For the most part, things were civil and friendly last week when both Chris Craddock and Chuck Caputo answered questions posed by the Fairfax County Retired Educators (FCRE).
But sparks flew when conservative Republican Craddock said he "totally support[ed]" funding for public education and moderate Democrat Caputo called him on it.
CAPUTO SAID that's not what Craddock had said in earlier statements elsewhere about that subject. "He said he opposed it," said Caputo. "I said I fully support it. My opponent is for vouchers — vouchers that would take money away from public education."
In one of the most hotly contested political races here in years, both men are vying to represent the 67th District in the House of Delegates. Craddock unseated incumbent Gary Reese in the Republican primary, and now he's battling for the post against both Caputo and Libertarian Party candidate Chuck Eby of Fair Lakes.
Craddock, 26, is director of student ministries at King's Chapel, which meets at Willow Springs Elementary. He and wife Katherine live in Chantilly's Foxfield community with daughter Katie, 1 1/2.
He's been a community youth counselor and coaches soccer at Chantilly High. He has a bachelor's in economics and is pursuing a master's in religion from Reformed Theological Seminar.
Caputo, 67, and wife Barbara live in Oak Hill and have three grown children and five grandchildren. He has a bachelor's in electrical engineering and a master's in systems management.
He retired from the Defense Information Systems Agency and is vice chair of the Northern Virginia Community College Board of Trustees. A longtime community volunteer, he also served on the Fairfax County School Board from 1980-'85.
Both men were participating last Thursday, Sept. 15, in a candidates forum hosted by the FCRE at the Arlington-Fairfax Elks Lodge in Fairfax. They each spoke briefly before the 50 or so people attending and then answered written questions.
"As a member of the School Board, I got to know the concerns of parents, and I am here today to tell you that I am 100 percent behind full funding of public education," said Caputo. "Teaching is where our population for the future starts to mature."
Craddock thanked the teachers for what they've done. "You've fought the good fight, and it's not easy," he said. "We've got to make sure we make it easier for people to live around here and retain, recruit and reward the great teachers we have in this area."
When asked how he felt about bonds and public-education funding, Craddock replied, "I'm not opposed to bonds. I prefer using pay-as-you-go as the first option. And I believe we need adequate funding for teachers."
BOTH MEN were then asked to tell what they perceive is the single, greatest need facing the next session of the General Assembly. Craddock said the allocation of the state-budget surplus will be important. In addition, he said, "We're facing a crisis in transportation. We've got to help alleviate the gridlock to make sure people can spend time with their families."
Caputo, too, said transportation is the top priority. "It's something that hits all of us," he said. "And it needs bipartisan solutions." To help solve the problem, said Caputo, three things need to be done: "We must complete Metrorail to Dulles, we have to have a dedicated Transportation Trust Fund and we need to examine every possible solution so we can make intelligent recommendations to the General Assembly."
One question asked the candidates if they support giving pharmacists the option whether to dispense or withhold drugs, such as birth-control pills.
"[Many people] rely on prescription drugs for a better quality of life," said Caputo. "Can you imagine what it would be like if druggists decided?" Agreeing, Craddock said, "I'm not opposed to having pharmacists dispense birth-control pills; so, sure, no problem."
Next, they were each asked their views on giving vouchers to parents of students attending non-public schools.
"We cannot take a dime away from public education," answered Caputo. "Private schools are good, but not at the expense of public education."
Craddock said that, in lower-income areas with schools not as good as Fairfax County's, he's "not opposed to them coming up with other solutions. I don't believe we take away from public education when we do."
BUT SEVERAL people in the audience strongly disagreed with him, saying out loud, "Oh, yes, we do!"
The last question asked both men, in light of recent events, their views of the obligation of the state to prepare emergency management and evacuation plans for the citizens of Virginia.
"I do believe Northern Virginia has a crisis," said Craddock. "It would be hard if something Katrina-like happened. Right now, with the transportation congestion, it would be difficult to evacuate. We've got to look at other crossings and other bridge opportunities. We've got to look at these problems before they happen, not as they happen."
Caputo noted that, in his federal government job in the 1990s, he was responsible for working with local and state governments "to make sure we had adequate preparedness, and we have to continue this. And as a newly elected delegate, I will make sure we'll have that adequate coordination and planning between the state, local and federal governments."