Arlington, VA

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Larry RobertsArlington has come through a year of divisive political rhetoric no closer to addressing the key challenges that face our county. Hopefully, we will see in 2015 a renewed commitment to tackling those challenges through a united community and not a divided one.

These key challenges exist outside of political party, the neighborhood one lives in, and one’s preference on the mode of transit for the economically-challenged corridor from Potomac Yard to Skyline through Arlington.

The challenges are not the result of current county policies, county spending priorities, or county politics.

And many of the challenges are due to our successes and not our failures.

More often than not, they are a result of the increasing number of people who choose to live in Arlington because they value our schools, parks, services, cultural amenities, neighborhoods, transit-oriented development and transportation options, diversity, and overall quality of life. They also result from increasing residential property values due to the steady demand for Arlington residences. And they result from growing numbers of families with children in Arlington, something most would consider a sign of success.

At the same time, these challenges arise due to forces beyond Arlington’s control, including a dampening of county revenues and a weakening of Arlington’s commercial tax base — through cutbacks in federal spending (and the job security of federal workers), federal BRAC and sequestration actions that have moved jobs out of Arlington and reductions in federal office space, and state budget cuts. This is in addition to increasingly effective competition from the District of Columbia and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions for businesses, workers and entrepreneurs.

Due to their nature, I believe addressing these challenges requires looking beyond the divisive issues of the moment and overemphasizing the importance of county government operations.

These challenges will not be solved by government only and cannot be solved merely by scrutinizing government performance. While it is important to focus on county government spending, we would face the same challenges even if we could succeed in wringing out every last efficiency from county government.

We will instead solve them by focusing on enhancing our competitive advantages and advancing core values that make Arlington an attractive place to live — not just the important core services of public safety, education and transportation, and sound financial practices — but also recreation, parks, human services, environmental stewardship, housing affordability (not just for lower income people but also for workforce housing and helping people stay in Arlington as housing prices rise), arts and culture, and diversity.

Success in tackling our challenges must involve moving Arlington forward or we will inevitably fall back. Many have fond memories of a past Arlington they may prefer to the challenges of today, but I arrived in a 1970s Arlington with schools closed due to declining overall population and student population, businesses leaving, services declining, and weak economic performance.

Fortunately, Arlington had already made wise and forward-looking land use, transportation, and investment decisions that positioned it to take advantage of increases in defense spending, a recovering economy, a technology boom, and the growing importance of Northern Virginia. Read More

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Larry RobertsThis week, Arlington lost one of its finest community leaders — Dr. Talmadge Williams.

While others were closer to Talmadge and will offer fitting tributes about his many fine attributes and accomplishments, he and I shared many experiences and values. I believe it is fitting for a column titled Progressive Voice to honor someone like Talmadge Williams, who worked tirelessly, humbly and effectively to promote progressive values in Arlington and to promote Arlington County as a progressive community that seeks constantly to move toward Lincoln’s “More Perfect Union.”

Talmadge and I got to know each other through community activities and a shared interest in politics and education. He knew that I was the son and brother of educators and of my roles as an officer and director of a national civil rights organization, helping to elect pioneering African-American elected officials Charles Monroe and Frank Wilson, and working to ensure that Democratic Party organizations at the local and state level reflected the important roles played by African Americans in our County and our Commonwealth.

I knew that Dr. Williams had been pursuing similar efforts far longer, more effectively, and with great passion, skill and grace.

When I reached out to Talmadge to ask him to help me with some of my efforts, he could not have been more encouraging, empowering, and inclusive. Not only did he open doors (literally and figuratively) to homes, churches, and organizations, but he honored me by asking me to help him achieve goals that he was pursuing and participate in organizations he was leading or in which he was an integral figure.

Over the years, Dr. Williams offered advice and wise counsel on an array of issues and community concerns and opportunities. He traveled successfully in so many circles in Arlington that his insights were incredibly valuable and helped move many conversations forward toward solutions. The trust he engendered across the board allowed important dialogues to take place that led to greater understanding and accomplishments.

Though he was humble, Dr. Williams was forceful and firm in his beliefs. His work as president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP showcased his ability to move people to achieve objectives, insist on accountability, and constantly move forward with purpose.

As a proud ambassador for Arlington in regional, state and national organizations, Dr. Williams showed that, in the words of Craig Syphax “his commitment to Arlington County was complete and unequivocal.”

Never one to be satisfied, Talmadge pushed throughout his nearly 40 years in Arlington to move the County to honor its proud legacy — especially, but not limited to, African-American accomplishments — and to build bridges among communities. He pushed Arlington to invest in its future, to govern well, to constantly seek to improve, to achieve justice and fairness, and to create both opportunity and security for all of its residents with a particular emphasis on those in need and those who had faced discrimination.  Read More

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Larry RobertsOn Sept. 11, 2001, I was an attorney working with a law firm in offices a few blocks from the White House. I also was serving as Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

At the end of that tragic day, I prepared an email to Arlington Democrats describing my thoughts about that day and how we might respond to the tragedy.

Each year on the anniversary of the tragedy, I look back on that email to remember what I felt at the time. I remain proud of my words that day:

Dear Arlington Democrats,

Our nation has endured a vicious attack directed at symbols of its financial and military might. The attackers succeeded in destroying the World Trade Center, damaging the Pentagon, and bringing grief to countless families, friends and colleagues of the victims of the attack. The attackers failed miserably, however, in their primary objective — destroying the very fabric of our democratic society.

We have shown our ability as a nation and as Americans to face up to catastrophic circumstances and respond with the best we have to offer.

People gave up their lives to help others to survive. Countless Americans donated blood, food, and other needed supplies. Schoolteachers and administrators kept a sense of calm in our schools and among our children. Journalism rose to meet the challenge of keeping us informed with factual information and avoiding speculation and sensationalism. Our public officials provided the necessary and appropriate leadership and words of comfort.

Leaving the District and returning to Arlington by Metro, I was struck by the poignant conversations of people coming to grips with a tragedy that had struck too close to home. Everyone was calm, respectful of those around them, and purposeful.

As I left the Rosslyn Metro station and walked to the Courthouse area, cars made their way in an orderly way along Wilson Boulevard. Arlington’s diversity was reflected among the many, many people who walked along the same road to their residences. The sense was that we were all Americans — no matter our race, ethnicity or religion — and that we all were preparing ourselves for the challenges ahead without the hysteria and scapegoating that can accompany such trying times.

As I returned home, I saw on television the dramatic footage of what was taking place at the Pentagon and the Virginia Hospital Center — Arlington. I was proud that our Arlington emergency personnel (police, fire and rescue), our Arlington health care providers, and our County government had responded so quickly, persistently, and effectively to what was a situation of national and international importance. We saw the leaders of our state, region and nation rise to the occasion.

I think our political and civic leaders made the right choice in canceling activities and campaigning yesterday and last night. That was a time to focus on the situation at hand and to put aside our partisan differences.

As we know, life must go on. Were it not to go on with some semblance of normalcy, the terrorists would be victorious. They will not achieve such a victory.

Still, each of us must come to grips with these extraordinary events in our own way and in our own time. For some of us, there will be losses to deal with that are personal and severe. Others of us will be ready to get back to the campaign trail as soon as possible — perhaps as a way to reach out for comfort from friends in our Arlington Democratic family.

Let us respect those who need some time off and let us also respect those who are ready to get back to the business of electing our leaders of tomorrow.

As campaigners, let us be sure to respect the sensitivities of those of our Arlington residents who choose not to focus on the campaign just yet.

As these events unfold, we will once again see the importance of those who serve as our leaders, and the importance of electing leaders who appeal to and serve our better instincts and values.

That is why it is so important for us to engage in the electoral process and to work together as Arlington Democrats.

I look forward to seeing all of you soon. Take care and keep in our thoughts and prayers those who are helping others, who are leading us, who are in need, who are grieving, and who have lost their lives.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice and served as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine. On September 11, 2001, he was Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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