Exurbanites Occupy an Unsettled Place in Va. Politics

Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, Oct. 25

Jamie and Stephan Lechner liked their house in Germantown well enough, but in recent years, they said, the neighborhood began to change in ways that made them feel less comfortable. There were some discipline problems in the school where Jamie taught. There was a shooting in a low-income area not too far from where they lived and other, smaller signs that made them think things were headed downward.

And so, with their twin boys near school age, the Lechners did what they figured anyone of means would: They packed up and moved to a place billed as a retreat from all that: Dominion Valley, a new, gated, golf course community of $700,000 homes on the rural edges of Northern Virginia, a place where the singular issue of traffic dominates and where the last memorable conflict was whether jeans would be allowed in the country club.

“We had conflict,” said Jamie Lechner, referring to her old Germantown neighborhood. “And we wanted to move away from that. . . That’s why we’re here—to be sheltered.”

As another election season beats on in Virginia, most political analysts agree that fast-growing exurban areas such as western Prince William County will remain a boon to the Republican Party. But the ultimate effect of new, private, often homogenous enclaves remains uncertain, because they have yet to define how their everyday interests play into state politics.

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In the last presidential election, George W. Bush won 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the United States largely by appealing to social values through such issues as same-sex marriage. In the governor’s race, Republican Jerry W. Kilgore is following a similar course with his death penalty ads, while both he and his Democratic opponent, Timothy M. Kaine, have made traffic a central theme.

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Craft and Perilla strained to name many issues that weighed on them heavily. “There’s the quality of schools,” said Perilla, without much enthusiasm.

“Yeah, but there aren’t really troubles in the schools,” said Craft, pointing out that they are too new. “Traffic and golf scores, those are the two big topics.”

“There was the timing of the gate,” Perilla said, “community issues like that. But if it doesn’t affect you personally, you don’t have to think about it, unfortunately.”

“You don’t have to leave here,” said her neighbor, laughing. “That’s the key. You don’t have to leave—it’s almost scary.”

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The Lechners were of a similar mind. They liked the diversity of their Germantown neighborhood, they said, but they did not want to subject their children to what they perceived as racial conflicts and other problems they associated with nearby government-subsidized housing.

In moving, they traded an area that was about half-Democrat, half-Republican for one that is mostly Republican, as they are. They left an area that was about 59 percent white for one where at least 83 percent of their neighbors look like them. And they left an area where residents are dealing with issues of cultural and economic diversity for one where such problems, for now at least, are abstractions.

“At a certain point, you want your kids to grow up in Mayberry,” Jamie Lechner said. “And this is as close to Mayberry as we can get.”

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