Three Arlington County Board hopefuls announced their candidacies to a packed house of local Democrats last night.
They are former NAACP Arlington Branch president Julius “J.D.” Spain, Sr. researcher and Center for American Progress policy analyst Maureen Coffey and Jonathan Dromgoole, who facilitates LGBT appointments within the Biden administration for the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
Last night (Wednesday) at the Lubber Run Community Center, more than a half dozen people told Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting attendees about their intentions to run for the County Board, Sheriff, Commonwealth’s Attorney and seats in the state legislature.
The three County Board candidates are vying for the two seats that immediate past Chair Katie Cristol and current Chair Christian Dorsey will vacate at the end of this year. In June, the candidates will participate in a party primary to see which voters will get to run with a “D” by their name in the November election.
Coffey bills herself as a Millennial renter with expertise in housing discrimination and child welfare policy. Jonathan is also a Millennial renter who leads the official Latino caucus for Virginia Democrats. Spain is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who has, at times, challenged the Arlington County Democratic Committee on its influence over local politics.
Coffey says she has seen first-hand how hard work is sometimes not enough to overcome life circumstances such as drug addiction and incarceration. She pledged to prioritize the most vulnerable in Arlington and more clearly articulate the County Board’s long-term vision for the county:
I’ve worked to become an expert on young children, and families and the adults that support them, which provides an understanding of almost every policy area that families come in contact with in their daily lives. This work has taught me to see every part of our lives as interdependent and woven into one. That’s the vision I want to bring to the County Board. Arlington has been a leader and a model for good policy for a very long time, but I have to ask myself, ‘Where are we going?’ We know we don’t have enough affordable housing, we know we don’t have enough child care, and we know we don’t have enough mental healthcare. We need a plan to meet these needs and, at the same time, protect what we love about Arlington: safety, parks, a sense of community.
Dromgoole introduced himself as a proud immigrant from Mexico and a proud product of public schools and teenage parents who came to America for a better life.
From a young age, he acted as the family interpreter for everything from doctors visits to navigating the education system and the family budget. He says Latino residents need that voice on the County Board.
We need to have conversations that will re-engage and inspire our neighbors to be part of the solution rather than feel left out because they weren’t part of a board and feel their voice doesn’t matter. Some in our community aren’t asking for much: Some want streets to be safer for their kids by investing in street lights, reducing speed limits and improving roads. Some are asking for their voices to be heard and policies to be explained in a language they understand. Some want the County Board to be reflective of their lived experiences as someone who has chosen to call Arlington home but fear they may never have the opportunity to buy into that American Dream.
Spain told the audience that what voters need on the County Board is experience — “personable and inclusive leadership.”
I believe that every child who grows up in Arlington should be able to live here as an adult and that means prioritizing affordable housing. I believe we should try to ensure that every corner of our community prospers and that means providing access to job training, ensuring living wages and supporting workers’ rights. With one in five Americans suffering mental illness, I believe that we should fully address the mental health crisis in our comm, and that means ensuring our gov has resources to support everyone with support services. I believe that means everyone should be able to live in Arlington without fear, that means standing with public safety officials while also assuring appropriate oversight and accountability. It is our duty to protect the environment and that means prioritizing sustainability and reinforcing our infrastructure.
Candidates later told ARLnow about how fractured community engagement causes a breakdown in locals getting involved and supporting county policy-making.
Coffey says people don’t see how the steps that the County Board are taking “fit into a larger picture,” and nowhere is that more clear than the Missing Middle housing debate.
“The process, the way it has come about, with no connection to the bigger picture of what housing in all of Arlington looks like and where are we going, … has prevented a lot of people [from understanding] the necessity for options that are not 10 stories but not a single-family home,” she said. “It’s a real shame that its come out this way because I think it could have been something really great.”
Across issues, including Missing Middle, Dromgoole says county messaging is not getting to Latinos, Millennials and renters.
“You’re not reaching them the same way,” he said. For non-English speakers, he said, “it’s not just about translation, but about interpretation that has to be culturally sensitive.”
Meanwhile, Spain says, there’s a problem from the top. He said Arlington has fallen short by not always electing people with the closest ties to community members. People then have to organize — through groups like the NAACP — to advocate for measures such as a police oversight board with subpoena power or oversight of deaths in the county jail.
“We have allowed folks to come through party, get some type of anointing — this is what some have said, not [me] — and have thus never been connected to the community,” he said. “They’re shaping policy and there’s a disconnect.”
Others who formally announced their candidacy last night include:
- State Sen. Barbara Favola (for reelection)
- James DeVita (for Va. Senate)
- Adele McClure (for Va. House of Delegates)
- James Herring and Wanda Younger (for Arlington County Sheriff, joining already-announced candidate Jose Quiroz)
- Josh Katcher (for Commonwealth’s Attorney)
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