The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Libby Garvey and I ran against each other in 2012. At the time, Libby was still undecided on the Columbia Pike streetcar issue. A point I made to everyone I met on the campaign trail who was against the project. Libby won the fairly (for Arlington) close race and eventually came down on the right side of the streetcar issue – becoming the sole dissenting voice on the County Board.
Regardless of whether you agree with her, speaking out against four other fellow Democrats on a signature big ticket issue like the streetcar was an act of political courage.
The streetcar project was emblematic of what the County Board had become — an insular echo chamber. In spite of escalating costs, the project’s questionable transportation benefits, and the failures of the similar D.C. project across the Potomac, the other four Board members were marching forward. They were relying on a years-old “decision” rather than honestly re-evaluating the plan based on current facts and circumstances.
Many Board watchers, including this one, knew that to shake up the status quo, it would require a seismic shift. Only if it was proven a Democrat could actually lose an election in Arlington, would there be an impetus for a change.
Libby seemed to put her finger on pulse of the community. And at the risk of her own career, Libby reached out to support John Vihstadt when he ran as an Independent candidate in late 2013 after Chris Zimmerman’s resignation.
Vihstadt not only won the Special Election, but he handily won the full term in November 2014. The streetcar project was shelved shortly thereafter.
Since that time, Vihstadt and Garvey have worked together on a number of issues to reflect the concerns of a majority of people in Arlington who want to see more fiscal discipline, transparency and accountability from the County Board. Late last year, they even raised concerns about the tens of millions of dollars spent in the closeout process being done with virtually no public comment.
Libby’s decision, however, was not without political consequences. Her willingness to think independently of her party earned her a primary challenge from a fellow Democrat this spring. The case for his candidacy is nothing more than Garvey’s decision to dare to upset the apple cart in 2014.
I offer no endorsement in this race for two reasons. One, I have never endorsed a Democrat. Two, it probably would cost a candidate votes in an Arlington Democratic primary.
I do offer a question. I have often heard Democrats say they want to find Republicans who are willing to work across party lines. Now that they have a fellow Democrat willing to work with an Independent, will Democrat primary voters toss her overboard for doing so?
Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
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