Arlington, VA

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.

Takis Karantonis (D), Susan Cunningham (I) and Bob Cambridge (R) are all first-time candidates in the most unconventional race in recent memory.

“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.” Read More

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In a race upended by the coronavirus pandemic, Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy have emerged on top of a five-candidate field for the Democratic school board endorsement.

Diaz-Torres and Priddy will now advance to the general election, as they seek to fill the two Arlington School Board seats being vacated by Nancy Van Dorn and Tannia Talento. In November they are expected to face Symone Walker, who dropped out of contention for the Democratic endorsement and is instead running as an independent.

(School Board races are officially nonpartisan and parties can only endorse candidates, not nominate them as in a primary.)

Due to the pandemic, the Arlington County Democratic Committee conducted voting by mail, which was deemed “the only safe and reliable option for a large-scale caucus.” Steven Krieger, a candidate in the race who placed a close third, last month publicly criticized the format as inequitable.

“This process presented significant equity challenges to disadvantaged citizens including the poor, English language learning voters as well as voters with disabilities,” he wrote in an op-ed published by Blue Virginia. “The vote-by-mail election for the School Board caucus should serve as a clear reminder that if we fail, even for a moment, to be intentional in fighting inequities in our community, the most vulnerable members of our community will bear the consequences.”

Arlington Democrats, however, said the two-month process was the only one that would allow safe voting in a timely manner.

“This was the first all-mail School Board Endorsement Caucus in the history of the Arlington Democrats, and I am proud to say that our team and the community stepped up to make it a success,” ACDC Chair Jill Caiazzo wrote in an email to members tonight. “More than 5,700 ballots were cast, far exceeding the 1,994 ballots cast in the 2019 in-person School Board Caucus.”

In a press release, the party congratulated the two endorsees.

“The Arlington School Board’s thoughtful stewardship of our schools is a big part of what makes Arlington such an attractive place for both families and businesses,” Arlington Democrats School Board Endorsement Caucus Director Jacki Wilson said. “We congratulate Cristina and David, and thank all five candidates who stepped up to serve their community and sought our endorsement.”

More on the endorsees, from the press release:

Cristina Diaz-Torres is an education policy specialist who began her career as a part-time preschool teacher at a Head Start program, and then worked as a high school math teacher in Las Vegas, where she taught geometry and founded an AP statistics program. After leaving the classroom, Diaz-Torres served as a legislative fellow for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, where she worked on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 federal law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act governing U.S. K-12 public education policy.

David Priddy is an Arlington native, community activist and former business executive. Priddy attended Arlington Public Schools; he and his wife, Melanie, now have two sons who attend local public schools. Priddy serves on numerous education-related councils and committees, including the: Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Equity and Excellence; County Council of PTAs (CCPTA); and the NAACP Education Committee.

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Takis Karantonis, the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, will be the Democratic nominee for County Board in the upcoming July 7 special election.

With just days to select a nominee ahead of Friday’s court-set filing deadline, the Arlington County Democratic Committee — despite efforts to get the election date pushed back — opted for a ranked choice voting process among party insiders.

Karantonis bested three other candidates seeking to fill the late Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat. Also seeking the nomination were School Board member Barbara Kanninen, refugee and military veteran Chanda Choun, and former state Senate candidate Nicole Merlene.

“Arlington Democrats are excited to announce Takis Karantonis as our party’s nominee for the Arlington County Board,” Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said in a press release. “Takis has the experience, acumen and integrity to build upon the progressive record of Erik Gutshall. We’ll hit the ground running today to ensure his victory on July 7.”

Karantonis will likely face at least one other candidate when voters head to the polls. Susan Cunningham, a civically-involved mother of two, announced her intention to run as an independent earlier this week.

The full Democratic press release is below, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

County May Get Million from CARES Act — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam “is considering a plan to distribute $3 billion of CARES cash using a formula that considers in economic need, a way to send more money to places like Lee County or Petersburg and less money to places like Alexandria and Arlington.” [@MichaelLeePope/Twitter, WVTF]

Arlington Trail Usage Way Up — “Trail counts are up 50% above average, on the weekends. Try an alternative route. Protect yourself and others by avoiding crowded trails.” [@BikeArlington/Twitter]

Dems Hold County Board Forum — Blue Virginia has video and notes from Sunday’s County Board special election candidates forum, held by Arlington Democrats. [Blue Virginia]

ACPD: Man Threw Brick Through Car Window — “At approximately 12:10 p.m. on April 30, police were dispatched to the report of destruction of property just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was driving on Columbia Pike when the suspect allegedly threw a brick through the rear window of the vehicle, causing it to shatter. The victim was not injured. Arriving officers located the suspect in the area and took him into custody without incident.” [Arlington County]

Marymount Faculty Member Makes ‘Fashion Masks’ — “Marymount University faculty member William Allen, an award-winning fashion designer, is using his creative talents and those of his students to help boost the amount of crucial PPE available at the Arlington Free Clinic.” [Press Release]

Sen. Kaine Volunteering at AFAC Today — “On Monday, May 4, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine will visit the Arlington Food Assistance Center, where he will meet with staff, tour the center, and volunteer to distribute food. The center has seen increasing demand amid the coronavirus pandemic and currently distributes groceries to over 2,400 families each week in Arlington.”

TSA Workers Create Food Bank at DCA — “Transportation Security Administration employees at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) have established a free food and toiletries pantry to assist employees in the airport community who have been laid off or seen their work hours and paychecks reduced due to the significant decrease in travelers as a result of the pandemic.” [Press Release]

Photo courtesy @EthanDevries_/Twitter

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With a candidate filing deadline just a week away, Arlington Democrats are scrambling to nominate a candidate for the special election to fill Erik Gutshall’s former County Board seat.

Barring an intervention by state lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam, in support of which the local party has gathered more than 750 petition signatures, the nominee will be chosen by dozens of party insiders in a closed caucus next Wednesday.

The four candidates seeking the Democratic nod are School Board member Barbara Kanninen, former Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization director Takis Karantonis, ARLnow columnist and former state Senate candidate Nicole Merlene, and Chanda Choun, who withdrew from the County Board primary to run in for the special election instead.

To give rank-and-file Democrats a chance to hear from the four candidates, the Arlington County Democratic Committee will be holding an online candidate forum this weekend.

More from ACDC:

As it stands now, the Arlington Democrats have no option but to select the Democratic nominee through a closed virtual caucus, which involves a vote by the members of its Steering Committee and County Committee that will conclude by May 7.

Despite these difficult circumstances, the Arlington Democrats remain committed to making sure that ALL Arlington Democrats have the opportunity to hear from the candidates running for this position.  To that end, we are pleased to bring you a Virtual Candidate Forum, this Sunday, May 3, at 1:00pm in partnership with the Arlington Young Democrats. RSVP here and on Sunday, you can join the forum here[…]

You can submit your questions for the candidates here! All questions must be submitted by Saturday, at 5pm!  Make sure you learn about each candidate, listed in alphabetical order below, before the Candidate Forum on Sunday!

The local party and the County Board are both pushing for state intervention in order to push the special election back and allow time for a vote-by-mail caucus open to all Arlington Democrats.

An online petition launched by party to push the nomination deadline back by two months has so far gathered more than 800 signatures. The County Board, meanwhile, voted unanimously on Thursday to petition the Virginia Supreme Court to intervene and push the election “to August 4, 2020 or later.”

More from a county press release:

The Board adopted a resolution saying the July 7, 2020 special election date ordered by the Circuit Court of Arlington to fill the vacancy “poses significant, unnecessary risks to public health, jeopardizing election officials, candidates, and the members of the public participating in the election process, and seriously undermining participation in it,” due to the novel coronavirus pandemic state and local emergency.

The Board voted 4-0 to adopt the resolution.

State law “provides that, when an emergency has been declared by the Governor, the Governor may postpone an election by executive order to a date not exceeding fourteen days from the original date of the election,” the resolution notes, “and further provides that, where the local governing body determines a longer postponement is required, the governing body may petition a three-judge panel of the Virginia Supreme Court to extend the special election to a date it deems appropriate not to exceed thirty days from the original date of the election.”

Arlington Republicans are working to recruit their own candidate for the County Board special election, the Sun Gazette reported today, noting that a former County Board member is also considering his options.

“John Vihstadt, who served from 2014-18 as an independent, has suggested he is not inclined to run, but has not entirely ruled out a bid,” the paper reported.

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Morning Notes

More Arlingtonians Getting Out of the House — “The District and its suburbs all saw an increase in travel and a 1 percent to 5 percent drop in people staying home by April 17. The biggest drop occurred in Arlington County, where 50 percent of residents stayed home, down from 55 percent the previous Friday.” [Washington Post, @Matt4Arlington/Twitter]

County Launches Homeless Outreach Effort — “Last week, Arlington launched a homeless outreach coalition to help identify unsheltered individuals at high risk for COVID-19 and connect them with available resources and services. The coalition is comprised of stakeholders from the Police Department, Department of Human Services, and Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).” [Arlington County]

YHS Senior Photos on CBS Evening News — “For America’s nearly four million high school seniors, the end of this school year is not what they imagined would be. But as Chip Reid reports, one photographer is making sure some members of the class of 2020 are not forgotten.” [CBS News]

Dem Primary May Be Called Off — “Chanda Choun, who was slated to face off against incumbent Libby Garvey in the June 23 Democratic County Board primary, anticipates pulling out of that race to seek the Democratic nomination for the July 7 special election to fill the seat left open by the death of Erik Gutshall… if Choun does drop out, the Democratic primary will be nixed.” [InsideNova]

Video: School Board Candidates Forum — “The questions covered a wide range of topics – whether/how much new curriculum should be taught during the COVID-19 crisis; how best to feed families during the pandemic; distance learning access during and after the pandemic; equity initiatives; equality in the classroom; encouraging integrated classrooms; AP and IB classes; community engagement; boundaries; sex education; and the superintendent’s contract.” [Blue Virginia]

School Board Rejects Furlough Day Proposal — “Arlington School Board members on April 23 rejected a budget-cutting proposal from Superintendent Cintia Johnson that would have had every school-system employee take an unpaid ‘furlough’ day in the coming school year. Instead, the school system will use about $3 million in reserve funds to pay staff that day and fund several other initiatives that Johnson had recommended reducing or eliminating.” [InsideNova]

Amazon Donates to Va. Comp Sci Education — ” Amazon will donate $3.9 million to CodeVA through 2022 to support their long-term plan to offer computer science education and training to every high needs school across Virginia – more than 700 schools… The donation will support more than 500,000 students and more than 12,000 teachers.” [BusinessWire]

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Morning Notes

Ballston Residents Cheer for Healthcare Workers — A video shows residents in Ballston giving healthcare workers and other essential caregivers a round of applause at 8 p.m. last night. [Twitter]

New School Budget Coming Soon — “Arlington Superintendent Cintia Johnson this week will formally outline her plan to reduce spending in the wake of the health and economic crisis. Johnson will report to School Board members on April 16 with an updated budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning in July, supplanting one she had detailed less than two months ago.” [InsideNova]

‘Strong Response’ to School Board Caucus — “Less than a week after announcing a transition to a vote-by-mail process for its School Board candidate endorsement caucus, the Arlington County Democratic Committee (Arlington Dems) has received more than 2,000 ballot requests representing all 54 Arlington voting precincts.” [Press Release]

Former Va. Hospital Center Patient Donates Gowns — “In light of the coronavirus pandemic, a breast cancer survivor decided to donate her colorful hospital gowns to people going through the same thing she did.” [NBC 4]

Local TSA Employee Dies — “A second Transportation Security Administration employee died from coronavirus the same day the agency announced its first worker had died. Alberto Camacho, a branch manager for the TSA’s Acquisition Program Management in Arlington, Virginia, died April 3, according to a TSA news release.” [USA Today]

‘Buy a Neighbor Lunch’ Pilot Program — “Volunteer Arlington… announced today a new initiative to facilitate community support for local families in need of meals called Buy a Neighbor Lunch. The program enables supporters to donate individual meals to be delivered to families in need.” [Volunteer Arlington]

Dog Daycare Owner On Coronavirus Challenges — “We lost over half our business in just three short weeks… Every day puts us more and more at risk of losing everything. I’m not one who backs down from a challenge easily, but the uncertainty of this one is life-crushing and breaking my soul.” [Arlington Magazine]

Photo courtesy Amy Kelly

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Arlington Democrats say they’re planning to conduct the upcoming School Board endorsement caucus via the mail, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This extraordinary procedural change supports Virginia’s stay-at-home order and recommended social distancing measures necessitated by the global coronavirus pandemic,” the local party said, in a press release.

Starting today, Arlington Democrats can request a ballot online. The ballot request deadline if May 7, and the deadline for submitting the ballots is May 30.

There are five candidates — Steven KriegerCristina Diaz-TorresDavid PriddySandy Munnell, and Terron Sims — seeking the Democratic endorsement in the race for the School Board seats being vacated by incumbents Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren. A sixth candidate, Symone Walker, is no longer seeking the Democratic endorsement and is instead running as an independent.

The full press release about the vote-by-mail change is below.

After consulting with the five candidates seeking the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee to fill two open seats on the Arlington School Board, Arlington Dems today launched a process to conduct its endorsement caucus by mail. This extraordinary procedural change supports Virginia’s stay-at-home order and recommended social distancing measures necessitated by the global coronavirus pandemic.

“We had lengthy internal discussions about how to run our endorsement caucus responsibly during the coronavirus pandemic,” Arlington Dems Chair Jill Caiazzo said. “We determined that, given our available resources, the only safe and reliable option for a large-scale caucus is to conduct the vote by mail.”

The caucus will take place in four phases:

  1. Voter Validation and Ballot Request. Effective today (April 7) at 9 a.m. EDT, Arlington Dems will launch a secure online ballot request form via the Arlington Democrats website at www.arlingtondemocrats.org/school-board-caucus. To begin the process to receive a ballot, prospective voters will provide standard identifying information that will allow Arlington Dems to validate that they are Arlington County registered voters. Although online submission of the form is strongly preferred, a PDF version will be available for downloading and mailing to Arlington Dems. All ballot requests must be received (not postmarked) by May 7.
  2. Ballot Mailing. Registered voters whose requests are received by the May 7 deadline will receive their ballots by U.S. Postal Service mail. Ballots will be mailed on a rolling basis. Arlington Dems will include stamped, self-addressed envelopes with ballots, which voters are strongly encouraged to use to return their ballots. They will be returned to a post office box exclusively devoted to receiving School Board Caucus ballots.
  3. Voting. The deadline for receipt (not postmark) of completed ballots by Arlington Dems is May 30. Voters are strongly encouraged to immediately complete and return their ballots to ensure they are received by the deadline. Candidate representatives will be able to watch ballots being retrieved from the post office box and secured through live video-conferencing or in person, the latter provided they observe recommended social distancing measures. No ballots will be counted until all are collected after the May 30 deadline.
  4. Counting and results. Arlington Dems will begin counting the ballots the morning of May 31, or as soon as possible after that date. Observing recommended social distancing measures, Caucus leadership will open envelopes and validate the authenticity of enclosed ballots. Candidates or their representatives may observe the process via live video conferencing. Arlington Dems will use a process to anonymize ballots during the ballot counting, which will be conducted using a virtual procedure.

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Morning Notes

Three COVID Cases at Pentagon City Apartment — “Three residents of the largest apartment building in Arlington — The Bartlett owned by JBG Smith Properties — have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to messages sent to Bartlett tenants.” [Washington Business Journal]

Elton John Tweets About Barrett Elementary Video — “The staff at @BarrettAPS recorded their own music video to @TaronEgerton’s version of ‘I’m Still Standing’ and it’s so much fun!” [Twitter]

Library Launches ‘Quaranzine’ — “Liz Laribee, the programs and partnerships librarian at Arlington Public Library, says she thinks in puns. So, when the word ‘quaranzine’ popped into her head a little over a week ago, it gave her an idea. On April 3, the library published the first issue of Quaranzine, a weekly online collection of works by local artists responding to the coronavirus pandemic.” [DCist, Arlington Public Library]

Dems See Few Refund Requests After Event Cancelled — “Arlington County Democratic Committee leaders say the party did not take a big financial hit due to the cancellation of its Blue Victory Dinner, which traditionally brings in about a third of operating revenue for county Democrats each year. ‘We had very few folks ask for refunds,’ party chair Jill Caiazzo said… Democratic leaders offered those, who were willing to let the party keep the ticket prices, access to an online event.” [InsideNova]

ACFD Accepting Donations of Food But Not Supplies — “Thank you all for the generosity. You are amazing!! We have have been getting a lot of questions about donating PPE (masks, gloves, respirators, etc). At this time we are NOT collecting any supplies.” [Twitter, Arlington County]

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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-TorresDavid PriddySandy MunnellSteven 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

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A thousand signs encouraging voters to “Dump Trump” may pop up around Arlington, if local Democrats are able to raise enough money to fund the rest of the printing run.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee says a donor has already contributed $1,000 for the yard signs, but it is seeking another $2,000. It made the fundraising pitch online Monday, to coincide with the Presidents Day holiday.

The signs will be distributed free of charge to anyone who requests one, the party said.

More from Arlington Democrats:

For Presidents Day we remember the lives and achievements of our past presidents. Leaders who embodied honor and dignity and who worked in pursuit of our shared American values of freedom, opportunity, and equality. But we know President Trump couldn’t care less about these values. He’s shown nothing but contempt for the principles we hold dear, and his tenure has been marked by corruption, incompetence, greed, and willful ignorance.

So in honor of Presidents Day, we’re poised to order hundreds of these “Dump Trump” yard signs to show our Democratic spirit all around town and remind people to vote and volunteer!

Last week President Trump visited his campaign office in Rosslyn to celebrate a big fundraising haul and to thank campaign staff.

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