Progressive Voice: Democrats Unite Behind Board Candidates

Larry RobertsProgressive 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 the author’s organization or of

Congratulations to Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey on their successful campaigns for the two Democratic nominations for Arlington County Board. Good wishes also to those who ran solid campaigns but came up short – Peter Fallon, Andrew Schneider, James Lander, and Bruce Wiljanen.

Fortunately for Arlington Democrats, Katie and Christian will enter the general election with the support of their former opponents and solid support within the Democratic Party. My hope and expectation is that Arlington voters will elect Katie and Christian to the Board in November. I know they will both work hard to earn the trust and support of voters across the political spectrum.

The past two years have not been easy ones for Arlington Democrats. They have had divisions over key community issues. Retirements among elected officials led to many special elections that present the highest risk for Democratic candidates in Arlington. An Independent County Board candidate won election in 2014 special and general elections — the first time since 1999 that Democrats lost a County Board election. Not only did Independent candidate John Vihstadt defeat the Democratic nominee, but he did so with endorsements from some Democratic elected officials and significant Democratic voter support.

Vihstadt’s election led to the abandonment of the streetcar project. Later, the nonpartisan County Manager announced her retirement. And two incumbent Board members announced they would not seek re-election, meaning that Democrats would have to defend two open seats against a newly-energized Republican Party that had helped elect John Vihstadt.

This would seem to create vulnerability and lack of unity among Democrats.

Yet, as the Democratic primary process unfolded, it became clear that the six candidates were not seeking to divide the Party further. Instead, they focused on running positive, issue-focused campaigns. They all took pride in Arlington’s many accomplishments while looking for ways to make Arlington a better community.

While taking issue with some County Board decisions and offering somewhat different views on what the County’s top priorities should be, the candidates did not engage in Board bashing. Rather, they presented serious policy ideas for moving the County forward.

In offering endorsements spread out among the candidates, current and former elected officials stressed the qualities of their endorsed candidates – not undermining other candidates.

Board member Libby Garvey, who has been at the center of controversies within the Party, offered the following thought on election eve: “I have not endorsed anyone because there are some who have tried to make me an issue in the election. That is a needless distraction from the real issue: who will best serve Arlington as a member of the County Board…. The County Board is a team. A good team is made up of intelligent, hardworking people who bring different strengths to the table and work together to see that the Board’s collective strengths are maximized and its weaknesses minimized.”

The positive, issue-focused actions of the candidates, campaigns, supporters and Democratic elected officials bode well for Democrats this year.

As they continue to honor what is right about Arlington while offering fresh perspectives on County policy goals and priorities, Cristol and Dorsey are well positioned to unify Democratic support and earn support from independent voters as well as some Republicans.

The County needs a Board that works together well. We also need continued cooperation between the County Board and School Board to accommodate student growth and learning needs without exhausting County resources or shortchanging other important County priorities.

We face growing competition from the District and other nearby jurisdictions. Increasingly we compete with other urban centers and internationally. Building unity within Arlington – both among elected officials and among County residents – will enable Arlington to compete more effectively for jobs and businesses that support our core community values and create a revenue base that helps make Arlington a livable, sustainable, progressive, and attractive place to call home.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. He served as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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