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Arlington County Board candidates make their final pitches for votes this election

Election Day 2022 in Arlington (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The end of the election is drawing nearer: early voting ends on Saturday and Tuesday is Election Day.

At this point, the roughly 12,000 early votes cast are almost evenly split between in-person and mailed-in ballots, per the Arlington County election turnout dashboard. Some 44,000 ballots need to be returned between now and the close of the polls on Tuesday to surpass turnout in 2019, the last similar election year.

With few days left to vote, candidates for the two open Arlington County Board seats are making their last public pitches for support at the polls.

They maintain the reasons that motivated them to run — economic stability, crime rates, Missing Middle, outcomes for youth and better planning —  remain relevant in the home stretch.

“One of the reasons I’m running for the Arlington County Board is my concern for the rising crime rate,” Republican candidate Juan Carlos Fierro said in a statement Monday.

“As a husband and a father, I am deeply concerned about the safety of my wife and daughters,” Fierro continued. “I am increasingly hearing about concern about Arlington’s rising crime from my fellow Arlingtonians — talking with friends and neighbors, following postings on social media, and reading articles in the local media.”

He referenced the Arlington County Police Department’s 2022 annual report, released this year, in which the department reports a nearly 18% increase over 2021 in crimes against persons, property and society, ranging from murder and manslaughter to drug offenses. Crimes against people increased 16.4% — primarily driven by assault — and property crimes increased by 23%, driven by motor vehicle thefts, larcenies and fraud.

While total offenses have risen since 2018, total arrests only ticked up between 2021 and 2022 and still have not recovered from a decline going back to 2013, according to annual reports by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

ACPD reports do not include arrests for these offenses and previously told ARLnow it would have to be requested by the Freedom of Information Act, though they can also be found on the Virginia State Police data dashboard.

“While Arlington is generally a safe community, residents must be aware of the rising crime, and our leaders must prioritize the safety of our residents,” Fierro added. “Crime and community safety are not partisan issues. Voters deserve elected leaders who will prioritize community safety and address the rising crime across Arlington.”

Fierro attributed the uptick in part to police staffing issues and pledged to “fully” invest in ACPD’s recruitment and retention efforts. Part of the reason fewer people are becoming officers, he said, is “because police officers are being vilified.”

“Community leaders must rebuke the pro-criminal elements in our justice system that are contributing to the culture of increased crime and reduced public safety in Arlington,” he said. “Some in our own community have joined the nationwide effort to undermine police morale while refusing to prosecute certain offenses.”

Democrat Maureen Coffey distilled her platform into two fundamental issues: affordability and economic stability.

“Our residents need to see a path forward where we can meet their needs,” she said. “Whether it’s housing, taxes, child care, or food security, people are struggling. Arlington needs to find both the short- and long-term solutions that help us serve everyone in the community and create stability while maintaining our core services.”

Meanwhile, perennial independent candidate Audrey Clement — who presciently made Missing Middle central to her campaign three years ago — is doubling down on her choice to make it a focus in 2023, after the passage of the ordinances in March.

She says “the issue will live on,” no matter how the Arlington County Circuit Court rules on challenge by 10 Arlington homeowners to the Expanded Housing Options ordinance the Arlington County Board “rammed through earlier this year.”

“If the court rules in favor of the homeowners’ challenge, the County Board will no doubt advance a new upzoning plan that will require public deliberations and stakeholder review,” she continued. “If the court upholds the ordinance, homeowners will look for other options to preserve their neighborhoods from the impacts of densification. Either way, upzoning and its impacts will remain the single most important local issue confronting the County Board for years to come.”

Coming away from a Lyon Village Civic Association candidate forum on Monday, Clement said her message resonated.

“With lovely homes on small lots and tree lined streets, I am confident that Lyon Village neighbors agree with me that Lyon Village is already as dense as you can get,” she said.

Some Lyon Village neighbors have mobilized against early-stage plans to tear down Clarendon Presbyterian Church and replace it with affordable senior housing, with the existing church and daycare on the ground floor. Clement participated in a meeting among the members of the civic association discussing the forthcoming plans and aired her concerns with the proposed density then.

Missing Middle — and planning more broadly — is one of two key issues, in addition to how Arlington supports children and teens, where Democrat Susan Cunningham sees a much broader problem.

“The overarching challenge is how do we build a strong community, which is a cool issue to work on and one Arlington has been good at in many parts of its history,” she said.

Arlington County Board members only have a few tools, including building the budget and directing the County Manager, she says. Cunningham suggests a “youth lens” for evaluating actions and spending similar to the county’s equity lens.

She says the county could reprise lost momentum on work to connect families to open childcare slots and step up work to reduce friction between the County Board and School Board. Doing so, she says, would ensure resources — from parks programs to counselors to school auditoriums — better serve the whole community.

“The tragedies of this year should be and can be powerful enough to keep that in focus and they have to be,” Cunningham said, referencing student overdoses that prompted community groups and the County Board to push for more youth support, including after-school programming.

She pointed to some rural counties that work to ensure that children have several points of connection to the community, including academics, faith or the arts. In Arlington, she says similar work is getting underway, led by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Arlington Public Library, as well as community organizations.

“I see a lot of the bubbling but it hasn’t come to fruition yet,” she said. “One of the many places that it should come to fruition is in the budget process.”

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