1st Amendment drama and big campaign money in Hunter Mill Supervisor race

Michael Dranove Politics

Comstock Holding Companies came under fire from Fairfax County officials last week after being accused of violating 1st amendment protections on the land it owns directly adjacent to the Reston Metro station. 

Controversy stems from Comstock’s decision to allow Maggie Parker—a Comstock employee running for Fairfax County Board of Supervisor’s Chairman—to post campaign signs outside the Metro station while simultaneously barring other candidates from handing out leaflets.

In a letter posted to twitter last Friday, outgoing Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At Large) described Comstock’s behavior as “shocking” and “disturbing,” saying, “Allowing one’s own employee to engage in such highly protected activity in a public area, while excluding other candidates from doing the same, is wrong and cannot be tolerated.”

In an interview with the Washington Post, Comstock chief executive Chris Clemente argued that under the conditions of its lease agreement with Fairfax County, the land does not qualify as public space.  “Our agreement with the county does not allow people to petition or protest or do anything else on the property,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees, and said in a letter to Comstock that, “the Plaza remains a ‘traditional public forum’ — government property where the Supreme Court has said that free speech rights are most protected.”

Clemente has claimed that Comstock and Parker are the victims of, “a bully tactic,” and that candidates have ignored his invitation to participate in a “meet-and-greet” at the Reston Metro plaza.  “To date, we have not seen any indication of interest from any of the campaigns (except Maggie Parker’s) to participate in such an event. What we have seen from some of the candidates is public criticism of Comstock for not allowing random soliciting of Metro commuters. It makes me think that the candidates…have no interest in discussing their vision for the Hunter Mill District with members of the public.” Clemente said.

Clemente claims that Parker paid for a banner and signs to be hung at the site for the price of $5,500 per week, an option open to all candidates.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Parker leads the race in fundraising, with $258,225.  Of this money, around $135,000 comes from Comstock, Comstock’s business partners, or Comstock employees, including Clemente who has donated $5,000.

Elections for the Hunter Mill Supervisor’s seat will take place tomorrow, June 11th.