Tony “Coach” Barney is on a mission. His one-and-done game plan to defeat Eugene Delgaudio hinges on emphasizing fiduciary responsibility and promoting a different image – a “more positive direction” – for the Sterling community, building on his two decades’ history and ties here. (This is first in a series of candidate interviews at Firewall NOVA ahead of the 2015 elections)
During a recent conversation (click here to skip ahead to interview), Barney’s key themes were openness and return on investment. In a nutshell:
Sterling wants to grow and Loudoun wants to grow and the only way we can grow is to work together on real issues, and be open and listen to people, and be able to compromise and negotiate, and invest in the future, and always ask the question – what is our return if we do invest?
Barney first needs to secure the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Republican Delgaudio in the November, 2015 elections for the Sterling district seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors (BOS).
If he can win the nomination, then defeat Delgaudio, after serving a single four-year term on the BOS, Barney would pass the baton to a Democratic – or Republican – successor, having “cleared” the office.
In what is certain to be one of the most closely-watched campaigns in the coming year – and not just locally – Delgaudio once again will build on his own long history in the Sterling community while fending off slings and arrows from those who disagree both with his work as supervisor and his day job as an advocate on controversial political issues.
Democrats will try to follow up a “recall” movement aimed at forcing Delgaudio from office mid-term, led by his failed previous Democrat opponents, which fizzled when dismissed by a judge. (As Barney notes in the conversation below, his personal opinion is: The way to remove Delgaudio from office is through the ballot box).
Barney’s task will not be easy. Delgaudio first won election to the Sterling supervisor seat in 1998 – making him one of the longest-serving supervisors in county history – and has beaten back fierce challenges in each subsequent contest.
In the Democrat wave election of 2007, following a Republican primary challenge and under vigorous attack by Democrats and other interest groups, Delgaudio was one of only two Republicans on the board to prevail in the general election, defeating longtime Sterling resident Jeanne West by a little more than 200 votes.
Then in 2011, Delgaudio increased his margin of victory and beat the combined vote total of two challengers: a spirited Independent and the Democrat Al Nevarez. The Democrats made an unforced error in putting up the weak candidate: a recent transplant to Sterling, “Occupy” cheerleader, Daily Kos contributor, and self-professed union activist who claimed the U.S. middle class is actually funded by the federal government.
For more background on Delgaudio, click here for a round up of stories at Firewall NOVA, and click here for an in-depth interview from the 2011 campaign.
Firewall NOVA met with Barney on election day, November 4, while Barney and his better half – Marlene – were working at the Rolling Ridge precinct. Your humble correspondent was handing out sample ballots on behalf of the Republican Party, and the Barneys for the Democrats.
Having worked across from Tony Barney at this same precinct for years, your correspondent can report that, for a Democrat, Barney is a congenial fellow – easy going and plain spoken in demeanor, who seems moderate on the ideological scale. Through the long election days Barney can be generous in sharing suggestions and observations about conservative policies and Republican Party tactics, all of which, your correspondent can assure you, are received politely and with fathomless gratitude.
In your opinion, what is the number one issue for the 2015 election?
The economy – the economy equals business, jobs, money – it is always the number one issue.
How do we improve Sterling to make it more appealing for businesses? How do we make it a more appealing community for people who might want to move here? All of those things add up to new dollars.
And you believe the best way to improve the economy here is to attract businesses?
Attract businesses, and – what is the biggest feature in Loudoun County that attracts businesses? Our school system. Businesses want an educated work force. We need to fund the educational system and make sure teachers and students have the resources they need. To me, you build from the educational system up.
Are you saying we need to spend more on education?
We need to invest more in education. County supervisors need to change their mindset from thinking about education less as an expense and more as an investment. Education is an investment in our children, our community, and our future.
As a political issue, is that one where you would draw a distinction between yourself and Eugene Delgaudio?
Yes, definitely. I’m not going to just say “no” to everything, and I think that’s the problem we’ve had in the past: We’ve got a supervisor who’s said “no” to practically everything.
You’ve got to have someone who’s willing to sit down, listen, and negotiate – at least be open to ideas.
Whatever it is, you’ve got to think about one thing: “What’s the return on investment back to our community? If we’re going to do this, what is it going to cost and what is the payback to our community if we invest in it?”
If we’re not going to get anything out of it down the road, maybe that’s something we don’t really need.
Just saying “no” to everything shuts down creativity; it shuts down ideas. What you want is for people in the community to come forward with their ideas, and at least let’s talk about it.
So do you think Eugene has made people unwilling to be involved in the community, that there have been negative effects for Sterling?
If you disagree with Eugene, he really doesn’t want to listen to you, or take your ideas seriously. He only seems to take seriously particular people – people that agree with him. That shuts out many people, and has a negative effect on the community. And to me, if we’re talking about dollars and cents and new money coming into the community, if we’re talking about things we could or should be doing better or more efficiently – let’s be open.
We want to make it a business-friendly atmosphere. So what do we need to do to make that happen?
Well, in addition to good, well-funded schools, the infrastructure has to be sound, including accessible, efficient public transportation; we have to have widely available internet – fiber optics; we have to ensure safe, secure communities with well-equipped police, fire, and rescue units. Those things have to be planned and put in place. Those are things that attract business.
If we’re going to invest in something with taxpayers’ money, I want to know what we’re getting back for it – what’s the immediate return on that for us, and what’s the return down the road? What are we getting out of it?
Those are the things I think should be asking instead of just saying “no,” because if you say “no,” there’s no discussion. How can we talk?
If you stand around with a bright orange hat on, saying or doing things just to call attention to yourself, things that result in embarrassing the community and the people you represent, like calling Sterling a “cesspool” on national television, time and time again for whatever reasons – and I feel it’s to raise money for his personal causes – how does that help Sterling? How does that help Loudoun? How does that attract people to want to come here? How does it attract businesses to want to do business here?
Moving on with the topic of Supervisor Delgaudio: He has spent the last two years with the public relations problem …
… based on employment issues in his office and whatever were the motivations behind the recall movement. Going forward through this time next year, are those issues that you’re going to be bringing up or is that yesterday’s news?
No. The Board of Supervisors extended the ethics rules to cover part-time employees. I think Eugene will do fine reminding us of those issues himself. I mean he’s his own worst enemy. He can’t help himself. He’s always going to bring up issues of isolation and, what seems to me, fear tactics. That’s just what he does; that’s how he makes his living. I have always said that I believe in due process; the way to remove Eugene is to vote him out of office.
What I’m going to ask about everything is: “How does that help Sterling and Loudoun County improve?” What sort of light does that shine on the community? Does that make it feel more business friendly? Does that make it feel like more families will want to move here and have their kids go to school here? I think people are more informed these days. They want someone who’s really going to work with the community, and for the community – who puts the community first, who’s not going to just sit there and say “no” all the time, or act or not act based on a personal agenda.
You have lived for two decades in Sterling?
Yes, since 1994.
A lot of people still probably don’t know you and are going to be hearing about you for the first time in this campaign …
I think many people do know me in Sterling and in Loudoun County. I was appointed to the Loudoun County Cable TV and OVS Advisory Commission, not by Delgaudio I might add, but by two former Supervisors. I served for 12 years on that Commission – six years as its Chairman. During my tenure as Chairman, I spearheaded a successful effort to get the Board of Supervisors and School Board meetings televised. I also helped lead negotiations for franchise agreements between the County and cable providers, and got cable access installed in county facilities – all the schools and government buildings, fire and sheriff’s stations. I have been on the Sterling Foundation Board of Directors since 2005, and on the SterlingFest Committee since 2005, and web master for the Sterling Foundation/SterlingFest web site since 2007. I’ve been the Treasurer and the President of my COA. I was the Sterling District Chair of the Loudoun County Democratic committee for a long time, and am presently the Rolling Ridge Precinct co-captain.
…and you’ve been a coach …
I’ve been a coach since I was in my twenties, and before that, I played football, basketball, and baseball, including a couple years in the minors.
At Park View High School – you coached offensive line?
A little of everything: mostly offensive and defensive line but I’ve also coached other positions. Mostly working with freshmen.
And other volunteer involvement is …
The Lower Loudoun Boys’ Football League – three years there. I helped coach the Rams – they placed second in the A League in 2012, and the Steelers for the past two years. The Steelers are playing for the A League Championship this Saturday. I was a member of the 10th Congressional District Democratic Committee for 12 years, and for over 20 years, I’ve been involved with Fairfax Public Access, which is a television and radio station for Northern Virginia. I was Executive Vice President there for four years.
You’ve been involved in politics for a long time as a volunteer on the committee, and this is the first time you’ve thrown your hat in the ring?
Was there anything in particular going on in the county or the district that inspired you to do this now, or is this just the time in your life when you can do it?
Both. This is a good time in my life because for the past couple years, I’ve been self-employed as a consultant, mostly in Sterling, so my schedule is more flexible than it was before, and I have the time to focus on the job of being Sterling Supervisor. It’s technically a part-time job, but with the tremendous growth in the county, and all the challenges that brings, the job needs full-time attention. Also, I don’t have a young family – my daughter is grown and married. But mainly I’m sick and tired of Eugene getting re-elected. I’ve been trying to help others get elected, and I figured it was my turn to step up, get in the batter’s box, and put myself on the line.
I’m someone who has not only lived here for a long time and cares about the community, but someone who’s been involved in various areas of community life – county, local, and residential government, communications, education – my wife just retired from LCPS as a teacher at Park View High School – and local youth sports.
I think it’s time to say to Eugene: “You’re not good for Sterling or Loudoun County. It’s time for you to go.” And I feel I’m the person to do that.
You mentioned earlier that you’re going to adhere to a voluntary term limit?
One term. You’ve got my word on that.
And the reason for that is …
I’m not a politician. I don’t claim to be. I’m a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy who is not afraid to roll up my sleeves and work to get things accomplished. I just want to come in, clear it out, make things better, and set the foundation for others who may be younger and smarter, but are hesitant to run for public office because they lack the necessary experience, or they have young families, or because of the meanness that might be involved.
When you say you want to “clear it out,” you mean …
Clear Eugene out. So that progress here is not blocked, and also, I want to clear the way for other people to get involved in our future. We’ve got good people in Sterling. There are good people on both sides. I know that. There are good Republicans. And there are a lot more good Democrats (laughs) …
But there are good people who can work together, on both sides of the aisle, given the opportunity. I’m all for that. I think ideas should be debated, and discussed, and compromised on in a positive way. Someone may have a good idea, but they may need a couple of extra pieces to it, or it may just need to be fine tuned. That should be explored and encouraged and mentored, instead of constantly running campaigns of fear and negativity to suppress those ideas.
I think people are tired of the “my way or the highway” type of mentality, saying “no, we don’t want this group of people in or that group of people in, we’re not going to do this or we’re not going to do that.”
I say, let’s share some ideas. Let’s work together. Let’s bring everyone in and let’s negotiate. Who knows what the next great idea’s going to be? If we don’t open the doors, or at least let people know that we’ve got the doors open for great ideas or future leaders, where are we going?
Looking at the future, then, what types of critical issues are coming down the road for the Board of Supervisors? Metro? Issues related to development?
I think the first priorities are always going to be education, as I said, and also our infrastructure. If you don’t have those in place, you’re not going to attract much of anything else. We can’t take those things lightly.
And when I talk about infrastructure, I’m talking about public transportation as well as roads, water and sewer, fire and rescue, law enforcement, fiber optics and cable. People talk about “big” government and “small” government; what I’m looking at is efficient government.
Another important issue: One of the items, I believe it was Supervisor Clark, mentioned is proffers, and how we can enforce them – because they seem sometimes to fall through loopholes.
If we don’t have something in place to collect those proffers, what good is having proffers? You’re going to rely on the developers’ good nature to send you a check? No.
You’re thinking of some type of legal mechanism to put in place, or a way to enforce those agreements?
Look at the example of HOAs: If you’re going to collect dues, you have to have a mechanism in place to deal with people who aren’t paying. You have to set those things up first. If you’re going to set up a proffer system with developers, well, you’ve got to have something in place to enforce that proffer system other than good intentions. The county has spent millions of dollars due to the non-compliance of developers with proffers.
I’m also in favor of more public-private partnerships to reduce costs. I’ve heard the current Board say that public-private partnerships can’t compete with our triple A bond rating. But there are different types of public-private partnerships that can be negotiated, and these are all things we need to explore. These partnerships could be used to reduce or do away with student fees for playing sports or participating in other extracurricular activities, student parking fees, and even things like printer paper or copiers and printers in our schools.
Another thing that is important to me is the whole issue of tolls and so-called “user fees.” I’m not in favor of user fees lasting forever. When we have user fees, they should be for a specific duration to pay for something, and once it’s done we don’t pay it any more. An example is the Route 28 corridor tax: Businesses are still paying that and that should have been paid for by now, or as the debt is paid down, at least decrease the payment to a percentage of the remaining balance, just like a mortgage payment. Another example is the Dulles Toll Road: That toll was supposed to stop once the road was paid for. It should not continue forever. They did away with the tolls going into Richmond.
If we’re going to build a road or other infrastructure, and need to raise money, whether we call it “user fees” or whatever, it should only be collected until the project is paid for, and at that time, it is done. The taxpayer doesn’t have to pay any more, just like a special assessment that you pay if your HOA needs to repair or replace something. Everyone pays “X” amount, and when the expense is paid, you don’t pay it anymore. Why can’t we do the same thing with government? We need something, so we’ll have a special assessment to pay for it, and then, that’s it. We shouldn’t have to keep paying for it.
Some people would hear that and say, that sounds like a Republican point of view …
I consider myself a moderate liberal on most issues, and a fiscal conservative. If I’m going to spend somebody’s money – just like my own money – I want to know the cost, up front or financed, and if financed, what the terms are, and what I’m getting back for it. So I think it’s just a common sense point of view. I don’t think it’s inherently Republican or Democratic. Throwing money away doesn’t make sense to you, and it doesn’t make sense to me, and it’s just not good business.
Maybe I’m more moderate because I’m willing to listen; I’m not tied to one extreme or the other; If you’ve got something good to say, if you’ve got something to offer that could help our community, I’m willing to listen, and if it makes sense, give it a shot.
The campaign season starts tomorrow: What can residents of Sterling and Loudoun County expect to hear from Tony Barney in the coming months?
I’ve been talking with Sterling residents in my various committee and coaching roles. I’ll be talking with more residents. I’m open to talk about any issue with anyone. Am I well-versed in everything? No, I’m not. I’m not a career politician. I’m not going to give you the party line answers. I’m going to try to be as honest with you as I can. And if I don’t know something, I am willing to let you educate me on it, and also go do my own homework.
What I’ll always be thinking about, with regard to any issue, is: How does this help Sterling? Is Sterling getting its fair share of county resources? And if we have to invest our money, what’s the return to Sterling and Loudoun County?
If I’m going to be the Sterling representative, I’m going to advocate honestly and ethically for the Sterling district, to the best of my ability, to make sure Sterling residents get everything they deserve, and that Loudoun County does well. Will I be perfect at it? Probably not, but I’m going to do my best.