Fairfax County Will Lose One Champion For Individuals With Mental Illnesses, Possibly Two. How Will This Impact Much Needed Reforms?

“I leave with grave concern for the future of our broken political system,” Supervisor John C. Cook said.

(11-19-18) Fairfax County is losing one of its strongest advocates for residents who are mentally ill and those who are homeless. And it may lose a second powerful voice too.

Braddock District Supervisor John C. Cook announced last week that he will not seek another term on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Board Chair Sharon Bulova, who has been on the board for 30 years, told The Washington Post that she will announce next month whether she’ll pursue a third term as chair.

Supervisor Cook and Chair Bulova have played pivotal roles, along with Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Ann Kincaid, in establishing our county’s Diversion First program that diverts individuals with mental illnesses from jail into treatment. Under their leadership, Fairfax County managed to go from skeletal diversion efforts to becoming a national model in less than two years.

Cook, a Republican, has been an outspoken advocate for housing and other social service programs. I have cited his tireless efforts on this page. He consistently explained why diverting and helping individuals who are sick is both the right thing to do morally and also financially, explaining that it can cost as much as $72,000 annually to keep an individual with a serious mental illness in our local detention center. Treating that same individual in a state hospital cost $22,500 annually. Providing them with treatment services in our community costs $7,500 and allows them to live in a neighborhood with friends and family.

Bulova courageously created an Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Committee after the police shooting of a county resident. I served on that panel and its recommendations have led to significant changes in how the Fairfax County Police Department deals with individuals with mental illnesses and others in our community.  

Losing Cook and possibly having Bulova retire (a Democrat and cancer survivor, she is consulting with her family over the Thanksgiving holiday before making a decision) will be a huge loss to families and individuals with mental illnesses.

Fairfax residents must insure that candidates who seek election next year to the board understand the importance of Diversion First, Crisis Intervention Team training, and other programs that Bulova and Cook both strongly promoted, helped implement and championed.

We can’t afford to go backward!

In a statement issued last Friday, Cook explained that one reason he has decided not to seek re-election is because of what he described as a  toxic political climate.

Here is his full statement as released by his office. I’ve highlighted his comments about today’s political climate.

Supervisor Cook Announces He Will Not Seek Re-Election
Serving as your Braddock District Supervisor has been the greatest honor of my professional career. But for many reasons, I have decided I will not be a candidate for reelection next year. 

Public service asks much of those who seek it and after ten years of balancing the competing responsibilities of Supervisor, lawyer, husband, father and son, it is time for me to focus on other priorities in my life. I have reached this decision after a number of months of personal reflection and do not come to the conclusion lightly. Despite the sacrifices, holding elected office has been a tremendously rewarding experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity afforded me to serve the people of Fairfax County.

I leave with grave concern for the future of our broken political system. I remember when people ran for office to be of service to the community, as Senator John McCain used to say, to pursue a cause greater than your own self-interest. It’s a spirit I still largely see on the Board of Supervisors, where I have enjoyed working collaboratively and building friendships with my colleagues. Even when we have disagreed, I believe the Board has conducted the County’s business with the best interests of the community in mind. 

But that approach is not commonplace in today’s political system, which rewards a different set of values. Ideological litmus tests, wedge issues, personal attacks, reliance on scapegoats, and downright lies are the currency of the day. Disagreement and dialogue, followed by collaboration and compromise, is how problems get solved. But many in politics today view that process with disdain. Those who strive for moderation and consensus are marginalized by such political actors, hindering our ability to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world. It is no wonder people have less and less confidence in their government and the political system that selects it, when the political system seems to have less and less interest in actually governing.

In spite of the current environment, I remain committed to the ideal of public service and hope to remain engaged in community life.  I do not rule out any potential future opportunities.  But today it is time for me to step back, recharge my batteries, and focus my attention elsewhere.

I am proud of the work we have accomplished together during my time in office. We have trained hundreds of community leaders through our neighborhood colleges and supported our civic and homeowner associations, community pools, Scouts, recreational sports leagues, and nonprofits. I have made a concerted effort to keep the community informed of, and involved in, the major issues of the day. I believe this active engagement has led to better decisions being made on projects affecting the District, such as Mason’s Campus Drive, the Braddock Road enhancements, and the futures of the Training Center property and Lake Accotink.

On a countywide level, I have been a leader in our criminal justice reform efforts and believe our police department has revamped its use of force and communications policies to better serve our residents. The Diversion First initiative is providing treatment instead of incarceration for those with mental health challenges. I am honored to serve as chairman of the Domestic Violence Prevention, Policy, & Coordinating Council, the Public Safety Committee, and the Welcoming Inclusion Network. After serving in these roles, I believe Fairfax County is now leading the way in domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention, increasing our efforts to involve those with developmental disabilities in our community life, and providing nationally recognized public safety services to our residents. I have also been a necessary voice for fiscal balance between the need for quality governmental services and the costs borne by the taxpayers. On a regional level, I have been honored to serve in leadership positions on the Virginia Railway Express, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, the INOVA Health Care Services Board of Trustees, and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

In the course of it all, I have made many friends and had the opportunity to work with some excellent community-minded elected and appointed officials and community leaders. I have experienced great personal growth in this process, being introduced to a broader range of issues – from stormwater to housing to transportation – than I would ever have imagined. I have also learned how to work with diverse groups and individuals to achieve viable, pragmatic approaches to those issues. Working together, we have truly made our community a better place to live.

I wish my successor well and hope he or she finds great success. Thank you for your support these past ten years, and through this remaining year of my term. I look forward to continuing to work with you in private life.

John C. Cook
Braddock District Supervisor
November 16, 2018




About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.