De Ferranti Sworn In on County Board, Prepares to Confront Amazon Decision and Budget Challenges

by Alex Koma December 19, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

For now, Matt de Ferranti can enjoy all the pomp and circumstance that comes with his status as Arlington’s newest elected official.

The Democrat’s swearing-in ceremony yesterday (Tuesday) certainly did not lack for bells and whistles. The brief gathering to commemorate de Ferranti’s big win over independent County Board member John Vihstadt last month was highlighted by everything from a ceremonial honor guard to a choir singing Christmas carols.

But, just a few weeks from now, de Ferranti will be spending time in the County Board chambers facing some considerably less pleasant circumstances.

Immediately after he officially joins the Board on Jan. 2, he’ll face one of the most consequential decisions to ever come before Arlington’s leaders: whether or not to approve an incentive package designed to bring Amazon to the county. Then, he’ll dive straight into budget deliberations in what’s set to be one of the most fiscally challenging years for Arlington in recent memory.

It all adds up to a bit of a trial by fire for the first-time officeholder, and he knows it.

“I’ve done a lot of work, but there’s still a lot of work to get up to speed,” de Ferranti told ARLnow. “After Amazon, the budget is going to be front and center… And people need to remember, the budget is not going to be helped by Amazon this year and probably not next year, so we have tough decisions and that will come at me.”

De Ferranti says he’s already held “12 to 14 meetings” with county staff, not to mention some with his future Board colleagues and even a sit-down with Vihstadt himself. But the most important preparation he’ll have to do will be catching up to speed on the state’s proposed deal with Amazon, which only came to light shortly after his campaign ended.

The Board is set to sign off on the county’s portion of that deal in late February, giving de Ferranti just over a month after his first meeting as a Board member to sort through the details and hear from his new constituents.

In particular, he says he’s interested in learning more about the incentive package the county offered to Amazon. That was a key focus during his campaign for office, even though he generally supported Arlington’s courtship of Amazon overall.

“I want to learn all the facts, then I want us to have a robust conversation as a community,” de Ferranti said. “There were some standards that I described during the campaign with respect to Amazon and I also mentioned that the office vacancy rate was a big concern. So I’ll be looking at those standards and the vacancy rate.”

But beyond the specific issues he’ll confront, de Ferranti sought to use the ceremony to strike a unifying note after a long campaign.

Though he was the lone independent on the Board, Vihstadt attracted the support of plenty of Democrats over the course of his three bids for office, some of whom even attended de Ferranti’s swearing in. Accordingly, the new Board member sought to patch up any old resentments that might’ve lingered from election season.

Specifically, de Ferranti led a round of applause for Vihstadt, dubbing him a “dedicated public servant and good man, [who] ran an honorable campaign.”

“I am so proud that our community showed civility this past year,” de Ferranti told the crowd. “We showed ourselves, Virginia and the country what’s possible. I am committed to continuing that civility and to listening to and hearing the perspectives of all Arlingtonians, whether you were one of the 52,000 who voted for me or the 46,000 who did not.”

Such good feelings may not last long. Beyond such contentious issues as the Amazon wrangling or the prospect of the Board raising taxes next year, two more slots on the Board will be up for election next year — and Vihstadt could well use the opportunity to mount a political comeback.

But until the calendar turns to 2019, and the hard work begins, Arlington leaders struck an upbeat note about what de Ferranti’s elevation says about the county’s prospects.

“I firmly believe Matt’s service will be in the best tradition of Arlington County’s values,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol.

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