Pricy Lobbying and ‘Spilled Blood’: The Inside Story of How Arlington Won a Veto in Richmond

(Updated at 10:45 p.m.) About a year ago at this time, Arlington looked to be in serious trouble down in Richmond.

In mid-March 2018, county officials faced the decidedly unpleasant prospect that they’d come out on the losing end of a bruising legislative battle with two local golf and country clubs.

One of the county’s foremost foes in the General Assembly had engineered the passage of legislation to slash the clubs’ tax bills, potentially pulling more than a million dollars in annual tax revenue out of the county’s coffers.

Arlington had spent years tangling with the clubs, which count among their members local luminaries ranging from retired generals to former presidents, arguing over how to tax those properties. Yet the legislation from Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District) would’ve bypassed the local dispute entirely, and it was headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.

That meant that Arlington’s only hope of stopping the bill was convincing the governor to strike it down with his veto pen.

In those days, long before evidence of Northam’s racist medical school yearbook photos had surfaced, the Democrat was well-liked in the county. He’d raised plenty of cash from Arlingtonians in his successful campaign just a year before, and had won endorsements in his primary contest from many of the county’s elected officials.

Yet the situation still looked dire enough that the County Board felt compelled to take more drastic steps to win Northam to their side. The county shelled out $22,500 to hire a well-connected lobbying firm for just a few weeks, embarking on a frenetic campaign to pressure the governor and state lawmakers and launch a media blitz to broadcast the county’s position in both local and national outlets.

“It became apparent to all of us that every Arlingtonian had something at stake here,” then-County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “At a time when we were making excruciating decisions about our own budget, the idea that you would take more than million dollars and put it toward something that wasn’t a priority for anyone here was so frustrating.”

That push was ultimately successful — Northam vetoed the bill last April, and the county struck a deal with the clubs to end this fight a few weeks later.

An ARLnow investigation of the events of those crucial weeks in spring 2018 sheds a bit more light on how the county won that veto, and how business is conducted down in the state capitol. This account is based both on interviews with many people close to the debate and a trove of emails and documents released via a public records request (and published now in the spirit of “National Sunshine Week,” a nationwide initiative designed to highlight the value of freedom of information laws).

Crucially, ARLnow’s research shows that the process was anything but smooth sailing for the county, as it pit Arlington directly against the club’s members. Many of them exercise plenty of political influence across the region and the state, and documents show they were able to lean heavily on Northam himself.

“One would expect a Democratic governor to be highly responsive to one of most Democratic jurisdictions in the state,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “But this was a matter of great concern to a bunch of very important people in Virginia, and that may well be the reason why additional efforts were necessary.”

And, looking forward, the bitter fight over the issue could well have big implications should similar legislation ever resurface in Richmond.

“Structurally, this bill could absolutely come back someday,” Cristol said. “And the idea that a bill that has such deleterious consequences for land use and taxation in jurisdictions across Virginia could come back and garner support because of an effective lobbying interest is very much a real threat.”

A risky precedent?

Hugo kicked off the fight over golf course taxes in the state capitol by filing his bill in fall 2017, but the dispute had been percolating long before then.

Both the Army Navy Country Club (located along I-395 just past Pentagon City) and the Washington Golf and Country Club (near Marymount University along N. Glebe Road) had been fighting with the county’s real estate assessor for years.

Arlington officials sought to value the clubs’ based on the “highest and best use” of the land: in this case, as space for residential or commercial properties. That meant the county assumed that each square foot of land was worth about $12 — the two clubs control more than 370 acres of land, combined.

The county reasoned that land is exceedingly valuable in the 26-square-mile locality, where officials have trouble finding sites for schools and other public facilities, and ought to be treated as such. Residential properties near each club have often been valued at many times that amount, for comparison.

That means Army Navy was generally assigned a value of well north of $100 million over the years, with an annual tax bill hovering around $1.5 million, county records show. Washington Golf ranged in value from $42 million to $60 million, with a tax bill of $838,000 for 2017.

The clubs argued those tax bills were wildly unfair compared to other Northern Virginia golf courses, some of which are valued at a much lower rate. They claimed the high tax bills were forcing them to raise membership rates, putting a strain on members — in Army Navy’s case, many are active duty military or veterans.

So Hugo filed legislation to slash the valuation rate to around $0.50 per square foot, reducing the clubs’ annual tax burden by roughly $1.5 million, combined. The clubs also filed suit against the county in December 2017, challenging their 2014 property assessments.

But it was the legislative push that unnerved county officials the most. Losing the court case would impact just two property assessments in isolation (albeit valuable ones) — seeing the legislation pass could’ve opened the door for other landowners to follow the same playbook, they feared.

“It would set a risky precedent where any property owner who does not agree with their assessment could run to Richmond for a legislative fix,” then-Board member John Vihstadt warned a state Senate committee in February 2018.

Smooth sailing for Hugo’s bill

Cristol says the Board took the prospect of Hugo’s bill passing “incredibly seriously” from the moment it was introduced. She remembers the entire Board frequently checking in with the county’s state legislative delegation, and other lawmakers representing Northern Virginia, to make the county’s position clear.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District), who represents parts of Arlington, spoke forcefully against the bill in a Feb. 7, 2018 committee hearing in the House of Delegates. At the time, Sullivan said he “probably spent more time on this bill than any other bill this session.”

“To my way of thinking, a resolution between the parties is always better than this body imposing an outcome,” Sullivan told his colleagues on the House finance committee. “I believe the parties are on course, pardon the pun, to a resolution of this.”

Sullivan cited “ongoing, good faith negotiations” between the clubs and the county, arguing that two sides were in the process of settling the valuation dispute and averting the need for any lawsuit.

At the time, however, Arlington had yet to offer a settlement of the lawsuit to the clubs, or hold extensive negotiations with them.

A timeline drafted by County Attorney Steve MacIsaac for use in later lobbying efforts notes that the county didn’t hold its first sit-down meeting with club officials until mid-March. The two sides discussed some inspections of the properties over the month of February, while the legislature was in session, but offered no terms to resolve the matter until later.

And Hugo argued that his legislation was the only reason any negotiations were happening at all.

“The ‘ongoing talks’ never really started until the bill was introduced,” Hugo told the finance committee.

Hugo’s colleagues saw things his way. The bill easily passed the committee with bipartisan support, passing both the Senate and the House with a mix of Republican and Democrat votes a few weeks later. The bill was sent to Northam by March 16.

Four days earlier, the County Board signed a $15,000 contract with Capital Results, a Richmond lobbying firm, documents and emails show. The firm’s past clients range from the National Rifle Association to Major League Baseball to Tesla Motors, according to state records.

Capital Results’ duties would include “message development,” “thought leader engagement,” and “media relations,” according to the contract. Partner Bea Gonzalez took point on the operation.

Cristol says the decision to hire the firm was partly out of desperation, as the Board recognized that heavily Democratic Arlington might have trouble winning sympathy from the Republican-dominated General Assembly without some extra help.

“We knew we’d need members of the majority caucus, which can be a little hard for Arlington,” Cristol said. “This was an opportunity for some outside help to reach some in the other party.”

Plus, the county had to face off against plenty of lobbying from the clubs themselves — Washington Golf employed two lobbyists for the legislative session, while Army Navy retained four of its own, state records show.

Gonzalez gets going

Emails show that, by March 14, 2018, Gonzalez had leapt into action.

She began coordinating closely with both Cristol and Pat Carroll, the county’s main government affairs staffer in Richmond, with one main opening goal: funneling a slew of letters opposing Hugo’s bill to Northam’s office.

Not only did Gonzalez help draft a resolution for the Board to pass condemning the bill, but she helped craft letters for all manner of Arlington politicians and community leaders about the country club legislation.

Sheriff Beth Arthur, Clerk of Circuit Court Paul Ferguson, County Treasurer Carla de la Pava, former Del. L. Karen Darner, the School Board, the heads of firefighter and police unions and local PTA presidents all communicated with Gonzalez about sending letters to Northam.

She drafted the letters and, in many cases, local leaders would send them onto the governor as their own, the emails show.

“At this point it is a numbers game [with] the number of letters and emails received,” Gonzalez wrote to Carroll on March 27.

Gonzalez also worked extensively with state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) to draft an op-ed and then place it in the Washington Post. It eventually ran on March 30, under the headline, “Virginia country clubs don’t need these tax breaks.” Gonzalez also helped Cristol draft her own op-ed on the matter, though it’s unclear if it was ever published.

Farnsworth said that, given the outsized influence of lobbyists around the capitol, it should hardly be a surprise that they may also be doing a little ghostwriting for politicians.

“Lobbyists draft bills, so why wouldn’t they draft op-eds?” he said. “Cynicism with respect to the authors of opinion columns or legislation is not generally misplaced.”

Earning some eyeballs

Earning media attention was another key part of Gonzalez’s strategy. The emails show she worked to secure Cristol interviews with TV and radio outlets alike and prep her for each one — she even worked with county staff to draft news releases on each stage of the legislation’s development.

And Gonzalez also endeavored to generate some more grassroots opposition to Hugo’s bill. While she reached out to a variety of different community activists, she found the most success with Annette Lang, who worked with the progressive group “We of Action Virginia.”

Lang and Cristol had chatted extensively about the golf course issue during the “March for Our Lives” gun safety demonstration in D.C., and Cristol forwarded her contact information to Gonzalez. From there, Gonzalez and Carroll provided her with talking points against Hugo’s bill and Lang whipped up support as part of a new group: “NoTaxSubsidies4Clubs.”

“It struck me that it’s really inappropriate for the General Assembly to step in on something like this, so I got kind of jazzed about it,” Lang told ARLnow. “Which is strange, because it’s a rather dry issue.”

Lang and her fellow activists began writing to state lawmakers about the issue, and sent letters to the editor along to local news outlets. They even took out ads blasting the bill in the Sun Gazette, including one pictured at left.

And when it came time for one of Northam’s regular appearances on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” radio show, Gonzalez convinced Lang to call in, at Cristol’s urging. The hosts took her call during the March 28 broadcast.

“My question is, do you think real estate tax assessments should be established by local elected officials with disputes resolved in the courts, or should they be imposed upon by state legislators with disputes resolved by the state legislators that are not elected by the locality?” Lang asked.

Northam commended her for having a “good grasp of what we’re dealing with right now,” and vowed to “step in and take action” only if the county and the clubs couldn’t strike a deal.

Northam feels the heat

The governor’s tone during the radio show provided a good indication of how his staff was approaching the situation behind the scenes.

Emails show that Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, wrote to Cristol later on March 30 to get contact information for the clubs’ leaders. He said he planned to send an email “out to the group to encourage dialogue between the parties.”

But Northam’s appearance during the WTOP program also hinted at some of the pressure he was feeling to let the bill become law.

“Something I am sensitive to is a lot of these members are veterans,” Northam said. “A lot of them have protected our lives and have limited resources, and so the memberships have gotten fairly unreasonable, and that’s why this needs to be addressed.”

Emails between Gonzalez and Carroll indicate that the governor, himself an Army veteran and Virginia Military Institute graduate, was hearing the argument quite frequently that, without a slash in tax bills, the clubs would become unaffordable for their military members.

“[Former Arlington Del.] Bob Brink says that the governor is hearing from veterans,” Carroll wrote to Gonzalez on March 23. “Not sure yet how many.”

“Yes, veterans are calling in — and all of the VMI network too,” Gonzalez replied.

Cristol remembers being confused at hearing such arguments. “The idea that we would support veterans by giving tax breaks to country clubs, rather than investing tax dollars in services to support veterans felt bizarre to me,” she says now.

Nevertheless, it was clearly a powerful argument in the clubs’ favor. Hugo referenced the issue several times during committee debate; a March 3 op-ed on the conservative Virginia politics website Bearing Drift accused Arlington of “using an unfair application of tax policy to willfully run United States military veterans out of the county.”

Lang recalls several legislators telling her that they’d heard similar overtures. Del. Kaye Kory (D-38th District) told Lang in an email that “I am receiving voicemails from veterans urging me to support this bill and angrily demanding to know why I voted against it.”

“This misleading campaign is hypocritical and disappointing,” she wrote on March 25.

Some of the pressure from veterans was even directed Cristol’s way.

Someone tweeted at her on March 28 urging her to support Hugo’s bill based on what it would mean for veterans. She responded that “I’m honored to represent the >12k veterans living in Arlington County. I don’t think asking them to foot the bill for tax breaks for country clubs is a sign of respect.”

That tweet did not go unnoticed among the country clubs’ supporters. A few days after Cristol’s social media post, Carroll wrote to Gonzalez, saying she’d heard about the tweet directly from Suzette Denslow, Northam’s deputy chief of staff.

Denslow had gotten a call from Edward Mullen, one of the lobbyists representing Washington Golf, who was upset about that message. And Mullen is no stranger to the Northam administration — he served on the governor’s transition team, and personally donated $1,500 to Northam’s gubernatorial campaign.

Carroll wrote to Denslow to reassure her that the clubs and the county were working together and making progress on a settlement.

After the veto, a ‘good relationship’?

Regardless of any heat Northam might’ve been feeling, the governor came through on Arlington’s side by April 9, his deadline for acting on the bill.

He vetoed Hugo’s legislation, but delivered a warning in a statement attached to the decision: “I encourage the parties to continue negotiations to find a solution so that similar legislation will not be necessary in the future.”

This prompted rejoicing from the Arlington contingent, with one cautionary note.

“I spilled blood on this one,” Favola wrote to Gonzalez, Carroll and other county officials. “There is nothing left for a redo, so please reach a settlement with the clubs.”

Cristol followed up the next day with proposed strategies on how to sustain the governor’s veto, fearing that Hugo might try to muster the votes to override Northam’s decision. That would require a two-thirds majority in the House of Delegates, a heavy lift considering the bill didn’t originally pass with that much support.

Still, emails show Carroll and Gonzalez exchanged ideas about which local lawmakers might be well positioned to whip support for the veto.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez feared that Hugo was marshaling his own opposition to the veto as late as April 16.

“Been texting with Hugo, and he may be leaning on giving a long [floor] speech I think,” she wrote to Carroll. “So we need to be sure to be prepped.”

The county even agreed to extend its contract with Capital Results that same day. Gonzalez charged Arlington another $7,000, documents show.

“The veto being sustained was not at all something we took for granted,” Cristol said.

Ultimately, Gonzalez’s fears weren’t realized. On April 19, she wrote to a group of county officials that Hugo had decided not to contest the veto.

Six days later, the clubs and the county struck a deal to avert the lawsuit, according to an email from Army Navy’s chairman to his members.

The county agreed to reduce its valuation of the courses, and refund some of their past tax bills — the changes cut Army Navy’s tax bill by about $600,000 last year, while Washington Golf saved about $400,000. Word of the settlement made it to ARLnow by May 2.

Cristol says the ultimate outcome was undoubtedly the one the county had hoped for, but she added that there were certainly moments where county leaders felt “great frustration and disappointment” about the how the debate proceeded. Plainly, the whole saga left some hard feelings all around.

“[The clubs] chose, unfortunately, to take their case to Richmond and sue us at the same time,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “Not the way to make friends and influence people, in my view.”

That’s not to say the experience left the clubs and the county entirely on bad terms, however.

“We are trying to maintain a good relationship with the county and hope to maintain that good relationship in the future,” Raighne Delaney, Army Navy’s secretary-treasurer, told ARLnow. Washington Golf’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

That being said, Cristol remains wary that the county could find itself doing battle with the clubs in Richmond once again, should that relationship deteriorate.

After all, she notes that Hugo — a Fairfax Republican who has frequently clashed with the county on all manner of issues — “is still in the General Assembly.”

“People in Clifton or other parts of the state could always decide they know better how to tax open space in Arlington,” Cristol said.

Main photo via Facebook

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County Board Chair Dorsey Kicks Off Re-Election Bid, Joining Cristol in Run for Another Term

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey is making a run for re-election, joining fellow Board member Katie Cristol in a bid for another four years in office.

Dorsey formally announced his bid at the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s monthly meeting last night (Wednesday), according to the group’s website. The county’s elections office also now lists Dorsey as a candidate for the Board, which has two seats on the ballot this fall.

Dorsey did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment, but he’s telegraphed a run for another term for several weeks now. He held a Super Bowl-themed fundraiser in early February, but held off on formally announcing until now. Cristol, who won office in 2015 alongside Dorsey, announced her re-election bid last month.

The pair won spots on the Board four years ago as relative political newcomers, triumphing in a crowded, six-way caucus to earn the Democratic nomination and then decisively winning in the general. Dorsey had run for county office before, but his background is mainly in work at D.C. think tanks.

Since joining the Board, Dorsey has taken a leading role on transit and housing issues, most notably serving on Metro’s Board of Directors. He rotated in for a one-year stint as chair back in January.

Dorsey and Cristol have since helped steer the Board through several tough budget years, as persistently high office vacancy rates have strained county coffers, and also been tasked with navigating the complexities of bringing Amazon to Arlington, and the resulting debate over the deal.

As of yet, however, no other Democrats have stepped forward to challenge the pair in a June 11 primary. Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo said that other candidates have until March 28 to file for the race, otherwise the party will call off the primary.

“I have not heard of anyone else seeking the Democratic nomination at this point, but there is still time,” she told ARLnow via email.

However, independent (and perennial candidate) Audrey Clement has already announced plans to run for the Board in the general election.

There’s broad speculation as well that recently ousted independent John Vihstadt could mount a comeback bid, after losing to Democrat Matt de Ferranti this fall.

In an off-off-year election, where only local offices and statehouse races will be on the ballot, Cristol and Dorsey could well face a taller task in fending off Vihstadt. De Ferranti was buoyed, in part, by a surge of Democratic voters, eager to send a message to national Republicans in the 2018 midterms.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and Dels. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District), Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) and Mark Levine (D-45th District) also formally announced their re-election bids at last night’s meeting.

Favola and Lopez have drawn primary challengers so far; Sullivan and Levine are currently unopposed.

File photo

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National Progressive Group Launches Fundraising Effort to Support Challengers to Favola, Lopez

One of the country’s leading progressive activists and researchers is launching a new fundraising push for primary challengers to two Arlington lawmakers.

Sean McElwee, a co-founder of Data for Progress, announced yesterday (Wednesday) that his organization would be launching “The Progressive Virginia Project,” an effort to raise cash for four candidates in Virginia’s statehouse races this fall. Among the group set to benefit from the fundraising is Nicole Merlene, who is challenging state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and J.D. Spain, who is looking to unseat Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District).

In a tweet describing the new program, McElwee wrote that his group is seeking to elect “progressives who are fighting for a Virginia where Dominion Energy doesn’t set the agenda.”

The utility company’s influence in Richmond has become an increasingly controversial issue for the state’s Democrats in recent years, with many (Lopez included) swearing off contributions from Dominion. The General Assembly helps regulate the company, convincing many lawmakers and activists that it’s inappropriate to then rely on Dominion’s largesse when election season rolls around.

https://twitter.com/SeanMcElwee/status/1103313125246414848

Any money taken in by the program will be divvied up among Merlene, Spain and two other candidates: Del. Lee Carter (D-50th District), the legislature’s lone Democratic socialist and a fierce Amazon opponent, and Yasmine Taeb, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35th District).

McElwee was previously a leading voice in supporting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s insurgent progressive candidacy in New York, and launched a similar initiative during the 2018 midterms to elect several other candidates in statehouse races across the country. In all, his group was able to raise more than $448,000 to support races in eight states.

Data for Progress wrote on the new fundraising page that it picked the four candidates not only for their opposition to Dominion, but their support for a “Green New Deal, universal healthcare and racial justice” in Virginia.

https://twitter.com/SeanMcElwee/status/1103315361582276608

Merlene, who up until recently held leadership positions with the Arlington County Civic Federation and the county’s Economic Development Commission, has framed her run against Favola as a chance for a new generation to take the reins in Richmond.

In addition to criticizing Favola’s acceptance of Dominion cash — she’s taken $9,500 from Dominion over the last eight years — Merlene has blasted her work as a lobbyist while also serving as a senator. Favola runs a lobbying and consulting firm representing influential local institutions like Virginia Hospital Center and Marymount University.

Spain has also sworn off corporate cash in his challenge to Lopez, but that doesn’t provide quite the same contrast between the candidates. Lopez has refused money from both Dominion and Amazon (though he has taken Dominion money in past years), and draws most of his campaign cash from progressive groups.

Spain, currently the president of Arlington’s NAACP, has focused his campaign thus far on providing fresh representation in Richmond, and beefing up support for affordable housing and schools in the South Arlington district. He has not, however, attacked Lopez over his much-discussed consulting work for an ICE contractor, which McElwee highlighted in his support for Spain. The activist has made calls to “Abolish ICE” a central part of his work, prompting a broader debate within the Democratic party about the agency’s role.

It remains to be seen, however, just how much traction either candidate has gained in their primary challenges thus far — statehouse candidates won’t report how much cash they’ve raised again until April 15. A June 11 primary will decide the intraparty contests.

Photo of Merlene, left, via Facebook

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Arlington Heights Parent Launches Challenge to School Board Chair for Democratic Endorsement

An Arlington Heights parent is launching a challenge to School Board Chairman Reid Goldstein, arguing that the county school system needs a more transparent, comprehensive planning process to match the county’s persistently rising student enrollment levels.

David Priddy told ARLnow that he’s filed papers to compete in the upcoming caucus to win the Democratic Committee’s endorsement in the race. School Board seats are nominally non-partisan, and candidates don’t run under party labels, but local parties frequently endorse candidates for the Board.

Goldstein announced his re-election bid in early January in the race for the lone Board seat on the ballot this fall. He’s seeking his second term in office after winning the seat in 2015, replacing retiring Board member Abby Raphael.

Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo says that Goldstein and Priddy were the only candidates to file for the caucus ahead of last night’s deadline. Considering that every School Board member for the last 15 years has won the party’s endorsement before going on to win the general election, the caucus will likely decide the outcome of the race.

Priddy wrote in an email that he’s an Arlington native, and grew up attending Arlington Public Schools. He serves on Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s Advisory Committee on the Elimination of the Achievement Gap and he has two children currently in the county’s school system: one at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and the other will attend Alice West Fleet Elementary School when it opens next year.

He hopes that, as “a product of APS as well as an APS parent,” he’ll have a unique perspective to bring to the job.

“Priddy is running for the School Board because he believes better transparency into School Board decision-making is needed, along with comprehensive planning for growth to enable fiscally-responsible financial investments in both new and renovated educational facilities,” his campaign biography reads. “He is not afraid to directly confront the tough issues – from technology to inclusion to capacity challenges – that Arlington’s schools are currently facing.”

Priddy’s Arlington Heights neighborhood has a bit of a fraught history with the school system, and Goldstein, in particular.

The process of determining how, exactly, the school system will add new space for high schoolers at the Arlington Career Center has frustrated many parents in the neighborhood, who argue that the school shouldn’t open as a high school serving the South Arlington neighborhood unless APS can guarantee it will boast the same amenities as the county’s other comprehensive high schools.

Similarly, the recent redistricting process to divvy up students from nearby elementary schools and send them to Fleet as it opens next year sparked conflict in the community.

Parents at Patrick Henry Elementary School, which will soon become the exclusive home of Drew Model School’s Montessori program, argued that Board members (Goldstein, in particular) repeatedly promised them that the school community would move as one to Fleet. School officials dispute their account, and the Board ended up directing about a fifth of Henry’s student body elsewhere, prompting plenty of hurt feelings.

However, Priddy does not make any direct reference to those controversies in his campaign materials, and he said he will launch his campaign in earnest in mid-March.

Goldstein and Priddy will square off in a three-day, “unassembled” caucus in June.

Democrats hoping to vote in the race can do so on June 4 at Drew Elementary (3500 23rd Street S.) from 7-9 p.m., June 6 at Key Elementary (2300 Key Blvd) from 7-9 p.m. or June 8 at Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Anyone hoping to vote in the race will be required to sign a pledge indicating that they are a Democrat and don’t plan to support any other candidate in the race.

Caiazzo stresses that this process is different from a primary, which Virginia law does not allow to decide nominations in School Board races.

Courtesy photo of Priddy, right, file photo of Goldstein, left

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Stamos Picks Up Endorsements From 50 Local Attorneys As She Fends Off Primary Challenge

(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington’s top prosecutor has won the endorsement of 50 local attorneys, a key feather in her cap as a former public defender mounts a primary challenge attacking her credentials as criminal justice reformer.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos (D) announced the news in an email to supporters yesterday (Thursday), writing that it’s “gratifying to know that I have earned the respect and endorsement of so many local defense attorneys.” She’s hoping to win her party’s nomination for a third term in office, in her first intraparty challenge since winning the job in 2011.

Parisa Tafti, who currently serves as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and has worked in D.C.’s public defender’s office, is hoping to oust Stamos for the job, arguing that she’s been insufficiently committed to reducing racial and economic inequities in the criminal justice system. Arlington’s public defenders have been similarly critical of Stamos on a variety of fronts in recent months.

But Stamos argues that this latest show of support from many of her nominal adversaries in the courtroom reflects well on her “record of competence, fairness and decency.”

“She has a well-earned reputation as someone who knows when to take a stand against violent and career criminals, but appreciates that incarceration isn’t the answer to people who make mistakes or suffer from illness or addiction,” the attorneys wrote. “While we may not always agree, Theo has always maintained an open-door policy, listens respectfully to opposing counsel and responds in a principled, thoughtful, and responsible way.”

Notable members of the group of lawyers endorsing Stamos include Denny Rucker of longtime Arlington firm Rucker & Rucker and Jim Korman, a decorated divorce lawyer from prominent Arlington firm Bean, Kinney & Korman.

Bruce Deming, who frequently represents local cyclists and pedestrians struck by vehicles, also joined the letter, as did Dave Albo, a former state delegate who practices as a DUI lawyer in Arlington.

Tafti has picked up some prominent endorsements of her own in recent months, including support from the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The former governor has made a series of endorsements in local commonwealth’s attorney races recently, targeting prosecutors who opposed his efforts to restore voting rights to convicted felons, Stamos included.

Tafti has criticized Stamos over the issue in the early days of the campaign, in addition to charging that her efforts to reform the county’s cash bail system have been ineffective — lead public defender Brad Haywood agrees with her on that front. However, even though she worked in leadership roles for the county’s Democratic Committee, Tafti has yet to attack Stamos for her decision to twice cross party officials and endorse independent John Vihstadt in his runs for County Board.

Stamos recently offered a bit of a mea culpa for those endorsements to local Democrats, citing her long family ties with Vihstadt. She’s also defended her record as a prosecutor as one that balances the rights of victims and defendants, pointing to her decisions to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses and to embrace diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.

Voters will decide the primary contest on June 11. Primaries are also shaping up in some of Arlington’s state legislative races, though only Katie Cristol has declared a run for re-election with two County Board slots on the ballot this fall.

Photo of Tafti, left, via Facebook

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As Richmond Scandals Drag On, Arlington Democrats Urged to ‘Keep the Faith’

(Updated Tuesday at 9:50 a.m.) The head of Arlington’s Democratic Party is urging local activists to “keep the faith” in the wake of the cascade of scandals plaguing top leaders in Richmond.

Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, penned an email to the party’s mailing list Sunday (Feb. 10), in the hopes of buoying spirits dampened by recent revelations about Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

While any one of the state’s top three elected Democrats could yet resign — Northam and Herring for admitting to wearing blackface as young people, Fairfax over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women — Caiazzo sought to remind party faithful that “the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals.”

She joined the growing calls for Fairfax to step down late last week, after a second woman accused him of rape, and has already demanded that Northam step aside. But, with all 140 state lawmakers and a variety of local offices on the ballot this fall, Caiazzo is urging her committee to work to “have an impact in our own community.”

Her full email to the committee is as follows:

We are all struggling to deal with the disturbing news from Richmond. I have sat down to pen this email to you multiple times over the past week, only to have my sentiments overtaken by the latest news cycle. I do not know how these controversies will end.

ARLINGTON DEMOCRATS’ ROLE IN NAVIGATING THIS CHALLENGE

But as I said at our monthly meeting on Wednesday, I do know that Arlington Democrats have a role to play in moving our community forward through these difficult times. We may not be able to affect the outcomes of the dramas happening in Richmond, but we can have an impact in our own community. We can reject hate and support sexual assault survivors. We can channel our collective anger that issues of racism and sexual assault still plague us into finding positive solutions for the manifestations of these issues in our own community.

We also can remember that the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals. It was about a movement of grassroots activists of all backgrounds and ages rising up to provide a badly needed course correction for our country. The rise of progressive activism was the central victory of the 2017 election. No subsequent controversy, however hurtful, can take that victory away from us. Only we have the power to do that — only we can decide whether we will allow this heartbreak also to break our activist spirit.

TOO MUCH TO ACCOMPLISH TO GIVE UP
To that question, Arlington Democrats, I say NO. I will not allow the failings of individual leaders to dampen my activist spirit. I cannot — there is simply too much work to be done to achieve a fairer, safer and more prosperous Commonwealth. The stakes are too high. As in early 2017, I am once again picking myself up and dusting myself off. Two steps forward, one step back: it’s time for the heart of the Democratic Party — its local activists — to keep moving forward again.

In that spirit, and mindful that Democrats must re-earn the trust of voters and volunteers that has been lost over the past few days, I respectfully invite you to join me at several upcoming events, detailed below. Some are organized by Arlington Democrats; others are community events. Now more than ever, we need both: to lead in our own right, and to meet our neighbors where they are. I hope that you will join me in the struggle to lead our Party, our community, and our Commonwealth forward.

Caiazzo is referring both to previous listening sessions held by activists on both race and sexual assault, and to some upcoming community discussions on the county’s history with Nazism and school desegregation.

Meanwhile, the situation in Richmond remains unsettled.

Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) made headlines this weekend for threatening to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he refused to resign, and circulated a potential resolution to start the process among his Democratic colleagues. But he backed off that threat this morning (Monday), writing in a statement that he is “open to discussions on other avenues” that would allow for a full investigation of the accusations against Fairfax.

Some reports have suggested that Hope faced resistance from within his own party for the move, particularly from members of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The lieutenant governor is still telling reporters that he does not plan to resign, and is currently looking for an FBI investigation into the claims against him — one incident is alleged to have happened in Boston in 2004, the other in North Carolina in 2000.

Northam also gave some of his first interviews since the scandal broke with the news that a racist photo appeared on his medical school yearbook, saying that he is “not going anywhere” and pledging a renewed focus to racial justice in the remainder of his term.

Herring has been silent, and criticism has been markedly more muted of his conduct, after he voluntarily admitted to wearing blackface once while in college, and apologized.

“I should additionally note that I have not called for the resignation of Attorney General Mark Herring, despite my strong disapproval of his conduct at age 19,” Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) wrote in a Sunday email to constituents. “Herring’s voluntary admission of his blackface representation of a rapper, his lack of racist intent and his profound apology all seem sincere to me.”

However, Levine did note that he is one of just a few voices calling on Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3rd District) to step down, after reports that he edited a college yearbook that was filled with photos of students in blackface and racial slurs. Norment has denied any knowledge of the photos.

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BREAKING: Hope Threatens to Work to Impeach Fairfax, After Another Woman Accuses Lt. Gov. of Sexual Assault

(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) now says he’ll introduce articles of impeachment to remove Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax from office on Monday if he doesn’t step down, now that another woman has come forward to accuse the second-most powerful Democrat in the state of sexual assault.

Hope announced the move tonight just a few hours after Meredith Watson accused Fairfax of raping her when the pair attended school together at Duke University in 2000. She wrote in a statement that the details of her assault mirrored those laid out by Vanessa Tyson, who previously said that Fairfax assaulted her in a Boston hotel room in 2004.

Democrats had been hesitant to call for Fairfax to step down since Tyson’s statement, but pressure is now mounting for the lieutenant governor to step aside. Friday night, the state House and Senate Democratic caucuses released a joint statement, urging Fairfax to resign.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a similar statement.

The bulk of Virginia’s congressional delegation has also demanded Fairfax’s resignation, including Arlington Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District).

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has also shown exceptionally poor judgment in his handling of these allegations,” Beyer and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District), Elaine Luria (D-2nd District), Abigail Spanberger (D-7th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) wrote in a statement. “He repeatedly attacked his accuser, he reportedly used vile and degrading language to describe her, he mischaracterized an investigation into the encounter, and he sought to blame others for events in his own past. These actions do not meet the standard to which we hold Virginia’s highest elected officers.”

For now, it would seem Fairfax is resisting pressure to step aside.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has been similarly steadfast in the face of calls to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, writing an email to state employees today saying he does not plan to step down. The fate of Attorney General Mark Herring (D) is also unclear, after he revealed he wore blackface while in college.

Earlier today, Hope posted a video on Twitter urging Northam and Herring to learn from their experiences, but stopped short of demanding their resignations. He’d previously supported calls for Northam to step down, but was silent on Herring, who he previously endorsed in Herring’s early stages of mounting a campaign for governor in 2021.

Hope said in the video that he believed Fairfax’s first accuser and thought an investigation was necessary.

Around 9 p.m. Friday, Hope held a press conference in front of Arlington Central Library in Virginia Square, laying out his case for the impeachment of Fairfax, should he refuse to resign. The press conference was attended by CNN, CBS, NBC and local D.C. stations.

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GOP Ditches Proposal for More Affordable Housing Cash, Angering Advocates Concerned About Amazon

Republican lawmakers have scuttled Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to ramp up state funding for affordable housing, a move that’s irked advocates hoping for more state help as Amazon starts to move into Arlington.

GOP leaders in both the state Senate and House of Delegates have now put forward budget proposals without the $19.5 million spread across two years Northam had hoped to see flow into the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, a program offering low-interest loans for developers hoping to build reasonably priced housing.

Though the fund would be available to applicants across the state, the governor’s effort to massively ramp up cash flowing into the fund was broadly seen as a small way the state could prepare for Amazon’s expected impacts on the housing market across the Northern Virginia region.

“We are outraged that selected members of Virginia’s money committees stripped this critical support for housing for Virginia families,” a coalition of 40 affordable housing advocacy groups wrote in a statement. Signatories include the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, the Arlington Housing Corporation, the Alliance for Housing Solutions, the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network and the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance.

“At a time when the state is approving $50 million in subsidies to Micron and $750 million to Amazon, it is wholly appropriate and necessary to invest $19.5 million in housing,” they wrote.

The Senate’s proposed budget includes just $1 million for the fund over the next two years, while the House proposal includes no cash whatsoever.

Northam had planned to fund the increase as part of a suite of proposals to use $1.2 billion in new revenue generated by the federal tax reform passed in 2017. But Republicans, who hold narrow majorities in both chambers in the General Assembly, have been steadfast in removing those spending proposals from the budget as part of a broader fight over the tax revenues, arguing that the state would be better served by sending the money back to some middle-class taxpayers.

“We started building our budget with guidelines to remove from consideration any revenue based on the federal tax changes and to eliminate any spending based on that revenue,” said Del. S. Chris Jones (R-76th District), the head of the powerful House appropriations committee. “We are continuing our multi-year efforts to responsibly invest in a stronger economy, provide more funding and flexibility to local schools and make college more affordable.”

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) was hoping for an even larger, $50 million influx into the fund on a one-time basis, yet that push is seemingly facing an uphill battle given the latest GOP budget proposal. He’d also proposed a bill to establish a permanent funding stream for the fund to avoid yearly appropriations battles, but that died on a party-line, 4-3 vote in a House subcommittee.

The budget is still a long way off from being finalized, however. The House and Senate still need to reconcile the differences between the two proposals and, ordinarily, Northam would have a chance to negotiate for his spending priorities with Republican leaders.

But with the governor still facing pressure to resign, and Virginia’s two other top elected officials now engulfed in scandal, there’s no telling just how the remainder of the General Assembly session will play out. It’s currently set to wrap up on Feb. 23.

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Herring Admits to Wearing Blackface in College, Prompting Shock, Silence from Democrats

Democrats across Virginia have been shocked by yet another scandal today (Wednesday), after Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he also once donned blackface at a college party.

Herring called a sudden gathering with the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus this morning to deliver the news, then released a statement to that effect shortly afterward. Herring said he dressed up in a wig “and brown makeup” in order to imitate a rap artist when he was in college, explaining it was due to a “callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”

“It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then,” Herring wrote. “That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”

His admission comes as politicians of both parties continue to press Gov. Ralph Northam to resign for similar reasons, after the discovery that a racist photo appeared on the governor’s medical school yearbook page and Northam’s subsequent admission that he once wore blackface rocked the state capitol. The man in line to replace Northam should he step down, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, has become mired in scandal as well since then, as a woman has come forward to accuse Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004.

The attorney general’s disclosure leaves the state’s top three elected officials in limbo — should all three resign, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox would be in line to become governor.

Herring said in his statement that he would have “honest conversations and discussions” about whether he’d seek to stay in office, as both Northam and Fairfax have so far sought to do. Herring joined virtually all of the state’s Democrats in calling on Northam to resign soon after the discovery of his yearbook page, but other Democrats have yet to demand that the state’s top lawyer step down with the same speed that they called for Northam’s job.

Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine expressed shock and surprise at the revelation when reporters questioned them about it this afternoon.

Other state lawmakers have yet to comment on Herring’s admission, including Arlington’s delegation or local Democratic committee.

The news could also torpedo Herring’s nascent campaign for governor — he’d already announced plans to run for the top spot in Virginia politics in 2021, and earned the early endorsement of local Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) a few weeks ago. Hope did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Herring’s admission.

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Legislation Allowing for New Regulation of Dockless Scooters, E-Bikes Gains Steam

New legislation working its way through the General Assembly could set new state standards around dockless scooters and e-bikes, giving localities like Arlington full authority to ban the vehicles on sidewalks and regulate where they’re parked.

A bill from Del. Todd Pillion (R-4th District) unanimously cleared the House of Delegates Monday (Feb. 4), setting the stage for state lawmakers to pass their first regulations governing the devices since they began popping up in Arlington and other urban communities around the state last summer.

The legislation shouldn’t change much about the county’s current dockless vehicle pilot program, which the County Board created last fall to set new standards guiding the use of the suddenly ubiquitous scooters. But the bill would codify into state law many of the regulations the county has already created as part of the program.

Perhaps most notably, the legislation would allow people to ride scooters and e-bikes on sidewalks, unless a local ordinance specifically bans the practice. The county has barred scooters from both sidewalks and trails as part of the pilot, and this bill would allow Arlington to take the next step and pass its own law doing so once the program wraps up.

“Under this, we can have the ability to adopt an ordinance that takes care of all of our specific issues,” said Pat Carroll, the county’s main lobbyist in Richmond, during a Jan. 29 House committee hearing on the bill.

The legislation also bars scooter and e-bike riders from parking the vehicles “in a manner that impedes the normal movement of pedestrian or other traffic or 456 where such parking is prohibited by official traffic control devices,” another key headache for county officials. Arlington staff have set up some “scooter corrals” around Metro stations to encourage the orderly parking of the devices, but otherwise don’t have the ability to enforce where the vehicles are parked beyond bringing complaints to each company individually.

The legislation also caps all scooters at a top speed of 20 miles per hour — Arlington currently mandates a speed cap of 10 miles per hour, which initially irked some owners of the vehicles who’d hoped to use a 15-miles-per-hour cap instead.

Finally, the bill gives other localities until Jan. 1, 2020 to set up their own pilot programs for the dockless devices — once that date passes, companies will be able to deploy the scooters and bikes without abiding by any sort of pilot, much as Bird did when it dropped its scooters in Arlington back in June.

In general, the scooter companies seemed broadly pleased with the legislation. Lobbyists for several dockless vehicle companies spoke in support of it at the Jan. 29 committee hearing, and the firms were certainly well represented in Richmond — state records show that Bird has hired five lobbyists on its behalf, while Lime has three, Lyft has two and Uber (which owns Jump scooters) has six.

“We know for a lot of folks it’s a complicated issue around a new and emerging technology and we look forward to continuing to work with all legislators and stakeholders,” said Ryan O’Toole, a lobbyist representing Lime.

The legislation now heads to the state Senate, where lawmakers have until the end of session on Feb. 23 to take action on the bill.

Should it clear that hurdle and head to the governor’s desk, it’s anyone’s guess who will be waiting to sign it — Gov. Ralph Northam is still facing an overwhelming chorus of voices calling on him to resign over revelations that a racist photo appeared on his medical school yearbook page, while new allegations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax complicate any designs he might have on the governorship.

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Arlington Democrats Join Near-Unanimous Calls for Northam to Resign, As Governor Presses to Stay

Gov. Ralph Northam continues to resist an overwhelming chorus of voices calling on him to resign his post today (Monday), including virtually all of Arlington’s Democratic leadership.

Northam, a Democrat, has experienced a dizzying reversal in his political fortunes since revelations late Friday that a photo of one man wearing a KKK uniform and another wearing blackface appeared on his medical school yearbook page.

The governor initially released a statement acknowledging he was indeed pictured in that photograph, leading to near-unanimous calls for his resignation Friday night. But in a hastily convened press conference Saturday afternoon, Northam reversed himself, claiming he is now confident he is not pictured in the racist photograph and that it was placed on his yearbook page by mistake.

However, Northam did confess to once donning blackface as part of a dance competition in 1984 while impersonating Michael Jackson. That admission, combined with his sudden reversal, only served to intensify pressure from party leaders that Northam must give way to his lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) was one of the few elected officials to stop short of demanding Northam’s resignation ahead of the press conference. But Arlington’s lone congressman released a statement immediately after the governor’s comments saying he’d expected Northam to resign Saturday, and instead wants him to go.

“Virginia has a painful past where racism was too often not called out for its evil. The only way to overcome that history is to speak and act with absolute moral clarity,” Beyer wrote in a joint statement with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District). “It is for that reason that the governor must step aside and allow the process of healing to begin under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.”

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey added that Northam’s explanations at the press conference “strain credulity” and urged him to step down as well.

“Even after giving him the benefit of many doubts, I was struck by his inability to accept responsibility and articulate any concrete steps to promote healing in our state,” Dorsey wrote in a statement. “Someone who has grown as Mr. Northam professes would have recognized that he has lost the confidence of so many Virginians along with his most ardent supporters… And Democrats and progressives, please don’t think that a Northam resignation cures what ails us. Our work to build systems that recognize the dignity, value and importance of all persons remains unfulfilled.”

Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) wrote in a newsletter to constituents that he doesn’t believe Northam to be a racist, but that the governor’s changing stories undermined his confidence in Northam’s leadership going forward. State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) expressed similar concerns, saying that an “important bond of trust has been broken.”

“What Northam said Saturday may well be true,” Levine wrote. “But at this point, how can he possibly lead Virginia?”

Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner also issued statements pressing him to resign after the press conference, as has the rest of Virginia’s Democratic members of Congress. Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus, the House of Delegates’ Democratic caucus, Senate Democrats and Virginia’s Democratic Party all issued similar demands after Northam addressed the media.

The Arlington Young Democrats wrote in a statement that they believe “Gov. Northam can no longer serve effectively and must resign immediately” after the press conference, while the county’s full Democratic Committee called for his resignation before it (and its Twitter account has since retweeted a variety of demands that he resign after he spoke to reporters).

The rest of Arlington’s state legislative delegation has yet to re-up their statements demanding Northam’s removal, but they unanimously supported their caucuses’ calls for the governor to step down in social media posts ahead of his press conference.

County Board member Katie Cristol also issued a similar statement Friday.

Beyer’s predecessor and longtime Rep. Jim Moran was one of the few voices defending the governor Sunday.

“I do disagree with their judgment because I think it is a rush to judgment before we know all of the facts and before we’ve considered all of the consequences,” Moran said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Northam said Saturday he’d consider resigning if he felt he could no longer govern effectively, but it’s unclear what would happen should he refuse to do so. The General Assembly could look to impeach Northam, though constitutional scholars are split on whether this controversy would rise to the level of misconduct required for impeachment.

Should Northam ultimately step down, Fairfax would become just the second African American governor in Virginia’s history, and its second youngest as well.

Virginia governors are generally limited to one term in office, but Fairfax, who was widely expected to run for governor in 2021, could be in the unusual position of filling out Northam’s remaining two years in office, then running for a full four-year term. Scholars are also debating the logistics of that matter, and just how Fairfax would find a new lieutenant governor should he ascend to Northam’s seat.

Photo via @GovernorVA

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Cristol Launches County Board Re-Election Bid As a ‘Problem Solver’ for Amazon, Budget Issues

Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol says she’s running for re-election, becoming the first candidate to jump into the race for two Board seats on the ballot this fall.

The Democrat, who is a fresh off a year rotating in as chair of the five-member Board, told ARLnow that she announced her decision to seek a second term in office to supporters today (Thursday).

Since first winning office in 2015, Cristol believes the county has “started to make progress on the issues I’m passionate about,” but she’s hoping for another four years on the Board because she sees more work left to do on everything from expanding affordable housing options to increasing the availability of childcare in the county.

Cristol says she’s well aware that the next four years will be challenging in Arlington, particularly as the Board copes with some unpleasant budgets and manages Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City and Pentagon City.

The latter topic has drawn more than its fair share of attention to the county, and Cristol in particular, over the last few months, but she plans to embrace the complexities of the company’s impact during her campaign.

“We’ve never been a community where we just let things happen to us, we plan for things,” Cristol said. “But the only way to make sure that happens is to believe in our potential to do that, and elect leaders who are problem solvers, not just problem spotters… There’s been a lot of temptation through all this to say ‘No’ or reject it or find enemies, as opposed to looking to maximize the benefits, which is hundreds of millions in tax revenues to help fund the priorities we care about.”

Cristol points out that, without Amazon bringing its new headquarters to the county, she’d face the similarly unpleasant prospect of running for re-election as the county grapples with a 20 percent office vacancy rate, which became a key issue during Democrat Matt de Ferranti’s successful campaign to oust independent John Vihstadt last year.

Even still, Cristol acknowledged that Amazon won’t be the answer to all of the county’s fiscal challenges as she asks for another four years on the Board. Officials have repeatedly warned that it could take years for the county to see tax revenues from Amazon’s new office space, requiring a mix of tax hikes and service cuts in the new fiscal year to fill a hefty budget gap.

Cristol concedes that “as would any elected official, I’d prefer to be cutting taxes and expanding services in a re-election year.” But she also believes that her chairmanship of the Board last year, when it managed to avoid any tax increases in favor of a handful of spending cuts, demonstrates that she can govern in a “sustainably progressive” manner despite the fiscal headwinds.

“We found a way to work through our budget challenges last year where we made difficult decisions about cuts, but didn’t cut anything to the bone or harm our core priorities,” Cristol said. “And I’m optimistic that’s what we’ll do again this year, even if it will be tougher.”

Though Cristol is the only candidate in the race so far — County Board Chair Christian Dorsey has yet to announce whether he’ll seek re-election — she’s well aware that she could face a more difficult race this year than when she last ran four years ago.

In that contest, Cristol and Dorsey easily triumphed over independents Mike McMenamin and Audrey Clement. But this time around, Cristol could well find herself squaring off against her former colleague Vihstadt, who recently thrust himself back onto the county’s political scene with his renewed criticism of costs of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center project.

For her part, Cristol says she doesn’t know whether Vihstadt plans to mount another independent bid. In an election year without any statewide races at the top of the ticket, she says his entry into the race would present an “interesting question” of political strategy, but she’s not spending too much time worrying about it quite yet.

“The message that I’ll run on and what I can bring to the table is going to be the same irrespective of what decision he makes,” Cristol said. “I think I have a fantastic record to really be proud of.”

It’s unclear whether Cristol could face Democratic primary challengers before she even reaches the general — Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) have all drawn primary opponents thus far in Arlington’s local races — but any primary would be quite different from the six-way race she won four years ago.

In 2015, Cristol ran as a young newcomer to county politics, beating out some more experienced candidates. This time around, she has a record to defend, but also experience to run on.

“Some of the points I made back then do hold now,” Cristol said. “As a fresher face on the scene, I knew I didn’t have all the answers, so I thought it was important to listen to both longstanding Arlingtonians and those that hadn’t been as included in the past… and if I’ve learned anything in four years, it’s that nobody knows all these answers. That listening will still be at the heart of my campaign.”

Cristol says she’ll make a formal announcement at the Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting next Wednesday (Feb. 6), with a campaign kickoff event later that month.

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Lawmakers Overwhelmingly Support Incentive Bills to Bring New Amazon Headquarters to Arlington

State lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved an incentive package designed to lure Amazon to Arlington, sending legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk that will direct hundreds of millions of dollars in grant funds to the tech giant over the next 15 years.

Virginia’s House of Delegates passed a bill on the matter by an 83-16 margin today (Monday), after the state Senate signed off on the legislation with a 35-5 vote last week. Northam will ultimately have the final say on the issue, but considering that his administration helped broker the deal with Jeff Bezos’ firm in the first place, it now seems a sure bet that the company has the state’s support for a massive expansion in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

The legislation sets up a “Major Headquarters Workforce Grant Fund” to hand out the payments, designed to offset state taxes Amazon would incur should it set up a massive new headquarters in the county. In all, the bill would send $550 million to the tech giant between now and 2030, so long as the company delivers on its promise to bring 25,000 high-paying jobs to the area.

If the company can come through with another 12,850 jobs after that, Amazon stands to earn another $200 million in incentives, for a total haul of $750 million attached to the project.

Northam and his negotiators promised a variety of transportation improvements around the proposed headquarters in order to make Arlington seem especially attractive to the company, in addition to investments in tech education programs at state universities. But those measures will likely be included as part of the state budget, or funded through other state programs, leaving the incentive bills as the clearest chance for the General Assembly to have its say on Amazon’s arrival.

“When it comes to Arlington and Alexandria, I believe this is exactly what they want,” said Del. S. Chris Jones (R-76th District), a member of a powerful panel of lawmakers who worked with Northam to hammer out Virginia’s offer to the company, during a brief floor debate today.

While the incentive legislation never faced much in the way of serious opposition, it did attract dissenting votes from Republicans and Democrats alike. Six Democrats and 10 Republicans in the House opposed the bill, while all five state senators to vote against the measure were Republicans.

Notably, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) was the lone member of Arlington’s legislative delegation to vote against the bill.

Part of the company’s headquarters will be based in his South Arlington district, and he’s already raised concerns about how Amazon will disrupt the area’s housing market. He also chose to send back campaign contributions from the tech giant, after Amazon shelled out cash to all of Arlington’s lawmakers and many other prominent state leaders.

“The thing I keep hearing about over and over again are the prospects of displacement,” Lopez said. “This has been a problem for a really long time. HQ2 has just shown a bright light on it.”

Lopez commended some of the planned investments in housing affordability measures that Northam is promising as part of his offer to the company, but he says that “neighbors are worried about being displaced now, long before money creates any new housing.”

Experts across the region say that it’s no sure bet that Amazon will suddenly drive up all home prices and force renters out of the county, but they do believe it’s a distinct possibility that low- and middle-income people could feel a squeeze from the company’s arrival. And with Arlington and Alexandria committing to just limited affordable housing measures on top of the state’s efforts, some lawmakers do indeed see reason for skepticism.

“Those provisions are too little and too late,” said Del. Lee Carter (D-50th District), an intense Amazon opponent and the legislature’s lone Democratic socialist. “Even if construction were to be completed right now, it’d be too late for some neighbors in my district.”

Others still, Republicans and Democrats alike, questioned the wisdom of handing over such large incentives to a company owned by the world’s richest man. But the potential of the deal to bring so many jobs to the region, with a corresponding flow of tax revenue to local governments, was too promising for many lawmakers to pass up.

“We put together one of the best business deals I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of economic development experience,” said Del. Matthew James (D-80th District) during a committee hearing on the legislation last week. Like Jones, he helped negotiate the deal with Northam’s team.

The House also acted today to combine two identical Amazon incentive bills into one before sending the legislation to Northam, which should remove the need for the Senate to consider a version of the bill to originate in the House. Once this year’s legislative session ends on Feb. 23, the governor will have a month to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

In the meantime, Arlington officials have yet to consider their own package of incentives attached to the deal, totaling about $23 million in grant funds over 15 years. The County Board plans to take that matter up no sooner than its Feb. 23 meeting, but some members have recently begun suggesting that they could push the issue into March instead.

Photo via @Osubi_C

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Arlington Lawmakers Hail Government Shutdown’s End, Slam Trump for Starting Border Wall Fight

The longest federal government shutdown in the country’s history now seems to be over, at least temporarily, and Arlington’s congressional delegation is feeling cautiously optimistic.

President Trump announced today (Friday) that he would sign a bill to fund the vast majority of government agencies for the next three weeks, through Feb. 15, as Congress continues to negotiate on Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to construct a wall on the country’s southern border.

So long as lawmakers, and Trump himself, follow through on this plan, the government would re-open for the first time in 35 days. The proposed funding deal does not include any money for a wall, in a capitulation for the president, who orchestrated the shutdown in order to force a conflict over funding for one of his signature campaign promises.

The tentative deal strikes Northern Virginia’s representatives as quite good news indeed, as many had spent the shutdown railing against its impact on federal workers and the region’s economy, arguing that the shutdown was all in service of a goal that few Americans support.

Of course, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) did point out that Trump is currently backing a deal Democrats offered him back in late December.

“I’m grateful that the shutdown will end soon, but I do not understand why it happened at all,” Beyer wrote in a statement. “Why did President Trump inflict this shutdown on the country?… It inflicted extreme pain on the people I represent, and there was no reason for it. As the president approaches the new deadline he just agreed to for the expiration of government funding, he must think of people besides himself. This must never happen again.”

Trump said in his speech Friday that he plans to ensure that federal workers receive back pay to cover the costs of the month-long shutdown “very quickly or as soon as possible.”

Businesses around Arlington and the rest of D.C. had rallied together to offer a variety of deals to support furloughed workers, while the county itself offered limited financial aid as well. Metro’s leaders had even contemplated making rides free for federal workers in a vote this afternoon, but officials have backed off from those plans.

Photo via @whitehouse

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In Arlington Visit, Warner Cautions That Shutdown’s Impacts Will Soon Get ‘Exponentially Worse’

For all of the problems caused by the government shutdown across the D.C. region so far, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) fears things could get “exponentially worse” as soon as next week if federal employees are still going without paychecks.

Warner, like the rest of his Democratic colleagues in Congress, already sees the standoff over border wall funding engineered by President Trump as “outrageous” and a “disgrace.” Thousands of federal workers in the D.C. area alone missed their first paychecks of the shutdown last week, putting a severe strain on their finances and the whole region’s economy.

But Warner foresees government employees reaching a crisis point should they miss another paycheck in the coming days, which looks like a sure bet as Trump refuses to give an inch in discussions with congressional Democrats.

“When people go without a second paycheck, which is coming next Thursday, and they hit the beginning of the month of February, there are mortgages due, their rent is due, other bills are due,” Warner told reporters during a visit to the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s food distribution center in Nauck today (Friday). “That’s when things get really bad… And what’s happening in our region, it’s already a crisis. But this is going to be a crisis that spreads all across the country. “

Warner pointed out that Congress and Trump could at least agree to provide back pay for furloughed workers, but he warned that restitution alone “doesn’t make you whole.” He’s already heard stories from people taking out loans to make it through the shutdown, or missing payments and seeing their credit scores take a hit.

And he’s especially concerned about federal contractors, which include not only high-priced tech workers but people working in cafeterias or custodial services, who may not make much money.

Charlie Meng, the executive director of AFAC, told ARLnow that “many of the contractors who are most affected are our clients already.” He says the food bank has seen a “slight uptick” in interest since the shutdown started, and it began urging federal employees to swing by for free groceries, but he said that people who are already struggling to get by are the ones hardest hit by missing out on paychecks.

“We serve the working poor, and that includes many of the people who work for the government indirectly but are just hanging on,” Meng said. “Something like this happens, and it really hurts them.”

Warner notes that the shutdown will likely spell big trouble for Metro the longer it drags on. WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told the D.C.’s regions senators yesterday (Thursday) that keeping federal workers at home is prompting a steep drop in ridership, costing the rail service about $400,000 per day.

It doesn’t help matters either that federal officials haven’t been able to reimburse Metro for about $33 million in expenses it has incurred over the course of the shutdown, an amount Wiedefeld estimates could balloon to $50 million by the end of the month. He warned that Metro would need to start relying on its line of credit to afford major capital improvements soon enough, or simply delay badly needed projects.

“In a way, it’s like Metro can’t catch a break,” Warner said. “Finally, the region stepped up, Virginia, Maryland, the District to provide additional, dedicated funding for Metro. Now we’ve got this crisis, not due to Metro’s performance but due to the government shutdown. It’s going to put Metro even further behind.”

Warner says Democrats are “absolutely” willing to negotiate on increased border security measures with the White House to end this standoff — but only if Trump agrees to open the government back up first.

“If you reward this bad behavior, he will try this again, he will try this again with spending bills going forward,” Warner said. “You don’t reward a bully.”

Warner points out that a bipartisan group of senators wrote a letter to Trump, urging him to fund the government for three weeks to let negotiations to start back up. But that effort fizzled, and he says it was “disappointing” to discover that the White House was actively pressuring Republicans not to sign on to that push.

“It’s tough if you’re a Republican senator to sign onto a letter, even a reasonable letter, when you’ve got folks like Jared Kushner and others lobbying against it,” Warner said.

Broadly, he believes Trump is hanging over the whole debate. Even though the Senate already voted unanimously to fund the government before Trump started demanding money for a border wall, Warner feels his Republican colleagues haven’t been willing to take action for straightforward political reasons: “You’ve got a lot of Republicans who are afraid of upsetting the president.”

So even as Republicans privately tell Warner that they’d like to end the shutdown, he doesn’t see much hope for any resolution soon. And that, he says, sits squarely on Trump’s shoulders.

“The president has said he was proud to own this shutdown,” Warner said. “This will be part of his legacy, which is already the worst legacy in modern American history.”

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