Kenny Boddye, 32
Virginia's Prince William County is a minority-majority county, yet all but one board member is white. 32-year-old Kenny Boddye is running for county board to be a voice for his diverse county's diverse needs. Boddye has seen first hand how government services are failing to support our most vulnerable, after losing his mother to chronic homelessness and substance abuse. Today he's fighting to create a more equitable Prince William County.
What was the best piece of advice you received before you ran for office?
Running for office is a marathon and not a sprint. It's really easy to get caught up in all the minutia, and all the short term things along the way. But at the end of the election, win or lose, you still have to live in the community that you are trying to represent. So you can't take shortcuts. You can't misrepresent or lie to anyone because that's still going to be reflective of who you are after the race.
For people who haven’t voted in their local elections before, can you explain what a county supervisor is? What is their role in government? When might I need to interact with my county supervisor?
I like to stress to folks that actually how we think about politics and the levels of government should all be flipped upside down. Because in fact, it's your county government and your local government that actually has the most direct impact over your lives, rather than state, Congress or the president. County Supervisors are like a City Council. But we're in a county that has independent cities in it, so we need our own council body.
So the two main responsibilities we have as county supervisors is turf and treasure - the land and the county treasurer. For land, where are we building roads? Where are we building schools? Where are we building public facilities? And most importantly, where are we allowing people to build certain things? And not?
So where are we allowing people to build houses versus businesses? What kind of houses? Are they single family homes, townhouses, apartments? Are we allowing people to build things in illogical places like a 1000 unit complex on a street that's only one lane?
And then treasury is a little bit easier to talk to people about. It’s your taxes; people know what taxes are. And they also want to know where their taxes are going. When you send taxes away to Congress, or even our state house, you have almost no control over where those taxes go. They might go to healthcare, might go to criminal justice reform, might go to all these other things. But when you send your cash to the local government, you know it's going directly to your school, it's going directly towards growth, it’s going directly towards all the services that make sure people can live their daily lives and peace.
What first got you into politics, government, and community organizing?
I had a really, really great government teacher in high school. He was on the conservative side, and most of our class was on the liberal side. We would have debates in class and he would talk about what they were saying on Fox News. He made it very engaging and fun to even talk about politics to begin with.
But the first defining moment for me was when he actually had us work the polls at our home precinct on Election Day. To date myself a little bit, I was a senior in high school back in 2004 and I come from a very immigrant-heavy area in Los Angeles. So there were folks from all over the world from Thailand, Armenia, Mexico, Latin America, all over the place. And people were coming in droves because even though some of them were just learning English, had been in our country for maybe a year if not less, they knew that they did not want George W. Bush to be their president anymore, because they were paying attention. And more importantly, some of the countries that these folks came from places where they couldn't vote. They didn't have the right to their country to offer them true democracy. So for them to know how important it was, it really spoke to me.
“I like to stress to folks that actually how we think about politics and the levels of government should all be flipped upside down.
Because in fact, it's your county government and your local government that actually has the most direct impact over your lives, rather than state, Congress or the president.”
Now, let's talk about your county. What are the potholes in your county? What are the issues you feel are being ignored and you want to see addressed?
My core platform is made up of four issues. Schools are number one. We are one of the richest counties in Virginia, and we're also on the top 40 richest counties in the country; however, we don't fund our schools properly. We have the highest class sizes in Northern Virginia, among the lowest teacher pay in the region. We have equity issues all throughout the county, especially on the eastern end where I live, which is predominantly more diverse economically and racially. We have really old schools that have needed repair and update for a long time. We need to invest in our students and our teachers.
Number two is transportation. About a year ago, the corridor of Interstate 95 that runs straight through Prince William County was rated the worst in the country. And that's in comparison to places like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Northern Virginia. And part of that is because we've just done a very poor job planning when it comes to how we're building roads, how we're building our traffic network. But most importantly, we're not invested in public transit. We have a decent transit system for taking people out of the county up to DC in the morning and bringing them back in the afternoon. But outside of that, you can't really get around without a car. We don't have the DC metro coming down here because our current board refuses to even do a study on it.
The next issue is jobs. We only have about 67% of the people that live in our county actually work here. They commute somewhere else. And the folks that do work here have really low paying jobs. Some of them need 2, 3 or 4 jobs to stay above water. We have people who are homeless, who are gainfully employed because they can't afford the cost of living.
And finally, services. This one is one that's near and dear to my heart. One of the biggest reasons why I ran for office was because three years ago, I lost my mom to chronic homelessness and substance abuse. It was because she couldn't get the care and the service that she needed when she needed it most. And I see a lot of that stuff going on here in Prince William. It's sad because in order for someone who's dealing with substance abuse to get detox and rehab services available to them is when they get themselves incarcerated. And to me, that's crazy. We have folks dealing with homelessness and there's a real need for more mental health beds in this county. But we just don't have that yet because we're not funding it properly.
What perspectives do you think are missing on the county board and what perspectives are you hoping to bring?
Actually, that’s one of the biggest reasons why I'm running. Even though we are a minority-majority county, our entire county board has been white. So even just from a representation standpoint, the kinds of perspectives that come with the lived experience of being a person of color, those are missing. Up until recently anyway, when we elected the first African American to the board; the first person of color there in our county's 150-year history. So knowledge of those racial dynamics, up until very recently, were just not there.
“The average age of our county is 34 years old. So we're a pretty young county. Who more reflects the actual lived experience of the people in this community - someone who's 65 or 75 years old and grew up in a much different time, or somewhere who's 32?
Who's had to be in college debt? Who's had to deal with a standard of living that will be less than that of his parents? Who had to deal with all the constant problems of a society where we don't fund anything like we used to?”
Number two is socio-economic. All the people on that board are either retirees who had very, very successful lives already or they are independently wealthy. They have some means where they don't really have to worry about where their money is coming. So we don't have very much socioeconomic diversity on there either.
We have women on that board. But most of the women that are on that board come a very from a very conservative, traditional view of family and society. We don't see very many people on that board that reflects the more forward-looking, equitable view of women. I mean, just a very quick example - the women on that board voted against the Equal Rights Amendment. They do not believe that the pay gap is real, they do not believe that women are treated any differently than men in the workplace or in life. So there's obviously a disconnect there.
Then finally, age. The average age of our county is 34 years old. So we're a pretty young county. Who more reflects the actual lived experience of the people in this community - someone who's 65 or 75 years old and grew up in a much different time, or somewhere who's 32? Who's had to be in college debt? Who's had to deal with a standard of living that will be less than that of his parents? Who had to deal with all the constant problems of a society where we don't fund anything like we used to?
Speaking of age, what are the specific issues you think are affecting our generation that need to be tackled?
The very first one is the one that we get as a cliche all the time, right? It's student loan debt. It's the college funding crisis. And obviously, some of that just has to do with inflating costs of tuition, things that are outside of the control of a county supervisor.
But it's also the whole stigma that's been associated over the years with vocational skills and working in trade and unions. Everyone wants us to all go to college when that massive debt forces people down a path they may not want to go. And more importantly, it forces people away from jobs that are actually really, really profitable and really dignified jobs.
But we steer everyone away, making it seem like there's a stigma for not going to college. Folks that are our age, or even a little bit younger, that wants to go and be a mechanic, electrician, a pipe fitter, or a plumber can be told that's okay. And chances are, they'll come out of that process making a heck of a lot more money with less college debt.
That's one. Two is basically seeing our community as something that you can be proud of, especially here in Prince William. We have a very, very checkered history when it comes to race relations, relations with immigrants, and xenophobia. Obviously, as young people, we want to live in a diverse place where everyone feels welcome, regardless of the color of their skin, where they come from, who they love. But if we're best known for our current chairman, Corey Stewart, who 10 years ago wanted to advocate for a policy where people could be stopped at traffic stops and asked for their papers, just because the police suspect they might be undocumented immigrants, you're not going to want to live here. If we have Jeff Davis Highway as our route one, you're not gonna want to live here. If we have Stonewall Jackson Middle and High School and commemorate people that fought and died to keep other people as property, you're not going to live here. So it's changing how people think about these issues, and how they view our county.
The last thing is climate change and environmentalism. We have an embarrassment of riches here, and we are doing a lot of things wrong as it comes to environmentalism. We have neighboring counties who are doing things like building schools that are net zero. They put out little carbon emissions, they take up almost no fossil fuels. Some of our neighboring jurisdictions are already converting to hybrid electric vehicles for the bus fleets and the public vehicles. We aren't doing anything like that or even having conversations about it. So if we really want to leave a community and a world to our children, we have to deal with the health issues of not going down that path already. And to me, it seems crazy that we're not even having those conversations within the county.
You've described yourself as a progressive community activist. Can you define “progressive” for me in your own terms?
The core part of progressive is the word progress. I believe in progress, I believe in moving forward as a county, as a culture, as a society, as humanity. And that means believing in science, believing in innovation, believing in logic, but also believing that we are one common human family that should be moving forward together.
We should at all times be seeking justice, equality, and opportunity for everyone. We have come a long way on that journey, where we can't lose our sight of the fact that we have to keep moving forward. I'm a big believer in the intersection of justice and progress. There's a lot of folks out there, activists and politicians, that have one thing that they're super passionate about, and they stay in that silo. And while we do need people that advocate in one field to move that as far forward as they can individually, for a long time, have not seen the connections between these things.
So a good example of that is racial justice and workers’ rights. If we establish more equity in our workplaces, where people of color work, it helps uplift everyone that works in the workplace, regardless of their skin color.
Overall, we know that once we actually start to provide real healthcare for women that is equitable, it improves the quality of life, not only for women of color, but especially for them. But it also affects the men in their lives, their families. It also improves the workplace, because women will be given more stable access to healthcare, all these things are connected. And in my mind, we can't really have a society where we say that everyone is equal and totally pursue that trust without seeing how those things interact with each other.
What is the best piece of advice you’d give to another young person considering a run for office?
Take account of all the relationships in your life, past present in the ones that you want to have. That goes as far back as your family, your parents, your elementary, middle and high school buddies, your colleagues at work, your college, every single person that you have ever interacted with and formed any sort of relationship. Because running for office is a referendum on how you've lived, who you've interacted with, and the types of bonds you have in your life.
You cannot run and win by yourself. At the end of the day, unless you decided to completely move out of your community, change your name and reinvent yourself, you will be forced to live with how you conducted yourself as a person during your race.
When you're asking people for help, when you're asking people for money, and you're asking people to volunteer for you, you're asking for their support and their votes. That is a referendum on the bond that you've made with them or the bond that you're forming with them at that time. If you sort of spent your life using other people and not really paying attention to the kind of person you are, it's going to be really, really, really hard to succeed.
But if you've been the kind of person where people have been able to rely on you, people have been able to call you for help, and you're usually going to be able to help them or at least try. If you've been the kind of person that they already look to you to be someone that they would trust with their future, you're going to have a much easier time.
It's still going to be hard. But you won't have to create those kinds of relationships from scratch on the fly. That will always happen while you're running. But you will have at least a foundation of people who love you, believe you and trust you to help move you forward. That's the only way you'll be able to win.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.