This election season, incumbent Arlington County Board candidates will be facing not one, but two independent challengers.
Perennial candidate Audrey Clement is joined in the race for County Board by first-timer Arron O’Dell, a payroll associate with the American Correctional Association who threw his hat into the ring on a platform of affordable housing, more efficient transportation, and representing marginalized communities. The two candidates will face off against incumbent Board Chair Christian Dorsey and Board member Katie Cristol.
Clement is returning to the ring running a campaign centered on greater support for county services like schools, libraries, and affordable housing, as well as promoting green energy and preserving open space.
O’Dell is a D.C. native who’s also lived in Alexandria and Falls Church before moving abroad to Costa Rica and Thailand to teach English. In Thailand, he had a daughter who is now eight years old and lives with him, he said.
“She was born in Thailand and is the single biggest motivator for moving back to Arlington,” he said. “I wanted her to receive a high quality education and live in a place where women are treated more equally.”
Affordable Housing and Transportation
Both candidates are zeroing in on the county’s persistent affordable housing shortage.
“I know many in Arlington consider density a dirty word but we need a solid smart growth plan to add density at all price levels to meet the needs of the future,” said O’Dell, who noted he does not own his home. “I would love to see a plan where longer term residents that could not afford to buy in the current market were given an opportunity to build equity in the places they call home.”
Clement, meanwhile, is proposing the county reorganize all housing programs under a central housing agency in order to help, “negotiate construction costs down, providing taxpayers with more bang for their buck.”
She referred to county data indicating that the cost of building the new Queens Court affordable housing apartments was $430,000 per unit, a price she said was too high.
O’Dell is also campaigning on increased public transit options for the county, citing how much easier it is for him to commute by car to his job in Alexandria currently because of infrequent buses and Metro’s current summer shutdown.
“An effective transportation system needs to be high frequency, high volume and a good value,” he said. “As Arlington evolves we should be looking at walkability and transportation and designing around that.”
O’Dell believes his time living abroad, and his experience as a single parent, make him uniquely qualified to represent some underserved communities in Arlington. He told ARLnow he has “deep empathy for the migrant communities in Arlington County, because of my experiences abroad I empathize with people living in a foreign land and trying to get by.”
“I understand just how daunting a new language and culture can be,” he added. “My desire is to be a voice for these lower-income, politicly quieter residents of the county.”
One of Clement’s campaign promises is to “provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers” but she’s also positioned herself as a watchdog of the County Board through a decade of campaigning and speaking at Board meetings.
In an email to ARLnow she criticized the Board’s recent raise as “excessive,” echoing comments from her website where she accused members of paying themselves more regardless of “whether their actual workload justifies the salary increase.”
‘A political outsider’
Both acknowledged the difficulty of winning a seat on the five-member Board as a non-Democrat, but believe their unique platforms and backgrounds will attract voters.
“Being a complete political outsider is great,” said O’Dell. “Because I am not affiliated with any party or group I am not moored to a political platform and I can make my decisions solely based on what is best for Arlington and our future.”
“If elected I will say what I mean and do what I say — unlike my opponents,” said Clement, who referenced the Board greenlighting boathouse plans in Rosslyn instead of Gravelly Point, the bitter battle over a dawn redwood tree cut down in the Williamsburg neighborhood last year, and the planned demolition of the affordable housing Ellis Arms Apartments.
Clement also told ARLnow she believes she’s able to earn the support of Arlington voters now more than ever thanks to those who oppose the Board’s approval of the HQ2 deal with Amazon, which has led to rising rents and home values, and potentially higher real estate taxes. She’s pledged to fight for tax relief for those “priced out of their homes” if elected.
“For those who want to make a killing by selling their property, Amazon HQ2 was a good thing. For voters who want to stay here on fixed incomes, it may be up and out,” she said. “If so, they have Katie and Christian to thank.”
Neither candidates’ campaigns have received any public endorsements as of today (Thursday).
Voters will cast their ballots with their choice during the November 5 general election. Residents have until October 15 to register to vote, and can check their registration status online.
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