Peter’s Take: Voters Not Buying What County Board is Selling

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Peter RousselotIn Tuesday’s County Board election, Arlington voters rendered a decisive verdict on the budget priorities of the current majority on the Arlington County Board. The verdict: fundamentally change your budget priorities, or we’ll elect others who will.

Independent John Vihstadt won his landslide victory by uniting a broad-based, multi-partisan coalition that shared his policy positions:

  • prioritize spending on Arlington’s core government services (e.g., overcrowded schools, fire, police, sensible transit), and
  • end spending on wasteful vanity projects.

County Board Budget Priorities Repudiated

Vihstadt made his criticisms of the County Board’s budget priorities (e.g., $310+ million unnecessary Columbia Pike streetcar, $80+ million gold-plated Aquatics Center) the focus of his winning campaign. Democrat Alan Howze lost because he refused to repudiate those budget priorities. Howze hoped — falsely — that he could win simply because he was the Democratic candidate.

Implications for Arlington Democrats

Before the election, a few Democrats boasted that even if Vihstadt won the special, he would lose in November. Why? Because even if Howze’s policies on issues like Arlington’s budget priorities were repudiated by Arlington voters in the spring, Howze would win in the fall because he would get enough more votes from Democrats who care only about state or national issues. The size of the Vihstadt tsunami casts serious doubts on this hoped-for scenario. Much worse, these Democrats’ reasoning reflects an unbecoming smugness about the irrelevance of local policy to Arlington Democrats.

As a proud Arlington Democrat myself, I reject their reasoning. I do care — a lot — about the policy positions on local issues of any candidate seeking an Arlington local office. As Tuesday’s election shows, lots of other Arlington Democrats agree with me. Between now and November, we’ll all be aggressively explaining why to other Arlington Democrats who didn’t vote Tuesday.

What about the politics of it? What are the implications for the Arlington County Democratic Committee if it continues to nominate or endorse candidates for County Board who have policy positions on local issues that are both wrong and very unpopular? This is politics 101: those implications are highly negative.

Voters to ACDC: this time, we didn’t buy what you were selling either. It’s not because you don’t excel at the electoral mechanics, or because we don’t like you personally, or because someone is feuding with someone else. It’s because policy positions on local issues matter. Don’t be insular like the current County Board majority which anointed Alan Howze and pushed him over the finish line in the ACDC caucus. Their principal goal is to perpetuate their own budget priorities.

The County Board’s budget priorities are dragging ACDC down.

It’s time for ACDC to do some serious soul searching. Get out of your bubble and into the community. Don’t become zombie Democrats.

There are some great, positive lessons that ACDC can learn from this campaign.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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