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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.”
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.”
(Updated at 9:15 p.m.) Arlington Democrats have forced out a precinct captain for supporting a School Board candidate who had to withdraw from seeking the party’s endorsement because she’s a federal employee.
Heather Keppler said in an email obtained by ARLnow that she was pressured to step down as the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s captain for the Lexington precinct because of her support of Symone Walker, a “lifelong Democrat.”
Though School Board races in Virginia are technically nonpartisan, with no party designation next to candidate names on the ballot, Arlington Democrats endorse candidates each year through a party caucus. Walker, a federal employee, initially sought the endorsement, but withdrew after another candidate filed complaints about her candidacy being a Hatch Act violation due to her federal employment.
Walker is now facing the two Democratic endorsees, Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy, in November’s general election.
Keppler, according to a statement from the campaign, is Walker’s campaign manager. The statement called the situation “disturbing” and characterized the party’s actions as “shamefully undemocratic.”
“The ACDC caucus process disenfranchises Black and other minority voters and effectively blocks federal workers from serving in their local government when the Hatch Act provides a pathway to do so,” Walker’s campaign said. “We will not be intimidated and will continue to keep our students, teachers, staff, and families the priority of our campaign, unlike ACDC whose only priority is their own power.”
Jill Caiazzo, Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said it’s against party rules to support the opponents of Democratic candidates and endorsees.
“The Arlington Dems bylaws require party officials, such as Precinct Captains, to support all Democratic nominees and endorsees in general and special elections,” Caiazzo said. “If a party official cannot do so for whatever reason, they are asked to take a step back from their party leadership role until the next election cycle, when they are welcomed back to party leadership.”
A similar situation played out with current Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, who faced a temporary expulsion from the local party after supporting independent County Board candidate John Vihstadt over Democrat Alan Howze in 2014.
Julius Spain, Sr., a community activist and supporter of Walker, said the move to oust her campaign manager from the local party’s ranks — even temporarily — is unnecessarily divisive.
“As a Democrat, I am highly disappointed by the recent decision of ACDC to remove Ms. Walker’s Campaign Manager, Heather Keppler, from her role as a local Democratic party precinct captain,” Spain said. “Ms. Keppler was yet another dedicated Democrat who has done so much over the years to advance inclusivity within our party. This decision did more to divide rather than unite us.”
(Spain is also the head of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which does not endorse candidates.)
Keppler’s full email is below.
The candidates for School Board this November are weighing on how they might approach the prospect of additional cuts to the Arlington Public Schools budget next year.
The pandemic forced Arlington Public Schools to slash millions from its budget this year, and additional budget pressures may be ahead. The candidates — independent candidate Symone Walker, and Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy, who received the Democratic endorsement — were asked about that during an online forum this past Tuesday (Sept. 8), hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation.
Walker said she thinks “we need to ask for more money from the county.”
“What we absolutely cannot do is cut funding for curriculum and instruction,” said Walker. “That cannot be sacrificed on any circumstances or any programs that require equity. We have to look at how we’re wasting funds and how we streamline and save on funds. One way we could have done that is to replace iPads with cheaper Chromebooks.”
Diaz-Torres said the community should have more of a say on best choice of action.
“I think this is a really important place where collaboration is absolutely critical: work best with the community to identify where we can make cuts,” Diaz-Torres said. “But also, collaborating at different levels of government. The reality is that the only way that we’re going to get out of that 20-25% budget deficit is with a significant investment from the federal government.”
Priddy said budget cuts will not be easy and will require a deft hand.
“Your budget is comprised of: 80% is your operations and salaries, 10% is debt service, and that leaves your middle 10% where that’s what we have to look at and historically,” he said. “Arlington has looked at how do you cut programs instead of cutting personnel and I think we’re going to have it the same way.”
“This is where my professional background comes in,” Priddy continued. “I’ve had many decisions on what to cut and what’s in the best interest of the business and this way it’ll be the community and being from Arlington and knowing the policies of Arlington, I know that I’m the right person to make those decisions.”
Another topic of conversation was whether APS should try to use parkland to build new schools. The candidates largely said it was an option that should be considered, but stopped short of saying it should actually be pursued.
The candidates, who also spoke before an online meeting of the Arlington Committee of 100 this week, discussed why they were running for what’s usually a fairly thankless job. There are two open seats on the School Board this fall, after incumbents Nancy Van Dorn and Tannia Talento decided not to seek new terms.
Diaz-Torres emphasized that she’s a “former teacher and education policy specialist” who wants to “create an education system where all students have the ability to succeed no matter their race, income, or socioeconomic status.”
Priddy introduced himself as a “parent of two sons in Arlington Public Schools, business leader, and lifelong Arlingtonian, running for one of two open seats on the Arlington County school board because I know that with proper planning, we can build back in more equitable and transparent APS.”
Walker said she is an “APS parent and education activist, serving in the school community for the past decade, and as recently as co-chair of the NAACP.”
Walker added that she’s “running for School Board to be an instrument of change because a lot needs to change.”
“The opportunity gap has not closed in decades, the reading curriculum is leaving students farther behind, struggling students are graduating semi-literate, our Black and Latino students are performing far below their white and Asian counterparts,” she said.
The election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
While many elections are spaced out over months, sometimes even years at the presidential level, three Arlington candidates have been running for County Board in a 61-day sprint towards the special election on July 7.
“It’s unprecedented and extremely short,” said Karantonis. “We have the COVID-19 [pandemic] and it is a special election [held] right after Fourth of July. Everything you can imagine that is non-typical for an election is typical for this one.”
The 61-Day Campaigns
The special election was triggered by County Board member Erik Gutshall’s resignation in April. Ten days later, Gutshall died after a battle with brain cancer. On May 7, Karantonis bested three other candidates to be chosen as the Democratic nominee in a closed caucus.
Karantonis, and economist and the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, faces opposition in the election from Cunningham, a business executive and independent who has been involved in several major planning efforts, and Cambridge, a Republican and former instructor in the CIA.
For each candidate, it’s been a struggle to adapt over the span of weeks to national and local changes — from the phased reopening to the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd.
“It was right at the end of April [when Gutshall resigned], ” Cunningham said. “I mulled it over, talked it over, then filed before the end of the month and before the party caucuses. It was not particularly premeditated — it was an unusual time with a lot of grieving and a lot of need. The rest of us were shaken by Erik’s death and we had to get a lot of signatures in the middle of the pandemic.”
Without a party infrastructure to back her up, Cunningham said she has had to take a grassroots approach in a compressed election cycle when traditional door-to-door campaigning grassroots tactics weren’t viable. Cunningham considered throwing her hat into the ring for the Democratic primary but said she felt more comfortable running as an independent.
“I thought long and hard about whether to run as an independent because there’s only, like, one example of that working,” Cunningham said, referring to independent John Vihstadt’s victories over Democratic candidates until he was bested in 2018. “It really was a values-based decision. I’ve always through local government should be non-partisan. The issues are not the national party issues; it’s potholes and schools.” (more…)
There is a special election to fill the seat on the County Board now vacant because of the tragic death of Erik Gutshall. While the County Board is attempting to push the date for the election all the way to November, voters are likely to head to the polls July 7 or vote absentee in advance of that day.
Over the next seven weeks, voters will be able to consider the three candidates running for the position. Here are three big picture questions these candidates should be answering:
- Will you challenge the status quo?
Now more than ever, we should not accept the idea that we can keep doing things the way we have done them in the past. The Board recognized this on an emergency basis as they passed a revised budget April 30th. However, they should use this time to ask themselves what they can do differently in the future. Every program, line item, rule and regulation should be evaluated to help us recover in the short term and make us stronger over time.
- Will you work to increase the levels of transparency and accountability provided by Arlington to its residents?
Two weeks ago, I noted a County Board pay raise mistakenly included in the pay plan approved by the Arlington County Board. When it was brought to their attention, they sprang into action to say it was not supposed to be there and would be fixed. Yet, the County Board met on Saturday and is meeting again today, and none of the agenda items listed thus far fix the pay plan to take back the raise. The Board Members who promised this would be fixed need to live up to their word and tell us how they plan to fix it before it takes effect on July 1st.
Also over the last two weeks, the County Board joined with other Northern Virginia jurisdictions to say “no” to reopening Arlington for business last Friday. The Board listed five metrics they were looking at for reopening. Last Friday during their virtual town hall meeting, they also regularly referenced the five metrics. Yet, nowhere on the County Board site can you view a dashboard which discloses how close, or far away, we are from meeting them.
While our ties to the federal government make our community more recession-resistant than most, our economy is still strained and our residents are losing jobs by the day. “Just trust us” should not be acceptable for such a huge decision, particularly in this unprecedented time of crisis.
- Will you commit to fiscal discipline as we recover from these challenging times?
Keeping the tax rate as low as possible is a key component for economic recovery. Beyond the costs on housing for our residents, many of whom have lost a job or could in the future, we must keep downward pressure on rents for our employers as well. It means designating 100% of any closeout funds to this purpose for the foreseeable future. It means the Board must also identify and fund only the most essential things in the budget for the next year or two to reduce the need for taxpayer revenue. And it certainly means a delay on the aforementioned pay raise for the Board.
Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
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.
Local education activist Symone Walker is no longer seeking the Democratic endorsement in her campaign for School Board, instead opting to run purely as an independent in the fall.
In Virginia, all School Board races are nonpartisan, but parties can still endorse candidates. In a statement, Walker said she is no longer seeking the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s endorsement.
Walker “will not participate in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s (ACDC) school board caucus for the party’s nomination, citing the committee’s inability to effectively address ongoing harassment her campaign received from an opponent in the race and instead will continue as an independent candidate for one of two seats on Arlington’s school board,” the statement said.
“Walker started her campaign in January after having received a favorable ethics opinion from her federal agency employer finding her candidacy compliant with the Hatch Act and citing a federal statute that allows her to run for the school board,” the statement continued. “Despite this, an opponent has continued harassing her by filing and purposefully escalating a series of complaints with a clear goal to reverse these initial, favorable determinations and derail her candidacy.
“After the political harassment against Walker succeeded in characterizing the ACDC caucus process as partisan enough to be not compliant with the intent of the law, ACDC needs to reconsider that the process now unfairly disenfranchises the approximately 37,000 federal employees living in Arlington, who comprise one-third of the electorate, many of whom are well qualified for the school board,” the campaign added.
It was not immediately clear which of the five other candidates challenged Walker’s candidacy by citing the Hatch Act, which “prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government… from engaging in some forms of political activity.”
Arlington Democrats said that the committee has “no standing to intervene in her employing agency’s decision-making about the nature of those restrictions and has no authority to countermand the agency decision.”
“Arlington Democrats appreciate Ms. Walker’s cautious approach to complying with the Hatch Act legal restrictions applicable to her as a Federal employee,” ACDC Chair Jill Caiazzo said via email. “Like other organizations that endorse candidates in school board races, such as education associations and teacher unions, Arlington Democrats believe that its endorsement is one of many valuable data points about these races for voters.”
“With respect to the harassment concerns associated with the raising of this legal compliance matter by another campaign, Arlington Democrats leadership spoke separately to both candidates in an effort to address the concerns, as well as offered the opportunity for Ms. Walker to speak directly to the Arlington Democrats Steering Committee to determine whether action by the organization could or should be taken about her concerns,” Caiazzo added. “We look forward to the continued exchange of ideas in this year’s school board race, as we work toward our shared goal of a strong school system that empowers all students, teachers, and staff. ”
The other School Board candidates who have announced their intention to seek the Democratic endorsement include Cristina Diaz-Torres, David Priddy, Sandy Munnell, Steven Krieger and Terron Sims. The deadline to file as a candidate is today.
Walker, a Jamaican immigrant who has lived in Arlington for more than 20 years, has advocated on various school and community issues. Recently, she has been quoted making the case for shorter summer breaks for students, revamped literacy testing, and better vetting of Arlington Public Schools’ new diversity chief.
Photo via Facebook
The following op-ed was written by Andrew Loposser, Chairman of the Arlington GOP.
Mark Kelly is correct. In his most recent “Right Note” opinion column, Kelly writes:
It would serve the community well if a qualified Republican or Independent ran for all of these offices rather than leaving so many of them uncontested. An electoral contest provides the voters with the opportunity to hear a real debate on the issues and forces Democrats to make a case for the vote.
As the Chairman of the Arlington GOP, I have begun the process of identifying and recruiting credible, qualified candidates for office up and down the ballot for 2020 and beyond. Arlington voters are well-educated and expect government to work for them — especially local government.
That’s why we’re looking for candidates who are already invested in this community — potential candidates may currently serve on boards and commissions or be involved in their civic associations or other civic groups.
The Arlington GOP has a platform focused on local issues.
- Increasing the number of school seats and the supply of market-rate affordable housing
- Improving Metro management
- Ensuring community input into major decisions like incentives to attract large businesses
- Separating bond referenda to avoid forcing all-or-nothing votes on a mixed bag of marginally related projects
Arlington Republicans — like many Arlington voters — expect local government to be responsive and accountable to the taxpayers.
In 2016, roughly 27,000 voters cast ballots for a presidential candidate other than the Democratic nominee at the top of the ticket. That is a significant number of voters un-represented or underrepresented by the Arlington County Democratic Committee machine.
Republicans want a seat at the table, and we’re working hard to outline positions on local issues and talking with friends and neighbors across the aisle.
As I wrote at the beginning of this letter, Mark Kelly is correct. We do deserve a rigorous debate on the important issues our community faces. So if you’re dissatisfied with the Democratic Establishment, I encourage you to give us a first or second look. And perhaps even consider running for local office as a Republican.
File photo (top)
Arlington County Board incumbents fought to hold their ground against independents over Amazon incentives and housing topics at a debate Monday evening.
At the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum at U.Group in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive), Democratic incumbents Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol faced off against independent challengers Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell.
One of the moments of back-and-forth criticism among the candidates came over the redevelopment of a number of market-rate affordable housing complexes in the Westover neighborhood. Clement has frequently criticized the County Board for what she said was the “preventable demolition” of the Westover garden apartments.
The redevelopment was by-right, meaning the developer did not need County Board approval. But Clement said the County Board could have designated the apartments part of a historic district and preserved the homes.
Overall, Clement argued that development drives up costs to build housing and that even dedicated affordable housing units come at a steep cost.
“The average cost of a new [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] unit is in excess of $400,000,” Clement said. “Most of the units are not affordable. Because the units are not affordable, the income-qualified people who move in, 30 percent of them have to have rent subsidies to pay the nominal amount of rent that they do pay. The taxpayers are hit twice, they have to pay their own rent and their own mortgage and they have to pay someone else’s because the cost of building that unit was astronomical.”
Dorsey fired back that rather than use the historic district designation, the County Board is working to change the regulations to protect affordable communities from redevelopment.
“In the Westover reference that Ms. Clement talked about, while she thinks the Board has done nothing, what we did do was take a courageous stand… and stopped the perverse incentive that led people to take affordable communities and turn them into by-right townhouses,” Dorsey said. “We paused that option and put it into the special exemption process so that we created options to preserve that housing.”
“We’re studying ways that can be better purposed to provide long term, market-based affordable housing,” Dorsey added. So you have to figure out where you’re doing harm and stop doing harm to create new options to preserve affordability both through direct subsidies and through the market.”
O’Dell, meanwhile, said the County should do more to accommodate for “tiny apartments” aimed at people moving to Arlington immediately after college, who may need an affordable place to live but not a lot of space.
“When you talk about housing affordability, you need to have a variety of types of units,” O’Dell said. “We should look at the lower incomes that fall into the 60 percent bracket and give them opportunities to possibly move in and look at places to live.”
Cristol said the County should work to open the door to other types of housing, pointing to the recent legalization of detached accessory dwelling units as an example and noting the large amount of land in Arlington zoned for only single-family housing.
“One of the most important things we can do is legalizing alternative forms,” said Cristol. “There are so many housing forms that could offer folks not only an opportunity to rent but [also to] buy and it’s literally illegal to build them in huge swaths of the county… There’s room for creative ideas, this is an area where we need partnership in the private sector, particularly for those who develop housing.”
The independent challengers for Arlington County Board confronted the two Democratic incumbents on local hot button issues at last night’s Arlington County Civic Federation debate.
Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey faced off against perennial candidate Audrey Clement and newcomer Arron O’Dell at the Civic Federation’s annual candidate, which serves as the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaign season.
Clement’s main attacks centered around a perception of unchecked increases in development and density, destruction of native vegetation, and a lack of county government transparency. Specifically, Clement claimed the County Board’s decision to move forward with the Rosslyn boathouse project came with little public community input. Clement said the new boathouse will take away from one of the last green places in the Rosslyn area, a forested plot of land near Roosevelt Island.
“How can you have a public process when the County Board unanimously approved [the boathouse],” she said. “It’s not for or against the boathouse, it’s for or against double speak.”
Cristol fired back that the boathouse had been in the works for decades and has been subject to extensive public discussion. At some point, she said, projects need to move forward.
“The idea of the boathouse was the result of a public process a couple of decades ago,” Cristol said. “There needs to be a standard of finality. ”
Cristol and Dorsey also defended repeated attacks from Clement, and to a lesser extent O’Dell, that Arlington’s ever-increasing density was fundamentally transforming the County.
“Development is synonymous with housing,” Cristol said. “So do I think there needs to be more housing? Yes, but we have to plan for the infrastructure to support that and plan for the student population [growth]. But I believe we can welcome more neighbors and still maintain our quality of life.”
Cristol argued later that the law of supply and demand applies to Arlington, as it does elsewhere — that adding more housing will keep housing costs lower. Clement disagreed, citing recent studies that showed rental rates were more closely tied with amenities than with the supply of housing.
Dorsey also disagreed with Clement’s characterization of “growth on steriods” in Arlington.
“We’ve seen 1.4 percent growth [per year] on average,” said Dorsey. “That’s moderate. In the ’40s, ’50s and ‘6os we grew far faster. Managing growth is what we do well. The idea of us closing up shop is not something that can happen.”
O’Dell, who said he did not have a strong opinion about the boathouse and some other topics of discussion during the debate, did express strong feelings on Amazon’s arrival into Arlington. The county is leaning too heavily on the tech giant for economic growth, he said, something that could backfire should Amazon’s plans change — much like over reliance on federal tenants led to high office vacancy rates following the implementation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Act.
“It’s replacing the federal government with another entity,” he said. “We’re creating another potential vacuum. The key to success will be getting small businesses to follow Amazon.”
Clement also criticized the Board for overselling the positive impacts Amazon would bring and offering the company millions in incentives.
Dorsey recognized the concerns about Amazon’s arrival and said he sympathizes with many of them.
“One of the challenges [will be] the impact on housing,” Dorsey said. “It’s also going to require the Board to work in conjunction with Alexandria for inclusive growth for all as we create concrete arrangements with our neighbors.”
Overall, Dorsey said the company’s arrival will help reduce the strain on local taxpayers and open up new opportunities for the Pentagon City-Crystal City area.