school board in 2019, defeating the Republican incumbent Tom Wilson. She served as the school board chair last year and is a former public school teacher.

She also runs a local air charter company based in Manassas with her husband. She is also a first-generation immigrant, according to a press release.

The announcement notes that during her time on the school board, Pekarsky prioritized “closing opportunity gaps, increasing teacher and staff pay, improving title IX training for students, and requiring research-based literacy instruction.”

Last month, Pekarsky told FFXnow that she would make a decision in January regarding whether she will run for reelection to the school board.

This announcement now takes her out of the running for the Sully District seat, which will be on the Nov. 7 ballot with the school board’s 11 other seats. No candidates have come forward for the position yet.

However, with Pekarsky seeking the Democratic nomination for state senate in the 36th District, that could put her up against a long-time incumbent in the primary.

Now in his fourth term, George Barker has represented the 39th Senate District since being first elected in 2007.

With redistricting, though, only about 6% of his former constituents are in the newly redrawn 36th District, where Barker resides and would potentially run for re-election. The district covers Chantilly, Clifton, Fair Oaks and Centreville right up to the Prince William County line.

Most of Barker’s former constituents are scattered across several other districts, including the 33rd District, the 34th District, the 35th District, and the 29th District, which is now mainly centered in Prince William County.

FFXnow has reached out to Barker about his intentions for the 2023 election several times but has yet to hear back as of publication, making Pekarsky the only confirmed candidate at the moment.

Photo via StellaPekarsky.com

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The Sully District Governmental Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County has opted not to move forward with a potential Sully District renaming.

Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith announced at yesterday’s board meeting that she believes “the best step forward at this time is to retain” the name of the magisterial district, which encompasses the southwestern corner of Fairfax County.

Based on input from virtual town halls, emails, and community conversations, she proposed instead finding new ways to educate residents and visitors about the area’s history, particularly at the plantation in Chantilly that gave the district its name and is now the Sully Historic Site.

“In working on a path forward, I am actively talking with the NAACP, the county’s equity officer and the Fairfax County Park Authority executive director about ways we can have a more honest conversation about the history of our country, county and the Sully District,” Smith said in her board matter.

Supported without further discussion by the full Board of Supervisors, the decision concludes a months-long effort to gather public feedback after the county’s 2021 Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) recommended name changes for Sully and the former Lee District earlier this year.

After completing its primary task of redrawing the county’s electoral district maps, the committee was charged in January with reviewing whether to rename any districts based on possible historical ties to the Confederacy, slavery or racism.

According to a report finalized in March, Sully District was named after the plantation built by Richard Bland Lee, the first person to represent Northern Virginia in Congress. It said four generations of humans had been enslaved and trafficked at the property, including over 100 people during Lee’s tenure as owner.

When Lee inherited the land from his father in 1787, he received 29 enslaved people, according to the park authority’s history of the site, which features Lee’s 225-year-old house as well as 120 acres of park, gardens, a smokehouse and other structures.

While the website acknowledges the presence of slavery, it refers to the property as Lee’s “country home.” Smith’s board matter suggested that the county be more active and creative in providing information and programming about that aspect of the site’s history.

Smith said people weighed in with a variety of perspectives on whether to rename Sully District, including at town halls held on June 2 and Sept. 1, but the “most important thing I heard in these conversations was the need to heal our community.”

“The best way to do this is to work on ways to tell the true story of our sometimes complicated and misunderstood history and that of the Sully District specifically,” she said. “One way to do this is to educate the public about how land was developed, who benefitted and who was marginalized in the process.”

In addition to reevaluating what stories are told at the Sully Historic Site, the county could highlight historically Black neighborhoods affected by its westward expansion, similar to efforts to preserve Gum Springs in the Mount Vernon area. Read More

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The Sully District Supervisor’s office is seeking feedback on whether the district should be renamed (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The public engagement process regarding a possible name change for the Sully District is kicking off next month.

A virtual meeting to discuss changing renaming the district is set for tomorrow (Thursday) at 7 p.m. A brief presentation by county staff will be followed by an online forum. Interested participants can email sully@fairfaxcounty.gov to receive a meeting link.

The discussion follows a March recommendation by the Fairfax County Redistricting Advisory Committee for a name change. The committee recommended renaming the Lee and Sully districts because of the names’ historic ties to the Confederacy and slavery.

In late June, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to change the name of the Lee magisterial district to Franconia.

A spokesperson for Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said she has not reached a decision on whether a name change is warranted.

“Her goal is to make a decision after the meeting but doesn’t have a specific date to make a decision,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement to FFXnow.

Residents are also encouraged to share their comments and feedback by emailing sully@fairfaxcounty.gov or calling 703-814-7100.

A decision is not expected at the forum, according to event organizers.

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A grand opening for the new Sully Community Center is set for Sept. 17 at noon, celebrating the conclusion of a nearly $22 million project by Fairfax County. 

County board members and county officials will celebrate the opening of the nearly 36,000-square-foot center, which is located on five acres at the intersection of Wall Road and the Air and Space Museum Parkway in Chantilly. 

The facility is the new home for the Sully Senior Center, which formerly operated in leased space in Chantilly. It also includes a 4,000-square-foot healthcare suite managed by HealthWorks for Northern Virginia. 

“I am pleased the new Sully Community Center will be opening to provide a wide array of accessible programs and services for the surrounding communities,” Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said in a statement to FFXnow. “The exciting addition of the healthcare suite will provide closer accessibility to primary healthcare for those who have faced barriers in healthcare access.”

Programs include after school classes, facility rentals, fitness classes, gym sports, and meeting spaces. The Fairfax County Park Authority is also offering specialty camps, garden plots, school-aged child care, youth camps and recreation services.

Smith noted that the county’s partnership with the park authority also resulted in additional gym space and pickleball courts. 

The center cost roughly $22 million to construct. Overall costs are pending because the project is still being finalized, a county spokesperson told FFXnow.

Construction on the project began in October 2020.

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