Independent Candidate Announces for County Board Special Election

There will likely be at least one independent candidate in the upcoming Arlington County Board special election.

While Arlington Democrats work to select a nominee internally, Susan Cunningham — a civically-involved mother of two — has announced her intention to run as an independent to fill the seat of the late Erik Gutshall.

“I believe good local government is non-partisan,” she said in her announcement Tuesday morning. “We are all Arlingtonians; I want to work for Arlington’s common good, regardless of party.”

Cunningham outlined a wonky policy agenda, anchored by “data-driven solutions that are financially sound and make Arlington a great place to live and to do business.” Among her priorities are:

  • Planning processes for north-south corridors like Glebe Road and George Mason Drive, similar to efforts underway for Lee Highway (of which she is a participant.)
  • “Needs-based budgeting and efficient delivery of core services,” including “proactive investments in sustainable infrastructure like stormwater, sewers, and emergency management.”
  • Improving transparency and access to public information, while “streamlining community engagement processes to make them more fair, less cumbersome, and more equitable.”
  • Long-term planning for public facilities and “selective upzoning to enhance business viability and housing choice and affordability.”

The filing deadline for candidates to run in the July 7 special election is this Friday at 5 p.m. Arlington County General Registrar Gretchen Reinemeyer tells ARLnow that she has “received some inquiries” from independent candidates, but so far only Cunningham has filed partial paperwork.

One candidate not likely to run: former independent County Board member John Vihstadt.

“While many of you have encouraged me to run in the July 7 special election for the remainder of Erik’s term, I’m enjoying being back into law practice full-time,” he told supporters in an email on Monday. “I’m inclined not to run and am channeling my commitment to Arlington in myriad other ways. But these are precarious times, and I hope someone will still step forward to run who (a) shows a blend of civic leadership and fresh ideas, (b) has a sober, well-informed and independent outlook on what local government can and can’t afford and (c) will question authority and speak truth to power.”

Arlington’s elections office, meanwhile, is expected to announce today that it will not be running a party nomination event ahead of the November County Board general election. The expected announcement comes after Libby Garvey’s would-be challenger, Chanda Choun, withdrew from the primary in order to seek the Democratic nod in the special election. Polls will still be open June 23 for a Republican U.S. Senate primary.

With elections in June and July, and a presidential election in November — all amid the coronavirus pandemic and some legally uncharted territory — Reinemeyer said Arlington election officials have been keeping “very busy” in 2020.

The full announcement from Cunningham is below, after the jump.

Today, Susan Cunningham announced her candidacy as an Independent for the Arlington County Board. “I believe good local government is non-partisan,” she said. “We are all Arlingtonians; I want to work for Arlington’s common good, regardless of party.”

Susan is stepping into the July 7 special election to fill the seat vacated by the sudden death of Erik Gutshall. “Erik’s legacy of bold vision, deep listening and forward planning will drive Arlington’s future,” said Susan. “These are unparalleled times for our community. We must navigate real human, social, and financial losses while at the same time, addressing urgent public health, environmental, and financial challenges. Our response, both human and systemic, will shape Arlington for decades to come.”

Susan’s 25 years of professional experience and 20 years of Arlington community experience mean she brings both the context and the skills in management, problem solving, and collaboration to meet the County’s current challenges. She has led major planning and facilities initiatives for both the County Board and School Board, most recently as a founding member of the County Board’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission, a Planning Committee member for Lee Highway Alliance, Co-chair of the Superintendent’s Special Committee on Historic Interpretation at Stratford Middle School, and Chair of the Hamm Middle School Building Level Planning Committee. In addition, Susan brings cross-sector management expertise, from leading data-driven government innovation to advancing corporate environmental sustainability and improving regional education and workforce development. Susan is married and has two school-aged daughters.

“This is our time to step forward to build the next, new normal. As an Arlington County Board Member, I will focus relentlessly on reconnecting our communities, valuing what’s essential and balancing growth and livability.”

Susan announced a three-step platform that begins with “Reconnecting Our Community” as we face the COVID-19 crisis and recovery together. Susan will bring a new focus to North-South connections, jumpstarting corridor planning along Glebe Road, Carlin Springs, and George Mason, to complement and connect the East-West corridor development underway along Columbia Pike and Lee Highway. She will bring residents, government, business, and non-profit partners together to ensure businesses, essential workers, and neighbors of all ages and incomes are welcome and thrive in Arlington. Susan recognizes that Arlington cannot meet all of its challenges or maximize opportunities in a vacuum; she will prioritize County and Arlington Public Schools coordination and work to drive greater regional collaboration on public health, housing affordability, economic development, and transportation.

“Valuing What’s Essential” is the next step. In this time of crisis and recovery, Susan will keep the focus on what is truly essential to Arlington by prioritizing needs-based budgeting and efficient delivery of core services. Proactive investments in sustainable infrastructure like stormwater, sewers, and emergency management must be accelerated to meet needs. Susan will also work to modernize our commitment to inclusive and transparent government; we can save time and money by ensuring up-to-date, publicly available information reduces the need for Freedom of Information Act requests and streamlining community engagement processes to make them more fair, less cumbersome, and more equitable.

Finally, Susan will focus on “Balancing Growth and Livability” as our county continues to expand and evolve. Each investment, whether revitalization or growth, needs a full funding plan and timeline for infrastructure, school capacity, and transportation investments. Susan will prioritize Arlington’s long-term planning, including both a robust public facilities investment plan and selective upzoning to enhance business viability and housing choice and affordability. She will drive expanded and more leveraged public-private partnerships to support investments in housing affordability, open space, and infrastructure. And in each decision and investment, Susan will insist on data-driven solutions that are financially sound and make Arlington a great place to live and to do business.

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