(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Democratic Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is explaining in more depth why she has decided to endorse an independent candidate to fill the Board seat to be vacated by Democrat Chris Zimmerman at the end of January.
Garvey is endorsing self-identified Republican John Vihstadt, who announced last week that he would run as an independent in the spring 2014 special election.
Garvey stated that none of the three announced Democratic candidates likely will change the way the current Board members set priorities. She decided to endorse Vihstadt instead because she believes he can provide change.
“The issue is that I don’t think there is a Democratic candidate that has or is going to announce for the endorsement that is going to alter the dynamic on the County Board right now… Vihstadt by far is so much closer to my values, my way of working,” Garvey told ARLnow.com. “He’s going to be the one to help me take the county in the direction I think it needs to go and the others will not. I am a Democrat, but in this case there is not a Democratic candidate that can do what needs to be done for Arlington. John can do that. So I’ve got to support him, why would I not? That’s what’s right for Arlington.”
She said Vishstadt “gets it” and he can help change the way current Board members operate.
“My colleagues are all good people, but they’ve been doing things a certain way for a very long time,” Garvey said. “I think we need a new perspective and a fresh way of looking at things, and John will bring that.”
One of the key reasons Garvey will not provide support to a fellow Democrat is her opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar. Vihstadt also opposes the streetcar, writing in his announcement of candidacy last week, “Now that the County’s application for federal funding has been rejected, Arlington taxpayers may be directly on the hook to finish a five mile line that will displace small businesses and affordable housing, will not connect to the Pentagon, and which fails to materially improve Pike transit.”
Although Arlington currently maintains a triple-A bond rating, Garvey believes the streetcar eventually could prove “financially disastrous” for the county. She noted that the project still can be re-evaluated considering it will be a while before final votes are taken.
“I know they all talk about how it’s a done deal, but it’s not a done deal until we sign a contract with a company and commit hundreds of millions of dollars to pay that company to build this thing. We’re not anywhere near that yet,” she said.
“The streetcar is useless and will actually make things worse on the Pike,” she continued. “A streetcar is nothing more than a bus on tracks with wires, but it costs a whole lot more… There are ways to accomplish what you want to for a whole lot less.”
Garvey believes a significant amount of money in the county’s Transportation Capital Fund that’s set aside for the streetcar could be used for more beneficial projects such as Metro funding and street paving.
“We’d have to raise taxes to do that right now because all of this money is sitting in a fund that is, as I understand it, reserved for the streetcar,” she said. “This is, again, why I’m supporting John, because I believe he will help me to get the Board to sort of re-examine some of these things and work through the community with it.”
While Vihstadt actively opposes subsidies for Artisphere and wishes to scale back the ballooning costs for facilities at the Long Bridge Park Aquatic and Fitness Center, Garvey isn’t as quick to attack those projects. She said they require further examination before they can be put into the same category as the streetcar. She did, however, note that the Board should get residents more involved in the planning process for such big ticket items.
“I think we need to get more transparent on how we handle big issues,” said Garvey. “We need to be up-front and not do last minute changes as much as we do on these extremely complicated issues.”
On the issue of economic development, Garvey says Vihstadt will work to make the county more business-friendly in the face of heightened competition with Alexandria, Tysons Corner and other areas.
“We hear a lot from local businesses about how difficult it is to work with the county,” Garvey said. “We have to change that, because we’re not the only game in town anymore.”
Although her endorsement and those from other Democrats — like Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, a neighbor and personal friend of Vihstadt –caused a buzz, Garvey doesn’t believe endorsing an independent will necessarily cause the county’s Democratic party to split into multiple factions.
“There have been factions and differences in the party for a long, long time. This, I guess, is the first time the issues are so important and I cannot see a Democratic candidate become close to being able to provide what I think is urgent we provide for Arlington,” said Garvey. “Because we really do need to get ourselves heading in a different direction.”
Garvey remains confident that Vihstadt will win the special election in the spring. She admitted that the election next November will be more difficult, but thinks Vihstadt will pull through then as well, while improving Arlington.
“I think he’ll be a really good Board member. He will change the conversation at the table and that’s a good thing,” Garvey said. “I love Arlington, it’s got a lot of great things going on. It’s known for great government, but we’ve got to get a little bit of a different way of looking at things right now. I think that will be really healthy for everybody, the Democratic party as well.”