Elected leaders from the five biggest jurisdictions in Northern Virginia gathered for the sixth annual regional summit Tuesday morning to look back on a tumultuous year.
Loudoun County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) along with Arlington County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler, and City of Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson met Aug. 24 for the regional summit at George Mason University’s Van Metre Hall in Arlington. While the topics raised by moderator Drew Wilder of NBC Washington are at this point well-trod, it was a rare chance to see all of those elected officials in the same room sharing their views.
That included their views on getting everyone vaccinated against COVID-19, an effort where both the state and the region are ahead of the nationwide average, but where even successful jurisdictions see large chunks of their population unwilling or unable to get vaccinated.
“This may sound a little harsh, and I know how this even will read in print, but I am tired of begging people to save their own lives, to be quite honest,” Randall said. “At this point, the information’s out there if you want it.”
She pointed out that vaccines are widely available at pharmacies and doctors’ offices. Randall said she would focus her efforts instead on school children and older people, particularly as their turn for an 8-month booster shot comes around.
“You can spend a lot of time trying to convince on person who’s never going to be convinced anyway, or you can spend your time getting hundreds of people vaccinated and getting society back up, getting schools back open, getting back in sports arenas, getting our businesses, especially our hospitality industry, moving and going again,” Randall said.
Wilder also asked how the region can keep young people local “so they’re going straight into regional businesses and staying here and helping our CEOs, helping our board members generate money here.”
In addition to vocational training, saying “we have forgotten the importance and the dignity of vocational jobs,” Randall focused her discussion on attainable housing. Others said they also hope to give the region more of a “cool factor,” in Wilson’s words, to make it more attractive and fun for younger people.
Randall and other leaders also agreed that they are no longer listening to opposition to attainable housing from communities where it is planned.
“When I hear people say, ‘I don’t want those people,’ I’m thinking, who are those people? The people that serve you. Nurses are the ones who need this housing, and so can we, quite frankly, get a grip?” Randall said. “I have no more time for the nimbyism and not-my-backyard discussion when it comes to attainable housing. I literally just shut it down.”
It was also the public’s rare chance to hear some of what happens in the group text those leaders said they have.
“I would not have been able to get through this time without the people on this stage with me,” Randall said. “Our text stream is legendary and fantastic.”
She spoke of getting routine death threats during the early days of the pandemic restrictions, and the comfort that came from speaking with other people in similar jobs to hers.
The event was hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and co-hosted by the Chambers of Commerce of Loudoun, Arlington, Alexandria and Prince William, and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.