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In the 49th District, The Issues Aren’t the Issue

by ARLnow.com August 11, 2011 at 5:26 pm 3,534 57 Comments

With no Republican contenders in the race, the Democratic primary for the 49th District House of Delegates seat will almost certainly decide who will represent the South Arlington district for the next two years.

When comparing the two candidates, however, one realizes that they are nearly identical on the issues. Both Stephanie Clifford and Alfonso Lopez say they will bring their “progressive values” to Richmond but will work with lawmakers across the aisle, both are pro-choice and pro-LGBT equality, both support increasing funding for Pre-K education and transit, and both oppose off-shore oil drilling.

“It’s obvious, we are pretty much exactly alike on the issues,” Clifford acknowledged recently. “There’s not a lot of daylight between us, we will vote the same way much of the time, which is why… personality issues are so much more important in this race.”

Those personality differences became a bit more clear earlier this week during a live televised debate sponsored by ARLnow.com and Arlington Independent Media. Asked about the one thing that most separates them from their opponent, Lopez and Clifford had two very different answers.

“I think it comes down to experience,” said Lopez, whose resume includes time as an Obama administration appointee in the Small Business Administration, an appointee with the administration of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, an environmental policy advocate and a leader of local Democratic organizations.

“I’ve been working on these issues that matter to the 49th District for about 20 years,” he said. “It’s not just about building coalitions… it’s having the history, having the years of experience, and knowing the people in Richmond already. I’ve put in the time, I know how to get things done.”

Lopez added that the long list of endorsements he has received shows that he’s ready to go to Richmond.

Clifford, 34, said that while she doesn’t have the experience of Lopez, she has other qualities that make her the best choice for the Democratic nomination.

“I absolutely believe I bring that strong work ethic, the temperment and the perspective that we need to have a very effective delegate, to get down there and work for the real results we need,” she said.

“I’ve walked the entire district twice. I’ve talked to people over and over again about these fundemental issues. People are worried about housing, they’re worried about the education that their kids are receiving, they want to be able to afford to live here,” Clifford said. “People need help, and that’s why I’m stepping up.”

The primary will be held on Aug. 23. See a video of the entire 50-minute debate, after the jump, or watch on Arlington Independent Media (Comcast channel 69 or Verizon channel 38) on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. or Wednesday at 9:00 p.m.

  • Bemused bystander

    I’ve heard that Clifford is so new to political activism that while living in Arlington for nearly a decade, she has never voted in a Democratic primary — not even the 2008 presidential one. Can anyone verify that?

    • Captain Obvious

      I asked someone with access to the records if that was true, and was told that it was, but I have not independently verified. I do know that she has no record of involvement in the community or the party before last Spring, so I would not be surprised to learn that she had never voted in a primary.

      • Gordon

        Full disclosure- I am a Stephanie supporter. I cannot speak to her voting history in Arlington. But I can confirm with you that she has been involved with the Arlington Democrats since well before last spring. Specifically, her involvement as a precinct captain and her activities supporting Arlington Democrat precinct operations in general.

        • Another AYD

          Gordon, she likes to say that “we all know her” because “she’s been around forever.” I’ve been actively involved in AYD for a long time and I definitely don’t remember her ever coming to a meeting before you became President in 2010. It might have been as early as mid-2009, but it certainly wasn’t very long ago.

          • Jordan

            I’ve been involved with AYD and ACDC since 2005 as well, and have no recollection of her before 2010 either.

  • Captain Obvious

    The difference between these candidates on the issues is that Alfonso understands the issues and has concrete plans, whereas Stephanie does not. Her answers are always generic–that she will find a way to fix something that’s bad, or that “we need more money” to fix something else that’s bad. The Republicans in Richmond would eat her lunch.

    • Gordon

      Truth be told, the assessment of which candidate has a better understanding of the issues is sure to be touted by the respective sides. However, to say that Stephanie doesn’t have concrete plans is a little disingenuous. I mean, she does have an “Issues” tab on her website (http://stephanieclifford.org/) and is able to have discussions with voters (as we would expect any candidate for public office) about those issues and how we can address them in Richmond.

      • Burger

        You do know there is nothing in the link you cited but general platitudes about pre-K education and doing more for the LGBT community. There is no plans on that website.

        And her position on jobs is completely naive and cites to rising unemployment “due to severe cutbacks across local and state governments.”

        Maybe someone can explain to Stephanie that private enterprise and private employment are the key to any jobs and the lowering of unemployment.

        • ZoningVictim

          Yeah, the only thing she has specific plans for are the issues of the LGBT community, and that amounts to making them a protected class. I thought we were all supposed to be equal under the Constitution. Enforce that and stop with the special dispensation, and the problem goes away.

          The rest of her site is just run of the mill class warfare and corporation bashing. Her ideas on big labor are pretty telling:

          “[…]the difference that unions make for working families, it’s Stephanie Clifford. She was raised in a union family in Janesville, Wisconsin, where multiple generations of her family were members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and employees of one of General Motor’s’ largest plants. Through the power of their union, UAW workers in Janesville not only helped create a very successful operation for GM,[…]”

          Oh, so that’s why GM almost went out of business and then closed that plant in 2008, because big labor made it so successful. I’m sure that’s why the US Government made them commit to restructuring the union benefits and reducing their employment ranks by almost 50,000 employees.

          “Stephanie grew up surrounded by these examples of the difference unions make in the daily lives of working families,[…]”

          Like making them unemployed? If it didn’t work in WI (whether you want to blame the awful, greedy corporations for it or not), then what makes her think it will work here? The ramifications of big labor run amok are pretty clear.

          • normal

            Unions didn’t kill business. Talk about following the same old talking points.

          • Stu Pendus

            Well yeah, they kind of did in the GM case. Talk about the same old denial from the union lovers.

          • normal

            Reducing a complex story involving a large multinational corporation over decades of huge economic change into “it’s all the unions’ fault” is just ridiculous.

          • ZoningVictim

            So is defending big labor’s stickup of the big three. $61,000 a year plus a benefits package rated at more than 80% of your salary and paying healthcare costs for the rest of your life after you retire is simply too much to pay people for a job any person of moderate intelligence can learn to do in fairly short order.

          • normal

            “Stickup?” Enough of the hyperbole. Management and labor negotiate these things. And unions gave plenty of concessions, it’s part of why GM is coming back.

            I’m not asking you not to criticize the unions, just start from a neutral position and not an obvious bias against unions.

          • ZoningVictim

            The average union worker costs GM $62 an hour in labor costs, and that’s before paying for retirees health benefits, which is a massive expense. That is way above the non-union “transplant” auto factories, which themselves are way above the average for all manufacturing production workers.

            The average hourly earnings (wage only) for automobile production workers are $30.27 compared to $17.91 for all manufacturing production workers. Notice that’s a figure for “all” workers meaning that the auto companies are included in that average, which is inflating the average over what it would be if they looked at all manufacturing production employees not working for the auto companies. They also enjoy a benefits package worth more than 80% of their salary, which is unheard of in most of the private sector.

            I can’t think of any better way to become uncompetitive than to demand significantly more money than anybody else gets to do the same job and force the company to pay the ridiculously high costs of healthcare for people who no longer work there.

          • normal

            Thanks for noting that wages and benefits for other workers are way too low.

            This is what’s wrong with your analysis – the assumption that we should race to the bottom on labor costs.

            Adjusted for inflation, wages for the bottom 90% in our country haven’t grown at all in 30 years. Productivity has increased, mind you, but not wages – ALL the new wealth created went to the top 10%. So the idea that wages are just too high doesn’t fit reality.

          • ZoningVictim

            Until you realize that it’s actually cheaper to move production off shore and pay the shipping costs, so all of your jobs just go away. Awesome fiscal plan, assuming failure is your end goal.

          • normal

            Yes, free trade agreements that don’t promote or protect unions worldwide have certainly made it easier for companies to globally push wages down, so that we get closer to Third World standards. Thanks again for the reminder of the race to the bottom.

          • ZoningVictim

            Thank Bill Clinton, not me.

  • CW

    ARLnow – when I tell you that the first three paragraphs of this story read like an Onion article, please take that as the most sincere of compliments!! 🙂

  • Civic Activist

    Having gone down to Richmond to annually lobby for over two decades, I can say that either of these candidates would perpetuate the “Peoples’ Republic of Arlington” jokes about some of our representatives — assuming that either would be granted a visa to actually attend the Session.

    • charlie

      thank you.
      considering NoVA is the economic engine of this fine state, it is embarrassing the delegation we send down there and their complete inability to do anything, much less be a coalition.

    • normal

      So? They can just respond with jokes about the Confederate States of Southern Virginia and get back to work.

  • FedUp

    I know both of these individuals and can tell you that I do not think we need a bully like Lopez in Richmond. Case closed.

    • friend

      I know Alfonso and I would never even think of classifying him as a bully.

      He’s a good guy who knows the issues, and knows who to talk to about them in the community.

      • Observer

        I also know Alfonso and have worked with him for years and I think characterizing him as a bully is ridiculous. He’s smart, passionate, and effective, and can work with anyone.

        For that matter, if you really think people always play nice in Richmond, you must not have met Dick Saslaw and Mary Margaret Whipple. They may be more silver tongued but don’t underestimate their ruthlessness. If Alfonso can hold his own in that sea of sharks, so much the better.

        His opponent is a nice young person with no experience who will get completely savaged in Richmond. Case closed.

        • Captain Obvious


          • Jordan


            I’ve known Alfonso and Sarah for several years, and have no doubts that he has the passion, experience and professionalism to be an effective delegate.

  • Lauren

    blah – cookie cutter politicians. More of the same – tax and spend. No thank you to either of them.

  • JamesE

    That’s the worst fitting suit I have ever seen

    • SaveDaveMckenna

      I wonder where they stand on bicyclists rights and getting adequate rainfall levels for Donaldson Run.

    • CW

      Well, I’ve never met the guy in person so the camera could be playing tricks…but if he’s really built the way he looks in the first picture, I’d imagine that arm and leg lengths in clothing would be a major issue for the guy.

      • xx

        Nice to see that men running for office are getting ridiculous, irrelevant, snarky comments about their appearance just like women. It’s a form of gender equity, I guess.

  • CW

    Also, minor journalistic curiosity – why is the age of Clifford given, but not that of Lopez? Seeing as to how her age is given in the same sentence where she admits inexperience, it seems that the writer could be intending to either validate her statement or use the age as a foil to that statement by showing that Ms. Clifford is not really that young (as in like 25). Just curious.

    • Clifford stated her age during the debate in the context of explaining why she doesn’t have 20 years of policy experience. We couldn’t fit that quote in but included her age so that readers could come to that some conclusion themselves.

  • Cubano

    Lopez is 40 or 41. There you have it.

    • CW

      I didn’t actually care about his age. It just stuck out that the writer included one age and not another. It made it look like a statement was trying to be made about that candidate.

  • Cubano

    His current employer, Alcalde Fay, states “Mr. Lopez also served as the White House Liaison at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). In this position, he worked as an Advisor to the Administrator and Chief of Staff on a wide range of issues from energy efficiency goals to personnel to Congressional oversight.”

    Has anybody ever questioned how long he was at GSA? I didn’t think so. He “worked” there less than three weeks. How could he have accomplished this much in three weeks? Sorry folks, but Lopez is a pathological liar.

    • Oh, please.

      And Clifford was, as far as I can tell from her resume, a scheduler at a lobbying firm for five years, yet she has the gall to call herself better qualified?!

      • Back at you “Oh, please”

        Well, if you’re going to get nasty, how about this … Alfonso went to law school but has never practiced law a day in his life – oh maybe that is because he has never been able to pass the bar, even after six tries. … Yeah, that alleged scheduler, she has my vote hands down.

        • friend

          Hmm, so a guy who went to law school but didn’t pass the bar (allegedly) is worse than someone who never even went to law school. Great logic.

        • Just the facts

          Alfonso has never worked as a litigator, so he has never needed to take or pass the bar.

          • Back at you “Oh, please”

            @Just the facts – That certainly avoids the question. Nothing wrong with not practicing, and deciding not to take it for those reasons is legit, but that’s not what happened here. Here he did try – six times – to take it and failed. Want to check the facts? Ask the campaign – they will refuse to answer the question.

            @friend – Never taking the bar versus failing to pass it six times is a big difference. Going to law school does not mean you are any smarter or better suited to represent your community than someone who didn’t go. However, failing the bar six times demonstrates a complete inability to perform under pressure or grasp higher logic. Passing the bar isn’t particularly hard (requires getting basically a C-) but failing six times takes effort.

            Point being, if you are going to come on here and degrade Stephanie’s work – what was that comment about how she is a secretary and should just come to Richmond to be Alfonso’s secretary – then be ready to address the allegations against Alfonso’s own resume. And if Stephanie is so inexperienced and unqualified, then why the need to resort to insults and smears?

            The nastiness of this race is just as bad as the 31st, only it is going on in whispers and behind closed doors. Regardless of his experience, the antics of Alfonso, as executed by his campaign, are not the kind of leadership I want in Richmond.

          • Captain Obvious

            Actually, it’s highly unlikely that he took the bar six times and failed–because Virginia bar will not let you take the bar that many times. So, try making sure you know what you’re talking about before you attack someone. “Oh, please”‘s comment was based on Clifford’s own resume, not on some spurious rumor.

          • Concerned in the 49th

            I don’t give a hoot if he failed the Virginia Bar (which, by the way, has a very low passage rate)–he still has vastly more relevant experience than Stephanie.

    • friend

      Why don’t you go ask him?

  • Quan

    From the sound of things, it looks like a lot of people think that only people with the right kind of resume should run for office, like it should only be for people who work the most for the parties or whoever landed the best job. Sometimes people have a hard go of it, you know? They couldn’t go to law school or make a ton of money. But they want to make a difference. Why shouldn’t they get to be heard in Richmond?

    • Concerned in the 49th

      I think we just want someone who is going to have some familiarity with the process and be able to be effective, and Clifford has absolutely nothing in her background that indicates she might be. In fact, she even admitted in one of the debates this week that she would not be effective as a first-term delegate. In an earlier debate, she noted that she “didn’t know how she’d solve” a problem but that she’d “come up with something.” Not who I want to vote for; sorry.

    • Piker

      Do you really think experience is irrelevant? Do you think that working in the Clinton White House and for Tim Kaine on federal and state policy issues for 20 years doesn’t matter? I’m not saying its decisive, but it weighs heavily in his favor.

      If Stephanie has in fact had “a hard go of it” and has an agenda based on her hard luck story, she hasn’t made that part of her campaign. She hasn’t articulated a plan or an agenda that is compelling, let alone explained why she really is the best person to represent us.

      There are lots of ways to make a difference. One way is to get involved in your party, and in your community. Serve on commissions, volunteer for a non-profit, organize people around a passion or cause. If she’d done any of that in any significant way, I’d grant your premise. But as far as I can tell she hasn’t done much at all for Arlington. He has.

      • Quan

        I thought Democrats were all about trying to involve the common people in the democratic process? What if I wanted to run for office? I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know a governor. Should I have to wear a big red A so everyone knows I’m not cool enough?

        • Piker

          Well, why not get involved in your community and make a case to the voters as to why you should be elected? We’re all common people until we start to actually get involved. I moved here from another state and found it was incredibly easy to get involved in the Democratic Party and in civic affairs. Few people in the party were born here or had any connections to start with. But once you start doing things you become a common person who is involved and knows something about the issues and the process.

          If you have a reason to run, a cause to champion, or a wrong that needs righting, something that differentiates yourself from another candidate, bring it! If you aren’t interested in building a resume, then you better have something to recommend you. Political jockeying notwithstanding, the nomination process is open to all. But the question is why should we vote for you? And if you haven’t done diddly in the community and don’t have a cause that makes you stand out from the crowd, why should I vote for you? In this particular case, in my humble opinion, Ms. Clifford hasn’t answered that question effectively.

  • G Clifford Prout

    I don’t think either of them has missed any meals.

    • xx

      Funny how everyone bashes the two candidates in the other race for getting so negative yet we see these kind of comments here.

  • Arlwhenever

    Lopez web site says he led Obama’s effort to create new jobs. Now there’s a success story for you! Can’t wait to see what he will do for Virginia.

    • FedUp

      Right. Lopez was a lower level staff member at SBA. Did he help Obama create jobs on Columbia Pike and Baileys Crossroads? Not. Does he even know the immigrant communities on Col Pike and Baileys? Not.

      • friend

        Um, no, an Assistant Administrator is alot more than a “low level staff member.” Come on.

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