Mary Hynes was first elected to the County Board in 2007. Prior to that she served for 12 years as an Arlington School Board member. Hynes is also an active leader at the regional level. She is the Chair of the Council of Governments’ Region Forward Coalition the public-private group leading the effort to implement COG’s vision for the region’s future. She is also a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) Board the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s Executive and Legislative Committees the Virginia Municipal League’s Executive Committee and serves as Vice-President of the Virginia Transit Association.
What got you interested in public service?
When I was 28 years old and had five young children the school system eliminated a service in their Montessori program. I wrote a complaint letter to the school system and I was eventually directed to speak with the CFO. He explained that the schools were not required to provide the service but at the end of a long conversation he also told me that a thoughtful constructive persistent person could make a world of difference in Arlington. Growing up because my parents were active church lay leaders I was taught that everyone is supposed to be actively involved in your community. The CFO’s words were the push I needed to get involved in Arlington’s school activist community.
When I started my involvement with the County schools I never set out to run for office I just wanted to make the system better for my kids and for everyone else’s kids. But opportunity came my way when the Virginia General Assembly voted in 1993 to allow localities to elect their school boards after a nearly 40-year hiatus IF the local electorate passed a referendum to do so. If you know 20th century history you will remember that the Commonwealth engaged in “massive resistance” to the Supreme Courts’ 1954 Brown v. Board Education decision. Part of that resistance – response to the elected Arlington School Board’s small steps toward desegregation of its schools- involved unseating Arlington’s elected school board and requiring that all school boards in Virginia be appointed. Arlington passed that referendum in November 1993 and in 1994 after a heated primary against the appointed incumbent and robust general election campaign with 5 candidates I became Arlington’s first elected school board member in nearly 40 years.
What brought you to this region?
I came to this region from Minnesota after college to work for U.S. Senator Wendell Anderson from Minnesota. Then I met my husband and we stayed in the region.
What do you think are the region’s biggest challenges?
The economy is a big challenge. We are still figuring out ‘the new normal’ with the federal government. The issues of housing and how people move efficiently around the region are also critical. It’s critical that we understand how housing and multimodal transportation options fit into the bigger picture of achieving a thriving region built of individual vibrant communities – one that is also attuned and committed to meeting the social equity requirements of our diverse sustainable region.
How does Metro help us meet our Region Forward goals?
The Metro Board made a decision when considering how to frame its new strategic plan to key off of Region Forward. We – my colleagues on the Metro Board and Metro’s professional staff – looked at what regional leaders had done with Region Forward—the goals they had set—and said “Metro can be the catalyst that enhances regional mobility and convenes stakeholders to ensure a successful integrated regional multi-modal system”. We worked with the Transportation Planning Board at COG to make sure Momentum and the TPB’s Priorities Plan are aligned. It wasn’t hard because in fact there is regional consensus on the next set of transportation moves the region needs to make.
It’s an exciting time to be participating with COG and Metro. It’s a remarkable moment because people share the same vision. Leaders across the region have learned the same lessons. So the time is right! Just as regional leaders did 50 years ago when planning Metro we all must lock our arms commit to a funding plan and move forward together.
For people unfamiliar with Activity Centers how do you describe them?
Activity Centers are places focused on people – on the quality of their lives including housing choices job access and transportation options. Each jurisdiction in our region has places in it where enough people live and/or enough jobs are located to support a variety of transportation options.
I like to say that Activity Centers come in different flavors. Even in Arlington where we have many centers they aren’t all the same. For instance Pentagon City has a big mall a big park and lots of residences in tall elevator buildings. Clarendon where I live has a Metro corridor barely a block and a half wide and lower rise buildings. There’s a focus on historic preservation. There are also 70 bars and restaurants in a four block walk. Though very different both places are important to our local economy make contributions to the regional economy and are excellent places to live work and play.
Every jurisdiction regardless of its size has at least one place or a few places that function as their center. It’s where things happen. Our question is on the margins are there actions we can take to make each individual place better both for the people who live and/or work there and in terms of our shared regional goals? For example on the investment side do you need more buses? What will help people do more close to home in their daily lives? Creating stronger Centers is not all about building Silver Lines but about little tweaks to make things better for workers and residents. We need to remember when we talk about Centers that our focus is on the people that live and work there not just “places for the sake of places”.
How can the average citizen help plan and build vibrant communities?
We underplay getting involved in groups like homeowner associations faith communities non-profits volunteer activities and even sports groups. What’s most important is to find a place where you have shared values and then you can learn together.
Who is a past or present DC area leader that inspires you?
Former Virginia State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (Arlington). She started on the Arlington School Board then served on the Arlington County Board where she represented Arlington on the Metro Board and was a founding member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. She went on to serve as a Virginia State Senator where she was a superb legislator and public servant. She was the first woman to lead the Virginia Senate Democratic caucus. She had a 35 year career and was effective wherever she served. Even when she disagreed with you it was never disagreeable. She was the embodiment of a dedicated knowledgeable graceful elected official.
When you aren’t serving on the Arlington County Board or at COG or WMATA what do you do in your spare time?
I teach music in preschools! I sit on the floor one day a week and romp with 3-4 year olds. It both contrasts and complements my other work. I also read a lot of fiction.