(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) Arlington County Democrats enjoyed a clean sweep in their bids for County Board and School Board, with clear results in early on Tuesday night.
County Board Chair Libby Garvey (D) was awarded four more years in office, garnering 72% of votes. Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy — endorsed by the local Democratic party in the nonpartisan School Board race — earned 43% and 36%, respectively.
NAACP Education Committee Co-Chair Symone Walker and frequent local candidate Audrey Clement had unsuccessful independent bids for the School Board and County Board, respectively. Clement garnered 29,923 27% of votes, while Walker received 19% in the three-way School Board race for two open seats.
More than 75% of active voters had cast ballots by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, including a record-setting 63% who voted early and by mail by Sunday. Since mail-in ballots have until Friday to arrive, the county elections office will not have a final turnout number until then, Arlington Director of Election Gretchen Reinemeyer said in an email.
Local Democrats said they are pleased with the local turnout, hailing a “decisive” vote for the entire Democratic ticket, even as they anxiously watched developments in the still-undecided presidential race.
Garvey said today that she will continue focusing on equity, innovation and resilience during the pandemic during her next term.
“People are tired of the virus,” she said. “This is a difficult time and I hope we can remember to treat each other kindly. We’re all under stress and doing our best. It’s important to take a deep breath and continue to stay together as a community as we work through a lot of difficult issues.”
“Arlingtonians are smart and informed,” Garvey added. “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve Arlington for four more years.”
Turning to the question of reopening Arlington Public Schools classrooms for in-person instruction — which is now delayed until next year for most students — Diaz-Torres and Priddy said today that any plan must focus on safety metrics.
“We need to be careful and make sure we’re proceeding with caution, making sure we’re following the science, not the emotions of the day,” Diaz-Torres said.
With cases rising, APS needs to focus on keeping the kids with severe needs — who returned to schools today — safe, while making virtual learning as high quality as possible for others, she said.
As a School Board member, Priddy said he will be talking with other public school systems and even private schools to see what APS can learn from them.
In an email Wednesday morning, Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo thanked the candidates who ran for office in Arlington and congratulated the winners on their “resounding and well-deserved victories.”
“We know that they will work hard on behalf of all Arlingtonians and lead our county and country through these challenging times,” she wrote.
On social media this morning, County Board member Katie Cristol thanked election volunteers for their hard work, and Arlington voters for overwhelmingly approving the five local bonds on the ballot. Cristol also welcomed Priddy and Diaz-Torres to the School Board and thanked Walker for her advocacy
I’m also grateful that my own kid, and so many others in Arlington, will attend a school system made better and more equitable by the advocacy and community leadership of @SymoneforAPS and congratulate her on her campaign.
— Katie Cristol (@kcristol) November 4, 2020
“I think I accomplished change by changing the narrative of the School Board race to focus on curriculum and instruction, particularly equity through literacy,” she said.
Walker was less conciliatory in tone last night, writing in a Facebook post that her defeat was attributable to the power of the Democratic endorsement.
It’s unfortunate that a majority of “low information” voters who are oblivious to the serious plight being faced by our schools are electing the school board by blindly voting straight down the ACDC sample ballot, which, ironically, was silent about the education of our students in listing why this is the most important election of our lifetime. Nevertheless, I pray that Cristina and David will rise to the challenge of turning this ship around to put our students first amidst having to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future
Nonetheless, Walker told ARLnow this morning that she and her small team — nearly all APS moms — ran a grassroots, issues-focused campaign to be proud of.
“I ran for the School Board because I thought I had the opportunity to push for change on the inside,” she said. “Since that did not work, I’m going to continue pushing APS from outside.”
Clement said her results follow the nationwide trend in polarization: Democrat-leaning counties are becoming more blue, and Republican-leaning counties more red.
Last week, we invited the two candidates seeking a seat on the Arlington County Board to write a post on why our readers should vote for them in the Nov. 3 general election.
Here is the unedited response from independent candidate Audrey Clement.
I’m Audrey Clement, the Independent candidate for Arlington County Board. As a 16-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist who serves on the Transportation Commission, I’m running because Arlington deserves better.
My opponent, long-time incumbent Libby Garvey, has promoted harmful policies resulting in overcrowded schools, congested streets, massive tree removal on public property, gentrification, and most importantly, a ten year average annual real estate tax rate increase that at 4 percent is twice the rate of inflation.
Now, she is pushing Missing Middle upzoning, which will inflate land values, hike tax assessments, displace existing residents, and build housing unaffordable to anyone earning less than area median income, which is about $126,000 per year.
The County under Ms. Garvey’s leadership has packaged upzoning as the solution to racial inequality despite the fact that few minorities will qualify for mortgages on upzoned lots. In a recent press release Garvey emphasized the Board’s resolve to address “historic and ongoing patterns of discrimination,” implying that homeowners in predominantly white, single family neighborhoods are racist. Yet the County has produced no evidence to support that contention.
Meanwhile the chair and executive director of Alliance for Housing Solutions (AHS), Arlington’s principal advocate for upzoning, own homes in Arlington assessed at over $1 million. Thus they stand to profit from the densification of their neighborhoods. It also appears that newly elected County Board member Takis Karantonis, who serves as vice-chair of AHS, has a serious conflict of interest, which Garvey herself denies.
The County’s COVID response has also been uneven: too little funding to deal with an impending eviction crisis, no guaranteed child care for essential workers, and adoption of a sidewalk ordinance to prevent congregating near bars and restaurants that was unfair to Clarendon business owners and ultimately repealed.
Ms. Garvey has also embraced a plan to change the Arlington logo, which she indicates must go because it depicts the Greek columns of the former Lee mansion at Arlington House. No matter that Greek columns are ubiquitous throughout the South and that much more pressing issues confront people of color than cultural symbols.
For example, the Black student achievement is wide and growing, with Black high school student pass rates more than 20 percentage points below their White counterparts throughout the County. Focused on symbolic solutions to racial injustice, County officials’ efforts to address the achievement gap have clearly failed.
If elected, I plan to:
- Act sensibly to curtail COVID spread.
- Oppose upzoning and displacement of existing homeowners.
- Seek immediate relief for all taxpayers.
- Say YES to real social justice reforms and NO to symbolic gestures.
If you share my agenda, then:
- Visit my website at AudreyClement.com
- Support my candidacy, and
- Donate to my campaign.
Together we can make the “Arlington Way” more than an empty phrase.
Facing a shortage of moderately-priced housing options in the “missing middle” between apartment buildings and single-family homes, the County is kicking off a study to figure out whether it should open up some areas zoned only for single-family homes to denser housing types.
But Clement, a perennial candidate for the last decade, said Garvey has given outsized importance to the racial-justice component of this plan to gloss over economic problems. One problem is the possibility that these new housing options may still be out-of-reach for Black residents, according to Clement.
“The County has been very successful in persuading people it is a social-justice and racial issue, but the people that they are addressing are not aware of the dynamics of the real-estate market,” Clement said.
In the mid-20th century, Arlington began zoning most of the county for single-family homes and forbade the construction of more compact dwellings, which were more commonly inhabited by the county’s Black population because fewer could afford detached homes. There were also deed covenants that explicitly prevented non-whites from buying homes, even if they could afford them.
Today, 75% of the county is zoned for single-family homes. Given the median income earned by Black Arlingtonians, homes in all but a few neighborhoods are out of reach for most.
“What we’ve got now is the result of very intentional systemic racism,” Garvey said of local housing patterns. “Whether this study is going to fix it or not is hard to say. I don’t think we’re saying that.”
Clement agreed that the effects of Arlington’s exclusionary housing policies in the 20th century remain. She said what is disingenuous is framing duplexes, townhouses or other small-scale, multi-family housing as a way to correct Arlington’s racist past, when some data suggest these new options could be unaffordable due to the county’s inflated land values.
“Due to ever increasing land values no one earning less than area median income will afford the housing built on densified lots,” Clement wrote. “In addition many moderate income residents, including people of color, will be forced to sell when real estate assessments escalate in their up-zoned neighborhoods.”
Garvey did not refute the possibility that the study could find that these alternatives would not necessarily be more affordable, but said it is “way too early” to draw conclusions from a study in its infancy.
“The only thing we’ve said is that we have a real issue with sufficient diversity of housing to meet a lot of needs,” she said.
Clement argues that the current unaffordable housing landscape in Arlington is because the county allowed affordable homes to be torn down and replaced with more expensive housing. Renovating existing structures would be a better solution, she said.
This spring, the County Board voted to eliminate a tax credit to landlords who renovate their buildings. Senior Housing Planner Russell Danao-Schroeder said the program had outlived its usefulness: Only large developers were availing themselves of the credit to keep their buildings at the top of the market.
Fall Officially Starts Today — “While many of us think of the first day of fall as a full calendar day, the equinox itself is a rather fleeting astronomical event. It happens at a precise moment when the sun’s direct rays are straight over Earth’s equator. This year’s equinox is at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time on Sept. 22.” [Capital Weather Gang]
JBG Acquires Local 5G Radio Spectrum — “JBG Smith Properties has paid $25.3 million for licenses to use small parts of a new class of wireless spectrum to set up a 5G internet network in National Landing, home to Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters and Virginia Tech’s innovation campus.” [Washington Business Journal, Press Release]
County Board Challenger Amps Up Rhetoric — “Is Arlington’s political ruling elite a bunch of preening political poseurs unwilling to do the heavy lifting of implementing a truly progressive agenda for the community? That somewhat uncharitable (and decidedly paraphrased here) assessment comes from Audrey Clement, the perennial independent candidate for office who this year is facing off against County Board Chairman Libby Garvey.” [InsideNova]
County Launches New Data Portal — “Arlington County today unveiled a new Open Data Portal with several benefits and features that make it easier than ever to access and use Arlington data. The new portal, a centerpiece of the County’s Open Government Program, builds upon the first open data solution that launched in 2016.” [Arlington County]
Robbery Suspect Arrested in Pentagon City — “At approximately 3:36 p.m. on September 19, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny in progress. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect allegedly stole merchandise from a business without paying. Upon being confronted by loss prevention at the exit, the suspect allegedly brandished a knife, then fled on foot. The victim was not injured. Arriving officers located the suspect in the Pentagon City Metro, still in possession of stolen merchandise.” [Arlington County]
Postal Service Keeping Rosslyn Office — “The United States Postal Service has tacked on an additional 3 years to its office lease at the International Place building in Arlington, Virginia, but will give up one of its floors in the process.” [CoStar]
Prosecutor Files Petition Against Judges — “A northern Virginia prosecutor who says her county’s judges are infringing on her discretion to dismiss charges and enter plea bargains is asking the state Supreme Court to intervene on her behalf. Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti filed a petition Friday asking the court for a relief from a policy imposed by the county’s four Circuit Court judges.” [Associated Press]
New BBQ Pop-Up Coming to Pentagon City — “In their spare time [chefs Kevin Tien and Scott Chung] dreamed up Wild Tiger BBQ, which launches Thursday, August 20 next to Bun’d Up at Pentagon Row in Arlington. The pop-up will run Thursday through Saturday for the first few weeks.” [Washingtonian]
‘Bumper Crop of Mosquitos’ — “With the floods of summer come the pests of summer — bloodsucking mosquitoes. It takes several days to a couple of weeks for mosquitoes to hatch, molt and fly out of floodwater, but the swarms eventually arrive, in greater numbers than before the flood. After the recent flooding from thunderstorms and Tropical Storm Isaias in the Washington region, a bumper crop of mosquitoes has emerged.” [Washington Post]
Retired Colonel Helps With COVID Response — “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel David Ashley quickly found his planned spring and summer mountain climbing trips canceled. He spent about a week doing projects around his Arlington home, but after 27 years in the military, he realized he need something else, something with more purpose.” [Arlington County]
Cab Exec’s Offensive Post Makes Headlines — “An elected town council member in Strasburg, Va., who also is chairman of the 6th Congressional District’s Republican Committee admitted this week that he posted, then removed, a sexually offensive meme targeted at Sen. Kamala D. Harris… [John] Massoud, who is vice president of Arlington’s Blue Top taxi service and was an unsuccessful candidate against ex-Del. Bob Brink for a House of Delegates seat from Arlington in 1997 and 1999, moved to the Shenandoah Valley about 10 years ago.” [Washington Post]
Analysis of Rents Near Metro Stations — “The most expensive rents ($2,200 and up) are found in areas of Arlington and Washington, DC. Rent near the Ballston-MU station is in the mid-range among DC Metro stops. But while the median price increased near Court House, it decreased near Ballston-MU, according to the analysis. The median rent for a one-bedroom unit near Ballston-MU is $1,975, a 1.3 percent decrease from 2019.” [Patch]
Clement Rips Dems for Redistricting Stance — “An independent candidate for Arlington County Board has criticized the Arlington County Democratic Committee for its opposition to a nonpartisan-redistricting constitutional amendment on the state ballot in November. Audrey Clement, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Libby Garvey for County Board, said the Democrats’ vote seems disingenuous for a party that claims to be about good government.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Makes Top Travel Destination List — “For all the talk of a move to small, less densely populated destinations, Hotwire also ranked much bigger cities. Its ‘midsize must see’ picks were St. Louis; Tampa, Florida; Atlanta; Arlington, Virginia; Tucson, Arizona; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Pittsburgh; Miami; and Cincinnati.” [CNBC]
Confusion Over Governor’s Mask Order — “At a briefing this afternoon, Gov. Ralph Northam emphasized that Virginia’s new indoor mask requirements weren’t intended to be criminally enforced. But the text of the order (released ~3 hours later) defines a violation as Class 1 misdemeanor.” [Virginia Mercury, Twitter]
Virus Hits Latino Communities Hard — “Fredys Medina, a diabetic construction worker from Arlington County, waved off his wife’s suggestion that he had the virus after he developed a cough and fever in late April, and he continued to work. Two weeks later, he collapsed on the living room floor. By the time paramedics arrived, Medina, 56, was gone. His wife, Leonor Medina, an unemployed hotel housekeeper, was left with an $8,000 funeral bill.” [Washington Post]
Clement Questions County Board Actions — “An independent candidate for the Nov. 3 Arlington County Board race contends that current board members are overstepping their bounds in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Audrey Clement says that the board’s May 19 vote continuing emergency operations gives the government far too much power for too long.” [InsideNova]
Volunteer Award Winners Announced — “Volunteer Arlington, a program of Leadership Center for Excellence, is honored to announce the recipients of the 2020 community volunteer awards which will be presented virtually at Arlington Cares on July 14.” [Volunteer Arlington]
Alleged Armed Robbery in Crystal City — “At approximately 2:56 p.m. on May 23, police were dispatched to the late report of an armed robbery. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 9:30 p.m. on May 15, the victim was in the area of 18th Street S. and S. Bell Street when he was allegedly approached by seven suspects. One suspect displayed a firearm and threatened the victim. The suspects stole the victim’s phone and wallet then fled.” [Arlington County]
Man Rescued from Potomac Near Chain Bridge — “A man is in the hospital in serious condition this morning after being pulled from the Potomac River [early Tuesday morning] in a daring rescue operation. The incident occurred just north of the Chain Bridge in an area that is extremely difficult to access from land.” [WJLA]
Amazon Not Giving Up on HQ2 Helipad — “The list of nongovernmental aircraft the Transportation Security Administration permits to fly inside the [Flight Restricted Zone], besides commercial fights to and from Reagan National, is basically nonexistent… In a statement, Amazon suggested it hasn’t given up. ‘We recognize there are several layers of approval for such a feature, and will continue to work with Arlington County and other relevant stakeholders as we determine its feasibility for our Arlington HQ,” the statement read.” [Washington Business Journal]
Pentagon Helipad to Get New Tower — “The Department of Defense has designs on building a permanent air traffic control tower to help guide aircraft landing at the Pentagon and is seeking a contractor to carry them out.” [Washington Business Journal]
County Concerned About Peak Trail Usage — “We’ve noticed the trails are pretty crowded between 3pm-6pm. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, we suggest finding a less busy time to walk, bike, or run on the trails or to find an alternate route.” [Twitter]
Mexicali Blues Closed, For Now — Clarendon mainstay Mexicali Blues has shut down its carryout business and is closing temporarily. [Twitter]
Candidate Blasts County’s Coronavirus Response — “Audrey Clement, who has been running campaigns for elected office for more than a decade, said last week that the County Board failed to use its powers to force restaurants to close in the earliest days of the crisis.” [InsideNova]
Va. Senators Seek Local News Funding — “U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined their Senate colleagues in a letter calling for funding to support local journalism and media to be included in any future COVID-19 relief package.” [Press Release]
Video: YHS Orchestra Plays Remotely — “Vivaldi: Concerto for Strings in D Major, RV 121 (1st movement) by the members of the Yorktown High School Chamber Orchestra during the COVID-19 pandemic.” [YouTube]
(Updated at 10:20 p.m.) There were no surprises in Tuesday’s general election in Arlington, as Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was elected Arlington’s new prosecutor and all Democratic incumbents won new terms.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney race saw an elevated level of write-in votes — 10% of the overall vote — but the result was never in doubt as Tafti received 90% of the vote. She will take office as the top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church starting in January.
Tafti ran a progressive campaign centered on criminal justice reform during a contentious and expensive primary. She ran unopposed in the general election after beating incumbent prosecutor Theo Stamos in a surprising upset in the primary, with 52% of the vote to Stamos’ 48%.
“It was really surreal,” Tafti told ARLnow of her win, after the final precinct results came in.
The incoming prosecutor added that she was “lucky” she had time between the June primary and the November election to start work on her transition. Tafti she’s looking forward to rolling out reforms come January — which one expert has said is the most aggressive policy transition for the office in living memory.
“I’m really excited to get a restorative justice program started,” she told ARLnow.
Elsewhere on the ballot, Arlington County Board incumbents Katie Cristol (D) and Christian Dorsey (D) defeated independent candidates Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell with 40% and 38% of the vote, respectively. Clement’s 13% and O’Dell’s 7% compares to the 10% Clement and 19% Republican Mike McMenamin received in 2015, when Cristol and Dorsey were first elected.
In contested General Assembly races in Arlington, state Sen. Janet Howell, who ran unopposed in the primary, won out over Republican candidate Arthur Purves, 73% to 27%. Del. Alfonso Lopez defeated independent challenger Terry Modglin, 83% to 16%.
Other Democratic candidates won bids for re-election tonight after running uncontested races:
- Del. Patrick Hope
- Del. Mark Levine
- Del. Rip Sullivan
- State Sen. Barbara Favola
- Sheriff Beth Arthur
- Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy
- Treasurer Carla de la Pava
- School Board member Reid Goldstein
Acknowledging that most of its candidates were not facing strong challengers, the Arlington Democratic party has instead focused on supporting other Virginia progressives they hoped could flip the GOP-controlled state House and Senate. As of 10 p.m., the Associated Press projected that Democrats would, in fact, win control of both.
Virginia Democrats win majorities in both the state House and Senate, giving them control of the legislature and the governorship for the first time in 26 years. Follow our full U.S. election coverage. https://t.co/z2PXWC7DHk
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) November 6, 2019
Here is the unedited response from independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement.
I’m Audrey Clement, Ph.D., Independent candidate for Arlington County Board — a 15-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist, and member of the Transportation Commission. Why am I running? Because my opponents indulge in constant doublespeak.
Katie and Christian say they want to preserve trees. Yet in 2018 they allowed a developer to chop down a 75-year-old state champion Dawn Redwood near a Potomac watershed in North Arlington, replacing it with a McMansion in contravention of the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance.
On September 24, they approved a deal to cede a VDOT acquired parcel of land at the Rosslyn Holiday Inn site to a private developer contrary to a prior pledge to preserve it as parkland.
My opponents claim to support affordable housing. Yet, they’ve permitted dozens of market-rate garden apartments in Westover Village to be razed, replacing them with luxury townhouses, tree denuded lots and flooded streets.
True. County Board approved a deal to purchase and renovate some of the Westover properties as committed affordable units, but at the expense of half the existing tenants, who were thrown out because they weren’t income qualified.
For over 3 years, Katie and Christian have been sitting on a citizen petition to preserve the remaining buildings as historic, preempting a legally required public hearing on the matter.
Katie and Christian say they can provide more affordable housing by upzoning single family neighborhoods. This is an illusion. When North Arlington is upzoned, there will be 2 to 4 new town homes priced a $1 million each for every single family tear down.
At a recent candidate forum, Christian Dorsey refused to recuse himself from union business on the WMATA Board even though unions contributed the bulk of his campaign funds this year–$10,000 alone from the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Christian says he doesn’t have a conflict of interest in accepting union money as a WMATA Board member, because WMATA doesn’t deal with union matters. Yet WMATA Board minutes indicate that it has approved 4 union contracts since September, 2018.
If you’re tired of Board member’s doublespeak, it’s time for a change. If elected, I will do what I say and say what I mean. I will also:
- Say NO to tax-rate increases and pay grabs by County Board
- Insist that developers pay their fair share for public infrastructure;
- Develop a flood prevention and mitigation program;
- Install renewable energy on County-owned buildings; and
- Provide a voice for all taxpayers on County Board
Arlington County Board incumbents fought to hold their ground against independents over Amazon incentives and housing topics at a debate Monday evening.
At the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum at U.Group in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive), Democratic incumbents Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol faced off against independent challengers Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell.
One of the moments of back-and-forth criticism among the candidates came over the redevelopment of a number of market-rate affordable housing complexes in the Westover neighborhood. Clement has frequently criticized the County Board for what she said was the “preventable demolition” of the Westover garden apartments.
The redevelopment was by-right, meaning the developer did not need County Board approval. But Clement said the County Board could have designated the apartments part of a historic district and preserved the homes.
Overall, Clement argued that development drives up costs to build housing and that even dedicated affordable housing units come at a steep cost.
“The average cost of a new [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] unit is in excess of $400,000,” Clement said. “Most of the units are not affordable. Because the units are not affordable, the income-qualified people who move in, 30 percent of them have to have rent subsidies to pay the nominal amount of rent that they do pay. The taxpayers are hit twice, they have to pay their own rent and their own mortgage and they have to pay someone else’s because the cost of building that unit was astronomical.”
Dorsey fired back that rather than use the historic district designation, the County Board is working to change the regulations to protect affordable communities from redevelopment.
“In the Westover reference that Ms. Clement talked about, while she thinks the Board has done nothing, what we did do was take a courageous stand… and stopped the perverse incentive that led people to take affordable communities and turn them into by-right townhouses,” Dorsey said. “We paused that option and put it into the special exemption process so that we created options to preserve that housing.”
“We’re studying ways that can be better purposed to provide long term, market-based affordable housing,” Dorsey added. So you have to figure out where you’re doing harm and stop doing harm to create new options to preserve affordability both through direct subsidies and through the market.”
O’Dell, meanwhile, said the County should do more to accommodate for “tiny apartments” aimed at people moving to Arlington immediately after college, who may need an affordable place to live but not a lot of space.
“When you talk about housing affordability, you need to have a variety of types of units,” O’Dell said. “We should look at the lower incomes that fall into the 60 percent bracket and give them opportunities to possibly move in and look at places to live.”
Cristol said the County should work to open the door to other types of housing, pointing to the recent legalization of detached accessory dwelling units as an example and noting the large amount of land in Arlington zoned for only single-family housing.
“One of the most important things we can do is legalizing alternative forms,” said Cristol. “There are so many housing forms that could offer folks not only an opportunity to rent but [also to] buy and it’s literally illegal to build them in huge swaths of the county… There’s room for creative ideas, this is an area where we need partnership in the private sector, particularly for those who develop housing.”
The independent challengers for Arlington County Board confronted the two Democratic incumbents on local hot button issues at last night’s Arlington County Civic Federation debate.
Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey faced off against perennial candidate Audrey Clement and newcomer Arron O’Dell at the Civic Federation’s annual candidate, which serves as the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaign season.
Clement’s main attacks centered around a perception of unchecked increases in development and density, destruction of native vegetation, and a lack of county government transparency. Specifically, Clement claimed the County Board’s decision to move forward with the Rosslyn boathouse project came with little public community input. Clement said the new boathouse will take away from one of the last green places in the Rosslyn area, a forested plot of land near Roosevelt Island.
“How can you have a public process when the County Board unanimously approved [the boathouse],” she said. “It’s not for or against the boathouse, it’s for or against double speak.”
Cristol fired back that the boathouse had been in the works for decades and has been subject to extensive public discussion. At some point, she said, projects need to move forward.
“The idea of the boathouse was the result of a public process a couple of decades ago,” Cristol said. “There needs to be a standard of finality. “
Cristol and Dorsey also defended repeated attacks from Clement, and to a lesser extent O’Dell, that Arlington’s ever-increasing density was fundamentally transforming the County.
“Development is synonymous with housing,” Cristol said. “So do I think there needs to be more housing? Yes, but we have to plan for the infrastructure to support that and plan for the student population [growth]. But I believe we can welcome more neighbors and still maintain our quality of life.”
Cristol argued later that the law of supply and demand applies to Arlington, as it does elsewhere — that adding more housing will keep housing costs lower. Clement disagreed, citing recent studies that showed rental rates were more closely tied with amenities than with the supply of housing.
Dorsey also disagreed with Clement’s characterization of “growth on steriods” in Arlington.
“We’ve seen 1.4 percent growth [per year] on average,” said Dorsey. “That’s moderate. In the ’40s, ’50s and ‘6os we grew far faster. Managing growth is what we do well. The idea of us closing up shop is not something that can happen.”
O’Dell, who said he did not have a strong opinion about the boathouse and some other topics of discussion during the debate, did express strong feelings on Amazon’s arrival into Arlington. The county is leaning too heavily on the tech giant for economic growth, he said, something that could backfire should Amazon’s plans change — much like over reliance on federal tenants led to high office vacancy rates following the implementation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Act.
“It’s replacing the federal government with another entity,” he said. “We’re creating another potential vacuum. The key to success will be getting small businesses to follow Amazon.”
Clement also criticized the Board for overselling the positive impacts Amazon would bring and offering the company millions in incentives.
Dorsey recognized the concerns about Amazon’s arrival and said he sympathizes with many of them.
“One of the challenges [will be] the impact on housing,” Dorsey said. “It’s also going to require the Board to work in conjunction with Alexandria for inclusive growth for all as we create concrete arrangements with our neighbors.”
Overall, Dorsey said the company’s arrival will help reduce the strain on local taxpayers and open up new opportunities for the Pentagon City-Crystal City area.