Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
We have elected and will again this year elect new members of the County and School Boards. We have elected new leaders at the federal and state level as well.
Undoubtedly, we all hope that our new elected officials will find ways to build on Arlington’s remarkable successes over recent decades.
Those successes were built on a broad consensus developed in the late 1970s that we should invest in and redevelop Metro corridors, protect single family neighborhoods and open space, generate substantial commercial revenues as a complement to residential property taxes, and provide for excellent schools, county services, and a social safety net.
The achievements of that progressive consensus should not be taken for granted:
- Consistent unemployment rates among the lowest in Virginia
- One of the best school systems in the country
- A low crime rate through community policing
- Low costs of capital through consistently-held Triple-Triple A bond ratings
- A robust and award-winning affordable housing program
- A range of heavily-used county programs and facilities
- Pioneering efforts on diversity, inclusion and equality
While people continue to move to Arlington in response to these achievements, we see that the long-held and broad-based community consensus is showing signs of fraying. Many Arlingtonians are facing economic challenges that feel more substantial than in prior years. There is less optimism and a lower level of trust in government and other institutions. And newcomers to Arlington have yet to get engaged in either Arlington’s civic or political life.
Arlington Democrats are committed to electing a new generation of Democratic elected officials and more generally to working with fellow Arlingtonians — from different parties and independents — to improve our county.
As for our changing elected leadership, last year six elected offices turned over. This year, there are open seats for County Board (two), School Board, and the 45th House of Delegates District. So far, there are five candidates for the Democratic nomination for the two County Board seats and two candidates seeking a Democratic endorsement for the School Board seat.
These candidates will bring new ideas and approaches to county governance. Arlington Democrats are committed to ensuring a fair process and an open series of debates. To help maximize participation, we unanimously approved a June 9 primary for all local offices where we had the ability to do so. Our caucus to determine the Democratic School Board endorsement will be held May 14 at Drew Model School and May 16 at Washington-Lee High School.
We also want to help forge a new community consensus. Our County Board and School Board members have jointly embraced a new facilities planning conversation to address our needs on a county-wide basis that will help find community consensus with regard to siting of parks/open space as well as schools, housing, public safety, and transportation facilities.
This will help facilitate a broader discussion about shared values and how we are going to balance these needs in the 26 square miles of Arlington. Engaging our residents and getting input from them will be an important part of sound county governance.
Finally, we will benefit if more Arlingtonians are engaged in our civic life. Participation in civic associations and other institutions has declined over the decades. In Arlington, only 48 percent of registered voters actually voted last year — about 68,000 people.
This is consistent with national trends as identified by Robert Putnam in his books “Making Democracy Work” and “Bowling Alone” and again last year by Marc Dunkelman in “The Vanishing Neighbor.” These books point out the weakening of community ties and participation organizations that once held us together.
My goal is for Arlington Democrats to help reverse these trends through welcoming of newcomers to politics, getting more involved in community efforts, offering candidate forums, registering voters, and reminding citizens to vote in Virginia’s yearly elections.
By engaging our community more effectively, we can encourage Arlingtonians to become more informed, involved and active in civic and political life. This will, in turn, improve the quality of decisions that we must make as a county and help us forge an updated, broad-based consensus. Such a consensus will allow us to build upon our successes, create a stronger community, and keep us a step ahead of jurisdictions around the region that are competing with us more vigorously.
Kip Malinosky is Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.