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With Zimmerman Re-Elected, Board’s Agenda Remains Unchanged

by ARLnow.com November 5, 2010 at 11:53 am 2,993 53 Comments

Local Republican leaders thought that in Mark Kelly, they finally had a shot at getting a voice on the county board.

Mark was a well-spoken, likable family man who took measured, intellectual positions on the issues. He was a Republican who Democratic voters could potentially find common ground with, especially in an anti-incumbent year.

In the end, however, Arlington voters re-elected Democrat Chris Zimmerman by a wide margin.

It was especially striking that, despite loud grumbles of disapproval in certain quarters over perceived excess county spending, 57 percent of voters still chose to re-elect the number one supporter of the county’s proposed $200 million streetcar project.

“Once again the voters have affirmed their commitment to progressive government… even in a down year,” Zimmerman said.

Voters rewarded Democrats for their “commitment to quality services and strategic investments” as well as “a commitment to Arlington as a diverse and welcoming community,” he added.

Zimmerman said the extra couple of percentage points Kelly was able to pick up this year compared to past Republican candidates doesn’t signal any kind of a shift in the electorate.

“There’s obviously a segment of Arlington that agrees with his side, they do every time,” he said. “He’s obviously a lot more conservative than I am, and a lot more conservative than Arlington.”

Asked whether he would consider adopting any parts of Kelly’s platform — an open, web-based list of all county spending, for instance — Zimmerman demurred. He said the board would continue with its existing agenda, which has ensured a “strong tax base and a strong quality of life.”

“I don’t think Arlington has really been interested in the anti-government, extreme position that Republicans have been taking,” Zimmerman said. “The country may be closely divided, but Arlington has not been closely divided.”

  • Jezebel

    I’m surprised you found it “especially striking” that Zimmerman won 57%. That betrays a lack of understanding of Arlington. Do not mistake people who comment on blogs as representative of widely-held viewpoints. This is just one venue for expression, albeit one that the bitters are quite fond of.

    • Aristides

      here is the “strinking” information. Incumbents do better. Should.
      2010 Zimmerman captures 57%
      2009 Fisette captures 66%
      2008 Favola captures 77%
      2007 Hynes captures 58%(first time running)
      2007 Tejada captures 60%
      2006 Zimmerman captures 58%
      2005 Fisette captures 77%
      2004 Favola captures 62%
      2003 Ferguson captures 58%
      2003 Tejada captures 55% (first time running)
      2002 Zimmerman captures 57%
      2001 Fisette captures 57%

      • Burger

        In other words, Zimmerman is the least like county board member and people will still pull his name regardless of whether he does a crappy job or not.

  • Andrew

    I think the main reason for his re-election is the relative lack of unemployment in Arlington. People have jobs here. Very, very good ones, in fact. Some signs of the recession are around — empty storefronts on Wilson — but overall, life’s been better in Arlington than say, Detroit or Cleveland. Because of that, I think Zimmerman can get away with the spending spree because people think they can “afford” it.

    • Sally

      A bunch of third world cities have higher standards of living that Detroit and Cleveland.

  • Let’s Be Free

    Easiest cost savings target for new House of Representatives is going to be the federal bureaucracy — things will be changing around here soon. Too bad that ARLCO’s debt and spending sprees shall continue unabated and hidden from public view.

    • Lou

      Indeed, with the BRAC flight, and Metro accessible, cheaper, office space coming online with Metro expanding to Reston, it’s going to be a challenging phase for Arlington’s main industry, which is leasing office space.

    • Alan H

      Let’s Be Free – once again the facts inconveniently intrude on your Republican political narrative.
      Far from a spending spree – the County has restrained spending to the level of inflation for the past three years. Last year’s County Budget growth was 1%. The year before that it was .6%. This year the Board just advised the Manager to keep spending to less than 1.14%.
      The County debt level is low enough to maintain the County’s AAA bond rating – one of only ~30 counties in the entire country with AAA rating from all three agencies. And much of the current debt load is from the investments to modernize the three high schools in the County – money well spent in my estimation and in the eyes of the Arlington voters who have overwhelmingly approved each school bond.
      The County isn’t without its fiscal challenges – including rising school enrollment and other cost drivers – but it’s in much better shape than most.
      So by all means keep throwing your right wing rhetoric all over this site, but at least get your facts right.

      • Greg

        How have tax rates fared during the periods you mention?

      • Zoning Victim

        One of the two of us are not looking at the budget figures correctly. From ’08 to ’10 I’m seeing a spending increase of 17.5% and an inflation rate of 4.5%. The further back you go in this decade, the worse the spending looks. Some of those expenditures might have been great and some of them might not, but the spending has most certainly out paced inflation according to the figures I’m finding. As for our AAA bond rating everyone is so fond of, we had to add another 1/4% to our reserves to maintain that. I’d like to know why my taxes just went up10% in one year if we’ve been so fiscally responsible and our spending is only increasing .5%.

        • david

          I’d love to hear an answer to this as well.

        • Alan H

          @zoning victim – I was referencing the publicly available documents at http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/ManagementAndFinance/ManagementAndFinanceCurrentAdopted.aspx
          The budget summary documents lay out the general fund increases and the tax rate changes. You are right that if you go farther back you see spending increases that correspond to the housing bubble and flush local finances. However, my point to was correct Let’s Be Free’s claim that the County’s “spending sprees shall continue unabated” – when in fact it has steeply curtailed its spending growth rate in the past three years. Again, we can debate the validity of spending, etc – but let’s do it with the facts and not with Republican talking points and hyperbole.

          @greg – your question prompted me to go back and look. The numbers that I see are: FY 2009 blended tax (real estate, water, etc) $0.848; FY2010 $0.875 $75 ave household total tax increase; FY2011 $0.958 – $350 total household tax increase. I think that the total tax burden is a better index in this case because the tax rate fluctuates with real estate prices (rates dropped during the housing bubble and have risen again as housing prices have dropped).

          • Greg

            Tax burden? What?!? Tax rates are not a good metric? What about Thes’s constant chirping that Arlington has the lowest tax rates in the area?

            Actually, I agree with you on that point. Tax rates alone don’t paint the whole picture.

          • Zoning Victim

            As has been pointed out, I was using the total expenditures (from the same site as you). Yes, 2010 and 2011 are reasonable if you look at them on their own, but the whole rest of the decade is ridiculous. Now the rate is stuck at that, and somehow it’s acceptable to continue at that rate. That’s the difference between fiscal conservatives and liberals; liberals see a windfall and immediately seek to spend it all because this time may never come again, but conservatives know that all it will do is realign people’s expectations of what’s reasonable to spend and be used as an excuse to continue to spend that much, which is exactly what’s happening here. Now instead of saying “well, that was a good run but we need to cut way back now,” the statement is “well, we are only spending + .6% this year.” I know people who have kids who do not need to pay another $300+ in taxes this year because they can barely save that in a year. You can call it a tax burden or a tax rate or whatever, but I know for a fact that my friend would be a lot better off if his tax burden had changed roughly the same amount of inflation, or inflation plus a few percent instead of the nearly 70% increase in spending we’ve seen since 2000 just out of the general fund.

        • Alan H

          From the County Budget Website
          FY 2009 Gen Fund $942.1M
          FY 2010 Gen Fund $946.8M (0.60% increase)
          FY 2011 Gen Fund $955.9M (1% increase)

          • Let’s Be Free

            Allen, is your middle name Cherry and your last name Picker? Seems kind of convenient that you ignored the 11.5 percent FY 2011 increase in the Other (than General) Funds — just one of those shell games that your buddies at the ACDC and on the County Board play to hide expenditure growth. The flip side of that deceptive tactic has been the push to massively increase fees, resulting in most significant fees charged by the County tripling or more over the last ten years. And Allen, if you happen to have a copy of the Republican talking points, please forward them as I would love to get more information.

          • Let’s Be Free

            Year Exp Growth
            2009 985054 3.7%
            2008 949861 2.4%
            2007 928025 9.5%
            2006 847594 6.8%
            2005 793406 6.4%
            2004 745799 4.5%
            2003 713586 9.2%
            2002 653659 9.9%
            2001 594875 6.6%
            2000 558148 –

            Cumulative 176.5%

            The above are actual expenditure data from the audited financial statements — not politically manipulated budget data. As for the slowdown in expenditure growth the last two years, inflation was approximately zero so there should have not been any growth at all (or at most a percent a year for population except for the County keeps on telling us that population growth is a free lunch).

          • Thes

            Has the population of Arlington needing government services also remained fixed over the last 10 years?

          • Thes

            I see LBF partially addressed my question in his comment. His numbers are gross, not per capita expenditures. But this is a fun exercise: let’s look at Fire Department expenditures, a longtime favorite of Republicans and other anti-government petition circulators this year:

            Year Expenditures
            2002 $24,440,000
            2003 $27,767,000
            2004 $31,012,000
            2005 $32,349,000
            2006 $36,190,000
            2007 $41,312,000
            2008 $43,948,000
            2009 $45,010,000
            2010 $47,128,000 (projected)
            2011 $48,710,000 (budget)

            According to our fire unions and the Republican party however, our Fire Department is so under-funded as to constitute a crisis of government. Is this doubling of our fire budget part of the County Board’s overspending or underspending?

          • Alan H

            LBF – as I suspect you know, the General fund comprises 75% of the county budget and it’s where most residents tax dollars go – including fees like the hated decal fee. The other 25% is comprised of specific funds like the stormwater fund, utilities fund (pays for the new wastewater treatment plant), Ballston Parking Garage, and the Business Improvement district funds – many of which generate their own revenue or include other sources like federal funds. So, for example – in the FY 2011 proposed budget the County expects to get $16.8M in Federal funding for Section 8 housing. So when we talk about General Fund dollars, we are talking about the property and real estate tax dollars of Arlington residents.
            There are also a couple of significant cost drivers. First, school enrollment has been increasing, second, the utility costs have increased in part to cover the costs of the major upgrade to our wastewater treatment plant. Like the school bonds, there was overwhelming support in Arlington for bonds to upgrade the plant to improve the water quality of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.
            Again, I don’t claim that every dollar has been well spent or that Arlington was immune from the spending increases of the last decade, but Arlington has been able to make major investments in its infrastructure and its schools – investments that are not without cost but that will benefit the community for generations.
            You can carp that “spending sprees shall continue unabated,” but the facts say otherwise – and the benefits are tangible to the community. Just think where our country might be if rather than spending trillions on Bush’s tax cuts we had actually paid down our debt and invested in our infrastructure. If the Republican approach of no public investment is what you’d prefer, then you’re welcome to it. As for me, I’ll take the Arlington way instead. And if you’re looking for Republican talking points I’d recommend turning on Faux news.

          • Alan H

            As for the actual numbers of how much our Gov’t is spending – Gen Fund, Special Funds, Capital Projects, etc – the Total Expenditure ($M) for the County from all sources (County, Schools, Special funds, Capital Projects) is below. You can draw your own conclusions.
            FY2009 – Actual – $1,295
            FY2010 – Actual – $1,209
            FY2011 – Budgeted – $1,215 (0.5% increase)

          • Zoning Victim

            Thes, the population since 2000 has increased approximately 10%, the spending out of the general fund alone has gone up almost 70% in the same period of time (even more if you add in the deficit spending). Spending doesn’t go up in a linear fashion because of increases in population. There is no natural excuse for the amazing rise in spending in Arlington County. I’m somewhat surprised by the increase in spending for the ACFD, but I don’t know enough about the situation to know whether or not it’s warranted. One thing is for sure, a $24 million increase in FD spending from 2002-2012 can hardly be factored into a $700+ million increase in spending from 2000-2011.

    • Westover

      Let’s Be Free- The nation will still need to be governened, the spending that has grown over the last 20 years was not spent here, for the most part it was spent outside the DC metro area on projects and buracratic growth around the country. There is only little government cutting that can or will be done here. The DC Metro Area will not be effected too uch by any government cuts.

      • Lou

        It remains to be seen how the initial, easy cutting will affect the economy, but if it gains momentum, and barring any event, the fringes of the DoD budget could be next, and that could have local impact.

  • Novanglus

    Likable or not, Kelly made a big mistake by specifically campaigning against the “all-democratic” county board in a County whose voters are mostly active and proud democrats. Zimmerman was beatable if Kelly had focused on his weaknesses instead of his party affiliation.

    First rule of politics: campaign against your opponent, not the electorate. The Arlington GOP will keep losing until they figure that out.

    • Greg

      Probably a good take. I found it surprising that Kelly chose not to challenge Zimmerman more strongly. Even to the point that he was reluctant to criticize Zimmerman’s Metro position saying he didn’t want to “politicize” the issue.

      He seemed like a good guy and maybe didn’t want to be responsible for a nasty campaign. That’s honorable, even though you may be right that it cost him an election he may have had a chance of winning.

      • Concerned

        It’s because he wants to run (and lose) again. Kelly is like the Dino Rossi of Arlington.

  • G. Clifford Prout

    Zimmie’s a good guy and probably the best one on the board. There is one piece of deadwood, and one nasty crone that should be replaced.

  • Bill F

    “There is one piece of deadwood, and one nasty crone that should be replaced.”

    I want names!

    • TGEoA

      That could describe all of them

  • southie

    I hope Kelly runs again and is able to beat my least favorite board member (who happens to be up for re election). He’s got my vote.

    • Andrew

      Me, too. He seems like a decent fellow who could enact (or at least introduce) some new ideas to the board.

  • Westover

    Asked whether he would consider adopting any parts of Kelly’s platform Zimmerman demurred.
    “I don’t think Arlington has really been interested in the anti-government, extreme position that Republicans have been taking,” Zimmerman said. “The country may be closely divided, but Arlington has not been closely divided.”

    Obviously Mr. Zimmerman did not listen to what Mr. Kelly was campaigning on. There was nothing extreme that Mr. Kelly presented and nothing anti-government.

  • Rumor Mongerer

    I heard that Chris Zimmerman is forcing the Nationals players Ryan Zimmerman and Jordan Zimmermann to stay out of Arlington. He apparently went on voice mail tirades, screaming, “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!”

    • Novanglus

      Ryan lives in Clarendon and is very active with the community. Maybe he should run next time!

  • Zoning Victim

    It’s a real shame they refuse to own up to everything they’re spending by putting it on the web. Whatever happened to transparency in Government? Maybe everybody would go along with it (the spending I mean) and nothing would change, but at least everyone would be making informed decisions.

    • Alan H

      Zoning Victim – what exactly is not available to you now? What specifically would you like to see that you cannot see now?
      The entire budget – including past years – is available online – http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/ManagementAndFinance/ManagementAndFinanceCurrentAdopted.aspx
      The entire Capital Budget is available online back to 2003 – http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/ManagementAndFinance/CapitalImprovementProgram/page78312.aspx
      The City’s Audited Financial Statement’s are available online too – although you might want to get some green eyeshades to read those.
      Of course there are ways that the county could become more efficient in how it spends its money – and of course there is spending that you may not agree with – but information on how the county allocates funding is available online today.

      • Zoning Victim

        From this article: “Asked whether he would consider adopting any parts of Kelly’s platform — an open, web-based list of all county spending, for instance — Zimmerman demurred.”

        Summaries are great and all, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I think a lot of people might be upset to know that their taxes are going up by over 10% and yet we are running through millions of dollars for some curb and gutter beautification projects. All other expenses being itemized would be really great to see, too. Then again, probably only about 10% of the people actually even read that stuff. Many of them care so little about what’s going on in their own community they don’t even vote, much less read what their county is spending, and I doubt the majority of voters would even bother to read through the summaries. Now that we can excuse seniors from having to pay Arlington’s ridiculous rates, I guess we can all expect our property taxes to go up again next year.

        • Alan H

          @Zoning Victim – what you are describing is an activity based cost accounting system. I actually agree that having that level of detail could be very beneficial. It would allow the County to conduct much more detailed analysis of cost savings opportunities, cost benefit analysis, etc. I don’t believe that it is the type of accounting system that the County currently has and would require a significant investment to get there – but perhaps it is an investment worth making. However, saying to put it on the web to increase transparency (Arlington is very transparent) was just campaign sloganeering and an attempt to create an issue where there isn’t one – the real power of that sort of data is the power it would give to our county employees to make better informed decisions.

          • Doug

            Zimmerman demurred???? Not a very good answer in my little world.

            I once resided in a city that put their expenditures (including salaries) in their local newspaper – now that was transparency.

  • NPGMBR

    Haven’t had any issues with Zimmerman since hes been on the Board and I’m very satisfied with how the County is run. Zimmerman definitely got my vote.

  • a’town

    a left turn arrow on randolph making a left onto wilson would get zimmerman my vote next time thats for sure.

  • MC

    Whatever Kelly’s personal qualities, he couldn’t come off being a truly independent alternative given his employment with the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. He focused too much on the ideological hot buttons such as the 395 suit and trolley-opposition and too little on everyday governance issues such as the County Manager firing, or spending growth. I feeling is that Arlington voters don’t want extremists of any stripe, but Kelly came across as an ideologue in the same vain as the Board or the Greens. We need candidates who aren’t party activists, but we like too close to DC for that to be possible.

    • Katie

      Heritage Foundation, hm. Not exactly a Rockefeller Republican then, is he.

      BTW, it’s “vein” not “vain.”

  • Indeed, the Sun Gazette and web sites like this one publish too many negative comments about our county and our government. The comments are from the same small set of cranky, uninformed people. If they were a significant part of the county population then their candidates would win. You do no service to the community by publishing their off base remarks. I also do not like the tone of this article. You are betraying yourself as a conservative dupe. You are probably a well meaning person who has been fooled by conservative propaganda. No reasonable person would describe Mark Kelley as “a well-spoken, likable family man who took measured, intellectual positions on the issues”. The Heritage Foundation is a dangerous right wing propaganda machine, funded by extremists whose only purpose is to make our government weaker so that conservative businessmen may prosper.

    • MariaC

      I was happy to have the opportunity to vote for Chris Zimmerman again. I’m surprised he didn’t win by a larger margin.

    • We don’t “publish” comments. Comments are posted instantaneously — there is no approval process. We do, however, remove comments. But we don’t do so on an ideological basis, we do so if the comment is profane, libelous or otherwise violates our terms of service.

      • AnthonyG

        Thank you for letting people post comments on here and keeping the removal of posts to a minimum. I appreciate the super-local news and enjoy reading the comments to get a feeling for how people who are ‘plugged in’ feel.

    • Don’t be hatin’

      I’m a reasonable person and happen to know Mark. That describes him pretty accurately. I really don’t understand why some, like you PLPTBA, villify those that carry a different political viewpoint or designate them as pawns in some nation-destroying plot, orchestrated by some shadowy 501(c)(3). Isn’t time we rise above generalities and name-calling and engage each other in a better conversation? I don’t understand how some who call themselves Democrats say they hate all forms of war and then log into a comment section and start one. Please, PLEASE, upgrade your worldview and quit painting with just black and white. Or do you just not know any Republicans?

    • alebt

      I disagree with your point. This forum seems to be the only one I have found to have some thoughtful exchanges based on current local news. I have learned a lot from the above posts even though the main contributors come from different political slants. I think that is healthy. A spirited, educated debate should always be welcome. The question each of us should always ask: Are you willing to change your opinion if presented with a factual reason to do so? Sadly, many of us never read to the end of the question, let alone engage in a process of opinion assessment.

  • Mike

    The reasons why Chris Zimmerman was reelected are many and varied. First off, and of upmost importance, he’s always been a passionate and committed public official who has worked tirelessly on behalf of Arlington and its residents. Few who know Zimmerman personally or have followed his career will dispute that.

    Would it be a breath of fresh air for a new voice to be heard from the Arlington County Board dais? Perhaps. Governance, whether local, state or national, tends to skew haywire when only one party becomes entrenched in power. When this happens, as it has in Arlington, the normal checks and balances, as well as people who say “now, wait a minute,” are regularly discounted and given scant attention, if any at all. Nevertheless, in spite of its one party dominance, the Arlington County Board has generally shown forbearance in its governing, only occasionally drifting toward the edge of the political spectrum. The continuing contretemps with the ICE is an example of the Board pushing the envelope.

    But there are signs that all is not smooth sailing as the Arlington County Board’s standard response to budget red ink is to raise the property tax rate. Eventually, particularly if this almost knee-jerk reaction continues, the ire of residents (and voters) will be raised. And if that occurs, even a high-quality public official such as Chris Zimmerman may find his tenure cut short.

  • DT

    Its hilarious people act like tax and employment rates matter to people who vote in Arlington. They look for the D and check off the name.

    • Tess

      And, so you keep repeating yourself. Obviously, you believe it – and that’s all that matters to you anyway. I could say the same thing about people who look for the “R” and vote for that name, but that doesn’t really add to the conversation here, does it? Nope, and neither did your comment.

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