(Updated at 5:35 p.m.) Change and a fresh perspective is needed on the County Board — that was the overall message from the five Democrats seeking the nomination for two open board seats.
While all of the candidates touted their “progressive values” at Wednesday’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting, most suggested that the Democratic status quo is in need of a refresh.
“The County Board needs new insights and perspectives… we need leaders with renewed energy and optimism,” said Katie Cristol, a relative unknown in political circles who delivered an energetic speech to the standing room only crowd. “I am running to bring a fresh start to Arlington County.”
Cristol, an education policy consultant who serves on the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women, said she would remain true to Arlington’s “vision of inclusion, diversity and smart growth.” She spoke of the county government’s need to communicate more effectively with its citizens and to seek out the perspective of younger residents and renters, while also spurring the local economy.
“We can build an agile county government that is responsive to residents,” Cristol said. “As a County Board member I will seek to drive economic redevelopment that preserves our core values of transit-oriented smart growth and the distinctive character of our neighborhoods.”
Cristol also spoke of her advocacy for women’s reproductive rights and on behalf of survivors of sexual assault.
“I will be an unrelenting voice for women and for families,” she said. So far, Cristol is the only woman seeking the Democratic nomination to replace retiring Board members Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada.
Christian Dorsey, who sought and lost the Democratic nomination to Chris Zimmerman and Walter Tejada in 2002 and 2003, said he has decided 2015 is the right time to try again and “propel the next progressive wave in Arlington.”
“We are an extremely well-planned community… but even in a well-planned community like Arlington we still face challenges, and those challenges are immense,” Dorsey said, adding that he has “the right set of skills and perspectives for this point in time in Arlington.”
That perspective includes having served on the board of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, as chair of the Arlington Tenant-Landlord Commission and as executive director of the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corporation in the Nauck neighborhood.
“We have to be honest, Arlington is a privileged place but we still have people who are suffering from stagnating wages, many people in our community are on fixed incomes… people don’t have the means that they used to,” Dorsey said. “That means that we have to deliver good government at maximum value, but also come up with innovative ways of making it a little easier for people to go through life.”
“You can save money by doing good,” Dorsey said. “Progressive values often make very sound fiscal sense.”
Andrew Schneider, president of the Yorktown Civic Association and a life-long Arlingtonian, has made “listening” and “solving old problems in new ways” central tenets of his campaign.
“If we’ve learned anything over the past twelve months, it’s been that the public confidence in Arlington has been shaken,” said Schneider. “My candidacy is founded on helping to restore that confidence. You do not restore the public confidence through the sandbox politics and knee-jerk opposition that has characterized our community dialogue over the past two years.”
“You restore the public confidence by listening to the messages that have been sent and acknowledging that they have been heard, by listening to all of Arlington. Every corner, ever corridor, every neighborhood — one Arlington, one community.” continued Schneider. “I’ve listened, and I’ve heard a consistent message: make things easier for me, for my family, for my children, for my business, for my aging parents.”
“As a County Board member you will have my pledge to act every day to make Arlington one strong and vibrant community,” Schneider promised. “I will never stop listening or working on behalf of you.”
“Arlington is not just the suburb across the river — with a lot of soul, I might add. We are also the city on the hill, which has been a leader of communities around the region and country,” he said. “I love the Democratic party, and I’m honored to stand on the shoulders of those who have come before me and made this community the great place it is today.”
Peter Fallon, who last ran for the County Board nomination in 2014, cited his track record of community involvement, including service on the county’s Planning Commission. He said he didn’t always win friends while on the commission — but said that’s a good thing.
“I gained a reputation for coming across a bit prickly,” Fallon said. “If I come off prickly or mad it’s because I see someone not getting a fair hearing or being brushed aside. I demand fairness and that everyone, even the little guy, deserves a voice. I have advocated for these folks even when it was not the most popular or politically expedient thing to do.”
“The way things are going right now, maybe we can use a little pricklier County Board member,” Fallon continued. “Shifts in the landscape have put some of our bedrock democratic principles into question. We need someone who is tough enough to defend these values and experienced enough to make sure the right things get done.”
Fallon, who said he has “reached out to 10,000 voters” and is “a different candidate than I was a year ago,” advocated against making radical changes to county policy.
“We still have to do more to keep our economy competitive, address school overcrowding and make our tax dollars stretch further,” he said. “I know that some of you are upset and want to take an axe to the county, but this is a time to use a scalpel.”
James Lander, current chair of the Arlington School Board and a U.S. Navy veteran, was the last to announce his candidacy at the meeting.
“I’m excited because this is a historic time in our wonderful community,” Lander said. “This is a time for bold, experienced, reform-minded leadership. I am that leader, I am that reform candidate.”
Lander said that as a County Board member, he would work to add school capacity, maintain green space and preserve affordable housing.
“I will be results-oriented and will focus on feasible solutions,” he said. “As your County Board member, I will support our schools by maximizing existing facilities. As a steward of your tax dollars, I understand that we cannot afford to build enough facilities fast enough to accommodate our enrollment crisis. We must be more creative and innovative in our thinking and our approach.”
Earlier in the night, speaking as the School Board chair, Lander encouraged Democrats to support additional funding for schools, beyond what’s proposed in the County Manager’s budget recommendation.
“We can’t cut our way forward,” he said.
As did other candidates, Lander said he would prioritize the retention of businesses in Arlington, in part by exploring “low-cost ways to improve the processes by which businesses work with our county government.” He concluded by saying that he was ready to make tough decisions as a County Board member.
“I will not tolerate the status quo,” he said. “I will make principled decisions based on what’s best for our community, even if it means being the lone dissenting voice.”
The Democratic primary will be held on Tuesday, June 9.